Core Set 2020 Set Review - Blue

(Atemsis, All-Seeing | Art by Ryan Pancoast)

Water. Earth. Fire. Air.

Blue owns half of those elements, you know....

Hello and welcome to the Core Set 2020 blue review! We've crossed plane after plane in search of the best new blue spells and gathered them all in one location for you to peruse and consider, so let's dig right in and see what we like, what we don't, and what new perspectives we can discover!


Mythics


Cavalier of Gales

Speaking of a different perspective, five mana is a lot for what is usually a one-mana Brainstorm effect. That being said, I'm actually fairly high on Cavalier of Gales despite the difficult mana cost.

What I feel has been lacking in most of the discussion surrounding this card is the text that doesn't center around Brainstorm. First off, it's a five-mana 5/5 flyer. While Angel tribal can certainly do better than that any day of the week, for blue decks, this is a very competitive rate that even Sphinxes don't usually match. The fact that it also draws you a card and stacks your deck really makes the expense worth it.

Add to that that the death trigger can solve the classic Brainstorm issue of being stuck with cards that you don't want on top of your library, and what you have here isn't a replacement for Mulldrifter in decks looking to abuse enter-the-battlefield triggers, but rather just a solid flyer that can get through and incidentally provide you value in more aggressive decks. After all, five power in the air every turn adds up! Consider Cavalier in blink decks, of course, or deck-stacking champs like Yennett, Cryptic Sovereign, but don't be afraid to try it out in an aggressive deck too, maybe one like Medomai, the Ageless.


Mu Yanling, Sky Dancer

While I am excited that we're getting more and more three-mana planeswalkers, this newest iteration of Mu Yanling isn't really blowing anyone away in EDH, even at the reduced price. Stopping someone's flyer while adding two loyalty counters is okay, but the fact that it's your only option the turn she comes down is less than exciting. Being able to then make a 4/4 flyer on turn two if she keeps her full loyalty is okay, and might be enough to do something in tempo decks in constructed formats, but it's still just rather meh when it comes to what most Commander decks are trying to do.

Her emblem is "you win the game" kind of good, so I'm not going to say that she won't see play in mono-blue or two-color Superfriends or Proliferate decks, but other than that narrow use case, I wouldn't count on seeing this particular version of Mu Yanling across the table very often.


Rares


Agent of Treachery

Agent of Treachery is the opposite side of the coin to Cavalier of Gales. A seven-mana 2/3 isn't going to be impressing anyone at parties, but if you're playing the blink deck (Roon, Brago, and Aminatou are particularly excited) or the reanimator deck, abusing Agent of Treachery's enter-the-battlefield effect repeatedly is already great even before you get to the gravy of then being able to draw more cards during your end step after you've stolen enough permanents.

Outside of that rather obvious use, I would also expect to see this guy crop up in chaos decks as a means to keep an advantage after you've reshuffled everyone's permanents all over the board. Zedruu the Greathearted is probably the biggest use case here, but there are a lot of different commanders and players that enjoy watching everyone handling each other's cards and then gaining advantage from it.


Atemsis, All-Seeing

Our first and only blue commander in Core Set 2020 is on the pricey side at six mana, three of which must be blue. The first two lines of text also don't bode well for the popularity of this legendary Sphinx - yes, he flies, but that's a lot of mana to pay for a slightly improved Merfolk Looter effect. However, it all comes together with the paragraph of text that follows - literally killing other players with your card advantage. While I wouldn't consider chasing a straight as a good strategy in either Poker or Magic, there is no doubt that it's going to be a fun mini-game to play and therefore people will be trying to play it in their own little corner of an EDH table.

The good news is, there's a lot of ways in mono-blue to cheat the system and load up your hand with cards to increase your chances. After all, if you're playing Seven Card Draw while everyone else is playing Five Card Stud, it might not be a bad idea to chase that straight after all. I would expect Atemsis decks to mostly center around that strategy, loading up on cheap effects that will let them keep a larger hand size and then ramping up to bigger spells that will allow them to draw all of the cards. Add in a Lightning Greaves and a Slip Through Space, and you very well might be getting rid of the biggest player at the table the very turn you first cast your commander.


Drawn from Dreams

Speaking of drawing cards, here is a fine take on Dig Through Time at an unchanging, simple, and fair mana cost. Unfortunately, this is blue, and 'fair' isn't really in the vocabulary. Drawn from Dreams is therefore probably not going to be quite as popular as the Delve staples that let you draw cards, and will instead be largely relegated to budget builds that aren't able to get enough cards in the graveyard to take advantage of Treasure Cruise. That is, assuming it doesn't make a splash in Standard and end up becoming an expensive card.


