While Commander 2020 isn’t the largest of the commander sets ever released (Commander 2013 had 356 cards), it does come packed with the largest number of new cards ever in a commander set. 71 cards appear for the very first time in this set and, as with all designed-for-commander-set cards, they are also legal for play in all eternal formats. The set also boasts 251 reprints which includes some much-needed ones. Wizards of the Coast has also gone back to the format of having five different commander preconstructed decks in this year’s release rather than the four we have had of late since the decks focus on the five three-colour wedges (a colour and its enemy allied pair) and are as follows:
- Ruthless Regiment – Human Tribal Theme – White, Black & Red – Savai (Mardu)
- Arcane Maelstrom – Instants Matter Theme – Blue, Red & Green – Ketria (Temur)
- Symbiotic Swarm – Counters Theme – Black, Green & White – Indatha (Abzan)
- Timeless Wisdom – Cycling Theme – Red, White & Blue – Raugrin (Jeskai)
- Enhanced Evolution – Mutate Theme – Green, Blue & Black – Zagoth (Sultai)
These decks have also been released a lot earlier this year since this set’s release coincides with Ikoria, Lair of Behemoths’ release date and the wedge-coloured theme of the set itself. The cards new to this set feature Ikoria predominantly and some even tie into or feature the main Ikoria set mechanics.
To begin with, I would like to focus on the new legendary creatures, both as commanders in their own rights and existing deck archetypes that they would slot into. There are 20 of them split across the five decks with four in each deck. Those four include two wedge multicoloured cards and a bonder-monster partner pair that includes a monocoloured human bonder (each of a different class) and their allied coloured monster “companion”. We shall start with the “face” cards of each deck as these tend to dictate the deck’s overall theme and synergy.
The “Face” Commanders
The Mardu, or should we now say Savai, colour combination has mostly lent itself to aggro commander deck builds and Jirina Kudro is no exception to this trend. She is the latest in a series of tribal commanders that allows deckbuilders to be as creative as they can within her colour identity. Find any white, black and/or red humans, chuck them into a deck, and have her lead your human army. The clear path is to push for aggression since her abilities pump your humans and she summons more soldiers to her cause every time you cast her from the command zone. You’ll soon amass lethal damage in no time. As a four mana 3/3, she’s unlikely to join the fray herself and you’ll probably want to protect her as she commands her army from the rear.
An alternative way to build Jirina is to pick humans with useful abilities to put into your deck, but the lack of blue may leave this strategy a bit lacking. The Ruthless Regiment preconstructed deck comes with a heap of value humans out-of-the-box including aggressive reprints such as Odric, Master Tactician, Alesha, Who Smiles at Death (a good alternate Commander), Adriana, Captain of the Guard, and Garna, the Bloodflame but you’ll want to immediately add a Lightning Greaves or similar to the deck to protect Jirina. As a member of the 99, Jirina is still valuable for her pump ability and her first ability is worded in a way that will still reward you for casting her after you’ve cast your actual commander.
Kalamax, the Stormsire
Kalamax, the Stormsire is the headliner for the Ketria (Temur for those of you playing since Khans) coloured deck, Arcane Maelstrom. As a hefty four mana 4/4 elemental dinosaur, it is yet another of this set’s commanders that adds +1/+1 counters to themselves which means that it is also a viable commander for dealing that 21 lethal damage should you wish to do so. With the word “storm” in its name, one would hope for something that synergises with the infamous Storm mechanic and Kalamax doesn’t disappoint by copying your first instant every turn (even during your opponents’ turns) but only if Kalamax is tapped.
So, a deckbuild spearheaded by this dino is certainly going to be of the spellslinging variety, but what does Kalamax bring that previous Temur commanders didn’t? For anyone wanting to copy spells, Riku of Two Reflections was your go-to guy(s). He copied both instants and sorceries, albeit for a cost, but it wasn’t limited to one a turn and didn’t require Riku to be tapped. So, is Kalamax better as a commander or one of the 99 with Riku at the helm? Kalamax’s second ability is what changes everything by making it bigger every time you copy an instant. Nonetheless, Riku will trigger Kalamax happily, along with every Fork spell in blue and red, not forgetting the new Twinning Staff artifact that appears in this deck.
The deck also includes numerous spells to copy and other typical “spells matter” cards that would find a home in many Izzet builds. Notable creature reprints include Charmbreaker Devils, Melek, Izzet Paragon, Djinn Illuminatus, Rashmi, Eternities Crafter, Talrand, Sky Summoner, and Wort, the Raidmother; while we get some useful instant spells to copy in Artifact Mutation, Chaos Warp, Crop Rotation, and Hunting Pack.
For a real powerhouse addition, try adding Chandras Ignition to this build for a one-sided board clear but don’t forget to add ways to tap Kalamax down in the first place. Obvious inclusions are Springleaf Drum, Aura of Dominion for instant Kalamax untaps, Earthcraft for some land untaps, and Opposition for some control aspect in tapping down something pesky on your opponents’ boards.
Kathril, Aspect Warper
Hailing from Indatha, the home of the nightmare clade on Ikoria, Kathril, Aspect Warper is typical of the monsters found there that tend to deal with life, death and reanimation. Even though that’s to be expected from Abzan colours, Kathril also follows the secondary Abzan commander theme, counters. We’ve seen similar counter manipulation on Daghatar the Adamant and Ghave, Guru of Spores except that this time we’re taking advantage of the new ability counters that debuted in Ikoria.
