Commander 2020 Set Review – Arcane Maelstrom

(Kalamax, the Stormsire | Art by Nicholas Gregory)

Creatures and Copies and Spells, Oh My!

It’s that time again: Commander precon time! We have five new wedge-based Commander decks this time around, all of which are tied to the newest set, Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths, and today I have the great privilege of walking you through the Temur precon, Arcane Maelstrom. Not only is this an exciting deck, but I’d say this is the most exciting set of precons we’ve had since Commander 2016 gave us some very spicy four-color decks.

What does Arcane Maelstrom bring to the table? I’m so glad you asked! This deck is a fun amalgamation of (mostly) creatures and spells that care about spells and creatures! The things the deck wants to do have a lot of overlap with decks helmed by Riku of Two Reflections, namely casting big spells, making tokens, and copying either or both. Let’s take a look at what this new Temur deck brings to the format!


Kalamax, the Stormsire

Leading the deck right out of the box is Kalamax, the Stormsire. Do take note that his spell-copying trigger is for instants only, but even factoring that in, there are lots of great ways to use him. There’s high-power stuff like Electrodominance or Mystic Confluence, which are tons of fun to copy, but honestly, even copying something as simple as a Harrow feels fantastic. And if you’re feeling up for the challenge, run lots of spells like Rush of Blood to pump Kalamax twice when he swings for a scary spell-Voltron deck! Break out your calculators, kids, because the math in this deck is going to get real stupid real fast.

Oh, and of course, Ral, Storm Conduit taught us what happens when we hit an infinite-copy loop, and Kalamax is quite on board with it. If another player casts a spell, and the first spell you cast this turn is a copy effect like a Reverberate or Fury Storm to copy their spell, then the copies of the spells that Kalamax makes may copy the original Reverberate a million times. This makes him infini-big, just like it made Ral, Storm Conduit deal infinite damage to his enemies. This trick does require some timing and has some restrictions, but it’s the kind of thing to be aware of when playing with or against our Dino buddy.

Since the easiest way to tap Kalamax is to make some Kalam-attacks, I think the surprise pump spells are a great way to go. Maybe throw in a Runechanter’s Pike to commit to theme, or a Spellbinder, which is my favorite sleeper tech. There’s a ton of room for this deck to keep things diverse and creative without bringing down its power level, so keep your eye on this guy.


Haldan & Pako

Haldan and Pako are a very neat pair of partners; they almost act as a Temur version of Gonti, Lord of Luxury or Etali, Primal Storm.

Manipulating the top cards of your opponents’ libraries isn’t a common effect, but Wizened Snitches, Lantern of Insight, and Field of Dreams will all let you see what you’re getting into before you commit Pako to an attack. Like Narset, Enlightened Master, you can easily chain together extra combat and extra turn spells like Savage Beating, Beacon of Tomorrows, and Expropriate, allowing Pako to grow bigger and bigger while Haldan’s library of spells grows with him.

I think the real fun of the deck will come from its genuine randomness, though. Etali, Primal Storm has the chance to deviate a little too far into the Destructive Force effects, which let her continue to cast tons of spells while depriving enemies of resources. Pako and Haldan just want to play a big game of fetch and to have fun with whatever they find, so they create a great, high-variance game of EDH, and that level of unpredictability and crazy potential is exactly the kind of thing we find so appealing in Commander. Plus, he’s SUCH A GOOD BOY!


Xyris, the Writhing Storm

Building around Xyris may mean taking pages out of The Locust God and Nekusar, the Mindrazer‘s playbooks. You know how The Locust God is really good whenever you make seven tokens off of a Reforge the Soul? Well this commander makes 21 tokens off of the same spell.

I would recommend Parallel Lives or Doubling Season here, but… do you even need it!? Slap this onto the table and follow it up with Teferi’s Puzzle Box, Khorvath’s Fury, Commit//Memory, or Windfall… it’s an army in a can! Do you have a Purphoros, God of the Forge or an Impact Tremors in play? So. Many. Snakes! Throw in a Phyrexian Altar to keep the wheels spinning by casting all the new spells you just drew, especially if you found any other wheels.

