Commander 2020 Financial Set Review

Cassie LaBelle breaks down the key spec opportunities of Commander 2020 before bringing you This Week’s Trends!

Fierce Guardianship, illustrated by Randy Vargas

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Wait, really? Another set review? Cassie, didn’t you just spend the past two-and-a-half weeks completely breaking down the entirety of Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths?

This is true, but Wizards of the Coast (WotC) aren’t just releasing one set this spring — they’re releasing two. Since 2020 is “The Year of Commander” and Ikoria was already a fairly Commander-centric set, WotC decided to release Commander 2020 this spring instead of waiting for the fall. And since Commander sets are often among the best speculation opportunities of the year, I wanted to make sure that I dedicated at least one full article to analyzing the contents of Commander 2020.

Unfortunately, it’s too soon to go back to Commander 2019 in order to see which cards turned out to be the best long-term spec targets, which is how I usually start these reviews. Many Commander cards usually need at least a year to start maturing, and sometimes it takes even longer. We’ve got almost a full decade of Commander releases to paw through at this point, though, and my approach to speculating on the contents of these decks hasn’t really changed since we last talked about it in August.

Here’s my Commander pre-con speculation strategy in a nutshell. First, avoid narrow cards that only play well with the overall theme of the deck. For example, Gavi, Nest Warden is a three-color card that’s not really worth playing unless your deck has a heavy cycling theme. Luckily, Timeless Wisdom is a deck full of cycling cards that support building around Gavi. I suspect she’ll be a pretty popular new Commander, but if you’re going to build around her, why not just buy the whole deck instead of the single? These cards have broken out before — Atraxa, Praetors’ Voice says hi — but it’s incredibly rare, and it usually only happens if the deck’s theme is already very popular.

Second, avoid investing in nearly all reprints. Omnipresent staples like Seedborn Muse or Chromatic Lantern are exceptions to this rule — those cards will always rebound due to extremely heavy demand — but otherwise, reprinted cards tend to drop in price and remain low for years to come. This is especially true for cards that have only been printed once or twice before and were primarily expensive due to low supply. Want to buy sexy reprints like Fluctuator? Wait at least six weeks for the price to stabilize.

What cards should you buy right now, then? Future format staples. Basically, you’re looking for cards with as much universal demand as possible. Single-color cards are better than multicolored cards and artifacts are best of all. Dockside Extortionist and Ohran Frostfang are two of the most expensive rares from Commander 2019, and that’s because you can fit them into all sorts of different Commander decks.

Think about it this way: if you’re in the market for a card like Gavi, Nest Warden, it’s probably for a brand-new deck that’s going to play out similarly to Timeless Wisdom. If you’re in the market for Dockside Extortionist, however, you probably need multiple copies for your existing decks. And since the people who bought the 100-card deck with Dockside Extortionist in it aren’t liable to want to trade away one of their deck’s best cards, there just aren’t enough copies to go around.

That’s what we’ll be looking for today in Commander 2020. We’re going to spend less time with cards that play into each deck’s given theme, and more time with cards that can fit into all sorts of different Commander brews. Bonus points if those themes are either tribal or play with counters, because those tend to be the most valuable Commander staples of all.

Shall we begin?

Breaking Down the Themes of Commander 2020

If we’re looking to avoid speculating on cards that are too heavily “on theme,” it’s worth taking a moment to figure out what the themes of Commander 2020 actually are. After reading through all five lists, here’s what I came up with:

  • Timeless Wisdom (Jeskai) is all about cycling. This theme extends to spells that care about drawing and discarding cards. I would guess that most of the “cycling matters” cards will fail to find a home outside of this deck, but cards with cycling tend to be universally powerful, and some enablers will work well in other decks that focus on drawing and/or discarding lots of cards.
  • Symbiotic Swarm (Abzan) is all about putting keyword counters on creatures. To a lesser extent, the deck cares about having lots of creatures with keywords. Keyword counters are new as of Ikoria, so there aren’t any existing decks out there with this theme. But keywords tend to be fairly good, so at least a few of these cards will find secondary homes somewhere.
  • Ruthless Regiment (Mardu) is all about attacking your opponent with a bunch of Humans. There’s a moderate token creation theme here as well. Tribal synergy plus token creation tends to be the sweet spot in Commander speculation, but aggressive cards rarely end up being worth all that much. We’ll have to pick and choose carefully here.
  • Enhanced Evolution (Sultai) is all about creating a massive monster through some kind of absurd mutate stack. Most of its cards either have mutate or play well with cards that have mutate. While mutate is slightly more parasitic than I’d like, cards with good enters-the-battlefield abilities and “big creatures matter” spells tend to have universal demand in Commander.
  • Arcane Maelstrom (Temur) is about casting a whole bunch of instants, copying them, and recurring them. This deck has the theme that’s least tied to Ikoria, and is the most likely deck (on the macro level, at least) to have a bunch of cards that will play well in a lot of other extant Commander decks. For example, I can imagine a lot of these cards fitting well in a Riku of the Two Reflections decks.

