Just how good is Core Set 2021, really?

Last week, during part one of my Core Set 2021 financial set review, I said that this might end up being one of the worst-selling Magic sets of all time. My rationale was simple: core sets always sell worse than regular sets, and the ongoing global pandemic would probably depress booster pack sales even further. Since most of our local game stores are still closed and there's still no safe way to play tabletop Magic with folks outside of your quarantine bubble, there isn't much reason for some of us to be buying brand new Magic cards right now.

A few folks reached out to me on Twitter after I wrote that piece wanting to know if I'd changed my tune after seeing more of Core Set 2021. After all, it's hard to imagine a set with Grim Tutor, Teferi, Master of Time, Massacre Wurm, Azusa, Lost but Seeking, and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon selling poorly. And isn't Core Set 2021 secretly kind of awesome?

Honestly, yes, Core Set 2021 is secretly kind of awesome. Now that I've seen the full set, I'm a little more bullish on its eventual sales figures. Core Set 2021 has been incredibly well-received by the community (at least for a core set), and I know a few people who decided to buy a box after seeing Ugin, the Spirit Dragon and Grim Tutor show up in the visual spoiler. I don't blame them, either. In terms of overall value, this is probably the best core set in nearly a decade.

That said, the underlying facts haven't changed. Core Set 2021 is still a core set, and we still aren't going to be drafting or playing Standard at our LGS anytime soon. Because of that, there simply aren't going to be as many copies of cards from Core Set 2021 as there are copies of cards from sets like Theros Beyond Death or Throne of Eldraine. Somewhere down the line, that is going to start to matter.

I expect Core Set 2021 singles to be fairly cheap this year, while demand is soft, but the best singles will rise in price over time, likely at a higher rate than comparable cards from other sets. Core Set 2021 prices will go up once play resumes at local game shops, and the best casual cards will command higher-than-average prices in the future because fewer packs were opened. In addition, key reprints should hold their value better than they would if they appeared in non-core sets or during normal times.

The best times to buy new singles are: either 2-4 weeks after release (when stores have opened hundreds of cases and there's a massive supply glut), or in mid-to-late December, when cards tend to hit their yearly lows. I would focus on picking up the best Core Set 2021 cards during both of these windows, and I would prioritize them over similar cards from other sets due to the conditions we've talked about already. 

In addition, there are several cards that might be worth snagging right now, before the wider world realizes how good they are.

It's a little surprising to see a brand new planeswalker pre-ordering for a market price of just $4, but Garruk, Unleashed is pretty clearly not going to break Standard in half, nor is it going to see any eternal play. We expect a lot out of planeswalkers these days, and when we see one like Garruk, Unleashed that's just sort of blandly fair, it's hard to get excited. Garruk, Unleashed is better than he looks, though. You can immediately make a beast to protect him, and then start turning your mana creatures into threats the following turn. Also, Garruk, Unleashed's ultimate is incredibly good—it's going to win the game practically every time you get it off. And even though you should rarely judge a 'walker by its expensive ultimate, that's not nothing.

Garruk, Unleashed doesn't line up well with the Standard metagame right now, and we're not playing much competitive tabletop Magic right now regardless, so I'm not expecting this to be a secret sleeper hit. But I also wouldn't be surprised if Garruk, Unleashed finds a home at some point in the next year or so. If we're all back at our local shops before Core Set 2021 leaves Standard, Garruk, Unleashed might end up spiking into the $10-$15 range.

Time Stop was always on the borderline of Constructed playability, and Discontinuity is better. I also suspect that this card lines up pretty well in the current Standard metagame, especially against folks playing with Yorion, Sky Nomad and Wilderness Reclamation. It's a rough draw against Teferi, Time Raveler, but it's amazing with your own Teferi, Time Raveler in play, so I have to imagine folks will find a place for at least a few of these in Standard sideboards, if not in the maindeck of some control builds.

A market price of $7 is a lot for a card that's probably only going to be a two-of here and there, though. Commander interest will keep this card out of the bulk mythic range regardless, but I still think some people want this to be a bit more of a Time Walk than it actually is. And since "end the turn" is not even close to an extra turn in multiplayer, this card loses value in the format that I'm focused on speculating on right now. My guess is that this one settles in closer to $3 than $10.

