The 600 - Predicting the Popularity of Core Set 2020 Commanders

(Cavalier of Night | Art by Viktor Titov)

Hindsight is 2020

Speculation is fine. But wild speculation—now that’s the best.

Welcome to another edition of The 600, the article series where we try to guess how popular the commanders of a given set will be. This time, we'll be taking a look at Core Set 2020. For each commander, we’ll guess whether it will accrue over 600 EDHREC decks within a year, a somewhat average baseline for a typical commander's popularity. If we think it will, we’ll give it an “Over” grade; if not, we’ll give it an “Under.”

Ready for some wild speculation? Here we go!

Kaalia, Zenith Seeker

This one caught me by surprise. None of the commanders from the original Commander 2011 set have ever gotten new versions, yet here we have one in Kaalia, Zenith Seeker. Is she better than Kaalia of the Vast?

For one fewer mana, Kaalia has kept flying but also added vigilance. That’s not a fantastic ability on a 3/3, but it is gravy. It’s the final bit of text that we’ll want to pay special attention to.

At its best, this ability is powerful. Notice that it’s an “and/or” ability, meaning that if you have at least one Angel, one Demon, and one Dragon card in your top six, you draw one of each. I’m guessing Frank Karsten will crunch the numbers in the future, but I’d wager your odds of doing that are quite low. The more likely scenario is that Kaalia’s drawing you one creature.

However, Kaalia does have a fail rate, albeit a slim one. Those times when you cast her and draw zero cards are really going to hurt. Furthermore, this new version doesn’t pack the explosive punch of the original. Kaalia, Zenith Seeker is much more fair, which makes her much less powerful.

In my opinion, this new Kaalia is good. She isn’t, however, good enough to crack our 600 mark.

My Prediction: Under

Kykar, Wind’s Fury

Now here’s a commander with a good color identity for noncreature spells. In addition to the plethora of instants and sorceries found in blue and red, white offers solid enchantments and an array of solid planeswalkers. Card draw effects such as Winged Words will work wonders in this deck; draw spells famously don't help develop your board, which can leave you open to attacks, but Kykar mitigates even that potential downside.

Furthermore, one can cash in those little Spirits at a later date for big value. Imagine chipping in with Spirit tokens in the early game, then finishing an opponent off by sacrificing them all to a Banefire. Sounds appealing to me.

Kykar’s versatility is another point in its favor. One might play it as a 'spells matter' deck to chain instants together, a Superfriends deck for all the extra token blockers, a 'big mana' deck to sacrifice all the Spirit tokens, or a Spirit Tribal deck just for kicks. All that sounds good enough to me.

My Prediction: Over

Rienne, Angel of Rebirth

Call me crazy, but in my opinion, Rienne, Angel of Rebirth does for Naya what Feather the Redeemed did for Boros; it offers a unique archetype in a stale color combination.

Really, only one of the past three Naya commanders passed the 600 test - Gishath, Sun's Avatar passed, Zacama, Primal Calamity barely failed, and Palladia-Mors, the Ruiner failed spectacularly. Rienne feels far more promising, perhaps even more so than Gishath.

A +1/+0 boost isn’t much, but it can help smaller creatures trade up with bigger ones. You’ll make those trades every time, because Rienne cheats! You get your creature back so long as it’s multicolored. This makes combat a nightmare for your opponents.

But we can do better than that. Rienne makes your other multicolored creatures virtually immune to board wipes. Plus, it plays nicely with enter-the-battlefield triggers. Though Naya isn’t the best color for sacrifice synergies, one can still get creative with those as well. A few options:

Just spitballing here. Really any multicolored creature that sacrifices itself (or others) should play nicely with Rienne. And let’s not forget that two of the last three Standard-legal sets were all about multicolored cards.

All this is to say that Rienne seems versatile and interesting. It brings a new element to a color combination that didn’t previously offer many interesting options. I like it as a Can’t Miss Pick!

My Prediction: Over (Can’t Miss Pick!)

Yarok, the Desecrated

Panharmonicon in your command zone. One that even counts your lands. That seems pretty powerful to me.

I don’t really get the flavor behind Yarok, the Desecrated, but I like the text. For just five mana, we get a creature that trades up in combat and gives us incidental life gain. Most importantly, Yarok doubles our enter-the-battlefield triggers. Now that part is kind of wild, especially in these colors.

Mulldrifter now draws four cards when it enters the battlefield. Shriekmaw kills two nonblack, nonartifact creatures. Eternal Witness returns two cards to your hand, not just the one.

There’s no shortage of powerful tasks that can be accomplished by Yarok. Furthermore, its color combination is one of the most popular in EDHREC history. This feels like a pretty easy Over to me.

My Prediction: Over

Omnath, Locus of the Roil

The evolution of Omnath has been kind of cool. Omnath, Locus of Mana started as a mono-green creature, then Omnath, Locus of Rage added red. Now we have Omnath, Locus of the Roil, which has added blue to the equation. Pretty cool!

