Is Core Set 2021 The Best Core Set Ever?

Cats or Dogs? Temples? Phasing?! SCG content creators give their first impressions of Core Set 2021, and there are some doozies!

Teferi, Master of Time, illustrated by Yongjae Choi
Teferi, Master of Time, illustrated by Yongjae Choi

For Core Set 2021, Teferi has summoned some of Magic’s most iconic throwbacks alongside powerful new cards for a set too epic for just one timeline. Is this the best core set ever? Only time will tell, but until that time actually gets here, a few members of the SCG staff have come together to give their first impressions on Magic’s newest set.

Things can’t go as bad as companion did, right? 😉

1. What is your Tweet-length review of Core Set 2021?

Ryan Overturf: There’s a Steak ‘n Shake in northern Indiana that displays a blown-up newspaper review on the walls with the headline, “It’s a Meal!” Core Set 2021 channels that same kind of energy into the proud declaration that it’s a core set. 

Sam Black: All bark and no bite, in the best way possible. Core Set 2021 brings lovable cards without breaking the game again.

Ari Lax: Magic would be in a good place if we just pretended this was Core Set 2020 and the entire last year didn’t exist.

Cedric Phillips: Remember Field of the Dead? Oko, Thief of Crowns? Once Upon a Time? Fires of Invention? Agent of Treachery? Veil of Summer?

Let’s forget about those k?

We’re *pretty* sure Teferi, Master of Time isn’t as good as those but we’re not 100% positive so apologies in advance!

Peer into the Abyss

2. What is your most-liked card in Core Set 2021?

Ryan Overturf: As one of the few people who enjoyed a lot about Kamigawa, I’m extremely excited about the new Shrines, but my favorite card – in any set that it’s printed in – is and always will be Crash Through

Sam Black: Sublime Epiphany. Thrilling without being broken, this is the stuff dreams are made of.  A unique and powerful effect at an appropriate cost that has a really wide range of effects depending on the state of the game and the kind of deck that’s playing it.

Ari Lax: Peer into the Abyss. It just gives me warm-fuzzy feelings to know that Dark Ritual has a completely new angle in Legacy for the first time in a long time.

Cedric Phillips: Scavenging Ooze. Aggressive decks needed a way to check Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath and they finally have one. Prepare to see a lot of this 2/2 for the next year or so.

Runed Halo

3. What is your most-hated card in Core Set 2021?

Ryan Overturf: Runed Halo more or less encapsulates all of my least favorite aspects of Magic. It exists to invalidate every copy of a card in the opposing deck rather than interacting in a direct manner; it’s an enchantment, which makes it impossible to destroy and great with stuff like Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx and Heliod, Sun-Crowned; and it’s white. The overwhelming majority of strategies that I enjoy become miserable to experiment with the more that cards like Runed Halo are played. 

Sam Black: Sanctum of Stone Fangs. Ill-Gotten Inheritance wasn’t so fun to play against in Limited that I want to play against it at half the mana, I’m not generally a fan of the Draft strategy of moving in on some uncommons and hoping the other ones you want are opened, and I don’t like how much better decks with this do when they draw it on Turn 2 than when they don’t. 

Honorable mention goes to Teferi’s Tutelage for a similarly miserable play experience in Limited, but with a less miserable drafting experience.

Ari Lax: Fabled Passage. I don’t get why this is in the set over a land that might actually change things. Standard archetypes are really constrained by there only being the shocklands as untapped early-game fixing. Give me City of Brass or even Unclaimed Territory and just see what happens. Don’t just print Conclave Mentor and hope people draw a Forest and a Plains.

Cedric Phillips: Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. Given the types of decks I play, if this resolves, I have no but choice but to immediately concede the game because I have no chance of coming back. The fact that Elspeth Conquers Death potentially expedites that process is the stuff of nightmares.

Teferi, Master of Time

4. Phasing? In 2020? What gives?

Ryan Overturf: It’s…cool? I had made it this far in my life without learning how phasing works and I’m pretty sure the rules for it have changed one or more times since I’ve started playing. It sounds like this is a test run to see if they want to feature it on more new designs, though I personally hope it phases back out. 

Sam Black: It’s weird to bring back such an absurdly complicated mechanic on a single mythic rare, and even though I’ve been playing Magic since before the first time phasing was printed, I still feel like I think “I’m pretty sure this will work the way I think” most of the time I play against Teferi. That said, if you just lean into the reminder text and don’t think too hard about how the rules actually work, it mostly does what you expect.  I think it kinda makes sense for Teferi, since it’s very much exactly what the character is about and using an ancient rule that basically feels completely made up and like it doesn’t really work in the rules has exactly the right mythic feel.

Ari Lax: Phasing is actually really simple these days. The thing just acts as if it doesn’t exist. I think if it was introduced in Core Set 2021 without two decades of rules nonsense and Wormfang Manta combos, no one would worry about it. I have more of an issue with “Whenever an opponent attacks with creatures, if…” as rules text.

