Tribal Update Report Double Feature: Core Set 2021 & Jumpstart


The Tentacled One
Well, a new core set is coming out. And there’s also a supplemental set called “Jumpstart” that has its own thing going on. Both of them were supposed to have been released already, but technically, at the time I’m writing this, their release date hasn’t arrived just yet. Also, I have cards from both. Well, last time I did one of these reports, I combined the latest standard set with a concurrent-ish supplemental product. It seemed to work. Saved me some time. So let’s try it again? Honestly, I still only have a foggy idea of what’s in these sets. Something, something, pandemic, something, something.

Two new sets are about to come out, right around the corner. Or perhaps they’re already here. Whatever. New sets. The big one is Core Set 2021 and the other one is Jumpstart. They’re new. They have new cards. Some good reprints too, but those don’t factor into my report. There, I’ve said what’s going on. Introduction is out of the way. Brevity is the soul of wit. Move along, move along.

Another Digression (I really don’t plan on making this a recurring feature)
In my previous update report, I added a new preface about the Companion mechanic. In particular, I needed to address the ease with which the card Kaheera, the Orphanguard could be used as a companion in this format. I assumed that this was a one-off oddity. Past reports haven’t come with developments that needed their own special sections like that. However, since my previous report, two new developments have emerged with implications for Tribal gameplay. Neither one is directly connected to the new core set, but both are worth addressing.

Firstly, Wizards of the Coast made a rules change to the Companion mechanic. Now instead of being able to cast your companion from outside the game, you can pay 3 at sorcery speed to put your companion into your hand from outside the game. This dramatically weakens the mechanic. A couple of the companions would still definitely be worth it in Tribal formats, but this is a big deal anyway, and makes me feel a lot better about not recommending a ban on Kaheera in my previous report.

The second development is rather awkward. On June 10th, Wizards of the Coast announced that they’d be banning seven cards as “racist” across all sanctioned formats. I’ve already expressed my own thoughts on this in general and don’t want to bring that into this report. Regardless of what stance any of us might have with regard to this issue, the question I want to stick to here is what this means for Tribal formats.

Most of the seven banned cards are inconsequential in most Magic formats anyway. There are two possible exceptions, one of which is a corner-case for highlander (or lowlander) formats in general, and one of which is relevant to Devil Tribal. The first card of interest is Crusade. While the universal +1/+1 boost to white creatures is still available with Honor of the Pure, it is conceivable that a “white weenie” deck in a singleton format might want both cards. I don’t think that the “white weenie” archetype is especially prevalent as a gameplan for most tribes, but it’s worth mentioning. If enough players were playing in casual tribal formats, it’s likely that some of them would be affected were they to lose this card. Five of the other six are almost completely irrelevant for our purposes. But if one is interested in Devil Tribal, the loss of Stone-Throwing Devils would be severe. While Devil Tribal should be mostly red, there are a couple of black creatures in there, and Stone-Throwing Devils is arguably the tribe’s best one-drop.

Most non-sanctioned player-maintained committees that curate rules for alternative formats have been following WotC’s lead on this matter and banning the “racist” cards in their formats. For anyone trying to actually organize any kind of structured Tribal gameplay, I leave that decision up to you. I don’t make the rules. I just write the reports. My own recommendation would be not to ban these cards. But I’m biased. If you do choose to ban these cards, the main point to keep in mind for Tribal gameplay is that a single tribe gets somewhat weaker with this change. I don’t think that this would drop Devil Tribal into a lower tier, and a monored deck using this tribe would be unaffected. But overall, it is significant in this one case.

New Tribes
Dog: Well, Mark Rosewater finally won. He’s been saying for years that he keeps trying to get “Hound” changed to “Dog” but always gets outvoted. I’m kinda torn on this one. On the one hand, “dog” is actually the original creature type on Snow Hound all the way back in Ice Age, so the intent all along had probably been to make “dog” be the name to use for these guys, before Team Hound orchestrated a coup. On the other hand, Mark Rosewater has been campaigning for this on the basis that “hound” is a subset” of the more general “dog.” This is backwards. He is wrong. This information is easily verifiable and his failure to correct his own ignorance on the subject over a period of decades conveys a very annoying level of arrogance and I kinda wanted Team Hound to win just to spite him. On the one hand, perhaps a victory for Team Dog indicates a new level of interest in actually making this a strong tribe, which would be a nice change. On the other hand, it might not be worth the inevitable deluge of unfunny “good boy” quips. In case it isn’t clear: none of those are funny. Every single one is unfunny. If you’re doing this, then you should stop. Anyway, I’d previously estimated Hound Tribal as being Tier 4. So that should be the expected baseline for Dog Tribal. We’ll see if the new cards do anything to change that.
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The Tentacled One
New additions to existing Tribes
Advisor: One new card. I don’t see it being great in Advisor Tribal in general, but for the specific subset of Advisor Tribal that is the Persistent Petitioners deck, this is a boon. And that might just be the best version of Advisor Tribal anyway.

