Today, Ryan assesses three decks from Commander 2020. How do the decks feel, and where can he see them going? Today, he looks at Abzan, Temur, and Jeskai. 

We’ve reached Commander 2020 previews a little early this year, and it’s been a welcome and exciting change. This year’s decks were all built to pair well with the new Standard set, Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths. While they don’t have the same sole-release impact I’ve grown accustomed to in the last few years, there is a lot to discover about the slew of new cards we’ve been delivered.

Commander 2020

Every year I take a look at the new generals Wizards has created for the product and outline quickly what I would do if I were to build around each of them. This was a little bit easier to do in past years, as the deck count had been paired down to only four, but since this year’s decks are a return to the wedges we last saw in the first Commander product, I’m willing to let that slide. This week we’ll be looking at three of the decks to analyze what can be done with the twelve generals inside them:

  • Timeless Wisdom is a Jeskai deck that centers around drawing and discarding cards. The face-Commander does through cycling, and focuses on giving you more opportunities to pull this off on your turn. The deck itself is a tempo-control style deck that hopes to build up tokens and enjoy other benefits of playing reactively.
  • Symbiotic Swarm is the Abzan deck, and features general themes of recursion, enter-the-battlefield effects, and ‘value’ creatures. Out of the box, it features a deck built around ‘maximal velocity’, with ways to slowly accelerate while building up your board.
  • Arcane Maelstrom is a more splashy deck, built around big plays and swingy turns. Copying spells is always fun, and the other creatures in the deck lend themselves to getting the ball rolling, and keeping it rolling.

Timeless Wisdom

Last week I covered the larger picture of what I would do with Gavi, Nest Warden. The deck may be a bit of a glass cannon, even if it aims to play for the long game, but I think it’s fair to say that Gavi can be built in any number of ways, including dedicating an even higher ratio of the deck to cycling.

When I was writing about Kykar, Wind’s Fury last summer, I would have loved to have had a co-pilot like Akim, the Soaring Wind around to help give the deck extra reach. If you don’t want to get into a thematic build I don’t think the type of creature tokens you’re creating are going to be as important as the fact that for this deck you want to be making creature tokens. that may come in the form of goblin tokens through Pashalik Mons or drakes with Drake Haven.

Our general is not a combo by itself, but the activated ability (while not the same as Flying Crane Technique) feels an awful lot like it if enough of your tokens are already flying, or when pumped by something like Shared Animosity or Cathar’s Crusade. If you’re planning on making other tokens too, that’s fine, since I would recommend cards like Aven Wind Guide, Brudiclad, Telchor Engineer, and Intangible Virtue that will be augmenting our creature tokens. This is the kind of wide spectrum general that I really love to get behind – let’s not forget too that Brudiclad works really well with treasure tokens. Smothering Tithe really gets the action going with Akim!

Every time we get new partners I like to state at least once that I really love the idea of creating them in pairs, allowing for a more balanced, focused design. Brallin, Skyshark Rider and Shabraz, the Skyshark hold true to that sentiment. It’s uncommon for us to see generals that care about both the drawing and discarding of cards, making cards like Anvil of Bogardan and Grafted Skullcap independently relevant. The two can both be win conditions, but where things really get spicy is the sheer amount of wheel effects we have in Red and Blue. Between Windfall, Wheel of Fortune and the many others, we’ll be able to stack plenty of triggers, and won’t have to worry about restacking our deck thanks to shuffle wheels like Echo of Eons. Given we’re in Blue and White, we have plenty of ways to keep our generals in play, too – from counterspells to cards like Teferi’s Protection. I also think this deck will be well placed to disincentive opponents from casting spells through Niv-Mizzet, Parun, Mystic Remora and Rhystic Study.

Symbiotic Swarm

It’s been a while since I’ve come across an Abzan general that really excited me, but Kathril, Aspect Warper shares so much with Rayami, First of the Fallen – a general I really enjoyed out of Commander 2019 – that I’m willing to bet that lightning strikes again here. There are differences, of course, but think the open-ended puzzle of trying to find the right combination of spells that get creatures into your graveyard and creatures with keywords that graft onto other creatures is a new spin worth spending time on.

