Core 2021 Set Review - Gold, Artifacts, and Lands

(Rin and Seri, Inseparable | Art by Leesha Hannigan)

More Core than I-Core-ia

Now that we've moved past Commander 2020, that means we are due to talk about Core 2021! Not just because it's the next set in sequential order but because we may as well forget about what year it is. At least, that's what I'm telling myself for that to make sense. No matter what year it is, though, there's absolutely no denying that it is loaded with value, both in terms of the reprints and the value that the new cards are sure to bring to all formats. The core sets have been the core to my excitement for regular sets lately, and here in this set review I'll dish on the multicolor, artifact and land cards coming in fresh with this new set. Let's kick it.

Rin and Seri, Inseparable

We all know this had to be the first card we discussed! Puppers, doggos, pupperonis and all finally come to Magic in the form of the creature type "Dog." I don't think I'm alone or out of line in saying this:

Seriously, this is one of my favorite developments to come out of the year of Commander. I do think that Rin and Seri's ability is a little backwards, flavor-wise; as we all know, cats are demons and cause people to live shorter lives, while dogs give you the warm fuzzies. But that's just me.

The actual card of Rin and Seri, Inseparable presents a funny deckbuilding conundrum. Being split between two different creature tribes is hard enough, as any Sylvia Brightspear and Khorvath Brightflame can tell you. It will be especially hard considering the Dog creature type is so new, only being introduced in Core Set 2021. There was an announcement that several creatures would be errata'd from 'Hound' or other types to now becoming full-fledged canines, but as of this current time, there're only nine other Dogs out there, and they all come in this current core set (plus whatever Jump Start adds on top of those). Compare this to the almost 200 Cats in the game and you can see that it might be easier to get Dogs by using our legendary pet pals to get the tokens just by casting our Cat spells. It will be interesting to see how many Dogs are added via errata updates, since Cats already is a very viable deck (as any Arahbo, Roar of the World player will tell you).

I imagine Rin and Seri decks will look very different in two years compared to how they will look in two weeks. Once Dogs are added into Magic overall, it will let the actual Dog tribal decks form, and many Rin and Seri decks will evolve along with that. In the near future I imagine Rin and Seri, Inseparable decks will look like an Arahbo deck that features red spells that also make Cats, like Firecat Blitz. Add in some token doublers to benefit from Rin and Seri's ability and gas up their activated ability, maybe even some Rings of Brighthearth and Illusionist's Bracers to copy the ability extra times, and all will fall prey to your pack. (Hearty recommendation to use effects like Mirror Entity to make all the tokens into both creature types!)

Sanctum of All

Whenever I see a big splashy five-color legendary permanent, it feels like one of two things will happen: first, it could make a big splash and entice folks to try out a new archetype, a la Golos, Tireless Pilgrim or Niv Mizzet, Reborn; or alternatively, it does absolutely nothing and we forget it exists, like all the other five-color permanents I've forgotten about. Sanctum of All is definitely the former, though, as the Honden cycle from Kamigawa is joined by a whole new set of Shrines like Sanctum of Calm Waters and Sanctum of Stone Fangs.

Sanctum of All gives a huge splashy way to make those decks more consistent and just feels like the type of legendary noncreature permanent that you are bound to sit down across from, wherepon someone will ask if they can Rule 0 the enchantment as their commander, or if they should play a normal five-color commander like Golos, Tireless Pilgrim or Sisay, Weatherlight Captain to help dig the Shrines out. More than likely I will be saying "heck yes, go for it," because Shrine tribal seems sweet without being totally unbalanced. Throw in Enduring Ideal for good measure and you have a deck all ready to go.

As far as the new Shrine cards go, all of them seem to be as good as you can dependably get enough of them into play. Sanctum of Fruitful Harvest seems to be the one players would typically want in play first, as it will generate the mana to get the others into play. Plopping that into a turn-four-or-earlier Honden of Seeing Winds seems like a quick way to start running away with the game in card advantage. Careful with that one late game, though - it's not a 'may' ability! Enchantments seem to be one of the permanents hardest to address in most Commander games, so there will absolutely be games where the table doesn't draw a Disenchant and you spend even three or four turns running away with value, which sometimes is enough to win.

As far as ranking the new Shrine cards, it definitely represents the normal power level for Commander; Tier S contains the blue, black, and green Shrines, and Tier whatever-who-cares contains the white and red Shrines. Sanctum of Tranquil Light and Sanctum of Shattered Heights seem underpowered when you compare them to the rest of the cycle. Even for one mana, the activations on both don't seem to scale well compared to the others, especially when you see that Sanctum of Stone Fangs has the "each opponent" line and the red and white entries cost mana to get a single target. The Honden versions of both of these colors definitely are the ones I would be trying to add to the deck first. Use the green and blue Shrines to accrue early advantages, then search out the Sanctum of Stone Fangs to slowly close out the game, using the white and red Shrines as defense if necessary.

