My First Impressions Of Core Set 2021 Standard

The early days of a new Standard are full of cards and decks that just won’t last. Ari Lax is here to keep you grounded!

Sublime Epiphany, illustrated by Lindsey Look

June 24th was the Core Set 2021 Early Access Streamer event. We got a bunch of Tweets talking about decks that play slightly better in Best-of-One against things that aren’t Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath.

June 25th was the actual Core Set 2021 online release, and people on the Arena ladder or SCG Tour Online events don’t play with the same restrictions. No one is paying them Twitch subscriptions to show up without Growth Spiral in their decks. In fact, it’s more likely the opposite.

While there’s still a bunch of deck tuning to do, it’s time to start looking at some harsh truths about Core Set 2021 integrating into an extremely high-power Standard format.

Sublime Epiphany Is the Good Blue Six-Drop

Sublime Epiphany

Originally I had this section as “Discontinuity Isn’t Good,” but I’ll lead off on positivity before starting to bash stuff today.

Discontinuity Time Stop

“End the turn” is a rare effect, so it’s easy to get hyped by the novelty. If you break it down, Discontinuity is a mix of Time Warp and Summary Dismissal. The latter is best known as a sideboard card against Emrakul, the Promised End, so let’s focus on when you want to play Time Warps.

Time Warp Howling Mine Nexus of Fate

Every time a Time Warp has been playable in Standard, the purpose has been to play more Time Warps. That chain is often fueled by some mix of Howling Mine effects drawing you into even more Time Warps.

I will wait while you try to name all the Howling Mine and Time Warp effects in Standard. The answer: they aren’t really there. This chaining plan just isn’t viable.

Jace, the Mind Sculptor Teferi, Time Raveler Nissa, Who Shakes the World

At some points in the past, just flipping planeswalker activations was enough of a Howling Mine for Time Warp, but there aren’t good planeswalkers in Standard that are chaining off value like that. The playable ones are cheap and tick down to provide value like Teferi, Time Raveler or are Nissa, Who Shakes the World where Time Warp is somewhere between overkill and dreaming small if you untap with it.

Basically all Discontinuity has amounted to when someone casts it right now is a one-shot six-mana Explore or an expensive counterspell. Just play something cheaper that does those things.

If “expensive counterspell” is the good mode of Discontinuity, let me sell you on an even better counterspell. If your dream scenario with Discontinuity would be leveraging that extra turn for cards and mana, Sublime Epiphany almost always comes with multiple cards of value, turns of mana advantage on both the bounce and the copy effect “casting” the card of value it makes, and just promises a massive blowout.

Cackling Counterpart Nightpack Ambusher

Past the counterspell ability, the highest-value effect on Sublime Epiphany is copying a creature. If you’re wondering what that should be, let me suggest starting with Nightpack Ambusher.

Lotus Field Tale's End Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath

The first caveat to this bashing of Discontinuity is that Discontinuity might work in a Stifle / Phyrexian Dreadnaught capacity. Tale’s End existed already for this, and the answer to “why didn’t this happen before” might simply be a lack of redundancy since Lotus Field is just not good in Standard when not paired with one of these effects.

Mystical Dispute

The other caveat to all of this: “good blue six-drop” might be a stretch right now. Mystical Dispute is pretty messed up. Of course expensive high-equity counterspells have always been best outside of blue mirror matches, where Dispel beating up on Cryptic Command has been a pattern across a decade of Modern, so maybe you just want Sublime Epiphany to beat up on the nonblue segments of the metagame and not necessarily Temur Reclamation.

Casting the First Frantic Inventory Is Basically Conceding

Frantic Inventory Accumulated Knowledge

I’ve been drafting a fair amount of Core Set 2021, and Frantic Inventory is a fine Magic card. Accumulated Knowledge would be proud.

Rousing Read Spellgorger Weird

But there’s a lesson to be learned from that format about Frantic Inventory in Standard. Casting the first Frantic Inventory is an investment with no immediate payoff. It’s way better to discard it to Rousing Read, or to find ways to get something out of it with the various Izzet payoffs. Then you can get to the point where Frantic Inventory is drawing multiple cards for two mana, and that by itself can become the payoff you were looking for.

Growth Spiral Aether Gust Brazen Borrower

In Standard, that two-mana gap is even more pronounced. How bad does it feel to Growth Spiral and not make a land off it? Horrendous, right? You need that investment to provide something that matters.

Rain of Revelation

And even if you immediately hit the second Frantic Inventory, what is the payoff? You have built a Rain of Revelation? And a future good card draw spell in your deck, but four Frantic Inventory in a 60-card deck is less than three copies in a Draft deck.

I don’t really want this card in my normal decks, or even really my Wilderness Reclamation decks.

