Core Set 2021 Limited Set Review – Introduction and White

Core Set 2021 Limited Set Review - Introduction and White

Welcome back! Compulsion and I (hello, I’m Drifter!) were inspired by the vast number of kind comments and the level of community support we received during the last set release, and so we’ve been especially looking forward to bringing you our third MTG Arena Zone set review in a row, with thanks to Terence for formatting and hosting! Similar to other set reviews you might’ve seen in the past, we’ll be going through and rating every single card using the system below, in colour order. All of these will be released daily on the site between the 19th and 24th, the day before M21’s release on Arena, beginning with White and ending with Multicolour, Artifacts, and Lands (which is all one final article).

After the review has been entirely published, we’ll be compiling a full tier list for your viewing pleasure, which will be updated regularly over the coming months – check out our Ikoria, Lair of Behemoths and Theros: Beyond Death Tier Lists, which link to their attached reviews and written updates, for an illustration of what’s to come!

Please read on for our introductions, some background on the aims of this review, some points of clarification, and the ins and outs of the system we’re using. After that, we’ll review each and every White card. Enjoy!

Introduction

Who are we?

drifter-avatar

Drifter

I’ve been enthralled by Limited ever since I began in New Phyrexia. With a particular fondness for flashback and cube drafts, I’ve drafted more sets than I can count on every platform through wildly different eras. On Arena I draft infinitely, having profited 30k or so gems from it at this point, and have made top 100 mythic many times. Self-reflection and critical analysis are paramount to Limited improvement, and that theme features in many of my articles, and in each session of the Limited coaching service I provide.

Check out all my articles here or follow me on Twitter for regular updates!

compulsion-avatar

Compulsion

I’ve played Magic off and on for the last 20 years. I just checked to confirm that and it blew my mind a little bit. I started with 6th edition and began playing ‘competitively’ with Odyssey. My handle is actually a really good Limited card from the Odyssey block. Anyway, Magic Arena got me back into the game, and I have been drafting infinitely since closed beta and have finished top 1000 Mythic nearly every ranked season.

Check out all my articles here or follow me on Twitch to catch my streams!

Why have a mission statement?

Limited reviews are some of the most finicky things I’ve ever done; they measure all sorts of different and wacky things. Magic is a ridiculously hard game; the ratings of cards is so contextual that having a universal and objective way of measuring precisely how good a card is is impossible. Even when you’re just considering whether to pick a card, there are a multitude of variables to account for. To name just a few, let’s take a card as seemingly innocuous as Smitten Swordmaster from Throne of Eldraine as an example: How early in the draft is it? How likely are you to be in Black? How many 2 drops do you have vs how many 2 drops do you expect to need (more in aggressive decks)? How many knights do you have or expect to end up with? Is there anything specific about the format that makes the Swordmaster pick better or worse – is black especially good or bad, are 2/1s often liabilities because ping effects are abundant or because there are lots of 1/3s or 0/4s, are 2 drops especially important because there aren’t many, are the Adventure decks just so busted that you should try to move in on those? Maybe you shouldn’t move in because, if they are busted, everyone’s going to snap up the payoffs like Lucky Clover… What kind of balance should you strike then?

This is by no means a comprehensive list, and I could give that example for many different cards; I considered updating this statement with a Cycling card like Prickly Marmoset, for example, but frankly that’s much more difficult and Prickly Marmoset is less innocuous, more terrifying…

eld-105-smitten-swordmaster
Hi, I am really hard to rate accurately! And so are many of my friends..

The reality is that in a draft, most of us won’t be considering all these factors, because we just don’t have time or we can’t be bothered, or with practice these things will just come naturally. But a good review has to, and if you’re doing them as early as we are then you don’t have the practice. A good review must account for all the factors that lead to making a draft pick, but do so in a vacuum rather than through direct comparison to other cards, and that’s very difficult because as you can see above, there’s really a lot to it… so you can approach a review in many different ways: a lot of them are pick orders or aim to assess the quality of p1p1s for this reason, or they just seek to capture the rather mythical concept of “general power level”. To maximise usefulness, I feel like we really need to state what we intend to do and what angle we’re approaching from specifically.

The mission statement of this set review (and later tier list):

Compulsion and I are rating how good the cards are likely to be in the composition of the final deck; we’re taking educated and researched guesses at what average well-drafted decks in the format will look like, and how well the cards will fit into them. For example, if a card requires auras to be useful, we’re considering how many auras you’re likely to get, how good the payoff is for getting there, how bad the failcase is if you don’t quite get there, and other considerations like how well the card fits on the ideal curve and how necessary it is for reaching that ideal curve. Whenever there are outliers (like if a card is really good in aggro and not in other decks), we’ll state them and factor them into our ratings.

In this way, at least in theory, this should give a good idea of how early one should be picking the cards and how to weight them – if a card isn’t all that likely to actually work out, then it follows that you shouldn’t pick it that highly. It’s not an exact science, because players tend to under and overvalue things a lot and, as the draft meta adapts to and counteracts their whims, it changes and evolves. That’s not something we can solve on day one though – our updates to the tier list will address that; the reviews are a guideline.

Let’s clarify some things:

Background

  • This is primarily a Draft review and should be taken as such. We’ll try to highlight outliers when a card is much better in Sealed than Draft, but overall there are a few things one should remember about the Sealed format: Sealed is slower, you’re less likely to face aggressive decks (but if you can build a good aggressive curve, it’s even more worth doing), expensive cards and those which generate value are better, splashes* and mana sinks are better, and playing extra mana sources is more often right than in Draft. That doesn’t nearly cover all of the differences but if you keep those factors in mind, you’ll go a long way. For a more in-depth sealed strategy guide, check out this link!
  • All reviews and tier lists are more accurate early on in the Draft, when picks are less contextual; this one is no exception.
  • This is a first impression; the set is not out yet so Compulsion and I have not had the pleasure of playing with it. We’re going to get some things wrong and there’ll be some uncertainty of how things shake up. The tier list will be updated, this review will remain the same, feel free to make fun of us later on! This review, like every other review, is not the end all be all. We don’t recommend following it blindly, so much as taking it as a good guideline. Compulsion and I will disagree often, but you have our individual ratings and thoughts to inform your decisions.
  • The reviews and tier list are written with human drafts in mind; they’ll still be useful for bot drafts but not as much so.

