Core 2021 Set Review - Black

(Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose | Art by Lie Setiawan)

Rotten to the Core

Welcome to the black set review for Core 2021, thank you so much for coming, remember to like, comment, and subscribe! This set has a couple of exciting black reprints in the form of Massacre Wurm and Grim Tutor but there're still plenty of weird new cards to sink our teeth into. (EDHREC does not endorse or condone the consumption of cardboard).

Let's go!


Liliana, Waker of the Dead

It's nice to see Liliana mellowing out and getting back to her discard roots. Symmetrical discard can be fun in the right deck. That second clause on the +1 is a nice bonus, but if it's actually triggering on any of your opponents, losing 3 life is frankly the least of their problems. Her second ability is a little disappointing, in that it's only reliably good late in the game, or in graveyard-focused decks. Plus, three loyalty is a steep price to pay on a planeswalker that most people will be running with the intention of setting off her ult.

And what an ult it is! Note that it can grab creatures from any graveyard, and with haste to boot. However, with the boon of three opponents' graveyards comes the challenge of protecting her from those same three opponents. If her first ability made tokens to protect her like some of her more recent iterations, or if her second ability was a little cheaper, it might be easier to picture actually setting off her ult in a multiplayer setting. As it is, this latest iteration of Liliana is a bit of a mixed bag, but seems like a decent enough addition to Nath of the Gilt-Leaf (his tokens do help protect her), or any discard deck with enough oppressive control pieces to keep her alive for four trips around the table, such as perhaps Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger.


Demonic Embrace

Auras are usually card disadvantage, but this has a few fun applications. Greven, Predator Captain decks will love this—play it, give him double strike, and you've got lethal commander damage with flying and menace! Plus, I just know some crazy Johnny/Jenny is over the moon about putting this in their wacky Liliana's Contract build. Outside of that, Demonic Embrace seems like a perfectly fine payoff for any deck that already wants to be pitching things into its graveyard, which black decks have certainly been known to do.

Hooded Blightfang

This is a pretty niche card but there is, in fact, a "Deathtouch Theme" page on this site, and this will fit right in there and basically nowhere else, barring instances where someone decides to run this as a tech piece against Superfriends. Hapatra, Vizier of Poisons loves this, as would Pharika, God of Affliction, but like... c'mon, why are you running Pharika? Pair this with Archetype of Finality for some great surprises.

Kaervek, the Spiteful

Well, I guess this is a card that exists. For sure toss this in anything already running Night of Souls Betrayal like Grismold, the Dreadsower or Vhati il-Dal. I guess it has some fun interactions with stuff like Humility and Forbidden Orchard, but overall it's kind of a disappointing effect for a legendary creature. Probably just refer to the page for Night of Soul's Betrayal if you're wondering where to run this. Also, if I'm totally wrong and there's some wacko sacrifice mono-black build this guy can helm, by all means let me know.

Liliana's Standard Bearer

This is very cool. The first noticeable thing here is that it has flash, so you can use it to recover after a board wipe, but I think the most exciting parts of this card are the two things it doesn't have: 1) any rider about life loss, and 2) any rider about "nontoken" creatures. This is basically just all the best parts of Harvester of Souls and Dark Prophecy, especially if you can repeatedly put it back into play over and over, an exceptionally easy task for Meren of Clan Nel Toth, Muldrotha, the Gravetide, Karador, Ghost Chieftain, and Gisa and Geralf, to name a few. Don't forget that it's a Zombie and Knight, for any decks like Varina, Lich Queen or Aryel, Knight of Windgrace who would like tribal help.

And gee, Skullclamp sure does love that 1 toughness. I honestly can't picture any deck that contains black and enjoys a little sacrifice strategy that wouldn't seriously consider slotting this in. How many creatures have to die before it's good? Like two? What a neat little guy.

Peer Into The Abyss

Do you like to draw cards? How much do you like to draw cards? Do you like it as much as this guy? Alright, so maybe you don't like it that much, but perhaps you enjoy making your opponents draw cards? What's that, Nekusar, the Mindrazer? You say you LOVE it when your opponents draw cards? Well eat your heart out! Or several smaller versions of your face! I'm not sure what's going on in the art here!

It's not just Nekusar who can one-shot opponents with thisfollow it up with Dark Deal for instant deckage. If you're in a punisher deck that uses Underworld Dreams or Wound Reflection, your opponents had best watch their backs. If you do plan to target yourself with this, just make sure you've got your Reliquary Tower handy, or even better, Venser's Journal for a lot of life gain, if you can survive until your next upkeep! If you like keeping your Psychosis Crawler, fed, this is a big meal. Additionally, K'rrik, Son of Yawgmoth players will likely enjoy this quite a lot too, since they're used to using their life as a resource and can probably play a life-gaining card for nearly free as soon as they've got half their deck in their hands. I'm a big fan of Ad Nauseam's weird new cousin, and I just know some dolt is going to run it with the express purpose of playing it into a Hive Mind, and that dolt is probably going to be me.