Now that we have this down, let’s see if we can group all of Commander 2020‘s new cards into useful categories for financial analysis:

Cards That Are Too Narrowly Tied to Their Deck’s Themes

I’m not going to spend much time on these cards since I don’t think they’re worth speculating on right now. Like we talked about earlier, the folks who want these cards are simply going to buy the whole deck — there’s no need to collect them piecemeal right now. The mutate cards on this list might eventually become solid long-term buys, but that would require WotC deciding to make mutate an evergreen or at least a commonly-returning ability. For now, you can safely ignore all of these cards.

Legendary Creatures I Don’t Really Like

I have nothing against any these cards on a flavor level — the whole “Skyshark” thing is pretty sweet, as are most the rest of these cards — but I don’t find any of these legendary creatures powerful enough to command much of a premium.

Tayam, Luminous Enigma requires you to jump through a whole course of hoops for a mediocre payoff, and I don’t really know what I’d cut for it in any of my Abzan decks. The Trynn/Silvar pairing doesn’t really have a high enough payoff, while the Brallin/Shabraz pairing just seems like a massive pain to assemble. Kelsien, the Plague has the highest upside here, but the good experience counter cards from Commander 2015 are really self-contained, and most of the best ones are in different colors. I don’t really want to play with Kelsien unless there’s an additional payoff somewhere.

Legendary Creatures I Like

I don’t generally recommend speculating on the secondary and tertiary legendary creatures from Commander pre-cons. Most of them drop into the $1-$2 range and stay there for years. There are always exceptions, however: cards like Meren of Clan Nel Toth; Atraxa, Praetors’ Voice; Edgar Markov; and Arixmethes, Slumbering Isle have appeared in every Commander release since the original. Which card in Commander 2020 has the best shot at being the next Atraxa or Arixmethes? Let’s see if we can figure that out right now.

Kalamax, the Stormsire may be the face of Arcane Maelstrom, but it might be worth a spot in every Temur deck with more than a few instants. I’d like this card way more if it worked without being tapped, admittedly, but I think it’s got a little potential nonetheless. 

I don’t love Mardu as a wedge in Commander — blue and green are the format’s two best colors — but Jirina Kudro is both a token generator and a tribal lord, so I wanted to highlight it here. Both Kalamax and Jirina could have potentially fit in the first section — legendary creatures that are too narrowly tied to their deck’s themes — but I can see enough tokens-and-spells players wanting to add these two cards to their decks that I put them down here instead. I still don’t think either card has a ton of financial potential, though. They’re just a tad too narrow.

Here’s my pick for the breakout Commander of Commander 2020. Having a mana accelerant as your commander is incredibly sweet, and the “X-spells matter” theme is something that I can see a lot of players wanting to build around without wanting to necessarily buy the whole Enhanced Evolution deck. Heck, we’ve already seen Unbound Flourishing spike in price due to Zaxara, and it won’t be the only card that does. I expect this card to end up being worth more than any of the other legendary creatures in the set by midsummer, and I’m surprised it’s on the $3.99 tier instead of the $4.99 tier right now. The fact that Zaxara is currently the most popular legendary creature in the set on EDHREC seals the deal for me, and I expect it’ll be $10+ at some point in the future. If you’re buying one card from this tier, make it this one.

Jeskai Tokens is a pretty popular Commander build and it seems like all “creature tokens matter” cards eventually spike in price. Much like Zaxara, there’s nothing that specifically ties Akim to the Timeless Wisdom deck, and I can see a lot of people wanting to build around Akim in the future. I’ve seen less buzz here than I have for the Nightmare Hydra, so it’s not quite as high up my spec list, but it’s still a solid buy for me.