Archer: One new card. It does the same stuff as other cards in this tribe, and not particularly better.

Assassin: One new card. Kinda expensive. I don’t think it makes the cut.

Azra: One new card. Possibly the strongest azra so far. Not enough to save this tribe. At least, not yet.

Beast: Three new cards. Two of them are pretty good. I could see these being played in Beast Tribal.

Bird: Three new cards. They’re not bad. One might be the best new two-drop that this tribe has gotten in a long time.

Boar: One new card. It’s mediocre.

Cat: Six new cards. I suspect that this does little for the tribe, but maybe one of the new ones displaces something else. Probably not.

Centaur: Two new cards. One of them is likely to be extremely useful in a deck themed around +1/+1 counters, for whatever that’s worth.

Cleric: Ten new cards. Mostly chaff, but a couple of these have great potential. I don’t think these cards represent an upgrade for the best Cleric decks possible, but there are some tempting niche options, at least.

Construct: One new card. It doesn’t make the cut.

Cyclops: One new card. It’s not particularly good, but this tribe is so amazingly bad that you could probably use it, if you wanted to.

Demon: One new card. It’s not very good.

Devil: Five new cards. These add a few strong options toward the lower end of the mana curve. And if one can construct a sacrifice-based list for this tribe, the new cards are looking better. This is still a rather deficient tribe, but it seems viable. See the “Digression” section of this report for a mention of the recent removal of the card Stone-Throwing Devils from sanctioned play.

Dinosaur: Two new cards. Unworthy.

Djinn: One new card. It’s a strange one. Probably a decent casual commander. For our purposes, I just don’t think it works.

Dog: Ten new cards. A lot of people are going to want Dog Tribal to work. And I don’t just mean in my imaginary world where people actually play some kind of Tribal format and read my stupid reports. I mean in the real world. So if there’s a way to make dogs good, someone will find it. I remain skeptical. Cats are already strong. Dogs just aren’t there yet, Pack Leader not withstanding.

Dragon: Three new cards. I think this has consistently been a tribe that shows up in reports with some kind of line about how yes, there sure are new creatures for this tribe, and no, they sure won’t be relevant to improving the tribe. So yeah, for a creature type with a thematic dearth of cheap creatures and an emphasis on 5+ drops, Dragon Tribal is quite strong. It also keeps seeing new options that aren’t worth using.

Drake: One new card. It’s bland.

Druid: Four new cards. A couple of them are interesting, but I don’t think they’d be cards I’d include in a Druid Tribal deck.

Dwarf: One new card. Defensive vanilla one-drop. Years ago, a 1/3 for a single mana might have seemed like a pretty nice option. Now though, I’m not so sure.

Elemental: Eight new cards. They’re rather underwhelming.

Elf: Five new cards. A couple of options for elf enthusiasts to experiment with. I don’t think that these new cards change the tribe much, but they are probably playable.

Fish: One new card. It’s awkward, but could work in the right deck.

Giant: One new card. It’s got its own thing going on and doesn’t fit well within Giant Tribal.

Goblin: Three new cards. Two of them are good enough that they are nice options in the vast Goblin Tribal toolbox. The other one is possibly the single best new card that any tribe has ever gotten in the entire history of the game. I’ll have a lot more to say about this, but Goblin Tribal is probably now the strongest Tier 1 option once more.

Golem: Two new cards. They’re bland.

Griffin: One new card. It’s kind of lousy.

Hellion: One new card. It’s almost useless.

Horror: Two new cards. They’re lackluster.

Human: Thirty-four new cards. Because of course Human-Tribal always has to be totally out-of-control. Several of these are very strong cards in general and maybe some of them are even useful for one of the eleven billion different directions that one could take Human Tribal.

Hydra: One new card. It has a synergy with non-Hydra creatures, which really makes it an unlikely candidate for Hydra Tribal.

