Drafting a core set isn’t quite the same as drafting any other Magic set. The mechanics are simpler, the themes are less prominent, and there generally aren’t as many unique build-around cards. But that doesn’t make drafting a core set any less challenging, rewarding, or fun. Core set drafts give players an opportunity to work on their fundamentals and practice the skills they’ll need to master more complex formats. If you’re new to Magic, a core set is the perfect first set to draft.
I put together this Core Set 2021 Draft Guide (and all our previous Draft Guides) with new players in mind, but I hope that more experienced players will find bits of useful knowledge in here as well. I’ll be breaking down the ten major archetypes in Core Set 2021 draft, as well as the top cards by color and rarity. As always, this Draft Guide was written early in the set’s lifecycle, and it may be updated with new tips as the draft format evolves.
Most Magic sets consist of ten two-color draft archetypes. There are a handful of good reasons for this: two-color decks are extremely common in draft and easy to put together, and ten different strategies can accommodate eight drafters nicely.
Unlike other major Magic expansions, Core Set 2021’s draft archetypes don’t revolve around a signature set mechanic or theme. Rather, they’re tried-and-true strategies that epitomize what each color pair does best and give new players a taste of what each color pair has to offer.
White-Blue Flyers is my ideal draft strategy. It’s full of efficient, evasive creatures that can chip away for so much damage that they threaten to end the game if left unchecked. There are plenty of great flyers to choose from in Core Set 2021 draft, including Mistral Singer, Roaming Ghostlight, and Aven Gagglemaster. Warded Battlements can hold off ground attackers while giving your flyers a power boost. And if not all your creatures have flying, there are plenty of ways to put them in the air – look for Keen Glidemaster, Gale Swooper, and Rousing Read.
Blue-Black is one of the most flexible archetypes in Core Set 2021 draft. You can draft a blue-heavy mill deck, a black-based graveyard deck, or a control deck full of removal and counterspells. All these variations share a focus on winning the long game, so be sure to prioritize cheap, early removal spells like Grasp of Darkness and creatures like Deathbloom Thallid that can block two consecutive attacks.
Grasp and Thallid can also be useful in the Black-Red Sacrifice deck. This deck can be aggressive, but on the whole, the aim is to eke out small advantages over several turns. Witch’s Cauldron and Village Rites can help you keep the cards flowing; Sanguine Indulgence and Rise Again will let you reuse any creatures in your graveyard. If you’re looking for a finisher for this deck, Goremand and Havoc Jester are two of your best bets below rare.
“Ferocious” was a keyword in Khans of Tarkir that caused abilities to trigger if a player controlled a creature of power four or greater. “Power Four or Greater Matters” has been a go-to red-green draft archetype recently, and it’s back in Core Set 2021. This deck wants to go as big as possible and use card advantage engines like Furious Rise and Garruk’s Uprising to maintain the lead. High-power, low-cost creatures like Onakke Ogre are perfect for this strategy, but you can also inflate your creatures’ power (and grant useful combat abilities) with spells like Setessan Training.
There are also plenty of ways to put +1/+1 counters on creatures in Core Set 2021, though that’s mainly Green-White’s forte. Many creatures – including Wildwood Scourge and Trufflesnout – gain +1/+1 counters naturally, but if you want to spread the counters out, Basri’s Acolyte, Tempered Veteran, and Hunter’s Edge can help. Green-White Counters is also best equipped to take advantage of Feat of Resistance, our pick for best white common in the set.
White-Black Life-Gain is another perennial favorite archetype in core set drafts, and it tends to be one of the strongest. While the other white decks in Core Set 2021 tend to skew aggressive, White-Black prefers to sit back, gain some life in the early game, and turn that life advantage into board advantage later on. The biggest life-gain payoffs are at higher rarities (including Speaker of the Heavens), but if you aren’t lucky enough to draft them, you can still draft an excellent control deck full of removal spells and resilient creatures.
Blue-Red Spells is another fan-favorite archetype, and Core Set 2021’s rendition is full of fun cards. Prowess creatures like Jeskai Elder and Mistral Singer are great fits for this deck, as is War of the Spark Limited all-star Spellgorger Weird. There are plenty of cheap spells to choose from for this deck, and you can even return them from your graveyard to your hand with cards like Shipwreck Dowser. The key to a good Blue-Red Spells deck is a good creature-to-spell ratio; aim for an even split, but you can go lighter on creatures if you have enough counterspells to protect them from removal.
Like “Ferocious,” “Morbid” is another old Magic keyword that isn’t keyworded in Core Set 2021. “Morbid” abilities trigger when creatures die, and that’s what this Black-Green draft deck is all about. Twinblade Assassins generates card advantage when creatures die, and Liliana’s Devotee can flood the board with zombie tokens. Keep in mind that these abilities count your opponents’ creatures, too, so use your removal to your advantage!