I really like this pair of partner Commanders. Not only do they play really well together, but Cazur is just a good card in a green “go-wide” deck while Ukkima has plenty of combo potential outside of their partnership. There should be plenty of future demand for these two cards, both together and apart, and they’re my favorite partner commanders in this set by a pretty wide margin.

Haldan, Avid Arcanist doesn’t do much of anything without Pako, Arcane Retriever, but this ability is unique and popular enough that I can see this pair of partner commanders having some value in the future. I’d focus on a few of the other cards on this tier first, though.

This is another pair of partner commanders that I don’t like quite as much as Cazur and Ukkima, but they’re undeniably cool. “Counters matter” is definitely a thing that WotC is pushing more and more, and I can see folks wanting to run this duo in their Ozolith deck. I don’t think the power level is quite there with these two, but partner Commanders can be deceptively good, and I’ve seen enough buzz around these friends to make me feel like they belong on this list.

Utility Cards I Don’t Really Like

Now that we’ve looked at all the legendary creatures and all the cards that only really work with each deck’s key theme, let’s take a look at the rest of the set’s brand-new toys. I’m going to call all of these spells “utility cards,” because they can ostensibly fit into a whole bunch of different Commander decks. If any of these cards ends up being great, it’ll break out in a big way. For example, the best utility spells in each Commander set are worth at least $10-$20 and Teferi’s Protection was close to $50 before being reprinted.

Unfortunately, I don’t think any of the above cards is all that great. I’m not going to bother explaining my thoughts on the cards that are currently selling for $1.99 and less, because it’s pretty clear that the market agrees with me that Lavabrink Floodgates and Surly Badgersaur are unlikely to become future staples. A few of these cards have a little bit of hype behind them, though, so let’s talk about why I’m fading cards like Eon Frolicker and Fireflux Squad.

First, let’s talk about Verge Rangers and Cartographer’s Hawk. Both of these cards are similar: if you have an opponent with more lands than you do, you can jump through a hoop or two and try to get some more lands yourself. I’m a pretty big fan of both Land Tax and Kor Cartographer, but I feel like both of these cards are just a little too cute to be worth running in most decks. Cartographer’s Hawk requires an opponent to have more lands than you and you have to deal them combat damage, while Verge Rangers requires an opponent to have more lands than you and you don’t get to ramp; the land you can choose to play off the top of your library counts as your land drop for the turn. These cards might turn out okay—I like the Rangers more than the Hawk—but I wouldn’t bet on them, especially not at their current prices.

Eon Frolicker is basically unplayable unless you’re in a Commander environment where “opponent” is a pretty loose term and the downside of giving someone at the table a free turn is almost entirely mitigated or perhaps even useful. Otherwise, you’re giving up way more than you’re getting here. This is at least a pretty cute and unique card, though, so it might not end up being total bulk. 

I don’t want to sleep on any underpriced cards with delve, but Ethereal Forager doesn’t have much upside in Commander. A 3/3 flyer is not all that relevant a body in this format, and the fact that you have to attack with it before you can hope to get any cards back is a bridge too far for me. I guess someone might be able to make Ethereal Forager work in Legacy, which would spike its price tag, but that seems like a long-shot to me and I’m not a fan of this card when it comes to casual play.

Obscuring Haze is easily the worst member of the semi-free cycle, and I’m not really sure if there are any decks out there where I’d be excited to run an overpriced sorta-Fog. It’s possible that this cycle of cards is actually underrated, though, and if so, Obscuring Haze could end up being worth more than $4. I’d just prefer to focus my attention elsewhere right now.

There’s just so much that can go wrong with Fireflux Squad. You have to cast it, and attack with it, and be attacking with another creature, and then hope that whatever you reveal off the top of your library is good. I don’t see it. There are more consistent cards with this type of effect.

Utility Cards With Breakout Potential

Finally, the section you’re all waiting for. These are the utility cards I like best — the Commander 2020 singles that I think have the best chance to break out and become future format staples. Not all of these cards will hit, mind you — in fact, I would guess that the majority of them will not, as happens in nearly every Magic set — but a handful of these cards will be worth 3-4x their current retail price by this time next year. Let’s see if we can figure out which ones have the best shot at getting there!

