When Core Set 2021 spoilers started hitting the battlefield, I joked that R&D had gotten enough negative feedback about the last few Standard formats that they scrapped their plans and just gave us reprints instead.
At this point, no one from the Research and Development Team has commented on my tin foil hat theory. So we don't know for sure that's not what happened.
Despite the high number of reprints, Core Set 2021 looks like it is going to bring some exciting angles to the Standard format. Here are some of the cards I expect to see Standard play, while we still have Guilds of Ravnica and War of the Spark in Standard.
Basri Ket comes across as a pretty stock white planeswalker. Costing three mana and starting with 3 loyalty is what I'd consider perfectly average. Neither broken, nor underwhelming, but just fine for white weenie decks.
The +1 ability makes a creature bigger and gives it indestructible. In Constructed formats, I would expect this ability to be activated as a way to get to Basri Ket's ultimate. The -2 on this planeswalker is likely the key reason to play it. Going wide with your board and then making more creatures to enter the red zone is something not every opponent will be able to keep up with. In most cases, if they are able to answer your creatures, you're still left with a reasonable planeswalker.
It might be hard to keep your Basri Ket alive long enough to activate its final ability, but the rewards are there if you are able to.
As of late, Standard mono-white decks have been built around an All That Glitters/hexproof theme. With Basri Ket, I'd envision a more traditional white aggro deck, capitalizing on Venerated Loxodon and Unbreakable Formation while they're still around, as well as the reprinted Glorious Anthem, and the newly printed Idol of Endurance.
I dismissed Idol of Endurance rather quickly when I saw it spoiled. But it becomes an interesting consideration for mono-white decks in post-board games. Every Standard format has board wipe decks, it's just something you have to accept when you play creature-based aggro decks. While you can do your best to not play into your opponent's board wipe, sometimes it just gets you, and Idol of Endurance is going to be a nice way to help you rebuild your board.
It's by no means broken, however, it is a solid inclusion for white creature decks.
Coming in four slightly different arts, Teferi, Master of Time seems to be following in the footsteps of War of the Spark's Teferi, Time Raveler and Dominaria's Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. All three Teferis seemed really cool at first, but ultimately they have too much text on them.
So what does this mean for Teferi, Master of Time? It's probably too good to not be playing, and therefore a card I want to keep a close eye on.
Teferi, Master of Time has three activated abilities and of course, a static ability for the low cost of four mana.
Starting with the static ability, we are able to activate Teferi in any player's turn, at instant speed. For traditional competitive formats, that means we can activate once in our turn, and once in our opponent's turn. For multiplayer formats, it means once in each player's turn, so more players = more fun*.
Its +1 is straightforward. You draw a card then discard it. Not incredibly overwhelming, but when we consider that we can do this once per turn, no matter whose turn it is? It's pretty busted.
At -3 we see the return of phasing to Standard. "Target creature you don't control phases out," i.e. treat it as if it doesn't exist until its controller's next turn—the wording on phasing means activating the -3 ability is better done in your opponent's turn, instead of your own.
The ultimate on Teferi, Master of Time allows you to take two extra turns after this one. In two-player Magic, this means you get three turns in a row. In multiplayer Magic this card will be a straight-up nightmare if left unchecked.
Requiring 10 loyalty may seem steep, but considering we are able to add 2 loyalty per turn cycle, I have a feeling it won't actually be that hard to get to.
Overall, Teferi, Master of Time is a planeswalker that generates a lot of card advantage, is able to protect itself, while (again) defying the average rules of Magic. The only fair thing on this Teferi is that it only starts on 3 loyalty. It can almost instantly hit 5 loyalty counters, but that's okay, we'll pretend it's fair and balanced.
If you're looking for a place to put this card, look no further. Just put it in every single blue deck you own.
Shout out to Anna Steinbauer for the beautiful art on this Liliana. My favorite Planeswalker looks like she's incredibly unsatisfied with her manicure, so we can safely assume her nail technician is about to die.
Liliana, Waker of the Dead doesn't show us anything we haven't seen in a Liliana before, but we shouldn't count it out.
For +1 loyalty, each player discards a card. If an opponent can't, they lose three life. For -3 loyalty, a creature gets -X/-X where X is the number of cards in your graveyard. At this point, Liliana, Waker of the Dead is reading like a more balanced Liliana of the Veil. The big difference is the ultimate.
For -7 loyalty you get an emblem that lets you reanimate a creature from any graveyard at the beginning of combat on your turns.
In order to fully maximize Liliana, Waker of the Dead you will likely want a deck that is able to get cards into the graveyard relatively easily. Paired with blue, you can have a control shell with Teferi, Master of Time and other superfriends. Alternatively, Liliana, Waker of the Dead could be put into any black midrange deck with creatures, or Sultai for Tamiyo, Collector of Tales.
