Hello Planeswalkers from across the globe! As I write this, just over half of the cards have been revealed so far, and we can already see that this will be no ordinary Core Set. From many important reprints to a wide variety of new and powerful spells, M21 might be the breath of fresh air this Standard format needed to properly reinvigorate it. You can find the first, second and third parts of this article series here:
As I explained last time, the idea is to keep highlighting some of the M21 cards that I am most excited to start playing with, along with some thoughts on how I think we should approach them, how they may fit into some of the already existing Standard archetypes, and what kind of new strategies they might inspire. This time though, I’ll add some other cards that might not be as amazing, but are worth discussing too. Let’s get right into it:
It seems like Garruk is back for real this time, like a truly playable legendary planeswalker, and not as an obscure villain from a Pixar movie. In having the same mana cost as the classic “Garruk, Wildspeaker” that was originally released in “Lorwyn”, we are forced to compare the two and, even though the new iteration seems to be a couple of steps behind, everything indicates that it was created with a different purpose in mind. Garruk is not intended as a ramp card for a mana-hungry deck, but as a top of the curve threat for an aggressive green strategy or a low-curve midrange deck which often acts as the aggressor in many matchups, where its abilities fit better.
Creating a 3/3 beast token will almost always be a decent option the turn it comes into play, and the fact that it will only cost you one loyalty counter if you are behind on the board is great. Even so, if I were to start deckbuilding with “Garruk, Unchained”, I would make sure that the +1 ability is as relevant in my deck as I can since, if it isn’t impactful enough, the planeswalker might not make as much sense in our gameplan as other available options. Of course, any mono green build could benefit from giving trample to creatures like “Yorvo, Lord of Garenbrig”, but the competition against “Vivien, Arkbow Ranger” might be difficult to win here, as she also helps your creatures attack, while giving the option to remove an opposing threat. However, in a deck with two or more colors, usually her triple green mana cost is an issue.
My initial inclination would be to try Garruk in a Green/Black aggressive midrange build, similar to the one played by Chris Kavartek in Mythic Championship VII: this gives us great targets for the +3+3 and trample in creatures like “Rotting Regisaur”, “Lovestruck Beast”, and “Questing Beast”, while also working synergistically with “The Great Henge”, as boosting our creatures’ power for a turn will essentially ritual out the legendary artifact!
One turn before the legendary planeswalker comes one of its most loyal beasts, as this strong three drop is able to dig up its master to be played on curve, if it connects, while providing solid pressure. Even though creatures with these stats are usually played only in aggressive strategies, we might have an exception here, since its inherent card advantage engine is good enough to justify it in other type of decks.
In straightforward builds like Mono Green or Gruul Midrange, the question we may need to ask ourselves is if it’s worth losing a bit of raw power on turn three by not playing creatures like “Yorvo, Lord of Garenbrig” or “Gruul Spellbreaker”, that have better abilities as attackers, in exchange for potential card advantage. I think the answer is yes, as they are not that much better stats wise, and our opponent will probably have to prevent Garruk’s new pet from hitting them (or their planeswalkers!) as best they can since, if you manage to connect, you have a good chance of being up a card right away. Having hexproof from black might not seem like a phenomenal protection right now, as not that many black removal spells are being played, but that could easily change in a future metagame. The more relevant that ability is, the better this creature gets!
Speaker of the Heavens
There are many good things going for this little cleric. Let’s start with the obvious first: your deck needs to be able to gain life as fast as possible for this to be amazing, as the sooner you start creating angels, the better. What stands out with this one drop is that it asks for only 7 extra life (which is not a whole lot), and the ability does not require any extra mana to activate, allowing us to net free tokens at maximum speed, without harming our gameplan. The fact that this is not legendary also helps its playability, since you can play the full four copies without worrying about having dead extras rotting in your hand, which maximises the odds of playing him on the first turn, and even having multiples in play to produce an even bigger army.
Even though one’s initial inclination when building around Speaker could well be adding it to the already-existing Mono White lifegain decks (and it might work out well there), I would start deckbuilding elsewhere. On a 1/1 creature, “Vigilance” and “Lifelink” might not seem that relevant, but the fact that they chose these two abilities is no coincidence, as they work extremely well with the overall game plan of the card, if we add more power and toughness, and there is a strategy that is built around that: the “Auras” decks. Imagine deploying this one drop on the first turn, following that with “Glaring Aegis” and “Solid Footing” (attacking and gaining five life), and on turn three getting to attack again and begin to create Angels, all while having plenty of protection effects to best protect it!
Originally printed in Magic 2011, the iconic ramp spell is back in Standard, and we will finally be able to play with it outside Commander or Cube Draft on Magic Online (although, even there, “Kodama’s Reach” often gets included instead for some reason). This sorcery lets us jump from three to five mana, by getting an extra land into play tapped and one into our hand (essentially ensuring that we have our next land drop ready).