In Drafts

  • Early on, colourless cards tend to be better as they fit into and will enhance any deck, so they leave you more open to drafting different decks and will be good wherever you end up. We don’t take this into account in our ratings, since this only applies strongly in the first five or so picks, and then the effect drops off in importance gradually and is negligible after p2p3 (pack 2, pick 3) or so. P1p1, you want to take good colourless cards at about a grade distinction higher e.g. B instead of B-.
  • Early on, multicolour cards tend to be worse since they fit into fewer decks, and will be wasted picks if you don’t end up in those two colours. However, cards that are good splashes are often largely saved from this effect, depending on the format’s fixing. We do factor mana cost into our ratings – if a card is easy to play in two colours, it won’t get much of a grade knock for this effect, but if it’s colour-intensive, it definitely will. P1p1, you want to take good multicolour cards at about a grade distinction lower if they’re good splashes e.g. B- instead of B, or more like 1.5-2 distinctions if they’re bad splashes.
  • Sideboard-only cards are graded as though they would go in the maindeck for the most part e.g. they generally receive bad ratings, but good descriptions.

*What are splashes? When should I splash? What makes a card a good or bad splash?

Legend (IMPORTANT)

We’ve expanded our system of pluses and minuses from last time. Any grade except S and F can receive them now, but C+ and C- are still most common and important.

Alpine Watchdog

Alpine Watchdog

Drifter: C-

This is a pretty medium 2 drop in most formats since Vigilance doesn’t do very much after turns 2 or 3. In most of the recent formats, you’ve been able to do better than this, so I’m not inclined to give it too high a grade. That being said, Alpine Houndmaster is a good reason to have this in your deck.

Compulsion: C

2/2 Vigilance is not too bad as filler creatures go. It will sometimes overperform when your opponent has an important 2-drop and doesn’t want to trade, allowing you to poke in a couple times for free. Bonus points if you have Alpine Houndmaster in your deck. We should be watchful of the other common two-drops as we peruse the set, as those will be one of the best indicators of the speed of the format.

Angelic Ascension

Angelic Ascension

Drifter: B

You’ll almost always use this card on your own stuff – either to ambush a creature by sacrificing a small creature in combat, to save one of them from removal, or to start beating down by sacrificing a 1 drop on turn 2 – and it’s fantastic in any of those roles. The situation has to be pretty dire to use it on your opponents’ stuff, but sometimes it will come up, especially with aura’ed creatures or ludicrous bombs.

Compulsion: B+

99% of the time this upgrades one of your creatures into an Angel, which is good in and of itself. What puts it over the top is Instant speed. The utility applications such as ‘countering’ a removal spell, creating a surprise 4/4 flying blocker, or even downgrading an enemy Baneslayer Angel are very promising. This is a card I would always like to have in my deck.

Anointed Chorister

Anointed Chorister

Drifter: C-

Almighty Brushwagg was quite underwhelming and this format doesn’t have a mutate anymore, which was a decent reason to have it. That being said, I believe in this significantly more as a standalone card because Lifelink is a much stronger ability than Trample – this is a card that is well worth pumping mana into, since a 4/4 lifelink will often dominate the late game – and because there are lifegain synergies aplenty in this one. However, the card is still unplayable until you pump it, and it costing 5 mana to pump instead of 4 is painful, and will mean you will almost never be able to double pump.

Ordinarily I would give this card a D+, but there are enough decent lifegain payoffs in Orzhov that I feel comfortable raising it to C-. and sometimes you’ll be able to make the Griffin Aerie-Revitalize deck work in White, where this will be a solid inclusion.

This is also a card that you sideboard in against any deck with plenty of x/1s and especially aggro decks, since it’s actively great there as a card that can trade up or be good later on.

Compulsion: C-

Almighty Brushwagg showed that one mana creatures aren’t to be disregarded if they are scalable. However, I believe the Mutate applications were a big part of its success. Anointed Chorister does have synergy with the ‘gain 3 or more life’ payoffs in the set, but I am afraid it will end up doing a whole lot of nothing until you are able to activate its ability. There are cards like Daybreak Charger and Makeshift Battalion that make 1-drops more appealing, but I still think this is weak filler in most decks.

Aven Gagglemaster

Aven Gagglemaster

Drifter: B

I deliberated between B and B- for this, but the swing of gaining 2-6 life in a fliers deck, which are generally pretty strong in Core Set Draft, is too good to pass up, especially given lifegain synergies are supported this format. Even just in racing situations, this card will be strong. 4/3 flier for 5 tends to be a fine statline, though significantly worse than 4/4 since other fliers will be able to trade more easily, and it won’t dissuade attackers nearly as well.

Compulsion: B

Aven Gagglemaster looks very promising to me for a few reasons. Flying is looking pretty strong in this format, and the 4/3 statline is generally going to get through unless your opponent has multiple flyers. Also, the life gain is a nice bonus on its own but if you have a second flyer this can also enable your ‘gain 3 or more life’ cards.