Flood of Tears

In the fine tradition of spells that say "return all nonland permanents to their owners' hands" on them, Flood of Tears is on the expensive side. Just barely.

While there are some other options like Wash Out, which have a restriction on which permanents get bounced (and are have cheaper mana costs), by and large the ability to bounce all nonland permanents has been an expensive effect. To tack on an extra mana above the existing options is asking a lot, then, but Flood of Tears might just bring enough upside to make it worth it.

One of the nice things about mass removal in the form of bounce as opposed to destruction or exile is that you can have a lot less fear when it comes to your own board state. Planar Cleansing is all well and fine if you're the Noyan Dar, Roil Shaper deck who is just trying to win with lands, but otherwise you may be blowing up your own creatures, mana rocks, and the enchantments that are crucial to your overall strategy. With bounce effects you don't have to worry about this as much, as you can replay the most crucial elements while still slowing down your opponents who have gone wide.

With that in mind, Flood of Tears takes that fearlessness to a whole new level, asking you to have four permanents affected so that you can replay the biggest of them (or just play the biggest thing you have in your hand, period). While it only counts nontoken permanents, the fact that it counts permanents of every type actually still makes this a fairly low bar that could sneak some very nasty effects onto the board (hello, Omniscience). As such, I would expect this to see play in just about every big-spells deck that can play it, along with any other blue decks that feel they need a board wipe and have a few enter-the-battlefield effects they feel they can abuse. While it's no Cyclonic Rift, I would go so far as to say that this will become a bit of a staple for blue across a large swath of decks, and you will see it at a table near you soon.


Masterful Replication

Six mana for six power and six toughness is a decent rate when it comes to blue, but it's also not anything to phone home about in EDH. That said, sometimes it is an option that you will need to block a few creatures and live or to swing in for a bit of extra damage for the win. In other words, it's a decent option to tack on to the real meat of this card, which is the second ability. The options you uncover when creating multiple copies of a problem artifact in EDH are almost too numerous to go into, but here's a few I found with just a few minutes of poking around: Gilded Lotus, Master of Etherium, Steel Hellkite, Blightsteel Colossus, Psychosis Crawler, Omen Machine, and many more.

Add to those options the cards that can interact with them, such as Mechanized Production, and you'll probably be seeing a few decks sliding this in, Brudiclad, Telchor Engineer chief among them. Outside of the Myr-artifact-token master, however, there are still lots of artifact decks that manage to make quite a few tokens and will be utilizing this, including the flagship commander of that original precon, Saheeli, the Gifted, not to mention all of the various Clue and Treasure strategies out there.


Tale's End

Being able to counter someone else's commander is fairly powerful, but at the same time, it's not like we're seeing copies of Exclude flying off the shelves and into decks. Perhaps a more fair comparison for this card is Nimble Obstructionist. With both of those comparisons, however, you draw a card to replace your counterspell, and pay an extra mana, so it's not a direct corollary. Being able to counter at two mana instead of the three you'd pay for the nonrestricted version of Disallow is a big deal, but will be very meta-dependent.

If you're in a faster environment and need ways to shut off combos, this new spell very well may be worth it to you. If you are in a slower meta, however, most times this would only be considered as an extra Disallow, rather than as a replacement for it.


Uncommons


Aether Gust

As a whole, I think color-specific effects are rather underplayed in EDH. Some of this is intentional - you'll probably have a target affected by Choke at the average commander table, but you might not get to play at that average table again after you've played it. That said, Carpet of Flowers is a little less offensive and sees some play, and I would put Aether Gust more in that camp. Being able to Grasp of Phantoms a Purphoros, God of the Forge before it deals tons of damage is pretty good, as is countering that Blasphemous Act that's about to wipe the board, or bouncing the Boros Reckoner that's going to kill you off of it.

Despite its narrow nature, Aether Gust is extremely flexible against the proper colors, and it shouldn't be overlooked that it can stunt an enemy draw step. Flashfreeze only shows up in 64 total decks, and this new spell may end up the same way, but if you're down to try out color-hosing cards, this could be a fun one, even outside of weird Mind Bend decks.


Cerulean Drake

The return of Protection is highlighted by a solid little flyer that will survive Blasphemous Acts and can block The Ur-Dragon with impunity. If your opponents then decide to remove target player since they can't destroy target creature, Cerulean Drake will also sacrifice itself to help keep you alive. Roll all of this together, and you have a great little utility creature that will have flying decks smiling, even if it might not make the cut in the Muldrotha, the Gravetide strategies of the world. Decks that run Siren Stormtamer may want to consider this one as well.


