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Commander Review: Core Set 2021 | Part 1 | White, Blue

The full card list for Core Set 2021 is out, which means it's time for the Commander Review! Here are my favorite new Commander cards from the set and which decks will want them.


The Shrine Cycle

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Way back in Kamigawa we got a legendary enchantment cycle with a new subtype, Shrine. Each of these Shrines (e.g. Honden of Life's Web) had an upkeep triggered ability that scaled up in power with each Shrine you controlled. Now many years later we get six new Shrines, one for each color and the 5C Sanctum of All to find them. They follow the same trend as the original Shrines in that they scale up the more Shrines you control. Once you've achieved a critical mass of them, the Shrines will undoubtedly win you the game if not dealt with quickly: Honden of Life's Web pumps out an army of tokens, Sanctum of Calm Waters keeps your hand full of gas, Honden of Infinite Rage clears the battlefield of threats, and Sanctum of Stone Fangs drains your opponents away, etc.

These new Shrines are enough to be excited for a new Commander archetype: the Shrine archetype, a deck that is looking to dump all 11 Shrines on to the battlefield in order to win the game. Since all Shrines are enchantments, most Shrine decks will be Enchantress decks, drawing additional cards off them with Enchantress's Presence, protecting yourself as you set up with Sphere of Safety, and adding ways to mass-reanimate your destroyed shrines with Replenish. Since all Shrines are legendary, the most obvious commander to lead the deck is Sisay, Weatherlight Captain, which lets you tutor up the Shrines with her activated ability. Other neat inclusions are cards like Strionic Resonator and Paradox Haze to double powerful Shrine triggers.

The real beauty of the Shrine deck is that it pretty much builds itself, which is fits perfectly with its casual appeal. A casual player that may not be the most experienced with building Commander decks can auto-jam these 11 cards and already have a great start to the deck, since these cards fill vital roles such as ramp, card draw, and interaction. It's a great way to entice both new players to the format and veterans who want a straightforward new deck.

And while the Shrine deck is very casual-friendly, it can be made more cutthroat and competitive if you so choose. Enchantress decks, and Shrine decks in particular, work really well with Stax pieces such as Winter Orb and Static Orb, since they generate all the value you'd need without tapping. So if you're looking to power up your Shrine deck further then there's some easy ways to do so.

Overall this makes me really, really happy with this new Shrine cycle. I've already got casual friends messaging me about these cards, including ones who are usually intimidated at the idea of building a Commander deck. And that's awesome! More of these please, WOTC!

Recommended For: Shrine Tribal; Enchantress Stax; Sisay, Weatherlight Captain




Angelic Ascension

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Angelic Ascension's design falls somewhere between Swords to Plowshares and Pongify: like Swords, it exiles a creature at instant speed, and like Pongify it comes with a drawback of giving the creature's controller a creature token. However, Ascension costs two mana instead of one, and the token it creates is significantly more threatening, a 4/4 flyer instead of a more easily blocked 3/3. This makes Angelic Ascension significantly worse than Swords to Plowshares and worse than Pongify (exiling is good but not worth double the mana cost and a more threatening drawback), even though it can snipe the occasional planeswalker.

However, saying something is worse than Swords to Plowshares -- one of the most powerful and most played cards in the entire format -- doesn't mean much by itself. You can only run one Swords in your deck and you'll probably want more than one targeted creature removal spell. So is Angelic Ascension good enough as a second or third targeted creature removal in a deck? In some decks, yes. Decks with access to Black or (weirdly enough) Blue have better targeted creature removal options, but outside of that I think Angelic Ascension is worth considering, though it's far from a new staple.

Angelic Ascension is a fine enough budget removal spell in just about any deck. Exiling the most threatening creature at instant speed for 2 mana is great, even though that 4/4 flyer is definitely going to be smashing your face. I expect it'll see the most play in Angel Tribal decks as a competent flavorful addition. It also looks like a sweet inclusion for populate decks like Trostani, Selesnya's Voice, where sometimes you'll upgrade your own creature into a 4/4 token that you can start populating.

