M13 2013 Core Set Review – White by Grant Hislop

M13 2013 Core Set Review – White by Grant Hislop


Well, it’s only been 2 months since Avacyn Restored was released, but it’s July now, and that means it’s time for the new Core Set to make the Standard environment as large as it can be. Generally, Core Sets of old haven’t been the most exciting releases, basically just serving as a list of cards that are currently legal for Standard play, but the M1X introduction of new cards to the mix has changed this for the better. Over the last 3 years, we’ve seen Baneslayer Angels, the Titan cycle, Great Sable Stag and plenty of other goodness that’s seen tournament play.

There’s certainly an excellent pedigree in terms of card power in these Core Sets, but, they’re generally all stand-alone cards. The limited environment of a core set is as basic as they come, focusing largely on ever-green keywords, and individual cards rather than synergistic decks like you’d find in an expert level expansion.

As always, I’ve avoided the majority of the spoilers up until now, so you’ll get my first impressions on the majority of the cards, and I’ll crack some bad jokes in an effort to keep you reading. Sound good? Cool, let’s get started then.

As usual, we’ll go in colour pie order, White, Blue, Black, Red, Green and then the rest.

Set Review: White

Ajani, Caller of the Pride

The new Ajani must be one of the best cards in the set. It’ll go in any white based aggro to midrange deck, where it does a reasonable impression of Elspeth, Knight Errant. The fact that it doesn’t protect itself isn’t ideal, but it’s a 3 cost ‘walker that effectively starts on 5 loyalty. If he comes down on turn 3, I honestly don’t know how your opponent is meant to kill it.

It seems like this cat and the budgies will be playing quite nicely together over the next few months. I’ll be looking at this, in conjunction with mana acceleration, swords and possibly a certain green enchantment to make the most balls-to-the-wall aggro deck I can in the new standard. The only thing better than a 5 loyalty Planeswalker on turn 3 is a 5 loyalty Planeswalker on turn 2. Seriously, how is that a thing?

Definitely one of the top 5 cards of the set.

Planeswalkers are almost all insane in limited, and while this one isn’t as powerful as either of its previous incarnations, I can’t see myself ever not playing this. Core set limited is, at its core (groan), based on creature battles, and Ajani helps you win those. Ajani Goldmane was probably the best of the original walkers, and this is close enough.

Angel’s Mercy

Have mercy, this card again? I’ve still got nothing nice to say about it, so we can just about move on. If you’re new to the game, and don’t know, life gain like this isn’t that great. The bump it gives isn’t enough to justify wasting a turn doing nothing to impact the board, or actually, you know, stopping whatever’s causing you to lose the life to the point that you actually need to gain some.

Not in my 60-card decks please. Nor in my 40.

Ajani’s Sunstriker

2-coloured mana symbols in the cost means that we’re surely limiting this to white weenie style decks. That’s not the worst place to be, but just so’s we’re all on the same page, this goes in one deck. The best one drop in the white weenie deck is Champion of the Parish, who requires you to be a human, or individually powerful enough to justify inclusion. Ajani’s Sunstriker is a cat, but Nearheath Pilgrim is a better creature type, and gives lifelink to something else as well.

It’s a nice card, but it’ll never see the light of day in a constructed setting.

In limited, it’s a bear, not a cat, and it’s difficult to cast. It’s efficient at what it does, but what it does isn’t particularly exciting. Solid, but unspectacular.

Angelic Benediction

Exalted is back! Hurray. Exalted is one of the best mechanics of recent memory. I’m not so sure that I’m happy about seeing it in conjunction with Hexproof, but then I hate that mechanic, so I hate everything in conjunction with it.

I like the tension that exalted brings, the ‘eggs in one basket’ moment, where they attack with one massive guy into open mana, and the feeling of being clever and killing or bouncing the big attacker, effectively Time Walking an opponent. Brilliant stuff.

That said, you’d be in need of divine help if you were playing such a low impact, expensive card in your 60’s.

It’s been a while since I drafted Shards block, where this has come from, but I don’t remember playing this all that much in that limited environment, and I can’t imagine that this will be too different.

