When last we met, we talked about the potential commanders in Core Set 2020. Those formed the skeleton of the set. Now we’re going to put some meat on those bones by talking about the rest of the cards.
As always, this is a Commander-only review. While the set looks pretty saucy for Sealed, I’ll be evaluating the cards in the context of the 100-card format alone. I’ll break it down by color, pick a Top 3, and give the color as a whole a grade (which won’t consider the legendary creature in that color). There are some nice reprints in the set, like the Leyline cycle, but I’ll only mention them if they’re extra-noteworthy.
Whoa. We’re starting in pretty rarified air. The +1 ability will likely gain you a fair amount of life every time you activate it, so you can just run that plan for quite a while if you like. As we find with many planeswalkers in the context of Commander, the middle ability is okay, but not something we’ll pay that much attention to. The third ability is the one that will make you bolt upright. It’ll be pretty easy to achieve the condition of fifteen more life than your starting total. Exiling all the artifacts and creatures your opponents control in exchange for one card and zero mana is quite something.
Available in the Planeswalker Deck, this is one where you might be more prone to use the middle ability, even if it takes you in the direction away from the third. The first use that came to mind for the +1/+1 counters of the first ability is to get rid of -1/-1 counters from creatures with persist. The third ability seems like a game-ender, which planeswalker abilities that cost ten loyalty probably should do.
It’s no Rhox Faithmender, but it’s also way more battle-worthy, likely starting out as a 4/4. Since it has flying, it helps with (and is helped by) Sephara, Sky’s Blade.
I’m a huge fan of cards that help you recover from sweepers, which this one does. Bishop of Wings simply makes your Angel tribal deck that much better, and Angel tribal is already pretty cool.
I hope that we won’t spend too much time comparing Core Set 2020 cards unfavorably with those of previous sets, but I already notice the trend. The good news is that you can play Brought Back and Faith’s Reward in the same deck.
White is regarded by many people as the weakest color in Commander (I’m pretty sure it’s still red), so they should be happy that the color is getting some good cards. What I like about Cavalier of Dawn (actually, the whole Cavalier cycle) is that it does something when it shows up, does something other than just sit on the battlefield (being battle-ready), and does something when it dies. That’s the kind of value you need to keep up with opponents in a multiplayer format.
Since it and the token both have flying, there’s more help for Sephara, Sky’s Blade. The downside of the exile ability is that exiling Hanged Executioner is part of the cost, unlike Mangara of Corondor, which only gets exiled if the ability resolves.
“Life total matters” (the Storm Herd idea) is a compelling mechanic. Although Loxodon Lifechanter’s casting and activation costs seem a little expensive, they’re appropriate for what they do. If your creature toughness total is super-high already, it’s likely that this is a “win more” card, but it won’t take too much to give you a much-needed boost if your life total is getting low.
Golem tribal now possible?
This is a card with some possibilities and gives you many directions to explore. Simply making your enchantments cheaper is already pretty good, especially if you’re playing some kind of Enchantress deck. How about Enchanted Evening and some sacrifice outlets (or just fetchlands) to make Starfield Mystic huge?
Grade: C. The top stuff is good but not bonkers, the density is a little below average, and there are too many cards that don’t favorably compare to things already printed.
At first blush, it seems a little expensive, since it’s the same converted mana cost as Blatant Thievery. That cost is mitigated by the fact that you’re also playing it in a deck where you’re stealing other things, such as with Blatant Thievery and Thada Adel, Acquisitor, and you’ll find it cheap due to the card-drawing ability.
There’s all kinds of stuff to like about this Cavalier, not the least of which is a 5/5 flyer that nets you a card when it enters the battlefield. Shuffling it in when it dies means it’ll be there to do it all over again, and scrying is just never bad. It seems like a design trend, and one which I applaud, to add scry to cards to slightly tick up their power level without breaking them.
Most counterspells are good when the other players don’t know they’re coming. There’s some value to having one staring them in the face, because they’ll have to spend resources getting rid of Cerulean Drake first. It’s not a blanket counterspell, but it’ll definitely save you from a Comet Storm to the face.
I’d like to see some sort of Frank Karsten statistical analysis of whether drawing three cards for four mana, like with Concentrate, is better or worse than drawing the best two of the top seven. My suspicion is that it’s getting the best two, at least in the short-term, since you’ll get the more impactful cards—save for the problem that the most impactful cards for right now might not be in those seven.
