Core sets are kind of weird, right?
Are they a stepping stone for newer players looking for an access point into Standard? A way to reprint cards that wouldn't otherwise get a reprint? An excuse to trot out marquee Planeswalkers that wouldn't neatly fit into a normal set? A way to print safety valve cards for Standard without having to worry too much about overall theming and flavor? A tacit agreement with the established player base that there's a set every summer you can kinda skip? A relic from an earlier age of Magic design? All of the above?
Luckily, we don't have to answer that question today. From a financial perspective, the only important fact to internalize is that core sets are generally less popular than normal sets. People draft less, they buy fewer boxes, and the overall market supply is far lower than the major fall, winter, and spring sets. The result? Singles from core sets tend to behave in unusual ways.
It's hard to see this behavior right now since Standard prices are so depressed across the board, but as an example, let's take a look at Field of the Dead's price chart throughout 2019. Field of the Dead did have some incredibly powerful runs through both Standard and Pioneer last year, but it was still a non-mythic rare from a set that was currently in print. If Field of the Dead had been in Dominaria, for example, I doubt its price chart would have looked this frisky:
Or consider Veil of Summer. Yes, it's an eternal staple, but it's also an uncommon from a set that is still currently in print. It's hard for recent uncommons to maintain $5-$7 price tags, but Veil of Summer has managed to pull it off, in part because it's from a core set:
Core Set 2021 is set to become an even bigger outlier in the grand scheme of things, too. Most local game stores are still shut down due to the pandemic, which means that very few people are going to be drafting this set at all. With large events off the calendar for the rest of 2020 at least, demand for Core Set 2021 singles is going to be lower, too. In fact, it's possible that Core Set 2021 will end up being one of the worst-selling Magic sets of the modern era, only we won't see that lack of supply properly reflected in its singles prices this summer because so few people are building Standard decks right now.
My card-by-card set reviews usually focus primarily on expected Standard demand, because that tends to be the main driver of demand for newly-printed sets. If you can figure out the next Arclight Phoenix or Hydroid Krasis before everyone else, it suddenly becomes a lot easier to play Standard for the next year or two. But since Standard will look radically different the next time we're all allowed to play tabletop Magic together, I don't think too many people are actually building Standard decks right now. Some cards in Core Set 2021 are clearly going to become future Standard staples, but I'm not too jazzed about pre-ordering any of them unless they're really, really cheap.
That said, Core Set 2021's Commander and eternal staples should hold their value incredibly well, and they might be actively terrific buys later this summer. Eternal and Commander mages are still building decks right now, and the cards that these players want now are still going to be in high demand in a year or two regardless. If Core Set 2021 really does sell as poorly as I expect it will, these cards could end up being more expensive than you'd expect due to overall low supply, especially long-term.
Keep all of this in the back of your mind as we proceed into my card-by-card set review. I'll be upgrading my opinion of the set's major Commander and eternal staples, significantly downgrading my opinion of its Standard staples, and generally treating this set like it's not going to become all that popular, which is too bad, because Core Set 2021 is shaping up to be one of the better core sets ever printed. Seriously—it has more in common with something like Iconic Masters than it does with, say, Magic 2015. I'll save my overall thoughts on the set for next week's review once the whole set has been previewed, but I'm pretty stoked so far.
Grim Tutor is the sort of card that I expected to headline a Masters set someday. Instead we get it in Core Set 2021, where you can try to crack a copy without having to buy a $13 booster pack.
Historically, Grim Tutor has been a scarce, slow-moving, expensive card. All the copies that have sold on TCGplayer this year have sold for at least $175, with one (presumably near mint) copy selling for the full $275. Why so pricey? Because Grim Tutor was only previously available as a rare in Starter 1999, one of Magic's many attempts at a set designed specifically for beginners. Starter 1999 sold very poorly, though, so Grim Tutors have been pretty hard to come by over the past two decades. I've been collecting since before 1999, and I'm pretty sure I've only ever owned a single copy of this card.
Grim Tutor actually did see some play in Vintage and Legacy once upon a time, but it doesn't show up nearly as often now. I don't expect it'll do all that much in Pioneer or Modern, either, though some of the second or third-tier combo decks will give it a look. Blind tutors are among the most powerful things you can do in Magic, but as a three-mana sorcery with a drawback, Grim Tutor is closer to Diabolic Tutor than it is to cards like Vampiric Tutor or Demonic Tutor.