Recommended For: Populate decks (Ghired, Conclave Exile); Angel Tribal (Lyra Dawnbringer); any budget White deck looking for an extra targeted removal spell


Basri Ket

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Basri Ket is a super efficient planeswalker that isn't straight-up busted but is a sweet inclusion in a bunch of decks, particularly in some of the weaker ones that can use the help. Ordic, Lunarch Marshal will love Basri as the +1 gives all your attackers indestructible. The -2 is great for extra combat step decks like Aurelia, the Warleader, and while the Soldier tokens don't immediately trigger her, Winota, Joiner of Forces may want this as another way to generate non-Humans for the next attack. The tokens are also Soldiers, and while we still don't have a particularly strong Soldier Tribal commander yet the tribe itself has a lot of support, so Basri is an easy include in Darien, King of Kjeldor Soldier Tribal for example.

Recommended For: Soldier Tribal (Darien, King of Kjeldor); Keyword Soup (Odric, Lunarch Marshal); Extra Combats (Aurelia, the Warleader)


Basri's Lieutenant

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Basri's Lieutenant is a nice, fair upgrade to Knight Tribal decks like Syr Gwyn, Hero of Ashvale, giving your board some resilience against removal by making Knight tokens when they die. Or if you're looking to be unfair, you can easily go infinite with Basri's Lieutenant + Metallic Mimic (choosing Knight) + a sac outlet like Altar of Dementia for infinite mill or Blasting Station for infinite damage in Mono White. If you're branching out to other colors you can replace Mimic with Renata, Called to the Hunt or similar options to achieve the same result.

It's a little annoying to me that Basri Ket makes Soldiers and this is a Knight that makes Knights, but whatever.

Recommended For: Infinite Combo decks (Ghave, Guru of Spores); Knight Tribal (Syr Gwyn, Hero of Ashvale)


Griffin Aerie

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Griffin Aerie is a mini Angelic Accord, costing two less mana and triggering off only 3 life gain, but the tokens are 2/2's instead of 4/4's and it only happens during your end step, not each end step. Is that good enough for a Lifegain deck? Probably not.

But who cares about Lifegain? This is a new staple for the mighty Griffin Tribal deck! It makes Griffins! Griffins, friends! Amazing!

Recommended For: Zuberi, Golden Feather Griffin Tribal


Idol of Endurance

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Idol of Endurance has some similarities to Commander staple Sun Titan: both are repeatable sources of creature reanimation restricted by cmc 3 or less. Sun Titan has a higher upfront cost of 6cmc, but it can reanimate any type of permanent, doesn't require additional mana to reanimate, and is easier to get additional triggers per turn out of by giving it haste (Lightning Greaves) or blinking it (Brago, King Eternal). There are ways to get extra value out of Idol of Endurance as well, such as untapping it with cards like Manifold Key, but the options are generally more limited and less powerful.

While I think in most cases Idol of Endurance is a worse Sun Titan, it's still a good card and a solid source of card advantage in White. In Weenie decks full of low cmc creatures I can definitely see myself running Idol alongside the Titan.

There are also a few decks where Idol will shine brightest, perhaps even brighter than the Sun Titan. One great example of this is Teshar, Ancestor's Apostle decks: these decks have a high focus on low cmc creatures and run a high amount of artifacts to trigger Teshar's abilitiy. In this deck, Idol will have a bunch of targets to reanimate and is itself an artifact which means it has more synergies here than the Titan. The only clunky part is that Idol of Endurance exiles all the creatures in your graveyard, which conflicts with Teshar itself, but I think it's worth it.

Recommended For: Any Weenie deck with lots of reanimate targets (Teshar, Ancestor's Apostle)


 Mangara, the Diplomat

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I wrote a full article on Mangara, the Diplomat that you can read if you want an in-depth analysis, so I'll try to be brief here.

Mangara, the Diplomat is a sweet new generic White card draw option for White decks that want another card to fill out their card draw package. The card has high variance, sometimes drawing you multiple cards per turn and sometimes drawing you none, and it's entirely reliant on your opponents' decisions. I think Mangara is worth running if it can draw on average one card per turn cycle, which I believe is a reasonable assumption.

I think Mangara is a solid inclusion in just about any Mono White decks and some Boros decks that need more card draw options. He's a fine generic option as a Commander, though there are a few ways to build around his abilities such as incentivizing people attacking you by holding the monarchy crown (Palace Jailer) or giving everyone more cards so they're more likely to cast multiple spells per turn (Font of Mythos). However, I'm more excited about his potential in the 99 of certain decks, such as reanimating him in Alesha, Who Smiles at Death or in a Cleric Tribal deck like Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim.

