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10 best Magic: The Gathering cards of 2021

Picking out the highlights of MTG’s busiest year yet.

Image credit: Wizards of the Coast

With so many new MTG sets in 2021, it's no big surprise that the pantheon of Magic: The Gathering cards we have access to now is stronger than ever.

In fact, the sheer power of a lot of this year's sets is kind of hard to wrap your head around. You only have to look at the fact that we got a reprint of Heroes Downfall, one of the best pieces of removal in Standard history, but downshifted from rare to uncommon, to see how much Magic has changed.

The power creep is undeniable but, on the plus side, it does mean that you've probably picked up some incredible cards this year. There are plenty of breakout stars from most of the sets released in 2021, but only a few cards can truly stand at the top of this particular house of cards.

Best Magic: The Gathering cards 2021

It's hard to pin down the best cards from an entire year. Things move so fast, especially with the staggering release schedule of 2021, that what was good a couple of months ago has already been completely outstripped by something new.

However, there are some cards that have undoubtedly had a massive impact this year. While they might not still be at the forefront of every deck, they're all worth talking about. Here are our picks for the 10 best MTG cards from 2021.

1. Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer

Aptly named

Ragavan doesn't monkey around - it's among the very best Magic: The Gathering cards of 2021. | Image credit: Wizards of the Coast

The uncontested top dog from this year has to be this little monkey. This little one-mana Red 2/1 is absurdly flexible. If it deals damage to another player, it grants you a treasure token and allows you to draw one of the opponent's cards, too. It has a dash cost of two mana, which allows it to come in with haste, but puts it back in your hand at the end of the turn.

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The fact that this card generates mana, draws cards and is also just a 2/1 for one mana makes it very hard to beat. In fact, it's so incredibly popular that you'd be lucky to pick one up for under £70. We'd obviously recommend against spending that much money on one monkey - but if you want to be competitive, you might have to.

2. Alrund's Epiphany

Extra turns forever

Alrund's Epiphany comes with foretell, which protects it from hand disruption and allows for some sneaky play. | Image credit: Wizards of the Coast

There are two things that nearly always end up overpowered in Magic: The Gathering. The first of those is cost reduction, and the second is when a card allows you to take extra turns. Alrund's Epiphany is a seven-mana sorcery that falls into the latter category. Not only do you get an extra turn, you also get to make two 1/1 flying Bird tokens to attack with that turn.

Alrund's Epiphany also has foretell, which is a mechanic that allows you to pay two mana to put it into exile and makes it cost only six mana in a later turn. This protects it from hand disruption like discard effects, but can help it blend in with other foretold cards to make it impossible to see coming.

3. Murktide Regent

Cost reduction is dangerous

Murktide Regent is another highlight from this year's standout MTG set Modern Horizons 2. | Image credit: Wizards of the Coast

You know we talked about cost reduction? Well, that's what Murktide Regent does best. As a seven-mana 3/3 with flying, it's safe to say that Murktide Regent is only good because of its abilities. Murktide Regent has delve, which means you can exile cards from a graveyard to help pay for it. That means you can reduce it to a two-mana card if you have enough cards.

It reads: "Murktide Regent enters the battlefield with a +1/+1 counter on it for each instant and sorcery card exiled with it. Whenever an instant or sorcery card leaves your graveyard, put a +1/+1 counter on Murktide Regent." Even if all you do is cast two of these in a row, you'll suddenly have a 13/13 and an 8/8 dragon if every exiled card was an instant or a sorcery. It's absurd.

4. Goldspan Dragon

Classic dragon

Dragons traditionally mean lots of treasure - and Goldspan Dragon is no different. | Image credit: Wizards of the Coast

Another choice, another dragon. Goldspan Dragon is a five-mana Red 4/4 with flying and haste. Historically speaking, this is the sweet spot for the top-end of any good aggressive Red deck. However, we're in 2021, and that means that the card also has to have some over-the-top ability - and Goldspan Dragon delivers.

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You see, whenever it attacks or becomes the target of a spell, you get to create a treasure token. Treasure tokens can be sacrificed to grant one mana. That's already good. There's still more though, as Goldspan Dragon also makes it so that you can sacrifice your treasure tokens for two mana instead of one. Dragons do love their treasure, but none more so than the Goldspan Dragon.

