To cap off Core Set 2021, you will find two iconic reprints in this section as well as ‘signpost’ multicolor cards for each archetype. These gold cards are generally powerful and particularly important to pay attention to in this set, as they tend to be key payoffs for playing their represented archetype. M21 is looking to be a straightforward 2-color format, so these cards will often be highlights in your deck.
Our M21 Limited Tier List is due to release right after this final review; look out for that!
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 frequently. 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.
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.
- S: Ridiculous bomb: has a huge immediate impact on the game and threatens to dominate it if unanswered. (Luminous Broodmoth, Vivien, Monsters’ Advocate, Kiora Bests the Sea God)
- A: Very powerful card: approaches bomb status, pulls you strongly into its colour. (A+: Shark Typhoon, A: Auspicious Starrix, A-: Blood Curdle)
- B: Great playable: happy to pick early, pulls you into its colour. (B+: Lavabrink Venturer, B: Fire Prophecy or Farfinder in pack 1, B-: Rumbling Rockslide or Farfinder in pack 2)
- C+: Good playable that rarely gets cut. (Gust of Wind, Boot Nipper, Raugrin Triome)
- C: Fine playable, sometimes gets cut. (Excavation Mole, Glimmerbell, Neutralize)
- C-: Mediocre playable or decent filler, gets cut around half the time. (Savai Sabertooth, Convolute, Raugrin Crystal)
- D: Medium to bad filler, gets cut a lot. (D+: Frenzied Raptor, D: Serrated Scorpion, D-: Tentative Connection with no sacrifice outlets)
- F: Mostly to totally unplayable cards. (In most but not all formats: Blazing Volley maindeck, Inspire Awe, Field of Ruin)
Note: We’re rating multicolour as though you’re in those colours, but early on you should adjust the multicolour grades down by at least a tier if not slightly more (e.g. B+ becomes B), because taking cards in two colours commits you to a lot more than taking single-colour cards, and isn’t nearly as good for most of pack 1. This effect is lessened when cards are good splashes.
My main problem with Alpine Houndmaster is that Alpine Watchdog and Igneous Cur are cards you would otherwise cut often, and there’s always the risk that you’ll draw one of those before the Houndmaster itself. Still, the highroll of drawing 1-2 cards on a 2 drop is worth the risk of including those cards, especially since Igneous Cur has some later game applications, and this does attack well by itself, as often a 3/2 or 4/2.
Getting two free cards is pretty insane, even if they are only 2/2’s. I like the second ability as well because you’ve already gotten value out of Alpine Houndmaster by the time you start attacking, so the extra power isn’t costing you anything.
This card represents a ton of value in Selesnya, as there are enough +1/+1 counters in each of those two colours that this should produce really a ton of value. It does take a pretty big hit because it’s not a good splash, but I suspect this is a 2 drop that they will be forced to remove a lot of the time, and would be looking to take it at low B- early on.
I am not really sold on the +1/+1 counter archetype, but it definitely wants this card as a solid payoff. This can sneakily trigger your gain 3 life payoffs when it dies as well, assuming you have a way to get a +1/+1 counter on it.
Dire Fleet Warmonger
There isn’t much sacrifice fodder in the set, but a 3 drop that sometimes attacks for 5 with trample is good enough to merit going out of your way a bit, and it’s a fine statline even if you’re not sacrificing stuff. This is also a great combo with Traitorous Greed, but that’s one uncommon so I haven’t raised the grade on that basis.
I like that this triggers during combat rather than upkeep to give you a main phase to set it up. At worst it is an Elephant, and at best you are casting Traitorous Greed and feeding the Warmonger. I wish there were more creatures in the set that you would want to sacrifice besides Goblin Arsonist or 2-drops that are stalled on the board.