Baneslayer Angel

Baneslayer Angel

Drifter: S

Baneslayer Angel is the kind of bomb that will almost always win the game if unremoved, because this combination of abilities is so absurd. Most creatures can neither attack into it nor block it. For Limited evaluation, I often look at the three common kinds of board state – where you’re ahead, at parity, or behind, with behind being the most important one – and Baneslayer is fantastic on any of them.

Compulsion: S

Besides being a ridiculous bomb this is a very cool reprint. I remember playing it back in M10/M11, and despite the frustration in seeing her land on your opponent’s side of the board, Baneslayer Angel is a quintessential Magic card.

Basri Ket

Basri Ket
5

Drifter: A+

Giving something a +1/+1 counter every turn while ticking up is absurd – it will not be hard to ult Basri at all, and he starts on a pretty high loyalty so they won’t be able to attack him down easily. He’s a bit weak to fliers and I think the minus ability will be quite winmore, but it should transform a winning board state into an unbeatable one, which is still worth a lot. A lot of Basri’s power just comes from costing 3 mana; this is one of the best 3 drop plays in the entire format, while still being nuts late game.

Compulsion: A-

When it comes to three mana White Mythic Planeswalkers, this is no Gideon Blackblade. Basri Ket does threaten to produce a lot of value over time if left unchecked, but to me this looks like it will be a ‘win-more’ card a lot of the time. The abilities work counter to protecting it, so until you are ready to go wide it is likely to sit there and generate a +1/+1 counter per turn. This is still a very good card, but not the bomb Mythic planeswalkers tend to be.

Basri’s Acolyte

Basri's Acolyte

Drifter: B

Here’s Saddleback Lagac, one of the best commons in Oath of the Gatewatch, but it comes with a much better starting body and enables lifegain synergies! This card represents an absurd amount of value and all it requires you to do is be playing plenty of creatures and have a good early curve, which are things that go a long way towards winning Limited games anyway, especially in White. You don’t need to be go-wide at all.

I suspect this will be one of the best commons, and that its very presence is a huge boost to the colour; I debated between B and B+, and could see moving it up.

Compulsion: C+

Basri’s Acolyte should end up being a staple common in go-wide decks. I like the design on this one. The full value case of getting two counters is great, while getting one counter is okay, and no counters is terrible. There is some risk-reward here, but it is going to be good in the right deck I think.

Basri’s Lieutenant

Basri's Lieutenant

Drifter: A

Most of the time, this is a 4 mana 4/5 that produces an additional 2/2 on death, since the default play will be to target itself. That’s a crazy efficient rate and that’s not even factoring in protection from multicoloured, which is worth a decent amount when a lot of the good removal is multicolour in the set, or the synergy it has with other +1/+1 counters (which there’s plenty of at Common, with Basri’s Acolyte and Basri’s Solidarity), or the fact that you can put the counter on other stuff to enable attacks if you want.

This card is absolutely absurd; it doesn’t quite make S since it doesn’t scale quite as well into the late game (while still being good) or have quite the same impact on average an S card will, but you’ll be overjoyed to first pick it, and sometimes even splash it (though it is a lot worse there than just being base White).

Compulsion: A-

Basri’s Lieutenant doesn’t dominate the board or anything, but there is a lot of value here. Even if it gets removed immediately you are still up a +1/+1 counter or a 2/2 Knight. If allowed to stick around the upside is even higher.

Basri’s Solidarity

Basri's Solidarity

Drifter: C

At instant speed, this card would be amazing but as is, it requires you to have a decent board already to do anything. There’s only one token producer at common in White, so I think it’ll be pretty hard to go wide with this. That being said, if you have creatures with attack triggers like Falconer Adapt and Makeshift Battalion, this gets better since they probably won’t account for those in their blocks, and that makes those cards much more dangerous threats on future turns. I suspect there’s enough synergy with this card in the set, despite the lack of tokens, that it merits a C but I also strongly considered C- and may move it down.

Compulsion: C

Decks with +1/+1 counter payoffs are going to want this, but for the average White deck you are giving up a creature to buff the rest, which can undermine your go-wide strategy to some extent. The sorcery speed also removes any utility applications.

Celestial Enforcer

Celestial Enforcer

Drifter: C

There are only two fliers at common in White, and neither of them are amazing. You do need to have a decent number of those in your deck for this to be worth playing, but the fail case of this isn’t too bad, as a 3 mana 2/3. This is the kind of card that pairs really well with Blue, which has many common fliers, and will sometimes get there either in White or in the other colours. I’d be looking to have three fliers that cost 5 or less minimum, and more like four or five, before I was happy to play this, and that will be far from every deck. If it looked as though I was well set up to reach that, I’d take this more at C+, since this ability is powerful and the card’s playability hinges entirely on it.

Compulsion: C

Celestial Enforcer looks like a solid defender in decks trying to win with flyers. 2/3’s are good for shutting down 2/2 (and 3/2) attackers. Later in the game gaining the ability to tap down your opponent’s best creature while you pick away with flyers is a nice asset.

Concordia Pegasus

Concordia Pegasus

Drifter: C

Concordia Pegasus is a good card to stack +1/+1 counters on, and that’s really important with Basri’s Acolyte roaming around at common. Other than that, it’s just a reasonable 2 drop that will enable your Celestial Enforcers and Makeshift Battalions; I think it’s on the high end of C and could see moving it up to C+, since I do think this is a decent format for it.

Compulsion: C

In go-wide decks this is going to be weak filler, but if you have some Flying payoffs I would prioritize Concordia Pegasus in the 2-drop slot. The 1/3 statline also looks pretty good for more defensive strategies.

Containment Priest

Containment Priest

Drifter: C-

This is mostly just a 2/2 Flash for 2; in recent formats, that has been a pretty medium statline. White does look like it will want 2 drops more than in most other formats, since Basri’s Acolyte and other counter synergies really benefit from that. I consider this better than the 2/2 Vigilance, but not much so.

