By Steven Mace
Well met, and good to see you all again, fellow travelers! Welcome back to our continuing series of set reviews focused on the Commander/EDH format. I will, as always, be reviewing from a more casual perspective.
We have a pretty crazy summer going. Modern Horizons released just a couple months ago, and before people’s boxes were cold, previews for Core 2020 started up. Even more strange is that we’re getting less than a week of previews and ending on a Tuesday. On the plus side, this is one of the best Core sets we’ve ever seen.
We’ve got a whole set’s worth of things to talk about in one article, so let’s mince no more words and dive right in!
Ajani, Strength of the Pride
I feel for the mono-white Ajanis. They’re always either extremely unremarkable or unbelievably niche. This one just so happens to be both. The floor of his +1 is miserable - Planeswalker-deck face-card bad - at “gain 1 life.” The average case will likely be between 3 to 7 life, which is okay. If you have him in a token deck, it will be fine, but it’s honestly still not going to be stellar.
His -2 is kind of cool: It makes an Ajani’s Pridemate. Better, he can do it twice before he needs to tick up. I don’t really think that Pridemate is a Commander-playable card, but being able to make multiples of them could get scary.
Ajani’s 0 ability is very weird. In most cases, it will probably be a last-ditch thing to boardwipe someone who’s gone a bit crazy. A neat, tricky bit of tech is that if you can somehow return Ajani to your hand with his 0 ability on the stack, you can exile your opponent’s stuff and keep Ajani.
All said, I’m unconvinced that this Ajani is playable for us.
Angel of Vitality
An interesting card. The only reason this card is in consideration is that it’s cheap. The fact that its second ability didn’t get the hedge that they’ve been doing for Commander for a while now (see Ajani’s 0 ability) means that this is a 4/4 flier for 3 mana, which is well above rate. Tack on that you get some lifegain bonus, and this could be a decent filler piece in a lifegain deck.
Bishop of Wings
An interesting Angel tribal 2-drop. The body alone is a decent rate if you’re looking to block, but the two abilities are the real juice. Gaining four life whenever an Angel comes into play is good alone, and its second ability gives you some degree of protection against a boardwipe. If you’re looking for synergy, may I point you to Resplendent Angel, our previous card Angel of Vitality and Divine Visitation. Cool card for a very underserved tribe.
What you’re really looking for here is Second Sunrise. That said, this isn’t bad. It’s a decent check for removal, and hitting any permanent is nice. Also note the ability to lose to planeswalkers by using their “ultimate” and then getting said walkers back.
Cavalier of Dawn
The first member of the Cavalier cycle, and this one is pretty solid. The 4/6 vigilance body is nice. It stops a ton of things and can still attack at the same time for a reasonable amount as well. Killing any non-land permanent in exchange for the victim getting a 3/3 Golem is pretty meaningless; the token being an artifact in addition to creature makes this the teensiest bit worse than its cousins Generous Gift and Beast Within, but that’s pretty negligible honestly.
And last, the death trigger. It’s not the worst. Getting back an artifact or enchantment isn’t nothing, but it’s also nothing major. All in all, it’s a solid card with a pair of relevant creature types, but I’m not sure who really wants it. Maybe one of those two tribes?
A very nice piece of removal. Being a sorcery is unfortunate, but it’s dirt cheap, gets around indestructible and doesn’t put the card in their graveyard for them to get back. Only getting things power 4 or greater in tandem with being a sorcery could be a deal breaker, but I think it’s for sure worth a try.
Leyline of Sanctity
The Leylines are finally getting reprinted (the important ones, at least)! Anticipation and Void are in the set as well. I’ll skip those because we know they’re good.
Another weird card for the lifegain deck. Or maybe the Arcades deck? I don’t know, this is a weird card. I don’t think it does anything, but I could be wrong.
Sephara, Sky’s Blade
She’s not Avacyn, but Sephara is awfully close in a deck built for her - flying tribal or maybe Angel tribal. The alternate casting cost is very helpful but still subject to the Commander tax. Being a 7/7 lifelinker is solid since it puts her at that key three-hit-kill spot. I suggest she wear the Helm of the Host so she and her copies protect one another.
