Exploring M21 Spoilers: Part Two
Hello Planeswalkers from across the globe! As we wait for the complete M21 spoiler to be released, let’s continue our analysis of the cards already revealed. This Core Set is looking to be one of, if not the most, powerful and impactful of its kind in recent history, and I cannot be more excited to try out some of the new tools it will provide. Click the link above for the first article!
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 could fit into some of the existing Standard archetypes, and which type of new strategies they might inspire (though keep in mind that, at the time of my writing, not even half of the set’s cards have been revealed yet). Let’s get right into it:
There used to be a time in magic where “every good player knew” that auras were unplayable in competitive constructed decks, because of the inherent risk of “being two-for-oned” if your opponent kills your enchanted creature. We have come a long way, and auras nowadays find ways to adapt to that weakness and come with phenomenal abilities to mitigate the card disadvantage and tempo loss.
I think this strong enchantment could fit perfectly into any aggressive black strategy, preferably with decent two drops to enchant and curve out like “Dreadhorde Butcher” (which also cares about the extra power for its dying trigger), or even three drops that could benefit from the flying add-on to get past ground blockers, like “Rotting Regisaur” (that even lets you discard the aura to play it afterwards from the graveyard). Three life and discarding a card is not a cheap extra cost to get another shot at the enchantment, but if you are the aggressor in the matchup then those life points won’t matter that much, and being able to re-play it infinite times creates a constant threat that your opponent must respect!
With Gideon officially dead (you never know, it seems that Wizards can kill and resurrect literally any character as long as the fans make noise about it, or they run out of ideas) and Elspeth recently reincarnated on Theros, it’s time for a new white legendary hero to arise, and we got one on the Amonkhet plane that looks like has the power to control sand and create weapons out of it.
For just three mana, it seems as though Basri could be a great addition to any white aggressive, low to the ground strategy, as long as those types of decks can compete well in the meta. The +1 ability is impactful enough to present a significant threat, and builds towards a decent ultimate that may win you the game even if your opponent stabilizes, although it will still need help in many spots since creating a single body per combat often won’t be enough to push those last points of damage. The -2 ability is where the true test of Basri’s competitive strength lies – to make sure we can unlock his full potential, ideally our deck should be full of one drops. This maximize the chances of getting into the scenario where we are attacking with three real creatures on turn 3, and creating three tokens in the process!
Teferi, Master of Time
The time mage has done it once again, and is in everyone’s conversation. Being the very first planeswalker that can activate its abilities “any time you could play an instant”, it sets a precedent for future design of this kind to come. The idea does not seem to be crazy or unbalanced at all: playing around interactions that your opponent can use at instant speed, when the permanent responsible for those actions is visible and you can plan accordingly, should be much easier to maneuver than having to guess what the other player might be holding in hand. The return of the “phase out” mechanic is a surprise to everyone, as it is an extremely old keyword that interacts with permanents in a way that we are not used to anymore – it essentially removes them from the game temporarily, but doesn’t put them anywhere (just making them disappear as if they did not exist), while keeping memory of that permanent and bringing it back exactly as it was before (this includes counters, auras, etc.).
Now, being the first one of its type, a first impression could indicate that the developers tried not to push him too much: his +1 ability does not provide real card advantage but only improves card quality through looting, its -3 cannot deal with any creature permanently, and he only has 3 loyalty to start with. BUT, my assumption is that this card is much more powerful than it looks, as “flexibility” has proven many times in Magic to be a key aspect in the viability of competitive spells, and this walker has exactly that: the fact that you can activate him in response to your opponent’s actions AND twice per turn cycle (since loyalty abilities can be used “once per turn”) means you will be able to improve your hand far more, and use his “removal” option in precisely the right moment. He might also be a decent tool to fill your graveyard fast with resources like spells with “Jump-Start”, reanimation targets, or cards to fuel the “escape” mechanic.
It is also impossible to ignore that this new Teferi has a game-winning ultimate, that can happen much faster than it looks: if you manage to plus every time you have an activation available, it will take four full turn cycles in play (the same amount of time many other planeswalkers need) to give you TWO EXTRA TURNS. You don’t need a huge imagination to come up with a way to close out the game when you can untap your permanents three consecutive times while the other player is sat there waiting!
