How Does Commander 2020 Hold Up?
This is the final part of my analysis series concerning the Commander 2020 preconstructed decks so if you’re looking for the previous parts on the Sultai, Abzan, Jeskai, Temur or Mardu decks, find them here.
It’s been an interesting set release for Commander. The Commander decks are directly tied to a new set release and are clearly built with new mechanics in mind. Let’s focus on how this new Commander set holds up and how releasing hand in hand with Ikoria shaped up.
Wizards is known for purposely making these decks on a lower power level in order to give players the ‘experience’ of upgrading their deck. This is showcased by the Sultai and Abzan decks this year. Both have potentially potent Commanders designed around Ikoria mechanics, but they lack the higher end finishers that Wizards intends to use to sell packs. As well, these new mechanics only have one set worth of cards to pull from. Therefore card selection is even more limited from not being able to pull from over 25 years of Magic history.
The Abzan deck is able to get away with going through Magic’s history worth of value creatures with powerful keywords. However, the Mutate deck struggles to accomplish that. There are certainly some creatures that interact favourably with the mechanic, but overall it lacks the choices that so often draws Commander players to brewing new decks. As well, with so few options the deck keeps itself at a relatively low power level in comparison to how the other decks will upgrade. There also comes the issue of the deck being so narrow in cards used, a large number of the older card options have already started to spike, pricing several players out of building the deck. The deck needs powerful enablers to work consistently which also aren’t cheap. Building this deck will either result in a lower power 99 card standard deck, or an overpriced middle of the road deck and either way, you’ll be stuck spending too much money for upgrading unless Ikoria is heavily printed and opened.
That’s enough of beating down the Sultai deck. Let’s take a look at some of the key cards from Ikoria that could have been in the decks and you’re now going to be picking up immediately.
All five of these cards are objectively powerful in the decks that they’re attached to. Inspired Ultimatum is likely the least powerful of the bunch, and Genesis Ultimatum will often just read draw five cards or put some lands into play for the Temur deck. They’re each powerful effects that will see play in Commander. While the mana cost is always going to be high and getting the correct colours can be more difficult, the precon decks have always supported having incredibly long and drawn out games because none of them can close out a game efficiently. Adding cards like these that will add just a little bit of value to the decks. These will be strong inclusions for players collections and you can expect to see people running them soon enough. Eerie Ultimatum and Ruinous Ultimatum are the real standouts here that will be breakout spells from the new set.
The Cycling Lands
Each of these is an auto-include in three or four colour decks in the format going forward. Fetchable tri colour sources in this format that can be cycled are absurdly valuable for most players. These likely won’t see any play at cEDH tables, but anything below that yes. Once you start running fetch lands and Farseek or Nature’s Lore, the power of these cards goes up dramatically. Commander players everywhere will be rejoicing in these new cards. But it would have been nice for them to be printed into the new Commander decks. This cycle will be what sells a lot of Ikoria packs for Wizards.
The Seb McKinnon Cycle
The new Mythos spells like Mythos of Nethroi and Mythos of Snapdax are powerful spells but not insane. There are more effective alternates in the format but they would have made for excellent inclusions in these new decks for new and old players. They’ll likely see some niche play at more budget tables. They would have helped enhance the power level of the decks nicely while not taking away from Ikoria pack sales.
There are of course other big misses from the main set like Offspring’s Revenge, Death’s Oasis and Yidaro, Wandering Monster, but we can’t expect Wizards to include everything from this new set. But the problem is the inclusions that we did get are mostly bad draft cards that won’t see any play. It wouldn’t have taken much to make these decks a lot better than they are currently. Most of the cards mentioned are reasonable budget inclusions so everyone will at least have easy access to these cards. The value of the set was reasonable overall but it definitely could have been a lot better.
In terms of value, the clear winner was the Jeskai Cycling deck. Fierce Guardianship will drive this deck’s value up over time making it the best value for both long and short term purchases. As well, the deck carries with it the best reprints in the form of The Locust God and Fluctuator. The overall power level and upgradability of the deck is also rather high so many players are looking to play Gavi, Nest Warden as one of their next Commander decks. You can anticipate losing a few games to a cycled Decree of Annihilation once this set hits.
Something to touch on for value purposes is the cycle of free spells. Flawless Maneuver, Fierce Guardianship, Deadly Rollick, Deflecting Swat and Obscuring Haze are cards that will have long term effects on the format. Free spells are never a safe area for design as history has proven and these are no exceptions. Each of these is likely to find a home in Commander very quickly and will be cards you’ll be playing for a long time. As well, the value they hold greatly impacts these decks. Since this is their only printing, they have a high starting point and will go up slowly over time. Teferi’s Protection has a similar history for us to compare to so get your copies early so that you don’t kick yourself later. It’s one of the more powerful cycles to be added in recent years with minimal requirements or drawbacks. They’re just incredibly playable effects made powerful by not having to pay for them.
Back to the decks as a whole. From a playability perspective, the Jeskai and Temur decks look to be the top decks. The Abzan deck has some power in it but needs a lot of enablers to get going. The Sultai deck just doesn’t have the card selection it needs to be effective. The Mardu deck is clunky from both the mana base and the converted mana cost of humans that enable the tribal synergies. If you’re to play the decks out of the box, the Mardu deck definitely has an upper hand from its Commander being consistently powerful and a lack of board wipes in the other lists. However, its inability to close games out really hurts it against some of the explosive turns that the other decks (not Sultai) have access to.
One thing I do have to point out is the ‘goad’ enchantments that are included in each of the decks. Whenever people start upgrading these decks, expect these to be among the first of the cuts made. They’re a waste of three slots in each of the decks that I can’t wait to remove. They’re clunky, cost a lot of mana and offer minimal payoff. The only reasonably powered one is Martial Impetus but even then, justifying this card in white decks is going to be difficult. Enchantress decks likely won’t want these and neither will voltron decks or mid-range. They’re cards that remain at a lower power level, and don’t have a proper home in Commander. Another new cycle to add to the bulk bins.
This isn’t a bad year for Commander decks, but it's also far from some of our best years. The quality of the decks is all over the place, but once everything is taken into consideration, I believe the ranking of the quality is something like as follows:
5. Sultai Mutate (Enhanced Evolution)
4. Abzan Keywords (Symbiotic Swarm)
3. Mardu Humans (Ruthless Regiment)
2. Temur Spells (Arcane Maelstrom)
1. Jeskai Cycling (Timeless Wisdom)
Well, that’s it for this year. Some good reprints, an insane cycle of free spells and some good new Commanders. Wish the decks were stronger out of the box but at least we have some solid new options for brewing. Which deck are you hoping to pick up? Do you agree with the rankings? Let me know in the comments below!