Even if this only makes a 2/2, you’re still getting good value, and many decks will be able to reach that. In a more dedicated spells deck, this could easily be a 4/4, and Izzet has a ton of spells and spells payoffs. This is a card I’m happy to splash in most decks with at least 6 or 7 spells, since it’s a really powerful late game play and that doesn’t really change with splashes, so this is a rare case where I wouldn’t reduce the rating that much early on.
This is a great reward for playing the UR noncreature spell deck. I don’t think it will often generate more than a 3/3 or 4/4, but that is still a nice bonus on top of recurring a spell. Ghitu Chronicler was a good playable in Dominaria and Experimental Overload should be even better in most UR decks.
1/4 Flying Lifelink is a good statline to begin with, and this ability is very powerful. This is also a great card to stack counters onto, since if you can get it to 3 power then it begins to attack for 6 per turn by itself. Still, this card is a bad splash, since a lot of its power comes from its great early body, so I suspect you take it at more like high C+ early on.
Indulging Patrician along with Griffin Aerie are your key payoffs for gaining life in M21. A 3 mana 1/4 Flying Lifelink is quite good on its own, and it seems reasonable to drop this a little late some games so that the ability triggers right away, putting you ahead by 3 life even if it gets removed the following turn.
This combination of abilities is powerful and will win games by itself; this is a decent card to splash even if you have 4 or 5 other creatures with 4 or more power, since it counts itself so the second ability only costs 7 mana to begin with. If you can have this tap for three (and that’s only two other creatures), you can often just start shooting your opponents twice per turn, and the game won’t last very long; this card will break open board stalls and demand removal in any slower game, and is a reasonable curve play too.
Having 3 toughness hurts this a little, but being able to ping your opponent for at least four damage every turn when the board is stalled is a very powerful ability. Plus, if there was ever a set to want a 4-drop mana dork, it is probably this one as there are several potent 6+ mana creatures.
Lorescale Coatl is a great threat that has a lot of supoport in this set – after one turn passes, it’s already a 3/3 for 3 which is a fine rate, and then every turn it gets more and more threatening for no further investment. The Simic decks will have plenty of ways to draw extra cards, even to do it at instant speed to ambush double blocks, and they’ll be trying their hardest to get this off the board before it becomes too big, so rest assured they will block! I would take this at about B- early on, since it’s not that great a splash unless you have a bunch of draw support, which is harder to do in other colour combinations.
Lorescale Coatl is very quickly going to become a must-remove threat, which is pretty atypical for a 3 mana uncommon. Following up with Rousing Read would be an incredible blowout, upgrading Lorescale Coatl into a 6/6 Flyer that continues to grow over time. Even if it gets removed the following turn the exchange would be card neutral. Insane.
Niambi, Esteemed Speaker
Recurring your enter the battlefield effects is decent, especially against White and Blue which have Faith's Fetters and Capture Sphere effects, but Niambe is a pretty poor payoff for being two colours, partly because her third ability is nearly always useless, and the bounce can be pretty situational. Niambe is a very poor splash so I wouldn’t take her early at all; this is something that if I’m certain to be Azorius in pack 3, I might take at like C+, but I’m never all that excited.
None of Niambi’s abilities are all that great. It is nice that you can use it as a protection spell due to Flash, and there are some decent enter the battlefield effects in Blue and White. But that is best case scenario and most of the time I think this ends up being an awkward 2/1 for 2. The card draw ability is only a mild bonus since many of the legendary cards are better than two mystery ones.
Free looting is fantastic in Limited, and Obsessive Stitcher combines that with an incredibly strong activated ability in the late game, that synergises well with the first ability. An 0/3 body can do a fine job of blocking 2 drops while you’re digging towards your best cards. That being said, this isn’t a great splash so I’d only look to take it at about low B- early on.
Obsessive Stitcher is a great enabler for drawing a second card on your turn as well as recursion. There isn’t any assembly required either, since the first ability allows you to discard whatever you want to recur. I could see running a card like Archfiends Vessel if I had a couple Stichers in my deck. The 0/3 body may seem awkward, but it allows for decent blocks and you want to be looting with it anyway.