Grim Tutor is terrific in Commander, though, and that format will keep its value high over the long haul. There are a lot of people out there who would have been running Grim Tutor in their Commander decks already if they could afford to, and this reprint will give them that chance. I wouldn't be shocked if Grim Tutor kicks around the $10-$15 mark for a while this summer before eventually ticking up toward $20-$25 once Core Set 2021 leaves print. Of course, some of you will be shocked to see me predict that a $200 card might be readily available for $10 in a few weeks. Don't forget: Grim Tutor is only a $200 card because of low supply. That's it. If Grim Tutor had been in, say, Mercadian Masques instead of Starter 1999, it would be a $40 card instead of in the triple digits. Price memory is real, however, so Grim Tutor's price tag is likely to start a lot higher that it would if it were a brand-new card being printed for the first time. The market price is just north of $60 right now, which is a total non-starter for me. I'd stay well away for the first month after release. We have to get used to a world where Grim Tutors are easy to get before its price will really start to reflect both its quality and demand.
As for the Starter 1999 version, it will likely settle at or just under the $100 mark. Scarcity still plays a part here, it's a very cool alternative version of a rad Commander card, and collectors are still going to drool over it. Just be aware that it will probably take even longer to find a buyer, since most players have an acceptable alternative now.
Grim Tutor might catch all the headlines, but Ugin, the Spirit Dragon might be an even more exciting reprint. Ugin, the Spirit Dragon is one of the best Planeswalkers ever printed, full stop, and if you can cast this card—especially if you can cast it a turn or two early—the rest of your game is likely to go well for you. Good thing Standard isn't already full of ramp spells or anything!
Ugin, the Spirit Dragon has been kicking around between $50 and $80 all year, but the Core Set 2021 reprint is going to bring that price tag down. Ugin, the Spirit Dragon fluctuated between $20 and $40 the first time it was in Standard, and that seems like a good baseline for what to expect this time around as well. I'd expect Ugin, the Spirit Dragon to stay closer to the higher end of that curve for now, both because Core Set cards tend to be worth more due to lower supply and because ramp is stronger than average at the moment. That still means that Ugin, the Spirit Dragon will lose about half of its current value, but it should remain in high demand from both casual and competitive mages for years to come.
Back in 2009, you could have made a reasonable argument that Baneslayer Angel was the most powerful card in Standard. Here in 2020, however, Baneslayer Angel takes a backseat to finishers like Shark Typhoon and Cavalier of Thorns. We live in a world where high-end creatures generally need an enters-the-battlefield ability or an amazing amount of resilience to see play, and Baneslayer Angel is unlikely to win out on either front. That said, Baneslayer Angel is still a capable sideboard card for control decks. There are still certain match-ups where a resolved Baneslayer Angel is game over, and it's always nice to see this angel in the Standard card pool. The price might tick up a little over the coming days as folks buy copies in advance of its coming format legality, but my guess is that Baneslayer Angel will be readily available for less than $5 by midsummer. If you've got any kicking around, sell them now.
Massacre Wurm has been a $16-$17 Commander staple for a while now, and this reprint should at least temporarily drop the price into the $10 range. It might end up moving closer to $15 or $20 if Massacre Wurm ends up seeing significant Standard play, but my guess is that this card will end up staying on the competitive sidelines. This is an exciting reprint regardless of any potential Standard demand, though. Massacre Wurm is an amazing Commander card, and it should both hold its value well and bounce back hard. Long-term I expect it'll end up back at $15 or so.
I didn't much care for Teferi, Master of Time the first time I saw him, but that was before I realized that you can use his abilities twice as often—once on your turn and again on your opponent's turn. That means you can play Teferi, Master of Time, loot, phase out your opponent's biggest attacker, and then loot again on your next turn if Teferi, Master of Time survives. That's quite good. I also wouldn't sleep on Teferi, Master of Time in Commander. If you're in a four-player game, you can activate Teferi, Master of Time four times as often. That's absurdly powerful, and it makes this one of the best Planeswalkers ever printed for multiplayer Magic.
Teferi, Master of Time isn't going to maintain its current market price of $41, though, and this card is likely to be somewhat overrated because the last two Planeswalkers named "Teferi" were format-defining all-stars. Teferi, Master of Time is more likely to be a quietly good role-player in Standard than a card that warps the format, and I suspect we'd be looking at a much lower pre-order price if this card were named Tezzeret instead. My guess is that this is a $15-$20 card, with room for more if I'm underestimating its unique ability in the competitive arena.
I was tempted to start comparing Liliana, Waker of the Dead to Liliana of the Veil, but that's a trap. The difference between three mana and four is night and day, and their abilities don't line up as neatly as it looked at first glance. It's possible that Liliana, Waker of the Dead finds a home in Standard regardless, but that would require a top tier discard spell or some reanimation support. Neither is out of the realm of possibility, especially post-rotation, but I don't think Liliana, Waker of the Dead is likely to break out early.