Fiery Emancipation isn't going to see any competitive Constructed play, but it doesn't matter. This is a Commander staple through and through. Fiery Emancipation isn't going to fit into every red-based Commander deck, but it definitely belongs in all the decks that run more than a handful of burn spells. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the very existence of this card turns burn into a more popular build in multiplayer Commander.

Fiery Emancipation has a market price of close to $13, and that figure is on the rise right now. People want this card for their Commander decks, and that level of demand should continue. It might drop below $10 at some point this summer when Core Set 2021 his peak supply and overall Magic demand starts to flag, but it is going to hold its value incredibly well over the long haul. Long term, I feel comfortable calling this a $15-$20 card.

Terror of the Peaks is close to being amazing, but I don't think it'll get there. The big red mythic Dragons that have been historically playable have all tended to have either haste or a powerful enters-the-battlefield trigger, and Terror of the Peaks doesn't have either. This thing will absolutely destroy any opponent that lets you untap with it and start casting other creatures, but how likely is that, and how many other cards are also unbeatable in that sort of situation? 

It would be different if Fires of Invention were still in the format, but you can say that about a lot of cards, and I don't see where it fits into the metagame as things stand right now. Terror of the Peaks seems like it'll either revitalize Standard Gruul or end up being a bust, and that's not a gamble I want to take with a market price close to $11. Things might look different after a set rotation or two, and this card very well might end up finding a top tier home somewhere, but you probably shouldn't be buying Standard-only cards right now anyway. If you want one of these for Commander, wait a few months. Terror of the Peaks might well be a $2 card by mid-July.

What a good reprint. Scavenging Ooze is an incredibly powerful card that sees play in almost every format where it's legal, and it's going to see a ton of play in Standard over the next couple of years. Market price on Scavenging Ooze is creeping down toward $2, and you should make sure you buy a four before local game stores start opening again. Not only is the price likely to go up as Scavenging Ooze proves itself to be a top Standard staple, but there's enough Commander and eternal demand to keep the price floor nice and high. There's not a ton of upside here since Scavenging Ooze has already been printed a few times, but I can easily imagine this one ending up in the $5-$10 range at some point during its run in Standard.

Like Scavenging Ooze, Heroic Intervention is another green card that's objectively very good. It's going to see a lot of play in Standard, especially now that it doesn't have to compete with Blossoming Defense or fight against Settle the Wreckage like the last time it was Standard-legal. Heroic Intervention is also absurdly popular in Commander, which is why its market price was up in the $15-$18 range until the reprint was spoiled. Heroic Intervention is already down to a market price of just $4.85, and it'll probably drop a little further, too. I'm hoping to buy in somewhere in the $2-$3 range, but that might be somewhat optimistic, and even if it doesn't get that low, I'm still going to try to try and grab a bunch before the end of the year. I wouldn't wait too long, either—the last time this card was printed, it bottomed out just two weeks after being printed and did nothing but rise in price for months after that.

Glorious Anthem was a solid Standard card in the mid-00s, but a three-mana anthem without any other effects is not going to see much play nowadays. There's a shot that Mono-White Aggro becomes a thing and Glorious Anthem ticks up toward $2-$3 at some point, but that seems pretty unlikely to me. Feel free to snag a few if you want—$0.60 is a pretty cheap buy-in—but I wouldn't expect much of a return. Future bulk rare.

I know we all want cheap Zendikar fetchlands, but at least WotC seems willing to print Fabled Passage into oblivion. This was a $20-ish card before the Challenger Decks reprint, and it's already at $9 and dropping thanks to the Core Set 2021 reprint. 
It seems wild to get Fabled Passage again so soon after its initial printing last fall, but I'm glad WotC made this call. Lands like this should be more accessible, and now at least this one will be. Honestly, I wouldn't be surprised if WotC keeps reprinting Fabled Passage until it's a $4-5 card. It's a really good land, and people definitely need copies for their Commander decks. Speculation-wise, however, it's hard to recommend buying any card that has been printed three separate times in a ten-month period. Grab a copy or two if you really need them, but stay away otherwise. 