The old days of “Doom Blade” as your typical two mana black removal spell are gone, as these types of instants have grown and far surpassed its efficiency level. Yes, this targets only creatures with converted mana cost three or less, but that means that it deals with any early game play your opponent could make, and even some late game ones such as “Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath”, “Hydroid Krasis”, Shark tokens, Nissa’s animated lands, etc. However, the real seller for this card is in getting to target cheap planeswalkers as well, and I think there are some of those that have been popular in Standard recently…
Now, it is true that you cannot prevent your opponent from getting value from their walkers first, since by the time you get to destroy them, “Narset Parter of Veils” will already have drawn your opponent a card, as will “Teferi, Time Raveler” often (it is even worse that you cannot kill him at instant speed). Even so, for just two mana, being able to remove these permanents is a powerful bonus, especially in a world where black control decks were having some trouble competing, and lacking a solid effect of this kind – when “Murderous Rider” came out, many thought it was going to be a staple for black decks moving forward, and even though it is still a versatile removal spell, it is seeing close to zero play nowadays.
Azusa, Lost but Seeking
Originally from “Champions of Kamigawa”, this legendary green creature is one of the many expensive rares in the real life world of Magic cards, since it has not seen many reprints and, even though it is not a highly played card, its supply was fairly low until now. She usually sees play as a two-of in Modern “Amulet Titan” decks, where her ability synergizes fantastically well with the “Bounce Lands”: lands that tap for two mana instead of one, but come into played tapped and ask you to return another one to your hand when they come into play, virtually functioning as two lands in one card, but at the cost of speed. When you are able to make three land drops a turn, that speed is easily regained.
Apart from the obvious aspect that she will be included in big mana strategies, I think the way to approach deckbuilding with Azusa is including her in a deck that has access to more lands that the natural amount you will get in a starting hand: have you been in the classic scenario in which your “Arboreal Grazer” comes down just as a 0/3 blocker because you do not have any more lands to use its ability? Imagine that but far worse and far more often with Azusa, if we do not have a way to feed her extra land drops. This might mean either drawing extra cards, tutoring lands from our deck with effects like “Nissa’s Triumph” or “Nylea’s Intervention”, or we could take it one step further and try to include her in a “Bolas’s Citadel” archetype!
What an interesting concept. Historically, Core Sets were supposed to be built in a much friendlier, accessible way, to be more attractive and easy to learn for new players, and that means not including too many complicated keywords or abilities; the idea was to keep it as simple as possible. When it comes to creating cards, this can be a challenge, but what the design team accomplished with this sorcery looks right on the spot: two very straightforward actions, combined together, to make for a fair, powerful rare.
Now, the simplicity may also apply to the homes this card finds itself in, as it appears to be strictly for green aggressive strategies: having creatures in your deck is not enough; you need to be attacking, capitalizing on the power boost aspect, ideally with a double striker to increase its strength! However, if our opponent is not playing creatures, the effectiveness of our rare decreases low enough that it may need to be played only as a sideboard card, to come in in specific matchups.
One of the most devastating creatures is back in Standard; it’s one of those where you will have to remember it exists and try to play around it, or suffer its rage. Originally from “Mirrodin Besieged”, the Wurm worked not only as a board stabilizer but as an actual win condition back in the day, and It might repeat that in the present, at least in the right match-ups.
Keep in mind that its life loss effect will apply every time a creature dies while Massacre Wurm is in play, and not only when the -2-2 trigger resolves, as both abilities are not strictly linked to each other. This means that even after the “infest” effect has finished, every creature that dies in your opponent’s side of the board will make them lose two life as well. This will also apply in the case of a “wrath” effect: if a card such as “Shatter the sky” is played, killing Massacre Wurm and opposing creatures as the same time, it will still trigger the life loss effect!
Which cards have you excited to start brewing? Do you think this Core Set will change the Standard metagame, or just improve some of the already existing archetypes?