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The Top Commons In Every Color For Core Set 2021 Limited

Mastery of a Draft format’s commons is essential to success! Ryan Saxe breaks down the Top 3 commons per color in Core Set 2021 and reviews picks.

Scorching Dragonfire
Scorching Dragonfire, illustrated by Eric Velhagen

Core Set 2021 will be available to draft online later this week. The minimal amount of work required to get started for most Draft formats is a list of top commons per color and an understanding of each archetype. The following tables are my initial attempt at approximating that information:

Color CombinationArchetypal Strategy
AzoriusFlyers
OrzhovLifegain (three life yields triggers)
BorosGo Wide
Selesnya+1/+1 Counters
DimirReanimator
IzzetProwess with Graveyard Theme
SimicDrawing Second Card Matters
RakdosSacrifice
GolgariMorbid
GruulLarge Creatures Matter

Quickly glancing at the above list yields an understanding of archetypal distance. This is a very important for succeeding early on in a Draft format. For example, Boros and Selesnya aren’t very close according to archetypal distance because the strategies of going wide and going tall are antithetical to each other. In contrast, Selesnya and Gruul are fairly close because they overlap in green, and +1/+1 counters make larger creatures, which trigger Gruul cards that care about that.

Izzet overlaps with both Dimir and Simic because spells like Opt help find Reanimator pieces and trigger Simic Drawing Second Card Matters cards. This means that, should you start a draft in blue, it may be optimal to consider Izzet, Simic, and Dimir ahead of Azorius because there are likely more overlapping commons that can be used within those archetypes. Take some time to come up with your own understanding of archetypal distance given the archetypal descriptions above. 

This distance informs my common ratings significantly. You might think I’m crazy to have Opt so high, but I believe it will be a very impactful common in three of the four blue archetypes. Below are my Top 3 expected commons, in order, for each color. Additionally, the number next to the name is my ordering of the Top 10 commons.

WhiteBlueBlackRedGreen
Basri’s Acolyte (4)Roaming Ghostlight (5)Grasp of Darkness (3)Scorching Dragonfire (2)Llanowar Visionary (1)
Swift ResponseOpt (7)Rise Again (10)Spellgorger Weird (6)Hunter’s Edge (9)
Feat of Resistance Mistral SingerFinishing BlowChandra’s Magmutt (8)Drowsing Tyrannodon
Note: there is a significant power-level gap between the top five commons and the rest.

I bet having Opt above removal like Finishing Blow, Hunter’s Edge, Finishing Blow, and Swift Response sounds crazy, but my gut just screams that it’ll be an incredibly important card for blue. I have Finishing Blow outside of my Top 10 because five mana is just so inefficient. Furthermore, I have Rise Again above Finishing Blow because it has the potential to be one of the best cards in a deck, which is a rare case for a common.

Golgari cares about the graveyard and has large creatures. Rakdos wants to recycle cards from the graveyard, and it has Thrill of Possibility and extremely valuable targets at uncommon such as Goremand. While Orzhov likely doesn’t care for Rise Again, it is a key card for Dimir while likely strong in two other black decks, and I would rather take a card like that than an inefficient removal spell to start my draft. There is a huge difference between four and five mana for a removal spell. Finishing Blow is significantly worse than Blood Curdle.

Now that I’ve described my surface expectation of the cards and archetypes in this format, let’s jump into a draft!

Pack 1, Pick 1

The Pack:

The Pick:

My take!
Tempered Veteran is secretly a Selesnya gold card. Any white deck can play counters thanks to commons like Basri’s Acolyte, but Tempered Veteran isn’t just going to make any deck with a couple of ways to place counters. The six-mana ability is so expensive, and a 1/2 for two mana is an atrocious body. I don’t want to start a draft with this card, though once I have significant density of +1/+1 counters synergy, I will take Veteran highly.

Roaming Ghostlight is the best blue common by a significant margin. Mist Raven is a notoriously powerful common and would be the best common in most formats. There are so few Spirits that Ghostlight is one additional mana for one additional power. The extra mana reduces the power of Mist Raven significantly because of the consistency of playing on-curve. It’s not trivial to have five mana on Turn 5 the same way it is trivial to have four mana on Turn 4. Given that, I still take the best common removal — Scorching Dragonfire and Grasp of Darkness — over Roaming Ghostlight. And one of them happens to be in this pack.

Scorching Dragonfire is a fantastic common. Lightning Strike gets relegated to uncommon nowadays, and I believe that is a factor of density. If it’s common to have a red player with multiple copies of Lightning Strike, the texture of the game against red decks fundamentally changes. It becomes necessary to assume that three life is equivalent to zero because every red deck has a reasonable probability of having Lightning Strike. Scorching Dragonfire is worse than Lightning Strike, but a splashable removal spell that often trades up on mana is truly amazing. The exile clause is also a relevant piece of evaluation thanks to cards like Deathbloom Thallid. It’s a great card, but both the gold uncommon and rare in this pack are significantly more powerful than Scorching Dragonfire, and hence I can’t justify taking the common removal spell.