Yawn. These lands were in Core Set 2020, and now they're back again in Core Set 2021. The five enemy scry lands kick around between $0.50 and $2 depending on how much play they're seeing in any given moment, and this additional reprint shouldn't change the calculus that much. Grab them if you need them, avoid them otherwise.

Speaker of the Heavens is a very strong card. One-drop creatures are always better than they look at first glance, and this is the sort of critter that could see play in white-based life gain decks going back as far as Modern. It's conditional enough that it probably won't show up in all the white aggro decks out there, but there's a shot that this is a $3-$4 card with upside based on competitive play alone, especially since life gain is an archetype that's overrepresented among the kitchen table mages who are still buying physical cards right now. Will Speaker of the Heavens see enough Commander demand to sustain a higher long-term price tag, though? It's hard to say. Any "life gain matters" Commander deck ever made from here on out wants this, but that's not as popular a niche as, say, token generation. My guess is that Speaker of the Heavens is a $2-$3 card that will slowly gain value over time, which isn't bad for a current market price of $1.25.

Stormwing Entity should see some competitive play, but it doesn't have an obvious home at the moment. Perhaps it combines well enough with Manamorphose to show up in Modern, or it'll replace Sprite Dragon in Legacy, but there's also a very good chance that this will always remain a card without a home. Current market price is $2.46, and there's still too much of a chance that this is a bulk rare for me to suggest buying in, especially since it doesn't seem to be all that special in Commander. Grab a set of Stormwing Entity now if you want to mess around with them—the buy-in cost is low, at least—but I'm kind of underwhelmed.

It's possible that Hooded Blightfang will enable some sort of "deathtouch tribal" deck in Standard, but that seems highly unlikely. This card would be playable on its own if it had flash, but as-is, I don't think you can justify running it unless it's a flagship card in your deck. I also don't think this will make too many waves in Commander. Future $1 rare.

Stuffy Doll is a $3-$4 card right now, and Brash Taunter is better. Believe it or not, Stuffy Doll actually saw some competitive play the first time it was printed, but competitive Magic was a lot different back then. Brash Taunter isn't likely to see much play outside Commander, but that's still enough for me to recommend it.

Brash Taunter has a current market price of $1.14, and that will likely drop over the next week or two. This should be a bulk rare for the rest of 2020, especially since red is the least-popular color in Commander by far. Long term, however, Brash Taunter should slowly start to rise and at some point, it should be worth as much or more than the twice-printed Stuffy Doll. Brash Taunter is a solid card to pick up somewhere down the line when you can grab five to six of them for a dollar.

Just like Pack Leader, Feline Sovereign is a great long-term buy and hold. WotC is going to keep printing Cats, and every casual Cat tribal deck from now until forever is going to want at least one copy of Feline Sovereign. Since this card is already selling for less than a buck, I have hope that I'll be able to snag these for $0.20-$0.30 at some point. That should pay off handsomely in a few years, providing it isn't reprinted several times before that.

Pursued Whale is the kind of card I love. Super flavorful, eminently playable in my silly sea creatures Commander deck, and totally respectable once it finally enters the battlefield. It is also a bulk rare that will probably never break the $1 mark. Ignore it for finance purposes, but enjoy it if weird and flavorful Magic cards are your jam.

Kaervek, the Spiteful is a solid card. Night of Souls' Betrayal is an incredibly powerful effect, and getting that stapled to a creature seems great. Also, even though Kaervek, the Spiteful has a static ability, it's likely to play out similar to a card with an enters-the-battlefield ability most of the time, and it'll do some work even if it's immediately killed by a removal spell. Look for Kaervek, the Spiteful in Standard sideboards at least, with the potential for some maindeck play depending on how the metagame evolves. Unfortunately, Kaervek, the Spiteful is the kind of card that will suffer because we're not going to be playing tabletop Standard anytime soon. It's not a great casual card, and I don't think it'll see any Eternal play either. I expect it'll settle in somewhere in the sub-$1 range, with the potential for a spike down the line once the pandemic ends.

Subira, Tulzidi Caravanner is going to make a few aggro Commander players happy, but its not going to have that big a market beyond that. Commander cards that encourage aggression are rarely worth all that much, even if they're good, and red is the least popular color in Commander by a pretty large margin. Current market price for Subira is right around $1, and I suspect it'll end up in the bulk rare range before long. There's a shot that this'll see some competitive play, but that would likely require a specific combo with a card that hasn't been printed yet.