Is this a fixed Upheaval or a fairer version of Cyclonic Rift? Either way, it’s eminently playable and extremely strong. The clause about returning four of your own things leads me toward the idea that it’s an offensive weapon as opposed to strictly defensive.
Due to its cost, I’m not sure how much play it’ll see, but I’m sure there are some complete blowout or super value plays here—like turning all your artifacts into Solemn Simulacrum or Wurmcoil Engine in response to them getting blown up.
This one is all about getting to the emblem and being able to draw cards by tapping Islands. It’s definitely not a single-card strategy so much as part of a whole planeswalker package, and I suspect it’ll see some play in Superfriends decks.
It won’t take long to get to the ultimate of giving all your flyers +5/+5, but the relatively high casting cost is the price you’ll pay.
Best card name in the set, (all eight) hands down.
Fair use for Painter’s Servant.
My only issue with this card is one of flavor. A 3/3 Human Wizard? More like a Giant.
If there were a card built to protect yourself from some of the things that happen in Commander, it would be Tale’s End. Nice flexibility in an inexpensive package, demonstrating that cards don’t have to be convoluted to be useful.
Grade: B-. Slightly better than white without all the awkward comparisons.
One of those cards that I know isn’t nearly as good as I want it to be. Seems great in Limited, though.
One simple little Insect can put a real crimp in some of the most popular strategies in the format and block some of its biggest creatures without dying. Fabulous.
Note that there are no targets for this spell. That means you don’t choose what you’re returning to the battlefield or your hand until the spell resolves. Remember to not give away too much information to your opponents by choosing them before you need to. It also means that you can return the creature you sacrificed, which makes is super-valuable if you have great enters-the-battlefield triggers. Best creature to sacrifice to Blood for Bones: Kokusho, the Evening Star.
A reasonable challenger to replace something in your Vampire tribal deck.
Another 3/3 Human Wizard. When did they get so huge?
In my first reading of the card, I got so excited by the two triggered abilities that I totally glossed over the lifelink part. Makes it even better than at first glance.
Maybe a Nightmare to others, but a dream to me! What’s even better is that someone else at the table is probably playing Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, so you don’t really have to (at least that’s the way it is in my local group). This card is all the love for me.
You won’t likely want to cast it on Turn 3, but when you do, it’s going to be spicy. Also, best card name plus flavor text combination.
In the abstract, an okay card, but then we live in the world with Exquisite Blood in it. I’m not sure specifically what it is about Sanguine Bond / Exquisite Blood that ranks it so high on the list of combos that I despise. There are certainly easier and deadlier ones to assemble. Maybe it’s that I like the idea of each individual card, but putting them together ruins something good.
It doesn’t take that much to make this a pretty good ouch.
A good card for your Rakdos, Lord of Riots decks, since it can come out early and help you get to the commander, and then starts getting larger once Rakdos starts doing its work.
Perhaps more useful in Commander than in some other formats due to the token strategies. The inexpensive casting cost makes it worth a slot.
The graveyard player in me makes me wish there had been a different black Leyline for them to reprint. It’s not like it wasn’t available, but this just reminds more people to play it.
Um, okay, if you insist. I’ll discard a card that I’m just going to reanimate later.
Some folks have compared this to Trade Secrets for collusion ability. It’s nowhere close, since it’s only one card. In fact, it’s a fine political card. I’m going to make deals with people that will help get us out of a tight spot and hope that they’re not paying attention to the fact that I’m letting them do the heavy lifting.
Three-mana planeswalkers are having pretty big impact on many formats. It’s the same with Commander. You’ll get the best value out of this version of Sorin in your Vampire deck, but it’s a fine addition to anything that likes to get big creatures into The Red Zone.
The -8 ability is super-flavorful. It’s not going to happen that often, so when it does, it’ll be one of those times you remember. A very, very Timmy card.
I’m usually not a big fan of discard spells in Commander, but this is certainly something that takes care of that “counter everything” person if your group has one.
My kind of card, since it gives me the flexibility to put it on something of my own as insurance against sweepers or something of yours that I’d really like to have.
Grade: A. More than three choices for the tops, all of them impactful in the format. Great work here.
Seemingly the weakest Cavalier, it’s still okay. I actually think the most relevant part might be the activated ability that gives haste.
Putting counters on your other planeswalkers is really good. Thankfully, it’s not all of them, just the red ones, because it might be busted otherwise.