I do have one minor gripe with this card, however, and that's the lack of agency over the cards you're drawing with Mangara: your opponents control Mangara's value, not you. When discussing the card's design, Ari Nieh implied that "when your opponent does X, draw a card" might be a primary way that they address White's lack of card draw going forward. While I think this is fine in small doses, I would hate to see this as White's primary way to draw cards. I want to be the primary controller of my card draw. I don't want to be begging my opponents for scraps of card draw, I want to draw cards on my own terms and dare my opponents to stop me. Give the players more agency, not give that agency to our opponents, WOTC.

Recommended For: Any Mono White deck and any White deck that needs more generic card draw; Alesha, Who Smiles at Death; Cleric Tribal (Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim); Monarch (Queen Marchesa)


Nine Lives

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I love gimmicky cards. "You win the game" and "you lose the game" are two of my favorite sentences on a Magic card. Nine Lives definitely excites me. By itself it's terrible, but paired with Solemnity and you'll be immune to all sources of damage -- at least until someone wipes the board of enchantments with an Austere Command or Cyclonic Rift. Even still, the risk is part of the fun; honestly, half the appeal of Phage the Untouchable is the fact it can blow up in your face!

I think Nine Lives will show up in Solemnity decks as a way to survive long enough to set up a Decree of Silence board lock or similar degenerate win. Or perhaps in a Boros Burn deck, allowing you to survive lethal Earthquakes while your opponents are reduced to rubble.

But my favorite deck for Nine Lives has to be Zedruu the Greathearted: gift Nine Lives to your victim "friend," then get rid of it with a board wipe (Cyclonic Rift)! It's like a Commander-sized version of the classic DonateIllusions of Grandeur combo of old!

Or for ultimate spice, try Nine Lives + Fractured Identity + Patrician's Scorn (or any instant speed enchantment board wipe). Cast Identity on Lives, giving each opponent a copy of the enchantment and putting the "you lose the game" trigger on the stack. In response to the trigger, cast Scorn, blowing up your opponents' Lives and putting those "you lose the game" triggers on top of the stack. Those triggers resolve first, making all your opponents lose the game before you do, so you win! That's one of the most stylish wins I can think of, though if anyone counters Scorn or otherwise manages to live then you've just killed yourself. But hey, that's part of the fun!

Recommended For: Zedruu the Greathearted; Solemnity decks; Boros Burn (Firesong and Sunspeaker)


Pack Leader

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Goodest boi protects the other goodest bois. Rocks a heckin' sweet cape. What more could you possibly want?

Dog Tribal still has a long way to go before it catches up to its cuddly rivals, Cat Tribal, but WOTC tossed us a sweet bone to chew on.

Recommended For: Dog Tribal (Rin and Seri, Inseparable).


Rambunctious Mutt

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Way overcosted Reclamation Sage? Doesn't matter, 10/10 good boi.

Recommended For: Dog Tribal (Rin and Seri, Inseparable)


Selfless Savior

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It's odd that WOTC would print a 1cmc 1/1 Dog with no abilities whatsoever but I love this new 11/10 good boi THAT DESERVES TREATS AND BELLY RUBS AND NOTHING BAD HAPPEN TO IT!

Recommended For: Dog Tribal (Rin and Seri, Inseparable). Or just don't run it at all, you monster.


Speaker of the Heavens

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I love me some powerful 1cmc white creatures! Ranger of Eos and Ranger-Captain of Eos keep getting better! Speaker of the Heavens is essentially a "fixed" Serra Ascendant where its life requirement properly scales up in Commander. But the payoff is arguably better, letting you churn out an army of 4/4 Angels once you're above the life total threshold. Being a tap ability makes it ripe for combo potential too, like equipping it with Thornbite Staff to tap create an Angel, sacrifice the Angel to Altar of Dementia, untapping Speaker and milling all your opponents to death.

Speaker of the Heavens is an easy staple in any Lifegain deck and Angel Tribal.

