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Core Set 2021 Exit Interview

Ryan Overturf, Sam Black, Ari Lax, and Cedric Phillips give their Core Set 2021 Exit Interviews as they look back on phasing, Temples, and more.

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

What a ride Core Set 2021 gave us, eh? Old favorites made their return, new favorites made their debut, and Teferi decided it was safe to do a lil’ phasing in 2020.

We’ve never seen a core set like Core Set 2021 before and who knows if we’ll see one like it again — which is all the more reason to bring together the same four members of the SCG Staff from our Core Set 2021 First Impressions article to answer a few exit interview questions before Zendikar Rising preview season begins… today!

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

Ryan Overturf: Core Set 2020 will be remembered for derailing Standard and featuring multiple banned cards in multiple formats. Core Set 2021 will be forgotten for all the right reasons. It’s no Magic Origins, but few sets can be. 

Sam Black: Slightly forgettable, but I’m beginning to think that might be the best a core set can strive for.  A collection of cards that contribute a bit to Constructed without ruining anything, with minimal theme to really keep it in mind? “Oh, wasn’t that the one with the Dogs? Yeah, I don’t remember that causing any problems.”

Ari Lax: Due to a number of factors, Core Set 2021 was doomed to be hated or overlooked, but it pulled off the really good kind of overlooked where you feel bad for it.

Cedric Phillips: I like core sets when they don’t contain Field of the Dead or any other broken cards. Teferi, Master of Time wasn’t broken; therefore I liked this Core Set 2021. Simple, isn’t it?

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

Ryan Overturf: Jolrael, Mwonvuli Recluse. Something about the “drawing two cards matters” designs really does it for me, and I particularly enjoy seeing it branch out into more colors beyond blue and red. If mechanics like this make it into all five colors of Magic I might finally have a reason to play white! 

Sam Black: Llanowar Visionary. I’ve always been a fan of the “two cards glued together” school of Magic design and Llanowar Visionary’s the perfect mix of value to be interesting without being too strong.

Ari Lax: Llanowar Visionary. I love how stupid this design looks but how awesome it is in a way that’s unique from its summed parts. Elvish Visionary and Llanowar Elves have been Constructed staples, but largely because of their efficiency at doing their job. Buying both for the price of both asks a weirdly different set of questions of what you want from the card, and Llanowar Visionary just ends up doing a ton of good stuff all at once without being overpowering.

Honorable mention to Containment Priest and Scavenging Ooze just being good, honest cards that always do good, honest work.

Cedric Phillips: Primal Might. This is removal done right in green. It’s flexible, it’s great if you flood, and I like that it fights instead of just having your creature deal damage a la Vivien, Arkbow Ranger. Scavenging Ooze may have been my original favorite when Core Set 2021 was initially released but Primal Might is something I’m looking forward to casting for many years to come.

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

Ryan Overturf: Still Runed Halo. Am I happy that this card isn’t showing up in Standard and Pioneer? Yes. Am I upset that it might at some point? Also yes. Seriously, let’s let white care about drawing cards so it can stop caring about stopping me from playing Magic. 

Sam Black: Griffin Aerie. This is to say I didn’t deeply hate anything in the set, but I don’t really like unsupported build-around cards that mostly feel like they’re there to trap players.  This one is really hard to support, and the best way to support it involves creating a three-power lifelinking creature and keeping it alive over multiple turns, but if that happens, you’re generally winning without making Griffins. Given the amount of space in the set that was devoted to cards that reasonably allowed you to gain three life in a turn, this was just not the right way to use an uncommon slot to support that archetype.

Ari Lax: Sparkhunter Masticore. To date myself a lot, Sparkhunter Masticore reminds me of when Imi Statue got printed in Champions of Kamigawa to fight Affinity and then promptly did nothing while everyone waited for artifact lands to get banned. We spent over a year dealing with Nissa, Teferi, and Oko and all we got was this stupid 3/4.

Cedric Phillips: Elder Gargaroth. The number of games that I’ve lost to this card is really beginning to bug me. And I know what you’re thinking… it just dies to removal, right? Well you’re absolutely correct but I never have the removal spell for it and it’s always bigger than everything I have on the battlefield because it’s freaking enormous. So excuse me if I’m a bit salty about losing to a well-designed stopper for the average-looking aggressive decks I love to play.

4. Phasing.. in 2020… ended up being… kinda cool?

Ryan Overturf: I haven’t bothered to learn how phasing really works despite doing commentary over quite a lot of Teferi activations because I haven’t especially had to. The actual rules are kind of crunchy, but you can just hand-wave it away by saying “that thing doesn’t exist for now” and it’s totally fine. The fact that the mechanic doesn’t really rock the boat while also providing some nostalgia for old heads is great. 

Sam Black: Sure? Phasing is a really good flavor fit for Teferi, and the ability played pretty well. I particularly like how it resists Embercleave.

Ari Lax: I believe Gavin Verhey had a Good Morning Magic on this, but the return of phasing was a rare confluence of a bunch of independent events. I think the takeaway is that when an opening like this presents itself, it ends up being pretty awesome for everyone, but also not to force it. Rampage or devoid in Core Set 2023 just shouldn’t happen.

Cedric Phillips: Like BROverturf up there, I don’t know all the ins and outs of phasing. But oddly enough, that’s actually a point in phasing’s favor because I can still play games and do commentary without knowing fully how the mechanic works (something I did not like about mutate, for example). I also like the way phasing works with Teferi, Master of Time, a card I consider to be one of the best-designed planeswalkers of all time.

