Infinite spoiler season is here, and with that comes my Commander review of Core Set 2020. I thought it might be nice to talk about the important cards from the set in the context of Commander. As a reminder, I’m a casual Commander player, so you won’t hear about the sweetest cEDH tech today, but you will hear about these cards from the perspective of someone who wants the whole table to have fun (while still having a decent chance to win).

With that in mind, I’ve developed a sort of rating system for this review—not a numerical one, mind you, but a category-based one that gives you an idea of what I think of the card. This is my first shot at a rating system like this, and I’m interested in your feedback on it as well as my card evaluations. Sound off in the comments or on Twitter by pointing all your hashtags at @RagingLevine. Anyway, here’s the system:

Raging Ratings

Commander: You want this card in the command zone at the start the game. Its best use is to lead the charge as the cornerstone of your deck, but it can probably fit into your 99 as well.

Build-Around: This card can be a huge player in the theme of your deck. It either enables the theme by itself or is something you’re looking to take advantage of over the course of your ideal game. It’s probably worth dedicating other slots in your deck to cards that work with a build-around.

Role Player: This card might not be the cornerstone of a deck list, but it’s an important part of the engine or strong enough on its own to merit potential inclusion. This category also covers cards that look good enough to try out but don’t seem like obvious winners.

Tech Card: Counterplay is important, and if a card doesn’t fit into one of the above categories but is good enough at countering other strategies, it’ll be included here.

Niche Inclusion: This card might make your deck if you have a deckbuilding restriction, whether it’s self-imposed based on theme, a power level consideration, or a card availability concern.

Agent of Treachery

Agent of Treachery

Rating: Build-Around

A 7-mana 2/3 isn’t ordinarily on my radar, but one that steals a permanent when it enters will always catch my attention. Commanders like Roon of the Hidden Realm and Brago, King Eternal are going to be over the moon for a card like this. Blinking, copying, and repeatedly reanimating this will all be powerful options, as the control effect doesn’t end when Agent of Treachery leaves the battlefield. Once you get your theft on a few times, you’ll get the end-of-turn Ancestral Recall trigger, which makes the high cost of this card more justifiable.

Ajani, Strength of the Pride

Ajani, Strength of the Pride

Rating: Role Player

Though it’s obviously aimed toward life gain decks, I’m not sure this Ajani earns its keep. Producing an Ajani’s Pridemate once per turn isn’t too amazing, and there are better ways to gain life, so I’d expect to see this cast mostly by players who qualify to use the 0 ability right away. I hope Ajani is proud of essentially being a sorcery.

Angel of Vitality

Angel of Vitality

Rating: Niche Inclusion

A 3-mana 4/4 with flying doesn’t feel as pushed in Commander as it does in other formats, so unless you’re particularly invested in the extra life gain or the creature type, leave this one on the sidelines.

Atemsis, All-Seeing

Atemsis, All-Seeing

Rating: Commander

If your opponents leave Atemsis alone and you have a chance to combo off with other sources of card draw or ways to untap it, you can sculpt the hand you need with at least 6 cards in it, all of different converted mana costs. Then you have to hit an opponent, at which point, you won’t win—they’ll just lose. This is a ton of work and probably makes a deck with Atemsis as the commander much more palatable to play against than it might seem at first glance.

Bag of Holding

Bag of Holding

Rating: Role Player

Because you’re not investing a bunch of resources into it directly, Bag of Holding can be a great source of value for decks that discard cards but don’t want to use their graveyard to do much of anything. Cycling-focused decks come to mind immediately. Sometimes you’ll get wrecked by Krosan Grip, and sometimes you can’t just leave four mana up, so use this bag wisely.

Bishop of Wings

Bishop of Wings

Rating: Niche Inclusion

I’m not even convinced this is worth running in an Angel tribal deck; the impact is too small. That being said, if you really want to theme out your deck with all cards that say angel on them, this could make the list.

Blood for Bones

Blood for Bones

Rating: Build-Around

This spell doesn’t target. That’s huge. You can get back the creature you sacrificed, either to your hand or to the battlefield directly, meaning this plays well with expensive cards like Agent of Treachery as well as lower-costed creatures with enters the battlefield effects that you can more effectively cast. This kind of effect is very powerful, and I’m sure blink-focused decks that have black in their color identity can find a use for this.

