Nothing like the advent of a new spoiler season to remind us how fast 2020 is speeding by! Core Set 2021 is an important one: it’s coming at a time of significant change in competitive Magic, and it’s the last set to release before the next Standard rotation. That makes it something of a signpost for where Wizards of the Coast wants to take the game next, and nothing makes that so clear as the choice of reprints in the set!
THE BIG MONEY STUFF
Grim Tutor is certainly a statement. Of the most expensive cards available to reprint (i.e. not on the Reserved List), Grim Tutor was a close third to Imperial Seal and Zodiac Dragon. Printed only once in an obscure “Starter Magic” set in the late 90’s, by chance it is still one of the best available all-purpose tutors, and thus sees play in many singleton formats and even Legacy, where Demonic Tutor is banned. Since so many decks only want one copy, this reveal has lowered the price from almost $200 to below $30!
There’s also potential for Grim Tutor to make a big impact as it enters Standard, Pioneer and Modern. A three-mana tutor allows control decks to reliably have a sweeper on turn four against aggro without having to max out on copies. Combo decks in these formats have traditionally avoided tutors in favor of cantripping or looting through their cards quickly, but that may be worth rethinking for black-based lists like Yawgmoth Toolbox. And of course, Death’s Shadow players may be tempted by the idea of lowering their own life total to grab their signature card.
Ugin doesn’t sport quite the fabulous price tag that the original Grim Tutor has, but for a far more popular and widely-played card, it was still seriously undersupplied. This is its first reprint outside of premium-priced promo cards, and even at mythic rarity, he will now become accessible to a many more players. Of course, Ugin threatens to be an immediate card to beat in Standard and Historic, with ramp strategies already among the most powerful in those format. Now we will see the Spirit Dragon take his familiar place next to Ulamog as the premiere big-mana threat in Historic.
Azusa’s price had been creeping upward despite Masters reprints, as that supply was outstripped by demand from Commander and Modern Amulet Titan. This effect will be just as strong for ramp strategies in Standard. Azusa and Ugin serve as evidence that Wizards of the Coast is laying the groundwork for archetype continuity post-rotation; these cards can do the heavy lifting in ramp decks once Growth Spiral and Nissa are gone.
CHANGE IN A FLASH
With UB Flash gaining support in Ikoria, the counterspell-heavy tempo/control decks we’ve been seeing are another archetype that could be variable in future Standard. M21 has been more generous still, reprinting several awesome tools which will have both immediate and long-term implications.
In honesty, I’m not looking forward to getting hit by Rewind for the next couple of years. This is a brutal haymaker in Flash decks, allowing them to drop an instant-speed threat of choice without ever taking a turn off from countering you. It can also untap lands enchanted by Wolfwillow Haven or multi-mana lands like Lotus Field — which could lead to combo decks like Pioneer Lotus Breach using it for both protection and mid-combo mana generation!
With the mana advantage generated by Rewind, the only thing stopping flash decks from completely locking out opponents is their ability to draw enough counterspells and lands. Enter Rain of Revelation, reprinted here from Modern Horizons, which guarantees you +1 card as well as a nice bit of filtering. It costs one more than Thirst for Meaning, but for a deck which is used to holding up four mana and doesn’t want to use enchantments, that’s a small price to pay.
The final reprint of interest to Flash-loving players is Unsubstantiate, a tricky card we saw in Standard just a few years back (in Eldritch Moon). Those who played that set, or who encountered the odd copy of this card in Modern or Legacy thereafter, know of its unassuming power. UG Flash decks in particular have been running Unsummon to deal with any creatures that resolve before they get their shields up; here’s a card that serves a similar function, but is still live against control and combo. Returning spells to hand gets around “can’t be countered” threats such as Thought Distortion and Shifting Ceratops. Even if they will be cast again next turn, that’s an extra turn for you at 1/3rd the cost of Discontinuity!
In the mirror, Unsubstantiate can bounce a more expensive counter to ensure your threat resolves, or waste their counter by returning your spell to hand. However, this is one of the few cases where Unsubstantiate is not leaving you down a card in return for tempo. Protecting draw engines like Wavebreak Hippocamp and Slitherwisp will be vital when Flash decks lose scaling threats like Nightpack Ambusher.
New Tools for White Decks
Somewhat unexpectedly, white arguably has the strongest reprints of any color in M21. And even more surprising, all of them seem to point toward a slower, more methodical style of play that white has not always supported in Standard.
Revitalize is a terrific effect to buffer these slow white decks against aggro while still moving through their deck toward key cards. It’s very slightly underpowered in comparison to blue cantrips, but a bit of life-gain synergy can change that. Its M19 debut run was aided by the presence of Lich’s Mastery; this time, Griffin Aerie and Speaker of the Heavens will make that swig of health potion extra refreshing.
