Ahoy planeswalkers! We’re getting our first core set since—uh, well, since I started playing again (if you don’t count Origins). It’s turning out to be a surprisingly exciting one for the Vorthoses among us, rife with flavorful mechanical designs and callbacks to a number of popular planes. Oh, and new designs for the original elder dragons.

I don’t know the elder dragon lore well enough to do a deep dive on them—although I will note that I’m absolutely on Team Arcades Sabboth—but it is preview season, after all. What is a Vorthos content creator to do if not to discuss their favorite flavorful cards from the new set? And so:

I’m a big fan of this card as part of M19. Based on her flowing white hair and her armor, this seems to be the one and only Thalia, head of the Order of Saint Traft and generally beloved Innistrad mainstay. The skewed perspective in Magali Villenueve’s art is arresting—are we, as a viewer, in the place of one of her soldiers, getting back up off the ground?—and the shadow across her face creates a contrast that helps make her determined expression pop. The flavor text also resonates beautifully with the idea of this being Thalia, because she took up Avacyn’s spear as the staff for her banner after the archangel’s death during the events of Shadows Over Innistrad.

This card as a whole is also a bit weird, though. My sharp-eyed fellow Hipster Levi Byrne pointed out to me that the armor isn’t a perfect match for Thalia, Heretic Cathar, so maybe I’m wrong about who this is. The banner also isn’t a perfect match because, in Eldritch Moon, Thalia has her banner on Archangel Avacyn’s quite distinctive spear.

So, I think this is Thalia, but I’m not entirely sure. Assuming it is, I’m very curious about Wizards’s decision not to attribute the quote to Thalia. Wizards seems to be leaning harder into the core sets being a good stepping-on point for new players, and I could see dropping a signal that the figure in this card’s art is actually a known (and beloved) character possibly helping new players who might like the lore find their way into the Vorthos rabbit hole. As it stands, she’s easy to miss unless you’re an enfranchised player who recognizes her, especially with her being out of context in the Planar Chaos of a core set.

This is superb mechanical storytelling. This is a general who leads from the front—she brings an army and saves all of them at the cost of her own life. It’s an inspired design, and perfect for a white weenie Commander or Brawl deck.

Goodness, look at that sky. What is this guy doing, Borrowing 100,000 Arrows?

One of my favorite things about Core 2019 is it is rich in the fantasy tropes, akin to the likes of Dungeons and Dragons. This is the most direct representation of how healing potions work that I’ve seen in Magic, and I’m into it. I also dig the “draw a card” with this art—that sure looks like a potion that puts a little spring in your step!

First off, that is one heck of a brilliant card name: Untouched By Death for her eternal youth thanks to her pact, yet her magic is all about the touch of death. Second, Bastien Deharme is one of my favorite Magic artists. I love his subtle atmospheric effects, and the way they make her seem to glow with power here. He nailed her nonchalant confidence. I also love the way her hair floats back behind her, like the dark wings of some bird. (Raven Man, anyone?)

This reprint is another of my Dungeons and Dragons favorites for the set. The flavor is spot on: the lich can’t be destroyed as long as its phylactery survives, but is destroyed by the phylactery’s destruction. The sense of power at a cost that lichdom represents is here too: an indestructible 5/5 for 3 is an incredible rate, but the set up cost of playing mono-black and having artifacts is real.

What a cool throwback to the Goblin Dark-Dwellers of Zendikar! I love this art. Deruchenko Alexander’s low light source and high shadows evoke how terrifying this variety of goblin can be. The way they pull the tops of their blind faces back from the light in the way they look up evokes for me their discomfort with light, which they nevertheless face in order to gain access to the oracle’s visions.

Here’s something to watch with our planeswalkers in this set. Bolas, Ajani, Tezzeret, and Liliana are all already part of the Gatewatch story and all but confirmed for the upcoming Ravnica block. I bet we’re going to see Sarkhan and Vivien in the story too, and their printings here are setting up their presence. Sarkhan makes slam-dunk sense: he has beef with Bolas, and he has a connection to Ajani (via Narset, who is also part of Tamiyo’s story circle). I’d look for Vivien and Sarkhan both to arrive on Ravnica as part of Ajani’s anti-Bolas cavalry in the next year.

Speaking of Vivien Reid, she is getting a lot of flavor text in this set, and this is my favorite of the bunch. There’s a joy in her relationship with nature that is new to Magic and feels very different from some of the more stoic green planeswalkers who have come before. See also:

Did she make an ant enormous for purely aesthetic reasons?

This is a brilliant design. There’s a wonderful levity to the card’s flavor—although a secret passage is a stealthy way to make your attack, the name Suspicious Bookcase and the flavor text’s clear reference to its conspicuous mechanism puts me in the mind of mystery-comedy type movies, like Clue.

Beck is a financial aid counselor and theatre history Ph.D. student who lives in the greater Boston area. He believes in playing standard like a Johnny, drafting like a Spike, and only playing modern decks that involve the number eight.

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