Set Prospective

Core Set 2021

July 23rd, 2020 — Jett Crowdis

This article is part of our community-sourced Set Prospective series. We survey Cube designers before the set’s official release to document their first impressions of new cards.

Core Set 2021 has released, so it’s time for another cube prospective survey! Despite this set being relatively low impact for most cubes, we’ve collected responses from 115 respondents — 103 of them have non-rarity restricted cubes, while 8 and 4 have Peasant and Pauper cubes, respectively. We surveyed players simultaneously for both Core Set 2021 and Jumpstart, but we’ve separated the results into two articles. You can read the Jumpstart results here. As always if there’s a community we can reach out to or you would like to be notified of the next survey, let us know.


Core Set 2021 continues the trend of recent sets and has a reduced power level for most Cube designers. Respondents are only testing a median of 7 cards from this set, with each user only giving approximately 1 card a rank above 7.75 (cube staples). For the majority of community, Core Set 2021 has no slam dunks and is filled with solid or mediocre role players — while 14 cards have an average ranking above 2, no card has an average rating above 7.75. Throne of Eldraine, one of the best sets in recent memory, had 9 cards ranked above 7.75. The Cube community generally agrees on the mediocrity of this set; the average consensus rating for cards being tested by more than 5 respondents is 0.50, significantly higher than previous sets. 1

Filter by rarity:
Card TestersRank 
Heartfire Immolator65.0%7.1
Barrin, Tolarian Archmage53.0%7.5
Seasoned Hallowblade50.4%7.5
Garruk, Unleashed31.6%7.3
Llanowar Visionary28.2%6.1
Waker of Waves25.6%7.1
Basri Ket20.5%5.7
Elder Gargaroth18.8%5.2
Teferi, Master of Time17.9%5.5
Ghostly Pilferer17.9%4.1
Stormwing Entity17.1%6.4
Basri's Lieutenant16.2%5.6
Liliana, Waker of the Dead13.7%4.9
Radha, Heart of Keld13.7%5.5
Garruk's Harbinger12.0%4.3
Mazemind Tome11.1%5.6
Sublime Epiphany10.3%6.1
Shipwreck Dowser9.4%5.5
Village Rites9.4%7.0
See the Truth9.4%3.8
Subira, Tulzidi Caravanner7.7%5.7
Jolrael, Mwonvuli Recluse6.8%5.9
Obsessive Stitcher6.8%5.2
Terror of the Peaks6.8%6.1
Malefic Scythe6.8%4.9
Liliana's Devotee6.0%5.8
Angelic Ascension5.1%4.5
Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose5.1%6.3
Demonic Embrace5.1%6.7
Swift Response5.1%7.0
Goblin Wizardry5.1%5.4
Pestilent Haze5.1%5.0
Bolt Hound4.3%5.5
Conclave Mentor4.3%5.6
Experimental Overload4.3%6.8
Cards being tested by fewer than 5 respondents not shown.

Individual Card Discussion

The wheat among the chaff?

Seasoned Hallowblade
Barrin, Tolarian Archmage
Garruk, Unleashed
Waker of Waves
Heartfire Immolator

These are the only cards with average ratings above 6.4 that most Cube designers are testing from the set. Consistent with a core set’s philosophy, these cards have straightforward mechanics that mirror effects that have succeeded previously in Cube.

Barrin, Tolarian Archmage is mechanically unique and the card ranked highest from Core Set 2021 by the Cube community. While Man-o'-War effects have been outpaced in most power-focused cubes, the Archmage is the best version so far, supporting blink strategies and offering tempo against planeswalkers. Much of his strength hinges on the presence of planeswalkers or other blink enablers. The Cube community agrees — Barrin is a shoo-in in lower powered cubes and a solid contender even in those more powerful.

Seasoned Hallowblade is the second-highest rated card from the set, and it has a reasonable consensus value. As an aggro card, it has parallels with Adanto Vanguard, a favorite white 2-drop among cube designers, but Hallowblade's activated ability means that blocks against it are rarely bad. Proponents cite its ability to attack into larger blockers, but it remains terrible against tokens which are common in many cubes. Nevertheless, I may be underestimating Seasoned Hallowblade's potential, as many designers believe it will perform well. Only time will tell!

Eliminate is the latest in a line of conditional Doom Blades. The ability to kill cheap planeswalkers is a massive boon, particularly for cubes that have embraced their emergence in the form of Teferi, Narset, and Oko. A survey of 120 Unpowered cubes on CubeTutor shows that Eliminate kills about 30% of planeswalkers and about 60% of creatures in an average unpowered Cube. Many in the Cube community value these strengths and its utility in the control matchup, especially in lean, efficient cubes.

