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Commander 2021 Set Review – Red, Green, Multicolor, Artifact and Lands

With the last few sets, I’ve included the cards from associated Commander decks in the set review, but since this is a full-fledged release with five decks, it’s time for a review of Commander 2021. With 81 new cards in the set, there’s a lot to talk about, and I’m interested to hear your evaluations in comparison to mine! For my ratings, I don’t use numbers or grades – I use this more subjective scale:

 

Header - Ratings Scale

  • Commander: You want this card in the command zone at the start the game. Its best use is to lead the charge as the cornerstone of your deck, but it can probably fit into your 99 as well.
  • Build-Around: This card can be a huge player in the theme of your deck. It either enables the theme by itself or is something you’re looking to take advantage of over the course of your ideal game. It’s probably worth dedicating other slots in your deck to cards that work with a build-around.
  • Powerhouse: This card’s not really about synergy, but it’s good all by itself.
  • Role Player: This card might not be the cornerstone of a deck list, but it’s an important part of the engine or strong enough on its own to merit potential inclusion. This category also covers cards that look good enough to try out but don’t seem like obvious winners.
  • Tech Card: Counterplay is important, and if a card doesn’t fit into one of the above categories but is good enough at countering other strategies, it’ll be included here.
  • Niche Inclusion: This card might make your deck if you have a deckbuilding restriction, whether it’s self-imposed based on theme, a power level consideration, or a card availability concern. 

As a reminder, my focus is on social Commander rather than competitive EDH. That means you’ll be hearing about cards largely from that more relaxed perspective. My goal when playing Commander is for everyone to have fun but also for me to have a good shot at winning the game, so if that’s your mindset as well, these ratings will probably resonate with you. I won’t be reviewing reprints, so you can just assume I feel the same way about Angel of Serenity as I did before we found out it was in this set. When you inevitably disagree with a rating, please feel free to tweet at @RagingLevine with your thoughts!

 

Header - Red

Audacious Reshapers

Rating: Build-Around

If you’re familiar with Madcap Experiment and Platinum Emperion, this card should feel familiar. Preventing the damage to yourself is the primary way of using this card for evil, though producing token artifacts and sacrificing them to get the one artifact, or one of just a few, out of your deck is part of that equation as well. Of course, you could elect to take the damage and stack your deck with more artifacts, using cards like Academy Ruins to deliberately place them on top of your library.

Battlemage’s Bracers

Rating: Build-Around

While this Illusionist’s Bracers lookalike requires a payment on each trigger and requires red mana, the fact that it gives haste puts it over the top. The biggest problem with creatures with powerful activations is usually that they need to tap, which means they’re a huge liability for a turn cycle – Battlemage’s Bracers changes all that by itself.

Creative Technique

Rating: Niche Inclusion

The randomness of this card makes it so risky that I can’t imagine demonstrating it – unless, of course, that’s the whole point! This card lets you spread the fun around a little bit, so play it that way. 

Cursed Mirror

Rating: Powerhouse?

A mana rock that plays decently well on turn three and gains value as the game goes on? Sign me up! Never before have I been so excited to top-deck a mana rock in the late game. Sure, I’ll take the best ETB value on the table for myself or copy the best attacker to knock someone out of the game. Sounds great.

Fiery Encore

Rating: Role Player

I can see casting this to fill my graveyard in a deck that wants to go off with Past in Flames or something similar, especially if that deck is interested in magecraft triggers from copied spells. Thankfully, this doesn’t hit players… unless you’re in Mogg Maniac mode!

Inferno Project

Rating: Role Player

I like the idea of a large creature payoff to spellslinger decks rather than simply go-wide token payoffs, and Inferno Project fits that role quite nicely. If I see one of these gain haste, I’ll be terrified – unless, of course, I’ve been saving my Rakdos Charm for just the right time.

Laelia, the Blade Forged

Rating: Commander

While this goes great in a Bell Borca, Spectral Sergeant deck, I think a commander damage-focused approach with Underworld Breach, Outpost Siege and similar could be incredibly strong – throw the traditional Trailblazer’s Boots and Whispersilk Cloak in for good measure. Do be aware of the “one or more” wording and how it restricts you from going off by exiling your whole graveyard at once! 

Radiant Performer

Rating: Niche Inclusion

Radiate is mostly a fun card rather than a high-powered one, and unless you’ve got a particular way to abuse it, this is very much the same.

Rionya, Fire Dancer

Rating: Commander

I love the idea of casting some spells and then creating Zealous Conscripts or Siege-Gang Commanders aplenty. You could even cast a few rituals into a powerful attacker like Myr Battlesphere and then swing with a host of hasty copies! And yes, there’s Terror of the Peaks – there’s always Terror of the Peaks.