Cedric Phillips: I’m completely indifferent on its return. Flavor-wise, it makes sense with Teferi, Master of Time. Complexity-wise, it’s not even in the same league as mutate, so players should be able to understand it in 2020.

If it’s fun, bring it back in future sets. Or don’t. Whatever.

Temple of Silence Temple of Epiphany Temple of Malady

5. Temples…again?

Ryan Overturf: Everybody wants Temples to be evergreen but nobody wants to open one in a pack. 

Sam Black: They’re basically the perfect lands for Standard, since they’re strong enough that you don’t mind playing them and they improve gameplay by smoothing draws while creating a real cost to adding colors to your deck.  That said, they definitely favor certain kinds of decks and they make it hard to play two-color aggro decks, so I don’t know that I love every Standard format being defined by them, especially at this point where I really feel like everyone’s had enough ramp decks. 

The really disappointing part is that this is a missed opportunity to balance the lands in Pioneer with some new-to-Pioneer strong allied-color lands, but given the timing of when this set was probably developed relative to when Pioneer took off, I wasn’t optimistic that we’d see those yet.

Ari Lax: I don’t hate the Temples as much as Fabled Passage, even if they are part of the “tapped aggressive mana” problem. Pioneer has the whole “enemy-colored mana is faster” dynamic on lock, and upgrading Temples to something like Kaladesh fastlands would leave two formats with the exact same dynamic.

Of course, this decimation of two-color aggro strategies has occurred both times Temples have been legal, so it might be time to reconsider if they still do what you want with the (still horrible) London Mulligan.

Cedric Phillips: Temples have lost their charm with me. Upon their debut, I was excited by them, as they’re what I consider to be fairly balanced lands with some real upside (scrying is powerful) and some real downside (entering the battlefield tapped). But I’ve seen them too much recently to really care about them.

I know some feel as though Temples are the definition of a perfect core set multicolor land, but I simply do not agree. I think checklands (Rootbound Crag, Glacial Fortress, etc.) are perfect for core sets and are always good to have legal in Standard.

I wish Temples were treated with a bit more reverence instead of just simply becoming what appears to be the default multicolor land.

Sublime Epiphany

6. What’s your dream Sublime Epiphany?

Ryan Overturf: Paying full retail for just the “target player draws a card” mode on an opponent with an empty library. Preferably when they’re attacking for lethal. 

Sam Black: I expect that most answers involve Torrential Gearhulk, but I’m not about that one-shot-lose-my-fun-card-to-win-the-game life.  If I’m doing crazy things with Sublime Epiphany, I don’t want that party to stop.  That said, I’m not a “play Angus Mackenzie in Commander”-level degenerate, so I’m not going to say something like “copy Stonehorn Dignitary, pick up Eternal Witness.”  I think I’m still at the stage where my answer is “copy Shipwreck Dowser and do anything else.”  Honestly, the peak might just be “copy Dowser and draw a card, no other modes.”

Ari Lax: Counter Thassa’s Oracle or the trigger; bounce Jace, Wielder of Mysteries; copy Arboreal Grazer; target them to draw their last card in library. Yes, that all resolves in the right order.

Cedric Phillips: You must be new here…I killed my opponent the turn before they got to cast it, exactly as Richard Garfield intended.

Let this be a lesson to you. The best six-mana spell, be it Sublime Epiphany, Torrential Gearhulk, Consecrated Sphinx, or whatever other nonsense you blue players like to play for who knows what reason (I’ll never understand you), is the one rotting in your hand while my motley crew of monocolored maroons snuff out the rest of your life total.

7. Choose your side! Dogs or Cats?

Ryan Overturf: In college a roommate of mine asked if I was cool with her getting a cat. My only rule was that she couldn’t get a stupid cat, though this proved to be a difficult ask. Every time I opened the door to my bedroom that cat would sprint in and tangle itself in my blinds. I am confident that, had we not stopped it, it would have knocked our TV on top of itself on more than one occasion. You could not convince me that this cat did not live to cause trouble, and I’ve had plenty of similar experiences with different cats. Every dog I have ever met has loved me with its entire heart immediately, and I would die for any of them. 

Sam Black: I’m more of a cat person than a dog person and Cats are better-supported than Dogs in Magic, but I really like the design element of Magic where different tribes have meaningful and different identities, and where I feel like Cats have really struggled to find a compelling identity in Magic, especially one that really makes sense flavorfully with Cats as an animal, I think Core Set 2021 did a really good job of establishing flavor of Dogs as a tribe with Alpine Houndmaster playing up the connection to Humans as pets and Selfless Savior and Pack Leader building up indestructible/”good at saving your creatures” as one of their core mechanics.

Ari Lax: Thanks for the reminder that I have been slacking on my Twitter dog-bligations.

Cedric Phillips: “Dogs rule, cats drool.”

Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey. Ever heard of it?

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