The new Core set Magic 2020 has been around for a few weeks or so now and I’ve already enjoyed experimenting with its new offerings. In this article, I’ll talk through some of the applications I’ve found for some of the new cards.
I personally think this core set has offered a lot to Commander – definitely too much for a single article. For example, there are twelve new legendary creatures spread across the colour pie, many of which support powerful deck synergies and can be used effectively as Commanders. Unfortunately, to do them justice, I’d want to write quite extensively about each and provide either an in-depth deck tech or discuss the theme they might perpetuate a bit more – and that isn’t the purpose of this article. Instead, I’m going to focus on some hand-picked cards from the set and provide a quick look at the applications of each one. Most of them are more likely to fit a particular role in a given deck rather than being a ‘build-around’ or a card that dictates a central theme.
These provide upfront and latent value while being able to engage in combat with relatively large creatures. They operate like the titans (e.g. Grave Titan, Sun Titan, Inferno Titan) but with a bit more emphasis on versatility as opposed to raw game-winning power. Titans come in 6/6-sized packages and provide only a single effect, albeit a repeatable one. Cavaliers come in different sizes and each provide two different effects, one which triggers upon their entering the battlefield and the other when they die. While the titans can in theory accrue more value, this is based on the assumption that they can attack safely, while the Cavaliers don’t have ‘on attack’ triggers, meaning there’s no pressure to get aggressive to ensure you’re getting the best bang for your buck. Let’s look at each one in turn.
Cavalier of Dawn
This card provides a Beast Within (that cannot hit lands) when it shows up and an Argivian Find when it dies. Note that the card is worded so we don’t have to kill our own stuff if our opponents only control lands when it resolves. In fact, we could use this card to destroy our own permanent if we want to get two blockers, or even use it on itself to make immediate use of its death trigger and get a 3/3 in the process! A 4/6 with Vigilance is a decent size, particularly for defensive combat. Vigilance isn’t a massive upside, but it does at least allow it to attack past the 3/3 Golem it may have just created for our opponent while still being able to protect us from it on the swing back.
Cavalier of Gales
This card lets us Brainstorm upon entering the battlefield, and if our opponent destroys it, it might come back to haunt them later. Using Brainstorm and similar effects in combination with shuffling one’s library has been a common and effective strategy for years in competitive Legacy and Vintage, so it’s no surprise that it will have its uses here. Opponents who are planning to remove this 5/5 may consider using their removal spell in response to its ETB trigger to mitigate this sequence’s effectiveness. On the other hand, we would then get to shuffle it in, Scry 2, and then Brainstorm. This could slightly improve the three new cards we’d be seeing (as we will Scry away any irrelevant ones) so context is likely quite important. Flying makes this a better attacker and allows it to better defend against our opponents’ aerial threats.
Cavalier of Night
Having the option of Bone Splinters upfront and Unearth later can be potent, and it’s very possible that we’ll end up Unearthing the creature we sacrificed to the ETB trigger in the first place. Due to the way the card is worded, if we have only one other creature in play when the Cavalier enters, and that creature is removed in response to the ETB trigger, we unfortunately won’t be able to destroy anything. Also, it’s not compulsory for us to use said ETB trigger. This means we can play the Cavalier safely in the knowledge that we don’t have to sacrifice a valuable creature when the only possible reward would be the demise of a 0/1 Kobold token. Lifelink is not an ability that I personally rate as highly as Flying, but it’s a nice freebie to have strapped onto a 4/5.
Cavalier of Flame
Rummage or ‘wheel’ effects are highly valued in red as it’s a colour not particularly rife with card selection or the ability to draw extra cards. The on death trigger somewhat incentivises us to discard excess lands to find more spells (rather than discarding irrelevant spells to hit land drops). This could also be quite potent in a ‘lands matter’ deck. Being able to give all our creatures haste and slightly pump them can also be quite devastating when attempting to close out a game, and this may simply be what this card is designed to do. From among the Cavalier cycle, this one might be the one to watch in terms of power level, as I think the on death trigger and activated ability could be very easily abused in Commander.
Cavalier of Thorns
Sporting a similar ETB trigger to Elvish Rejuvenator (but the other cards are placed into our graveyard, which could be an upside a lot of the time anyway) and Reclaim-ing cards when it dies, this 5/6 doesn’t disappoint in the value department. Unless it’s very late in the game and most of your lands are on the battlefield, ‘missing’ with this card’s ETB is more likely to be unfortunate than a sign of the card being weak. The search effect being limited to the top five cards of your library is likely a result of Wizards’ attempts to balance the card, certainly in the context of this cycle of elemental knights, and maybe more relevantly in consideration of Standard. Similar could be said for the on death trigger being a Reclaim as opposed to a Regrowth. While Trample might be what we all hoped for on a big green creature, Reach is actually very valuable. Blocking creatures with Flying is more important than one might first think, as one could be attacked by multiple players in between turns. A big reach creature often deters ‘free’ chip damage from evasive creatures.
Whether an opponent has expressed a dislike for some of our permanents, we got caught in the crossfire of a mighty Planar Cleansing, or we are sacrificing things for value, this card gives us a re-buy on two of our favourite things. As the card returns permanents tapped, this means that cards like Strip Mine and Gilded Lotus don’t work straight away, and we can’t make surprise blockers with it (unless we return a creature that generates tokens like Beetleback Chief), but this may have been due to some effort on Wizards’ part to prevent the card from being used in combos all too easily. Speaking of combos, this card can go infinite with Eternal Witness, Phyrexian Altar and any creature with a meaningful trigger upon entering the battlefield or leaving play.