Compulsion: C

I think a certain black cat should have been drawn in the containment field, but this is a Limited review! A grizzly bear with flash isn’t terrible exciting, but there are a couple things this can disrupt in the set. I would take Containment Priest a little higher in bo3 formats for that reason, but overall this is not an exciting card to draft.

Daybreak Charger

Daybreak Charger

Drifter: C

This ability is good in aggressive decks, but a lot of this card’s power comes from being played on turn 2. Don’t save it for later on unless you have a different 2 drop – it’s not worth holding onto this card, since they’ll often be trying to trade with you in aggressive decks anyway, and this ability will enable you to trade up at best. The 3/1 statline also doesn’t hold counters from Basri’s Acolyte and Basri’s Solidarity all that well as a 4/2 is far less exciting than a 3/3, though being able to attack for 4 lifelink with Acolyte is quite strong. All in all, I think this doesn’t quite make C+.

Compulsion: C+

Daybreak Charger is a powerful Aggro tool. Typically we only get a vanilla 3/1 in White and the bonus here could end up being really impactful.

Defiant Strike

Defiant Strike

Drifter: D+

Defiant Strike gets better if you have a bunch of First Strike and Double Strike cards, but has never been very exciting by itself if you don’t have a specific reason to want it. The danger of running into instant-speed removal is ever-present, since that will be an effective way to 2 for 1 you. In practice, this tends to be a pretty awkward card that most decks don’t want.

Compulsion: C-

Best case it allows your creature to trade with a stronger one, but that exchange is still card neutral. I would look to avoid tricks like this unless I had several minor combos like First Strike or casting it on Basri’s Acolyte in order to trigger ‘gain 3 or more life’ payoffs.

Dub

Dub

Drifter: D+

Dub is generally not worth the risk, but if you have cards like Feat of Resistance and Selfless Savior in your deck, it gets a lot better. Still, the buff is just not worth that much compared to the risk, and most decks can do better. This card really illustrates how much Commanding Presence’s free 1/1s mattered, but that format also had better synergies around auras.

Compulsion: C-

Dub might see some play in Aggro, but it is a risky proposition. 2-for-1’s can be especially devastating in Core Sets where the power level between decks tends to be closer together.

Faith’s Fetters

Faith's Fetters

Drifter: A-

Faith’s Fetters is a solid answer to most nonland permanents and gaining 4 life is a massive deal, which can heavily change the outcome of any race situation. Funnily enough, I think two of the commons in its own colour hurt it – Feat of Resistance and Rambunctious Mutt are absurd answers to it, so it will be at its worst against White.

Compulsion: A

Faith’s Fetters is another really cool reprint. The life gain was a sweet addition to what is effectively hard removal back in the day, and with the ‘gain 3 life’ payoffs in this format it looks to be even sweeter now.

Falconer Adept

Falconer Adept

Drifter: C+

I compare this to Audacious Thief, and it’s significantly worse – a 1/1 flier is worth less than a card on average, this has a much worse statline as a 4 mana 2/3 than Audacious Thief’s 3 mana 2/2, and isn’t any better at attacking. That being said, Audacious Thief was fantastic in M20 Draft, and the Falconer Adept has more synergy here – it’s great with Gale Swooper and +1/+1 counters from Basri’s Acolyte and Basri’s Solidarity. It’s not an amazing card in most decks and you certainly want to have ways to get it through, but the payoff is still very solid. It’s a shame the Birds come in attacking – sometimes your opponent will just be able to pick them off with a 2/2 flier. This is a card I could see moving down to C.

Compulsion: C+

This is a bit of a build around, as you need to have some ways to attack with this without it dying. 2/3 for 4 mana is not a good rate at all, but I could see trying to make it work in decks that have several ways to buff Falconer Adept or give her evasion.

Feat of Resistance

Feat of Resistance

Drifter: C+

I’m surprised to see this at common in a core set, since protection is a pretty complex mechanic, but this card is incredibly versatile, and has a powerful effect in many scenarios, from being a fine trick to stopping a removal spell to attacking for lethal through a board of mono-coloured creatures. One especially great usage is that you can knock off enchantments with it at instant speed – throwing Faith’s Fetters off and then immediately blocking with your revived creature can be an insane blowout.

Compulsion: C

Feat of Resistance is pretty good and looks more like an uncommon combat trick. The applications are fairly wide, allowing you to to win combat without your creature dying, save a creature from removal, or even allow a creature to become unblockable in some cases. I would still rather have removal in my noncreature slots, but this is a combat trick I would not mind running.

Gale Swooper

Gale Swooper

Drifter: C

This card will often deal 2-4 damage on its Assault Griffin body, but amusingly this ability isn’t that great in the fliers decks, its natural home. I think Assault Griffin has gotten worse and worse as sets have gone by, and the power level has been pushed higher and higher, but this card is better in non-flier decks than most, so I’m comfortable giving it a low C.

Compulsion: C+

This is a pushed common for White. There are some nice targets for the evasion bonus, and Snapping Drake is always playable in Core Set Limited.

Glorious Anthem

Glorious Anthem

Drifter: A-

All of your creatures are better than your opponent’s on curve for the rest of the game after you play this card; that is tremendously powerful, and it’s good at any point.

Compulsion: A-

White looks really happy in M21 to run a global buff enchantment. The mana cost makes it fairly tough to splash, but this is the color that is likely to want it the most anyway. Just make sure this is taking up a noncreature slot, as you will want to run at least 16-17 creatures in decks that include Glorious Anthem.

