Core 2021 Set Review - White
(Rambunctious Mutt | Art by Campbell White)
Raining Cats and Dogs
Welcome, everyone, to EDHREC's review for Core Set 2021! Like many others, I was pleasantly surprised at the beginning of spoiler season when Wizards revealed some all-star reprints for Commander, such as Azusa, Lost but Seeking and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. In addition to this, the set's release carries on the tradition from last summer's core set in providing EDH players with unique legendary creatures and more new cards aimed at our format. More than ever, core sets are Commander friendly, so we have a bevy of cards to cover this week. Let's dive in and take a look at the new white cards from Core Set 2021!
Mangara, the Diplomat
Everything that needed to be said about the significance of this card has already been said: it is a card advantage engine in white that powers itself, has no prohibitive extra fees attached, and isn't tied to creatures. I am excited for the design space that this card opens up! Maybe we can actually get effects in white that draw cards. If it is conditional on the actions of your opponents, it seems perfectly on-theme.
The first ability will most likely only draw you a card when an opponent is attacking you with the intention of taking you to zero, but the second ability is no joke. Commander players love casting more than one spell a turn. It even checks each opponent on each turn, capitalizing on players that like to play at instant speed. If you play Mangara, the Diplomat on turn four, I expect it will draw at least two cards each turn rotation. This is both an unprecedented proposition in white and also a good rate in nearly any color. In the 99, this makes every mono-white list I build in the future. If you ever thought of running Alms Collector, pick up a copy of this card when you can. It'll do you better.
As a commander, though, Mangara, the Diplomat doesn’t excite me. Given that Mangara of Corondor is my favorite mono-white commander of all time, I really wanted to like this new iteration, but as I explored its abilities, I found that Mangara 2.0 is too broad to do anything that is specifically compelling to me. Both abilities are varieties of tax effects, so maybe Mangara should lead a tax or stax deck? However, Mangara runs counter to the goal of stax. Mangara wants your opponents to cast spells, while stax wants to prohibit them from doing so.
What about that name: the Diplomat? Maybe this could be a political deck? But then, nothing about this card really incentivizes interaction with your opponents. It may even discourage interaction. I almost wish that Mangara, the Diplomat’s second ability was more akin to that of Heartwood Storyteller, actively forming sympathies and allegiances through game mechanics. This Mangara is great, but it still suffers from the issues that plague most mono-white generals: it doesn’t gesture toward interesting play. This may be a success in shifting white design space slightly, but I consider it another missed opportunity at making a new white general that is compelling. As much as I want to build a deck around this Mangara, I can’t find any reason to. Into the 99 he goes!
As is, I sadly don't see many applications for this walker. The -2 ability suggests a go-wide strategy that tries to swarm the board and beat down the opponent. The -6 implies a long-term plan of continuously building and growing a large team. Neither of these, though, seem like they are particularly game-winning. In my reading, Basri Ket has one thing going for him: his +1 grants indestructibility until end of turn. If you’re playing a control deck that frequently clears the board, Basri is a way to break parity on your own Wrath of Gods. In this way, Basri Ket is repeatable protection, but only on your turn. Consider it for Voltron strategies such as Jenara, Asura of War or control decks such as Azor, the Lawbringer. Even then, maybe consider finding other cards to fulfill Basri’s very small niche.
At first blush, this card reminds me of Luminous Broodmoth, but two restrictions place this card in a tier below Mothra. First, instead of actively improving your creatures when they die, this card replaces your creatures with 2/2 tokens. Second, Basri's Lieutenant only works in decks dedicated to distributing +1/+1 counters. Still, this is board protection on a stick and breaks the parity of board wipes, so it is still a decent inclusion in decks that fit the bill. Consider this card for Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit, Anafenza, the Foremost, and Daghatar the Adamant.
Speaker of the Heavens
I’ve said this many times, but one-mana creatures are one of white’s strongest aspects. No other color has the breadth and depth of format-relevant creatures at one mana. Sure, it’s nice to have access to premium removal like Swords to Plowshares and Austere Command, but I play white for creatures like this.
I can very easily see Speaker of the Heavens becoming a mainstay in my one-cost creature package. The strength of this package comes from its versatility, with cards like Mother of Runes providing protection, Weathered Wayfarer on card advantage, and Serra Ascendant providing an early beater. Speaker of the Heavens adds a new axis to this package: endgame. Low-investment creatures that can take over in long games of attrition is exactly white's bag. This might be my favorite white card of the set! I can’t wait to search it up with Ranger of Eos and go to town.
Idol of Endurance
I play a lot of Brought Back, Sevinne’s Reclamation, and Sun Titan, so Idol of Endurance seems like it should be right up my alley. First, the math: it costs five mana to reanimate one small creature, seven mana for two, nine mana for three. If you manage to activate this artifact three times or more, you’ve probably made your money back. This isn’t an amazing rate, but it isn’t scandalous, either. Unfortunately, this card does come with a couple of severe limitations. As card advantage, Idol of Endurance is slow, occurring over several turns. Also, because of how it is designed, you need your graveyard to have desirable targets upfront when you cast the idol. Finally, if you cast all of the cards you exiled with Idol of Endurance, it has no further function.
That being said, many white-inclusive decks play a high density of low-cost creatures that are essential to their strategy. I would consider this in Elfball decks, for example, such as Selvala, Explorer Returned, for beyond-the-grave access to Priest of Titania and Elvish Archdruid. As I discussed with regards to Speaker of the Heavens, white also has access to a disproportionate number of EDH-playable one-cast creatures. Idol of Endurance might also fit into this package to reanimate Giver of Runes or Dauntless Bodyguard. One unexpected upside to this card is that it can act as graveyard protection. While Idol of Oblivion is on the battlefield, the cards it exiles are essentially safe from graveyard hate. This is a corner case, certainly, but it might come in handy some time or another.
