Core Set 2020 Week One Standard Review

Alex Stratton
July 18, 2019

Burnout is something I’ve struggled with for a very long time, both in and outside of Magic. Testing Modern for the Mythic Invitational has proved to be no exception to this internal dilemma. It’s so easy to get lost within your results and allow the endless mediocre records to compile into self doubt. You begin looking at the same decks over and over hoping something will change, yet fear picking up a new deck with the date of the tournament fast approaching.


When I’ve found myself in situations like this in the past, one of the best remedies has been to shift focus to something different to create a new perspective, and perhaps lead to a solution within my initial problem. In Magic terms, this often means looking at a different format than the one I'm stressing over. With M20 hot off the press, and StarCityGames having their seasonal week one Standard open in Worcester, this was a perfect opportunity to employ this strategy and shift my focus.

A Mono-Red deck winning the week one Open should be no surprise to anyone at this point. One of my first memories of a friend having major competitive success was when Albany NY stalwart Philip Bertorelli took home the trophy in the new Theros Standard format almost six years ago (Coincidentally also in Worcester). From Phil’s victory years ago, to Will Pulliam’s in War of the Spark, to Aaron’s this past weekend, it’s clear red is a dominant week one performer.

Looking closer at Aaron’s list we see the usual suspects of Goblin Chainwhirler, Runaway Steam-Kin, and Light Up the Stage, accompanied by the returning M11 all-stars in Ember Hauler and Chandra’s Spitfire. These two were staples within mono-red decks of the past largely due to their ability to both be played on curve, as well as present a late game threat. They fill much of the same role within this Standard format allowing Aaron to cut down on clunky four drops such as Experimental Frenzy and Chandra, Fire Artisan in favor of a lower curve that can also be converted to burn or an evasive threat later.

Surprisingly, mono-red only made up a mere 6% of the day two field. While the most popular archetype (Simic Nexus) made up an unimpressive 13% of the group, it’s unusual to see such a diverse spread of decks, all while mostly lacking the all-mountain menace we’ve come to know and love.


I wrote about the power of Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord and his Modern potential last week, and i’m not surprised the Vampire planeswalker is making his debut within the fresh Standard format. Vampires was the third most represented deck in day two with eight copies (8%) in the field, as well as the only deck to put multiple copies in top eight with both Zachary Kiihne and Dustin Taylor making the cut.

Vampires had been a rogue strategy in Standard since the printing of Ixalan, but Sorin and Knight of the Ebon Legion have finally given the deck the tools to make the jump to tier one. Efficient creatures along with impactful planeswalkers and a splash of removal seems like exactly where an aggressive tempo style deck would like to be early in the format. It’s also worth noting that in their player interviews both Dustin and Zach both noted Sorin as the best card within the new core set. While some may claim bias, these are two players with not only Open Series, but also Pro Tour success, and I value their opinions quite highly. Watch Vampires closely in the next few weeks, it could be our new Standard frontrunner. 


Risen Reef was almost certainly public enemy number one coming into the weekend with professionals such as Emma Handy and Brad Nelson proclaiming the elemental one of the most powerful cards in the set. Elemental lists such as this one piloted by Chris have been flooding the upper echelon of the Arena ladder since M20 dropped online. While only placing a single copy in the top eight, Elementals was the fifth most played deck in day two, and confirmed the power of Omnath, Locus of the Roil alongside Cavalier of Thorns and Chandra, Acolyte of Flame.


It’s also interesting to note that despite the large percentages of Simic Nexus and Simic Flash present in day two, it was Elementals as well as a Bant Midrange strategy that were the Breeding Pool decks of top eight. Regardless, as a whole, Breeding Pool is officially the most popular shock land in Standard based on the Worcester Open.


While there were three other returning archetypes in top eight I didn’t mention (Boros Feather, Bant Midrange, and Mono-Blue Aggro), the final deck I want to highlight is Ben Tario’s Esper Hero. Like Phil that I praised earlier, Ben is a talented Albany player I grew up having the pleasure to battle against, and it comes at no surprise that he is putting up a major result.

Even prior to Ben Friedman’s victory with the archetype in Kansas City back in early June, Esper Hero was one of the premier decks of War of the Spark Standard. Tario’s M20 addition of Tomebound Lich only makes things better by triggering Hero earlier than options of the past, while still being a backbreaking threat vs aggro and slower decks alike. The idea of taking the best deck from the previous format and updating it comes at varied results, but Tomebound Lich is exactly the card Hero was looking for.

Core Set 2020 Standard looks diverse and vibrant, and I’m looking forward to jumping in headfirst after the Mythic Championship! In the next few days I plan to get back to my Modern testing with a refreshed mindset, and settle down on some of my options for Barcelona. I’ll be updating you all with my potential contenders next week, but until then I’ll be observing the development of the format as well as peeking in at Standard. I can’t wait to see what the Modern professional scene as well as the new Standard format will deliver!