Welcome back to In Response, my little corner of the internet where I talk about all things Magic the Gathering.
Hi, hello, let’s talk about the latest core set, the recently released Core Set 2021 colloquially known as M21. The second of soon to be several sets released during these less than ideal times, M21 is honestly one of the most hyped core sets to come about in a long time. A good part of this is due in no small part to the absolute banger reprints the set features, going so far as reprinting a once $200+ card that only ever saw one printing prior to this back in the 90’s as well as a multi-format all star that was pushing $80+ prior to this new printing. Combine this with some really spicy new cards across multiple rarities and the set really left me feeling impressed.
Now I am approaching my review of this set primarily from the standpoint of someone that plays EDH almost exclusively, though I have at times also fancied myself both a legacy and modern player. I don’t really care for standard or pioneer or pauper or brawl and all that so understand that my analysis is going to be biased towards the formats that I actually give a damn about.
I’m not really going to break down the set card by card either, just going to pick a few cards that tickle my fancy from each color and go from there. So, on with the review, shall we?
Angelic Ascension may not be the next Swords to Plowshares, but I definitely feel that it is worth taking a look at over something like Path to Exile. Sure, if you’re using it strictly as removal then giving your opponent a 4/4 flier may not always be the best solution, but there are plenty of times that I rather be staring at an angel token than a Blightsteel Colossus or some other big dumb fatty. And heck, there’s nothing saying you can’t upgrade your mana dork or saproling token into a evasive beater. Having a converted mana cost of two rather than one is a bit of a mark against it, but it is still a strong removal spell and exile at two is still pretty strong in a game where most spells that simply destroy a target cost 3 or more these days.
I feel I would be remiss to not at least mention Nine Lives. I don’t really think it’s going to be doing all that much and most people that try are going to end up really sad when it eats removal and they just straight up die. However it is a cute card, incredibly flavorful and it’s nice to see a bit of a throwback to many of the legendary cats the game has seen over the years.
Teferi, Master of Time needs no introduction. He is the face of the set, he is the most expensive card in the set and that is for damn good reason. This thing is BUSTED in multiplayer formats and still pretty darn good playing heads up. There’s also like a billionty variants of the art between slight differences in the normal art, the showcase version, the borderless alternate art version and foils of all of the above. I think it’s like, 30 variations in total you can have or something like that (Editor’s Note: I count 9 art variants, making for 18 total variations when you account for foiling). Marketing gimmickry aside, it is a genuinely good, strong card and will likely see it if not you targeted from the moment he hits the board. But being able to loot every single turn while building up to a very strong ultimate or just politicking your way to keeping a particularly problematic creature or commander at bay by using his -3 at the start of its controller’s turn every single turn cycle is also pretty darn good, phasing is probably the strongest form of removal out there because unlike putting something in the yard, back into the hand or even in exile, there’s not really anything they can do to get it back at that point. It’s a good card, maybe a bit overrated (that $60+ preorder price definitely didn’t hold), but he’s definitely worth a look.
It’s Cryptic-er Command! This card is just nutty, right? It does ALL of the things. It counters spells, it counters abilities, it draws cards, it bounces things, it makes copies of things and it can do literally all of those things at once. The odds of actually getting to use every single mode on this thing off a single cast are pretty damn slim (and pulling it off should just like, win you the game, let’s see that errata WotC), but it is doable. Say your opponent casts a big nasty Eldrazi titan like Ulamog or Kozilek, you can counter the spell, counter the on-cast triggered ability, draw yourself a card, bounce something, and then make a copy of the biggest thing you’ve got on board (or the best utility creature you have). That’s pretty good value for 6 mana, right? And only two of it even has to be blue!
So black had a pretty good time of it this go around. I’m gonna shoot an honorable mention to both Grim Tutor and Massacre Wurm as some of the best reprints in this set, both for WotC having the balls to reprint a $200+ card in a core set with awesome new art and giving a black EDH staple a much needed reprint before prices on it got too out of hand as well.
That said, black did bring a couple of fun new toys to the table as well. While only an uncommon, I feel that Eliminate is one of the strongest removal spells black has had in a while and would have done a lot to help out with the elk days of Oko while he was still legal. It hits several strong utility creatures as well and only costs two mana to do it. Versatile and functional.