While decks like Red-Green Ferocious and Green-White Counters try to build up the biggest creatures, Red-White is focused on swarming the board with as many creatures as possible. This deck has a high density of creatures and spells that generate creature tokens, and it buffs up their power with spells like Warded Battlements and Burn Bright. Red-White has a minor Dog Tribal subtheme, so this is the best home for your Pack Leader.
Green has found more ways to draw cards in recent years. In Core Set 2021 draft, the Blue-Green archetype is all about drawing cards and triggering abilities when you draw your second card for the turn. Llanowar Visionary, Teferi’s Protégé, Setessan Training, and Opt can all help here, but you might also find yourself up a few cards if an opponent tries to remove your Warden of the Woods. Warden is a solid finisher for this type of deck, but Jolrael, Mwonvuli Recluse is the real MVP here.
While many of these decks have tight synergies, you’ll notice plenty of overlap between them. Putting +1/+1 counters on creatures may satisfy a “power four or greater” clause. Sacrificing creatures will trigger “morbid.” And you don’t have to draft a dedicated Flyers deck to take advantage of a few good flying creatures! Look for small synergies wherever you can when you draft Core Set 2021, and know that you’ll often be able to swap one of your colors if things don’t quite pan out.
It’s important to focus on synergies when you draft, but you can’t ignore the power cards. Here are our picks for the most powerful cards by color and rarity; look for them early in the draft, and consider switching gears if you see one late!
White: Feat of Resistance
Feat of Resistance was a premier common when it was first printed in Khans of Tarkir, and it continues to pull its weight in Core Set 2021 draft. It can blank removal spells, turn the tides in combat, AND support +1/+1 counter synergies, all for just two mana. White has many strong commons (Basri’s Acolyte and Secure the Scene among them), but none can match Feat in raw efficiency.
Blue: Mistral Singer
A 2/2 flyer with prowess is a great rate for three mana, so we’ve rated Mistral Singer the highest of all the blue commons. It’s a key card in White-Blue Flyers and Blue-Red Spells, and a fine inclusion in any other blue deck.
Black: Grasp of Darkness
Grasp of Darkness was downshifted back to common in Core Set 2021, so expect to see a lot of it in the draft queues. This removal spell can take down so many creatures that it’s worth the mana cost.
Red: Scorching Dragonfire
Scorching Dragonfire is red’s most efficient removal spell, and it’s especially useful against graveyard decks. Any red deck in the format will want to take this highly.
Green: Llanowar Visionary
What do you get when you put Llanowar Elves and Elvish Visionary together? A Llanowar Visionary, apparently! Best in Blue-Green, where you can easily trigger a card-draw clause, but most green decks will want the extra mana.
White: Faith’s Fetters
Faith’s Fetters is one of the best removal spells in the set, and it triggers life-gain abilities without asking anything of you. Take out your opponent’s best creature and ensure you have enough life left to win a damage race.
Blue: Enthralling Hold
Very few uncommons can win the game on their own, but Goremand is one of them. Best in a Black-Red Sacrifice or Black-Green Morbid.
Red: Soul Sear
Green: Warden of the Woods
Warden of the Woods has a lot going for it: great stats, a relevant combat ability, and the ability to replace itself. It may not look exciting, but it’s one of the hardest creatures to deal with in Core Set 2021 draft.
Rares & Mythics
White: Baneslayer Angel
Baneslayer Angel has always been a formidable finisher, and she’s one of the best ones in this draft format. Keep an eye on that “protection from Demons and from Dragons” clause – it might be relevant!
Blue: Sublime Epiphany
Sure, it costs six mana, but Sublime Epiphany does SO MUCH. You can reasonably counter a crucial spell, make a copy of your best creature, get your opponent’s best creature off the board, AND draw a card at the same time. Core Set 2021 is an aggressive format, but if you can hold on long enough, this card can help you pull ahead.
Black: Massacre Wurm
Any card that’s great in Cube draft is a slam dunk in an average draft format. While you’ll have to be in a primary-black deck to play it, Massacre Wurm can change the course of a game or even win on the spot.
Red: Terror of the Peaks
Many Magic sets have big, powerful dragons that are busted in Limited. Core Set 2021 has Terror of the Peaks – a big, powerful dragon that will cause your opponents plenty of pain. Terror of the Peaks is a terror to remove, and it’ll punish your opponent for trying to mount an offense and race.
Green: Elder Gargaroth
The mythics in this set are incredibly strong, and Elder Gargaroth is no exception. This wannabe Questing Beast can smash into the red zone while protecting your life total and generating card advantage. What more could you want?
Time to Draft!
If you’ve made it this far, you should have everything you need to make your Core Set 2021 draft picks with confidence. If you’re looking for more Limited content, be sure to check out our previous draft guides for Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths, Theros Beyond Death, and Throne of Eldraine!
Hallie served as Content Manager for CardKingdom.com and editor-in-chief of the Card Kingdom Blog from 2017-2022. Part tournament grinder, part content creator, Hallie is always looking for ways to improve her game and to share what she learns with others.