Recommended For: Lifegain (Oloro, Ageless Ascetic); Angel Tribal (Lyra Dawnbringer)




Barrin, Tolarian Archmage

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Tolaria is a downright busted place. Tolarian Academy and everyone from there -- Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain, Teferi, Time Raveler, friggin' Urza, Lord High Artificer -- are all overpowered Blue degenerates. So it's honestly a welcome surprise that Barrin, Tolarian Archmage isn't so overwhelmingly busted that my first reaction is to throw up when reading the card.

That's not to say Barrin is a bad card -- he's definitely very good -- but he's not so nauseatingly good that people will audibly groan when you reveal him as your commander or let you win on the spot if your opponents can't remove him the instant he enters the battlefield. At least that's the hope. Barrin, Tolarian Archmage is basically a super upgraded Aether Adept that can also bounce planeswalkers and also can draw you a card at end of each of your turns. He's therefore good soft removal of opposing creatures, lets you re-use your other creatures' ETBs (Mulldrifter), and a superior (if a bit more conditional) Phyrexian Arena all wrapped in one card.

Barrin, Tolarian Archmage is going to be a strong Commander running a strong Blink theme (Panharmonicon) or even a Stax theme (Overburden). He's also a great inclusion in the 99 of a bunch of decks, be they Blink, Wizard Tribal, or best of all, Moonfolk Tribal!

Recommended For: Blink (Brago, King Eternal); Wizard Tribal (Inalla, Archmage Ritualist); Moonfolk Tribal (Patron of the Moon)



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I honestly don't remember the last time I've seen Time Stop played in Commander. It's a super powerful, super flexible effect, but it simply costs too much at 6cmc. Discontinuity costs the exact same amount on opposing turns but costs only 2 mana when used to end your own turn. Is that good enough for it to see more play? Maybe. There are some decks out there that want to end their own turn prematurely to avoid some serious drawbacks, like ending the turn before you exile the Dragon cheated in with Zirilan of the Claw or avoid losing the game to Chance for Glory. These decks use Sundial of the Infinite to end your own turn before the drawback kicks in, which is the most efficient repeatable way to do so.

If Discontinuity pops into decks, it's probably in Blue decks already running Sundial. It has more flexibility than Sundial since you can still use it to Time Stop opposing players, but it's more expensive and not repeatable like Sundial. I doubt it'll see too much play but it's still a sweet card.

Recommended For: Sundial of the Infinite decks



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I play Spell Pierce a good deal, especially in budget decks that can't afford Swan Song. 1cmc countermagic is fantastic in tons of decks because it's not terribly difficult to keep one mana up when you're afraid of a scary spell. Spell Pierce's consistency does drop off dramatically in the lategame, however.

Miscast, while more restrictive than Spell Pierce, does require the opponent to pay 3 mana instead of just 2, which makes it far more consistent against instants/sorceries. But not being able to hit enchantments / planeswalkers / artifacts makes it inconsistent in other ways. Is it better than Pierce? Probably not, but it depends on your own playgroup. It's a nice tool to have though against the right meta.


Pursued Whale

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Pursued Whale is a super sweet card flavor-wise but that whopping 7cmc is just way too high for me to recommend, even in jankier Sea Monster Tribal decks. It needs to do something far splashier to be worth 7mana or it should've been shrunk down to a lower cmc. That's a shame.


See the Truth

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See the Truth is worst case a poor sorcery-speed version of Anticipate which honestly still ain't terrible. But there's many different ways to cast See the Truth outside of your hand to draw 3 cards off it which is an insane rate. You can cast it from the graveyard with Kess, Dissident Mage, the top of your library with Melek, Izzet Paragon, or from exile with Jeleva, Nephalia's Scourge. So yeah, lots of lists will enjoy this new card draw option!

Recommended For: Any deck that can reliably draw 3 with it.


Sublime Epiphany

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6 mana is a stupid amount for a glorified Counterspell. Luckily for us, Sublime Epiphany doesn't just counter a spell or ability, it's also bouncing something scary, copying our best creature, and drawing us a card! You really want to run Epiphany in a deck that can hold up 6 mana to counter something with it, but in those decks it's very much worth it! Counter a scary spell, bounce a scary permanent, draw a card, then copy Torrential Gearhulk to do it all again? Yes please! You can also counter Kozilek, Butcher of Truth and its card draw trigger, the ultimate "no" response, and then get tons of extra value.