Anyway, to get a feel for Omnath's popularity, let’s dip into the Themes tab. According to that section, there are only 628 Elemental decks on the website. Not a whole lot, but not inconsequential, either. Furthermore, there are several ways to generate a lot of Elementals at the same time, such as Tempt with Vengeance or Omnath's own green-red iteration. If you cast Omnath with a bunch of those tokens on the battlefield, that’s a lot of potential damage.

Fortunately for us EDH players, Omnath hasn’t forgotten his love of the land. He still has a Landfall trigger, building up your Elementals, plus starts drawing you cards once you’ve hit eight lands. Drawing cards off Landfall reminds me of Tatyova, Benthic Druid and Tireless Tracker, both of which are popular cards.

All this considered, I think the latest version of Omnath will be another hit, appealing to Landfall players and Elemental tribal players in equal measure. It’s in the right colors, it has the right abilities, and it kicked my butt at the prerelease.

My Prediction: Over

Kethis, the Hidden Hand

Abzan is sort of like the forgotten child of wedge color combinations. In Dominaria, Sultai added Muldrotha, the Gravetide. Going back a few years to Conspiracy: Take the Crown, Sultai also added the infamous Leovold, Emissary of Trest, plus the far more fair Queen Marchesa. Jeskai even got a bit of a nod in the base mana cost of Jodah, Archmage Eternal (though Jodah is technically a five-color commander).

Yet through all that, Abzan got nothing. In fact, this color pair hasn’t gotten an impactful creature since Khans of Tarkir’s Anafenza, the Foremost, and even she only helms about 700 decks. Now, however, there’s a new hand on deck. A hidden one, in fact.

With a “legendary matters” theme, Kethis, the Hidden Hand compares most favorably to Captain Sisay combined with Karador, Ghost Chieftain. Those comparisons bode well for its potential performance, considering the former has 596 decks and the latter has 1,100 decks. It doesn’t allow for much wiggle room in deckbuilding (you pretty much want to play only legendary cards), but there are plenty of legendary spells to work with in this game’s history. A few examples:

Many legendary creatures can put themselves or others into the graveyard, like Saffi Eriksdotter, Sidisi, Undead Vizier, and Yahenni, Undying Partisan, perfect for Kethis to recast them.

Let's also not forget legendary sorceries! Urza's Ruinous Blast, Kamahl's Druidic Vow, Yawgmoth's Vile Offering, and best of all, Primeval's Glorious Rebirth! Heck, even planeswalkers are legendary now!

Finally, there are even several lands that work well with Kethis.

These are basically free inclusions that help further Kethis’s goal; Kethis says "play" in his second line of text, not "cast," which means he can play lands from your graveyard in a pinch. That's excellent versatility.

On one final note, I’d like to point out that Kethis is also left-handed, making it an amazing leader for a Southpaw Tribal deck.

My Predicition: Over

Golos, Tireless Pilgrim

We have another five-color commander to add to the recent slew, after three new ones in Modern Horizons, plus Niv Mizzet Reborn in War of the Spark!

First of all, I like that Golos, Tireless Pilgrim costs five generic mana. Five-color decks stretch mana bases as far as they can go, so it’s nice that you can cast your commander with any five lands, no matter what combination you draw them in.

What’s more, Golos ever so kindly fixes your mana by searching up any land of your choice. It doesn’t even need to be basic! That’s ostensibly land number six, which means that if you hit your land drop the following turn, you’ll have exactly enough mana to activate Golos’s second (and most powerful) ability to play the top cards of your deck. Free spells are always great, so why not cast three of them?

It’s easy to imagine busted three-card flops via Golos. However, one could always flip three lands, or two lands and a mana rock, or three cards that don’t affect the board. If any of these happen, it’s sort of like “Tap seven: End your turn.” They wouldn’t have even printed that card in Unstable.

To minimize scenarios like that, I’d guess most Golos players will play cards that manipulate the top of their decks.

There are plenty more, of course, but you get the idea. Reducing the downside on Golos is key.

So what does all this mean for Golos’s 600 chances? Based on what we’ve outlined here, Golos feels like it will be overshadowed by other similar commanders. The last two sets have brought four other five-color commanders, all of which offer more build-around potential than our scout friend here. Yes, Golos’s activated ability is powerful, especially when combined with Time Stretch effects, but it feels like just another five-color goodstuff deck, and we already have Jodah, Archmage Eternal and Niv Mizzet Reborn to fill that role.

My Prediction: Under

Atemsis, All-Seeing

Ah yes, our obligatory wacky alternate win condition. Is Atemsis, All-Seeing another 600? Let’s start with the stats.

A six mana 4/5 with flying is below the bar, especially when it has triple blue in its mana cost. Furthermore, Atemsis’s activated ability costs a lot for a minimal payoff, even before you factor in that it cost six mana to play the creature in the first place. The final ability - potentially killing someone with card advantage - is splashy, but difficult to pull off. Not only do you need six different converted mana costs in your hand, but you also need to damage an opponent with Atemsis! That’s a lot to ask.