Portal of Sanctuary

Wizards took full opportunity to make toned-down versions of popular and powerful cards throughout Modern Horizons, and it would not surprise me if Portal of Sanctuary was actually originally part of that design.

The similarity between Portal and Crystal Shard is striking, though the blue mana symbol has been moved to the casting cost instead of the activation, and the ability only allows you to bounce your own creatures instead of catching tapped-out opponents unaware. The other difference is the additional ability to return to your hand the Auras that are attached to the creature as well, instead of them being wasted in the exchange and shuffling off to the graveyard. However, the ability can only be used during your turn, so saving your Tuvasa, the Sunlit isn't as useful as it actually sounds. All in all, I think Crystal Shard will still be the more powerful option, although there will still be some decks that will want both to really ensure they can abuse cast triggers.


Scholar of the Ages

In very similar fashion to Agent of Treachery, Scholar of the Ages could be a potent target for decks that can blink or reanimate. Outside of those strategies, it may be too expensive to see play in the average spellslinger deck. Inside of those strategies, there may not be enough room left over for the ability to hit reliably. In other words, Scholar of the Ages is a cool but expensive effect in search of a deck. I'm sure that a specific niche will be found, but the question for most decks thinking about it will be, "Why not just play Diluvian Primordial instead?"


Spectral Sailor

Oh, Flying Men, remember when you were special? No more, I'm afraid! Playing 1/1 flyers for one mana with substantial upside has now reached uncommon with the rapid advance of today's power creep. As for Spectral Sailor himself, he fits right in to the various decks named after the original Flying Men, all of which are looking for cheap creatures that are difficult to block to gather various combat damage triggers. The best of these is probably Edric, Spymaster of Trest, although this strategy is also starting to become a crucial piece of Yuriko, the Tiger's Shadow strategies.

Finally, in a post-Thrasios, Triton Hero world, we have learned repeatedly that activated abilities without a tap symbol attached to them are a goldmine of usefulness for those of us that like to generate infinite mana and transfer that into resources. Spectral Sailor fits that mold to a T, and can even do it at instant speed as a surprise. Mark my words, this guy will be seeing play in some very powerful decks.


Yarok's Wavecrasher

Yarok's Wavecrasher, on the other hand, will not be seeing play in very powerful decks. It will be seeing play in decks looking to abuse cast triggers that also need the efficient mana-to-power-and-toughness ratio it provides. This is probably a small overlap, but given that there's been a bit of a theme of cards designed to bounce your own stuff back to your hand lately, I thought it worth mentioning for those that are already exploring that space.


Commons


Cloudkin Seer

Similarly, Cloudkin Seer isn't a slam dunk in anything but Limited, but I still think it will see small amounts of play in EDH. While it's not as good as Mulldrifter (what is?), it does replace itself and provide a 2/1 flying body, all for three mana. That may not be beyond extraordinary in blue, I feel like I should at least point out some other creatures in this area and how much they're played:

Looking around the bottom of that list, I can pick out a few cards that Cloudkin is better than. Cloudkin Seer isn't the sexy pick, but it is a pick that will end up in some decks, possibly Inalla, Archmage Ritualist.


Octoprophet

I just wanted to note that this guy brings us one step closer to the glory that is Octopus tribal. Some say I need a hobby. Which is confusing, because this is my hobby.


Winged Words

There are 483 Flying theme decks cataloged here on EDHREC, and only three blue cards that can draw you two cards for two mana without a significant drawback:

In other words... you do the math. If you have a flying commander, this is solid. Don't overlook it.


Spoiler Century Comes to a Close

That's it for the blue spells of Core Set 2020! We have a bit of a breather before getting ready for Commander 2019 spoilers in mid-August, so enjoy the time and start throwing some new cards into your decks from the cavalcade of new sets we've received these past few months! Just make sure the cards you're adding are not all counterspells there, blue mages. We've got a sort of image problem there, if you catch my Drift of Phantasms.

Thanks for reading!

Doug has been an avid Magic player since Fallen Empires, when his older brother traded him some epic blue Homarids for all of his Islands. As for Commander, he's been playing since 2010, when he started off by making a two-player oriented G/R Land Destruction deck. Nailed it. In his spare time when he's not playing Magic, writing about Magic or doing his day job, he runs a YouTube channel or two, keeps up a College Football Computer Poll, and is attempting to gif every scene of the Star Wars prequels.