Core sets have an interesting place in Magic’s history. Starting out as white-bordered, 100% reprint sets that excluded legendary creatures, they’ve gradually lost each of these restrictions, undergone a leave of absence, and have come roaring back in recent years with better and better card selections. Core Set 2021 is no exception to this recent trend, boasting some impressive reprints like Ugin, the Spirit Dragon and Azusa, Lost but Seeking in addition to a slew of new and interesting card designs for a variety of constructed formats.
Naturally, that includes Commander, and the excitement from players of one of Magic’s biggest formats is well deserved. Despite having a smaller pool of new cards to choose from than other major set releases, I still found myself narrowing down a sizable list for my top 10 picks. As with other selections, I’m not ranking these new cards in any particular order, and I’m not going to spend a lot of time extolling the virtues of reprints that have already proven their worth in the format. I am, however, making an exception to talk about one reprint today, so let’s get started with our honorable mention.
Honorable Mention: Grim Tutor
Grim Tutor‘s been around for over 20 years, but even if you’re an enfranchised player like me, you can probably count the number of times you’ve seen a physical version of this card on one hand. Released in Starter 1999, there just weren’t all that many copies of this card out in the world, and those you were able to find have been flirting with a $160-200 price point for years. This limited availability makes Grim Tutor‘s reprint, for all intents and purposes, a new card for most Commander players, so it’d be a shame not to evaluate it alongside the other new cards today.
When tutoring, you often need an immediate answer to a problem presented in the game, so the more mana you spend getting the card you need from your library, the less you can spend using the card you retrieve during the same turn. For this reason, the difference between 2 mana and 3, 3 mana and 4, and 4 mana and 5 is often significantly larger than the numbers would have you believe at first glance.
Personally, I don’t like to pay more than 3 mana for a tutor when building my decks, and the loss of 3 life is trivial in a format where you start with 40, so Grim Tutor is going to be a solid inclusion for any deck with black in its color identity. It’s also easier to cast than Beseech the Queen, another 3 mana tutor I (and many other players) have used for years, and it doesn’t force you to reveal what you’re searching for either. This can be especially important if you’re trying to set up an instant like Cyclonic Rift and don’t want to give the table a warning of what’s coming.
Grim Tutor will likely see minimal cEDH play, but for everyone else, pick up your copies once the price drops. This is the best reprint in Core Set 2021, and if it doesn’t get reprinted for another couple decades, you won’t want to miss the opportunity to pick it up now.
While we’re on the subject of cards we haven’t seen in several years, Brash Taunter offers a fresh take on the classic Stuffy Doll. Unlike its predecessor, you can’t put Brash Taunter in just any Commander deck, but the new tricks it brings to the table make the addition of a color identity well worth it:
- The removal of defender allows this card to attack freely
- Being a Goblin opens up incredible avenues of tribal support
- You aren’t locked into damaging a single opponent
- With enough buffs or the addition of deathtouch, this card becomes a repeatable source of creature removal
On top of these perks, all the same cards you’d want to play with Stuffy Doll, such as Blasphemous Act and Chain Reaction, are still excellent, cost-effective ways to put a lot of hurt on life totals, and specialized removal will be needed to deal with Brash Taunter‘s pesky indestructibility once it hits the table. The only real drawback beyond color identity when compared to Stuffy Doll is the fact that Brash Taunter‘s damage comes in the form of a targeted red effect, so cards like Leyline of Sanctity or Seht’s Tiger have the ability to be extremely inconvenient obstacles should your playgroup see this coming.
Anyone who has played Vizier of the Menagerie can tell you just how strong building a board position without emptying your hand is, but in a tribe that is known for inexpensive creatures, tribal spells, and powerful setup tools like Goblin Recruiter, an effect already considered good is pushed to extraordinary heights.
If there was no additional text on the card beyond this first ability, Conspicuous Snoop would already be considered a staple for Goblin decks until the end of Magic as we know it. However, the power creep that has been prevalent over the last year is on full display here, granting a second ability that lets you use the activated abilities of Goblins on top of your library too. While not quite as strong as the ability to cast Goblins from your deck, the two effects compliment each other well, offering you an incredible array of plays that are only limited by your preparation, mana, and/or how many times you can tap this card.
Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose
Sanguine Bond and Exquisite Blood have been an iconic duo for years, but now you can cast Sanguine Bond for 2 less mana – and from your Command Zone should you so choose. Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose might look like an Ixalan block extra you’d find a home for in your Vampire deck, but with black’s ample access to tutors and fast mana, it is far more likely to be the centerpiece of its own combo archetype – especially since it can also enable its own source of life gain.