Griffin Aerie

Griffin Aerie

Drifter: C

Having looked at the commons in this set, it is quite hard to gain 3 life in White. Its true that Revitalize is good with Griffin Aerie, but Revitalize isn’t a good card by itself so you really need multiple Griffin Aeries or other lifegain payoffs (the rest are Black, other than Light of Promise which I don’t think is a good card), so a deck will need multiples of each before it becomes worth it – if you just play one copy of Revitalize and one of Griffin Aerie, you’re going to have a lot of awkward draws. I don’t think Anointed Chorister is a great card either, but this is a good reason to want it. You can also buff up Basri’s Acolyte to allow it to trigger this, say with a second Acolyte (which sounds pretty absurd since that card is amazing anyway).

I think the Aerie is chiefly an Orzhov card, since there are two decent ways to gain life at Common there – Alchemist’s Gift and Blood Glutton – alongside other payoffs which make the enablers more worth including. All in all, I suspect the lifegain deck is a bit awkward and this card won’t belong in most decks, but will be very good in the dedicated Orzhov decks, where you should take it at closer to B, and the payoff is high enough that you want to take it at C+ as an early pick.

Compulsion: B

This is a very good payoff for being in the Lifegain deck. Time will tell how good this archetype ends up being, but there are enough tools like Griffin Aerie for me to get excited about building it.

Idol of Endurance

Idol of Endurance

Drifter: C

This card is really a ton of value – I think it will not be unreasonable to cast 2 cards with this in the mid-game or 3 in the late game, and all you really have to do is play cards with CMC 3 or less, something White really wants to be doing anyway. That being said, you don’t want too many of this kind of card, its value is dependent on what cards you can bring back e.g. if you have stuff that’s relevant in the late game like flying units then this gets far better, and most Aggro/fliers decks would rather just have ways to enhance their primary plan. Still, I see this having a place in a lot of decks, since midrange is by far the most common sort of deck in Draft, and value isn’t always easy to come by especially in White. I could see moving this up to C+, and deliberated between the two grades. This card is better in Sealed than Draft, where it’s more like a B-.

Compulsion: D

This thing is too slow and situational for my taste. I think if there ends up being a very low curve Aggro deck in the format this becomes playable, but I am still low on this rare.

Legion’s Judgment

Legion's Judgment

Drifter: C-

I don’t think there are enough great 4 power creatures outside of Green for this card to be worth running more than 1-of, but White doesn’t have tons of removal this set so fewer Legion’s Judgments may wheel than Blade Banishes. This is a solid sideboard card, so you should certainly take it higher in best-of-three.

Compulsion: C-

Legion’s Judgement is highly dependant on what the popular archetypes end up being. It can be risky to run this in your main deck if Aggro ends up being really popular. In Sealed this is a good playable, though.

Light of Promise

Light of Promise

Drifter: D

There is one deck in which this is good, but the lifegain enablers in this set aren’t good outside Orzhov anyway, and you’re risking a lot in playing Auras that don’t produce any immediate value. This card does get better when you can protect the creature with stuff like Feat of Resistance and Selfless Savior, or if you put it on a creature that has lifelink itself, but in general I think the Orzhov decks can do better, and other decks won’t want this.

Compulsion: C-

There is some combo potential with this one, but I am always wary about putting all my eggs in one basket via Auras. I think this will end up being like All That Glitters where it is tempting to play if you are in the archetype due to blowout potential, but you end up getting burned with it just as often.

Makeshift Battalion

Makeshift Battalion

Drifter: C-

This is the kind of card which is good when you’re curving out well anyway, but still not that good, and then pretty bad if you’re not. The 3/2 for 3 statline is awful, so you really want to be in a good position to get counters before you play this card, and there’s only one token producer at common in White and that’s a five-drop so it won’t be easy to get two attackers. This card contributed to White being the worst colour in War of the Spark, but I suspect it’s significantly better here since I do think being able to put the first +1/+1 counter on it with Basri’s Acolyte or Basri’s Solidarity helps it somewhat, and Feat of Resistance is great with it. It’s still not especially good and I doubt it will ever make it past C- though.

Compulsion: C

I hate playing 3/2’s, but in a go-wide Aggro deck this one is fine.

Mangara, the Diplomat

Mangara, the Diplomat

Drifter: A-

This card’s power is in that it will force your opponents to play in a very uncomfortable way: it stop their tempo plays and prevents them from racing you, because your drawing extra cards is such a huge deal. It shuts down any aggressive or go-wide strategies completely – small creatures are pretty worthless with this card in play until you can present lethal damage by going around it – and there, its lifelink body makes that much more difficult.

However, assuming your opponent is playing some variant of midrange, the most common style of deck in Draft, and especially if they’re playing Green, this card won’t be a bomb – it will hinder them but it won’t take over the game. That 4/4 for 4 or that big flier will still kill you eventually, and this card won’t help you advance your gameplan that much because they’ll have all their stuff ready to block it. This is a card that’s at its best in a fliers deck, because it completely removes your opponent’s ability to race and you have a solid gameplan for winning the game yourself there. Overall, I considered moving this down to B+, but I think it’s good enough when you’re behind, and does enough damage to the average opponent’s game to warrant a low A grade.

Compulsion: A-

I really like the design of Mangara. As a diplomat he’s not beating faces, but he sets useful limitations on what your opponent can do without being punished. In go wide decks he may underperform, but in UW flyers for example this could end up being the best card in your deck.

Nine Lives

Nine Lives

Drifter: D-

Paying 3 mana to gain some life and do nothing else, even if it’s potentially a lot of life, is rarely worth it in Limited, and this often isn’t even that much life. This card does nothing to further your gameplan or help you win the game, it merely prevents you from losing it for a little while – and it invalidates your life total so for the most of the game, you won’t even be able to play it. Remember that you’re replacing a card that can block or stop one of their cards with this – that will buy so much more than time since even a 4 mana 3/3 will stop or eat multiple threats often – that is them removing threats permanently, not just stalling. This is paying 3 mana not to impact the board at all and to have an effect that other cards will often do better, while those cards have a ton of other advantages you give up. This is a card that would’ve been better in Ikoria Draft, since Zenith Flare was a defining card of that format and so you would’ve sided it in against Cycling (and then often lost to Drannith Stinger anyway), but most formats don’t have nearly enough direct burn to make this a worthy inclusion.