Our first hurdle of filling our graveyard is pretty easy to clear with Altar of Dementia, Birthing Pod, and Fauna Shaman. But my intuition for creatures comes in the form of those that come back from the graveyard, like Adorned Pouncer, Boneyard Scourge, or Multani, Yavimaya’s Avatar. They can grant ability to counters to creatures when Kathril is cast or flickered and still have use later. From there, I look forward to granting abilities from or onto any number of creatures like Oketra the True, Kunoros, Hound of Athreos, Plated Slagwurm, and Zetalpa, Primal Dawn. Get Odric, Lunarch Marshal or Concerted Effort onto the battlefield and have a good time.

Next we have Tayam, Luminous Enigma, which feels like the culmination of everything Magic has been building upon over the last decade as counters on stuff has become increasingly more popular. I like the overall theme of three being used all over this card, and I think capping the recursion there is a healthy line to draw, as I could see this being insufferable if it could bring back anything. I’m admittedly at a loss for exactly what I would personally do with the nightmare beast as my general, in that just about any creature or mechanic with counters in the rules text could be a contender here. Any ways to increase counter production, like Doubling Season, would be welcome here.

To me, Nikara, Lair Scavenger and Yannik, Scavenging Sentinel are going to play best as an alternative to a deck helmed by Kathril, Aspect Warper. I would also say that my experience with The Mimeoplasm tells me that Yannik’s ability to disperse counters has a lot of untapped potential that likely make this duo something that may actually be bigger than the sum of its parts. This duo is likely going to take a lot from Ikoria proper, as ability counters will only help to bolster Nikara. I like the idea of Damnation turning into a draw spell on top of removal. But I also think it’s possible to finally make use of underused cards like Caller of the Pack or Banshee of the Dread Choir. I would really love to team Yannik up with Kulrath Knight, but let’s not get into the hybrid debate today.

Arcane Maelstrom

Somehow Temur generals always present concepts I can’t make practical sense of right away. Kalamax, the Stormsire fits into this mold very well. Obviously we are going to want to be casting instant spells, but that is such a generic requirement that Kalamax could really be doing anything beyond that. For me this deck would focus on having most of my instants be combat tricks that could then be copied as our general is attacking, since attacking is going to be the easiest way to ensure that our general is tapped in the first place. This may even be a good candidate for a nearly creatureless, spellslinger deck with only select creatures in the mold of Echo Mage, Mischievous Quanar, and Riku of Two Reflections making an appearance. I envision using Elemental Mastery, Freed from the Real, and Dragon Throne of Tarkir to really assert my dominance. And I guess trying to put a Dinosaur in a car works, too – grab your Smuggler’s Copter.

While the build of Xyris, the Writhing Storm wouldn’t be exactly the same as what I chose to do with Gavi, Nest Warden, the two could start from a similar place. Gavi only asks you to cycle once to get the full effect and I think that lends itself to a more midrange deck. But Xyris wants to throw reservations out for a much more unbound and fast-paced deck. I can dig it. Because of how the general is built, you can take it in different directions including snake tribal, which would be the direction I would take over focusing on mutual card draw, because that’s more my jam.

I’m excited by the fact that we can take a card like Seshiro the Anointed and not only have it bolster the tribal theme, but also be another piece of the draw engine. And to quickly touch on the draw engine, I love that this card doesn’t want spells like Mind Spring or Harmonize but instead spells that draw a single card repeatedly, like Academy Elite or Train of Thought. I foresee this as a deck I will dedicate an entire article to eventually.

Haldan, Avid Arcanist and Pako, Arcane Retriever really have me torn. Thematically I really love what this pair is doing and I could see a lot of fun to be had when you can play everyone’s decks at once and disregard the mana symbols. But, with so many non-creature spells in Commander, I feel like this deck will be hard to pilot without creating decision paralysis. I can see the card advantage aspect of this, as you’re essentially drawing up to four extra cards every time you attack with Pako, but I’ve played the decks that draw excessively and they are just not for me. Plus, Etali, Primal Storm is going to hit more often. If this is a deck for you, grab your enchantments that add extra mana and your copy of Vedalken Orrery and be ready to have a good time.


While I will be returning to look at the other two decks, Ruthless Regiment and Enhanced Evolution next time, I will say that the Commander product for 2020 took an interesting change to the structure we’ve had for the last decade by linking itself into the world of an accompanying Standard set. This was an experiment that works and I feel makes it some level of success. For the most part, I like the direction that these decks have taken and I have plans to purchase all five of them at some point. Stay safe until next time, thanks for your time.

Ryan Sainio is a Graphic Designer who writes about EDH and the EDH community. He has been playing Magic: The Gathering since 7th Edition in 2002 and values flavorful and fun gameplay over competitively optimized decks.

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