Brought Back

Brought Back

 

Rating: Role Player

Returning tapped kills some, but not all, of the combo potential of this card, making this a fairly narrow, value-focused piece of a larger puzzle. Returning fetchlands or creatures you are sacrificing for value makes sense, or you can go off with a combo like Izzet Chronarch, a sacrifice outlet, Lion’s Eye Diamond, and this card (as long as you’ve got some way to benefit from infinite mana, infinite storm, or infinite triggers from a creature entering the battlefield or dying). Lots of options here for a hilarious, janky combo, though I don’t expect you’re slotting LED into a lot of your casual Commander decks.

Cavalier of Dawn

Cavalier of Dawn

Rating: Role Player

The heavy color requirement is rough, but Cavalier of Dawn delivers a huge slice of value. A Generous Gift, a regrowth effect, and a 4/6 vigilance all together are worth more than five mana. Midrange white decks will want this, and Knight-focused decks led by commanders like Aryel, Knight of Windgrace will be interested as well.

Cavalier of Flame

Cavalier of Flame

Rating: Build-Around

This plays well with the “lands in graveyard” theme introduced in Modern Horizons, both because of the discard-and-draw trigger as well as the dies trigger. I’m looking at commanders like Borborygmos Enraged for this one, as more than two colors makes 2RRR a tough casting cost in the midgame. The Cavaliers are all so pushed in terms of stat lines and abilities that it’s easy to read right past that activated ability, which is also bonkers.

Cavalier of Gales

Cavalier of Gales

Rating: Niche Inclusion

A 5/5 flyer that brainstorms and then gets shuffled away seems weirdly unimpressive. There’s a lot more to do with 2UUU than this.

Cavalier of Night

Cavalier of Night

Rating: Niche Inclusion

Is this the worst of these? I feel like it is. It’s the smallest, and its effects are the most restrictive. This one may have to live life as “just another limited bomb.”

Cavalier of Thorns

Cavalier of Thorns

Rating: Role Player

Reach is sneaky as always, but more importantly both triggered abilities provide card advantage. The first one even dumps the remaining cards into your graveyard, which we all know is basically your hand in most decks.

Chandra, Awakened Inferno

Chandra, Awakened Inferno

Rating: Role Player

If you’re the Heartless Hidetsugu type of Commander player, this Chandra’s +2 is likely to be very appealing. This card goes in the deck you bust out at the end of the night, when you really want to play one more game but also know you need to go to sleep.

Creeping Trailblazer

Creeping Trailblazer

Rating: Role Player

This set seems to have a decent Elemental theme, and Creeping Trailblazer is an innocuous threat in a deck full of its own kind. Cards like Elemental Mastery or Tempt with Vengeance that generate lots of 1/1 Elementals work well alongside this, just make sure you find a way to give it trample.

Cryptic Caves

Cryptic Caves

Rating: Role Player

I’ve been convinced over the last few years that Temple of the False God is a dangerous inclusion in many decks, but this lacks the downside that Temple has; it always makes mana, even if that mana is colorless. If your deck can’t benefit from the new canopy lands from Modern Horizons, or if they’re out of your reach budget-wise, Cryptic Caves is a great choice to prevent mana flood.

Drakuseth, Maw of Flame

Drakuseth, Maw of Flame

Rating: Commander

Ah, memories. I remember kiting this guy around his room in Upper Blackrock Spire and—what’s that? Oh, this isn’t General Drakkisath. Blast your opponents with this trigger. Blast their creatures. Blast their planeswalkers. Just keep blasting, and maybe add some additional attack steps while you’re at it along with a Strionic Resonator to keep the damage going.

Dread Presence

Dread Presence

Rating: Build-Around

Another mono-black powerhouse, this one molds itself to the situation at hand. The card draw ability is obviously very powerful, and when you’re low on life, you can gain some back with the second ability and get ready to draw even more cards. That’s powerful internal synergy! Of course, Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth and Prismatic Omen can help this play nicely in multicolored decks, but that’s a lot of work.

Embodiment of Agonies

Embodiment of Agonies

Rating: Role Player

Rules-wise, this card is less complex than it might seem, but there are a lot of little corners. Regardless, if you’re filing the graveyard and playing a few colors, this card is going to be huge. Because it’s missing trample and it’s not likely to be enormous on turn three, be prepared to clear away opposing fliers. Something like The Mimeoplasm could probably make good use of this.

Field of the Dead

Field of the Dead

Rating: Build-Around

This is a great land in colorless decks or decks featuring a host of nonbasics. It isn’t quite Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle, but if you aren’t leaning too heavily on basics, this can be a real value add. Of course, you can always just Scapeshift up a Zombie horde if you feel so inclined.