At the moment, there is not another card that operates in quite the same capacity as Exquisite Blood, so such decks will be fragile unless they find other win conditions to back them up, but given that several Sanguine Bond variations have been released to date, it’s honestly just a matter of time until we start seeing Exquisite Blood variations too. When those arrive, Vito could easily become a bit pricey, so if you envision yourself using copies in the future, you should pick them up while they’re inexpensive.
Mangara, the Diplomat
White has gotten the short end of the stick in Commander during recent years and sets. When a big part of your color identity boils down to creatures with efficient stats, which are usually terrible outside early turns of the game, board wipes, which have gotten more expensive to cast in recent iterations, and hatebears, which shut down specific areas of strategy and are hard on your table politics, it isn’t difficult to see how we got here. We’re slowly starting to see cards trickle in that play up white’s other strengths, however, and Mangara, the Diplomat is one of the smartest designs I’ve seen in that vein for a long time.
Linking taxes to card draw, another woefully deficient area of white’s portfolio, does a brilliant job of killing two birds with one stone by playing up an underused strength and using it as a potential solution for replenishing resources. The result delivers a new take on both angles that doesn’t require you to do anything other than play the game to reap the rewards, and since Mangara is legendary, it can also be a generically good mono-white Commander that doesn’t force you to play aggressive strategies like white weenie and equipment or frustrating strategies like Stax.
Definitely a card you’ll want to pick up for your Commander collection and one that I hope is the start of an interesting series of future card designs.
Teferi, Master of Time
And then there’s this guy, who has an interesting design that I would not like to see any more of.
A long time ago, I came to terms with the fact that Wizards’ card designers either don’t know how to print a version of Teferi that isn’t powerful or they have rules prohibiting them from doing so. Time Spiral, Dominaria, and War of the Spark all brought us different iterations of the iconic time mage that had dramatic impacts on their Standard environments, and all see varying degrees of Commander play currently.
As the Core Set 2021 spoilers started rolling in, I knew we were going to see another ridiculous blue and/or white planeswalker card with his mug on it (after all, Teferi is the planeswalker of the hour for this set), and sure enough, we now have a planeswalker that can activate at instant speed without assistance. Teferi, Temporal Archmage from Commander 2014 at least made you work for this privilege between a higher mana cost and the likely requirement of a card like Doubling Season; Teferi, Master of Time just skips the pretense of fair play and is tailor-made for multiplayer abuse as a result.
If the table doesn’t (or can’t) answer Teferi, you get to draw and discard an average of 4 cards each turn cycle – great whether you’re digging for specific cards, loading up your Graveyard, or simply ensuring you have plays to make on subsequent turns. After approximately 2 turn cycles, you’ll also get to cast a free Time Stretch, which will give you the time to rebuild his loyalty and start the fun anew.
Should someone at your table recognize the issue Teferi represents, he has a built-in defense mechanism for keeping specific threats away from him. If enough force is brought to bear to take Teferi down, you’ve still probably diverted enough opposing resources or damage to justify your 4 mana investment.
I know that as a rule, planeswalkers aren’t very good in Commander unless you’ve designed your deck specifically around them. Teferi, Master of Time feels like it will be a notable exception, and potentially an overcorrection. It is a card your table must agree to counter or destroy on sight, as failing to do so can singlehandedly let its caster run away with a multiplayer Commander game.
Teferi’s Ageless Insight
We just can’t seem to quit you Teferi, can we?
We’ve seen effects like Teferi’s Ageless Insight before in cards like Alhammaret’s Archive and Thought Reflection, but this is the most cost-effective version printed to date. Generally, I’m pretty skeptical of enchantments that don’t immediately impact the board when they come down, but a converted mana cost of 4 might be low enough to convince blue players to give this a look. Getting to draw 2 cards off a counterspell like Exclude or drawing 6 off a Brainstorm is mighty tempting, to say nothing of what you can do with a Faithless Looting, Guardian Project, Windfall, or Time Spiral.
Time will tell us how good this is, but my inclination is not to underestimate this enchantment.
Liliana’s Standard Bearer
We’ve all been at the high point of a Commander game, dominating the board with a swarm of creatures and doing the combat math in preparation for delivering the finishing blows to our opponents. Then, just as we think we’re going to untap with our army, the player before us casts a Wrath of God and blows us out of the water. Suddenly, we’re left wondering why we overextended our resources and how we’re going to get back into the game, let alone win it.
Now, thanks to Liliana’s Standard Bearer, we have a new answer that does a surprising amount of work for just 3 mana.