Rousing Refrain

Rating: Niche Inclusion

This is a fun card that’ll get you a few extra mana in the midgame, but that doesn’t give me hope for slotting it into a deck and getting value out of that slot.

Ruin Grinder

Rating: Niche Inclusion

I love landcycling, as you know, but on the face of this I see a lot of work to do just to get a wheel. That said, if you’re looking to make copies of this or recur it for multiple wheels, that’s where it really shines.

Surge to Victory

Rating: Build-Around

If you’re going wide with Goblin tokens or something similar and want to take out another player with a huge attack, casting this can help you get some extra card advantage or potentially recast a token generation spell to drop a bunch more tokens in play so that you’re no longer defenseless. If you’re hitting with a sufficient number of tokens, even a Lightning Bolt could take out an opponent!

 

Header - Green

Blossoming Bogbeast

Rating: Powerhouse

Even on its own, this generates a mini-Overrun, but with some help to give it haste and, of course, additional life gain, it’s absolutely bonkers. It’s easy to see how it works – generate some Pests, sacrifice maybe two or three, gain some life and swing for the fences with the Bogbeast and your remaining Pests. You can certainly do this without the Pests quite easily, even in mono-green, and sneaking this in with haste via something like Sneak Attack could be fun as well.

Ezzaroot Channeler

Rating: Build-Around

Now this looks like a great reason to play life gain! A Nourishing Shoal – or even a simple Nourish – will accelerate you massively for a single turn, as will a Syphon Soul. This looks best when combined with colorless creatures and something like Beast Whisperer to really blast through your deck in an unstoppable way. Double your life total with Beacon of Immortality, then cast a Walking Ballista… have fun!

Fractal Harness

Rating: Role Player

It’s nice to drop this into a counters shell, as simply growing the Fractal can be plenty powerful, but attaching this to something like Kalonian Hydra or Primordial Hydra could get out of hand very quickly. With all the Hydras flying around, a Zaxara, the Exemplary deck could wreak some havoc with this as well.

Guardian Augmenter

Rating: Role Player

Casting this in response to a removal spell on your commander doesn’t just stop the spell in progress – it also forces another removal spell to be cast at the Augmenter, Flagbearer-style, before another can be sent at your commander. Meanwhile, your most important creature wields a Vulshok Morningstar-sized buff. Nothing explosive, but totally solid!

Healing Technique

Rating: Niche Inclusion

There are enough ways to recur cards, but when packaged with life gain, it’s possible this Elven Cache’s upside will outsize its downside in demonstration. That said, you have to have a very specific deck for that to be worthwhile.

Paradox Zone

Rating: Role Player

You get your first token during your end step, so you’ll be starting off with a 2/2 – that is, unless you can proliferate this before it even gets started. The work is worthwhile as long as this stays in play through your next turn to double again, so be ready to defend this with countermagic, as it’s pretty obvious to most people what’ll happen if this is left alone.

Pest Infestation

Rating: Role Player

It’s a green Release the Gremlins (sure, it hits enchantments too, and that’s great), and I’d much rather have these Pests than the Gremlins, frankly. They go wider and have that life gain trigger – absolutely delightful, and they push this card up from the Tech Card rating.

Ruxa, Patient Professor

Rating: Commander

Obviously you go into a Ruxa deck looking to have fun, and with just 97 vanilla creatures currently available to go along with Ruxa in a mono-green deck, it’s hard to imagine the deck being strong. That said, cards like Gigantosaurus do very well with the Thorn Elemental ability, and even a Bear Cub is stronger than an Ox with Ruxa around. Grab your Muraganda Petroglyphs – the time is now!

Sequence Engine

Rating: Niche Inclusion

At sorcery speed, this isn’t good graveyard removal, and while a repeatable X, tap, make an X/X is fine, it requires specifically creature card fuel and works very slowly. 

Sproutback Trudge

Rating: Role Player

In a life gain deck, it’s nice to have some recursive elements, and a 9/7 trampler you can cast on the cheap over and over again is a solid recursive element. Seriously, this is a huge threat, and it’ll force opponents to use resources clearing it out of your graveyard while you continue to work on other plans – and if they don’t, they’ll drown in the trudgemank soon enough.