I love all three of these cards, but I’d rank them in reverse order of their current price tags. Flawless Maneuver is my favorite of the three since it can provide immediate protection for your commander, Deflecting Swat gives you a more limited form of protection, and Deadly Rollick basically just means that you don’t have to choose between playing your commander and playing a spot removal spell this turn—you can do both. That’s pretty good, but there are lots of cheap spot removal spells you can play if you don’t want to shell out for Deadly Rollick. There aren’t nearly as many free ways to protect your commander, so I’d imagine a lot of players whose decks rely heavily on keeping their commander in play are going to be willing to pay up for the red and white members of this cycle. Regardless, expect all three of these cards to remain expensive for years to come.

Vedalken Orrery is a $30 card despite being reprinted in 2014. Tidal Barracuda is a lot more vulnerable than Vedalken Orrery, and you can only play it in blue decks, but the upside of forbidding your opponents from casting spells during your turn more than makes up for allowing everyone to have access to your Orrery. In fact, the political implications of this card go a long way to help mitigate some of its vulnerabilities. Long-term, Tidal Barracuda should be an easy $10+.

Oh, hey, it’s an artifact that has terrific synergy with every land ever printed. Not only is Manascape Refractor a mana accelerant and a color fixer, but it’s going to be a Maze of Ith or an Academy Ruins or something else great more often than not. Manascape Refractor is very definition of a future format staple, and this is one of the most can’t-miss buys in the whole set. Expect this card to be at least $10-$15 at some point in 2021.

Hexproof might be the most frustrating keyword ever printed, and it’s definitely something that you want your commander to have. Not only does Slippery Bogbonder provide excellent protection for your most important creatures, but it lets you go wild with any counters you might have sitting around. I don’t like this card quite as much as some of the others on this list, but it’s going to have quite a lot of demand going forward nonetheless. I’m expecting this card to be stable in the $6-$8 range.

Nesting Grounds is terrific. It’s not the kind of land you can jam into any deck, or even any monocolored deck, but rare lands that combo with something as common as “permanents with counters on them” are always going to be worth keeping track of. Nesting Grounds is only going to get better with every set that WotC prints, and I can even imagine this card finding life in Legacy at some point. It’s a very safe buy at $6, and there’s easy $10+ upside.

Cryptic Trilobite is underwhelming if you’re planning to play fair. Fortunately, I don’t expect too many people will be playing fair with this card at any point. There’s a boatload of combo potential here, and it’s at least going to be a future staple in Ghave, Guru of Spores decks. My guess is that this card continues to kick around in the $5 range, but solid combo pieces are always just one new card away from being broken in half.

Dismantling Wave is the exact kind of card that I’m going to at least consider putting in every single one of my white-based Commander decks between now and the end of time. Not only is it one of the strongest early-game Disenchant effects ever printed (as long as you’re playing multiplayer, that is), Dismantling Wave’s cycling mode is exactly what many white decks crave late in the game. This is just an exceptionally solid card that should be worth at least $5 for approximately forever, making it a fine buy at current retail.

We know that cards like Molten Echoes are good in Commander, because Flameshadow Conjuring is already a nominal format staple. Molten Echoes is going to be a lot more scarce, and it’s liable to be better in more than a few red decks. Cards with “choose a creature type” are already among my favorite spec targets, and this is no exception. Future $6-$8 rare at least.

Here’s another “choose a creature type” card, only Species Specialist is even more universally good than Molten Echoes. In fact, I don’t think I’d ever play a black tribal deck in Commander without including a copy of Species Specialist. The fact that it works well against others with tribal decks is just icing on the cake. Future $8+ rare.

Netherborn Altar is totally unique in the world of Commander, and that can lead to some pretty high prices. Not only can this turn the “Commander tax” into a much more palatable life payment, but it’s literally the only way you can actually cast a commander like Phage, the Untouchable. This card is probably not going to be an early gainer, but it’s the kind of oddball card that ends up being worth $8 or more somewhere down the line.

Twinning Staff is probably a little too expensive to activate (and a little too Magical Christmas Land) for most well-tuned Commander decks, but the fact that this is an artifact that lets any color copy their spells pushes it over the edge for me. Cards like this always have more demand than it seems, and artifacts in Commander pre-cons are almost always underpriced during the pre-order period. I’m willing to take a gamble on Twinning Staff.

Curious Herd doesn’t solve the problem of “my opponents always have too many artifacts,” but it’s not a bad half-measure. This is going to make at least four or five tokens in most Commander games, and that’s great value for just four mana. I wouldn’t like Curious Herd all that much if it were pre-selling for $5-$8, but at a buck? Buying in is a no-brainer.