First, you get a 3/1 creature that is able to serve as a blocker or help you start a new offensive. On its own, that isn’t especially impressive, but being able to cast this at instant speed gives you a nice combat trick or an extra body at an opponent’s end step to sneak in a couple extra points of damage. Drawing a card for every creature that died under your control during the turn this hits the battlefield, on the other hand, can make Damnation little more than an inconvenience by refilling your hand and conscripting new creatures to pick up where your previous ones left off.
Best of all, Liliana’s Standard Bearer doesn’t care who killed your creatures, or even whose they were, so long as they were under your control when they died. Whether you sacrificed them to an Ashnod’s Altar, had an Insurrection get quelled by a Rout, or got your army obliterated by an Hour of Devastation, you remain completely covered without being judged or penalized. It even works on tokens, so don’t be afraid to dig out your Army of the Damned or Dread Summons to bait your foes into wasting a board wipe and hand-delivering you a boatload of cards!
An impressive new hand of cards needs an impressive mana rock to help cast them, and Chromatic Orrery is just the one for the job. Admittedly, 7 mana is a hefty price tag to put this card into play, but it nets 5 mana back right away, meaning once you reach 7 mana, it realistically costs just 2. Being an artifact, there are also a number of ways you can cheat this out sooner than turn 7, not to mention untap it for repeated use. The fact it ramps you from 7 mana to as much as 13 of any color you need also ensures you will be able to cast your biggest spells with ease on subsequent turns.
That said, there are a number of other ways to effectively double your mana that are more efficient (Caged Sun, Cabal Coffers, High Tide, and Nissa, Who Shakes the World to name a few), so while Chromatic Orrery can go in every deck, it isn’t necessarily for every deck. Most mana doublers are aimed at a single type of mana, however, so if you have a multicolored deck that wants lots of mana and doesn’t mind occasionally spending most of a turn refilling your hand in an emergency, then Chromatic Orrery‘s final (and admittedly overcosted) ability might be what wins over your skepticism and convinces you to try it over other something like Dreamtone Hedron.
Terror of the Peaks
Normally, I wouldn’t bat an eye at creatures that are simply meant to be efficient bruisers – they’re a dime a dozen in Commander. Terror of the Peaks though…well, let’s just say there are far worse ways you could spend 5 mana. Warstorm Surge stapled to a 5/4 body is ridiculously efficient, and if your opponents chuck a piece of spot removal at it, they’ll still end up losing 3 life for their efforts.
Naturally, Terror of the Peaks will be most at home in decks that either put out big creatures, like those headed by Mayael the Anima or Scion of the Ur-Dragon, or decks that can put out a lot of smaller creatures, such as Goblin decks headed by Krenko, Mob Boss or Purphoros, God of the Forge. Being able to deal damage to any target when a creature enters the battlefield means you can clear out opposing threats or lower enemy life totals as the situation warrants, and you’ll be able to put out increasingly absurd amounts of damage the longer this is left alive.
Long story short, this card is majorly pushed – hopefully having Baneslayer Angel in Standard to check it will keep the price relatively low for the rest of us.
Speaking of pushed cards, Garruk’s Uprising might be an uncommon, but I honestly wouldn’t have batted an eye at this being rare. Like a number of other cards we’ve looked at today, we’ve seen similar predecessors that also let you draw cards when creatures enter the battlefield (Kavu Lair, Elemental Bond, Temur Ascendancy, etc.), but none of them had the ability to replace themselves upon entering the battlefield, let alone giving all your creatures trample!
Honestly, this feels like 2 cards in one with a conditional cantrip built in, making Garruk’s Uprising an obvious choice for decks playing a fair number of big creatures. While this is an exciting card, I cannot help but be a little concerned about this power level remaining a precedent. Looking at this along with Conspicuous Snoop, Teferi, Master of Time, and Terror of the Peaks, not to mention a slew of other cards that have either been banned or created consternation in constructed formats since War of the Spark, one wonders not whether these current powerhouses will be made obsolete in the coming years, but when?
What do you think? Are we going to keep seeing the reign of power creep, or is Wizards finally going to ease up on the release of high-powered cards? Come join our Patreon Discord and chat with me about it! Patrons receive a bunch of awesome benefits and you’ll be supporting the gaming content Assorted Meeples puts out here, on Twitch, and on YouTube. A huge thank you to our current Patrons as well – your support means the world to us and plays a key role in helping us continue to keep things running!
Braden is a member of Assorted Meeples and has been an avid gamer all his life. He has played his favorite game, Magic: The Gathering, for over 15 years, and can always be convinced to take time for a game (or three!) of Commander.