There’s plenty of cards for casuals and veterans alike
It’s time for yet another Magic: The Gathering set, which means that it’s time for another Magic: Arena set.
As the two formats — paper and digital — debut together, we enter yet another busy year with four sets to juggle in 2020: that’s Theros: Beyond Death, Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths, the newly minted Core 2021 and the upcoming Zendikar Rising.
Let’s take a look at Core 2021.
In case you haven’t played Magic in a while, the main goal of the “Core” sets is to introduce old cards into the game to shake up the meta a bit, while providing new twists on old concepts (or characters) as a sort of “hall of fame” or “greatest hits” set. This allows Wizards of the Coast to bring back cards they really want to re-introduce or keep in standard more easily without being held to the whims of a themed set.
In that regard, Core sets can generally be innocuous. Veterans will get excited that their meta-combos will still be playable by the time rotation hits and newcomers get a ton of Timmy/Johnny (read: strong looking but not necessarily optimal) cards to make “jank” decks with. Everyone wins.
In terms of strong cards for constructed (read: most competitive play, in which players “construct” their own decks) sets, Core 2021 is a bit light so far, which is fine by me. Ugin, the Spirit Dragon is a very strong neutral card, especially for ramp decks that can get him out earlier and clear an opponent’s entire board. Scavenging Ooze is also now a staple green card, slotting right into stompy decks or control decks, with its ability to grow in power while providing graveyard tech (goodbye cat oven decks!) at the same time. It was sorely needed.
Teferi, Master of Time is also seeing some play, which is irksome now that there are decks with multiple Teferi planeswalkers running around again; as is the less annoying Jolrael, Mwonvuli Recluse. You also get some more techy cards that enable a wider variety of decks (and existing staples) like Village Rites or Scorching Dragonfire (more exile opportunities, please: did I mention how much I dislike slow cat oven decks in Arena). So far it hasn’t completely busted open the top 10 deck meta, which can be a good thing after so many Earth-shaking power creep-centric sets.
As a limited set, Core 2021 feels fun to play in spurts. As I mentioned earlier the bombs that it provides are definitely fun to play (if you draft into Ugin, that can slot into anything!), especially if you end up with a few of the strong cards listed above. Let me also be the first to welcome back Kitesail Freebooter, one of my favorite Ixalan cards! After witnessing the insanity of previous sets like Ikoria (where a huge core gimmick/component was nerfed into the ground) or the mishandled Eldraine (how did several of those cards even get past the approval phase), Core 2021 is a sensible, welcome set that feels like new and old school Magic.
So what’s next for Magic: Arena? Well, there’s the Jumpstart initiative, the Zendikar Rising set in September and the upcoming Arena mobile ports. The team also just launched the Mac edition of the game recently — there’s a lot of work ahead!