Boneyard Mycodrax is the other $1 card I think everyone is sleeping on. Granted, you can’t just stuff this Fungus into any Commander deck and call it a day, but the number of decks where this is an absurdly large three-mana creature that can also scavenge for a billion if you Fling it or mill it is higher than people think. This is easily a $3-$4 card long-term.

The Best Card in the Set

I wanted to break out Fierce Guardianship and talk about it here because it’s pretty clearly the best card in Commander 2020. It’s also the most expensive: no other card in the set is pre-selling for more than $20, and Fierce Guardianship is pre-selling for a whopping $22.99.

Is this card worth the hefty price tag? Yes. In fact, it’s likely to make Timeless Wisdom the most expensive deck of the bunch all by itself. The best point of comparison I have for this card is Teferi’s Protection, which wasn’t easy to find for less than $40-$50 until the Mystery Booster reprint.

I’d suggest trying to snag the whole deck for MSRP if you can find it, but that might prove difficult. If you really just want this card, buying in now for $23 seems unlikely to backfire on you. Even if Fierce Guardianship ends up being a bit worse than some people think, it’s still one of the best cards in the entire format and close to an auto-include in nearly every blue deck.

This Week’s Trends

Even though I just published an article with a trends section on Friday, we’ve got a lot to talk about today. I’ll dive into the nitty-gritty of Ikoria‘s Week 1 results next week, but the biggest winners after a single day of action have been Luminous Broodmoth; Rielle, the Everwise; and roughly half the members of the companion cycle.

I’m not going to spend too much time on this today since the nascent metagame will have likely shifted considerably in the 36 hours between when I’m writing this and when you’re reading this, but it really does seem like even the most optimistic takes on the companions have severely undershot just how good they are. Lurrus of the Dream-Den and Gyruda, Doom of Depths have looked especially powerful, and I wouldn’t be shocked if they end up completely shaking up at least two or three of the major Constructed formats over the next week or two.

Financially, the ship has probably sailed on these cards, especially since the risk of potential banning has shot way up and most players are still going to need just one copy of each. Snag a Lurrus or a Gyruda now if you need one, but they’re probably pretty close to their price ceilings already despite being way better than expected.

Speaking of increasing prices, today has been the most bullish week in Magic finance since the end of 2019. Between the exciting new set and the first round of $1,200 stimulus checks hitting US bank accounts, my personal store started seeing heavy sales for the first time since before the start of the pandemic. This movement has been reflected in the market as well, with cards like Misty Rainforest, Magus of the Moon, and Cephalid Constable all seeing major gains this week.

These first two cards really should have spiked weeks ago, but the overall market has been incredibly slow and Modern prices have been especially depressed since the advent of Pioneer. That seems to be changing, at least temporarily, which could spell good things for the Modern index as a whole over the next few weeks. At any rate, Gruul Midrange (which runs four copies of Magus of the Moon) and Bant Snowblade (which runs four copies of Misty Rainforest) are the two most popular decks in Modern right now. If this trend continues, expect to see some of their other key staples — Seasoned Pyromancer and Force of Negation, perhaps — start to sneak up in price over the next few weeks.

Cephalid Constable is a Commander-related spike, and it shot up in value thanks to the Command Zone YouTube channel. The card was given a spotlight last week as the hosts pointed out that Cephalid Constable is a pretty amazing card to play in your mutate deck. These sorts of spikes rarely stick, and selling into hype is correct, but I wouldn’t expect this card to end up back below $5-$8 again anytime soon. It really is great with mutate.

Lastly, it looks like not even WotC can figure out where you’re supposed to be able to open up all of their alternate-art variant cards these days. The three Japanese-language exclusive Godzilla cards were supposed to appear in both English and French Collector Boosters, but they were left out of those print localizations entirely and will only be appearing in Japanese boxes.

The plan is for WotC to distribute these cards to Local Game Stores so they can be handed out to folks who buy Collector Booster boxes, but I’m guessing the folks who pre-ordered their boxes on eBay or wherever will be mostly out of luck. This is frustrating, but I suspect WotC will be fairly generous with their LGS handouts and the cards will be decently cheap on the secondary market. That’s the easiest way to prevent people from being upset about these cards being cut from the set, at least, and it won’t cost them very much more to send a few extra packs to each shop. If you’re looking to buy these three cards on the secondary market, I’d wait.

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