I’m a fan of the narrative arc of Chandra in this set. It’s cool to see the development of her personality played out in these cards. The +2 ability that gives players the emblem is cool, but I wouldn’t discount the value of the –X ability to exile things.
Elemental tribal will be a thing due to Omnath, Locus of the Roil, so this Chandra has some value. Much like Garruk Wildspeaker, it might be the mana ability that gets it the most use, although Chandra goes down in loyalty where Garruk goes up.
Like the other pPaneswalker Deck versions, this Chandra seems all about the ultimate.
A little narrow, since you need a Chandra planeswalker for the first ability, but very good when you do. The second ability makes it not a completely dead card if you don’t, and the ability to discard a Mountain plays into Cavalier of Flame.
You’re definitely playing this Minotaur in your Nekusar, the Mindrazer decks so that you can deal extra damage when you Wheel of Fortune, or at least do some damage if people (rightly) keep killing your Nekusar.
The obvious deck to put Marauding Raptor in is your Dinosaur deck so that you can take advantage of enrage while you’re making them cheaper. You might also think about putting it into a deck with Vigor to make the creatures that enter the battlefield immediately bigger. I’m a fan.
The card would be sweet even if it didn’t have the loyalty ability clause. Repeated Reverberation is a great multiplier of any instant or sorcery, but the biggest value will be paying less for huge X-spells when X is greater than four. I look forward to Repeated Reverberation being at the heart of many epic plays.
To make it really useful you’ll want to make its toughness greater, but it’s going to slot right into your Elemental decks. There are lots of choices for enters-the-battlefield and dies triggers.
GRADE: B-, which for red is like getting an A+.
I’m a fan of the enters-the-battlefield trigger because the odds are it’s always going to hit and it doesn’t need to be a basic land. I’m less wild about the dies trigger because you have to exile it, but it won’t keep me from playing the card.
Mini-Elvish Knight of the Reliquary slots into your Dredge decks and anything else that wants to thin your deck and get lands into your graveyard.
Not the best card, but the most adorable.
You can get mana outside of your color identity if you need, but that always seems more like something that blue would do. Probably goes easily into Enchantress decks.
Big fan of this reprint, even if it’ll sometimes do not-nice things to my graveyard. Like the flexibility of the card to use it defensively against an opponent or offensively to recycle my own things.
Cool, flavorful card that plays right into making a Werewolf deck something worth trying out.
The time you’d play this over Overwhelming Stampede is if your creatures are all 1/1s.
Elemental tribal is looking better and better, even if it’s just for gaining some life when the inevitable sweeper happens.
You want to reanimate that thing? Put it in your hand instead and pay the casting cost like everybody else. Alternately, save something in your yard from getting exiled. In both cases, gain six life.
Simple, useful, uncomplicated, and not broken.
Getting two things with different names won’t be hard in Commander. Being an instant is really nice—especially when someone targets you with Bribery.
I like all the things about this card.
It seems like green in Core Set 2020 is going for a simpler, more streamlined feel. I’m strangely okay with it.
Trample is the word you need to know on this card. Along with Crowned Ceratok, we have a theme of Rhinos giving another class of creatures trample, which is clever design and something I’ll be giving some thought.
It also looks like green’s theme in this set might be “let me do my stuff.” This is an amazing card if someone tries to counter your important spell. I’m going to start leaving one green open every time I cast Genesis Wave just to make the blue player wonder.
The -5 ability once again brings up the question about sideboards/Wish boards in Commander. They’re not an official rule, and don’t let anyone try to convince you differently. If you’re okay with someone using one, that’s fine. If you want to use one, please ask before the game starts and please be gracious if they decline. The rest of the card still works just fine, and I’d be okay playing the card just for the +1 ability.
The +1 ability is a little limited, since you can only put them on one creature. Just make it Forgotten Ancient and you can distribute them later.
Voracious indeed, especially combined with Gargos, Vicious Watcher.
The variation on the Germ token theme is nicely flavorful. It’s the equipment you might play if you really want Equipment and you still want your devotion count to be higher.
Grade: C-. It was a struggle to find the best three (despite the fact that Veil of Summer is one of my favorite cards in the set), weird that two of them weren’t creatures, and the number of cards that you’ll want to play is low.
I’m happy that it’s a Knight and I have a Knight tribal deck with Queen Marchesa, but I would honestly put this into any number of decks in the appropriate color—specifically to include one that plays Storm Herd.