While I don’t think the +1/+1 counter thing is super relevant, the cost reduction thing is a very appreciated ability for the Enchantress decks. It’s fine; it won’t be a stand-out, but it will be just fine.
Agent of Treachery
I was super-impressed by this card - right up until I looked up and saw that this guy is 7 mana. Don’t get me wrong - he’s very powerful, but man, that’s a lot of mana. Decks focused on stealing things will appreciate him, and blink decks will probably enjoy him as well, but I just can’t get past that CMC.
Our newest legendary Sphinx doesn’t break from what Sphinxes do at all. If you didn’t know, what Sphinxes do is “be weird” - and honestly this may be the weirdest we’ve gotten. That damage trigger is out there. But this is Commander, and having six cards with different CMCs isn’t extremely difficult. Don’t forget that lands have a CMC of 0. Also of note, Atemsis doesn’t need to deal combat damage, so anything that you can use to give her a pinging ability will be useful. The rest of a deck led by her should probably be mostly draw spells and counterspells. Otherwise, toss her into Unesh and go to town.
Cavalier of Gales
Cavalier number two, and this one is about as blue as they come. A 5/5 flier for 5 mana is a great rate to start. But he also comes with a Brainstorm on ETB and shuffles himself away and fixes your draws when he dies. The problem is - as I think you’ll see with most of the Cavs - where does it go? Unlike Dawn, Gale isn’t white or black, so being a Knight doesn’t matter.
Drawn from Dreams
Do you like Dig Through Time? So much that you would pay two more (Let’s be honest, folks) to do it at sorcery speed? I dunno. It’s a powerful effect, but at sorcery speed, it loses a lot of its value. I’m unconvinced.
Flood of Tears
I really wish people would stop trying to compare this to Cyclonic Rift. Yup, this isn’t Rift, but it has its own place - and that place is cheating Omniscience into play so you can recover before your opponents.
This is an interesting card for sure. Why? Because it either does nothing or it does everything! That first mode may as well not be there. In fact, I’d happily take this card at one less mana without those Golems. The second ability is where it’s at with this card. There are tons of broken artifacts, and suddenly having all of your artifacts become one of those is big game. Personally, I want to stick some cheap-to-equip stuff on my commander, attack, and then before damage cast this targeting Colossus Hammer, which we will see later.
Mu Yanling, Sky Dancer
We like 3-mana walkers. They tend to be strong. Mu is a bit worrisome though. She comes in at a measly 2 loyalty, which pretty much entirely negates the value of having her first ability be a +2. Even more so because her plus is pretty mediocre: a single target getting -2/-0 and losing flying isn’t going to protect her very well.
The second reason starting on 2 is bad is because her second ability is a -3, so she can’t even start with the thing that will best protect her. Side note, the art for this token is phenomenal.
Her ultimate is what has people excited, and reasonably so. Giving all your Islands the ability to tap and draw a card is awesome. But it’s a -8. That’s a long way away when you start at 2. Mu could have been really good if she had 1 or 2 more starting loyalty counters.
Portal of Sanctuary
This is an interesting card. You can see a bit of cards like Crystal Shard and Erratic Portal in it. However, it doesn’t get your opponents’ things and can’t save your cards from most boardwipes. But if you want to recycle some ETB abilities or save an important creature from removal during your turn, then this is going to be a decent way to go about that.
Scholar of Ages
A lot of this card can be summed up with what I said about Agent of Treachery. Scholar has a valuable effect. Archaeomancer is a very popular card, and this does twice what that does. But one of the things that makes Archaeomancer so good is its cost. Four mana is good. Seven is probably too much.
Flash, flying, two relevant creature types, and a good mana sink for a single mana. This is the definition of a pushed uncommon.
I often argue that Stifle is too narrow of a card to see play in Commander. But a Stifle that can also keep an important commander card off the table for several turns could do the trick. There are plenty of legendaries that see play in the 99 of decks, and thanks to the commander tax increasing off of casts, countering high-priority or hard-to-remove commanders can, potentially, end that player’s game.