Trudge Garden

Rating: Build-Around

I’ve mentioned Essence Warden a few times, and I’m starting to think a lot of these cards were designed with it in mind. Gain a life, pay two mana, make a Fungus, gain a life from the Fungus entering the battle, pay two mana, make a Fungus… and yes, Ashnod’s Altar completes the circle and allows you to gain as much life as your heart desires. Swap out Essence Warden for Blood Artist and, well…

Yedora, Grave Gardener

Rating: Commander

Sacrificing Sakura-Tribe Elder has never been rampier. Everyone’s talking about Life and Limb with this one, and that works quite well, as do other Living Lands-style abilities that will turn these face-down Forests into nontoken creatures. You can even sacrifice them all to Wood Elemental! I’ve been waiting years for Wood Elemental Combo to make its way into the metagame and… oh, what’s that? Wood Elemental is still terrible? Well, I can dream. Oh, and don’t forget Quirion Ranger to return those face-down Forests to your hand to be recast later as the cards they used to be.

 

Header - Multicolor

Inkshield

Rating: Powerhouse

Countering an alpha strike or lethal X-spell with this is hilarious, as you get double the fun in the form of Inklings! Holding up five mana is a little prohibitive, but if you’re casting this spell to save your own life, it’s likely to allow you to take someone out on your own turn.

Oversimplify

Rating: Build-Around

If you’re in a better position to use a single big creature than your opponents (shh… is that Rafiq returning to relevance?) then you’ll love this one, and with the counter synergies that abound in the color combo, this really favors the Simic deck casting this pseudo-wrath. The fact that it exiles the creatures makes it borderline terrifying – why does Simic get to have all the fun? Oh, sorry, Quandrix. 

Reinterpret

Rating: Role Player

I love cards like Draining Whelk that provide some extra value alongside a counterspell, and Reinterpret fits that mold quite handily. While you need to have another card that fits the mana value restriction that you also want to cast right now, if you do have that, you’ll feel like you’re really getting away with something, and isn’t that what Commander is all about?

Revival Experiment

Rating: Build-Around

For six mana, I can get a creature, an artifact, an enchantment, a land and a planeswalker. Returning them to hand would be pretty dismal for this cost, which is why I was pleasantly surprised upon re-reading this card to find that the cards actually go straight to the battlefield! Reverse Casualties of War can cost me 15 life all it wants, because I’m happy to intentionally diversify the types of my threats in order to maximize value here.

Wake the Past

Rating: Build-Around

Oh, yeah, this seems totally reasonable. Seven mana to win the game? That’s how I read this, anyway. Toss some artifacts into the bin via Daretti, Scrap Savant and similar effects, then go off real hard with Myr Battlesphere, Wurmcoil Engine and more all coming back at once. Hopefully there’s a Mirrorworks in there so you can use the mana rocks that come back to pay for some token copies, just in case your initial offensive is thwarted!

 

Header - Artifacts

Elementalist’s Palette

Rating: Role Player

In a Zaxara or Rosheen Meanderer deck, this can grow pretty fast and become the scariest artifact on the battlefield as long as you’re well-stocked on X spells. Tapping this for six mana or more is the dream, so don’t be surprised if your opponents don’t let it stick around that long.

Geometric Nexus

Rating: Niche Inclusion

Sure, it’s another spellslinger-type enabler, but keep in mind that you’ve paid eight mana before you even see a single creature out of this card. You’d do better trading this for a copy of Donald Duck in Mathmagic Land.

Tempting Contract

Rating: Powerhouse?

I love these Tempt cards, and I’m happy to see a new entrant in the series. This one’s pretty solid, as it provides you the first crack at using the mana for creatures and other sorcery-speed goodies – I’d be interested to see what reasoning players have for taking you up on this opportunity. That said, if no one ever takes the deal, this card actually does nothing – but can everyone really resist?

Triplicate Titan

Rating: Role Player

It’s nice to see Grozoth getting more friends. Seriously, though, it’s great to have a big artifact to weld in and out again with all of Lorehold’s new artifact-related toys, and especially one that leaves behind 3/3s a la Wurmcoil Engine or Phyrexian Triniform.

 

Header - Lands

Study Hall

Rating: Niche Inclusion

Making your commander cost one more to scry early is pretty bad, but the more times you cast your commander, the stronger this gets – I’d say this card hits its stride once you get to scry 3.

Witch’s Clinic

Rating: Niche Inclusion

It only gives commanders lifelink, which is kind of definitionally niche. That said, if you’re doing commander damage while also focusing on life gain, or if you’re just dealing commander damage in a mono-colored deck, this could be interesting.

 


 

Okay! That’s it. I’m tired. Next week I’m going to do things with decks instead of set reviews. Won’t that be fun? I’m looking forward to it. See you then – oh, and shout at me at @RagingLevine with your thoughts!

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