Radha, Heart of Keld
Getting to play lands off the top of your deck is fantastic; it means you draw a lot more gas and far fewer bricks, and Radha has a solid statline and a great activated ability to back that up. This is a fantastic splash card, so I would take it close to this grade early on.
I think getting to play lands off the top of your deck is going to be particularly awesome in this format with its expensive threats. One of the main issues with GR midrange decks is flooding out, and Radha not only helps prevent it but also provides an excellent mana sink.
Sanctum of All
This isn’t going to be a realistic card for most Draft decks to play, and the payoff isn’t even that great when you do play it – you’re not going to open five separate uncommons, so you won’t have six shrines in play.
I should probably give this an F, but I want to keep the 5-color Shrine dream alive. What hurts this most is the fact that the other Shrines are somewhat playable. Even though they are below average picks (except for Black), I could see players taking them early. If the meta finds a spot where Shrines are going extremely late, putting together a Shrine deck may become possible. I wouldn’t count on it though.
This card is a lot of value and a decent splash, but it is hurt by the fact that it only triggers at the end of your turn – you can’t block and trigger it, for example, and I suspect Golgari won’t be ahead in many games with the power level of Red this set. The highroll is still great, and sometimes you’ll be able to set up a trade and then immediately draw with this or just throw away a 2 drop for a card, but it’s pretty weak when you’re behind. I’d take this at high B- early on.
I think this is a good card overall but it seems a little awkward to play. First, you ideally need to have a combat set up where something is going to die the turn you play it. A more likely plan B is you run it out and hope to draw off it later, but now your opponent can play around it. You now have a 5/4 which you probably don’t want to attack with because if it dies in combat you don’t get a card. There are some sacrifice effects like Witch's Cauldron which pair really well with the Assassins, so in the right deck I like this a lot. I’d still run this card in any deck that can reliably cast it, but the Twinblade Assassins may get in each others way sometimes.
Watcher of the Spheres
Watcher of the Spheres makes all your other fliers significantly better, and puts on solid pressure by itself as a 2/2 flier for 2 (which is a great statline) which buffs itself, but it’s an awful splash so I would take this only at like low C+ early on.
The deck that wants this is going to be really happy to have it. Overall I think it is a bit worse than Empyrean Eagle because Watcher of the Spheres is much worse to draw late. Starting the game with Watcher would be sweet though, ideally following up with Falconer Adept, Tide Skimmer, or Roaming Ghostlight a turn early.
Note: Colourless cards have the opposite effect early-on as multicolour cards – you usually want to take the good ones about a grade higher early, since they’ll be a solid benefit to whatever deck you end up in.
You can’t play this card until very late in the game, at a point where you really need high impact cards, and then you have to pass the turn and untap before you can start drawing with it.
There are a lot of expensive cards in this Core Set, but none of them require twelve mana. As a card draw engine this is way too slow.
I think if you have a few duplicates in your deck, this card is well worth playing, but you do want at least a couple since a 5 mana 4/4 is a poor statline. Still, the payoff is tremendous.
In a deck with five or more duplicates it isn’t inconceivable that you could replicate. You are likely to be casting this as a 5 mana 4/4, but that isn’t horrible fail case. The more duplicates you already have in your draft the better this looks, but I don’t see myself reaching on this early and trying to build a deck around it.
I think a 5 mana 3/5 will actually fit some decks, such as flier and control decks, since it’s a bad statline but still blocks fairly reasonably. That being said, I don’t think this activated ability is worth much of anything.
I bet this was made in the same factory as Junktroller. I hate getting milled as much as the next person, but don’t think a vanilla 3/5 is worth a 5 mana investment.
This is an okay way to enable your 4 power synergies, and can be a mediocre curve-filler, but isn’t exciting in any role.
