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By: Cheater Hater, Vincent Borchardt
Jun 25 2020 12:00pm
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Magic and the world continues to move at a breakneck pace, both in terms of new content and everything surrounding it. Most of that doesn’t matter now, as Core Set 2021 appears to be putting the breaks on slightly; keeping the baseline power higher than pre-FIRE (the move to power up expansion sets), but the top end isn’t as ludicrious. FIRE still is reverberating through the set (most ludicrously as Baneslayer Angel and Terror of the Peaks both seem unplayable), but again, that doesn’t matter for Limited. As such, since there aren’t any mechanics (other than keywording mill and bringing back Prowess as a deciduous mechanic), let’s get to the archetypes.

 

Archetypes:

White/Blue: Fliers

Watcher of the Spheres is an obvious signpost (and an obvious look at how FIRE has affected the bottom end; this would still be decent at three mana). However, outside of the raw power like Roving Ghostlight, Mistral Singer, and Aven Gagglemaster, there isn’t much exciting here. However, the power of critical mass (in particular Skyspanner seems important for that) means this deck looks to be positioned well to start.

 

Blue/Black: Reanimation?

It may seem like just an interesting take on a looter, but how does Obsessive Stitcher make an archetype happen that seems like it would be reliant on uncommons? The obvious point is that Rise Again is the rare common reanimation, but the problems go beyond that. As good as enablers like Rain of Revelation and Waker of Waves are, the only real common enablers for a big reanimation is Crypt Lurker and Teferi's Protege, which are fine but unspectacular. Meanwhile Gloomsower and Spined Megalodon are obvious targets, but you can’t run that many seven-mana cards in your Limited deck. This feels very boom/bust and requires the right quantities of specific pieces, so I wouldn’t start here.

 

Black/Red: Sacrifice

We’ve seen so many variants of the sacrifice enabler Dire Fleet Warmonger represents, and they’re never great, and this one seems even more relatively mediocre, though with a high baseline. Instead, Hobblefiend seems very pushed, especially for a common, and you have decent fodder like Deathbloom Thallid, Silversmote Ghoul, and Pitchburn Devils. Traitorous Greed also seems like one of the best four-mana Threatens ever, as the Treasures either pay for the sacrifice effect or fix your mana. I wish it had a better signpost and a common steal effect, but I like where this archetype is.

 

Red/Green: 4-Power Ramp

Somehow this specific variant of the Gruul deck has become extremely common over the past year or so—both Turret Ogre and Furious Rise are obvious reprints for the archetype, and they both come from the current Standard and different sets! At least Leafkin Avenger takes it in an interesting direction, and this seems busted even before you consider using it with pump spells. It feels like the archetype is missing something though. In particular there isn’t a generic 4/4 for 4 with okay upside, like green generally gets in recent sets. Sabertooth Mauler is close, but it seems slow and has meaningful weaknesses, especially once players start playing around the Morbid cards. As good as “efficient creatures” normally is in a generic environment, it seems like the supporting pieces to turn this into an archetype just aren’t there this go-around.

 

Green/White: +1/+1 Counters

Conclave Mentor is such a powerful enabler for a counter strategy, especially since there are a lot of enablers that add multiple counters at once. Basri's Acolyte is extremely efficient if you can get both counters, Pride Malkin is a good common build-around), and there a ton of incidental cards that get counters like Makeshift Battalion, Sabertooth Mauler, and Trufflesnout. There are so many uncommon enablers though: Wildwood Scourge, Quirion Dryad, Tempered Veteran, and Basri's Solidarity, just to name a few. This easily gets to critical mass on the support and feels like one of the decks to beat.

 

White/Black: Lifegain

As common as Orzhov lifegain is, M21 takes an interesting twist on it by focusing on gaining life in chunks of three. However, other than Indulging Patrician and Griffin Aerie, most of the payoffs like Sanguine Indulgence aren’t exciting for how difficult gaining three life is. More to the point, if you’re regularly gaining three life in a turn, you’re probably winning anyway without the pay-offs, and if you’re putting cards like Revitalize or Alchemist's Gift in your deck to get the pay-offs that doesn’t seem like a winning strategy. Maybe getting enough incidental lifegain though sources like the gainlands gives you enough power, but this version of the archetype doesn’t seem like it’ll work.

 

Blue/Red: Spells

Welcome back Prowess! However, other than some decently powerful Prowess creatures (and Spellgorger Weird), there isn’t much support other than Riddleform and Experimental Overload. The spells are very good though, as red has a lot of common burn and Goblin Wizardry pulls a lot of double-duty. The important card is probably going to be Frantic Inventory, as that naturally limits the number of players that can draft the deck, especially since the Prowess creatures are generally worth playing in other decks. This deck feels like it’ll be great if one player is on it but a trainwreck if multiple people are.

 

Black/Green: Morbid?