I'd be higher on Liliana, Waker of the Dead if we weren't in the middle of a pandemic and everyone were playing lots of tabletop Standard, but as we discussed in the intro, I have to adjust my thinking for 2020. I just don't see a ton of eternal or Commander application here. Without those formats driving support, I suspect that Liliana, Walker of the Dead will drop below $10 by mid-July.
Chandra, Heart of Fire is probably not powerful enough to make much of an impact in constructed. I'd run Experimental Frenzy over Chandra, Heart of Fire most of the time, though it's possible that her ultimate is good enough to enable some sort of high variance combo deck at some point. I haven't seen much chatter about her in Commander, either, and she's way too slow for the eternal formats. Future $5-ish Planeswalker, which is too bad because Chandra, Heart of Fire is my favorite.
Basri Ket is a solid Planeswalker that should see play in both Standard and Commander going forward. There's nothing sneaky going on here, and Basri Ket isn't going to become the next Oko, Thief of Crowns or Teferi, Time Raveler, but this is a solid card in any sort of aggressive and fair white deck. It's true that aggro Planeswalkers rarely make the cut in Commander, but Basri Ket should be an exception to that rule because he's capable of creating a whole pile of tokens. Token generators are always great bets for financial success, and Basri Ket should hold value better than most of the mythics in this set for that reason at least.
I'll be looking to buy Basri Ket in the $6-$8 range, and I'm hoping he can be a $15 card long-term. There's potential for a higher price if Basri Ket really pans out in Standard, but I'm not betting on that, especially not in 2020.
Did you know that Smothering Tithe was a $15 card despite being a non-mythic rare from a recent set that sees approximately zero play in any competitive format? It's true. Anyone who has ever played with Smothering Tithe in multiplayer Commander knows the value of these "tax" cards, the benefits of which add up a whole lot faster than you'd think.
Mangara, the Diplomat reminds me of cards like Rhystic Study and Smothering Tithe, only it's a legendary creature so you can play it as your Commander. I don't think Mangara, the Diplomat is quite as good as either of those cards, but it's a mythic rare from what I assume will be an under-opened core set. Mangara, the Diplomat is pretty close to an auto-play in any multiplayer Commander deck that runs white but not blue, so it should hold its value incredibly well. It might drop into the $6-$8 range for a bit, but this card has $10+ upside over the long haul. I'll be buying a few once it hits bottom, that's for sure.
There have been eras of Magic where Elder Gargaroth would have been the most powerful card in Standard by at least two orders of magnitude. Sadly, that era appears to be over for good. Big creatures that don't have haste or a strong enters-the-battlefield ability have a tough road ahead, though Elder Gargaroth is going to win a lot of games if you can actually find a way to attack with this thing. If some sort of Gruul deck does end up near the top of the new metagame, Elder Gargaroth will likely be a part of that parade. As with Liliana, Waker of the Dead, however, I'd be a lot more excited about this card if people were going to be building tabletop Standard decks. As it is, I don't see Elder Gargaroth doing much in Commander or any of the eternal formats.
Gilded Lotus is one of the most popular Commander cards ever printed. It has had half-a-dozen major printings, including most recently in Dominaria, and its market price is still almost $5. Mana rocks that can fit into all Commander decks regardless of color identity are nearly always slam-dunks. Chromatic Orrery costs two mana more than Gilded Lotus, but it also generates two extra mana. Oh—and it fixes all of your color problems forever. And it draws cards for you if you're out gas. That's outstanding. Playing a seven-mana card as a mana accelerant and color fixer seems a little absurd on the face of it, but this is still going to slot right into more Commander decks than you think. I expect it'll bottom out around $6-$7 before slowly picking back up to $15 or so. A $20+ price tag over long haul isn't out of the question, either.
WotC sure wasn't fooling around when it came to reprints for Core Set 2021. Azusa, Lost but Seeking is a heavy hitter in both Modern and Commander that has been kicking around between $25 and $35 for a while, even after getting a reprint at rare in Masters 25.
For those who are predicting a major surge of Azusa, Lost but Seeking decks in Standard, however, allow me to point you toward Dryad of the Ilysian Grove. I was more bearish on that card that almost anyone else, at least in terms of competitive demand, and I've been right so far. You can play cards like Azusa, Lost but Seeking and Dryad of the Ilysian Grove in Amulet Titan because of the interaction between Amulet of Vigor and the Ravnica bouncelands, but these cards are dead draws if you don't have another way to get a bunch of lands into your hand, so they're not great in a lot of decks that might seem like natural fits at a glance.