Elemental tribal over and over.
Really nice addition to your Bird tribal.
Very happy that it’s power, not power and toughness, because it’s useful on a smaller battlefield.
Hello, gorgeous. Move over, [something in my Karador, Ghost Chieftain deck]. One of my favorite cards in the entire set.
Because the activation cost is so expensive, you can’t really surprise someone with the ability. It’s a nice trick for throwing an unfavorable attack into a good creature, but the downside is that they see it coming.
Coiling Oracle Elemental obviously benefits from being in a tribal deck, but it’s completely unnecessary in order to get value out of it. There are 169 choices in Simic for Elementals, many of them you’re already playing, to include Avenger of Zendikar, Bane of Progress, Fertilid, and Mulldrifter, just to name a few. In fact, I might be playing Elemental tribal and not even know it.
Not sure which of two Zombie decks I’m putting this into or if I’ll try to slot it into a reanimator deck. Any way you look at it, it’s getting played.
Grade: A. Even though there are just a few multicolored cards, they’re all good enough to play.
Artifact and Land
A nice nod to the D&D players. I’m always a little careful with cards that exile stuff and bring it later, since you lose access to the cards if what exiles them goes away.
Great flavor, and one you’re more likely playing with abilities that attach Equipment instead of paying the equip cost, like Armory Automaton.
Shouldn’t something made of diamond be indestructible, or are we waiting for Mithril Knight?
Five mana to draw three cards, seven if you count the Academy Ruins to put it back on top (effectively eight, since you also have to tap the Ruins). Probably not worth it. Maybe with Sharuum the Hegemon or some such.
A nice double play for your tribal decks, an Anthem plus some effective card draw.
I’m always wary when we untap things, especially artifacts. The second ability makes the card extremely strong, since the card isn’t dead if you aren’t using it for the first ability and it means you can push through the damage you want.
Kind of a Spine of Ish Sah that can attack. I think I prefer the ability to put it back into my hand.
Narrow because you need artifact and colorless cards, but really good because you can keep digging through the deck. With a little library control, like Scroll Rack, you might go on for a while.
There are plenty of cards, like the previously-mentioned Sharuum, that will help you loop Salvager of Ruin again and again.
Lands which sacrifice to draw a card once you have too many is excellent utility, or a nice punch out if you’re in trouble.
Gives me the colorless mana I need for Eldrazi stuff? Check. Makes free Zombies after a certain number of land drops? Check.
One of the most-hyped cards of the set, it’s as good as advertised. The two lands you sacrifice can be tapped, it’s only going away via Armageddon-type abilities, and you’re doing something to get those two lands back anyway (unless you’re fueling Terravore).
Grade: C. Nothing really great save for the Lotus Field, but it’s a little unfair to give it a lower grade for not having great density because there simply aren’t that many cards in the category.
Overall, not counting the legendary creatures that we talked about last time, I’d give the set a C. Adding them in, as is only fair for the set as a whole, a strong B+. The legendary creatures are the power of the set, which has a few things I’ll be excited to add, but not quite so many as other recent sets. That’s not entirely a bad thing, because I’m either running out of places to put great cards or have too little time to build enough decks to find them all homes. As problems go, this isn’t a huge one.
Sheldon Menery’s Deck Database
Check out our comprehensive Deck List Database! Click each section for lists of all my decks.
These are the decks that define my personal play style to the greatest degree and to some extent lay the original foundation of the format. They’re also the ones you’re most likely to see me bringing along to spell-sling at an event.
The Chromatic Project
The Chromatic Project started as an effort to build at least one deck of all 27 possible color combinations, which was expanded to 32 when we finally got four color commanders. There’s more than one of some combinations, mostly because I have a Temur problem, plus some partner combinations are too enticing to pass up.
Shards and Wedges
The Do-Over Project
The Do-Over Project is the next step after the Chromatic—building a deck with each of the same Commanders, but not repeating any cards save for basic lands (props to Abe Sargent’s “Next 99” idea). The Do-Over Project is still ongoing because we keep getting saucy new sets with creative and colorful commanders to build new decks with.
If you’d like to follow the adventures of my Monday Night RPG group (in a campaign that’s been alive since 1987) which is just beginning the saga The Lost Cities of Nevinor, ask for an invitation to the Facebook group “Sheldon Menery’s Monday Night Gamers.”