Attended Knight

3 Power across 2 bodies isn’t the worst deal in the world for 3 mana. 5 power, if you’ve got an Honor of the Pure. It’s also the best creature type possible for the one deck that it’d go in. Sadly though, at 3 mana, it’s going to be competing with Mirran Crusader and Silverblade Paladin, which is clearly not a comparison that ends favourably for the Attended Knight. It’s the wrong way round, if we’re comparing it to Blade Splicer, and given that, for the most part, we’re only playing Splicer for the synergy with Restoration Angel, that’s not a good place to be.

A very flavourful card, but I’m not really interested in that. Presumably one for the Knight Tribal crew, who’re deceptively insidious at FNM level, rather that the tournament crowd. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing, but I don’t expect to need to pay all that much attention to this card over the next year.

Aven Squire

I’m pretty sure this was the best common in Conflux for limited, and it’s presumably not gotten any worse. It attacks as a 2/2 flier on turn 3, and any other pumps you can give him quickly add up. I remember him being best buddies with Akrasan Squire in that format, and it’s a shame that there’s seemingly a 1 Squire limit in this core set.

Still, one of the better limited cards, and not totally out of the realms of possibility for constructed. Probably not quite good enough, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in 60-card decks.

Battleflight Eagle

A renaming of the tournament powerhouse Welkin Guide seems likely to be as relevant as its Cleric counterpart, which is to say; not at all.

Not the worst curve topper in limited, and it’ll give the white decks without red some semblance of reach, but really, I’m battling for positive things to say about this card.

Captain of the Watch

Was in M10, where it saw fringe play, then disappeared without much fanfare. It doesn’t compare well to Geist Honored Monk, which is beginning to see play in Naya decks. The 1 mana difference between them is more relevant here than other decks due to Birthing Pod concerns. Basically, do you want this or an Inferno Titan?

Perhaps though, it’s a better one for a more controlling Pod variant, as a stop to Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite, and the 3 bodies can buy you a turn if you’re under pressure, or start the beats the following turn.

I’ll keep a close watch on this one, I think it’s probably more relevant than I think it is.

Captain’s Call

This doesn’t compare favourably to either Gather the Townsfolk or Timely Reinforcements. Gather is potentially 2 more bodies for half the cost, and Timely costs one less, and frequently gives 6 life in the process.

I don’t think this will be getting the call up to 60 card decks anytime soon. It’s possible that it would have seen play had it been an instant, ala Raise the Alarm, and/or if the tokens were Human, for the combo with Champion of the Parish. As is, it’s pretty bad.

I think it’s very different in limited though, where it combos really well with a lot of the other white cards. Probably one of the better white commons in the set.

Crusader of Odric

You can ALMOST copy what I said about Attended Knight here. I think this has slightly better applications in a Boros deck though. In conjunction with Thatcher’s Revolt, Goldnight Commander, Kessig Malcontents etc, this could actually be quite good. Probably one best left for the casual tables, and I’m not exactly on a crusade to play as many aggro decks as possible, but I’ll certainly have a bash at this type of deck, especially for our more budget conscious friends.

Probably a first-pickable card in limited, where stalls are, if previous core sets are anything to go by, quite common. This is going to come down bigger than the biggest card on the table, and demand attention. Combos quite well with the previous card, and 40 card land is where that combo belongs.

Divine Favor

We’ve had this card for the last year, and it’s seen no play. Even Mark Pinder’s looked at it and said ‘Not for me’, which should be an indication that a card with life-gain isn’t good enough. Do me a favour Wizards; leave this out next time.

Not as awful in limited, where the toughness boost isn’t irrelevant, and the life-gain more incidental. I’d still rather have Dark Favor than Divine though, all things considered.

Divine Verdict

The Verdict has been in on this card for some time now; it’s not good enough for constructed play. The thing that white decks are really missing at the moment is a quality point-removal spell, ala Path to Exile or Swords to Plowshares. I’d even settle for Condemn or Oust, but this is why our control decks have to be 3-4 colours. Again, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but all I really want for Christmas is Damnation or Path to Exile to work with, so I can stop having to play mana-bases that are held together by spit, luck and the power of positive thinking.