Flood of Tears

Flood of Tears

Rating: Role Player

This kind of effect is always begging to have its symmetry broken, and Flood of Tears does the job on its own. Clearing the board of nonland cards, then putting a powerful planeswalker or board-defining creature back down can really change the flow of a game, especially if you are putting something that costs six mana or more onto the battlefield.

Gargos, Vicious Watcher

Gargos, Vicious Watcher

Rating: Build-Around

I don’t think Gargos is the ideal Hydra commander since it’s mono-green, but the cost reduction is really tempting, as it makes it very easy to lock in a huge value for X. Other than Gargos, there are 28 mono-green, non-changeling Hydras. Of those, only ten have X in their costs, which isn’t a great indicator for putting Gargos at the helm.

Glint-Horn Buccaneer

Glint-Horn Buccaneer

Rating: Role-Player

This is a clear include for Pirate tribal, but the biggest get here is activating the rummage ability multiple times during combat. The damage trigger works well with something like Neheb, the Eternal, and the rummage itself is already powerful.

Golos, Tireless Pilgrim

Golos, Tireless Pilgrim

Rating: Commander

I did a whole write-up about Golos in the Commander Newsletter recently. To sum that up, if you’ve ever wanted a land like Dark Depths, Valakut, or Maze’s End as your commander, Golos is as close as you’re going to get.

Gravewaker

Gravewaker - Planeswalker Deck Exclusive

Rating: Build-Around

This is an incredibly powerful ability, and while a seven-mana activation is pricey, being able to unequivocally return a creature to the battlefield is unreal. Cabal Coffers effects and cards like Nirkana Revenant or Crypt Ghast can turn this into a powerhouse capable of multiple reanimations per turn.

Icon of Ancestry

Icon of Ancestry

Rating: Build-Around

This can fit into any tribal deck as both an anthem and a draw engine. Three mana isn’t a lot, especially given that it’s colorless, and I can imagine this being an annoyingly omnipresent staple in strategies ranging from Slivers to Spellshapers. (Okay, maybe not Spellshapers.)

Kaalia, Zenith Seeker

Kaalia, Zenith Seeker

Rating: Role Player

This might fit better within a Kaalia of the Vast deck than it does as a commander in the abstract, but since the original Kaalia is so likely to get you hated off a table, it might be worth playing this one instead so that you don’t have to play Archenemy the entire time. You’re fairly unlikely to draw three cards off this effect, but when you do that one time, it’ll feel so good.

Kethis, the Hidden Hand

Kethis, the Hidden Hand

Rating: Commander

With the many new legendary cards out of War of the Spark and Dominaria, a card like this seems almost too obvious. Fill your deck with effective, synergistic legends like Reki, the History of Kamigawa and Arvad the Cursed and make the most of Kethis’s ability by making sure your legends are cheap enough to cast a few in a turn.

Kykar, Wind’s Fury

Kykar, Wind's Fury

Rating: Commander

A decent commander for a spells-based strategy, Kykar loves rebound, flashback, and anything else that lets you cast your spells more than once. You can use your army to beat down with a Jeskai Ascendancy-style strategy or sacrifice them for a big X-spell like Rolling Thunder. And Spirits generated by effects other than Kykar’s trigger count, too!

Lotus Field

Lotus Field

Rating: Role Player

Countering the sacrifice trigger with a Stifle effect seems like a narrow way to generate some extra mana, so it might be better to sacrifice cards like Drownyard Temple or Riftstone Portal that do well in the graveyard already. Flagstones of Trokair is an incredible candidate as well. Effects like Amulet of Vigor that bring this in untapped or instant ways to untap the field in response to its trigger might also lend some power to this land that is just asking to be broken.

Loxodon Lifechanter

Loxodon Lifechanter

Rating: Role Player

Sure, it can get big, but the effect that really speaks to me here is the reset button for your life total. Even if your board is cleared in response, you can decide to not change your life total, and in the positive case where your board survives, a deck like Doran, the Siege Tower can move the life dial from single digits to double or even triple digits in a moment.

Manifold Key

Manifold Key

Rating: Role Player

If your artifact-based deck needs another Voltaic or Galvanic Key, here’s one. We’re not untapping Time Vaults in this format, but there are plenty of powerful artifacts with tap abilities, and having a way to unlock a large mana rock, an enabler like Strionic Resonator, or a workhorse like Steel Overseer can change a game quick, and this card provides consistency in those strategies.

Marauding Raptor

Marauding Raptor

Rating: Niche Inclusion

If you’re trying to build an enrage deck or draw a game with Polyraptor, I guess you could do worse.

