Core Set 2020 Set Review - Red
(Chandra, Awakened Inferno | Art by Chris Rahn)
This Set is On Fire
Greetings everyone and welcome to another EDHREC set review. You read that right, it's set review time once again, despite reviewing Modern Horizons mere weeks ago. Wizards of the Coast decided that they liked giving players new cards so much that Core Set 2020 is now upon us. I'm not complaining, though, because this set is continuing the momentum that Wizards started with Dominaria. The set looks incredible, with plenty of toys for any style or type of deck you might have as a player. There are so many new cards that work in Modern and Standard, but we're here for the ones that work in EDH, so let's jump in!
Cavalier of Flame
We're really starting off with a bang, aren't we? The red entry to the new cycle of Cavaliers has a wall of text to work through. The stat line is fine in a vacuum; 6/5 for five is nothing to scoff at. The first ability, a Firebreathing ability for the team, is a great way to punch extra damage through, so this card already has a home in go-wide decks like Krenko, Mob Boss or other heavy token-producing decks. The extra haste is cool, too, in case you play another big baddie that wants to swing in right away.
The second ability is right in red's wheelhouse, churning through your deck to find important cards. It's not card advantage, but card quality and velocity is important, and red has fun ways to abuse this effect, either by Goblin Welder-ing and Mizzix's Mastery-ing artifacts and spells back from the grave, or Alhammarret's Archive-ing to draw extra cards. Feldon of the Third Path seems especially poised to use every piece of the Cavalier's toolkit.
Finally, the death trigger on Cavalier of Flame is great - hitting each opponent and their planeswalkers equal to the number of lands in your graveyard has quite the potential upside, especially because the Cavalier's own rummaging ability can put some of those lands there in the first place. There's extra potential in decks like Omnath, Locus of Rage and Lord Windgrace, where getting lands into the graveyard isn't too hard, and decks playing Jokulhaups or other mass land destruction might also find it easy to smack opponents for 10+ with this ability pretty easily.
It's so hard to guess how many decks will play this fiery equine tamer. It's certainly better than its red counterparts in other cycles, like Molten Primordial, and probably will be played in a similar percentage of decks as Inferno Titan if not more. There is a lot of text on Cavalier of Flame, which means there is a lot to like and plenty of homes for it. It's just a powerful card.
Chandra, Awakened Inferno
There are three - count'em, three - Chandra cards in this set. The biggest and baddest version, Chandra, Awakened Inferno is certainly impressive at first sight. She's uncounterable, which is a nice way to make sure your six-mana investment isn't wasted. The +2 ability is the quickest emblem we've ever seen a planeswalker make, giving your opponents small gifts that incrementally burn them to death. That might seem like the kind of thing they can just ignore, but if you manage to stick multiple emblems on them, that will add up. Plus, the emblems stick around even if you happen to lose the game, so even if you perish, you'll be able to spite the rest of the table from the grave!
The -3 ability to Sulfurous Blast each non-Elemental creature will fit nicely with Elemental tribal decks, but is also just generally useful to knock little tokens out of the running to help keep your walker around. Hopefully these first two abilities are enough to carry Chandra to fame, since her -X ability is pretty lacking for a six-mana spell.
Mogis, God of Slaughter seems like a great spot for this new Chandra, pinging enemies to death in excruciating fashion. Horde of Notions or Omnath, Locus of the Roil are potential Elemental decks that could turn Chandra into a neat one-sided mini-board-wipe. Plus, hey, there are so many Chandras now that a Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh flavor deck sounds pretty great too.
Chandra, Acolyte of Flame
Keeping in line with the trend that began in War of the Spark, we also get a planeswalker at rare! Chandra, Acolyte of Flame isn't over-the-top powerful, but at only three mana, she still fills a role or two. The first ability of putting a loyalty counter on every red planeswalker you control is... narrow at best. Her second ability, to make two 1/1s for a turn is certainly a very red ability, and basically a budget version of her larger version Chandra, Flamecaller. The obvious synergy is any token deck, or any deck that is already playing Purphoros, God of the Forge, Impact Tremors, and/or Outpost Siege. The minus ability of flashing back a smaller spell for free is nice in a pinch, but not terribly back-breaking, either.
I could see folks playing Chandra, Acolyte of Flame just to crank out a few 1/1's each turn, and it being a fine play; she's not the most threatening permanent on the battlefield, and therefore may not draw much attention. That doesn't bode well for her chances, though. If you want her as a way to put loyalty counters on other planeswalkers in a red-based Superfriends deck, that could help, but overall, this version of Chandra is pretty narrow.
I've gotten very good at typing "Chandra" in this set review, but for the Regulator, I don't mind. Chandra's Regulator is a very cool card if you're able to reliably pair it with a Chandra planeswalker. Even if you aren't, the ability to discard a Mountain or any red card (so, basically dang near any card in a mono-red deck) and replace it with a new one means that as the game draws on you're going to have quite a few more re-draws instead of dead draws. I like the utility here, and the incidental Chandra synergy is nice. I don't think it's a must-play type of card, but any red deck that is afraid of flooding out could certainly consider it as a nice utility card. See also: Tectonic Reformation.
