Rotation Grief: Core Set 2021, Part 2
- Gianluca Aicardi
The Standard rotation is upon us again! Time to acknowledge the disappearance from our decks of all the cards from the four rotating sets. We end this journey of grief (or perhaps jubilation) by looking at the red, green, multicolored, and colorless cards Standard will lose when Core Set 2021 rotates out.
Core Set 2021 Red Losses
Bolt Hound and Igneous Cur: Red provided some more Dogs for either the casual-oriented tribal types, or to fuel Winota's ranks. Igneous Cur in particular was part of the duo of doggies that Alpine Houndmaster tutored up upon hitting the battlefield. This is in spite of the fact that a fiery Elemental with its back aflame doesn't exactly look ready for an excursion on the Mont Blanc. Grief Factor: 3/10.
Brash Taunter: The quirkiest Goblin of the past two years, a self-enabling combo card that never amounted to much, but was consistently entertaining at every attempt to break it. Definitely both a Jenny/Johnny and Tammy/Timmy favorite, either in combination with massive damage spells or just big monsters to taunt for profit. Grief Factor: 5/10.
Chandra, Heart of Fire: Not the most memorable Chandra to ever hit a battlefield, this follow-up to the pyromancer bonanza of Core Set 2020 was not entirely without merit. It belonged to a Big Red build that technically had a few aces up its sleeve in this era, with cards like Irencrag Feat and Fires of Invention potentially fueling it. Ultimately, a monored list of that nature would just accomplish the same goals of multicolored builds without their flexibility, but it wasn't Chandra's fault. Grief Factor: 5/10.
Chandra's Incinerator: This one felt so very close to rocket up into competitive relevance, but it never actually happened, and not just in Standard. Its problem is that it's the perfect card for an archetype, Burn, that didn't really have a need for it. Grief Factor: 5/10.
Conspicuous Snoop: Overall, the most substantial new Goblin introduced during this cycle. The Gobbos reached critical mass only in the last stretch of the Snoop's legality, helped by all the additions from Adventures in the Forgotten Realms. Builds centered around the red suckers are always popular, though, and card advantage is a key element to contribute in creature-based lists. Grief Factor: 7/10.
Crash Through: An often-exploited one-mana cantrip for storm purposes. It was habitually used as a way to trigger effects akin to Arclight Phoenix, where it's crucial to chain together several cheap spells in a single turn. It was returning from Core Set 2019, and might well come back at some point down the line. Its simplicity is unassuming, but one mana to trigger a spell-based ability without going down a card is a sought-after quality. Oh, and there's the trample too, although that's not even a factor about 95% of times. Grief Factor: 6/10.
Double Vision and Fiery Emancipation: This pair of Timmy/Tammy enchantments weren't seen much in the competitive arena, but they could be impressive in their respective, more casual-oriented builds. Emancipation was a legitimate curve topper to ramp into in any Big Red list, capable of turning Klothys's trigger or Chandra's second ability into a whopping six damage. Grief Factor: 5/10.
Gadrak, the Crown-Scourge: Gadrak came equipped with built-in synergies of a kind that would only prove significant once the 2021 sets kicked in, but it was still too eccentric to warrant the effort. Treasure decks with Goldspan Dragon and Magda, Brazen Outlaw might have been able to exploit this zany three-drop to its fullest, but at the end of the day, they were better off not doing it. Grief Factor: 3/10.
Scorching Dragonfire: Now that Forgotten Realms has released the more simply named Dragon's Fire, we've probably lost any reason to grieve for this spell's exit from Standard. They're basically the same card, with the exile clause turned into the chance of dealing more than just three damage. As long as decks running Dragons will be part of the Standard meta, nobody is going to miss this one, as fashionable as it was at one time. Grief Factor: 2/10.
Shock: Frost Bite fails to replicate classic Shock's versatility, but it's more efficient in the role of a removal spell. Since a pure Burn deck is not too easy to string together in your average Standard meta, we probably won't need Shock back too desperately. But we still might get it, and we'll still be happy to. Grief Factor: 6/10.
Soul Sear, Volcanic Geyser, and Volcanic Salvo: Red had a plethora of high-profile damage-based removal in this set. None of these left a scar, but they were all decent enough to be considered for inclusion by someone in some list at some point. Grief Factor: 3/10.
Subira, Tulzidi Caravanner: It's so very sad that Teferi's late wife ended up not being played almost at all. Her skill set was solid, but perhaps too dependent on a specific board state, and a bit clunky to exploit. All in all, Subira failed the design comparison with the other monored mom, Pia Nalaar. Grief Factor: 2/10.