Sporeweb Weaver is a fine Limited card. It will not see any competitive Constructed play or much casual play beyond that. There's not much more to say, and this is a future bulk rare.

It's possible that Idol of Endurance is Standard-playable in some sort of aristocrats shell, where buying back a bunch of small creatures in the mid-to-late game could provide you with a huge advantage. Beyond that, however, it's probably not great. I love that WotC is dedicated to making nearly every rare in their sets somewhat playable depending on the situation instead of just giving us duds, and Idol of Endurance is definitely a good example of that, but there's still a reason why the market price for this card is already well below $1. Future bulk rare, albeit one with a shot at ending up in the $2-$3 range if everything breaks right. That's more than we could say about the Vizzerdrix-es of core sets past.

See the Truth is the sort of card that's impossible to evaluate without getting to play with it first. It would be absurd at instant speed, of course, but it's still playable as a sorcery and if you can reliably cast this with something like Snapcaster Mage in eternal formats…well, we could be looking at a $10-$15 multi-format staple. 

I tend to be skeptical of cards that require jumping through too many hoops, and there's a higher than even shot that See the Truth ends up in the bulk rare bin, but cards with massive Eternal upside rarely pre-sell for $2 like this one. I'd monitor things closely going forward, because there's a ton of potential here. If you see rumblings of See the Truth looking great in early testing, buy in fast. Otherwise, leave it alone.

People are sleeping on Liliana's Standard Bearer right now, but it's a really solid Standard card that will absolutely make an impact in Constructed Magic. It's a little worse than Midnight Reaper in some situations, but it's better in others, and Midnight Reaper is rotating soon regardless. Midnight Reaper kicked around between $2-$4 for most of its time in Standard, while Liliana's Standard Bearer has a market price of just $0.64 right now. It's a lot less of a slam-dunk spec than it would be in a world without a global pandemic, but if you're going to speculate on an underrated Standard rare, this seems like a decent one to snag. I'm in for a set or two, at least.

Polymorph has always been a good card, and it makes sense that this effect is moving primarily into red now. Transmogrify is unlikely to ever be worth a ton—Polymorph has rarely spent much time above $2—but the fact that Transmogrify will only have one printing (Polymorph has had many) gives it $4-$5 upside if everything breaks right. My guess is that this card kicks around in the $0.50-$1 range for a while, but it's definitely going to see play somewhere, and you should definitely snag a set if you can get a good deal later this summer.

Garruk's Harbinger seems like a solid sideboard card for aggressive and midrange green decks. It's probably not good enough unless you're playing against black, but if you are, this friend can end the game pretty quickly.

Garruk's Harbinger is the sort of card I'd recommend grabbing under normal circumstances, but in pandemic-world? I don't see it. The buy-in is still too high with a market price of almost $2, and this three-drop creature is not going to see any Commander or eternal play. I'm passing for now.

Thieves' Guild Enforcer is in a tough spot. On the one hand, this is the exact sort of card that might help bring Dimir back into the limelight for the last few months of Ravnica's time in Standard. On the other hand, are you really going to help your opponents mill themselves into an Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath that will come back and smash you later? One-drop creatures are always worth a second look, and this one has a market price of less than $1, so I might recommend snagging a few of these regardless if we were living in normal times. As is, I don't see Thieves' Guild Enforcer doing anything in Commander or any of the eternal formats, so I'm staying away for now.

Conspicuous Snoop is awesome, but as a former Legacy Goblins player I am somewhat biased. Still, it has been a while since we've seen a Goblin this good, and even though it's kind of a non-starter in Standard without a critical mass of Goblins, this card will absolutely see play in both Modern and Legacy. Goblins are probably niche enough in both of those formats that Conspicuous Snoop will come down from its current market price of $7, though, and this is closer to a $3-$5 card long-term. Still, Conspicuous Snoop's a good pick-up right now if the three-card Modern combo with Boggart Harbinger ends up being competitive instead of cute. That's something of a long shot, but it's worth monitoring nonetheless. Both of those cards were somewhat cleaned out on TCGplayer back when Conspicuous Snoop was first previewed, which caused Boggart Harbinger to spike while Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker hasn't spiked at all yet. Thus, if you want to spec on this combo right now, I'd pick up Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker. It's the safest option that currently has the highest upside.

