The Jeskai Cycle in C20
This is the third part of my analysis series concerning the Commander 2020 preconstructed decks so if you’re looking for the previous parts on the Sultai or Abzan decks, you can find them here!
With the Sultai and Abzan decks out of the way, we get to continue this cycle of decks with a few more cyclers! The Jeskai deck has a lot of people excited, so let’s take a look at why and if it’s warranted. We’ll be looking at out of the box power level, synergy, upgradability, and overall card value to judge the deck.
Commander: Gavi, Nest Warden
Colours: Jeskai (Blue, Red, White)
Core Theme(s): Cycling
This is likely the most focused and tight list of this year’s decks. A total of 31 cards in the deck have cycling, and the remaining cards are primarily enablers or payoffs. While there are the obligatory new cards in the deck, the list remains far more focused than most Commander precons. When the number of cards with this mechanic is this high, there’s usually a lack of payoffs or enablers. However, this deck seems to be an exception.
The mana curve of this deck is a bit harder to assess than the usual lists that we evaluate. In this deck, you generally care more about the cycling costs as you won’t be casting many cards that aren’t payoffs or enablers. There are some problematic cards being clunky in their casting costs like Akim, the Soaring Wind or Isperia, Supreme Judge but the deck is generally efficient enough to be able to run these cards as well. Although it's a very strong list out of the box, I would say that the deck could use a few more cycling focused cards.
The mana itself also seems to be of a higher quality. While a large portion of the mana base enters the battlefield tapped, the ability to find your colours shouldn’t be lacking. The deck has the ability to deal with mana flood due to so many lands having cycling printed on them. The inclusion of Hostile Desert is one that I can’t say I agree with. It dilutes the mana fixing while offering little payoff as a creature land.
As per usual, the deck suffers from Wizards refusing to reprint some of the better lands that tap for two colours from recent years. Temple of Epiphany, Glacial Fortress or the new c]Raugrin Triome[/c] would greatly increase the power of this deck, the latter being one of the best lands this deck could potentially have but I’ll be touching on some of these exclusions at a later date.
Let’s go over some of the other generals printed in this list.
Akim, the Soaring Wind
Akim, the Soaring Wind is a card built to be a token payoff but fails to generate adequate tokens itself. Cards like Kykar, Wind’s Fury generate so many more tokens without requiring the enabling that Akim, the Soaring Wind does with a better payoff. Paying the mana for Flying Crane Technique and only giving double strike for all your tokens seems less than ideal as well. The restriction being the first time each turn just keeps the power of this Commander down rather low. Which is a shame because everyone loves a good Bird Dinosaur tribal deck. One of the best creature types we’ve seen printed on a creature since Derevi, Empyrial Tactician was printed as a Bird Wizard.
Shabraz & Brallin
Speaking of some of the best creature types we have on Commanders, how about a Shark Bird? Shabraz, the Skyshark and Brallin, Skyshark Rider are two of the most fun Partner Commanders we’ve seen in quite some time. I anticipate seeing some hilarious Sharkboy and Lavagirl alters coming out of these Partners. However in terms of actual playability concerns, this is among the more playable of the Partner Commanders in the set. The cards are a solid payoff for playing with a large number of cycling cards or just drawing cards as a blue deck does, or discarding them as a red deck loves to. Pairing these cards up with cycling lands and Goblin Lore effects can make for a rather unique build that I haven’t seen in Commander so far.
As well, in the precon themselves, they serve well in both the Command Zone and the deck. Shabraz is a little high on the curve and I’d rather see them in the Command Zone but they serve as a strong win condition for the deck out of the box. Also, the flavour of giving any of the humans in the deck a ride (mainly Brallin as seen in the art), is the best part of this set.
Unfortunately, something had to give, and most of the new cards printed into this set are a touch too clunky with a couple of exclusions. The main powerful new spell being printed into this set is the insane Fierce Guardianship. A new staple for blue decks throughout the format that really doesn’t have any reason for existing. Negate has been a solid inclusion to most blue-based decks in the format for quite some time, but to just remove the mana cost from it just results in a card where there’s very little reason for you not to run it. Free counterspells are often a dangerous game for design and this card has little to no drawback for running it in the format. At its absolute worst it’s a three-mana Negate which isn’t groundbreaking but it won’t hurt either, but you’ll rarely be casting it for that cost.
The card currently holds a CAD $24.99 preorder price and I only see that going up. It’s universally playable and players are already looking to get their hands on several copies for their decks. This is without a doubt the strongest card in this cycle of free spells if you control a Commander.
On the less powerful side is Cryptic Trilobite. This card mainly just functions as a storage land for cycling cards or other abilities. While a fine card, I don’t think it’s quite what this deck wants to be doing overall. The fact that the mana it generates can only be used for abilities leaves it in a less than desirable position when this deck is mainly struggling to cast spells on or ahead of curve.
On the not powerful at all side is Agitator Ant, a red creature that doesn’t really help the core strategy of this deck, nor is inherently powerful on its own. This card may find a home in a group hug deck or bigger red strategies but I can’t see it seeing play in many decks, unfortunately. This one will likely be considered a miss for both being in this deck for playability and value reasons.