This is also where green adds a new twist to the archetype. We know from The Locust God that a single Shared Animosity can really end things outright. A Beastmaster Ascension or even just an Overwhelming Stampede will help out a lot, too.

Xyris is one among many wheel decks in our format now, but it may be one of the most powerful among them, too.


Curious Herd

I want very much to like this card, and in fact I think it will find its way into plenty of token decks, from Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice to Ghired, Conclave Exile.

The awkward part about it, however, is that green is usually really good at destroying all those artifacts. The better this card is for you, the more it means your opponent is already succeeding, too. If an opponent has a lot of artifacts, wouldn’t we rather cast a Bane of Progress? Or if we’re in red, a Vandalblast? It sounds amazing to cast this with an Aura Shards in play, but at the same time, Aura Shards is so good in the first place that it might just blank this card in our hand.

I think I ultimately do like this card, especially for decks like Kalamax or Wort, the Raidmother, each of which cares about this card’s status as a spell. There are a lot of random Signets and Treasure tokens out there these days, after all. If you find that this routinely makes you more than 10 tokens, though, consider the impact a spell like Creeping Corrosion would have in that same spell slot (though I’ll admit, that card’s art isn’t even half as cute as this one).


Deflecting Swat

This is a pretty great addition to red’s wheelhouse. We’ve seen a similar redirection effect before on Shunt, Ricochet Trap, or Wild Ricochet, but… well, four mana is a lot to hold up in an aggressive color like this. A much better mana cost is… free!

There will be times that this catches opponents completely off guard. Why hello, Time Stretch and Comet Storm. Yes, I think I will choose new targets for that Brago, King Eternal‘s ability.

Mostly, though, this is a valuable tool to keep your commander safe from spot removal. Cast your Greven, Predator Captain or Gishath, Sun’s Avatar or Niv-Mizzet, Parun safe in the knowledge that those Path to Exiles won’t be bothering you this round. Overall, a solid inclusion for commander-centric red decks, and it’s cool to see WotC explore designs that play up red’s trickster side.


Decoy Gambit

I want to like it! I really do! It’s an instant, it draws you cards, and it bounces up to one creature per opponent for just three mana! Those are all fantastic aspects of the card, but I’m a bit concerned that it may be a trap. Your opponents get to decide for you if you bounce the creature or draw the card. I’m nervous that when you need the card draw, you’ll get the bounce, and when you need to bounce, you’ll get the card.

I will say that the card warrants playtesting, as it’s definitely costed well. I ultimately suspect it won’t put in the work you really need it to, though.


Eon Frolicker

Politics! How I love politics! Eon Frolicker reminds me of some of my favorite political blue effects: Illusionist’s Gambit, Reins of Power, and Portal Mage.

Here’s what I do love about it: in the early-to-mid game, it can be a solid alliance-brokering piece, and it may even swing the balance against the player who has taken too big a lead by giving the weaker players a chance to gang up on that player.

Here’s what I don’t love about it: it gives an opponent a whole extra turn, not just another combat phase, and while it does keep you safe with protection, it doesn’t force them to attack or risk anything at all.

If you find yourself in a very political playgroup it may be worth a shot, but otherwise, maybe skip it. (Can we make a million copies of this and make everyone else take infinite turns until they deck out? Be right back, I’m gonna see a mad scientist about making an Otter-duplicating machine….)


Glademuse

There’s a fair way to run Glademuse, and that’s by giving your creatures (or your spells in general) flash. Emergence Zone, Alchemist’s Refuge, Vedalken Orrery, and Vivien, Champion of the Wilds all make Glademuse look great, and it certainly belongs in most Yeva, Nature’s Herald decks.