What a neat little hatebear. Okay yes, it’s not an actual bear hatebear, but we can forgive that since he blocks giant things forever. And I think +1/+1 counters have become a prevalent enough thing that this nasty little guy will do something at every table you sit down at. Just a heads-up, beware playing this against Yawgmoth players - or really anything with Undying - as it immediately combos off.
Blood for Bones
It’s nice to see 4-CMC reanimation again, and this one is great value. At the cost of something you can throw away, not only do you reanimate something, but you get something else back to your hand. And mind you this doesn’t target, so if they use targeted graveyard hate like Scavenging Ooze to get what they think you want, then you can just get other things. Another bonus of not targeting is that the thing you sac as part of the cost is available to be brought back with this, so it could very well be a black blink spell. Great value for an uncommon, and with sweet Seb McKinnon art to boot.
Cavalier of Night
The third member of the Cavaliers, and he’s pretty solid. A 4/5 for 5 is a solid rate in Limited. It’s only “fine” in Commander, but he makes up for it by having good abilities. Lifelink is always a welcome sight in black decks, as life total can get dicey quickly. The ETB to exploit a creature and kill another creature is very nice. A bit unfortunate that it can’t sac itself since that means it does nothing if it comes into an otherwise empty board. The dies trigger is nice value too, but I can’t say you should be looking to pull it off every time. Just a nice bonus if you happen to have something. And again, being an elemental and a black Knight means it has two relevant creature types.
Gitrog Monster and Windgrace decks rejoice, as we get more and more tools for the lands decks. While black doesn’t lack for either of these abilities, getting them for playing lands is a great bonus. Make sure to play this with Urborg so you can trigger off of all your lands.
Embodiment of Agonies
What a weird card. Absolutely bizarre design. As it says in the reminder text, this doesn’t just benefit from different converted mana costs, so mana costs that are the same CMC but different in symbology count towards it. That means this guy gets bigger more easily, and coming with flying and deathtouch is great. So long as this isn’t the last card in your hand, I think this is a solid card; it will probably be a 3/3 or 4/4, which is a solid rate. Too bad it doesn’t work with lands, but I guess that would be a bit much.
Mr. Token Deck: you lose, good day!
I said good day!
They’ve beaten Colossal Dreadmaw to death, but that won’t stop it from being printed in a set. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s Colossal Deadmaw! Jokes out of the way, this is a surprisingly nuanced card for how little text it has. In fact, its lack of text makes it better! More on that shortly.
Do I need to discuss the body? Yes, 7/6 for 3 mana is an absurd rate; everyone knows that. Moving on. It’s the discard that’s interesting. This is such an incredibly small downside that many decks will turn it into upside. Reanimator decks will love this so much they may start playing Dark Ritual to get it down on turn one. And in the past, we would have seen something like this come with the rider clause that if you are unable to discard a card you have to sacrifice it, or it taps itself and deals you damage, or something like that. But no! this big ole boy sees you get hellbent and then just sits there and keeps doing its thing! Surprisingly good card.
Oh boy. What a card. Closest comparison off the top of my head is the classic Vampiric Tutor - but Vampiric Tutor is a wildly powerful card. So, you can keep your two life, but in exchange, you lose instant speed and have to give an opponent something as well. Now, that said, not everything is lost because of that. Being a sorcery is unfortunate because that means if you want it now, you have to work a little harder for it. But if you can go ahead and draw a card, this is fine.
Now, giving another player any card they want can also be bad, but Commander is a political game, and you can spin giving them something to your advantage if you and that player are both looking to stop a third player from doing something. Teamwork makes the dreamwork - at least that’s what I hear.
Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord
Sorin is back in monoblack and looking…weird. The art that is. He looks totally different. But that’s not what we’re here for. We’re here to turn three a Butcher of Malakir or Nirkana Revenant or the like.
Sorin’s two +1s are nice, but let’s all be honest, the -3 is where the juice is. The first +1 does turn something into a good blocker, and having a Lightning Helix so long as you have a spare Vampire lying around (something Edgar always has) is useful, but neither compare to just dropping your scariest thing into play for free.