Always a solid limited card, and it’s unlikely to have changed in the 3427 times this card has seen print.


I can’t see ever wanting to exile an enchantment rather than just destroying it, outside of Replenish or Open the Vaults being reprinted, so I can’t see this ever getting the nod over Silverchase Fox, Urgent Exorcism or Paraselene, which are currently seeing no play. Might as well erase this one from the file, for all the use it’s going to be.

Glorious Charge

The generic white pump spell of the set. Honor of the Pure, this ain’t. Honor of the Pure didn’t even make it into this set, which is a shame. It’s not a card that I’ve ever cast in a tournament, but I enjoy Anthem effects as much as the next guy, so I’m sad to see it go. I like Intangible Virtue a lot less, due to Vigilance removing any tension regarding whether to attack or leave blockers back, but if it’s what we’ve got, it’s what we’ve got.

Anyway, this shouldn’t ever see play outside of 40-card decks, where it’ll ruin peoples combat maths for the duration of the limited environment (likely to be quite small, due to us not being forced to learn it for nationals any more).

Faith’s Reward

Is this the white Overrun? This looks nutty to me. You can attack, seemingly unfavourably on a board stall, wreck your opponent’s board, and bring the guys back. I think the problem with a card like this is that once you’ve done it once, your opponent will play around it for the rest of the match, and this isn’t quite Overrun in terms of being inevitable. Still, absolutely insane in limited.

You’re going to be looking to do rude things with this in constructed, and I’m not sure that there’s the pay-off available. Sure Avacyn Restored had a bunch of ‘dies matters’ triggers, and some sac outlets, but what we’re really missing is a Greater Gargadon type card here, to actually sink this into. Definitely one where the risk probably outweighs the reward, but this is very much on my watch list.

Griffin Protector

Is obviously really good in limited. It flies, has a large behind, and makes all your top decks better in a stall. If I can pick up 2-3 of these early, I’m going to be picking every Captain’s Call I can get my stubby little sausage fingers on.

Might as well have protection from constructed, for all the play it’ll see.

Guardian Lions

Has no business in constructed, but you might find pride in including this in a control-ish white strategy, as a ground stall, where he’ll block all but the largest of attackers, and still be able to chip away for 1 a turn. Other than that, this is just lining for the kitty litter tray.

Guardians of Akrasa

See above, but without the cat litter jokes, and a small caveat. Exalted is really good. People should remember how good it is quite quickly. This has exalted. It’s pretty toilety by itself, but it’ll stall the ground, and make your good cards a little bit better. Probably a 23rd card, for the most part, but it’s not awful.

Healer of the Pride

I like Soul Wardens a whole lot more when they cost a quarter of this, and gain half the life. The body’s reasonable for limited decks, but you clearly have some injury that requires healing if this is anywhere near a constructed deck. Not one that I’d be proud to be playing, but it’s certainly a lot of life to gain. Less exciting than the Griffin Protector, but another realistic combo with Captain’s Call.

Intrepid Hero

I’m quite glad to see this card getting reprinted. Power creep being what it is, there are a lot more creatures for our Intrepid Heroes to kill. Imagine killing a Titan or a Consecrated Sphinx, just by tapping, and no mana investment! Seems like he’s going to see play. I’m certainly looking forward to playing with him.

Does a reasonable Royal Assassin impression in limited, where he can kill dragons, giants and angels all day long, again, FOR NO MANA INVESTMENT. Brilliant.

Knight of Glory

This is our White Knight of the set. Pro black means that how good he is clearly depends on the format, and exalted is exalted. He only costs 2, so doesn’t fight for space with Mirran Crusader and Silverblade Paladin, and actually combos really well with them. I expect that this will see quite a lot of play for the next year.

In limited, again, he’ll go from being fine to really good, but his exalted means he’ll never be bad. It’s probably going to be a first-pickable card, and might be even better than I think it is.