However, similar to Heartwood Storyteller and Edric, Spymaster of Trest, Glademuse is one of those cards that looks like you’re planning to play a fair deck that gives advantage away to opponents for free, but then seeks to abuse all the advantages in a very one-sided way. You aren’t planning to do fair things with those cards under normal circumstances, and Glademuse should be used to do the same sort of thing. It is most at home in Yeva and perhaps a Simic deck like Rashmi, Eternities Crafter where you can also run Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir, so you’ll be the only one playing spells on other people’s turns.

Glademuse is a strange card for green. Make sure you build around it; this is the kind of card that many decks out there can take advantage of, too, if you’re not careful.


Lavabrink Floodgates

I think this can do some work in the right deck. The obvious place to put it is under a commander with toughness greater than 6. Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis or Ruhan of the Fomori stand out as examples, though it could also be fun in spell-based decks where you don’t mind whether people vote to blow up the board or not. We might compare it to Coercive Portal or Plague Boiler, slowly ticking towards an inevitable Wrath. However, Coercive Portal only shows up in about 1,300 decks, so this one probably isn’t destined for popularity. Most will probably opt for the more reliable Hedron Archive.


Nascent Metamorph

Cheap Clones are great, but Phantasmal Image this is not. For every one time you can imagine flipping into a Blightsteel Colossus with this, there will be 98 times where you actually hit a Birds of Paradise or an Eternal Witness and don’t get its ETB trigger. That’s a yikes from me.


Ravenous Gigantotherium

Devour is back, and it’s big! Say you eat two tokens with this. That’s a 9-power creature right there, and that can fight a whole lot, probably taking out at least one or two commanders. Not bad. It gets into Plague Wind territory if we have even more tokens to eat. It gets into dangerous territory if we don’t have any at all, thought.

We’d need to be pretty heavy into a token theme to trigger this reliably. The most popular card with Devour is Mycoloth, which shows up in 8,782 decks, but the next most popular Devour creature is Bloodspore Thrinax, which only appears in a quarter as many. Besides, most token decks have reliable creature removal in other colors already, which may leave this to appear more often in mono-green token lists, if it appears at all. I think Grothama, All-Devouring would like the Gigantotherium the most as another way to trigger its ability.


Twinning Staff

Hands down, Twinning Staff is one of the most powerful cards in the whole precon. There are a ton of cards that copy spells, and I’m not just talking about Fork effects. Mizzix’s Mastery copies each spell in your graveyard. Thousand-Year Storm creates copies upon copies. Eye of the Storm is a disgusting clusterfork of spell-copying that gets absolutely insane with Twinning Staff. Even Johnny & Jenny’s best friend Hive Mind will make copies that Twinning Staff can passively copy.

These are all great, but Twinning Staff can also actively copy something with its own activated ability. The activation cost is expensive, but we’ve all seen how much mana these Spellslinger decks can make with all their Mana Geysers.

This might not budge too far out of the Kalamax, the Stormsire decks for a while, but God-Eternal Kefnet, Riku of Two Reflections, and perhaps even trickier decks like Inalla, Archmage Ritualist, which loves bouncing her Dualcaster Mage and Naru Meha, Master Wizard over and over, will enjoy the havoc this Staff can wreak upon their foes.

(Also, pour one out for Lutri, the Spellchaser, who would have loved this if he was legal, even just as a commander.)


There’s No Plane Like Home

Those are my hot takes for the cards in Arcane Maelstrom. Do you agree? Disagree? Did I miss anything? Let me know what you think in the comments below, or on Twitter, @Grubfellow, where I tweet #dailyEDH microcontent.

Dean is a husband, father, writer, and long-time fan of Magic and gaming in general. He co-hosts the Commander Time! podcast with Nate Burgess and Patrick Sippola. Currently located in Rochester, NY; he loves playing with new people, so if you're ever in the area, shoot him a message. Follow him on Twitter @GrubFellow, where he tweets #dailyEDH microcontent.