Core Set 2021 Constructed Set Review – Introduction and White
Hello! My name is Seth Manfield, and if you have been following the professional Magic scene over the last few years, it’s likely you’ve heard of me and/or seen me play at one point or another. Well, I’m excited to begin my relationship with MTG Arena Zone today.
This will be a set review, but will focus only on Constructed. If I believe a card won’t see any play in Constructed, it won’t be a part of this review.
When reviewing cards I will be using a grading scale. This is basically the same letter grading system you might find at school.
- A: This grade is rare, because it will only be used on cards that look like they will be heavily played, possibly even dominant in a format, or ban worthy. These cards often go beyond Standard, and see play in older formats as well.
Examples: Teferi, Time Raveler, Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath.
- B: Format staple that’slikely to see plenty of play in multiple different archetypes, both in the sideboard and maindeck.
Examples: Rotting Regisaur , Light Up the Stage.
- C: This could be a card that is only played in single, but popular archetype. It could also be a heavily used sideboard card.
Examples: Cindervines, Absorb.
- D: Cards that see some play from time to time, but aren’t a major part of the top tier archetypes.
Examples: Ajani’s Pridemate, Genesis Ultimatum.
- E: Cards that don’t see play, but people might think are good when they are first printed. These cards have some hype but end up being duds.
Examples: Luminous Broodmoth, Happily Ever After
The most important thing to note about Angelic Ascension is that you can also target your own creature or planeswalker. This makes it a lot better than if it was only on opposing permanents, and means it could fit well into a token deck where you either upgrade a token of yours into an angel, or deal with a particularly troublesome card on the opponent’s side. However, while it is flexible, it still doesn’t do any one thing all that well. Traditionally, cards like this can be found as a one-of in some decks, but don’t actually take off enough to see a ton of play.
Being that this is a Core Set, we will be seeing more reprints than usual, and here is a big one. It has been a while since Baneslayer Angel was played in Standard, but I remember when it was Standard legal, and it definitely made a big impression. This is essentially a must answer threat, which removal spells will try to keep at bay, but if we look at Standard, there are decks that more or less fold to this card. Yes, I’m talking about Mono Red Aggro.
Baneslayer Angel shines against aggro decks because of its ability to gain life and dominate creature combat. It also happens that in Standard. many sacrifice decks are running Claim the Firstborn as their removal spell of choice, which Baneslayer Angel dodges. The angel already sees play in Modern as a threat that can come in from the sideboard out of white control decks, and I expect it to be both a sideboard and maindeck card.
Basri Ket is well-designed, but not overpowered. It is hard to go wide with creatures that aren’t tokens, which makes the second ability somewhat difficult to gain a huge advantage off of. If white aggro decks gain some more traction in Standard, this is a reasonable curve topper after you have already played some early creatures, but’s not clear that Basri Ket is a better fit in white aggro than Gideon Blackblade.
This card has a lot of text. The protection from multicolored is quite nice, as we do see Stonecoil Serpent seeing play, and part of the reason for that is dodging multicolored removal spells and Mayhem Devil. Basri’s Lieutenant is also both a Human and a Knight, two relevant tribes. In a deck with ways to put counters on your creatures, this becomes even better, so it actually goes well alongside Basri Ket, or Venerated Loxodon. Being able to generate some tokens after a sweeper effect is nice. However, four mana is actually pretty expensive, as most white aggro decks don’t play creatures that cost more than three mana.
We see all the Basri-named cards do work well together, but I think this one is on the border of being unplayable. There are definitely a number of other options as ways to pump up your creatures: for one more mana you can play Glorious Anthem which will benefit any future creatures you play, and the fact this is a sorcery rather than an instant makes it look worse.
We’ve seen this one before. Containment Priest is a card that currently sees play in many formats, going all the way back to Vintage, and that’s pretty impressive. I expect Containment Priest to make an impact on Modern and Pioneer. Think of decks playing cards like Eldritch Evolution or Goryo’s Vengeance – this stops players from cheating creatures into play, and is one of the main reasons that Sneak and Show has lost some popularity in Legacy. In Standard, I’m not sure there are enough applications for Containment Priest.
Here is a card that is already legal in Standard. It has seen play in decks with Feather, the Redeemed, but not outside of that.