Masterful Replication

Masterful Replication

Rating: Build-Around

Creating a lot of artifact tokens with something like Saheeli, Sublime Artificer or even Saheeli, the Gifted and then turning them all into copies of enormous artifact creatures like Darksteel Juggernaut or Sharding Sphinx can be a crazy swing. Alternatively, make them all into Powerstone Shards and use them to generate stupid amounts of mana. Or find your favorite utility artifact and get weird! I know this is going in my Brudiclad list, where it will do something. Not sure what, but something.

Moldervine Reclamation

Moldervine Reclamation

Rating: Role Player

Any Golgari deck that wants its own creatures to die should try to find room for this: instead of losing life, you gain life, which is unusual for effects like this one. You can even combine it with Carnival of Souls to offset the life loss and turn the full cycle of life and death into one card and one black mana. Or you can just enjoy the card draw like a normal person when you sacrifice your various tokens.

Mystic Forge

Mystic Forge

Rating: Build-Around?

Uhh, what? It’s Future Sight for artifacts and colorless nonlands only, and it lets you manipulate your top card sometimes. So if you’re playing some sort of colorless Eldrazi deck or full on artifact strategy, this card is great, but if you’re doing that your deck is probably super weird. I guess at that point, Mystic Forge is no weirder than any other card in your deck, so embrace the power, fix your top card with Sensei’s Divining Top or Crystal Ball, and run through your deck fast.

Nightpack Ambusher

Nightpack Ambusher

Rating: Role Player

Not casting spells on your own turn isn’t what green is usually about, but the flash lord for Wolves and Werewolves is welcome, especially if you are trying to build around something like Tolsimir, Friend to Wolves. Voja and friends are looking forward to the surprise that flash brings, and if you branch out of green with cards like Alchemist’s Refuge, maybe the trigger won’t be so disappointing.

Omnath, Locus of the Roil

Omnath, Locus of the Roil

Rating: Commander

The obvious frontrunner for Elemental commander out of this set, Omnath wants you to have lots of Elementals and lots of land. Other Elementals like Risen Reef can contribute to the land-related trigger, but do note that if the target for Omnath’s landfall trigger becomes illegal before it resolves, you won’t be getting a card out of it. You can go for huge damage by finding ways to create small Elemental tokens (with cards like Elemental Mastery or Tempt with Vengeance) and then casting this, or you can just stay consistent, but I’m concerned that a less explosive approach won’t be very powerful. I’m honestly not sure this card is powerful enough to headline a deck, but we’ll see.

Portal of Sanctuary

Portal of Sanctuary

Rating: Niche Inclusion

If you’ve been using Crystal Shard or Erratic Portal to bounce your own things on your own turn, and if you’re really concerned about preserving Auras when you bounce them, this card could be for you, but the timing restriction is just horrible for a card like this.

Repeated Reverberation

Repeated Reverberation

Rating: Role Player

Sure, Doublecast is cool, but two Doublecasts in one card is even cooler. It can even copy a loyalty ability! The biggest downside is the higher cost, but if you’re firing off a huge X-spell, you can afford the two additional colorless mana in exchange for another copy unless you are casting something for very small values of X.

Rienne, Angel of Rebirth

Rienne, Angel of Rebirth - Buy-A-Box Promo

Rating: Commander

I’ve written a whole article about this one (stay tuned for when that goes up) but let’s say that, even without the “multicolored nonlands only” restriction I run in that list, you can do a lot with creatures with ETB or dies triggers. You can also simply fill your board with powerful multicolored creatures and win combats even when you lose them. Apparently, she’s the buy-a-box promo.

Risen Reef

Risen Reef

Rating: Build-Around

Turning all your Elementals into Coiling Oracles is nothing to scoff at, and even with the higher cost, Risen Reef is worth it. I’ll keep mentioning generating lots of 1/1 Elemental tokens as the best way to take advantage of this effect until someone else gets as excited about Elemental Mastery as I have been since I used it to fuel a turn-5 kill in Shadowmoor draft.

Rotting Regisaur

Rotting Regisaur

Rating: Role Player

If you’re hellbent, you still get to keep this Zombie Dinosaur as it’s not like some other cards with upkeep costs in that regard. Other than that, it’s just a big creature, but if you want to be discarding cards and attacking for 7, you can’t go wrong with this one.

Scheming Symmetry

Scheming Symmetry

Rating: Niche Inclusion

Obviously the symmetry is sort of broken by the nature of multiplayer, but you still need to be able to draw your card first to break the symmetry. Either that, or you need to be conspiring with another player against someone more powerful. Just make sure whatever you give away is something you can handle.