The point of Control decks is to stabilise the board and win with card advantage; they don’t need to kill you quickly at all – buying a bunch of time is not the way to beat them (and Control decks aren’t very common in Draft anyway). This card is completely embarrassing against any deck with lots of creatures – it might buy you a turn or two if you’re lucky, at the cost of going down a card and accomplishing nothing. White is looking like a pretty beatdowny colour this format to boot, the exact kind that wants nothing to do with this card. The actual spot where this card is at its best is against green midrange decks – since their creatures tend to be bigger and they tend to have fewer of them.

Even in a fliers deck, a lot of their creatures will be getting through since they’ll be trying their utmost to race, so this won’t gain you that much life. The main place where I see this card being reasonable is in hard control decks with tons of removal, that don’t have any lifegain or ways to buy time, since if you can keep the board clear then it is at least a lot of life, especially if it’s stopping burn spells rather than creatures. Even there, it’s not good so much as a necessary evil, and that is a caveat to a very rare deck to begin with.

Compulsion: C

This is a really tough card to rate, but I think it is alright. I don’t know about nine lives, but ‘extra life’ seems realistic as I would expect this to prevent about 20 damage on average. The best way to play this is to try to get into a damage race with your opponent and drop Nine Lives right before losing. The value here is going to have a lot to do with the metagame. If go-wide Aggro is the go-to archetype, you are probably better off having another creature or removal spell. But against a control deck that wants to win with a handful singular threats, dropping Nine Lives will be devastating.

Pack Leader

Pack Leader

Drifter: B-

There are two Dogs at common in White, and two in red. This is a strong ability on an aggressive 2 drop, as it allows itself to attack with impunity too, but it’s still a pretty low impact card without other Dogs – still, I think there are enough of those that I’m happy to take this card pretty highly.

Compulsion: B-

I am not sure how good Dog Tribal is going to be, but I will look to try it if I find Pack Leader early. It is hard to get too excited about a Grizzly Bear, even if it is indestructible on the attack. If you can get a pack of dogs together there you start to have something, although this 2/2 lord is at risk of dying to a lot of spells, so make sure your dogs have multiple payoffs or are worth playing without the bonus. Selfless Savior into Pack Leader into more dogs would be an intimidating curve out, so there might be something here.

Rambunctious Mutt

Rambunctious Mutt

Drifter: C+

I think it won’t be uncommon for this card to find a reasonable target in the format. The 4/4 version of this was always very solid, this is worse but it should be a strong card nonetheless – the fail case is bad, but not absolutely awful and the ceiling case is nuts.

Compulsion: C-

There are some Artifacts/Enchantments worth hitting with this, but I will likely keep the Mutt in my sideboard because a 5 mana 3/4 is not where I want to be.

Revitalize

Revitalize

Drifter: D+

Revitalize is generally only worth putting in decks with loads of good “gain 3 life payoffs“, which is chiefly in Orzhov. The cards that are really good with this are Indulging Patrician, Griffin Aerie, and Silversmote Ghoul, and unfortunately they’re all uncommons – there are some rares too, but this doesn’t really help out a card like Speaker of the Heavens all that much. If you have at least 3 of these uncommons, I would be happy to have it, but this card won’t be worth the mana when you don’t draw them and that won’t be the case in most decks. I think it’s a pretty tough sell to just rely on Griffin Aerie for the purposes of playing this card, since you need several of those and several Revitalizes, and that is a lot of hoops to jump through.

Revitalize also goes in the occasional Control deck, which aren’t common in Draft and generally need to not have other lifegain sources for it to be worth it.

Compulsion: C

The rating on this card is pretty arbitrary. Basically, if you aren’t packing multiple ‘gain 3+ life’ payoffs this is not worth a slot in your deck. If you are then you are going to want multiples. If Lifegain ends up being really competitive in the metagame I would expect Revitalize to go at the C+ level, otherwise you are going to be able to find them really late in the draft. I think this card might finally have its format to shine in, similar to Return to Nature in Theros Beyond Death.

Runed Halo

Runed Halo

Drifter: C

The base case of this card is Sky Tether – a card that prevents an opposing creature from attacking, since protection stops it from damaging you. This is where costing WW really hurts since Sky Tether is a really efficient card and this is hard to cast, but this can shut down noncreature permanents, say if there is an artifact pinging you or whatever. The creature you name with this can still block, and that’s a huge deal – it doesn’t stop it from dealing damage or pinging your creatures.

Compulsion: D-

I am not too keen on this one. In a perfect world you get a 2-for-1 because they played two of the same creature or prevent a Baneslayer Angel from beating you up. But, only you have protection so they can still use those creatures to block. I don’t see it being worth a slot in your deck.

Sanctum of Tranquil Light

Sanctum of Tranquil Light

Drifter: D

When I pair my uncommon with another uncommon, I get to form a mediocre card! This costs 5 mana to activate by itself, and that’s a really steep rate, and that’s all it does – even with one other Shrine, 4 mana is pretty expensive. Until you’re actively using the ability and getting value from this, you’re a card down. It’s awkward to splash for it in your many-coloured Shrine decks because it costs white mana to activate this ability, so you won’t be able to use it twice in one turn unless you’re heavy White – so even when it’s costing 3 or so mana to use this ability, you might not actually be able to!