Faith’s Fetters is an old favorite that was first printed in Ravnica Block. This is definitely a good removal spell against aggressive decks, as gaining four life is very relevant. Notice it can be put onto any permanent, which makes it extremely versatile, as opposed to only removing creatures – disabling planeswalkers is a common usage. However, it fills a similar role to Banishing Light, and Banishing Light doesn’t see that much play. Four mana is a lot. If there is a lifegain deck in Standard, this makes sense as a removal option there.
Feat of Resistance
I don’t think this is as strong as Gods Willing, but if God’s Willing rotates and decks desperately need a protection spell, then who knows.
Good ole’ Glorious Anthem. This is a classic spell, and we know exactly what we are getting when casting it. My first reaction is that the power level of recent sets has passed Glorious Anthem by. However, if there were a White Devotion deck in Standard, it could make sense to play this alongside a card like Reverent Hoplite – as is, it will compete with Heraldic Banner for a slot there.
I think a lot of players will try casting this card, but that doesn’t mean it’s good. It does combo nicely with Revitalize, but I doubt there are enough ways that allow you to gain three life every single turn to really take advantage of it on a consistent basis, as you need a lot and ideally they’re decent by themselves.
Idol of Endurance
This can be utilized in a combo deck that fills up its graveyard with cheap creatures. The issue is that it is very difficult to actually get enough creatures in your graveyard. I’m not sure where this fits, so it likely won’t see play.
Light of Promise
Lifegain decks historically are never top tier archetypes, but that won’t stop players from playing them. Even in a dedicated lifegain deck though, I don’t know that this is good enough.
Mangara, the Diplomat
A white creature that can actually draw you cards? Wow. Looks like WOTC has decided white has been too underpowered without the ability to gain card advantage, and this is true. This is a good creature against aggro decks. If red aggro or token decks are popular, Mangara starts to shine, but it looks terrible if the opponent is playing a control deck. This could fall into the sideboard card category, depending on what the format looks like – in Standard, many decks only cast one spell each turn for the majority of the game anyway.
Nine Lives is going to be great in a game you are close to losing, and the opponent has a single big threat you can’t stop, but it isn’t good at stopping a bunch of small creatures. If there is a card that you can play that deals yourself a bunch of damage, that could work alongside Nine Lives. Overall, I think it’s unlikely we see much of this one.
Here is my favorite white card in the set. I’m just hoping that we see enough Dogs to make it good; I wouldn’t be surprised to see more of them in future Standard sets. Two mana lords will see play if they have enough other good cards in their tribe. Right now, Pack Leader needs some friends to join the pack, and I’m not sure currently there is enough support for it. However, we see Cats and Dogs being pushed a bit here, and I would be surprised if WOTC printed Pack Leader without intending it to see play. Being able to attack without worrying about your creature dying in combat is really nice.
This is a dog! Creatures like Reclamation Sage have seen a good amount of play but, at five mana, I don’t have high expectations for this card.
Another reprint that sees play in older formats, this is a very efficient answer to various annoying cards the opponent might have. It can stop a creature, or even an Expansion//Explosion from targeting you and, at two mana, the card is extremely efficient in terms of what it does. The prohibitive aspect is that Runed Halo costs double white, and is vulnerable to enchantment removal, but it fits nicely into white control decks.
Sanctum of Tranquil Light
Someone is bound to try a shrine deck, but I just don’t think they are powerful enough.
Now, this is a high quality aggressive threat. You can discard a creature to give it indestructible, which means you aren’t vulnerable to removal. The card will be great against control decks.
Selfless Savior is good enough that it could get played in a Dog deck alongside Pack Leader. Even without the tribal synergy, it’s possible that it deserves some consideration in an auras deck that wants multiple ways to protect an important creature.
Speaker of the Heavens
If a lifegain deck actually breaks through in Standard, it will be because of Speaker of the Heavens. Tapping your one mana creature to make an angel each turn is kind of ridiculous: turn one Speaker of the Heavens, turn two attack and Revitalize. Turn three Revitalize and tap it to create an Angel: I mean, yeah, that’s impressive. Every lifegain deck should try to make use of Speaker of the Heavens, but if you aren’t playing other lifegain cards, then this is unplayable.
It’s cheap instant speed removal so, yeah, Swift Response should be a player in control decks. It is situational though, since the opponent must elect to tap their creature in order for this to be good. Overall, I think it will see some but not very much use.
Vryn Wingmare is not close to Thalia, Guardian of Thraben in terms of power level, but it does provide the same effect. It’s hard to see this being good in Standard, since there is no Storm deck that is currently legal. It has seen some fringe play though, going back to Legacy Death and Taxes.