The Abzan Swarm in C20
This is the second part of my analysis series concerning the Commander 2020 preconstructed decks so if you’re looking for the previous part on the Sultai deck, you can find it here!
After checking out the Sultai Mutate deck, let’s take a look at the Abzan Kathril, Aspect Warper deck more interested in utilizing its graveyard for value. We’ll be looking at out of the box power level, synergy, upgradability, and overall card value to judge them.
Commander: Kathril, Aspect Warper
Colours: Abzan (White, Black, Green)
Core Theme(s): Counters
To start things off, this decklist is actually reasonably focused. 27 out of 34 creatures in the deck itself have some sort of keyword on them or exist to enable the rest of the deck through self-mill, ramp or just win conditions. I’m also rather excited to see Soulflayer in what is essentially a deck built around that effect. As well, the spells to support those cards interact well with the graveyard and offer some sort of value engine. As far as the overall design goes, this deck is actually really solid, but there are a few shortcomings in the build that are easily fixable with budget upgrades.
The first key problem with this deck is the mana curve. The vast majority of games you play with this deck will result in you playing nothing until either turn three or four, leaving several turns wasted in the game. With 25 cards that cost five mana or more, playing this deck efficiently may prove to be difficult. The colour combination chosen for this deck has some wonderful low converted mana cost spells that would serve to enable the key strategy revolving around the graveyard as well as card selection to sculpt your hand into the later turns. I’m actually rather surprised and disappointed by the number of key enablers being printed into Ikoria but have not been included in this list.
The main exclusion from the set I’d like to point out here is The Ozolith. A card one would expect to be an auto-include in this preconstructed deck remains absent, unfortunately. I expect people to be adding this card very quickly. While there are other unfortunate exclusions, let’s come back to those later when looking at an upgraded list.
The mana base itself seems to be perfectly acceptable. Eighteen basic lands seem like it should be fine for a preconstructed deck, but the list could use more two-mana ramp spells. I’m happy to see Cultivate in this list but it should be paired up with Rampant Growth and Nature’s Lore to keep the deck going effectively. It would be nice if these decks would start seeing more lands that come into play untapped like a Llanowar Wastes to accompany the Caves of Koilos currently in the decklist. As well, reprints of cycles like Sunpetal Grove would help boost the power level of the deck drastically.
As far as Commanders available in the deck go, I actually think Kathril, Aspect Warper is the strongest of the cards available. The ability to generate a powerful board out of nowhere while taking advantage of all the creatures that have died will prove to be powerful. A key takeaway for Kathril is that the card specifies any creature to have the counters put on them. For all the rules care, you can put every keyword on Kathril and then hit an opponent for 21 Commander damage out of nowhere if you have enough keywords in your graveyard! Of course, if that doesn’t tickle your fancy, there are a couple of other options for you as well.
Tayam, Luminous Enigma
Tayam, Luminous Enigma is the legendary Commander for you to swap one for one within this deck. While Tayam has some potentially interesting effects in the rest of the Commander format if you build around them, within the confines of the precon the card doesn’t do a whole lot. When in the 99, the card has the ability to give vigilance counters to Kathril and friends, but outside of that the deck doesn’t actually have that many permanents that cost three or less. It’s definitely nice to hit additional land drops off of it and I think it works well enough with Kathril in the Command zone, but I don’t think it stands well enough on its own.
Yannik & Nikara
The Partner Commanders on the deck, unfortunately, suffer a similar fate. Yannik, Scavenging Sentinel and Nikara, Lair Scavenger again offer interesting effects in a deck that is more interested in ‘enter the battlefield’ triggers, but here they don’t do much. If moved into the Command Zone in the precon, at best they exile your biggest creature to put a handful of +1/+1 counters onto your already big creatures. Most of the cards in this deck are included for their keywords, not for random value. The way you’d want to take advantage of these Partners would be to build a deck all about smaller creatures/tokens that gain counters consistently or you can flicker them repeatedly for value. The deck as it currently stands fails to take advantage of either Commander and the requirement for creatures leaving to have a +1/+1 counter may be too high for Nikara to really take off outside of lower power precon decks.
The overall power level of this deck remains somewhat unclear. While the deck has some potentially powerful plays, the enablers are rather lacking in the list as it currently stands. The number of hands you see with this deck that end up just doing nothing or are too clunky to compete will be high, but if you can get your mana online and fill your graveyard full of goodies with cards like Deadbridge Chant, this deck will end games very effectively. The deck can explode out of nowhere and that is always something you’d like to see in a precon deck. It’s a shame the number of enablers is just so low in this list and the overall quality is lacking. The deck also suffers from some less than ideal additions that easily can be cut when upgrading. Some are unfortunately new cards printed exclusively in this deck, so let’s look at a few of those.
Cartographer’s Hawk is a pretty easy starting point by giving white a ramp creature. Playing this on turn two is probably one of the best plays that this deck has available to it, generating card advantage for every turn it's on the battlefield and able to connect with an opponent. I easily see this card turning into a format staple for white decks that don’t have access to green.
Unlike the hawk, I think the warlock Daring Fiendbonder won’t see much play in our wonderful format. Having haste on the card is certainly nice for this deck specifically, but it’s not a card you really want to be stuck casting. This card has little-to-no power on the board itself, it just wants to die and be put into your graveyard. Paying four mana for that seems like a pretty high barrier when other cards offer a fair amount more value for less mana. I don’t see this holding value or seeing play in the long run so I wouldn’t worry too much about this card.