Drakuseth, Maw of Flames
Drakuseth, Maw of Flames doesn't excite me too much at the head of a deck. Sure, there might be some Strionic Resonator and extra combat shenanigans, but that seems like a whole darn lot of work for mono-red to pull off, with only a minor payoff.
However, in the 99 of a Dragon deck, or a deck devoted to extra combat steps (such as Aurelia, the Warleader), I think Drakuseth, Maw of Flames might be just fine and dandy. Expect similar numbers for Drakuseth as we see for Lathliss, Dragon Queen, both in the 99 and at the helm (that means not very many).
Nekusar, the Mindrazer found himself a new friend! Every time you cast a Windfall effect, you're sure to ping each opponent for a decent amount. I actually don't hate our pronged Pirate pal outside of the obvious Nekusar applications, either. This is a great option for any deck looking for some incidental card filtering with the activated ability. Only being able to activate the ability on Glint-Horn Buccaneer while it is attacking isn't ideal by any means, but you're not limited to one activation per attack step, making it a pretty decent mana sink. It's just another way to fuel the graveyard interaction for decks that like putting cards in the graveyard, such as in Feldon of the Third Path and his ilk.
Leyline of Combustion
This is seems like one of those weird "75%" cards I keep hearing about. Don't stop people from doing something in the game and punish them instead. You're not playing Asceticism making your entire team hexproof, you're playing Leyline of Combustion to ping opponents for trying to fuss with your board. Two damage doesn't seem like too much per trigger, but I don't think it's such a bad option nowadays, when single-target removal has gotten so efficient and prevalent. There will usually be plenty of opportunities for multiple triggers, especially if you're playing threats bigger than the Leyline itself, and given the propensity of brewers to fill their decks with those kinds of threats, Leyline will probably be able to linger for a while.
Also worth mentioning: if you have Storm combo players around, this is wonderful anti-them tech.
You know exactly where this one's going! Dino tribal all the way. Gishath, Sun's Avatar players will love this, though they may be occasionally annoyed that Gishath plays all the free Dinosaurs after damage has been dealt, so Marauding Raptor won't get a big power boost until after combat. Regardless, this is an easy and on-theme way to power out expensive Dinos and get a bunch of free Enrage triggers right off the bat. Won't do much outside of Dino tribal - the cost reduction isn't worth the 2 damage - but in those Dinosaur decks, it'll do plenty.
I've seen oodles of people excited for this card, but I can't quite get the hype. There's a ton of competition for Fork effects, and importantly, other effects like Fury Storm can copy other people's spells, which is huge. This new one is just unique enough by potentially copying planeswalker abilities. Most times, though, a general plus or minus ability on a planeswalker isn't going to be worth using Repeated Reverberation. Yes, copying an ultimate would be nice, but how often do you ultimate a planeswalker? Once every ten games or so? Not really worth running when there are so many other options with more upside. I think the most compelling case is probably when you have a planeswalker in the command zone, because it will allow you to take advantage of this card's flexibility with more reliability.
Another card that I've seen some Horde of Notions players excited about; this whole set's Elemental subtheme has had them rejoicing. The interaction folks seem most excited about is using Thunderkin to reuse Flamekin Harbinger's ETB effect to tutor up another Elemental each turn and control the cards you draw moving forward. It's nice, if a bit Magical Christmas Land-y. If you like Elementals, give it a shot, especially if you have ways of buffing this thing's toughness to grab any goody you need.
Chandra, Novice Pyromancer
Our third Chandra, this time at uncommon! I'm not terribly keen on this addition outside of dedicated Elemental tribal decks, as the rest of the card just doesn't do too much for the average red deck. Half the decks that play Chandra, Awakened Inferno will consider Chandra, Novice Pyromancer and the other half will find something else to round out the 99. Sorry girl, you've done better in previous forms.
Not all Dragons need to be huge monsters to be useful. The mana cost on this one is pretty hefty for the payoff, but as is the case with many of the red cards in this set, a tribal deck will enjoy this card. The Ur-Dragon reduces the cost and this can ramp that big-mana commander out quickly, and Lathliss, Dragon Queen decks actually prefer Dragons that don't cost seven mana. This isn't a groundbreaking card, and to be honest, there are probably some Dragon tribal decks that will ignore it because it's not as splashy as the Utvara Hellkites of the game, but this is a respectable card that greases the wheels of those decks, which they frankly sometimes need.
And there it is folks, the red review of Core Set 2020. Is there anything that stands out among the rest of the set? Any cards I missed? There seems to be a metric ton of Elemental tribal support, so red's pretty narrow this go around, but we still have some fun entries nonetheless. Let me know what you all think of the new set - overall, I think it's incredible. Thanks for coming by!