4 mana for a 4/3 is below average and this thing can’t even block the turn you play it. Pretty crappy Sentinel if you ask me!
This card is slow, taking a long time and a large mana investment to reach its full potential. That being said, the payoff is certainly good; drawing three or four cards over the course of the game or scrying a bunch is strong, and you get some free life once you finish it off.
Unless I am playing an extremely Aggro deck I definitely want to have Mazemind Tome. For just four small payments of two colorless mana you get to Scry 1, Draw 3, and Gain 4. Unlike most sales pitches, this one is actually a really good deal.
A 5 mana Shock is pretty mediocre, and ramping to 7 is rarely worth all that much. This is a playable card in some Blue decks which have access to the many colossal sea monsters in the set, but even those should be able to do better.
I think Wizards is starting to take the term ‘mana rock’ too literally. This one comes with a Shock, but unless your deck has a more than a few 6+ mana spells and is short on ramp options, you are unlikely to need it.
Palladium Myr is a fantastic card in most decks – I don’t think it really asks much of you other than having 5 or 6 drops in your deck (card draw also works, since you can double spell a bunch then refresh your hand much more quickly), so it may not be good in a particularly dedicated Aggo deck, but those decks are rare in Draft, and all a red deck really needs is a 6 drop and a Volcanic Geyser to be happy to have it. The failcase of a 3 mana 2/2 is bad, but by no means awful.
I suspect Palladium Myr is going to be underrated by many players. You would only play this in a deck that wants to Ramp, but being able to play a 6 mana spell on your 4th turn is huge. You won’t always curve out that way, but I would think of this as a key enabler for expensive spells. Enablers don’t always find their payoffs but the synergy is still worth it in a lot of cases. Palladium Myr is going to be great in the right decks, and at least leaves you with a 2/2 left over after your mana catches up.
Prismite is a 2 drop when you especially need it, a fixer when you especially need it, and bad in every other deck.
Prismite is always a last resort fixing option, and I doubt any decks will want to play this in M21. 2-color archetypes are looking to be the status quo, making mana fixing far less important.
Short Sword is one way to buff your creatures up to 4 power for your 4 power synergies, or to enable your attacks, but it’s not an exciting card and you’ll cut it a lot of the time.
Dominaria made me appreciate Short Sword and I think it plays better than it looks. However, in Dominaria this enabled the Historic theme and there were a lot more creature tokens to attach this to. In M21 I see this being playable in go wide decks, but I don’t think it will be nearly as good.
Silent Dart is a really bad rate, and without much in the way of artifact synergies, not one I foresee myself having to resort to in the quest for removal.
Imagine having so little removal that you want to run Silent Dart.
I like Skyscanner in many decks; it’s just good value and wears your +1/+1 counters and other buffs well.
I like this in UW Flyers, but if you don’t have any synergy with it Skyscanner is just filler.
Solemn Simulacrum is an incredibly easy 3-for-1; no matter what you do with it, you’ll get good value. While it may not be the best tempo play, the body will usually trade for something your opponent has.
This card brings me back to a simpler time. I think I was still in middle school when Mirrodin came out, likely playing Goblin Bidding at Friday Night Magic, blissfully ignorant of the Arcbound Ravager Affinity decks that would soon be upon me one set later. Anyway, Solemn Simulacrum is my reprint of the set! Such a cool card, and any deck would be lucky to have it.
I don’t think a 3/4 with that last line of text is worth giving up two cards, and that’s all this card is in Limited.
The rate is good and having access to indestructible is awesome, but discarding a card is rough. I would like this best in go wide Aggro where you will sometimes have an excess land to pitch. Losing a playable card is definitely not worth it.
There aren’t nearly enough graveyard synergies, as usual. At least its successors had the decency to draw a card…
A Crypt is appropriate because this one is Dead.
Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
Ugin is a huge bomb, but at 8 mana, I don’t think he quite makes the S tier – many decks will have a rough time reaching that, and having a card stuck in your hand for most of the game is a tremendous cost in itself, and will straight up lose you some games. Still, Ugin gets much better with Green Ramp and Palladium Myr, is the best way to use all the mana you get from Sanctum of Fruitful Harvest in Shrines decks, and is one of the best first-picks because he doesn’t commit you to any colour; he’s especially good in Green but good enough to incur the risk of playing an 8 drop in any deck playing 18 lands. Despite not making S, it is rarely going to be a good idea to pass Ugin, at least if you’re not an aggressive or low-curve deck.
Ugin is an S for me because it basically reads (8) You win the game. But be careful, because you can’t slot this into just any deck despite the colorless mana cost. Ugin is most comfortable in a deck with some mana ramp, but you can sort of get away with it in an 18 land deck. With 18 lands and no ramp you end up finding 8 or more lands on curve about 23% of the time (15 cards drawn) and about 74% of the time you’ve gotten through half your deck (20 cards drawn). Assuming you find Ugin in pack 1 or 2, it would be a great reason to get into Green and pick up cards like Cultivate and Llanowar Visionary. Palladium Myr also becomes extremely valuable in a deck that contains Ugin. You would want to include some other high curve cards in a deck like that so you aren’t flooding out every game you fail to draw your Legendary Planeswalker.
When evaluating this sort of card in a vacuum, I like to look at the commons it synergises with to ascertain how good its average case is likely to be. There are seven commons across the set, but I don’t consider Igneous Cur or Alpine Watchdog all that good, though this is a reason to rank them a bit higher among your 2s. Five is enough for this effect to be good, but not in every deck, and not in Black or Blue, as they don’t have any at all!
In decks with 4+ hits, this is an ability that can sometimes break stalls and run away with the game, and it’s on a land so it’s like having access to an additional spell. Still, I wouldn’t take this card higher than B early on, or over most B-s when I had settled on colours, as it’s slow and you are sacrificing a coloured source unless you play 18 land.
I think you are going to find enough targets out of this odd assortment of creatures for Animal Sanctuary to be worthwhile.
Evolving Wilds tends to be a solid card in Limited, and Fabled Passage is a little boost onto it that propels it to high C+ but isn’t good enough to push it beyond that.
I am not sure if this set will be multicolored enough for Evolving Wilds 2.0 to be great, but deck thinning and mana fixing is always nice to have even in two colors.
If you can gain some life but not quite 3, and need ways to fill in, then I could see this card. But the vast majority of decks won’t even be close to wanting it, because sacrificing a coloured source has the potential to harm you much more than this effect benefits you, and it’s not a particularly rare sort of harm.
The only way I would run this is in a deck where I had some Gain 3 payoffs and a few other ways to gain less than 3.
Fixing is fairly weak in this format, so I’d take good lands for your colours over most Cs, and higher if you have splashes.
Unless you are very Aggro, having these in your colors is a great way to help out your mana base. I don’t think these are worth reaching for though, as 2-color decks tend to function fine with basic lands.
You should always play these as long as your deck has one colour they’re in, and they will add free value to your deck for no investment. I would take these at fairly high C+ early on, and then low C+ later.
Even if you are only in one of the colors, I think Scry 1 is well worth tapping a land for. I think I would typically take a C+ spell over these, so I am somewhere between a C and C+ here.
Core Set drafting often has a tendency to signpost its themes using multicolour cards, and M21 is no different in that regard. Most of the cards are a strong pull into their combination, and give a good taste of what that archetype is trying to do, but are still decent by themselves – it’s important not to railroad yourself around synergising with them, but to have a powerful well-rounded deck that can exploit their synergies. One aspect I really like about M21 is that none of the themes seem too invasive – some are stronger than others, but the cards that revolve around them often fit in multiple decks and are merely better in one or the other.