Drowned Secrets Creeping Chill Silversmote Ghoul

The Standard deck I want to explore with Frantic Inventory is the Drowned Secrets self-mill deck. Even beyond self-mill making your first Frantic Inventory cast worth more than a card, Core Set 2021 brought that deck a few new tools, including a new threat to recur.

Casting Vantress Gargoyle into Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath might be insanity, but count me in for at least giving it a try.

Your Monocolored Aggro Deck Didn’t Get Better

Anax, Hardened in the Forge

One of the big lessons of post-companion Ikoria Standard was that Mono-Red Aggro was actually bad. It’s weird since the deck was played a ton in Theros Beyond Death Standard with relatively few changes, but it turns out Seth Manfield pulled a classic Seth maneuver and made a deep run at Worlds with a deck that was actually unplayable. This is kinda Seth’s thing: he almost tricked an entire Pro Tour team into playing Demonic Pact plus Harmless Offering at the Emrakul, the Promised End Pro Tour and he won a Grand Prix with an Orzhov deck he built from a binder the night before.

Mono-Red Aggro did not get better. Neither did any other monocolored aggro decks.

Selfless Savior Speaker of the Heavens

None of the new one-drops in any color attack well.

Goblin Arsonist Lightning Strike

We literally only got Goblin Arsonist as a one-mana red creature across the entire set and there isn’t a burn spell either.

Glorious Anthem Basri Ket

Glorious Anthem is a card you can play, but if Venerated Loxodon wasn’t already playable, do you expect this card to be good? Before you ask about it, Basri Ket is just Glorious Anthem trying out a new card type for a set and not a uniquely good card.

Demonic Embrace Kitesail Freebooter

Maybe you get some black cards for Mono-Black Aggro, but the issue with that deck was always that adding Mayhem Devil or Embercleave made something that was comically better at using the best parts of the Mono-Black deck.

Gemrazer Barkhide Troll Garruk, Unleashed

Mono-Green Aggro was fine before and will still be fine, but at best it got a minor upgrade in Garruk, Unleashed. That’s the best it gets for monocolored aggro: maybe this card is debatable against Vivien, Arkbow Ranger, which wasn’t even carrying your strategy.

Alpine Houndmaster Conclave Mentor

While it pains me to say this when Temple of Plenty and Fabled Passage are the fixing you are reading for once you get past Temple Garden, I think you need to be building your aggro decks as two colors with sketchy mana but high-power payoffs.

The biggest upside of this Alpine Houndmaster deck right now is you have to play it from the privacy of your own home, so it’s socially acceptable to yell “Doggo!” any time you cast a card and not be that weirdo at FNM who makes the obvious joke too many times. The only person you’re exposing to anything is yourself, and that’s just how it should be.

Winota, Joiner of Forces Embercleave

The second-biggest upside is that it plays Winota, Joiner of Forces and Embercleave, so even if you are playing two-mana 2/2 vigilance creatures, at least your deck plays some great cards.

When in Doubt, Play Throne of Eldraine Cards

This last weekend I played some Simic Ramp, but my list (via my SCG Philly 2019 teammates Danny Batterman and Scooter222 “Eric Johnson”) had quite a few differences from what Gerry recommended last weekend.

Cavalier of Thorns Beanstalk Giant Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath

The secret? I’m just playing more cards from broken sets.

People have griped and joked enough about 2019 Magic design that it almost feels like it means nothing, but Core Set 2021 is definitely a return to the norm before the FIRE era of high-power design. That means the good cards from War of the Spark, Core Set 2020, Throne of Eldraine, and Theros Beyond Death are typically just better than the equivalent ones from Core Set 2021, the Ravnica guild sets, and post-companion Ikoria.

There are irreplaceable cards from the less powerful sets that are worth playing, with Hydroid Krasis and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon being the big examples here. But when it comes down to the filler ramp spell slot where Gerry had Solemn Simulacrum, it doesn’t take a lot of games played to realize Beanstalk Giant is a better card. Or that Arboreal Grazer is one of the most inherently broken cards from War of the Spark and lets your deck operate on a completely different level. Or that Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath draws all the cards and gains all the life that Mazemind Tome does, but it also runs away with the game and kills them.

Jolrael, Mwonvuli Recluse

This is not a literal hard rule. Cultivate being a two-for-one ramp spell is clearly a huge upgrade even if it’s just another three-mana ramp spell. Jolrael, Mwonvuli Recluse looks to be a uniquely powerful way to efficiently generate a cascading advantage early on and close quickly.

Fungal Rebirth

But this is still not a Standard format where you should be spending time to accrue one-shot small advantages. There’s too many broken engines that do the same and then some. If you have a costly utility effect, there’s too many cheaper ways to generate most of that effect or too many ways to spend more mana on something that is crushingly capable of winning games.

And with Throne of Eldraine not rotating for another fifteen months, you should probably remember this advice for the next long while.

SCG Advertisement