Top Picks for Core Set 2021

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Another set release is upon us during the global COVID-19 pandemic. This time it’s a core set, Magic 2021, that is having its demand impacted by a lack of paper events. Much like Ikoria, this could generate some interesting opportunities to acquire cards on the cheap.

In fact, there are two categories of cards I like from Magic 2021. First, there are a couple cards that are already having their impact on Standard. Second, Magic 2021 contains a number of Commander reprints with long term upside potential.

This week I’ll examine the set and highlight cards in both categories, with some inspiration from Twitter commentary!

Commander Reprints

Let’s start with the Commander cards, as this category is most compelling. In recent articles, I’ve written about how paper Magic is suffering except for casual and Commander play. It seems these cards are resilient to the lack of in-person paper Magic events. I’m convinced Commander is now the most played paper Magic format.

A couple of Magic 2021 reprints have brought prices down on some Commander favorites. Even premium versions—alt art foils—are selling at a discount as the new set is being opened. I especially like the alternate art foils for Commander speculation because Commander players are frequently seeking the most impressive versions of a card.

For this section, I want to acknowledge @ToaMichael for some inspiration in this tweet:

I suspect the top-selling Commander cards on TCGplayer are directly correlated to this exact purchase, so I won’t try to cite TCGplayer’s “best seller” ranking because the data is biased. That said, I do love each of the purchases Michael made above. Cultivate is a popular green Commander card as it offers both mana fixing and mana ramp (two necessities in the format). Scavenging Ooze can hose graveyard strategies, and it doubles up as a tournament playable card (more on this later). Solemn Simulacrum needs no explanation—I think we can all agree this card is everywhere in Commander.

Take a look at those prices! Despite being reprinted a billion times, Solemn Simulacrum continues to hold a $5 price point. I don’t think we’ll see copies under $2 for very long. While buying cards at $2 and selling at $5 is hardly inspirational, the alternate art foils are under $10 and may offer the greatest upside.

There was an error retrieving a chart for Solemn Simulacrum

In addition to the cards mentioned above, I also think foil alternate art Sublime Epiphany is a worthwhile consideration. I’m fairly sure Cryptic Command sees a ton of play in Commander, and this seems like a Cryptic Command on steroids.

There was an error retrieving a chart for Sublime Epiphany

Lastly, let’s not overlook the likely popularity of dog- and cat-based decks thanks to the printing of legendary creature Rin and Seri, Inseparable. Alternate art foils of this card may also gradually increase over time because… well, many people love their dogs and cats! Kyle Massa, writer for EDH REC, calls out this card in particular as the “can’t-miss pick” of Core Set 2021.

Standard Playables

I used to ignore Standard completely. For years, I would simply observe how Standard card prices fluctuate without actually participating in this market.

Since I started playing Arena a few months ago, this changed. Now I can observe first-hand what new cards are making waves in the Standard metagame and speculate accordingly. Of course, all my Standard-based suggestions below must carry a caveat that prices may not move without the return of in-person events. Let’s hope we can all get together and battle in paper Magic before Core Set 2021 rotates.

My number one pick from Standard is inspired, once again, by Twitter. This time it was a tweet from @SethManfield, professional Magic player:

This card is the real deal. Jolrael, Mwonvuli Recluse may be one of the hardest Magic cards to pronounce, but it’s not difficult to envision why she’s so powerful in the current metagame. Think about those Bant Control decks that run Teferi, Time Raveler, Shark Typhoon, Growth Spiral, Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath, and Teferi, Master of Time.

There was an error retrieving a chart for Teferi, Master of Time

The deck is a natural fit for this legendary creature—she hits the board early and starts making cats by turn 3, providing much-needed defense against the most aggressive decks in the format. Her ability can be triggered nearly every turn, creating a substantial board presence through the early stages of a game whereas before, the deck didn’t stick as many permanents the first few turns.

At first, I didn’t take this card seriously when my opponents cast it in Standard—but I’m a true believer now. I’ve purchased a dozen or so copies at just over a buck a piece with the hopes of selling them closer to $5 should paper Magic return.