First things first, the design of this card is exceptional and perfectly performs the phrase that it is named after. I'm not exactly sure why it has hexproof, but other than that, this is a home run for flavor (and art). The effect isn't really that bad in EDH; in the right deck, Nine Lives could very well deter your opponents from attacking you for several turns, especially is paired with Solemnity to prevent the acquisition of any counters at all.
However, we have to watch out for Cyclonic Rift, Bane of Progress, and Merciless Eviction effects, because if this leaves play, the cat's out of the bag, and we lose the game.
In decks full of ways to Donate permanents, Nine Lives can be a serious threat. Imagine giving this to an opponent just as they're about to give you your ninth incarnation counter, or with an Austere Command in hand. This seems like a fun inclusion in Zedruu the Greathearted. Outside of that very specific archetype, however, applications will be limited.
Before we talk about what a good boy this is, I am obligated to express my great disappointment that the rules of Commander don't allow for this card to be played in Mowu, Loyal Companion.
With that out of the way, this is one of the better lords I've seen in recent years. At two mana, this is a premium, persistent way to attack with impunity and pump your team. Unfortunately, Dogs aren’t well-supported in Commander yet. This card is part of the Rin and Seri, Inseparable starter kit, but may have to wait a few more years to find other homes. I’m not complaining, though; Rin and Seri seems like a goofy and fun time for the kitchen table. And, of course, this is the best boy.
Uncommons and Commons
Even in dedicated +1/+1 counter decks, this is a hard sell. You need a very specific purpose for running this card. Maybe you play Cauldron of Souls. Paying two mana to double up on Cauldron’s protection isn’t bad. Chances are, though, you can find better ways to get counters on your creatures. Basri’s Solidarity is in an awkward position for EDH. If you want to buff your team, you might be better served by an enchantment that can support multiple board states over the course of the game. Glorious Anthem is also being reprinted in this set and that is even a bit too low-impact for Commander. If you want to support a +1/+1 counters theme, look for more impactful or more resilient cards such as Cathars’ Crusade or Mikaeus, the Lunarch.
Remember that one-cost creature package from earlier? This is almost a strict upgrade to Dauntless Bodyguard, a card that I frequently slot into that package. I don’t want to overhype this card because it is a good role-player at best, but I can't shake the feeling that Selfless Savior is exceptional.
White has plenty of instants that grant indestructible for one mana. Neither Sheltering Light nor Ajani’s Presence see much play. Being attached to a body, however, makes this effect exponentially more valuable. It's a small thing, too, but Savior's ability doesn't cost any mana, like Resolute Watchdog's ability, and any player who routinely sacrifices permanents knows what a difference those mana costs can make. White has so many synergies with small creatures that it won’t be difficult to loop Selfless Savior ad nauseam. This card is going to be a pain for your opponents and can swing board states in your favor. Pick up a couple copies when you have the chance and try it out. It won’t disappoint.
I am drawn to cards like this, especially in white. White needs cards that can grind out a game. Some of my default win conditions in the color involve drowning a table in tokens, such as Luminarch Ascension. There is a vast gulf, though, between Ascension and this card. Griffin Aerie only costs two mana, yes, but it can only produce one 2/2 token once every turn rotation. At that rate, it would take 20 turns just to amass the total power needed to kill one opponent. Not only that, but you have to meet the condition of gaining three life on each of your turns just to get a token in the first place. I might consider this in some low-to-the-ground lifegain tempo deck, but I wouldn't be surprised if it didn't even make the cut there.
Light of Promise
The first and most important thing to say about Light of Promise is that it is a strict upgrade to Sunbond. While Sunbond isn't widely-played in our format, only appearing in 1,265 decks, it is worth reevaluating the power of this effect in today's environment even if it only received a one mana discount. First, if enchanted on any creature with lifelink, Light of Promise transforms that creature into a Kalonian Hydra that only pumps itself after dealing damage. Second, in decks that try to convert lifegain into tempo on board, Light of Promise can make a serious threat that can and will beat an opponent to death. Consider this card with Voltron commanders with lifelink such as Evra, Halcyon Witness or Danitha Capashen, Paragon, or with combat-centered lifegain generals such as Karlov of the Ghost Council.
Hear me out: not every white removal spell can to be Swords to Plowshares. And this is better than it looks! One of my favorite white removal spells for a long time was Oblation. Yes, giving your opponent more resources isn't ideal, but two cards in hand is better than a Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger on board. If you like to play politically, the extra draws can also help ameliorate your opponent's ire. Angelic Ascension is reminiscent of Oblation, and I think it might even be better. Giving an opponent a 4/4 token in exchange for their biggest threat is a great trade. This even hits Planeswalkers, too! Consider this as a budget removal option or in group hug decks such as Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis or Phelddagrif.
A Couple Steps Forward
Anyway, that is what white has to offer in this set. As with Ikoria and Commander 2020, we see a few more baby steps toward ramp and card advantage for white. Not all of them are winners, but they open up design space for the future. Personally, I'll be picking up copies of Mangara, the Diplomat, Speaker of the Heavens, and Selfless Savior for my various existing decks. What do you think of the white cards out of this core set? Are you excited by any of them? Am I dead wrong about the new Mangara as a commander? Did I miss anything? Thanks for reading, and I'll see you all on down the road.