Insect: One new card. While it doesn’t really fit the mold of Insect Tribal well, it does look fun. I’d play this, probably.

Knight: Three new cards. Not bad, but not what the tribe needs.

Kor: One new card. It looks like a nice workhorse sort of card. I’d strongly consider running it.

Kraken: One new card. It’s not amazing, but it could yield a marginal improvement.

Lizard: One new card. It’s decent in some kind of deck, probably. I don’t think it helps Lizard Tribal.

Masticore: One new card. Wait, what? Why, this means that Masticore Tribal has escaped from Tier 7! That’s right. There are now five of these guys.

Merfolk: Three new cards. While they’re not bad, Merfolk Tribal is really heavily pushed in a different direction from what these new additions are going for.

Minotaur: Two new cards. One or both are strong inclusions. Minotaur Tribal just got better.

Monk: One new card. It’s a Chandra planeswalker synergy. No impact here.

Noble: Two new cards. One is a goblin with a Goblin Tribal synergy and one is a vampire. Nobles don’t really have a cohesive suite of tools for Tribal deckbuilding yet.

Ogre: One new card, which appears to be draft chaff.

Orc: One new card. It’s fine, but doesn’t really contribute anything special.

Phoenix: One new card. It’s not bad, but personally, I think the design here is ugly. The creature comes with haste, but can’t block and its built-in recursion returns it to the battlefield during your end step. Why?

Pirate: Two new cards. Not very interesting.

Rhino: One new card. Garruk synergy. Tempting, but I don’t think it’s relevant here.

Rogue: Seven new cards. There’s real potential here. I don’t know for sure if any of the new options make the cut, but I’d scrutinize them closely if building a deck with the tribe.

Scout: One new card. Draft chaff.

Shaman: Six new cards. They’re all over the place and I can’t think of any strong existing Shaman Tribal themes that really call for these new additions.

Shark: One new card. Draft chaff.

Siren: One new card. It’s unremarkable.

Skeleton: One new card. It’s not what I was looking for when it comes to this tribe, but it’s a very strong card in general and this is an awkward tribe anyway. So it probably helps?

Snake: One new card. It’s quite strong. It’s an option, at least. Perfect for a deathtouch-heavy deck.

Soldier: Six new cards. Most of them have synergies that aren’t pertinent to the tribe.

Sphinx: Two new cards. They’re both powerful, but very expensive and arguably not worth the payoff.

Spider: One new card. It makes saproling tokens, which is unusual in this tribe. If creature types didn’t matter (they do), I’d say this was just a much better version of Saber Ants, a card I’ve enjoyed playing. It’s good, but I don’t know that it’s good for Spider Tribal.

Spirit: Five new cards. Although unique, it seems like their overall functionality is similar to a lot of other good spirits that have come out in recent sets. I wouldn’t rule them out, but they also don’t represent impressive improvements for the tribe.

Treefolk: Three new cards. They all have to do with drawing cards, which is a departure from what this tribe usually focuses on. I don’t think that I’d use these in Treefolk Tribal.

Unicorn: Four new cards. Most of them would ordinarily be mediocre, but they’re actually just better than the old unicorns in the game, so they do technically constitute improvement. Also, we have what is, I think, the first Unicorn Tribal synergy. And it also happens to be, by far, the strongest unicorn card ever. So this is a big win for these guys. The only question is whether they are now good enough for Tier 4 competition.

Vampire: Three new cards. The new legendary option is of particular interest. You have to lean hard on life-gain stuff to make these new vampires better options than anything they might replace, but that can be done. I suspect that the existing creatures for Vampire Tribal are more reliable, but it’s too close to call without real testing.

Wall: One new card. I don’t think that this is worth it.

Warlock: Four new cards. This tribe was pretty bad, so I fully expect that these new options help a bit.

Warrior: Seven new cards. A few of them are based on synergies outside this tribe, and the others probably don’t replace anything. As always, I have trouble analyzing Warrior Tribal because it has so many divergent choices to make. But I don’t think that it gains much this time.

Whale: Two new cards. Seven-drops. Two new seven-drops. Whales remain bad.

Wizard: Ten new cards. They’re all pretty different from each other and there might be some niche card for some kind of Wizard Tribal deck, but I’m skeptical.

Wurm: One new card. Garruk planeswalker synergy. No impact.

Zombie: Four new cards. A couple of them are viable. Possible marginal improvement here.