Terror of the Peaks: One of the major Dragons of this Standard era. The Terror was flashier but less immediately impactful on the board compared to the cards that would later define the Izzet Dragons archetype, namely Goldspan Dragon and Galazeth Prismari. As a Warstorm Surge on legs and wings, it remained a scary midrange drop, sometimes even a target for Magda's tutoring. It constituted a lethal combo piece in combination with endgame moves that made its ability trigger right away, like Genesis Ultimatum deploying it alongside other big creatures. Grief Factor: 8/10.
Core Set 2021 Green Losses
Azusa, Lost but Seeking: "Unexpected reprints from deep into Magic's past" was sort of a hidden thematic through line in M21, and Azusa certainly qualified for that description. Last time the unwavering Monk belonged to a premier set, it was the original Champions of Kamigawa release, seventeen years back. This kind of next-level ramp card rarely has a place in a Standard environment, so Azusa didn't affect the meta much this time either. The card was taken out for a spin by some particularly ambitious Simic or monogreen lists on occasion. Grief Factor: 5/10.
Cultivate: The credentials of this combination of ramp and mana fixing have grown since its debut in Magic 2011, when it was just a functional reprint of Kodama's Reach with a more reprintable name. Lately, even Vintage Cube drafters consider it a legitimate high pick. It's a turn-three play that guarantees five mana on turn four, and that's when scary things usually happen in a green deck. The result is that many ramp builds of this era included the full four copies of this card, last but not least the very successful Sultai Control/Sultai Ultimatum lists after the loss of Growth Spiral. A staple of Commander products, it hadn't seen the inside of a premier booster since its very introduction. Whether or not we're going to have it available again might heavily influence the overall performance of land-based ramp in Standard. Grief Factor: 9/10.
Elder Gargaroth: Until recently, and possibly due to speculation, this big dude commanded impossible prices on the secondary market for Magic Online. It wasn't actually all that common among the top decks, but it sure represented a strong five-drop. Most notably, it was capable of stopping a former wonder like Baneslayer Angel, while also generating value in the process. It was quite naturally beloved by green players, if fighting for space against Vivien, Monsters' Advocate, as both could establish an overwhelming board presence and provide card advantage. Grief Factor: 8/10.
Feline Sovereign: This tribal lord was expressly designed as counterpoint to Pack Leader. The aim was to engineer a "Cats versus Dogs" grand rivalry that didn't actually translate into the meta, not even at its more casual fringes. The card in itself, with its repeatable artifact and enchantment hate, was kind of good, though. And it would ensure that, if push came to shove, the felines would have the upper hand on the canines. So it all seems to point to someone in the Core Set 2021 development team being a cat person. Grief Factor: 3/10.
Fierce Empath: Another blast from the past, a Scourge card returning to Standard after almost two decades, it wasn't exactly the most formidable of these time-traveling cards. In Standard, it went mostly unnoticed, but it's a worthy addition to Historic Elves, where it's reunited with its old friend Craterhoof Behemoth. Grief Factor: 2/10.
Garruk, Unleashed: The newly de-cursed Garruk was perhaps the most played of the M21 walkers, along with Teferi, Master of Time. Many creatures in Monogreen Aggro were in severe need of trample, chief among them Lovestruck Beast, to which Garruk made for a nice follow-up on turn four. In some ways, this incarnation took the place of Vivien, Arkbow Ranger when the latter rotated out, even if Garruk's card quality was appreciably lower. Grief Factor: 7/10.
Garruk's Harbinger: A robust three-drop for green decks, albeit one that had to contend with a quantity of same-costed beaters, a pack led once again by the most essential Lovestruck Beast. Hexproof from black was not as relevant as it would have been in previous metagames. Also, the Harbinger's toughness was below curve, making it somewhat hard for its valuable card selection ability to trigger more than once. Grief Factor: 6/10.
Garruk's Uprising: Fairly underrated card-drawing engine. The Great Henge and, to a lesser extent, Vivien, Monsters' Advocate monopolized that role in green decks, but Uprising might have deserved a bit more time in the spotlight. It had the issue of not affecting the board on turn three, which inherently messed up the curve of those lists. On the bright side, giving trample to the larger green beaters could prove critical, very much improving several of them and especially creating an unstoppable force with Questing Beast. Henge, Vivien, and Garruk himself pushed Uprising out of the builds where it may have shined, and then Ranger Class sealed the deal on its obsolescence. Grief Factor: 5/10.
Heroic Intervention: A potent protective spell that didn't line up well with the needs of green decks. Often, one would rather spend one less mana to shield one crucial creature with Veil of Summer, Ranger's Guile, or Snakeskin Veil. Grief Factor: 4/10.