Primal Might is a significant improvement on Prey Upon. However, Prey Upon has never been close to a first pick in recent years. This is because the inability to pump the creature creates a conditional removal spell. A scalable version of Prey Upon is absolutely first-pick material. This card is better than every common, and many uncommons. Normally I would just take the rare here to get some data playing with it; however, this rare is fairly intuitive to understand.

I actually believe Alpine Houndmaster is worth more on the data side, since it’s difficult to understand how often the enters-the-battlefield trigger will fetch multiple cards. And I expect the Houndmaster to be toe-to-toe with Primal Might in terms of power level. As a tie-breaker to really put Alpine Houndmaster ahead of Primal Might in this pack, there is a good chance that Igneous Cur wheels, since the next red drafter in line will likely take Scorching Dragonfire.

Pack 1, Pick 2

The Picks So Far:

The Pack:

The Pick:

My take!
If you find yourself taking Makeshift Battalion, Furor of the Bitten, or Short Sword, you’re marrying your first pick. Makeshift Battalion and Furor of the Bitten are likely playable cards in aggressive decks, but they’re still only filler-at-best there. Never take cards like that early in Pack 1. It just pigeonholes yourself in an unnecessary manner. Similarly, even though Short Sword is technically castable in any deck, it doesn’t end up making the cut in any aggressive deck, and even some aggressive decks don’t care for it. Formats as fast as Amonkhet had the card as a mainstay in many archetypes, but it still was not a high pick. Don’t fool yourself into thinking it keeps you open because it is colorless. It still only works in a small subset of strategies comparable to a gold card.

This leaves the three uncommons. Angelic Ascension is on-color, but how good will the card be? A Pongify variant that leaves behind an Angel is pretty crazy. I know at some point in this format I will cast this on my own one-drop at my opponent’s end step, and it’s likely best in Boros as the go-wide strategy. However, I don’t think it’s going to be a high pick. This is nowhere close to a removal spell because very few creatures in a Limited format are better than Air Elemental. Think of this card as a flash Aura. It can be used to ambush block in combat and upgrade a creature. Unlike Auras, Angelic Ascension loses the haste-damage-boost aspect. It’s probably playable and has a very high ceiling, but I don’t believe it’s a high pick.

Wildwood Surge is just Ivy Elemental. It has more text, and I think it’s easy to intuit Surge as a better Ivy Elemental. However, Ivy Elemental had the secret text of bolstering mutate synergy. Ivy Elemental wasn’t great outside of mutate decks. I expect Wildwood Surge to be similarly playable in any green deck, but only great in Selesnya. This leaves Jeskai Elder.

Jeskai Elder is incredible. I understand it can’t go with my powerful gold uncommon, but I don’t particularly care. With so many ways to trigger prowess at instant speed, it is too risky to block this card on Turn 3 without a three-toughness creature. Izzet turns this card into a terrifying threat. Dimir can discard reanimation targets. Simic triggers the main archetypal synergy. I would take Jeskai Elder over every single common, and I think it’s the clear pick here.

Pack 1, Pick 3

The Picks So Far:

The Pack:

The Pick:

My take!
Fungal Rebirth is a very interesting uncommon. At first, I thought the ambush-during-blocks mode made this card better than every common. However, the most common morbid trigger will be after combat as over, and the value of ambush tokens is much higher in the early-game, when returning a permanent is both less valuable and less likely. I don’t believe this card is relegated to Golgari-only territory, though. I believe every single green deck will play this happily, as green decks are often creature-based and it shouldn’t be that difficult to trade a creature and cast Fungal Rebirth

I think Fungal Rebirth is the second-best pick in this pack. Can you figure out which blue card beats it here?

You might think it’s Mistral Singer because that flyer made my top commons list while the other blue commons didn’t. And Mistral Singer even goes well with the prowess theme alongside Jeskai Elder. Vodalian Arcanist helps with spells, and Rousing Read helps with discard for graveyard themes in Izzet and Dimir. All of those cards are reasonable, but Frantic Inventory actually comes significantly ahead here. Why?

Go look at the previous two packs. Notice that both had Take Inventory alongside other blue commons that are, in many scenarios, better than Take Inventory. This means that there’s a good chance at least one, if not both, of those copies of Take Inventory come back around. Fewer than three copies of Take Inventory is only playable in a dedicated synergy deck like Izzet or Simic. However, with three or more copies, the card becomes enticing in all blue decks. And with five copies of the card, it becomes unbelievably strong. Let’s do some math.

The expected number of copies of Take Inventory in any given draft is 2.4. This means it’s unlikely to hit that three-copies bar. However, if there are three copies opened in the first three packs seen, then the expected number of copies of Take Inventory in this specific draft is 5.1. Furthermore, if all three copies of Take Inventory seen in this pack end up in one player’s seat, it greatly increases the probability that the other players pass Take Inventory in Pack 2 and Pack 3. Hence, the expected number of Take Inventory in my deck at the end of the draft if I can get all three in this pack is close to five: the number that makes the card broken. While I think all the other options in this pack are better in the abstract than Take Inventory, I believe the correct pick out of this pack is Take Inventory in order to capitalize on the broken potential of the card.

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