At the start of the format and really just in general, I wouldn’t recommend paying much heed to which colour is the best, and certainly I wouldn’t force myself to be in any of them. This is for two reasons: a) I don’t think any of the colours are that far ahead of each other this set (that might change, but I think colours, packages, or archetypes have to be far above the rest for forcing to ever pay better dividends than the strategy I’m about to describe), and more importantly b) I’m a firm believer in staying open and drafting the best cards early on, paying attention to signals, and allowing those cards to shape the later stages of your Draft by evaluating how much you would give up by taking the stronger card, and what you’re willing to sacrifice. I find that this maximises the overall quality of the decks I draft; my success is not based as much on what the draft offers me as what I make of it. At the end of the day, you only end up playing around half the cards you pick, so there’s a lot of room for experimentation and speculation; if you’re going to end up cutting a card anyway, why would you pick it rather than give yourself more options? This method is called drafting the hard way, as coined by hall-of-famer Ben Stark, and I’ve had by far the most long-term success in Draft through learning, tweaking, and applying it over nearly ten years, but I think any drafter can stand to improve a lot by adopting it!
Overall, having drafted in the Early Access event today, I can say that the format feels a bit more aggressive than I gave it credit; many of my ratings were on the basis of it being a bit slower than it actually is, because the formats of late have had a couple of factors in common: they are slow and, for the most part, they are great; you may have your complaints about Constructed, but know that almost every draft format of 2019-20 has been a hit, and they’ve usually been on the slower side, so I suspected Wizards would not mess too much with that strategy here either. However, Red is certainly far more powerful than we’ve seen it in a long time, and has a good claim to being the best colour. That’s not to say the format is blisteringly fast, but I see it as about as fast as Ravnica Allegiance, which is a medium-speed midrangey format. I only did around four drafts so that’s just a first impression but, if that’s the case, I’ll be reducing some of the grades I gave expensive cards and shifting up 2-drops soon! There’s still tons of room for value; you just have to construct your curve with aggression in mind and be a little less greedy than you might be used to.
Our M21 Tier List will be out soon, and I plan to amend my grades regularly, both in the form of regular written updates and on the fly, just as I did for both Theros and Ikoria. I’m a firm believer that tier lists are only as good as they are updated, so I will be diligent; stay tuned! I also plan on providing a strategy and tips guide akin to my Throne of Eldraine one a few weeks into the format, having regular Draft articles, and offering my regular coaching service.
Thanks for reading, and may your cats, dogs, and pigs win you many games over the next few months, rather than merely chewing through your computer cables and knocking over your cards as they usually do! Special thanks to Raszero and JustLola, long-time friends and fellow content creators, for our draft chats, which helped form my grades and made this long and tough process a lot of fun; check out their stuff!
Most of the Multicolor cards are important payoffs for their archetype, so I expect many drafts to be defined by which of these you see early. Keep in mind that you should lower our ratings by at least a tier p1p1. Committing to an archetype from the outset of the draft will often be a trap. Many will fall for it though, so pay attention to times when you are passed a pack with a decent rare in it but an uncommon is missing. This could be a signal that someone adjacent to you has chosen an archetype from the outset of the draft. I think M21 will generally be a good set for observing signals and getting into an open archetype. I am sure some will end up being better than others, but at this point I think it is close enough that finding the path of least resistance is going to be the best option. Sometimes you are going to draft amazing cards the first few picks and get locked into an archetype and that is okay! We are compiling this set review into a Tier List, which should help you make the best picks in your chosen colors. We will be updating the Tier List as the metagame develops and our opinions change on these cards after playing them. Speaking of, I will be playing M21 Drafts on stream today as a part of the streamer early access event. Check that out here: http://twitch.tv/compulsion02
After I play enough Core Set 2021 to get a good feel for it I will be writing a Draft Guide, so be on the lookout for that as well. I am very excited to crack some (virtual) packs of M21, good luck with your own drafts and I hope to see you on my stream if that is relevant to your interests.