A very expensive, very useful spell. Uncounterably Duress-ing the combo players hand just before you think they’re going to go off is big game. Six mana is a whole lot, but if you can dumpster your opponent by exiling important things, it could very well win you the game.
Vilis, Broker of Blood
The last of our black cards and a top contender for best card in the set. Yes, eight mana is so much mana, “all of the manas” - I get it. But you get an 8/8 flier that says “draw your deck.”
Don’t believe me? Put Spiteful Visions into play. Play him with Nekusar and donate him to your opponent. Hell, you don’t have to even play him that unfairly. Entomb and Reanimate him. Because of the order of the effects on Reanimate, you lose the life after the creature is in play, so you just payed 2 mana to draw eight cards and get an 8/8 flier.
Vilis is what Belzenlok should have been. Absolutely absurd. Can’t wait to play him in Yawgmoth.
Cavalier of Flame
Cavalier number four, and this one is really strong. Maybe the strongest of the five. A 6/5 for 5 is a good rate and is going to scare off most attackers and bring the beats himself. The first ability, rather than a keyword like the others, is the oft-forgotten second ability of Purphoros to pump all your creatures’ power, and it gives them haste just in case they need it. But this is just gravy compared to the other abilities it has.
ETB being a custom Wheel of Fortune for any number you want is fantastic. You don’t have to feel bad about discarding things you want, but you do get to turn the stuff you don’t care about into new cards. The death ability is pretty narrow but will certainly be useful. Damage based on lands won’t be that much in most decks, but if you’re running fetches and Evolving Wilds/Terramorphic Expanse, you’ll probably get two or three. Hitting planeswalkers is really nice.
Chandra, Acolyte of Flame
There are three Chandras in this set - another thing about this set that’s freaking weird. The middle version of Chandra is the most interesting overall. She has two 0s, which by itself is pretty interesting, but the first one is more or less been reserved for Ajani so far. Chandra tribal? The other 0 is pretty typical Chandra stuff, making aggressive dudes that go away at the end of the turn. Lastly is a pretty strong -2 that flashes back a cheap instant or sorcery. Getting some extra mileage out of your removal is mostly what you’ll be doing with this. This Chandra is probably the most niche of the three, but it’s reasonably strong.
Chandra, Awakened Inferno
The oldest and most powerful of the three Chandras. Six mana for 6 uncounterable loyalty is already good, but her +2 is madness. First off, it’s a +2, which means she’s already at 8, which is a fine means of protecting herself in and of itself, but the fact that it gives an emblem to each opponent that pings them on their upkeep is significant. It stacks and doesn’t go away, even if you’re no longer in the game. Now, in Commander, 1 damage every turn isn’t that much, but you’re pretty much guaranteed to get it. And if you get up to three emblems, you’re really doing noteworthy damage.
Perhaps to compensate for the experimental and powerful nature of the +2, her other abilities are less stellar. Her -3 is still strong, but in my experience 3 damage will often not quite get there. On top of that, there’s a lot of Elemental synergy in this set, including a new Elemental tribal commander, so you’ll probably be seeing several Elemental decks that won’t care at all about this ability.
Lastly, there’s her -X. Again, the ability is strong enough, and after a single use of the plus ability, you’ll probably have enough loyalty to kill just about anything, but it’s a bit disappointing to see a 6-mana walker without a proper ultimate.
Chandra, Novice Pyromancer
The youngest version of our dear pyromaniac. The first ability of +2/+0 to all your elementals is fine if it does anything, but this is extremely niche - fits into two decks, maybe. Her -1 is also just fine. As a minus ability, it’s not amazing but it gives that combo with Cloudstone Curio and Planebound Accomplice another Chandra to go infinite with. Her -2 is also just fine. A Shock on a 4-mana walker can be useful sometimes. Overall not super impressive, but hey, what can you expect from an uncommon planeswalker?
A very interesting but extremely niche card - you don’t get much narrower than caring about a single type of planeswalker’s abilities. Monored decks will like the looting ability, and if you’re playing, like...six Chandras, you’ll get some use out of the first ability.