It’s actually kinda funny because I’d generally have pegged red as my least favorite color, though green certainly is up there as well, and yet many of my favorite cards over the last several sets have either been or at least contained red in their color identity and my single favorite card from this set is actually a red card so..go figure.
Terror of the Peaks just spoke to me when it was spoiled. Warstorm Surge, prior to being replaced by Bastion of Remembrance, was one of the win conditions in my Breya EDH deck, and putting that effect onto a big firebreathing dragon that punishes your opponents for trying to remove it just spoke to my inner Timmy. It was a shoe-in for my Godzilla EDH deck (deck tech coming soon!), which is just full of big dumb beaters with high power, perfect for burning away my opponents and any sap unlucky enough to be present on their board. This card is good, like this card is REALLY good. Any creature-focused deck should try and squeeze this bad boy in, even token decks can do some serious work if they have this guy shooting for 1 or 2 for every single token they put into play. And decks like mine that are full of big beefy bois? Yeah, this thing either eats removal (which hurts whoever removes it, outside of wipes anyways) or does some serious work.
Fiery Emancipation is this red’s answer to Nyxbloom Ancient in the “who needs double when you can triple” wars. Except unlike Nyxbloom Ancient, this card’s tripling effect is far more relevant because making 7 damage into 21 as opposed to 14 is far, far more important than making 7 mana into 21 as opposed to 14 (seriously guys, Vorinclex is a far more impactful use of that slot than Nyxbloom). This turns any 7 power commander (like Godzilla!) into a one-shot without any other buffs on him, whereas a damage doubler still requires you connect twice. Hell, combine this with Terror of the Peaks and REALLY burn up your opponents. Another really important point, unlike most damage doublers, this ability only applies to sources that you control. That’s a big one.
Another uncommon finding its way to the top spot, Garruk’s Uprising is a lot of upside for minimum input. This thing is virtually a strict upgrade to Elemental Bond, with the requirement of creatures having power 4 or greater rather than 3 being almost irrelevant in most decks that are going to want this. If you have a compatible creature it draws you a card on hitting the field, it draws off of additional creatures hitting the board and to top it all off it gives all of your dudes trample and in a deck running a surplus of 4 power creatures that is going to be some super relevant text. This card is just fantastic.
How about the big beefy boi himself? I am so, so very happy to have Garruk back after so many sets of Vivien and Nissa being shoved down our throats and boy did Garruk come back or what? His first ability is an overrun effect for a single creature, already pretty darn good. He pumps out tokens that can protect him and if you happen to be behind on board you even get some of that loyalty back off of it. That emblem he makes, I mean as always don’t count on getting it but if you do..that’s the kind of thing that wins games. I do wish it gave you them at a somewhat more relevant time than your end step, that way if you happen to have a haste enabler you can take advantage of them that turn, but I still think it’s a notable way to close out a game, especially if you’re running some big ol’ fatties..as you should be.
So not a ton to talk about here, I just honestly wasn’t that impressed by any of the multicolor cards we got this set. I’ll give special mention to Rin and Seri, the buy-a-box promo because hey it’s cat dog..err, well, it’s a dog cat (seriously, that type line bugs me for the wasted potential). I know some people are also really into Sanctum of All but I just don’t care for the whole shrine thing and would have rather they done something more relevant with the 6 slots in the set the cycle took up.
I think this is about as obvious a choice as it gets, right? I mean did anyone expect anything other than Ugin here? Even ignoring that there really aren’t that many colorless cards in the set, it’s freaking Ugin. This guy was nearing $100 prior to the printing of M21 and he was there for a good reason. He sees play as a finisher in multiple formats, he can literally go into any deck by virtue of being colorless and he’s just good, like really good. You can pick these up for $25-30 right now and you really probably should be doing so because he ain’t gonna stay that cheap for long.
So, M21 has passed us by, Jumpstart is either due out shortly after this goes up (or may already be out) and we’re about to start spoiler season for the upcoming Double Masters with the new Zendikar and Commander Legends not long after that. It has been a crazy year for Magic products and WotC shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.
I hope you enjoyed this quick look at M21, as always these are merely my own opinions, feel free to share your own thoughts below and as always, do take care and always remember to use protection, counterspells are your friend.