Thieves Guild Enforcer

The flash and maybe deathtouch on this card could make it into a fun little surprise removal piece, but this mostly looks like tech for the bizarrely specific archetype of Rogue Tribal Mill. Which basically just means that there's a tiny subset of Oona, Queen of the Fae players who are losing their minds over this card. Honestly, milling each opponent for each of Oona's Faerie Rogue tokens sounds kinda fun, if that's the game you're playing, and for only one mana! Oh man, and you can pair it with Altar of the Brood... be right back, I gotta go brew up a terrible Oona deck.

Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose

Hey, it's Sanguine Bond on a stick! A legendary stick! Any mono-black deck running the Exquisite Blood combo (woo, Jumpstart reprint!) might seriously consider giving this guy a spin in the command zone since he's, y'know, half of the combo. Honestly, any grindy Orzhov Aristocrats and any lifegain-centric deck running Sanguine Bond for non-combo reasons will probably want to throw him in too, either as a replacement or right alongside it (they totally stack). Being a creature makes him easier to remove, but two mana is a big difference. Regardless, any deck running Defiant Bloodlord should replace it with this guy immediately.

The activated ability is definitely the less exciting half of the card, but I think it's a little better than it looks. Black doesn't really have any single-card methods of doubling its damage output, and this could absolutely see play as a surprise eight-mana finisher in the right deck. We all know the eternal dilemma where you've got enough damage on your board to kill someone, but you know you'll immediately die in the crack-back from another opponent. If you're not running green or red for Overwhelming Stampede or Gratuitous Violence (or alternatively, the new Fiery Emancipation), Vito's ability is a totally valid way to finish a game.

Uncommons and Commons

Bad Deal

The best comparison we have to this is Syphon Mind, which discards three fewer cards, costs two less mana, and probably draws you one more card. If you're playing this without any sort of other payoff, this is paying six mana to make everyone mad at you without really hurting them that much, which kinda makes this card exactly what it says on the box. If your discard deck already has a couple Megrim style effects on the table, having everyone take 10 in the process might make this worth it (Waste Not is also a thing). Six mana is a lot for a spell that doesn't affect the board, though, so I don't expect high numbers here.

Carrion Grub

A small role-player, but one Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord might be happy to see, especially if you can get creatures like Lord of Extinction in your graveyard.


It's far less versatile than black's other two-mana creature removal options, but the last few years have seen a marked increase in cheap, Commander-playable planeswalkers. 1B to zap an Oko, Thief of Crowns or Narset, Parter of Veils at instant speed is a pretty good deal, especially in decks that can't run Dreadbore. I'm definitely not saying anyone should run this over Go For the Throat, but it may be worth considering Eliminate if you find yourself in a fast meta with an abundance of cheap utility creatures and planeswalkers.


The impulse here is probably Meren of Clan Nel Toth, but she doesn't need the help. Rather, decks like Rakdos, the Showstopper might add this to their arsenal, since they don't mind their own smaller creatures dying, and usually plan on playing things like Conjurer's Closet to blink big baddies anyway.

Malefic Scythe

The flavor of this card is awesome. Is it absorbing their souls? So cool. Malefic Scythe might be kind of fun in decks like Grimgrin, Corpse-Born that sacrifice a lot of creatures and also enjoy making their commander bigger. That's a very cheap equip cost, and if you've got the extra mana to throw this on a few creatures before you sac them, you'll probably end up making this pretty big over the course of a game. The commander most excited about this is Elenda, the Dusk Rose, especially with the recent rules change. Creatures dying will become more Vampires which will become more creatures dying, etc. Ghoulcaller Gisa would probably get a kick out of this too.

Death Is Not The End But This Section Is

Black got some exciting new stuff for Commander this time around, but the majority of these cards are probably only worth playing in some pretty specific decks. To be honest, though, I'm way more in favor of the sorts of weird new toys we tend to get in main sets than the auto-includes that Commander-specific sets always seem to bring. Gimme an Eliminate over a Deadly Rollick any day.

Thanks for reading, and let me know if you've found any other weird uses for these cards!

Amos has been playing Magic since OG Innistrad, where in his first ever draft pack he passed a shiny Grimgrin for a Corpse Lunge. He hails from the icy wastes of Vermont, where he enjoys hunting Warhammer players on his dogsled and watching movies. You can follow his Tweeter at @Byrnenator.