It's really nice to see Jolrael, Empress of Beasts, but I don't think she'll make much of a financial impact. Her triggered ability feels like too much of a win-more in competitive Constructed, especially stapled to a 1/2 body, and she's not a great choice of Commander because you need blue in your deck if you want to draw any cards. She'll see a little play in that format regardless, but it won't be enough to keep her out of bulk rare range.

Radha, Heart of Keld seems quite good to me. A 3/3 for three with pseudo first strike is more playable than it looks, and her Courser of Kruphix-esque ability is also quite good. Radha, Heart of Keld is definitely hurt by being in two colors, which significantly lowers the number of decks that can play her, but I have to believe that this card will find a top tier home in Standard at some point.

You don't have to pick up Radha, Heart of Keld right now if you don't want to since Standard-only cards aren't in a great place right now, but I do think this card will see more play than some people seem to think. In a normal environment, I'd predict spikes into the $8-$10 range at some point. As things stand, $4-$5 still seems likely to me, though it might not happen until the new Zendikar set starts getting previewed and we see some sweet landfall payoffs.

I feel like everyone is sleeping on Niambi, Esteemed Speaker. A 2/1 flash creature that can come down to either save one of your creatures from removal or re-buy an enters-the-battlefield ability is good enough, but Niambi, Esteemed Speaker also comes with some incidental life-gain and a way to turn dead draws into cards late in the game. This card lines up well with how Magic is played in 2020, and I bet she'll make a larger-than-expected splash in Standard and maybe a few other formats as well. I bet she finds a few top tier homes in Commander as well. Her market price is just $1.28 right now, and I'll take the over on that.

Bulk rare. This is too slow and fiddly a way to draw cards, and you have to throw your book in the trash as soon as you get to the good part. I'm not interested.

Animal Sanctuary is kind of like Swarmyard, a card that is worth almost $20 right now because it was only printed once, way back in Time Spiral. I wouldn't be surprised if Animal Sanctuary dips below $1 as Core Set 2021 hits peak supply, but just like the Cat and Dog tribal lords this is the sort of card that will be in demand approximately forever and if it isn't reprinted for a decade, well, **gestures vaguely at the aforementioned Swarmyard.** So yeah, I'm gonna snag a few sets in mid-July and throw them into my long-term holds box.

In Standard, this is kind of like a Key to the City that can only ever target itself as a 2/1 Spirit. That second ability was probably supposed to help negate the advantage of opposing companions, but Ghostly Pilferer still has enough targets in Standard to make me feel like it could be a useful sideboard card in certain control mirrors. This is also pretty solid in Commander, and especially in cEDH, though likely not solid enough to justify its current market price of $6.46. This looks like more of a $2 card to me, and I'm holding off for now.

Nine Lives is absurdly powerful in the right situation, which is needing to buy yourself time while staring down a small number of sources that are each dealing you loads of damage. If this sort of situation becomes common in the new Standard environment, Nine Lives will see play. If not, this will become an afterthought pretty quickly. These sorts of cards tend to find a niche at some point, so I might grab a few of these when they hit bottom, but I doubt you'll have to pay more than bulk rare prices to find out.

Man-o'-Wars are always solid, and Barrin, Tolarian Archmage has upside beyond that. I don't know how often you'll be using this to bounce your own creatures—Niambi, Esteemed Speaker does that job a little better most of the time—but versatility is underrated, and if there's a blue-based tempo deck anywhere in the format, Barrin, Tolarian Archmage will be a part of it. There should be enough Commander demand for Barrin, Tolarian Archmage to keep the price out of bulk range regardless, but the current market price of $5.36 is too high. I like Barrin, Tolarian Archmage more than most of the other Standard-centric cards we've talked about today, but I'm still not going to buy in until peak supply, and only if the price drops enough to make that buy intriguing.

I don't want to underestimate a two-drop Spirit, but Shacklegeist doesn't seem great to me. It's a non-starter in Standard unless we get a ton of Spirits in an upcoming set, and in a deck like Modern Bant Spirits it's trying to solve a problem that doesn't really exist. I'd pick up a set if you play that deck, just in case, but you can probably wait a month or two before buying in. This is heading toward bulk range.