Oblivion Ring

Following the brief period since Lorwyn’s release where we didn’t have access to Oblivion Ring, Jace and Stoneforge Mystic took over the format. I was of the opinion that had Oblivion Ring been playable, they wouldn’t have been as oppressive, as a 3-mana answer anything isn’t the worst answer to a 4-mana Brainstorm.

It’s not really been seeing much play lately, largely because it’s really bad against the tempo decks of the format, like Delver of Secrets based strategies, but it’s always a good thing to have access to. Glad that it’s getting to stay in the format, and I think it should be a core set staple for years to come, as it’s basically perfect design.

Odric, Master Tactician

I like casting Master Warcraft as much as the next guy, and Odric does it with a body attached. Obviously, he requires a supporting cast to work with, as he’s not a one man show, but, here’s another card that works nicely with Captain’s Call. It’s probably going to be used, for the most part as a way to make your opponent unable to block, but has other applications like forcing an opponent’s bomb to make an unfavourable block, or force chump blocks, but as I said, this is mainly ‘if you attack with this and at least 3 other creatures, those creatures are unblockable this turn’, though to be a true master tactician, you need to look at the road less travelled.


I don’t have anything new to say about this. It’s been printed a million times, it’s solid removal in limited, and has far more constructed applications than people give it credit for. Hopefully that’s enough to keep you pacified.

Pillarfield Ox

The new pillar of standard, fo’sho’.

Holds the ground pretty well in limited, while not having an irrelevant power on the occasions where he can attack. Another solid, yet unspectacular card.

Planar Cleansing

It’s really slow, but I’ve certainly found myself wishing that this was legal at multiple points in the last couple of years, which means I’ll probably be trying it. While Day of Judgment and Terminus are both around, it’s unlikely to see much play, but once Day rotates with the introduction of Return to Ravnica, it’s more likely to see some play.

Again, it’s really slow, but it’s a true reset button, and deals with all the hordes of Planeswalkers and artifacts that people are playing in addition to the creatures, which is probably worth the additional 2-mana. Definitely not a 4-of, but its stock is certainly higher with Mana Leak rotating.

Prized Elephant

The elephant in the room is that this isn’t good enough for constructed. In limited, it’s fine as a Hill Giant, even if you’re not playing green. Obviously gets a lot better in WG decks, where a 4/4 conditional trample is seldom bad.

Overall, I’d rather have seen Loam Lion, and the rest of the Worldwake cycle return, but we have to make do with what we’re given.

Rain of Blades

I like things that rhyme. I wanted this to be called ‘Rain of Pain’, obviously that’s not what we’ve got. What a shame. If weenie hordes rule the roost, then this will be better, but there are very few X/1 creatures in the format that would necessitate playing such a narrow answer card.

In limited, it’s another card that will screw up peoples maths, but it’s probably a bit narrow to see much maindeck play. It’s a decent sideboard card if your opponent has multiple Goblin Piker type cards, but outside of that, it’s not like Marrow Shards has seen much play this last year, and that’s practically free, so my hopes aren’t exactly high on this card seeing much play in any formats.

Rhox Faithmender

Rhox War Monk has never looked so good. A 1/5 Lifelinker isn’t particularly exciting, but the ability to double the life-gain is pretty good. If you cast Healer of the Pride, and follow it up with this, you’d gain 4 life, and 4 life for each subsequent creature, which isn’t too shabby. I don’t have any faith that this Rhino will see constructed play, but he’s a solid ground pounder for limited, and seems to combo quite well with the rest of the white cards in the set.

Safe Passage

Turbo Fog is not a thing. Stop trying to make it work. Yes, you with the Rites of Flourishing. Step away from the bad deck.

I’ve cast this in limited, but I’ve never maindecked it. I don’t think this will change.

Serra Angel

Old faithful. I shouldn’t have to tell you much about this card. It’s been around since Alpha. It used to be a constructed powerhouse, but now it’s not so good. She still occasionally gets considered, but there are much better options at this point on the curve, and it’s a totally evergreen creature.