Is this reprint enough to end the era of needing blue alongside green for big mana decks? For the time being, I don’t think so, as the competition is still here and staying strong: “Growth Spiral” and “Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath” are just way too efficient for what they do, the first one costing one less mana, and both letting you ramp and giving you extra cards to play with. Once the two mana option is gone in September, I might be singing a different tune but, for now, I’ll stick to Simic if I’m looking to cast huge threats.
This is neither “Mana Leak” nor “Censor”, two cards that have seen competitive play for being efficient enough in different stages of the game at only two mana. That being said, this will often still counter something in the first turns of the game, by taxing your opponent’s curve plays for 1 mana at a time where they often won’t have it spare. In addition, if your deck is capable of enabling its second mode consistently enough, this is a fantastic counter spell. The problem is that the type of deck that does accomplish it might have to play bad cards to do so, and end up not being competitive enough.
The card’s potential is very high, as making them pay an additional four is probably guaranteed to work most of the time, but Blue White Flyers is the only existing archetype right now that could play this in its upgraded form, and it’s not a strategy with a solid win rate. We might have to wait and see if there is a different and better approach to this archetype and, if that is found, this will be an auto-include in that deck.
This elemental got many red fanatics excited, as they see it as a potential bomb in heavy burn decks, and were even thinking about adding it to their Modern lists, where you can run it out as quickly as turn 2. In my opinion, at least for Standard, this is one of the strongest examples of the commonly-used term “win-more”: for it to be good it requires things to be already be going well for you i.e. you’re able to sling all your direct damage at your opponent’s face and ignore what they are doing. Furthermore, it essentially forces you to use your resources that way since, if you start killing threats, this will get stuck in your hand forever until you find more gas or hit your sixth land drop.
On first glance, it’s okay to feel amazed by the possibility of having a big fast trampler that can close out the game quickly, but if we compare the very few scenarios where this situation actually happens to the huge number of circumstances where it does not, this card starts to look quite unplayable. Imagine that you are able to assemble enough noncombat damage to play this as early as turn 3 (which might be the very best circumstance for it); you’ll still have to dodge answers like “Teferi, Time Raveler”, “Aether Gust”, or “Brazen Borrower”, as those not only remove the threat, but also probably make it uncastable for the rest of the game!
This card, on the other hand, which looks a lot more unassuming, could have a solid home in Constructed. The obvious comparison we can make is to cards like “Chandra’s Spitfire”, and, while it may not fly, this card costs one less and can hit as hard as the three drop in many scenarios.
As you might’ve guessed, I think its ideal home would be in a Mono Red Cavalcade of Calamity deck. For every trigger we get from the enchantment, we deal one point of noncombat damage to the opponent, increasing this two drop’s power, which conveniently starts at 1 rather than 0. Double strike means the damage will add up very quickly, making this a must answer threat that cannot be allowed to connect, or otherwise the game may end on the spot. For you aggro fanatics out there, imagine playing a “Scorch Spitter” on turn 1, attacking for two on the next turn and following up with this bad boy, and on turn three adding “Cavalcade of Calamity” and another one drop with haste to the mix: this sequence means your opponent will take 18 damage if they don’t hinder you!
Chandra, Heart of Fire
Honestly I have no idea how many Chandras we have in the game by now, and I wouldn’t bother counting them because it looks like we’ll be getting many more in the future. We can see this as an upgraded version of “Chandra, Fire Artisan” since, even though she costs one more to cast, at least she has a way to interact with your opponent’s side of the board as soon as she hits play. Granted, two damage is by no means a catch-all solution, but at least every time you activate an ability, you will be increasing her loyalty and building towards an ultimate. Nevertheless, this card’s true power lies in its potential for card advantage.
Discarding your hand to gain access to the top three cards of your library fits perfectly into the chaotic playstyle red often adopts: getting an edge by sacrificing what you have now and trusting in the top of your deck is intrinsic to the colour at this point. For this ability to be at its best, you want your hand to be completely empty on activation, but it doesn’t always have to be, as discarding extra lands is not a big issue, and sometimes it will fuel graveyard synergies like “Ox of Agonas”. Assuming your mana curve is low enough for you to cast multiple spells in a turn, three cards per activation should be more than enough to push yourself up in resources and finish the game. One potential problem is that we need to untap to be able to capitalize on these new cards, and that means we won’t have access to this card advantage the same turn we play the planeswalker. Despite that, if we can make this ability function as close to “draw three cards” as possible, I think the upside is high enough to be well worth incurring some risk.
Which cards have you most excited to start brewing? Do you think this Core Set will change the Standard metagame, or just improve some of the existing archetypes?