I think the award for best art in the Commander 2020 set will easily be going to Slippery Bogbonder not because of its colouring or its lovely style, but because Slippery Bogle has a friend guys! Flash and hexproof are two powerful keywords to have on a creature and the number of combat tricks potentially available with this card keeps the power level higher. While not likely to see any play at cEDH tables, decks taking advantage of the new counters or even +1/+1 counters as opposed to equipment and auras will look forward to running this card for the foreseeable future.
While Vitality Hunter doesn’t have hexproof, I think it could see some play in green white Commander decks going forward. While not a game-ending spell, it fits nicely into a lot of curves at four mana while holding the potential to turn into a much larger threat later in the game. Designed with strategies based around building a large board, placing lifelink counters on an Ulvenwald Hydra or Angel of Sanctions does seem appealing. Not likely a game-ending card but the mana cost keeps the potential on this card alive.
The last of the new creatures in this deck is Avenging Huntbonder. This, unfortunately, stands to be another bulk rare for white Commander players. It costs too much mana for an insufficient effect and mediocre stats. This card only stands to help this list by having a creature with double strike to dispose of into the graveyard, but I think most of the time you’d rather just have lower cost creatures that do the same like Solemn Recruit who’s already in the deck.
Another disappointing addition to the format appears to be Obscuring Haze. Probably the only one of the new ‘free’ cards to be printed in this set that’s a real let down. A free fog is still a fog effect but without the recursion capability that comes with Spore Frog or Constant Mists. A free spell is an undeniably powerful effect, but this effect is just mediocre at best and will rarely be run.
Speaking of free cards, Selective Adaptation hopes to be the next card to try and make See the Unwritten effects more mainstream. While a strong overall effect and a potential upgrade in a Soulflayer style deck, the card falls into the same issue of its six mana casting cost and being sorcery speed. The fact that you will likely be using up an entire turn with the real possibility of getting nothing out of it is just rough. As well, the list would likely prefer See the Unwritten as it holds the potential to get two creatures instead of one onto the field and it sees one more card.
Phage the Untouchable Commander players, rejoice! For you have a new card that you will be fighting for as it goes up in price! Welcome Netherborn Altar to your 99 right beside your Command Beacon which has also been driven to absurd pricing. While this card is currently only demanding the meager price of CAD $3.49 at the time of writing, this card stands to drastically go up in price. Command Beacon holds a similar history but only time will tell on this one. This card does stand to hold most of the value in this deck especially sealed for long term purchases. The life loss will likely keep it out of other decks but it is minimal in comparison to the value gained from it.
And of course, there’s the obligatory utility land but in this deck, we have a brand new option in the form of Nesting Grounds. It, unfortunately, suffers the fate of just being too narrow to see a fair amount of play. You’ll want it in one type of deck and only in specific builds of that type of deck. It definitely holds a unique effect that could help it maintain some modest value but the card it’s best just isn’t that great. If you want to have the maximum power move, remove ten ice counters from Dark Depths using this card. Nobody will ever forget that.
Upgrading the Deck
What is forgettable is the overall value contained in this deck. Outside of Cartographer’s Hawk, Slippery Bogbonder and Netherborn Altar, few cards in the deck hold value or will maintain it. The reprints available in the deck are also generally letdowns without anything big. Nearly every card that’s being reprinted were $2 or less and doesn't show any signs of going up in price any time soon. While the price of the deck is reasonable at launch due to the three aforementioned cards, you won’t be picking this up for miscellaneous reprints. The deck itself does hold enough value to make it worth the lower asking price of CAD $54.99.
That’s enough of how the deck stands out of the box, let’s take a look at a slightly upgraded list based on some of the things I’ve pointed out.
We Are Venom
The main change in this list comes from the spells available. The original options were less than ideal for card selection and ramp. With this list, you should be able to cast your spells closer to the curve and find those silver bullets you need or hit more keywords for your Commander. The mana base has stayed relatively the same with the exception of cutting a basic land given the increase in ramp in the deck. Most of the additions are very low budget cards like Grapple with the Past, but I did also include Entomb and Reanimate, which you can easily cut if they’re not within your budget. For upgrading the mana base, I would recommend you start with the recent check lands from Ixalan and Dominaria like Woodland Cemetery as they’re at a reasonably low price currently thanks to their standard reprinting (and now cycling out). Past that, consider adding the Ravnica shocklands then fetch lands from Khans of Tarkir or Zendikar.
As well, I think the alternate Commander available in the deck should be early cuts. If you want to gain more Sun Titan value, feel free to keep Tayam, Luminous Enigma in the deck (also modify the curve for it). The Partners are likely best leaving. As you have more time and budget consider upgrading some of the creatures in the deck for ones that may be a more appealing mana cost with the same keywords or strict upgrades. Some of the creatures in this deck just aren’t ideal choices for the long term but serve us for budget purposes.
As I mentioned earlier, the fact that The Ozolith wasn’t immediately included in this deck seems like a huge misfire from Wizards.Death’s Oasis also falls into the same boat. A powerful effect for Commander, and will likely stay a budget card. The same thing can be said for Eerie Ultimatum on the budget side of things. The card could have potentially skyrocketed this deck in power level above the other Commander decks out of the box. It’s best if that one was left out for some players sanity. Definitely a must-have once you begin upgrading the deck.
The power level of the deck out of the box seems to be acceptable despite the clunky mana curve. However, this deck really shines after being upgraded. Upon upgrades, it makes for a fun and interesting alternate to your average Karador, Ghost Chieftain deck that should serve Commander players well. As the counters mechanic continues to be explored, I can see this Commander becoming increasingly popular with players. A solid inclusion in the preconstructed Commander decks for this year, and I hope bodes well for the other decks that we’ll be going over. Next up, we’ll be looking at the Jeskai Commander deck ‘Timeless Wisdom".