Scholar of the Ages

Scholar of the Ages

Rating: Role Player

A seven-mana double Izzet Chronarch is powerful, but that’s a lot of mana to set something up rather than directly setting something in motion. Obviously this gets better every time you blink or clone it, but there’s a ceiling on how good effects like this can be. I’m going to try this out in spell-heavy decks like Mizzix of the Izmagnus, but I’m not sold yet.

Season of Growth

Season of Growth

Rating: Build-Around

If you’re an Auras-heavy deck like Uril, the Miststalker or Bruna, Light of Alabaster, Season of Growth is liable to draw you a lot of cards. Alternatively, if you’re playing an infect strategy helmed by Ezuri, Claw of Progress, your pump spells replace themselves, but that’s not the most fun casual strategy around, is it?

Sephara, Sky’s Blade

Rating: Niche Commander? (Yes, I invented a rating)

I guess you could build around this as a commander for “flying matters”, but given that the alternate cost is so prohibitive and doesn’t even dodge the commander tax, you’ll have to be doing a lot of Battle Screeching to make this one work.

Shifting Ceratops

Shifting Ceratops

Rating: Tech Card

An obvious blue hoser in the style of Scragnoth, Shifting Ceratops ups the ante by having a great stat line in addition to the ability to gain some useful keywords. If your opponents are all about counterspells and control effects, just send this ball of stats at them and see how they feel.

Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord

Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord

Rating: Role Player

This card is so low impact that it doesn’t hit Build-Around status despite its obvious tribal synergy. His -3 is his best ability, allowing you to cheat out a Vampire from your hand early, but that’s not even a huge benefit given how big Vampires typically aren’t. I’d be much more interested if it brought them back from the graveyard to give it internal synergy with his second +1.

Starfield Mystic

Starfield Mystic

Rating: Role Player

This, like Herald of the Pantheon, will mostly be played for its cost reduction. There are better creatures to pile enchantments on, and if you don’t do that, what’s the point of the second ability? To generate a medium-sized, non-evasive secondary threat? Whatever.

Thought Distortion

Thought Distortion

Rating: Tech Card

Anyone you know who plays Mizzix’s Mastery and Epic Experiment should probably be taught a lesson, and that lesson is the uncounterable hand-and-graveyard ruiner known as Thought Distortion. If they go off in response or use a card like Venser, Shaper Savant to bounce this back to your hand, you’re out of luck, but hopefully you can wreck their plans with this one.

Thunderkin Awakener

Thunderkin Awakener

Rating: Role Player

I’m hesitant to rate this too high given that it can only bring back 1-toughness creatures without help, and recurring Ball Lightning isn’t as good in this format as it is in others. I might change my tune if someone goes off on me with this and Lightning Skelemental, but that’s why we bring spot removal and graveyard hate, right?

Twinblade Paladin

Twinblade Paladin - Planeswalker Deck Exclusive

Rating: Role Player

A 4-mana 3/3 double strike Ajani’s Pridemate isn’t quite worth selling the farm for, but it’s an easy inclusion in a deck that gains life consistently as part of its Plan A. If the new Ajani pumped these out, it would be a much easier sell.

Vilis, Broker of Blood

Vilis, Broker of Blood

Rating: Commander

Be careful. You will find a way to kill yourself with Vilis, which I think is sort of the point. That being said, this is an incredibly powerful effect, and a mono-black deck has lots of ways to cast and recast an 8-mana commander without breaking a sweat. Cards like Night’s Whisper get pretty weird with this in play, to say nothing of Toxic Deluge.

Voracious Hydra

Voracious Hydra

Rating: Niche Inclusion

This is just a big creature. Sometimes it fights something, sometimes it doesn’t. If you have lots of mana to spend, there are both better and worse ways to spend it, but if you’re going full Rosheen Meanderer or mono-Hydra aggro, Voracious Hydra can do its job. Otherwise, I’ll save it for Draft.

Wakeroot Elemental

Wakeroot Elemental

Rating: Niche Inclusion

Elemental decks want this effect, but not for GGGGG.

Yarok, the Desecrated

Yarok, the Desecrated

Rating: Commander

Article incoming about this one for sure. Sultai Panharmonicon is liable to go nuts in so many ways. The stat block is fairly irrelevant, but the high toughness is sort of nice. I can’t wait to go crazy building around this from all kinds of angles.

Okay, that’s it for this one! See you next time, where I’ll target one of the sweet commanders from this set for a deep dive!