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New Standard Frontrunners

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Core Set 2021 has had a couple weeks to flesh itself out now, and that means that a new set should begin previews any day now! No, just kidding, what it really means is that we have some data about the cards in the set that are seeing play. This week I want to talk about some of those! And not the Ugins and the Scavenging Oozes of the set; not the cards that everyone knew would see play. I want to show off some of the more obscure cards that I may have even overlooked when doing my set review with Rob.

Alpine Houndmaster

Alpine Houndmaster

The immediate comparison with this card is Squadron Hawk, which has flying. Both cards "draw" you a certain number of cards from your deck when cast. The best part about the Houndmaster is that you can have up to eight cards to search for in your deck, whereas Squadron Hawk would only have a maximum of three, with the last Hawk netting you nothing. The last Houndmaster, however, will likely always have something to grab, because they aren't grabbing themselves... er, you know what I mean.

The two cards the Houndmaster can search up are Alpine Watchdog and Igneous Cur, which are both fairly underwhelming: one of which is a 2/2 with vigilance and the other is a 1/2 that can be pumped (any number of times, to be fair). That being said, they're still free cards, and that's the important part. Let's be honest: 1/1 Squadron Hawks were also unimpressive, and the best part about the card was that they could hold equipment. Sure, they could fly, but playing that third Squadron Hawk for no value was never groundbreaking.

Alpine Houndmaster and his companions (is it too soon to use that word?) can primarily be found in the rw Winota deck, and the package kind of has a two-fold application. The Houndmaster himself can be found with Winota's trigger, and any of the dogs can be used to attack and trigger Winota. It's like one big happy family.

Primal Might

Primal Might

This one surprised me a little bit. One thing about this card that's nice is that it's basically a strict upgrade to Prey Upon. For one mana, at sorcery speed, both cards are able to fight your creature with another creature. That's not usually an ability we look for in Standard, but the addition of being able to pump all your mana into this, a la a makeshift Kessig Wolf Run, could be very appealing.

The deck that's been utilizing this to best effect has been the Mono-Green Monsters list, which makes sense. The deck not only has no access to traditional removal, but it also a little bit of extra mana generation thanks to The Great Henge. This gives the deck a second way to fight a creature, along with Vivien, Arkbow Ranger, even though what Vivien does isn't technically fighting.

The funny thing about Primal Might is that it's basically a more appealing Monstrous Step. All the cards that say "target creature blocks it this turn if able" are all basically acting a form of Green removal, only the upside of Primal Might is not only the flexibility - you can cast it for one mana to remove most threats, or you can cast it for seven mana to also add another six power - but also the fact that this allows you to also attack. In that way it kind of acts something like Clan Defiance, where you get to choose to deal X damage to a player via the attack, and X damage to a creature of your choice.

Jolrael, Mwonvuli Recluse

Jolrael, Mwonvuli Recluse

This might be the card that has been appearing the most, and for good reason. While she's only a 1/2 for two mana, she's great when your entire game plan revolves around drawing a second card every turn. Jolrael has been primarily seen in the Bant Ramp decks, and with good reason. Let's take a look at all the cards that enable her ability to make a 2/2 cat.

These are just the numbers from your standard Bant Ramp list. They won't all be the same, but most will be similar to this. This is 19 cards in the main deck that trigger Jolrael's ability to make some cats. That's a third of the deck! Not to mention the fact that she's a perfect turn two play before you cast Uro or Teferi on turn three. That's just good value.

While I doubt her six-mana ability comes into play that often, the fact that it exists is not nothing. Turning your 2/2 cats, and even Jolrael herself, into potential 5/5 or 6/6 creatures when you have a full grip could easily win the game. This is also a repeatable effect with the only cost being mana.

Thieves' Guild Enforcer

Thieves' Guild Enforcer

This was a card Rob and I did not think was good enough. One mana for a 1/1 is just not a good rate, and the opponent having cards in their graveyard is not really an effective metric by which to turn this card on, so to speak. That being said, this card is actually seeing some play in a Sultai Flash Deck. Reason being, it seems, is that Cunning Nightbonder and Brazen Borrower are both rogues and should help this become a 3/2 deathtouch creature for one mana. Considering it has flash, it also allows you to draw a card if you have a Slitherwisp out, so that's nice.

Ultimately, I'm not sure this card is great in general. The requirement of the opponent having cards in the graveyard is not super convenient, but in a deck where this draws you a card and can also utilize other rogues, it's likely not half bad. As I said in our set review, though, this card milling while also getting a power boost is weird. It's a weird win condition tension that doesn't make sense.

Soul Sear

Soul Sear

Finally, we have a pretty solid Red burn spell. A lot of the distinction as to whether a burn spell is good or not comes down to what it can target. If it can target players and creatures, it's usually great. If it can target planeswalkers and creatures, it's usually good. If it can only target creatures, it has to have a really good rate. Soul Sear fits right in the middle and is a pretty good rate for five damage. The main thing this is doing is killing most planeswalkers, killing most Gods, and killing Questing Beast. That's a lot of the more powerful threats you're going to face in Standard, and unlike Scorching Dragonfire, the card this is mostly competing with, this can hit planeswalkers.

Well, that's about it! These were all the "interesting" cards I could find that were being played from M21; everything else was basically cards we knew were going to see play, like Teferi, Master of Time and Cultivate. In fact, it turns out that there aren't a ton of cards being played from M21 right now, and honestly, if I had to guess, I would wager it's due to the absurd power level of previous sets like Ikoria or Throne of Eldraine, because M21 as a set actually seems pretty cool. I'm actually surprised we haven't seen a more competitive life gain deck yet with all the tools that came out of M21, but then again, I'm not that surprised, because holy smokes would that deck have a lot of powerful cards to compete with. But I'm still tempted to brew one up and give it a shot, so let me know if that's something you might be interested in.

Another thing to think about...

Five days from this article, we have an impromptu Banned and Restricted announcement, so we'll definitely be talking about that on Wednesday! Quite honestly, I have absolutely no idea what they could be considering, but I'm certainly curious. The fact that they outlined four specific formats - excluding things like Standard or Legacy, etc. - is also really interesting, because it means they have something in mind for sure.

Let me know all the thoughts in the comments below! Talk to me about cards you think aren't being appreciated in M21, talk to me about what you think will be banned next week, and let me know if you've seen any bw life gain decks floating around. Thank you so much for reading, I hope you're safe and healthy, I love you all, and I'll catch you next week!

Frank Lepore

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