From my perspective, Liliana, Waker of the Dead is currently an underrated card and will shine brighter once rotation happens in September.
Baneslayer Angel's back! I initially envisioned Baneslayer Angel serving a similar role to Lyra Dawnbringer when Lyra was Standard-legal.
The problem I have with Baneslayer Angel is that it feels like an expensive trap card. The decks that often want this effect tend to play blue, in which case Dream Trawler feels like the more versatile and superior option.
If the metagame ever breaks in such a way that allows multiple aggro decks to exist, Baneslayer will be a strong choice for white (but not white-blue) decks.
They call this card Chandra's Incinerator because it'll incinerate you, like I imagine Chandra incinerates anyone who tries to say she's straight (Happy Pride Month!).
This card will feel right at home in any Burn-based deck, and while it's going to require Standard mono-red decks to be built differently, I think it's going to be worth it.
The first Standard deck I want to put Chandra's Incinerator in is Cavalcade of Calamity red, with Chandra's Spitfire. Cavalcade of Calamity will greatly reduce the casting cost of Chandra's Incinerator early on, while allowing you to make use of the second half of the card on the following turn.
It's going to be good in Standard, but likely broken in other formats.
I can't tell you how much I've missed this card. I can't wait to put it in my draft deck again.
A three-mana 5/4 flyer that can't attack unless you control four or more artifacts? Jund Sacrifice has already pre-ordered four copies of this card, and you should think about it too.
The synergies here feel insane to me, and what it comes down to is whether or not the deck wants a cheap 5/4 flyer.
Witch's Oven and Cauldron Familiar assist with getting Gadrak, the Crown-Scourge's end-step trigger going, allowing it to consistently be able to attack. Remember, the artifact restriction only prevents attacking—it can always block.
While this is no Korvold, Fae-Cursed King, I can definitely see the two running alongside each other with Gadrak, the Crown-Scourge providing an even more aggressive angle to the deck.
If Cryptic Command and Mystic Confluence had a baby, it would be this, but textless.
Sublime Epiphany is a nice idea that's easily disputed. Literally. While Mystical Dispute is still in Standard, it's going to be hard to justify playing this card without Teferi, Time Raveler being your backup dancer.
However, when you're able to resolve a Sublime Epiphany, the options are endless. It is rare that you'll be able to counter target spell and counter target activated/triggered ability, however, it's not impossible. Sublime Epiphany is able to counter both the Eldrazi and their cast trigger, as well as any spell put onto the stack that triggers something already on the battlefield.
You'll also be able to return a nonland permanent to its owner's hand. This is a great addition to the other options. You will rarely play the card for this mode, but you'll usually be able to extract value with it.
At this point Sublime Epiphany will likely be played in decks that are considered "hard control," so there may not be too many creatures in your deck for you to copy with the fourth mode. That said, copying a Shark Typhoon token sounds good to me!
The final mode allows a target player to draw a card. This line of text really speaks for itself. You'll find yourself drawing a card a lot.
Sublime Epiphany will find a home in Standard control decks and allow us to consider playing white-blue or Esper, which are not particularly viable options at this point.
I'm sure glad they banned Fires of Invention!
I like to think this Standard is better equipped to deal with Ugin, the Spirit Dragon than the last Standard was, what with all the incidental countermagic. But Ugin, the Spirit Dragon is still going to be a problem card for Standard. Being a colorless, powerful planeswalker means it can fit into most non-aggressive decks, and most midrange decks will be looking to play it.
Ugin, the Spirit Dragon mirrors could potentially slow the format down enough to make room for the aggressive decks, but I predict a future involving many 50-minute midrange battles ahead of us.
Bant Ramp will be able to cast it early and wipe the board with Ugin's -X ability without losing any Nissa, Who Shakes the World creature-lands... meaning we will likely see one or two copies added in almost immediately.
Bant-Yorion-Ramp is the first deck I'll be putting Ugin, the Spirit Dragon into. With a deck that can reliably play ramp spells, countermagic, Elspeth Conquers Death and Nissa, Who Shakes the World, Ugin is going to feel right at home.
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Core Set 2021 cards are looking like they'll give us the same, but slightly different Standard to the one we are currently playing, while also providing us with some new engine-based synergy decks.
In 98 days (I have a countdown app on my phone, and so should you!) we'll be saying goodbye to Guilds of Ravnica, Ravnica Allegiance, War of the Spark, and Core Set 2020 and saying hello to Zendikar Rising. At which point, Core Set 2021 will have a more dominant place in Standard, and hopefully we'll have a healthier Standard format overall!