Surly Badgersaur on the other hand is very clearly built for the cycling deck as a potential enabler and payoff in one. However, I think the abilities are just a touch too weak to be considered for long term. It definitely helps the deck for out of the box play and will likely hold value for its unique effect. However the power of the card itself is just a touch too low for the format overall.
Another set, another red phoenix card. Spellpyre Phoenix isn’t a bad card if you can find ways to put it in the graveyard consistently but without cycling on the card itself, and minimal ways to discard in the deck itself I don’t see this card seeing much play. Likely to be another bulk rare/mythic red phoenix that everyone has a copy of but nobody remembers ever buying or trading for.
Ethereal Forager is an interesting inclusion for this deck. This card holds potential, but the proper home will likely be in the Temur Spellslinger deck. In this list, there are only twelve spells so enabling this card is a lot harder than you would think. The card’s power level also isn’t that high, as returning maybe one instant or sorcery a turn is often done more efficiently by other cards.
In terms of long term value, it is currently demanding the price of CAD $5.99 and I see this card staying around this price for the long term. While not an amazing card, players do love recursion in spellslinger decks. And let's be real, the art itself is just amazing.
No Commander deck is complete without one card that swings the board in a crazy way and the newly printed Herald of the Forgotten really fits that role. The problem with the card is the deck isn’t built to win the game with cycling permanents, but instead just gain a fair amount of value. Eleven of the permanent cards with cycling in the deck are lands and only six creatures have cycling. The five enchantments with cycling are definitely going to be the most powerful options because they are the most powerful enablers without being game-ending spells. The fact that this card costs eight mana is rough, but I do think that you’ll be able to get enough value off of this to propel you ahead.
The one and only new card that has cycling on it is Dismantling Wave. An effect similar to what Decree of Annihilation would be accomplishing in this deck but on a much more fair power level. Rarely will you be paying retail for the cycling effect on this card. Paying the three mana for the regular effect seems more than reasonable for most white decks in the format. This card will likely see play in various other white decks requiring efficient artifact or enchantment removal.
The card I remain the most unsure of in this Commander deck for long term playability and value is definitely Crystalline Resonance. While a potentially powerful effect if you can consistently cycle every turn, it stands to be a clunky draw in many games. I think in the right deck this card could hold its own but the necessity to cycle to enable it rather than use mana consistently akin to Mirage Mirror keeps the card down.
As mentioned earlier, the overall value of this deck is quite high. Thanks to the much-needed reprints of Fluctuator, The Locust God and the always appreciated Windfall, reprints are healthy in this list. As well, thanks to Fierce Guardianship this deck is by far, the most likely to slowly increase in price over time. This deck has proven to give the best value out of the box from any Commander deck this year.
Upgrading the Deck
Now let’s talk about some budget upgrades we can make to this deck and how you trim some of the fat into an even more powerful list.
Tour de France
When upgrading this deck the first cards to cut are the ones that either do nothing for the core strategy or cost too much mana for too little of a payoff. The mana base has stayed largely the same due to how heavy it is on the cycling cards. The land to cut first is Hostile Desert because it doesn’t really do anything of importance for the deck. For creatures cut cards like Agitator Ant as they don’t support the key plan of the deck and would be better used for efficient cycling creatures like Cloud of Faeries or spells that help the deck.
The first cards to add in are cheap cyclers that offer solid value or more efficient payoffs. I think some good budget examples of this would come from Drannith Stinger or Shark Typhoon. Both of these have cycling abilities but are castable for potential payoffs once you’ve gained enough card selection. Yidaro, Wandering Monster will also prove to be an interesting card as you’ll rarely be casting it, but the fact that upon cycling it shuffles back into your library and could potentially be a free spell eventually does seem powerful. Definitely a powerful card that comes in on a budget.
Once you’ve fixed up the mana base with whichever cards you have in your collection (or are within your budget), considering cards like Inspired Ultimatum should be on your radar. The card holds potential in this deck as both removal and card draw. While not as powerful as some of the other new ultimatums, this card does have some power in this type of deck.
I think the one card I’ve included that you should perhaps be wary of including is Decree of Annihilation. This is an incredibly powerful card with Gavi, but one that might be a little too powerful for some playgroups. The ability to cycle it for free and blow up the whole board is rough for opponents and often will be game-ending. You'll rarely cast this card for its regular cost thanks to Gavi. If your table wouldn’t be okay with you running something like Armageddon in your list, you should probably avoid running this card.
The number of cards with cycling available through the history of Magic is rather high, and recent sets have made some really wonderful payoffs that are budget-friendly. This deck comes out of the box with a reasonably high power level and can easily be upgraded on a tight budget. This deck is almost everything you’d want out of a preconstructed deck for value and playability and I look forward to picking up my copy of the deck. The hype behind this deck is warranted and everyone will soon be able to enjoy either cycling through their deck or playing a shark in the Command Zone.
That deck was an absolute treat to go over and it will likely be a very popular pick for players both new and old. The power level of the deck is higher than what Wizards usually prints with a solid mana base and suite of spells that get even better with some budget upgrades. After setting the bar so high, will the Temur Spellslinger deck be able to hold up? Let’s look at the Temur Commander deck “Arcane Maelstrom” next.