Agent of Treachery
Another card that has received reasonable hype for its potential in Commander, and rightly so considering it can potentially take anything on the battlefield permanently! Seven mana is a lot, but we are potentially able to make use of the most powerful or useful effect on the battlefield. In the case of some permanent-based combos, we can potentially break it apart and force the opponent to recover and re-play some element of their combo again – which might buy enough time for the table to save itself from doom (or help us combo, you never know!). If we’re playing a deck with a bit more of a ‘theft’ theme – it’s quite likely that we get to draw those cards in our end step! It’s worth nothing that we do need to be careful about an opponent using a Clone to either take back what is theirs or take something more devastating at a later time if this card is still on the battlefield. The prospect of a kicked Rite of Replication targeting this is terrifying!
Blood for Bones
For four mana we get Raise Dead and Zombify with the ‘drawback’ of having to sacrifice a creature as part of the cost. The card is worded so that it is possible for us to even return the creature we sacrificed to pay the spell’s cost to our hand or to play. This has not been possible with previous cards that cycle creatures from living to dead and dead to living (for example Victimize, Malevolent Awakening). Rebuying creatures with ETBs and/or dies/leaves play triggers makes this card particularly effective, so it plays well with cards like the cavaliers, Solemn Simulacrum, Reveillark, and creatures with persist like Kitchen Finks or Puppeteer Clique. As the sacrificing of a creature is part of the cost, we get to resolve any dies/leaves play triggers from that creature before the spell resolves. For example, we can cast this card, sacrificing Kitchen Finks to return Cavalier of Night to play and another creature to our hand. Finks will persist back into play (unless it already has a -1/-1 counter on it), meaning it is in play by the time the cavalier arrives and can be sacrificed to the ETB of the elemental knight!
Field of the Dead
Don’t be fooled by this card being a land that enters tapped and adds colourless mana. Seven lands with different names is a very easy set-up cost in games of multiplayer Commander considering they tend to go longer than in other formats. The ability to create a 2/2 zombie each time a land enters the battlefield adds up very quickly, especially if we run ways to make additional land drops or put lands into play like Farhaven Elf or Hour of Promise. It can even be a bit of a ‘combo’ card with something like Scapeshift or World Shaper, as it will trigger for each land entering provided we always have 7 lands with different names in play. One common denominator for its efficiency is that causing it to trigger routinely will often require little to no mana investment, so we’ll be getting zombies as we do the things we want our deck to do anyway. Here are a few more applications for the card and some interesting counter-plays organised in a bulleted list for brevity:
- Can go in any Commander deck.
- Not legendary, can be copied by Vesuva and Thespian’s Stage to generate multiple tokens per land. If it is already in play and ‘active’, Vesuva entering play copying it will generate two tokens.
- If a player controlling six differently-named lands puts this into play as the seventh differently-named land, it will trigger and create a token.
- Tokens enter untapped and can be used as surprise blockers if a land can be put into play at instant speed.
- Being a land makes it very easy to get into play for immediate value and stay in play through its intrinsic resilience.
- Playing a land for the turn doesn’t use the stack and therefore can’t be countered and triggers will automatically go on the stack, making it hard for opponents to prevent tokens being generated.
- Lands are intrinsically resilient because decks typically don’t run a lot of removal for them – this means its more likely to stick around than a card like Dreadhorde Invasion, Endless Ranks of the Dead or Diregraf Colossus.
- If a land enters the battlefield to make this card active, an opponent can respond to the trigger and prevent a token from being generated by causing the controller to only control six differently-named lands.
My personal perspective so far is that this card provides impactful offensive and defensive capabilities for any deck at such little cost. Where any ‘lands-matter’ decks are concerned, I can see this card very easily overshadowing interesting things the rest of the deck tries to do because it’s likely going to end up being the consistent and efficient win condition, as well as being the easiest to set up. Decks playing this card and Purphoros, God of the Forge will hopefully get bored of winning too easily! I might eschew it in the future, but for now, my main reason for continuing to play it is as insurance against opposing Fields of the Dead. I hope games don’t start to descend into an arms race revolving around this card, but I think if my opponent is going to attack me with a horde of zombie tokens, I definitely want to be able to at least make my own to block!
Golos’s pilgrimage between Islands
In my last Commander article, I wrote about why I like the card Golos, Tireless Pilgrim so much. If you are interested, you can read the article here. In that article, I provide an iteration of my ‘mono-red’ version of the deck, and today I’m leaving you with my ‘mono blue’ version, including some of the new cards. Enjoy!
I’m off to Magic Fest Barcelona which means more Modern! With Bridge from Below banned, it’s not clear to me if my best option is to now play Tron, Humans, Azorius Control, Phoenix, or just sleeve up Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis with a few changes anyway! I’ll bring some insights from that event next week.
You can find me on Facebook and Twitter @Chris54154, feel free to hit me up with any of your thoughts! In addition to Magic Fest Barcelona, I’ll be attending Magic Fest Birmingham in August and you’ll find me at the UK’s European Modern Series Final in September as well as other large competitive events like Mythic Championship Qualifiers.
As always, thanks for reading, good luck, and have fun in your next game!