Is Sublime Epiphany a slam-dunk in any Blue deck? Absolutely not. But Spellslinger decks, Draw Go decks, it can definitely be a great top-end.

Recommended For: Spellslinger (Mizzix of the Izmagnus); Draw Go (Talrand, Sky Summoner)


Teferi, Master of Time

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WOTC made sure that the face of M21 is a slam-dunk in Commander, despite being a planeswalker, a card type that traditionally struggles in multiplayer formats! While most planeswalkers scale poorly the more opponents you have, since they're slow to accrue value and more opponents means more creatures you need to defend your planeswalker against, Teferi, Master of Time actually gets better with each additional opponent you have because he can activate his abilities every single turn, not just on your own turn like other planeswalkers!

In a typical 4-Player FFA game, you can play Teferi, Master of Time and then activate his +1 ability on each person's turn, looting 4 times and gaining 4 loyalty counters over the course of a single turn cycle, which is bonkers! In just a mere two turn cycles you can ultimate Teferi, taking two extra turns! What!? And if Teferi is in trouble, no worries, he can phase out a would-be attacker!

So yeah, Teferi, Master of Time is an absurd card. You don't even need to build around him. You could if you want, but you can just jam him into any Blue deck and he'll start generating huge value. Like imagine casting a turn 1 Sol Ring and then a turn 2 Teferi. Your opponents are basically screwed. That's nuts. Card is nuts.

Recommended For: Every Blue deck like what the heck?


Teferi's Ageless Insight

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Alhammarret's Archive is a fantastic card that shines greatest in decks that loot a lot (Faithless Looting) and/or cycle a lot (Lonely Sandbar) turning mana-efficient card-neutral card selection into absurdly efficient card advantage. It's a Commander staple and sees a lot of play.

Well, move over Archive, because Teferi's Ageless Insight does the same thing but cheaper! So basically any Blue deck that runs Archive will now make room for Insight, because yeah, card is bonkers.

Oh and yeah, obviously this card was made for further abuse of Teferi, Master of Time. As a degenerate Blue player I apologize in advance for the nasty things I'm about to do.

Recommended For: Looting decks; Cycling decks; Teferi decks


Teferi's Tutelage

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Lots of people have an irrational love for Mill. I get it; I've been there too. Unfortunately for Mill fanatics, the "fair" versions of this archetype suck in Commander: you have to mill 99-card decks instead of 60-cards, lots of decks actually benefit from being milled because of the high popularity of graveyard recursion spells, and people generally don't like being milled so they'll target you for it. It's definitely an uphill battle for Mill players.

That's not to say that Mill is impossible in Commander, but the easiest methods often involve 2-card combos: Traumatize + Fraying Sanity or Eater of the Dead + Phenax, God of Deception are two popular methods. But slow, incremental Mill kills? That's a rough one.

Anyhoo, Teferi's Tutelage is one of those more "fair" Mill options, like Sphinx's Tutelage. You can easily mill people out if you yourself are drawing your entire library with Enter the Infinite or similar but usually winning with Thassa's Oracle is simply better at that point.

However, Mill need not be about literally milling opponents to death. Instead the act of milling can be used to fuel Graveyard strategies, such as Lazav, Dimir Mastermind, where milling increases your options. Same goes with other cards that plunder your opponents' graves like Mnemonic Betrayal and Sepulchral Primordial. There are entire decks based on this concept and they're super sweet. I think Teferi's Tutelage will shine brightest in these decks.

Recommended For: Graveyard Theft decks (Lazav, Dimir Mastermind)


Waker of Waves

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Waker of Waves has super-cycling -- megacycling? -- where instead of just drawing a card you get to look at the top two cards, put one in your hand and one in the graveyard. Surveil Cycling? Surcycle? Any case, this is a cool ability. It's deece if you follow it up with reanimation.

Honestly I'm only bringing up this card because it would've been the perfect inclusion to 6CMC Tribal and WOTC just barely missed. Sigh.

Recommended For: 7 CMC Tribal.


Part 2 Coming Soon!

I'll be back very soon with Part 2 of the review: Black and Red! What are your favorite cards from the set? Disagree with any of the reviews? Let me know in the comments section!

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