I suspect this is the worst of the Shrine cycle and not a card you want to take highly at all; in most decks, it’s just too many hoops to jump through for not that great an effect. You’re probably happy to have it in your decks with lots of Shrines, since it will also enhance the abilities of your other Shrines, but that’s pretty edge case. However, this card is great in any deck that can activate it twice per turn – whether that’s base-white multi-colour Shrine decks or ramp decks that might have another Shrine or two. At the point where you’re activating this twice per turn, it will destroy them, but it’s so hard and rare to get to that point that I don’t feel comfortable raising it to D+. Still, this card is really fun and I do recommend people try out the Shrine deck a bunch; there is value to be had in trying out wacky things at the start of a format, since the level of competition is lower and it’s a time of great discovery where anything can happen!

Compulsion: D+

5 mana is a tall ask for a tapper. I am not sure how well the Legendary Shrine cycle is going to pan out in Limited. In your typical 2-color deck you should only play one of each shrine (as they are legendary). According to my calculator, after you’ve drawn your 13th card (turn 6 or 7) the odds of finding both shrines is only 10%. Maybe they will end up going very late for this reason, opening up the possibility of some sort of 5-color Shrine deck, but that is all speculation at this point.

Seasoned Hallowblade

Seasoned Hallowblade

Drifter: B-

This card is absurd, and you’ll want to use this ability a lot – it dissuades their x/3s and below from attacking or blocking, it gains you tempo if you ever get to kill anything, and it attacks at a good rate by itself but even better in a format where White is putting +1/+1 counters on things a lot. I suspect this will be the best aggressive 2 drop in the entire format; it reminds me a lot of Adanto Vanguard; it may be worse but that card was insane enough that I am happy to give this a high grade.

Compulsion: C+

In an aggro deck this ends up being minor flood protection. You aren’t really going to want to trade many cards to keep your 3/1 alive, but the base value is pretty standard and it is nice to have the threat of activation.

Secure the Scene

Secure the Scene

Drifter: B-

This does kill anything, but giving them a 1/1 is surprisingly relevant and hurts a lot in aggro decks. It’s 5 mana sorcery-speed removal to begin with, so I’m not really that excited. Still, White’s removal options are kind of weak this set, so you’ll want this card more. Overall, I like it at B- since you’ll want to supplement White with a better removal colour much of the time.

Compulsion: B

This is a great removal spell with an acceptably small downside. I could see going higher on this if go-wide decks aren’t very prominent, as Secure the Scene will be less effective against those.

Selfless Savior

Selfless Savior

Drifter: C+

This is a lot like Alseid of Life’s Bounty but it costs 0 mana to use this ability so you can protect something at any time without harming your curve, and that is a truly massive deal. Alseid was a great card; it had some advantages in being an Enchantment in a format that really cared about that, having lifelink, and protection being more relevant in Limited than indestructibility. I think this is a little worse, but 0 mana to activate is a big enough deal that I am happy to give it the same grade for now.

Compulsion: C-

1 mana 1/1’s are terrible in Limited, but I could see slotting this one in if I drafted a few bomb creatures worth protecting. It fits a similar role as Alseid of Life’s Bounty, but that card was significantly better due to Lifelink and Enchantment synergy.

Siege Striker

Siege Striker

Drifter: C+

There’s only one token producer in White at common this set, which means you’re going to be tapping something real down a significant proportion of the time with this card, and that’s not really what beat down decks want to be doing. Still, the threat of being able to tap several down, combined with how good it is to put +1/+1 counters on this card (which White’s theme allows it to do easily, makes this a solid card in those decks (and bad elsewhere).

I would ordinarily give this a C, but I think counter synergy and aggro will be the two most prominent White decks and both of them are happy to have it so I’m giving it a speculative C+, but may move it down.

Compulsion: C

Double Strike is a powerful ability, but it is going to take some building around to make Siege Striker good. The main problem is needing to tap down your other attackers to power him up. If you have some ways to provide evasion or clear a path, there is some value here. But, playing a 1/1 on turn 3 will tend to put you behind on the board and this is not a good card for racing because you must tap down your potential blockers to get damage through.

Speaker of the Heavens

Speaker of the Heavens

Drifter: C-

This card ranges from a D in the average deck to a B in dedicated lifegain; 7 life is really not easy. Even if you’re in the Orzhov lifegain deck, it won’t always work out because your opponents can just be actively pressuring you and this card won’t do anything – unlike Constructed, which often has Control decks, Limited has a strong tendency to revolve around combat. It just won’t be that easy to stay at 27 or more; even if your deck has good blockers, flier decks will be common. I feel like this is a hard early pick because you just won’t end up playing it very often.

This card does get some value in that you can put auras on it or buff it up with Basri’s Acolyte and then the body will become relevant, but I still think that’s an Orzhov Lifegain thing to do, since when it’s triggering your Griffin Aeries and such, you’re getting a much better rate than just building your own Bishop’s Soldier.

Compulsion: B

Similar to Revitalize, you are either drafting this deck or you aren’t so the rating is somewhat arbitrary. I don’t think getting to 27 life is going to be unreasonable in this format, and Speaker of the Heavens even chips in a bit if your opponent doesn’t have an early play. Sometimes you are going to draw this in low-hp top deck mode and be disappointed, but I think the rewards are worth the risk here.

Staunch Shieldmate

Staunch Shieldmate

Drifter: D+

This card is a reasonable way to enable Makeshift Battalion, and to provide a base for +1/+1 counters, but you’d better have a lot of buffs in your aggro or go-wide deck or be desperate for early game/1 drops in any deck to play it. It’s never an exciting pick and, even if you do buff it, the payoff of getting a 2/4 really isn’t that exciting.