Twinblade Assassins is an obvious signpost, but other than Sabertooth Mauler and a couple uncommons, there isn’t much direct synergy. As such, this could be a deck mostly of raw power. However, my gut says that you’re more likely to splash the few relevant green cards in a BR sacrifice deck, as there’s obvious synergy.

 

Red/White: Swarm

Doggies! There isn’t much direct synergy in Limited, but Alpine Houndmaster is an extremely powerful three-for-one, especially since it’s not like Alpine Watchdog and Igneous Cur are awful (their main downside is not playing better two-drops, but they aren’t too much worse than common equivalents like Hobblefiend and Daybreak Charger). As for the rest of the swarm strategy, even if you aren’t going for the all-in parts like Burn Bright, cards like Basri's Acolyte and Bolt Hound do a lot if you’re just playing a lot of creatures. The lack of a Raise the Alarm is the main problem, which pushes this down to average rather than great in my eyes.

 

Green/Blue: Card Draw

I’m not sure what’s stranger: that the card draw archetype can easily trade red for green, or that support like Lorescale Coatl already exists and fits in it perfectly. Overall this seems like it could be a stronger version of the deck than in Throne of Eldraine, as the cards are better on their own—most are fine with the natural card draw each turn, and the others like Gnarled Sage are fine without the rider. There’s also a lot of instant-speed card draw (including the surprising Modern Horizons reprint Rain of Revelation, even if it’s upshifted), so things are tricky. You also get Teferi's Tutelage, which looks like one of the best build-arounds in the set. The one downside is that most of the payoffs seem expensive, and you might still run out of cards like in Eldraine, but this seems to be in the top tier of decks here.

 

Other Important Cards:

The biggest non-archetype story is the Shrines. Yes, you could have some fun if you draft Sanctum of All and most of the Shrines, but in Limited they’re hampered by two problems: they’re all uncommon and you need two or three in play for most of them to consider being reasonable. Maybe you could pair up the Esper ones as Sanctum of Stone Fangs isn’t an awful win condition in a control deck, but in particular Sanctum of Shattered Heights seems like a massive red herring, as it doesn’t seem playable unless you have three Shrines, and then it still costs a card each time.

 

As for other important cards, Faith's Fetters is so much better than it might look as it immediately stabilizes you. Enthralling Hold is the first uncommon Mind Control we’ve seen in a while, so even though it’s noticeably weaker (especially in best-of-3, as there are a lot of good Disenchants like Rambunctious Mutt), it’s still great. Llanowar Visionary is very good, as a 2/2 for 3 that cantrips is good, and the mana ability fits well into the curve as the four-drops don’t seem that good in this format. Chrome Replicator also seems like it should be good in any deck with creatures, and is worth building around to an extent. As for fixing, there isn’t that much with just the gainlands in the basic land slot along with Meteorite and Prismite, and not even green gets any fixing at common (just Cultivate and Sanctum of Fruitful Harvest).

 

An Aside: Jumpstart and Historic

Should I talk about Jumpstart from a Limited context? I guess it’s technically a Limited format (though not on MTGO; the new cards will only appear in Treasure Chests), but I don’t think it’ll be that competitive (and there’s a lot of overlap with the M21 archetypes). Instead, I want to focus on its other process: as a reprint set, particularly one with a major impact on Historic. While M21 added some notable cards I don’t have to find places for (particularly lessening the strain on Pioneer Core Remastered), Jumpstart is doing that in spades (136 new Pioneer cards, but with some important caveats I’ll get to in a bit). I’m glad I didn’t publish my other remasters yet (though even Amonkhet might get some changes), but at some point there’s either going to have to be some overlap or a set might get cut (or “Pioneer Masters” is a Masters set and not a remastered set).

 

The other interesting part of Jumpstart is that 20 of the reprints won’t be put on Arena, but instead will be replaced with currently unknown cards. While some of them are power level concerns (though admittedly I’d take current Standard decks over reanimating an Ulamog at this point), others are coding concerns, as the development team didn’t have much time to do new/unique things, so it focused on the completely new cards and Pioneer-legal ones. Of the 20 excluded cards, 4 are Pioneer-legal, and they’re each an interesting edge case of implementation difficulties. I’m assuming cards like Draconic Roar that are defining cards in Limited will be worth implementing in the context of a full set, but Scrounging Bandar is the strangest one, as presumably it already works on Arena (since the entire Kaladesh block was on the beta before it was wiped). It does take a lot of clicks and isn’t that important, but it’s weird—we’ll see what that means for the remasters as a whole.

 

Conclusion:

Overall M21 is interesting without being so blatantly overpowered like the last year. Hopefully pulling back on FIRE a bit improves things both in Limited and Constructed. As for me, I’m still extremely busy, but my Double Masters predictions are still coming, and the reviews for both it and Amonkhet Remastered are coming in August. Until next time.

 

Vincent

@VincentSIFTD on Twitter