I am surprised by Heartfire Immolator's relatively low ranking among these cards — to me, it seems like one of the stronger of the set. Similar to Goblin Cratermaker , its ability to interact with the board incidentally is an asset, and Prowess makes bluff attacks easy. Heartfire Immolator strikes me as a great addition to nearly every Cube, but its average ranking of 6.85 shows that the community has a more lukewarm opinion.

Waker of Waves is a flexible cantrip that offers late-game utility and fills the graveyard faster than most alternatives. The fact that fewer designers (25 out of 90) are testing it highlights the community’s disagreements on cantrips — those that favor redundancy are eagerly embracing this new tool. While the apparent flexibility of Waker of Waves is attractive, Realm-Cloaked Giant, a creature I’ve cast exactly 3 times despite running it in my own list for a year, has taught me that a near-vanilla 7/7 is below rate in powerful environments. While the floor of a cantrip is much higher than that of a wrath, we must be careful not to overvalue its flexibility, and it will often be correct to simply cantrip Waker of Waves even if the creature is decent on board. I’m excited to test this card along with a subset of the Cube community, but if you wouldn’t cube a slow cantrip with marginal upside like Scour All Possibilities, this card is probably not for you.

Garruk, Unleashed is our new green planeswalker. His plus applies reasonable pressure on an established board and his minus is solid, particularly when you are behind. His ultimate is almost flavortext, as your opponent will often be dead if you’re in a position to uptick him repeatedly. He is arguably worse than his previous iterations, Garruk Relentless and Garruk Wildspeaker, and many designers are eschewing Garruk, Unleashed for them or more powerful 5 mana options. The fact that only a third of respondents are testing him reflects a common fate for middling planeswalkers — a solid option for those that like planeswalker gameplay and a miss for those that don’t.

The speculative maybes

Basri Ket
Basri's Lieutenant
Stormwing Entity
Teferi, Master of Time
Ghostly Pilferer
Elder Gargaroth
Llanowar Visionary

These are cards being tested by over 15 respondents and have an average rating around 5.5 or less. This category usually includes archetype specific cards or cards the community considers mediocre at best.

I believe that Teferi, Master of Time and Basri Ket are victims of planeswalker overload — had they been printed two years ago, I think they would be solid role players in many cubes. Basri Ket requires that you have creatures in play, but applies an immense amount of pressure with his minus while his plus enables decent attacks, all for 3 mana. Teferi, Master of Time filters quickly and can be defended to ultimate in a reasonable number of turns. Nevertheless, the Cube community may have given him a lower rating because he doesn’t generate card advantage alone, a trait that condemns his chances in a power-focused blue section.

Stormwing Entity and Ghostly Pilferer are archetypal role players, a fact reflected in the small number of respondents that are testing them. In an unrestricted cube aiming to optimize power level, Stormwing Entity is too variable. It’s floor is quite low and its ceiling isn’t particularly high either, as a 3/3 flyer with prowess is outpaced in many cubes. Ghostly Pilferer is a solid option for those looking to increase discard outlet redundancy for reanimator in higher powered cubes or those looking to bolster a tempo-forward blue archetype.

Basri's Lieutenant isn’t a Baneslayer by traditional standards, but many in the Cube community are skeptical of its impact in powerful cubes. Its standard mode — a 4/5 with abilities that makes a 2/2 when it dies — is not good enough in cubes looking to optimize power level. Its protection and vigilance will often be relevant but not enough to outweigh its average floor. The card will perform better in cubes that have +1/+1 counter archetypes or a combo green white archetype.

Elder Gargaroth is Baneslayer by all standards, and this condemns its chances in cubes focused on power level alone. Like most Baneslayers, you will win the game if this card goes unanswered; it is near impossible to attack into and will quickly overwhelm your opponent on offense. The discourse surrounding this card in the community is quite interesting. I’ve noticed a fair number of designers rejecting the must-generate-value paradigm that Cube design has trended towards in recent years, and Elder Gargaroth offers an excellent option for designers that embrace this re-emerging philosophy.

Llanowar Visionary is an excellent option for larger cubes or those looking to reduce green’s persistent problem — drawing the wrong half of your ramp deck. This card is more popular in the Cube community than I expected, and I have added it to my own test list as a result. Proponents cite its benefits over cards like Cultivate and Kodama's Reach.

The fringe playables

Demonic Embrace
Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose
Village Rites
Sublime Epiphany
Subira, Tulzidi Caravanner
Jolrael, Mwonvuli Recluse

These are cards that a subset of the community (fewer than 12 respondents) is testing. Demonic Embrace is a black aggro card that offers a repeatable source of damage, particularly when paired with Black’s recursive threats like Dread Wanderer and Bloodsoaked Champion. Nevertheless, black aggro isn’t always a popular archetype, and 3 mana is a big ask for a card that requires an existing threat in a deck centered around efficiency.

Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose and Village Rites are archetype role players. Village Rites is a cheap payoff and enabler for the aristocrats deck, while Vito bolsters black lifegain decks that some may be trying to support.

Sublime Epiphany is card that excited and then disappointed many, including myself. While flashy, its floor is abysmally low — there are some instances where this only amounts to: pay 6 mana, draw a card and bounce a nonland permanent. It begins to be worth it’s cost if you can pull off 3 or more modes, and there is a subset of the community that believes in its potential. Or perhaps these designers are just hoping to live the dream with Torrential Gearhulk.

Subira, Tulzidi Caravanner and Jolrael, Mwonvuli Recluse are an interesting pair. Subira suffers the illness of most red aggro three drops — she’s not as good as a Rabblemaster. For designers looking to diversify that slot, however, she is a solid option as she prevents blocking and can refill your hand quickly. Jolrael similarly suffers because she does not contribute to green’s traditional game plan, and she is difficult to trigger in the average green deck. She may be a solid option for cubes looking to emphasize a midrange, rather than pure ramp, style of green.

Peasant and Pauper Cubes

Heartfire Immolator
Shipwreck Dowser
Swift Response
Goblin Wizardry

Core Set 2021 has even less to offer Peasant and Pauper cubers, though this may simply be a function of the lower number of respondents. Heartfire Immolator is an easy Peasant staple, while Shipwreck Dowser offers an upgrade for those that still cubed Salvager of Secrets. Llanowar Visionary is an immediate Pauper staple, while Swift Response offers cheap removal. I predict more Pauper designers will end up testing Goblin Wizardry, a card which has impressed in Core Set 2021 limited.


The Cube community’s thoughts are relatively clear — Core Set 2021 offers no unanimous slam dunks for smaller and more powerful cubes. While most users are testing a subset of Seasoned Hallowblade, Barrin, Tolarian Archmage, Garruk, Unleashed, Waker of Waves, Eliminate, and Heartfire Immolator, none of these cards have an average rating above 7.75. Here are my thoughts on the set:

Heartfire Immolator and Eliminate are underrated.

Flexible cards are always powerful in aggressive decks, often quietly so, and Heartfire Immolator is no exception. Prowess creatures are difficult to block, and this creature has the ability to remove the growing number of planeswalkers and threats that would otherwise stonewall aggressive decks. For eaxmple, it is one of the only red 2 drops that can attack profitably into Courser of Kruphix — if your opponent blocks, you can simply cast a spell triggering prowess so the Heartfire Immolator survives combat and then sacrifice it to finish off the pesky centaur after damage. Additionally, the Immolator plays very well in spellslinging decks that can sometimes emerge even in more powerful cubes.

Eliminate kills the majority of creatures in most cubes and isn’t dead in the control matchup if they have cheap planeswalkers. In super efficient cubes that embrace the recent emergence of lower mana value planeswalkers, it may even be better than traditional Doom Blades.

Seasoned Hallowblade is overrated and shows why this survey is useful.

I was surprised that Seasoned Hallowblade was ranked so highly, and initially I didn’t plan on testing it. In addition to being horrendous against tokens, it is actually fairly easy to block, as card advantage that would be lost by blocking is regained when your opponent discards a card to protect it. Its protection is also closer to Regenerate than true indestructibility, which matters when your opponent can save a precious 3 life by pointing would-be removal at it before combat. No matter how the card performs, I’m grateful for this survey for informing me that many in the community rate it highly, and it has been added to my testing list as result.

Garruk and Basri ask Cube designers an important question.

In recent years, Wizards has printed a number of middle-tier planeswalkers — examples include Mu Yanling, Domri, Chaos Bringer, and Garruk, Cursed Huntsman. These cards rarely affect constructed formats but can have a profound impact on Cube, as they are often better than creatures at a similar mana value. There are no examples better than those in this set. Garruk and Basri are both average by planeswalker standards, but are likely better than the worst 3 mana white creature and the worst 4 mana green creature in most cubes. Cube designers must ask themselves: am I willing to cut weaker creatures for planeswalkers in pursuit of a high power level? I have always focused on optimizing power level in my own cube, but I am beginning to reconsider given the effect the increase in planeswalkers has had on gameplay. I expect this conversation to intensify in the coming months.

Community Reviews and Discussion

Additional Resources

  1. Here are the average consensuses for cards being tested by more than 5 designers from other sets:
    Throne of Eldraine: 0.32

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