Faith’s Fetters is likely too expensive to see Standard play, but a couple of factors could see its stocks rise. First, it will combo with that same suite of life-gain cards which players will already want to run alongside Revitalize. Second, Yorion and Flicker of Fate can be used to score a bonus round of life-gain value, while having the option to re-target the Fetters onto a more powerful threat. Third, as an aura, this has synergies with Theros cards such as Transcendent Envoy and Hateful Eidolon. It seems like an interesting sideboard card against aggro, at the very least.
Those same options for flickering enchantments work beautifully with Runed Halo, a powerful and unique tool for any white deck. This can get white out of situations it normally needs specific sideboard cards for, while still being main-deckable as two-mana “removal” against random attackers. You can play this on curve to slow down aggro decks, sweep the board clear and then flicker Halo to reset the name to the first threat they draw. This card also has some fringe combo uses — it can shield you from your own Command the Dreadhorde or Madcap Experiment!
Containment Priest and Vryn Wingmare both have long histories in older formats and can contribute to a possible “hate-bear” strategy in Standard or Historic. We already have Drannith Magistrate, Tomik, Distinguished Advokist and Hushbringer in Standard, while Historic features Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and Meddling Mage. Containment Priest joins the list of available hate-bears which are also humans, offering an avenue to use tribal synergies like General Kudro of Drannith or Icon of Ancestry.
Containment Priest is an especially exciting reprint, because M21 will also put this powerful sideboard card into Modern for the first time! The Priest hoses a broad range of effects, including Dredge and Reanimator, Soulherder and Ephemerate, Eldritch Evolution, Collected Company, Through the Breach, and even Ninjutsu! In Standard, it threatens to immediately crush the Cat-Oven decks and severely limit Uro. As a 2/2 with flash, it’s not out of the question as a main-deck card, especially if you get creative in building around it…
Despite the name, Containment Priest’s powers are not strictly defensive. Any effect that can flicker opposing creatures in and out of play becomes permanent removal while she’s around, and some are efficient enough to be worth the setup. In Modern, white Eldrazi decks in particular stand to take advantage of the already-great Eldrazi Displacer, while the power boost from Priest might be the key to getting an Astral Drift deck off the ground. Even in Standard, you can replicate this effect with Flicker of Fate — or you can play Priest and then bounce or sacrifice cards like Prison Realm for value, knowing that the creature underneath will stay exiled permanently!
CRYPTS, COUNTERS, AND COLORLESS RAMP
Green and White seem to share a strong +1/+1 counter theme in M21, which will briefly overlap with proliferate synergies from War of the Spark and cards like Steel Overseer and Stonecoil Serpent. Scavenging Ooze, Quirion Dryad, and Lorescale Coatl were all reprinted to support the green side of this theme, and Ooze looks particularly well-positioned for Standard and Historic as a main-deckable anti-graveyard card.
Heroic Intervention is also a blessing for aggressive green decks like these, often leaving control players with no way out. This is also a welcome reprint for Commander, where the card’s amazing defensive power was generating a price spike despite its relatively recent printing.
A much less main-deckable piece of graveyard hate is Tormod’s Crypt. Despite the presence of very similar options such as Soul-Guide Lantern in Standard already, there are still reasons for adding this classic version of the graveyard-exiler. The more sensible reason: should graveyard-based combos become fast enough, being able to deploy a Crypt without breaking up your curve can ensure you keep up.
Speaking of artifacts, the other three colorless reprints contribute strongly to ramp — Meteorite, Palladium Myr, and Solemn Simulacrum. The latter two in particular are quite potent, since they can combine powerfully with untap, flicker and sacrifice effects for artifacts or creatures. These cards support the notion of a true colorless ramp deck, at least in Historic, with Ugin and Ulamog at the top end — essentially Tron-less Tron. Of course, the reprints on Azusa and Cultivate mean that, as with Modern Tron, there will be a strong incentive to add green. Either version sounds terrifying, and it will be interesting to see if such a ramp deck requires B&R attention like its Pioneer counterpart did.
USE THE PAST TO SEED THE FUTURE
The choice of which cards to reprint in M21 tell us the most about Wizards’ goals for the set. Where new card designs always leave some uncertainty around their design intent — was companion meant to be that good? — these cards are as close to known quantities as we have. Apart from fringe cases like Grim Tutor, they are all tried and tested in formats past, and we can assume that Wizards is including them here because the gameplay they created there is of a sort that the creators of the game want to see in the next few years of Standard.
Tom’s fate was sealed in 7th grade when his friend lent him a pile of commons to play Magic. He quickly picked up Boros and Orzhov decks in Ravnica block and has remained a staunch white magician ever since. A fan of all Constructed formats, he enjoys studying the history of the tournament meta. He specializes in midrange decks, especially Death & Taxes and Martyr Proc. One day, he swears he will win an MCQ with Evershrike. Ask him how at @AWanderingBard, or watch him stream Magic at twitch.tv/TheWanderingBard.