5. Expressive Iteration

Take your pick

Expressive Iteration continues the trend of card draw spells ranking as some of the best MTG cards out there. | Image credit: Wizards of the Coast

Card draw spells are incredibly useful as long as they're well costed. Expressive Iteration costs one Blue and one Red mana, and reads: "Look at the top three cards of your library. Put one of them into your hand, put one of them on the bottom of your library, and exile one of them. You may play the exiled card this turn."

In short, you pay two mana and effectively get to draw two cards. Plus, because it says you can play the exiled cards instead of just cast them, it means you can use it to exile lands and then play them. This is a frighteningly efficient card, and we'd be surprised if it didn't see a lot of play for some time to come.

6. Urza's Saga

This is a land?

It may be a land, but Urza's Saga is just as formidable as the rest of the 2021 MTG cards on this list. | Image credit: Wizards of the Coast

It's odd to see a land on this list, but that speaks volumes about just how obnoxious the power level of Modern Horizons 2 is. Urza's Saga isn't just your standard land; it's an enchantment along with being a land, and a saga at that. The name's a little on the nose, but who can fault that level of nostalgia?

It can immediately be used for one colorless mana, and on its second turn gains the ability to create creature tokens. The third turn allows you to search your deck for an artifact with a mana cost of zero or one and then put it directly into play. Even if you're only looking at Commander, this allows you to put a Sol Ring directly into play, but that's probably the tamest thing you can do with this thing.

7. Dragon's Rage Channeler

Another beatdown

A lot of power for just one mana makes Dragon's Rage Channeler a force to be reckoned with - that's before you add in delirum, too. | Image credit: Wizards of the Coast

We've got another one-mana Red creature here that also happens to be a powerhouse. Dragon's Rage Channeler is a 1/1 that allows you to surveil whenever you cast a noncreature spell. Surveil is a mechanic that lets you look at the top card of your library, and either keep it there or put it into the graveyard.

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The card also has delirium. This is an effect that triggers if you have four or more card types in your graveyard. As long as that's the case, Dragon's Rage Channeler becomes a 3/3 with flying that has to attack each turn. It's incredibly easy to achieve delirium when you're also activating surveil regularly, and that makes this a very consistent beatdown.

8. Shardless Agent

An incredible reprint

It might not technically be a 2021 Magic: The Gathering card, but Shardless Agent's latest reprint still earns its place here. | Image credit: Wizards of the Coast

We've bent the rules a bit here, as Shardless Agent isn't a new card, but it did make a big leap in 2021. Having originally released within Planechase 2012, the card was only legal in Legacy, Vintage and Commander up until its re-release in this year’s Modern Horizons 2. Thanks to this re-release, it's now legal in Modern and it's a powerhouse.

Shardless Agent is a three-mana Green and Blue 2/2 creature with cascade. That means that when you cast it, you get to exile cards from the top of your library until you hit a nonland card with a lower mana value, and then you can cast that card for free. It's been a staple in Legacy and beyond for a long time, and its appearance in Modern is just as strong.

9. Kalain, Reclusive Painter

Treasure for everyone

Kalain's use of treasure tokens reflect the growing importance and power of the mechanic during 2021. | Image credit: Wizards of the Coast

Kalain, Reclusive Painter is a two-mana Black and Red 1/2 that reads: "When Kalain, Reclusive Painter enters the battlefield, create a Treasure token. Other creatures you control enter the battlefield with an additional +1/+1 counter on them for each mana from a Treasure spent to cast them."

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The card is good for sure, but it's on this list because we feel as though it represents the way treasure tokens have evolved this year. They've gone from being a somewhat underwhelming and underutilised mechanic in Ixalan to something that borders on being broken thanks to the likes of cards like Korvold, Fae-Cursed King.

10. Valki, God of Lies // Tibalt, Cosmic Imposter

So good it changed the game

Vali and Tibalt are a true power coupling for Magic: The Gathering in 2021. | Image credit: Wizards of the Coast

Finally, we have a MTG card that represents how outdated some mechanics can be. Valki, God of Lies is a two-mana god, but it's not the thing that made sure cascade had to change. The other side of Valki is a seven-mana planeswalker called Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor. It used to be that if you cast a cascade card, such as Shardless Agent, that you could then cast either side of a card like this.

However, it became incredibly clear incredibly quickly that this simply wasn't the right way to do things. As such, and thanks to this one card, the way that cascade works now has been fixed to accommodate the new era of double-faced cards we're now in. Valki, God of Lies // Tibalt, Cosmic Imposter might not be the strongest card of the year, but it's had one of the greatest effects on MTG in 2021.

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