Much like with Grim Tutor, however, there's going to be plenty of Commander demand for Azusa, Lost but Seeking. I do expect her price tag to drop below $10 this summer, but it probably won't drop below $5. Long term, this is a $15 casual card with a chance for more. Definitely sell your copies now, and definitely buy more in July if you enjoy long-term casual speculation.
Runed Halo is still easy to find for less than a dollar, but don't sleep on the fact that it has just gained legality in both Standard and Pioneer. This is a deceptively powerful card, and I expect it to see quite a bit of sideboard play—at least—over the next couple of years. If times were normal, I'd suggest buying a giant stack of sub-$1 copies right now. We don't know when competitive tabletop Magic will be returning, however, so your investment is a lot less likely to pay off. I'd still grab a personal playset if you're a Pioneer mage—this is a card you're going to want access to, and I doubt it'll maintain a Market Price of just $0.79 for long.
Now here's a card you should be actively picking up. Containment Priest is an exceptionally powerful card, and it will finally get the chance to shine in Standard, Pioneer, and Modern. It is in this last format that Containment Priest should make the biggest difference, and I expect it to quickly become a format staple even if it is mostly relegated to sideboards.
Containment Priest has a current Market Price of $2.27, and it has only been printed in limited release sets like Ultimate Masters and Commander 2014. Those copies will disappear in an instant, and the available supply from Core Set 2021 won't be enough to make up the difference. Containment Priest should be a $5-$10 card by this time next year, and every eternal mage is going to need a playset. Get yours now so you don't have to worry about it in the future.
I could have sworn that Solemn Simulacrum has been in a Standard-legal set at some point over the past five or six years, but apparently not. The sad robot has been reprinted in four different Commander sets, as a Kaladesh Masterpiece, and as a Mystery Booster card. The last time it was actually printed in a core set? Back in good old Magic 2012.
Solemn Simulacrum is unlikely to make huge waves in Standard, but it's a powerful enough card that I wouldn't bet entirely against it. If we were all still playing tabletop Magic like normal, I'd suggest picking up a couple of copies just in case. Since we're not, my guess is that this card drops down to about $2 before rebounding back into the $3-$5 range like it always does. Solemn Simulacrum has rebounded from more than half-a-dozen reprints at this point, and I see no reason why it won't survive this one too.
It has been a while since we've seen a playable masticore, but Sparkhunter Masticore should get there in Standard. This card is excellent against Teferi, Time Raveler without being a dead draw the rest of the time, and its discard drawback can be turned into an enabler if you're looking to get a creature or two into your graveyard. The fact that Sparkhunter Masticore is colorless means that it can fit into all sorts of decks, too. Its current market price is just over $5, though, and that seems a little high to me, especially in the current climate. Unless Sparkhunter Masticore ends up enabling a new reanimator deck, this is a sideboard card that will see occasional Commander play. My guess is that this is a $2-$3 card, albeit with a decently high ceiling if it breaks out.
Sanguine Bond is a very good Commander card, and Vito, Thorn of Dusk Rose gives you access to that ability for two full mana less. It's more vulnerable, certainly, but the lifelink activation ability isn't nothing. Regardless, every Commander deck that currently runs Sanguine Bond is going to want Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose, which is also very playable in Standard. In fact, it might be good enough to spawn a brand-new tier one archetype all by itself.
What sort of financial upside does Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose have? Well, Sanguine Bond is currently a $1-$2 card, but that's because it has been reprinted a bunch of times. Exquisite Blood (a combo with both Sanguine Bond and Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose) has only been printed once, and you can't find that card for less than $20 right now. Not only do I like Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose's long-term profile, but I wouldn't be shocked if Exquisite Blood keeps going up as Core Set 2021 hits shelves. Every Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose-based Commander deck is going to need a copy of Exquisite Blood, and there just aren't that many to go around. It's a risky spec, since it has already spiked a bit since last week, but if you've already got a few copies kicking around, I'd look to sell them 3-4 weeks from now.
Peer into the Abyss is a pretty fantastic combo card, especially in Commander. Either you target yourself and draw half your deck, or you have Underworld Dreams in play and your opponent becomes very dead.
TCG Low on Peer into the Abyss is $3.31 as of this writing, but it will fall a lot farther. It's a seven-mana sorcery with a narrow application, and it's at rare, not mythic. Cards like this usually end up in the fifty-cent range over the short-term, and that's what I expect to happen here. At some point Peer into the Abyss will feature prominently in some cool new Commander brew and spike to $5, but we're a few years away from that. Hold off for now, and plan to buy a few of these in mid-July.