Easy first pick in limited, and the number of draft and sealed decks that win simply because they have 2 Serra Angels must be staggering. There are very few rares in this set that I take over Serra Angel.

Serra Avatar

I wasn’t around for the original run of this card. I’ve heard her spoken of fondly by older players, but I can’t see it. It’s so expensive, and by the time a control deck can cast it, they’re usually only at 5-6 life anyway, so it’s difficult to see this getting played over any of the many alternatives.

Could just be another casualty of power creep, assuming it was ever actually good in the first place, which I have my doubts about.

Serra Avenger

Now this is a reprint that I can get behind. One of the best aggro-control creatures ever, and has seen play all the way up to Legacy. I’m definitely looking forward to casting this on Turn 4, and having counter mana up again.

She was definitely one of the best creatures in Time Spiral block, so it’s really good that she’s in the set. She was probably considered for Avacyn Restored, and the Angel theme, but the ‘Serra’ name kept her out. No such problems with the core set though, so she gets another chance to avenge whatever it is that she’s trying to avenge.

Show of Valor

I could make a show of pretending that this card has any applications outside of limited, but I think we’re beyond there by now. It’s a pump spell. Maybe you’ll want one, maybe you won’t. The baby in the art looks well deformed.

Silvercoat Lion

I don’t have much to say about Grizzly Bears. This one’s a cat. Cats are neat. They’ve got paws. This one doesn’t give me any paws for thought that he’ll see constructed play.

Sublime Archangel

Here is a scenario.

T1 Budgie
T2 Geist of Saint Traft
T3 Sublime Archangel – Attack for 9.

That’s not bad. The hexproof deck, from SCG Black at Pro Tour Avacyn Restored will probably make use of Sublime Archangel, in any standard ports that occur. There was already rumblings of a Bant coloured hexproof deck, utilising Swords of X+Y as pumps, along with Invisible Stalker and co, and this seems like a natural fit.

The existing white decks seem like they’re swarm, rather than one large threat type decks, so this probably doesn’t belong in them, but it certainly seems like a good fit in a hex-blade deck. If only this had hexproof itself, then you could be sure that you could play like an idiot and still win. Oh what fun we’d have losing to stupid unblockable creatures if that were the case!

Touch of the Eternal

This one’s got a touch of the bulk rares about it. I can’t think of anything else to say, I’m going to, like the card itself, do nothing, and move on to the next one.

War Falcon

Probably a little too reliant on other cards, with too little a payoff to warrant much standard consideration, but it’ll be ok for 40 card decks. There are 9 cards in white in this set that are or make Soldier or Knight creatures, to pair with the Falcon, which isn’t unreasonable, but you’ll probably want the cheaper ones to maximise it, rather than Captain of the Watch and co.

If you get a deck with a 7-8 combination of Knight of Glory, Attended Knights and Aven Squires, you can probably justify including the Falcon. T1 Falcon, T2 Aven Squire– attack for 3 isn’t the worst start in limited by any stretch of the imagination, and I think the support is there.

War Priest of Thune

Apparently, in the Magic the Gathering universe, if you want to destroy an artifact or enchantment in a core set, you have a big spiky club. Consider this guy and Manic Vandal. Spiky clubs each.

I’ve played this before, as a way to free my Jaces from Oblivion Rings, and to blow up Honor of the Pures etc. He’s a solid card, for both aggressive and control strategies, and I doubt it’ll be any different this time around.

He’s another sweet card for the Birthing Pod decks to have access to as well, so that’s pretty much all the bases covered. Really glad to see he’s come back. Seems like another close to perfect design, which is what core sets should be about.

Warclamp Mastiff

I thought I mastiff missed something, but this card is terrible.

Always sad to end on a low-note, but there we go.

Top 5 cards I want to play with in Constructed:-

1. Ajani, Caller of the Pride
2. Serra Avenger
3. Oblivion Ring
4. Sublime Archangel
5. Knight of Glory

Top 5 limited commons

1. Pacifism
2. Aven Squire
3. Divine Verdict
4. Griffin Protector
5. Captain’s Call

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