Commander 2020 Set Review - Enhanced Evolution
(Otrimi, the Ever-Playful | Art by Victor Adame Minguez)
Mutant and Proud!
If there’s a lovelier combination of colors than Sultai, I haven’t seen it. Green ramps, black slays creatures, and, best of all, blue draws cards. In Commander 2020, these colors also give us Mutate... and a Whale Wolf! Thanks, Sultai.
In this article, we’re going to review Enhanced Evolution, the new Sultai deck from Commander 2020. We’ll evaluate the commanders and new cards, then round things out with an overview of the deck as a whole.
Otrimi, the Ever-Playful
If you play with Otrimi, your definition of 'playful' might be somewhat questionable to your friends, who probably don't think it's fun to be smacked with a big 6/6 trampler. Or maybe you're just playing a heavy Mutate deck.
Conveniently, Otrimi addresses one of the mechanic's inherent weaknesses. Mutate creatures are effectively Auras, so when they die, you're usually getting two-for-one'd. Otrimi's recursion ability reduces that downside.
Furthermore, the Big O's own Mutate ability is quite potent. Imagine Mutating onto a Birds of Paradise on turn three, or a Baleful Strix on turn four. Or if you're feeling extra mean, try Mutating onto Plague Stinger, Cephalid Constable, or Needle Specter! If you wanna draw tons of cards, Cold-Eyed Selkie is here for ya! So long as the targets don't have summoning sickness, you can swing the same turn you Mutate. And no matter where Otrimi sits on a Mutate stack, damage from it will count as commander damage.
A few PSAs: Note that the target must be non-human, so something like Invisible Stalker won’t work. (Weirdly, that means Mutate is a nonbo with Changelings.) Also, Mutating from the command zone still is affected by command tax.
I'd estimate that you need somewhere around 20-25 Mutate creatures to fully take advatage of Otrimi. Fortunately, the precon gets you about halfway there, and C20's companion set, Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths, should get you the rest of the way. Otrimi feels like a solid selection. Note that the mechanic may largely be relegated to just the plane of Ikoria, but we have cues to take from plenty of other Voltron decks that can help us out down the road, so even if the deck doesn't receive new mutations all that often, it can still find upgrades to this battlecruiser strategy.
Ukkima & Cazur
At first glance, I didn't have much to say about these cards beyond a Free Willy/Air Bud lovechild joke. But after deeper reflection, these commanders are actually awesome.
For starters, Ukkima is an excellent enabler for Ninjas. Nobody's blocking it, so that means you’ll always get a four-point life swing when you Ninjutsu (at the very least). Cazur offers clear synergy with that plan, not to mention with Proliferate.
Stacking counters on Ukkima is another option. Increasing Savagery, Forgotten Ancient, Hydra's Growth... make it so big that your opponents have no choice but to remove it, but will get clobbered if they do remove it. Since its second ability triggers upon leaving the battlefield, you only get punished if your opponents have Pacifism effects. With that thought in mind, pack some sacrifice or blink effects of your own to deal the damage on your own terms and evade any nasty Kenrith's Transformations you might encounter.
On a related note, Ukkima can go total Voltron. I recommend strapping the new Aura Colossification onto Ukkima.
Or you could try a Mutate build. For example, cast Ukkima turn three, then Mutate Otrimi onto it turn four. That's one frisky Whale Wolf.
Uh oh... Ukkima is a damage trigger when it leaves the battlefield? I smell an Infect deck with Tainted Strike creeping in, too...!
All in all, Ukkima and Cazur can take you in tons of directions, and players everywhere will appreciate this versatility, as well as the powerful potential. And also its Whale Wolfishness.
Zaxara, the Exemplary
I'll take deathtouch on any creature, and tapping for two mana is dope—not to mention broken. That's because with Freed from the Real or Pemmin's Aura, you get infinite blue mana. In an X spell deck, I think you'll find something to do with that.
Speaking of X spells, Zaxara turns them into armies of X/X Hydras at no additional cost, which seems truly nasty. For example, the turn after you cast Zaxara, you could untap, play a land, and cast a chunky 6/6 Hungering Hydra that comes with another 6/6 buddy because of Zaxara. And that’s just a tame scenario. Imagine the shenanigans you can get up to when you play Unbound Flourishing!
Enhanced Evolution even offers decent support for Zaxara with 10 X spells in the original list. You could improve on some, such as Capricopian, Vastwood Hydra, and Animist's Awakening, but the rest are pretty spicy, especially Villainous Wealth. Check out Hydroid Krasis, Pull from Tomorrow, and Curse of the Swine, too. Throw in any of the Finales from War of the Spark, such as Finale of Devastation, or even just the classic Torment of Hailfire, and you're golden. Zaxara is showing up as one of the most popular commanders out of the gate from this entire set, so keep your eyes peeled for this at many tables near you!
The instinct is probably to put this into a Skullbriar, the Walking Grave deck, but I think the actual winner here is Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord, who wants a big graveyard already and can abuse the power boost quite a bit. The fact that this card's power boost is based solely on your own graveyard is a little tough, but this is the kind of thing Izoni, Thousand-Eyed has been working toward all her life, so it's not a problem for the self-mill crowd. Splinterfright shows up in about 2,400 decks, though that's possibly owing to its self-mill ability. Pump up your Sidisi, Brood Tyrant for some true madness, though even Sidisi decks may find they're already stuffed with lots of creatures and will find it hard to make room.