I love Sublime Epiphany. Casualties of War should make it clear enough that expensive modal spells like this are very playable in Standard, and Sublime Epiphany is overflowing with value. Most of the time, you're going to get to counter a spell, bounce your opponent's best creature or planeswalker, clone your biggest threat, and draw a card. That's a heck of a lot for your six-mana investment. 

Sublime Epiphany isn't only going to be played in Standard, though. It's also especially good in Commander, which is why I'd expect it to hold its value for now and start ticking up over time. Current market price is $2.87, and I'd look to buy in once Core Set 2021 hits peak supply. Long term, this is an easy $5+ card.

Sanctum of All is a super fun casual card that will help enable shrines in Commander. Long term, it'll be worth at least $2-$3 because it's so unique, and it'll probably see a buyout spike the next time WotC prints a cycle of shrines. The card should be readily available as a bulk rare until that happens though, so I'm not interested in paying the current market price of almost $2. Hold off until the end of the year.

Demonic Embrace was the only rare in Core Set 2021 that was dumped on the last day instead of being previewed, which makes sense because this is strictly a Limited bomb. Future bulk rare.

This Week's Trends

Wizards of the Coast banned seven cards that feature either racist or culturally insensitive images. It wasn't long before the Commander Rules Committee added that these seven cards will be banned in their format as well. Shortly thereafter, these cards were de-listed from all major stores and buylists. Some of them are still up for sale on eBay, but folks are reporting those listings and getting them taken down almost as soon as they go up. At this point, there's virtually no formal avenue to buy, sell, trade, or play with any of these cards. The Magic Finance Subreddit has been up in arms about this all week, largely because many of them decided to speculate on these banned cards as soon as WotC made their announcement. The prices quickly started to surge, so their decision (at least from a purely financial perspective) seemed justified. Then they were locked out of their sales avenues, and whoops! All that profit, suddenly gone. I don't feel all that sorry for these speculators, though. Trying to profit off racism in any respect is pretty gross, and the reason that WotC banned these cards in the first place was to get them out of the public eye so they don't continue to show up in tournaments and trade binders and stores and on Gatherer. By trying to turn these cards into expensive collectors' pieces, you are increasing their exposure, which causes harm.

At any rate, WotC has said that they aren't done looking through their catalog for racist and culturally insensitive cards to ban. And whether or not you agree with my moral stance against speculating on these cards, I still suggest leaving the whole situation alone whenever the next ban happens. You don't want to be stuck with a whole bunch of unsellable racist cards in your collection, do you?

Speaking of cards that spiked in price, Temur Reclamation put up one of the most dominant performances imaginable at the Players Tour over the weekend, and the financial fallout has been pretty negligible. We all knew this was the best deck in the format, all of its key cards has been well-known for months, and people are mostly just playing Standard on Arena right now anyway. 

Here are the sales charts for both Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath and Shark Typhoon over the month of June. You can see that both cards are up slightly, but there was no major Players Tour bump like we might have seen in years past, or with a different deck, or in different times:

So yeah. These cards are still pretty clearly trending up, which is not the case with most Standard cards right now, but I don't anticipate a ton of future gains. If Core Set 2021 doesn't shake up Standard, WotC will probably be moved to ban something in Temur Rec. And even if neither of those things happen, I don't want to be heavily invested in Standard-centric tabletop cards right now regardless.

I do still want to invest in Commander cards, and Hungry Lynx was the biggest Commander spike of the week. There's a pretty obvious reason why—so many new good Cat cards in Core Set 2021!—but how natural was this spike? Let's take a look at Hungry Lynx's chart for May and June of this year:

It's pretty clear that Hungry Lynx was bought out back on June 5th, but the average number of copies purchased per unique buyer was still under two. That means that this wasn't one finance person buying out the card, or even a group of finance people. It was likely a Commander subreddit or other social media community realizing that this card was about to be a must-own, and directing their members to buy their copies ASAP. Which turned out to be good advice!

At any rate, you can see that demand has remained high after the spike despite the increased price. This tells me that Hungry Lynx's new price tag will stick, and I don't expect the card to drop again any time soon.