Jolrael, Mwonvuli Recluse: A build-around legend that gained a dedicated fan base. Lately, drawing cards in green is almost as easy as it is in blue, and Jolrael would reward that by letting us go wide and then close the game with a conditional Mirror Entity activation. It was good, but not good enough for the more competitive tiers. The Zhalfirin misanthrope might show up as a two-drop in Simic Ramp or Sultai Control, but not regularly. Grief Factor: 5/10.
Llanowar Visionary: This cross between Llanowar Elves and Elvish Visionary didn't seem too well-positioned at first. (A three-drop mana dork is not really something to write home about.) But its stocks went up over time. In this final stretch of the cycle, it's become a stable member of the Lukka variant of Temur Adventures, and deemed useful in several non-Stompy builds. As for Stompy, those lists just never had the time or patience to drop a 2/2 body on turn three. Grief Factor: 7/10.
Primal Might: It was immediately clear this would go on to become one of the best removal spells ever printed in green. It ultimately learned to co-exist with both its predecessor Ram Through and its descendant Blizzard Brawl. It was a great time to kill things in green. Grief Factor: 8/10.
Quirion Dryad: This little beater started its career twenty years ago in Planeshift, and unlike other oldies revived by M21, it has always been reprinted within a Standard-legal set—in fact, within a core set: first in Tenth Edition, then in Magic 2013. This latest appearance marks the first time it got downgraded to uncommon. In its original run, it was quite the competitive card. It suffices to say, it's not anymore. Grief Factor: 2/10.
Ranger's Guile: A removal denier that used to be a common part of any Standard pool, but hadn't been since 2014. At first, better versions like Blossoming Defense kept it out, and now Snakeskin Veil seems to have definitely sent it into retirement. Grief Factor: 1/10.
Scavenging Ooze: One of the most influential green creatures in history, the "Scooze" had only been in Standard once before, around the time when Magic 2014 was legal. It goes without saying that every environment with Scavenging Ooze in it feels safer for green decks. Graveyard strategies weren't incredibly dominant after the Ravnica sets rotated out, but there still were juicy things for the Ooze to gobble up, like not-yet-escaped Titans. The various angles it offers—beatdown, life gain, graveyard hate, +1/+1 counters—give it a maindeckable quality that is the key to its everlasting success. Grief Factor: 8/10.
Sporeweb Weaver: Easily the least consequential green rare of the set. We'd be hard-pressed to find an even semi-competitive list that found the need to run this Spider within its 75 cards. There was nothing inherently wrong with it, but its entire package never properly lined up with any meta element at any point since its creation. Grief Factor: 1/10.
Thrashing Brontodon: Gemrazer overshadowed the continuous presence of this efficient Dino as a trusty piece of anti-artifact-and-enchantment tech. It's been part of the Standard pool since Rivals of Ixalan now, printed in a core set twice in a row. Odds are we'll see it again. The only thing that works against it is the absence of a core set release in 2022, as well as its return in 2023 being still up in the air. Unfortunately, a Dinosaur is not generic enough to fit any plane—it doesn't fit Innistrad, for one, and that's going to be the setting of half of the next Standard cycle. Grief Factor: 6/10.
Titanic Growth: This basic pump spell, a reworked version of Giant Growth, has been in almost all the core sets since its debut in Magic 2012. (It only skipped Magic 2014.) However, as mentioned above, Adventures in the Forgotten Realms has replaced the core set this year, so a further return of Titanic Growth will have to happen elsewhere. Grief Factor: 4/10.
Wildwood Scourge: The main synergistic partner to Conclave Mentor. It was such a symbiosis between the Hydra and the Selesnya Centaur that no other deck could reasonably be interested in the Scourge. Their archetype was never exactly top tier to begin with, but it was a sometimes explosive build with plenty of fans. Grief Factor: 7/10.
Core Set 2021 Multicolored Losses
Alpine Houndmaster: The doggie whisperer might have appeared like a joke card at first, and yet acquired partial relevance when it was added to some Winota lists. After all, it was a double draw, plus the guarantee of being able to field both a Human and a non-Human. Smart design, transcending its inherent casual nature. Grief Factor: 4/10.
Lorescale Coatl: Reprinted from Alara Reborn, this ever-growing Snake is a powerful creature in isolation, but probably more suited to a Commander format or the kitchen table. Simic decks in Standard had more important permanents to drop on turn three and not a lot of time to wait for the Coatl to become an actual threat. Grief Factor: 4/10.
Niambi, Esteemed Speaker: Much like her mother, Teferi's daughter ended her Standard tenure with a grand total of zero presence in the metagame. That family really is all about the patriarch. Grief Factor: 2/10.