Compulsion: C

This statline is actually pretty intriguing. It allows you to attack along with your 2-drop and with things like Makeshift Battalion without dying for free in many cases. If a deck is going wide enough I think this may have a place.

Swift Response

Swift Response

Drifter: B-

In defensively-oriented decks, this card is really solid, since you get to destroy a creature before it hits you, but I suspect White will want to beat down a lot this set, and this doesn’t enable your attacks. Still, it’s a good enough rate that most decks will be happy to have it.

Compulsion: B

The Instant speed on this allows you to be much more proactive and even use it as a combat trick in some cases. I would take this very highly in more defensive archetypes.

Tempered Veteran

Tempered Veteran

Drifter: B-

This card really wants counter synergies, since a 1/2 for 2 doesn’t really have much board impact, but the 6 mana activation is incredibly powerful and will take over late games – once you’ve managed to get one counter on anything, you’re getting a fantastic rate. Basri’s Acolyte is amazing, and this is a good reason to want Basri’s Solidarity, so I suspect this card is really good.

Compulsion: B-

Look how easily the rich get richer while it is cost-prohibitive to assist the poor! Anyhow, I like this quite a bit in any deck that has a strong +1/+1 counter theme. I don’t see tapping for the 6 mana ability too often, but it is nice to have mana sinks when boards gets stalled and/or games run long.

Valorous Steed

Valorous Steed

Drifter: C+

This is a solid rate, and a great way to enable buffs that go on multiple creatures like Basri’s Acolyte (I’m trying not to mention that every time I review a new White card, but it’s hard because I do think it is a flagship common for White!) and Basri’s Solidarity. Most White decks will be happy to have it.

Compulsion: C+

This is like Lonesome Unicorn with fewer steps. 5 mana for 5/5 worth of stats is a good rate in Limited, and spreading those stats among multiple creatures is in line with what White is trying to do. For a common 5-drop you could do a lot worse.

Vryn Wingmare

Vryn Wingmare

Drifter: B-

This ability is more likely to help than hurt you, since you’re the one with the 2/1 flier, the thing in play – you’re pressuring them while they’re flailing around being unable to cast their noncreature spells. This is a card that you can side out if they have significantly more creatures than you, and it’s not a card you want to play in your Control decks or decks relying on expensive noncreature spells. I suspect White is the beatdown and creature-oriented enough this format that this deserves a low B-, especially since it holds counters well and there are some flying payoffs.

Compulsion: C+

As long as your deck is primarily creatures, this is a nice aggressive threat that can also slow down your opponent.

Warded Battlements

Warded Battlements

Drifter: D

This is a very strange card with a lot of dis-synergy with itself – an 0/3 for 3 isn’t even blocking very much so it’s not good in races, so it’s a lot like playing an Enchantment with this effect, and that effect is generally not good enough to spend a card on. It’s going to be hard to be go wide in White since there aren’t a ton of tokens, so I suspect this card is just bad. As an 0/4, I’d be pretty excited for this in Fliers, but it just won’t prevent races enough – you can board it in against other White decks with lots of 2/2s in Fliers, perhaps.

Compulsion: C-

Warded Battlements is an odd card, but I could see it having a place in UW Flyers, for example. If you are able to attack with at least two other creatures and block with this, the math checks out vs. playing a 3/3 in this slot.

Conclusions

Drifter

White is an odd mix this set; its strength is distilled into just a few powerful card, but a boatload of synergies surround those and most of its cards are decent playables that fit into plenty of decks. I suspect the nature of White will force you to draft in a more synergistic than a good-stuffy fashion; you’re looking for the big payoffs that you can build packages around* like Basri’s Acolyte/Tempered Veteran for counters, Seasoned Hallowblade or Vryn Wingmare for aggro, Valorous Steed/Siege Striker for go-wide, or Griffin Aerie for lifegain, and then to build around those – luckily the first two are heavily supported and many of their cards are interchangeable, the third will sometimes work but has some problems I’ll list below, and the fourth is well-supported in Orzhov. Additionally, White seems like the premier flier support colour to Blue, though ideally you will want a Blue payoff like Tide Skimmer or Watcher of the Spheres to be pulled into that strategy.

White does have some inborn problems – White seems to have a lot of go-wide payoffs, but there really aren’t many tokens to back them up, even in other colours, so decent 1 and 2 drops will be important for those strategies, and I suspect Basri’s Solidarity will perform better as a counters card than a go-wide card. Additionally, it might seem aggressive at first glance, but there isn’t good removal in White that facilitates attacking – Swift Response and Secure the Scene are both awkward for that, and so it’s going to need a good support colour like Red that it can provide the great creatures for. I suspect the counters deck is the best White deck, since Basri’s Acolyte is the best common, and that deck really wants to curve out in an aggressive fashion anyway, but has a lot of grind potential too!

*Click this link to learn the difference between packages and archetypes!

Compulsion

Okay, there is a lot of interesting stuff here! The power level once again seems fairly high for a core set (similar to how 2020 was). White looks to support a few different themes, the clearest being creature-heavy go-wide decks. Lifegain, +1/+1 counters, Flying, and Dog themes are also furthered in this color. As with most Core Sets, I anticipate two-color decks centered on specific archetypes to be the most prevalent. At this point I think White will end up being a secondary color in support of a few different archetypes. I am particularly excited about UW Flyers, but there seems like plenty of support for BW Lifegain, RW Aggro, and GW +1/+1 counters.

Drifter

Drifter is our site’s content manager and main editor! Follow him on Twitter and check out his content at https://mtgazone.com/drifter. A draft and strategy specialist, of special mention are his limited reviews and draft coaching service.

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Fernando Neves
Fernando Neves
3 months ago

Loving the new grading scale, keep up the great work!

humbug14
humbug14
3 months ago

My dudes, this is the best content on the entire site. Thank you