Niambi, Esteemed Speaker

Teferi's daughter Niambi, Esteemed Speaker decided to step up her game now that she's in a core set. While she seems a little low-impact to put into the commander slot of a deck, she does act as a nifty utility card in the 99 of many decks. Anything that wants to flicker or recast big enters-the-battlefield effects might take a look at her (such as Ephara, God of the Polis), along with decks that have creatures that typically get targeted and need a little extra protection. Using this even as some board wipe protection for a vital piece isn't the worst use of her, even if it's not the most exciting type of play.

The activated ability on Niambi I'm not sure what to think of though. Paying three mana and a tap in addition to discarding a specifically legendary card requires some mindful deckbuilding if you plan on taking advantage. My thought initially is to just play a Divination if that's what you're playing her for, as she's not particularly good in combat and she's not in colors to be in Kethis, the Hidden Hand decks either where you normally would find a concentration of legendary cards. Niambi, Esteemed Speaker doesn't even benefit from Raff Capashen, Ship's Mage beyond support in the 99 either.

I think the best idea might be to take advantage of Niambi's discard ability by discarding important legendary cards and reviving them with effects like Karmic Guide and Bruna, the Fading Light. Time to bust out those Resurrections and Breath of Lifes!

Radha, Heart of Keld

Radha v3.0 is probably my favorite of the bunch. Having a source of virtual card advantage by playing lands off the top of your library like Courser of Kruphix already shows that Radha has a big place in the format, as Courser is currently played in a very impressive 17,000+ decks. Add in the fact that she's no slouch in combat, and I would be inclined to consider this a card destined for a healthy amount of play. The activated ability has loads up upside in a deck that will probably be playing lots of lands as well.

I wouldn't be surprised to see Radha decks look somewhat similar to Mina and Denn, Wildborn decks. They both like to play with manipulating lands in their own way and use those lands to make combat interesting. Radha, Heart of Keld does lose out on the ability to grant any evasion, but at the same time, Radha is in colors where trample enablers aren't exactly hard to find. Sticking some cards like Xenagos, God of Revels and the super nifty Wayward Swordtooth into the deck and you have a the potential for some very quick and very powerful first few turns. I am a big fan of what Radha has been doing since her days of being a scrawny heir to the Heart of the Keldon lands.

Be sure to look not just for regular Landfall cards, but cards that specifically care about the number of lands you have, like Rubblehulk and Blackblade Reforged. This is a Landfall deck, but it's got a commander damage twist, and we don't need to always be cycling lands in and out of play like other Landfall decks when just having a lot of lands gives us this much of a reward.

Conclave Mentor

Cards like Conclave Mentor are a known quantity at this point. You have all sorts of these effects and they all get their share of play. Hardened Scales is in around 12,000 decks, 7% of all eligible. Pir, Imaginative Rascal finds his way into over 5,000 decks, which is 3% of all the decks able to play him, so it's not like there isn't demand for this type of tech. The raw numbers will probably favor the mono-color versions of these cards, but it wouldn't surprise me if Conclave Mentor mentored its ways to many +1/+1 counters decks alongside Cathars' Crusade. Conclave Mentor isn't a particularly flashy card, but it will be powerful indeed to curve Hardened Scales into Mentor into Pir, Imaginative Rascal. It's going to cause lots of problems for the table.

Experimental Overload

As much as I hate talking about Izzet cards, this one has some potential not just in the typical Spellslinger decks, but outside them as well. Yes, Rielle, the Everwise and Kess, Dissident Mage decks will be looking to see if this is worth an inclusion, but I also could see Brudiclad, Telchor Engineer decks make good use of this too. Even making a 5/5 token late game and re-buying another spell in the graveyard seems worth it when you can make your army of Myr tokens into 5/5's for some devastating attacks. 95% of the cards in Commander fall into "good in the right deck," and this fits right into that category. I doubt it becomes super playable, but it's an interesting take on the type of ability that Metallurgic Summonings gives us and rewards us not just for casting lots of spells, the way the typical Spellslinger win conditions like Guttersnipe do, but also for having already cast a bunch of spells, in the vein of Crackling Drake. That's a cool place to see WotC explore.