Don't be fooled by the creature type: this isn't the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time). In truth, it's just a vanilla Hydra with downside. You'll encounter situations where there’s only one player you’d like to smack, yet so long as they have two open mana, you’ll never touch them. What’s more, other people at the table might get mad at you because they keep getting attacked, instead.
Certainly a fun card for a casual game, but there are better X spells. And better Hydras. And better Goats, for that matter.
Like the other cards in this cycle, Deadly Rollick seems absurd. It’s perhaps a smidge better if you select Ukkima and Cazur as your commanders since you’re twice as likely to have a commander on the battlefield. But honestly, it's outstanding in any deck helmed by a black commander. Four mana to exile a creature is a tad inefficient, though still acceptable. Zero mana? In the words of Terry Tate, that’s just nasty.
Outside of this deck, I suspect the commanders that will make the most use of this spell will be the indestructible Gods. Mogis, God of Slaughter, Athreos, Shroud-Veiled, Phenax, God of Deception. This is a good spell for most any Commander deck, but these commanders in particular will always be able to abuse it.
Dredge the Mire
Honest rules text time. Here's what this card really reads:
"Each opponent chooses the junkiest creature card in their graveyard. Put those cards onto the battlefield under your control. Sigh sadly, then pass the turn."
Would you play this card? Neither would I. That's basically what Dredge the Mire does. Sepulchral Primordial scoffs in this card's general direction, and is much more recurrable in the kinds of decks that care about reviving dead creatures, so please cut this as soon as you open the box.
I’ve seen some saucy theories about this card bandied about the internet, one of which included Stensia Bloodhall. Not sure if that's a good or bad sign.
Anywho, the design is certainly intriguing. Assuming you’re not doing anything broken, it’s only as broken as your opponents’ decks. You might get a nice two-mana boost from a bounceland here and there. The more advanced the mana gets, though, the more fun this becomes. Anybody packing Ancient Tomb, Gaea’s Cradle, or Cabal Coffers has to share with you. Someone flipped their Journey to Eternity? Sweet, now you get one, too! Plus you can do some fancy (though not totally broken) stuff on your own, such as getting an extra Maze of Ith or Forge of Heroes.
It's a little rote to say that this is good in Muldrotha, the Gravetide because, well, what isn't good with Muldrotha, right? Still, this can be used as a second Strip Mine, then Muldrotha can bring this back along with the original Strip Mine to really shut things down after a long game.
All in all, I like this card. There’s plenty more room for exploration, and each new land printed will present new options.
I'm generally not a fan of leeches, but I'll take Mindleecher. It grants flying to chunky ground creatures, and it steals cards from each opponent every time it Mutates. As such, it'll be best in a dedicated Mutate deck that triggers it early and often. Probably not much outside of that, though, as it's a minor reward if this is the only Mutate creature in your deck.
Sawtusk Demolisher... a mutating Beast Within, eh? Now this I like. Trample isn’t as useful an ability as Mindleecher's flying, but we’ll take it. Even one Mutate is nice, but the option to earn more is excellent.
Souvenir Snatcher isn't just an apt nickname for me when I encounter a claw machine—it's also a sweet Mutate payoff. It steals Sol Rings, bestows flying, or simply attacks for four when you need it to. Definitely snatching a copy of this one.
All told, these cards really reward a high density of the same mechanic, so they'll likely only see play in committed Mutate decks like Otrimi. They're still fun designs, though, and will shine in those strategies more than several other mutants from the set.
I've decided to analyze Tidal Barracuda through the majesty of song. So I rewrote the lyrics of Heart's rock radio staple "Barracuda."
So this is your end step, I have another card, to cast
I cast it 'cause I gave it flash.
It's just a Wheel, new cards for everyone
Or Aether Gale, that never fails.
Even though you can't use it on me
I probably shouldn't give you flash for free
It's like a bad, bad, bad Vedalken Orrery
Now isn't it... Barracuda?
What I'm trying to say is, there are better options out there. Use this only if you're executing a combo this turn and don't want to be interrupted. Don't settle for the Barracuda.
Overall Thoughts on the Deck
As is always the case with Commander precons, Enhanced Evolution could go in several directions. As such, it’s not super focused out of the box. No worries, though: I view these precons more as templates than cohesive wholes.
The most obvious direction is Mutate with Otrimi, the Ever-Playful as your playmate—I mean, commander. The precon comes loaded with support for this archetype, with both additional Mutate creatures and creatures that want to be mutated onto (see Predator Ooze, Cold-Eyed Selkie, and Ukkima, Stalking Shadow). Even the handful of Hydras in the deck work with Mutate since you can sink tons of mana into them, then give them evasion with mutants like Souvenir Snatcher and Mindleecher. If you’re looking to make minimal upgrades to the deck, I’d recommend this route.
If you prefer the road less traveled, try X spell tribal with Zaxara, the Exemplary at the helm. The deck has a nice start, but there are tons of other amazing Sultai X spells to choose from, too. Finally, if you're feeling ambitious, try Ukkima, Stalking Shadow and Cazur, Ruthless Stalker. They're less linear than your other two options, which is both a blessing and a curse; since you've got several builds to explore, it might take a while to find the right one, but regardless of the one you choose, they're sure to deliver!
No matter which commander(s) you choose, you can't go wrong. I love seeing such new and exciting cards added to my favorite triple-color combination. Enjoy them! I know I will.