Pack Leader is another card I'll be looking to pick up en masse later this summer. Tribal lords generally hold their value well, and this card is only going to get better with every new dog printed. Pack Leader is also quite playable in Standard, though it would require a critical mass of other playable dogs, which we don't really have right now.
Pack Leader is currently $3, and I'm going to look to buy in somewhere in the $1-$2 range. This is the sort of card that will randomly be $5-6 at some point in the future, so grabbing your copies now isn't bad. I just think it'll drop a bit before beginning to rise again.
Gadrak, the Crown-Scourge looks like it'll be pretty solid in both Commander and Standard. Jund Sacrifice players are at least going to want to test Gadrak, the Crown-Scourge out, and it shouldn't be hard to generate a lot of treasure once it's on the battlefield. The fact that Gadrak, the Crown-Scourge triggers off all creatures that died this turn (not just your own) means that you can really mop up if you cast this card after Wrath of Goding the board. And don't forget how many Commander decks are interested in generating, just, a whole heck of a lot of artifacts. I'll be hoping to pick this one up in the $1-$2 range, if possible.
Basri's Lieutenant has a lot of raw power. Even if you don't have any other creatures, this creature comes down as a 4/5 with vigilance and protection from multicolored that leaves behind a 2/2 when it dies. That's a lot of value for 3W, and we haven't even considered its flexibility yet.
I'm still not excited about buying this card right now, though. For one thing, I don't see Basri's Lieutenant seeing much play outside of Standard, which is a red flag right now. For another, midrange value creatures have been on the outs for a while now. It's possible that this card will end up as a curve-topper in an aggro deck or as a speedbump in a control deck, but I'm sick of betting on midrange cards in Standard and being wrong. I'm passing for now.
Competitive players might just view Teferi's Ageless Insight as a win-more and it probably won't see any constructed play, but it's hard to overstate just how good this card is in Commander. Alhammarret's Archive is still nearly a $20 card despite just being reprinted in the mystery boosters, and most folks are only running that card to have access to the ability that's also on Teferi's Ageless Insight—which is one mana cheaper.
I doubt Teferi's Ageless Insight drops much below $3, and it has $10+ upside over the long haul. I think we'll be able to do better than the current TCG low of $5.88, but I wouldn't leave 2020 without having at least a couple of these in your spec box. It really is that good, and it really will have that much casual demand going forward.
Cranial Extraction variants are always going to be moderately playable, but none of them have been worth all that much since the original faded into obscurity. Necromentia is likely to be roughly on par with Unmoored Ego in Standard, but it could end up seeing quite a bit of play in Pioneer since it can hit both Inverter of Truth and Lotus Field. Also, the 2/2 creatures are likely to be less relevant in an older format. Regardless, Necromentia is likely to end up in the $1-$3 range, and we can usually ignore these sorts of cards in our financial dealings. Feel free to snag a set if you need them, but there are better spec targets if you don't.
Double Vision isn't going to see any competitive play, but it should show up in Commander from time to time. I'm not sure it's any better than Repeated Reverberation from M20, though, and that card is worth less than fifty cents right now. If you want a copy of Double Vision, I'd wait.
Primal Might is a strictly better Prey Upon, but I'm not sure that's enough to get it a set at the table in any constructed format. There might be a Standard Gruul or Jund deck somewhere that wants this, but that still gives it $1-$2 upside at most. Otherwise, this is just a future bulk rare.
Other than the Core Set 2021 previews, the biggest news of the week was a fairly significant rules change in Commander: death and exile triggers actually work properly when your commander dies and goes to the Command Zone. As a result, cards like Elenda, the Dusk Rose, Child of Alara, and Kokusho, the Evening Star saw pretty big buyout spikes in the wake of the announcement. These cards are both helped a lot but the rules change, but Elenda, the Dusk Rose and Kokusho, the Evening Star roughly doubled in price while Child of Alara saw close to a 700% price increase. One of these cards will maintain their new price point, and you should sell your copies ASAP if you can. If you're looking for a spec that hasn't quite peaked yet, check out Roalesk, Apex Hybrid. This rules change makes that card a lot better, and while Roalesk, Apex Hybrid's price chart is pointing up, it doesn't appear to have peaked yet. Foils are also still quite affordable, which is the direction I'd take. The opportunity might have passed by the time you read this, but it's worth taking a look if you can.
One amusing note: Gerrard, Weatherlight Hero was bought out right after this announcement hit Twitter, despite the fact that this rules change doesn't affect him at all. Gerrard, Weatherlight Hero already worked as intended, so anyone who bought in after the announcement is going to be disappointed when they try to unload their copies. Whoops!