Obsessive Stitcher

The latest but not necessarily the greatest variant on Merfolk Looter cards. There have been gaggles of these types of creatures to come along over the years, but none have really become absolute must plays. Where I like Obsessive Stitcher more than the average looter is with her second ability. Blue/black players aren't exactly coy about their love of playing big creatures from the graveyard, so having another option to be both engine and enabler is at least giving it versatility over the typical creature with "draw a card then discard a card," tacked onto it. I could see any version of Lazav slotting this in as a way to activate their abilities quickly, and Varina, Lich Queen and Sidisi, Brood Tyrant jump out as possible options to take advantage of the second ability if they so choose, as well as some Taigam, Sidisi's Hand decks out there too. Won't make a huge EDH impact, but the art is rad enough to justify it if you wind up playing it.

Twinblade Assassins

This is just too slow to show up in Golgari decks these days. Deathreap Ritual shows up in 5,704 decks, which sounds like a lot, but this is a color combination that has access to Moldervine Reclamation, a card that's been around for one-eighth as long, and already appears in almost the same number of decks. A cool card, but at best, it's supplementing those other options, rather than replacing them.

Chromatic Orrery

Now we're onto the big splashy mythic artifact of the set. I'm still kind of torn on this one. It's a darn big spell that... helps you set up other darn big spells. Hm....

Thanks to that static ability, and the multicolor emphasis of the draw effect, the newest Orrery rewards decks with more colors. I'm not sure many two-color decks need much help in the mana-fixing department in 2020, where fixing colors in a four- and five-color deck might benefit especially when playing on a budget. Then again, Kruphix, God of Horizons players are probably hungry for an effect like this, especially if they can untap with with a Seedborn Muse every turn. I would personally look to Ramos, Dragon Engine decks for the best home to Chromatic Orrery since the typical decks likes casting so many multicolor spells. This also significantly juices up the mana that Ramos produces and enables more spells to be cast without worrying about saving the right colors. Jodah, Archmage Eternal is also here to cast this card for basically free.

Oh, and of course, artifact decks can use this as another possible mana rock to revive from the yard with Goblin Welder or Daretti, Scrap Savant effects, and untap tons of times with crazy combos. This card goes infinite with Filigree Sages, it's true, but folks don't seem to be playing the Sages on their own, and Commander players tend to be reticent to play a two-card combo where one half of the combo is useless without the other. Plus, artifacts are famous for these crazy combos already, so this can be a splashy addition to what is already a very stacked archetype.

Mazemind Tome

Quite reminiscent of Endless Atlas, this is. This technically has a cap on it, but I can't remember the last time I saw anyone activate Endless Atlas more than four times anyway! Judging by the numbers on the Atlas, he most common deck for this new effect will almost definitely be mono-white decks like God-Eternal Oketra or Sephara, Sky's Blade, but based on the new advent of cards like Mangara, the Diplomat, white may not need to rely on small effects like this for too much longer!

Animal Sancutary

I bet you were thinking we'd get through a set review without me talking about as many Dog-relevant cards as possible, didn't you? Guess again! "No owners allowed," says the flavor text, but what about over-enthused admirers? Please?

Fine, I'll talk about the actual card. Producing colorless mana sets it back a little bit, but the flavor of putting a little treato on your favorite pet is just tops. It does make me think of pairing this with Trading Post and any other Goat tribal deck to truly ram the opponents. The effect is not terribly powerful, and it's narrow, but as with all the other tribal cards from Core 2021 it'll be a neat card in those decks just because. I think the most practical application in terms of actual efficacy is Arahbo, Roar of the World, who can actually double up the power of his kitties and might find these counters more meaningful. Is this a silly card? Sure, but any of the tribal decks that can afford a colorless land with utility might make the cut here and there. There are plenty of decks out there like Snapdax, Apex of the Hunt, Wasitora, Nekoru Queen, and Ishai, Ojutai Dragonspeaker that all like to turn sideways that could benefit from a little extra oomph.

Core Set? More Like Core PET!

And there we have it! A quick glimpse into the new gold, artifact, and land cards we are expecting to have some of the biggest impact in the format. This set review was already so packed full of new toys that we didn't have time to address any of the insance reprints in the set. And how could we forget about all the new cards coming out with Jumpstart!? Gavin Verhey has proclaimed 2020 the "year of Commander" several times, and every set seems to have a swath of new toys for us. Let me know in the comments what your favorite new card is from all of these, and your favorite reprint too, while you're at it! Thanks everyone!

Matt is a member of the EDHRECast, representing the 60-card formats and the Timmy's alike. He appreciates bad wordplay as much as a good alpha strike. A diverse nerd, you might also see him maining Lux support in League of Legends as well or on the deadlift platform at the gym.

EDHREC Code of Conduct

Your opinions are welcome. We love hearing what you think about Magic! We ask that you are always respectful when commenting. Please keep in mind how your comments could be interpreted by others. Personal attacks on our writers or other commenters will not be tolerated. Your comments may be removed if your language could be interpreted as aggressive or disrespectful. You may also be banned from writing further comments.