5. Tired of Temples yet?

Ryan Overturf: I believe I took the position of a Temple apologist last time, and between then and now I’ve become a hater. Every Izzet deck I’ve tried lately has seemed kind of cool but lands entering the battlefield tapped have really harshed my vibe. The Izzet League demands Spirebluff Canal!

Sam Black: Yeah, I’m tired of Temples. They’re a great power level for two-color lands, with just the right amount of payoff for entering the battlefield tapped, but it seems that any time they’re in Standard they push really strongly toward a sea of midrange.  I think we could use a Standard format where the cost of playing additional colors was something else instead of some lost mana.

Ari Lax: I think I would be more sick of Temples if they printed a one-mana creature that I wanted to cast. Aggro has been crushed on a lot of fronts lately: stupid amounts of free lifegain on cards including planeswalker loyalty being virtual lifegain, open lists and London mulligans meaning you don’t get free Game 1 wins, and the tapped lands and lack of one-drops I mentioned, to start. It would be nice for it to get something structural to try to fix some of these, and I think the blame falls on Temples because that’s the one with the most obvious fix, but that certainly isn’t the most harmful issue by a mile.

Cedric Phillips: Yeah kinda. I still wish they were a bit more special and not the go-to land for sets that need a two-color land. I’m always going to be partial to the checklands as the way to fill that gap and I hope we see them more often in the future.

6. Teferi’s Tutelage is the least fun card to play against in Limited since…?

Ryan Overturf: Mill high-key sucks as a Limited mechanic. Perhaps I deserve to have my best cards put into my graveyard before I can draw them for all the times I forced Dampen Thought and Merfolk Secretkeeper decks, but a lot of the other people in the Draft queues are innocent. 

Sam Black: Ugh, I really have to think back through the least fun card from every set? I get that this is my job, but pass.  Yes, it ruins games, but honestly, among cards that ruin games, I honestly find it on the slightly more fun end.  At least you know exactly what your goal is against it (do everything you can to kill your opponent) and you get to feel kind of smug when you succeed.  Like, yes, it’s a little too strong and hard to interact with, but I honestly think I was more frustrated when my opponent casts Brash Taunter and all my cards just stopped working.  Tutelage gives you a mission and lets you use your cards to try to accomplish it.

Ari Lax: …whatever the last topdeck you lost to was.

Zenith Flare and Gyruda, Doom of Depths as a companion were literally last set in Ikoria. The entire set of Theros Beyond Death rares was the set before. Throne of Eldraine had Oko, Thief of Crowns and Merfolk Secretkeeper. Teferi’s Tutelage is annoyingly unwinnable in some matchups and has a lot of Best-of-One feel-bads where you could have planned around it in Game 2, but it’s well within the realm of stuff that happens in Limited. Teferi’s Tutelage is in the same ballpark as Deathless Knight was in Throne of Eldraine: you couldn’t always draft around it, but if you just lost to it with no recourse, that was a cost of your archetype.

Cedric Phillips:Patient Rebuilding I think? I didn’t play a ton of Core Set 2021 Limited, but from my experiences in doing so, Teferi’s Tutelage wasn’t my favorite gameplay experience. There’s something about mill in Limited that just isn’t particularly fun to play with or against for me, so even the times when I had Patient Rebuilding, I wasn’t having much fun. And for the times when it was played against me? Well, what I exclaimed back then isn’t fit for print so moving right along…

7. What is your biggest lasting takeaway from Core Set 2021?

Ryan Overturf: Core Set 2021 reassured me that Magic is moving back in a reasonable direction. There were no Field of the Deads. There was no Oko, Thief of Crowns. There was Crash Through and Colossal Dreadmaw. For the first time in a year, I think we might be home. 

Sam Black: Magic’s brand is flexible enough that we can lean into printing some possible fan-favorite creature types.  Magic’s never been especially gritty, so 25 years of not printing Dogs was probably a mistake.  Also, the protector angle on Pack Leader and Selfless Savior and the good friends angle on Alpine Houndmaster really drive home how nice it is to find unique, evocative mechanics when trying to create unique play patterns for tribal decks, and I think giving tribes more clear mechanical distinction, like setting which abilities are in the Ddog part of the tribe pie, as an analogue to the color pie, would be a good idea.

Ari Lax: I think my big takeaway from Core Set 2021 was that Standard is often improved from high-power Core Set reprints if they are selected wisely. We haven’t really seen a “reprint Ugin, the Spirit Dragon and Scavenging Ooze” type of push in a long time and both of those cards have added a lot of exciting texture to the format I doubt we could have gotten elsewhere. We had Crucible of Worlds and Leyline of the Void in the last couple of years, but those weren’t Standard all-stars. Even in the Magic 2010 era of Core Sets, high-profile Standard reprints were mostly kicking the Primeval Titan can down the line, bar Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth and Grim Lavamancer.

Cedric Phillips: Simple — this is what a job well done looks like by Wizards of the Coast (WotC). There’s nothing in Core Set 2021 that left me with a bad taste in my mouth. Does losing to Ugin, the Spirit Dragon feel good? Not really but that’s because I play monocolored aggressive decks so I’m basically asking for it. Does conceding to Elder Gargaroth put a smile on my face? Not really but that’s because I play monocolored aggressive decks so I’m basically asking for it. Am I going to hate losing to Baneslayer Angel at some point over the next year?

Yes but that’s because…