Radha, Heart of Keld: A hard-to-block beater packing a form of card advantage and a threatening activation in the late game, the new Radha was a neat little bundle of aggression. The card's impact on turn three wasn't the strongest, though, so few lists bothered including it. Grief Factor: 6/10.
Rin and Seri, Inseparable: This time the Buy-a-Box promo looked like a giant meme and played exactly as such. Only the most inveterate tryhards would attempt a "Cat & Dogs: Together at Last!" kind of build. For a couple of games. Grief Factor: 0/10.
Sanctum of All: Core Set 2021 marked the return of the Shrines from Kamigawa, as a way to throw a bone to the vocal fans of the setting, without actually returning to the economically unsuccessful plane. There were five new monocolored enchantments with the Shrine subtype and this penta-colored one to tie them all together. Being a fascinating build-around concept, it led to a very popular casual deck. Unsurprisingly, it wasn't too consistent. Grief Factor: 4/10.
Core Set 2021 Colorless Losses
Ugin, the Spirit Dragon: Bolas's non-evil twin came back from Fate Reforged, where his card was originally a story spotlight of sorts. (Sarkhan went back in time to save him, resulting in his reappearance in the new timeline.) In current Standard, the only place for an eight-drop was a ramp list, where Ugin resided for a while. In Brawl, where a colored board presence is the bread and butter of the vast majority of decks, Ugin quickly invaded every single list, becoming a shared random finishing move, regardless of strategy. In that regard, its riddance is now going to feel good to many, although it will still linger within the Historic version. Grief Factor: 6/10 or 0/10 for Brawl players.
Chromatic Orrery: A curious build-around artifact that was likely meant more for Commander than Standard or even Modern. Some ramp decks tried to rework themselves in configurations that could better exploit the Orrery's over-the-top abilities. Ultimately, it all just amounted to a lot of posturing, as the expenditure of seven mana could naturally lead to much more devastating conclusions. Grief Factor: 4/10.
Mazemind Tome: A worthy heir to Treasure Map, and in some ways even superior to its blueprint. It wasn't a fixture of any major deck, but welcome in all builds that try and play a long, grindy game. Sultai Control was the most prominent among those that could be described that way. Others would sometimes feature a couple of Tomes in their sideboards. Grief Factor: 7/10.
Palladium Myr: High-profile mana dork for nongreen decks, returning from Scars of Mirrodin. Fragile and unreliable but profitable whenever it managed to pull off the remarkable stunt of not being shocked on sight. To be fair, neither outcome was too frequent a sight on the Standard battlefields of this cycle. Grief Factor: 4/10.
Solemn Simulacrum: Another Commander staple with a long history that stretches into the past. Its career started in Mirrodin, as the "sad robot" bearing the likeness of Magic Invitational winner Jens Thoren. Then a first reprint came ten years ago, in Magic 2012. Admittedly, it's not a card well-suited for Standard, which is why it had more meaning in Brawl. The sporadic iteration of Monoblack Control would sometimes use Simulacrum to ramp and, later, as an advantageous chump blocker or sacrifice fodder. Most other builds didn't have the time to deploy the gloomy Construct in what would amount to a fatally uneventful turn four. Grief Factor: 5/10.
Sparkhunter Masticore: This guy really showed up way too late to the party. It would just be a couple months before the planeswalkers from War of the Spark abandoned Standard. After that, everybody basically forgot this walker-killing Masticore even existed. Grief Factor: 3/10.
Tormod's Crypt: The most traditional of graveyard haters, with an incredible 27-year lifespan dating back to The Dark. There have been many replacements for the Crypt over the years, some of them even more beneficial. But it was still serviceable after all this time. Grief Factor: 6/10.
Animal Sanctuary: We can now safely say none of the creature types listed on this land mattered in the least during this Standard cycle. It was a fun concept, though, occasionally earning itself a place in some casual lists. Grief Factor: 3/10.
Fabled Passage: Alongside the repetition of the five enemy-paired Temples and of all the ten gain lands, M21 reprinted the best surrogate fetch land in recent memory, which already was legal by way of Throne of Eldraine. This kind of reprint within a cycle is completely moot for the preservation of the meta across rotations, so there are circumstances in which it might seem kind of a baffling choice. But in the case of Fabled Passage, the goal was clearly to increase the circulation of a card in very high demand. Grief Factor: 10/10.
Radiant Fountain: A way to maximize the life gain synergies directly from the land base. Largely unnecessary, but the opportunity cost of its inclusion in little-colored builds was low. Grief Factor: 3/10.
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