The Tentacled One
New Tribal synergies to look out for
Alpine Houndmaster: It doesn’t find just any dogs. They have to be those specific ones. But that does pack a lot of value in a two-drop, and Dog Tribal could use all the help it can get.

Animal Sanctuary: This one is just a no-brainer.

Blessed Sanctuary: I don’t usually mention cards that just generate tokens without doing anything else specific to a creature type, but Unicorn Tribal has been such a bad tribe for the past 27 years that this is a big deal for them.

Liliana’s Devotee: A human warlock with a nice Zombie Tribal synergy, not that they need it.

Rin and Seri, Inseparable: I mean, technically this is functionally just a Tribal synergy for the tribes it’s actually in, and already covered. But it’s strange enough to be worth mentioning.

Overall set analysis
With how crazy new sets have been, these releases are a kind of comfortable return to normalcy. What might not be obvious from what I’ve already said is that both Core Set 2021 and Jumpstart feature more reprints than other sets we’ve been covering with these reports. And they’re generally good reprints too. This is a good thing. A very good thing. New Magic products have been too aggressively introducing new cards while providing no outlets for much-needed reprints. For the purposes of a report about what a new set does for an “Eternal” format, reprints technically don’t matter at all. And this does mean fewer new cards, as each reprint takes up a slot in these sets. I, for one, am glad that reprints are getting this long-overdue attention.

In analyzing this set, I started to wonder if it just wasn’t doing as much as previous releases. I took a look at my other reports, and really, I’d say that Core Set 2021 is a bit bigger of a splash for Tribal formats than the previous core set. It’s just that more of the impact is weighted toward overall good creatures, rather than Tribal synergies. But there are exceptions! And some of the exceptions are downright amazing.

Mostly, we can all breathe a little easier after the insanity of Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths. Also, goblins are back on top, so there’s that.

Winners and losers for these sets? Tier adjustments?
Winners: Goblins. Losers: Everyone else. Not really, but it does seem kind of like that. Really though, winners might be…
  • Advisors
  • Azra
  • Birds
  • Dogs
  • Goblins
  • Kor
  • Minotaurs
  • Rogues
  • Unicorns
  • Warlocks
  • Zombies
I’m going to omit “Losers” for this report, not because there aren’t any, but because that section is pretty speculative and gets into what could be getting better, but isn’t. Because of the ongoing pandemic, my regular Magic gameplay isn’t what it used to be. I haven’t gotten to play much with recent sets, and my overall picture of the state of the game is a bit hazy. Core sets are more about Magic in general, while expansion sets get to boldly embrace specific themes. I don’t feel that my current perspective is sufficiently nuanced to be opining on which tribes lost out with the release of these new products.

The “Losers” part of these reports might come back in the future. But for now, I’m dropping it. Now, what about Tier adjustments. As usual, most shifting around in the competitiveness of creature types falls within our tiers, not between them. Hound Tribal becomes Dog Tribal, but probably remains Tier 4, although it does improve. Minotaur Tribal improves substantially and is probably near the top of Tier 3.

After some consideration, I’m endorsing the promotion of Unicorn Tribal. Thematically, they remain an awkward creature type and they’re not really competitive, but I think they just barely have enough to make it in Tier 4.

Ban list update recommendations
As noted in the “Digression” I do not advocate the banning of cards due to perceived “racism.” Of course, a hypothetical Tribal Council might wish to bend the knee to WotC on this matter, the almighty arbiters of what is and isn’t racist. Was that too snarky? Sorry. Anyway, I gave some consideration to whether a hypothetical ban on Stone-Throwing Devils should result in a tier demotion for Devil Tribal. And while it would weaken the tribe, I do not think that it would be enough of a hit to demote them. They still have other one-drops.

Fifteen years ago, I’d have comfortably said that Goblin Tribal was the strongest, superior to all other options. Then other tribes started to catch up. Five years ago, I’d have said that goblins were no longer on top. They were still close, but Elf Tribal probably surpassed them at some point, with Merfolk Tribal and Human Tribal also being potential top choices. When I wrote my preliminary report last year, I assessed the Tier 1 tribes as being constructs, eldrazi, elves, faeries, goblins, horrors, humans, merfolk, and zombies. A couple of those were, in my view, definitely behind goblins in overall competitive power, but clearly stronger than most of what the Tier 2 options could muster. And a couple were probably ahead of goblins. But even at their worst, goblins were still always probably close to the top. Now though, it’s so easy for them to combo out, I suspect that Goblin Tribal is back on top.