Early Standard Winners From Core Set 2021

This isn’t like the core sets of yore! GerryT breaks down the early winners of Core Set 2021 and brews with them in Standard.

Solemn Simulacrum, illustrated by Joseph Meehan

Is Core Set 2021 the best core set of all time? So far, it seems like it. There are several high impact reprints like Cultivate; Solemn Simulacrum; and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon plus some new bangers such as Eliminate, Seasoned Hallowblade, and Archfiend’s Vessel. I’m sure there’s still more to come.

Eliminate Seasoned Hallowblade Archfiend's Vessel

With the bannings of Fires of Invention and Agent of Treachery, plus the huge nerf to companions, Standard basically reverted to an earlier, more fair version of the format. Although Wilderness Reclamation threatens to be the end-game of the format, there’s plenty of room for innovation without Fires in the format. Core Set 2021 has some tools for aggressive decks, which was sorely needed.

Of the remaining companions, Yorion, Sky Nomad is the least affected by the nerf. It just so happens that the majority of reprints help Yorion decks quite a bit. There’s also Mazemind Tome, which is excellent with Yorion and isn’t getting enough respect. 

Let’s start with the obvious.

I’m not starting Mystical Dispute or Aether Gust in my decklists, although if time is any indicator, that will change as the format progresses. 

Cultivate Solemn Simulacrum

With Cultivate and Solemn Simulacrum, we need to increase the basic land count. I’ll jump through whichever hoops necessary to get those incredible ramp spells in my deck, so that’s fine by me. Both of these cards will overperform in Standard and I’ll do whatever it takes to get them into my ramp decks.

Mazemind Tome will be a solid role-player in Standard. If you’re choked on mana, scrying on the cheap can be helpful. Otherwise, it’s good for a few extra cards. If you’re under pressure, the extra life is helpful; otherwise you can wait until you have Yorion and are able to blink it for more value. The quick burst of selection from Omen of the Sea is usually better in the early-game, but a split looks correct to me.

Mazemind Tome Ugin, the Spirit Dragon

Having Ugin, the Spirit Dragon at the top end is nice but it might be out of place here. Yorion decks are trying to put multiple permanents on the battlefield, so Ugin can hurt you too, but most of your permanents replace themselves. If, at the end of the day, you have the biggest, baddest permanent, that’s probably all you care about.

Using Teferi, Master of Time or Thirst for Meaning to discard Ugin and bring it back with Elspeth Conquers Death is a very powerful plan. Milling it with Tamiyo, Collector of Tales also works. It might not happen every game but it’s a game-ending sequence if it ever comes together. 

Swapping white for black is also an option.

White obviously offers a lot but black can be just as effective, depending on the metagame. Casualties of War is game-breaking in any midrange mirror and the discard spells (especially Thought Distortion) can give you an edge against control and combo. Overall, Bant has more raw power, whereas Sultai needs its cards to line up well in order to be as efficient. Cards like Extinction Event just aren’t as widely applicable as their white counterparts but we have things like Cry of the Carnarium to cover for us.

One of the main reasons to be in black is Eliminate, the most impactful spell to be released in recent memory. I wouldn’t mind playing four copies because of how widely useful it is. Even though removing a Teferi or Narset after the opponent gets some value from it isn’t ideal, it’s better than not having a clean answer at all. Not being able to hit more expensive permanents can be a problem but that’s where Casualties of War comes in.

Sultai is a good deck, even though it’s probably correct to play it once every month or so. Another option is removing the acceleration altogether. 

Who needs counterspells when you can have four-mana permanents? Against any sort of aggressive deck, the four-mana cards are going to make it feel like you’re pre-sideboarded against them. In midrange matchups, those cards will be worse but still functional. 

Yorion, Sky Nomad isn’t just for sideboards anymore. Thanks to additional lifegain from Faith’s Fetters and Mazemind Tome, you don’t need Dream Trawler to lock up the game against aggressive decks. You can out-value them with Yorions, which is a stronger maindeck card against every other deck in the field as well. The extra fancy blink decks make additional Yorions a better proposition than before.

A black splash would be a different deck entirely but it could be worth pursuing.

Thought Erasure Oath of Kaya

Atris, Oracle of Half-Truths Thought Distortion

One of my favorite cards from the set is Demonic Embrace, another underrated gem. Aggro decks can’t typically race their opponents with just some early creatures and tend to need some way to push through the last few points of damage. 

Embercleave traditionally filled that role, although most of the good aggressive creatures are in black, so having something in-color is certainly a benefit. 

Does a single Aura make enough of a difference to turn Mono-Black Aggro into a contender? Maybe Demonic Embrace isn’t enough to get this particular build to the upper tiers, but Demonic Embrace will show up somewhere, likely alongside Rotting Regisaur.

Demonic Embrace Rotting Regisaur

Given how many discard outlets we have, I’d love to have something to discard for value but it doesn’t seem like anything fits at the moment. Bartered Cow may end up seeing some play but certainly not in this deck. 

Stonecoil Serpent and Mobilized District might be necessary countermeasures for Ugin. Cards like Blacklance Paragon and Rankle, Master of Pranks help to some degree as well. Demonic Embrace ensures those cards will all hit hard. Having Stonecoil Serpent as a Demonic Embrace target with built-in protection is cool too.

Even as things change, they manage to stay the same. Some additional ramp alters very little about the overall strategy of Temur Reclamation, although it does make the deck stronger. 

You could go harder on Rewind and Chemister’s Insight or stick with ramping via Solemn Simulacrum. I prefer the ramp angle but that could easily change. Rewind is potentially incredible in any deck that can utilize the four mana and Temur Reclamation is easily one of those decks.

Rewind Chemister's Insight

Ugin, the Spirit Dragon is an interesting top-end but it’s typically worse than Explosion. Killing your own Wilderness Reclamations isn’t a great idea either. It could be worth it for specific matchups but Temur Reclamation tends to go over the top in a different fashion.

White aggro also got some nice tools. Seasoned Hallowblade is a slightly worse Adanto Vanguard but Selfless Savior is going to be huge for numerous strategies. Being able to protect a high-value three-drop like General Kudro of Drannith or Lurrus of the Dream-Den will lead to some quick wins.

This is a simplistic version of Mono-White Aggro, which I’m sure could be dramatically improved upon. Selfless Savior isn’t protecting much of value in this deck but that could change if you wanted to play Lurrus. As is, it does give you some insurance against sweepers, which isn’t nothing. 

Basri Ket

Basri Ket is solid. I’m very interested in the -2 alongside Heraldic Banner. Raise the Alarm doesn’t work with Basri, so you could play something like Tithe Taker instead. However, Raise the Alarm is much stronger with Venerated Loxodon and Heraldic Banner, so I wouldn’t make that change, despite the awkwardness. 

We’re barely halfway through preview season and I’m already excited for what this set can do. Infusing more acceleration into Standard might not be the answer we were looking for. Thankfully, the rest of the set has enough aggressive elements to give us options.

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