Speaking of the Bant Control deck, Teferi, Master of Time and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon are both seeing their share of play. I don’t think these are 4-ofs in the deck (certainly not Ugin), but they are mythic rares in the set. These carry a hefty pricetag already, but if Core Set 2021 is underopened, these do have some upside when paper play resumes in 2021 (hopefully).

Another card I’m seeing in Standard on occasion is Terror of the Peaks. This is one of the more costly cards in the set at around $10, but a far cry from Teferi and Ugin’s $30 price point. The red dragon may not be as flashy as the planeswalkers, but it may have some lasting impact on Standard. I don’t own any copies, but may look to pick some up should the price decrease a bit post-release once everyone is finished opening their product.

One card I did purchase for myself (to own, not for speculation) is foil Liliana, Waker of the Dead.

There was an error retrieving a chart for Liliana, Waker of the Dead

This version of Liliana was perhaps nerfed by its four mana casting cost. Still, she can come down on the board and defend herself and her ultimate is impressive. There isn’t a home for her in Standard right now, but at $6 I couldn’t resist picking up a foil copy for the collection. After all, there seems to be a floor on mythic rare Liliana Planeswalker cards—the cheapest ones on Card Kingdom’s site are Liliana, Death's Majesty and Liliana, Untouched by Death for $4.99 and $5.49, respectively. So grabbing a foil of the newest version for $6 seems like a purchase with very little downside.

Looking towards the lower end, there are a few sub-$2 cards worth considering. I’ve already mentioned Scavenging Ooze, which seems well-positioned in the current Standard metagame with Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath and Cauldron Familiar running rampant. The Standard metagame could evolve and make Baneslayer Angel a solid pick-up at $2, though I haven’t seen it played yet (remember when this card was $50?).  Solemn Simulacrum (regular version) at $1.50 seems awfully cheap.

If you need Temples, these are all dirt cheap, and right now is probably a good time to acquire your playsets. They’ll be heavily used in Standard for at least another year now. Lastly, I’m curious about Demonic Embrace. I’ve faced down this bulk rare in a couple Arena matches now. I don’t think it’s the most exciting thing you can do in Standard, but it is being tested by mono black players. Unchecked, this aura on a Knight of the Ebon Legion can end a game very quickly. And with its ability to be re-played from the graveyard, the risk of being 2-for-1’d is mitigated.

Wrapping It Up

Compared to Ikoria, I was initially unimpressed with Core Set 2021’s underwhelming power level. At face value, my impression was that the simpler cards would be no match for the complex power and flexibility offered by cards like Uro and Shark Typhoon. Since the set’s launch on Arena, however, I’ve changed my viewpoint.

Core Set 2021 is packed with playable cards for both Standard and Commander. This is a powerful combination, sure to generate interest in the set from all sorts of players. While players and stores open packs by the case, the market supply will have a momentary surge. But a lack of paper events may limit how much product is actually opened throughout the set’s life in Standard. As a result, I think there are some key opportunities to speculate.

Throughout this article, I touched on the cards that have my attention from both a Commander and a Standard viewpoint. My favorites include alternate-art foil copies of Cultivate and Solemn Simulacrum. For Standard, don’t look past Jolrael, Mwonvuli Recluse—she is the real deal.

The many reprints in the set also offers a great opportunity to pick up key staples on the cheap. The Temples and cards like Solemn Simulacrum and Fabled Passage will be relatively cheap pick-ups if you need copies for play. These reprints provide a welcome drop in price so that players can grab their copies at the momentary “discount”. As long as they’re not reprinted in every Core Set, I like these cards as long-term holds.

And in general, I like playable cards from Core Set 2021 and Ikoria because I believe both sets will be under-opened thanks to COVID-19. It’s unclear how the pandemic will impact prices over the long-run, but I suspect the lack of paper events will lead to less product being opened, which in turn will make for higher price ceilings in the long run. Only time will tell!

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