Exploring Core Set 2020 for the First Time

Posted in How to Play Limited on July 9, 2019

By Marshall Sutcliffe

Marshall came back to Magic after discovering Limited and never looked back. He hosts the Limited Resources podcast and does Grand Prix and Pro Tour video commentary.

The last few sets have been big hits for us Limited players. Guilds of Ravnica, Ravnica Allegiance, War of the Spark, and Modern Horizons have all brought deep and robust Limited experiences. That's great for those of us who draft every set multiple times and just can't seem to get enough drafting.

But a little break to get back to the fundamentals of what makes Magic—and specifically Limited Magic—so great can be a welcome addition after a string of fairly complex sets. It also opens the door a little wider for new people to join in and learn the best way to play our game.

With that in mind, we'll be taking a first look at the latest core set, Core Set 2020, today. If you are new to Limited, I also want to personally welcome you along. I'll be including some reminders in this article about the basics of Limited to help get you started if you plan on jumping in with this set.

Broad Strokes

The beauty of core sets is that they show off the fundamental things that make Magic great. One of those things is what we call the color pie; this refers to the five colors of Magic and what they do—and fundamentally don't do—in the game.

Have you ever noticed that red, blue, and black don't have the ability to destroy an enchantment? Or that blue doesn't deal direct damage? Or that green doesn't get common creatures with flying?

These are examples of color-pie restrictions that are generally applied across the board. As with any rule, they do get broken from time to time, but generally these and many other guidelines hold true.

If that's the case, what does each color actually get to do?

Let's use some examples from Core Set 2020 to find out. We'll be looking at what kind of creatures each color tends to get, as well as the removal options they have, since creatures and removal are the two most important types of cards for Limited.


White tends to have small creatures or tokens, and ways to augment them. You'll also see a decent number of flying creatures (second only to blue in this department).

  • Raise the Alarm
  • Inspiring Captain
  • Inspired Charge
  • Daybreak Chaplain
  • Dawning Angel

For removal, white tells the opposing creatures to calm down a bit with cards like Pacifism, or just sends them packing with cards like Eternal Isolation.


Blue usually brings flying creatures and good blockers to the table.

For removal, blue doesn't outright destroy opposing creatures. Instead, it will usually lock them up in a state of icy frozenness, put them to sleep, or send them back to their owners' hands for a time out.


Black demands commitment and sacrifice, but will reward you for both. What does that mean for its creatures? It usually means trading some kind of resources around, like paying life for cards in hand or getting things back from the graveyard.

Black is the best color for removal, and it gets to really show off here.


Red's creatures are small, fast, aggressive, and somewhat expendable. They tend to care about getting in for maximum short-term damage rather than a sustained effort.

Removal from red is essentially always damage-based, and it usually scales with how much mana you pay.


Green is all about the beef. And by that, I mean you get a good "rate" on green creatures. Rate refers to the rate of return on your mana spent, in terms of power and toughness. Green also specializes in making extra mana.

For removal, green usually will get one of two types of cards: fights or bites. Fight cards are cards that let you choose one of your creatures and one of theirs to combat each other. Bite cards do the same, except only your creature damages the other.

Green also uses defensive creatures to slow opposing threats.

Getting Started with Core Set 2020

We are going to look at a few of the archetypes for this set, but first I'm going to pull back the curtain and give you the inside track on how to figure out what is going on with a set like this before you even play it.

Most sets are structured such that you play decks with two colors in them, and that those strategies (we call them "archetypes") have specific themes. The theme isn't necessarily super strong, but you'll see that certain synergies exist between cards. The more cards of that type you get, the more synergies your deck produces. And theoretically the more wins as well.

The best starting points to figure out what each color pair wants to do are what I call the gold "signpost" uncommons. What you might not realize is that sets like Core Set 2020 have a gold uncommon for each of the ten possible color pairs in Magic.

If you skip right to those, you can often learn a lot about what is going on with each color pair.

Let's go through three examples today, but you can do this for any of them on your own with a little digging around.


With an open mind, let's look at the signpost gold uncommon for white-blue.

What information can we garner from this one card? The first thing we notice is that it has pretty good stats; a 2/3 with flying for three mana is solid.

But the real hint comes with the static ability: other flying creatures we control get +1/+1.

The nudge here is obvious—we want to play more creatures with flying in a deck like this.


Now what?

Now we start searching around the set for other creatures with flying! The best place to look are the commons, since we'll see vastly more of those each time we play Limited.

Just to be exhaustive, here they are:

  • Dawning Angel
  • Griffin Protector
  • Griffin Sentinel
  • Boreal Elemental
  • Cloudkin Seer
  • Faerie Miscreant
  • Metropolis Sprite

You'll also bump into other cards that either give you bonuses for having flying creatures, or give you more flying creatures.

  • Aerial Assault
  • Angelic Gift
  • Winged Words
  • Zephyr Charge

And remember, these are just the commons!

At uncommon you get some really powerful stuff:

At this point, it's clear what white-blue is doing.

Now you can let your brain go wild on other questions. How am I blocking on the ground long enough to win in the air? What do my removal- and bounce-spell offerings look like? What are the rares and mythic rares for this pair like, in case I open one?

Of course, the best plan of action for figuring all of this out is playing the deck. You'll figure it out quickly, but having this information ahead of time will be extremely helpful.

Next up is green-blue.


Again, with an open mind, here is our green-blue signpost uncommon:

There are two chunks to dissect here. The first is what you get at face value. In this case, it's super sweet! It's a 1/1 for three mana (which isn't good), but you get either a land on the battlefield or a card in your hand (which is very good).

The second piece of information is even more important. Risen Reef cares about Elementals. And if we can put enough of them in our deck alongside the Reef, we could really be doing something special.

Once again, let's do a search, this time for common Elementals in green and blue.

  • Healer of the Glade
  • Leafkin Druid
  • Thicket Crasher
  • Vorstclaw
  • Boreal Elemental
  • Cloudkin Seer
  • Frost Lynx

There are a lot of Elementals in this color pair at common, meaning that your Risen Reef looks like it's going to be very powerful indeed!

Another thing will pop up, though, when you do a search like this; there are an additional four Elementals at common, but they are all red.

Perhaps this deck would do well with a little splash for red?

Stretch the search to uncommons, and you'll see that Elementals indeed cover three colors in Core Set 2020.

We won't know until we play the deck, but it looks like you could play it as two colors, or if the cards were flowing, expand it out to a three-color deck.

Which would allow you to live this little dream scenario:

That is quite the one-two punch right there!

Last up is white-black.


Remember, the question we are asking is "what does this card care about?" The previous answers were flying creatures and Elementals. What about this one?

Well, Corpse Knight made answering that question easy, didn't it?

While you'll certainly get a fair number of triggers from this by just playing out creatures, my brain also jumps to the idea of getting more than one creature at once.

These all allow you to get multiple creatures entering the battlefield from one spell, which is a way to pile on the life loss from Corpse Knight.

While we have all these small, expendable creatures, we should also look at ways to take advantage of them, right?

  • Inspiring Captain
  • Inspired Charge
  • Bone Splinters
  • Bladebrand
  • Bloodsoaked Altar

And again, we can start to see a deck forming in front of our eyes.


This is an imperfect art. Sometimes the signpost uncommons don't provide you with such a clear path. Sometimes the core of the archetype ends up being not what you thought. Searching around a bit, thinking about it, doing some theorycrafting, and then actually putting your ideas into play is how you get better at this.

Today, we outlined just one of many techniques to help you improve your Limited game. There are many others, and we'll continue our journey down the line together.

Until next time!


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