As the headliner for Symbiotic Swarm, Kathril takes advantage of the nine keyword ability counters we get in the main Ikoria set (flying, first strike, deathtouch, lifelink, hexproof, menace, reach, trample, and vigilance) along with two additional ones: double strike and indestructible which only appear on cards in the Commander 2020 set. In addition, and like so many other commander designs in this set, it also puts +1/+1 counters on itself to become a viable commander damage threat on its own. Considering the number of evasion keywords in the list, you’ll be wanting to put creatures with as many keywords on them into the graveyard as soon as possible.
As a five mana 3/3, Kathril isn’t that great but with any number of ability keyword counters and the +1/+1 counters that come with them, it will soon be a force to be reckoned with. Cairn Wanderer (and the worse Soulflayer) and Majestic Myriarch that also care about abilities in graveyards are already in the deck out of the box. Other notable reprints in the preconstructed deck to get you started with abilities are Zetalpa, Primal Dawn with five keywords that you’ll want to Entomb as early as possible, Akroma, Angel of Wrath with four possible keywords, Archon of Valors Reach with three keywords, and the hilarious uncommon duo of Aerial Responder and Vampire Nighthawk each with three keywords.
To make sure all your creatures benefit from the strategy, Wizards even included Odric, Lunarch Marshal who will happily pass on the abilities to your whole team for maximum fun. Kathril is not a card that would casually sit in the 99 of another deck but as far as the precons go, this one packs a lot of powerful synergy straight out of the box.
Gavi, Nest Warden
Timeless Wisdom is the cycling matters deck that attempts to create additional value from cycling cards by later replaying them in some form from your graveyard. Gavi, Nest Warden assists by making each first spell you cycle on every turn (yes, your opponents’ turns too) free to cycle. In addition, she sports a draw trigger that rewards you with the cutest creature token ever – a dinosaur cat token. This token joins the ranks of cat dragon and cat bird as some of the cutest official tokens ever printed.
A Gavi build will actually share a lot in common with a Xyris, the Writhing Storm build (which we’ll look at in the next article) but instead of behaving like a group hug and drawing loads from other effects, Gavi will draw more through cycling and get the additional value from each cycled spell. The deck plays in a similar fashion to many cycling decks from the Amonkhet era. In fact, a lot of cycling matters cards from those blocks, and earlier cycling blocks, have found their way into the preconstructed deck. You’ll find some cycling powerhouse reprints such as Eternal Dragon, Curator of Mysteries, Akromas Vengeance, and Decree of Justice, along with the artifact enablers Abandoned Sarcophagus and the badly needed reprint of Fluctuator; and many value cycling matters enchantments such as Astral Drift, Drake Haven, New Perspectives, Tectonic Reformation, Spirit Cairn and Lightning Rift.
This is one of those decks that looks like it doesn’t do much on paper but once you’ve got a few pieces set up, you’ll be cycling spells and raising a dinosaur cat army in no time. Make sure to add a Jeskai Ascendancy to try and build up those cute cats first though. Gavi leads to a completely novel deck build that we haven’t seen before in a Jeskai colour combination, so she won’t be part of the 99 of another deck and will only ever be a Commander herself.
Otrimi, the Ever-Playful
Otrimi, the Ever-Playful is one of the new beasts from Zagoth (Sultai wedge) that features the new mutate mechanic. As such, Enhanced Evolution is the easiest deck to modify since you’ll almost immediately want to include other Zagoth cards from the Ikoria set proper into your deck including the apex predator itself, Brokkos, Apex of Forever (Bio-Quartz Spacegodzilla for those that only remember the kaiju card version).
Otrimi is all about returning mutate creature cards from your graveyard to your hand so that you can continuously create some big mega monster with which to exact out some lethal commander damage. Considering that mutate is a new mechanic, none of the reprints in the deck are viable targets but we do have a total of 14 other mutate cards in the deck that are new designs or shared “reprints” from Ikoria.
You’ll definitely want to add more build-a-monster parts from Ikoria cards that you open into your deck with Otrimi/Brokkos as the obvious mutate commander choice. 11 out of the 16 Zagoth viable mutate cards are already in the deck so you’ll need to just hunt down the remaining five to complete this build (Brokkos, Apex of Forever, Dirge Bat, Gemrazer, Parcelbeast, and Sea-Dasher Octopus) along with the 4 mutate matters cards (Essence Symbiote, Mysterious Egg, Pollywog Symbiote, Zagoth Mamba).
For those of you curious about Otrimi’s rulings, if Otrimi (and whatever it is mutated to/into) is dealt lethal damage at the same time as it deals combat damage to a player, you will be able to target any of the mutate creature cards including Otrimi from your graveyard. Whether you have Otrimi as your commander or in the 99 with Brokkos at the lead, you’ll have a lot of fun creating a mutated behemoth with this archetype. And if just building this archetype wasn’t enough, you’ll also be able to pimp out every single Ikoria card in the deck with a full art showcase version or one of the highly sought after kaiju full arts.
So that’s the “face” commanders from the new decks. Next time we’ll have a look at the alternate commanders and how well those work with the preconstructed decks themselves and what they mean for new builds.