Let’s dig deeper into this alternate kill condition. First off all, you need at least six cards in your hand, which isn’t necessarily a given. Next, you need the proper array of converted mana costs. If you don’t have it, Atemsis can help you go search. But drawing two isn’t all that impressive of a search. Worst of all, Atemsis promotes boring play patterns: it incentivizes you to hold cards rather than cast them.

I love the flavor and I like that this card exists, I just don’t think it’s playable as a commander, and I think other players will come to the same conclusion.

My Prediction: Under

Vilis, Broker of Blood

In my opinion, this card might be the most interesting commander in the entire set.

An 8/8 flier for eight mana reminds me strongly of Razaketh, the Foulblooded, a commander that’s only earned 240 decks in almost two years of existence. Not a great start, and it doesn’t get much better (at least not immediately).

Paying a black mana and two life to give -1/-1 seems terrible. Note that this isn’t a -1/-1 counter; you need to stack the ability to kill a creature. Therefore, if you’d like to kill a lowly 3/3 with Vilis, it’ll cost you three black mana and six life. Seems like a poor exchange to me.

Oh wait. “Whenever you lose life, draw that many cards.”

Now that seems like a powerful ability placed in the perfect color. Imagine your Read the Bones now drawing you four cards. Greed is now a repeatable Ancestral Recall in black. Griselbrand now draws you 14 cards per activation (if only it were legal). You get the idea. In its best case, Vilis draws you a ton of cards. Even when you get attacked, you draw a ton of cards.

The nearest comparison I can find to Vilis is Kothophed, Soul Hoarder. Both are big flying Demons that draw you a ton of cards at the cost of a ton of life. Yet Kothophed has existed for a while and only earned 44 decks. That’s not exactly an inspiring comparison. Furthermore, Kothophed only costs six mana to cast, whereas Vilis costs eight.

Ultimately, I think his high casting cost will be Vilis's downfall. Eight is already a ton. If it ever gets killed, you’re paying ten mana to cast your commander for just the second time.

Sorry Vilis. You’re cool, but ultimately too pricey.

My Prediction: Under

Gargos, Vicious Watcher

Hydra tribal? Not sure anyone was asking for it, but I’m always surprised by the unusual tribes people like. If that’s what you’re into, Gargos, Vicious Warden is the creature for the job.

It’s a bit difficult to find a comparison point because there are so few legendary Hydras. There’s Polukranos, World Eater, who only has 90 decks on EDHREC. However, that doesn’t feel like a fair comparison since Polukranos doesn’t specifically do anything for other Hydras. There is actually a Hydra tribal entry in EDHREC’s Tribes tab, but it only offers 276 decks.

Even as just a six mana 8/7 with vigilance, Gargos is powerful, but it also adds two more amazing lines of text. Of the two, the cost reduction effect seems the most powerful to me. Reducing the cost of your Hydras by four mana is a ton, especially when your deck’s built to take advantage of it. The fight effect is nice insurance against targeted removal, since it almost guarantees your opponent will lose their best creature if they kill one of yours.

All that said, I don’t see Gargos making much of a splash in EDH. Hydra tribal doesn’t seem like the most desired archetype out there, and with the exception of its top four commanders, mono-green has never been particularly popular.

My Prediction: Under

Drakuseth, Maw of Flames

That’s a lot of damage. This Dragon provides a big body, evasion, and a powerful ability that triggers pretty easily.

However, this all feels like something that would be more at home in the 99 of another deck rather than leading its own. What does the deck look like? Mono-red ramp? Dragon tribal? Maws matter? I don't see any of those decks becoming particularly popular.

Drakuseth, Maw of Flames is much better suited to the 99. I see it appearing in Kaalia of the Vast or Surrak Dragonclaw decks. Otherwise, I don’t expect to see it become all that popular as a commander.

My Prediction: Under

Sephara, Sky's Blade

Another mono-white, high-cost Angel. Sigh.

But wait. This one doesn't necessarily cost seven mana. We've got an alternate casting cost here, folks! Yes, I'll admit, four creatures with flying isn't trivial. You're not going to have that all the time, and I feel some players might overestimate how often that actually happens. Nevertheless, it's still totally doable, especially with help from cards like these:

These are cards you want in most mono-white decks anyway, so you're not making any terrible deckbuilding concessions to add them. Furthermore, Sephara protects your flyers from most removal (especially board wipes) once she hits the battlefield.

Here's a play pattern I love: you tap four flyers and cast Sephara for one white mana. Pass turn. Your opponent casts Damnation. Sephara dies, but her static ability protects your other flying creatures. On your next turn, you may cast Sephara once again by tapping those same four fliers and that same one white mana. In this instance, you've only taken a minor tempo hit, while your opponents are down their entire board. Wow. I think I might actually like this card.

Sephara corrects one of mono-white's biggest issues, namely its lack of mana ramp. I think players will recognize this. It still doesn't mitigate the other mono-white issue (no card draw), but that's alright. I never thought I'd say it, but I'm going to give an Over on a mono-white commander.

My Prediction: Over


Under 600: Kaalia, Zenith Seeker, Golos, Tireless Pilgrim, Atemsis, All-Seeing, Vilis, Broker of Blood, Gargos, Vicious Watcher, Drakuseth, Maw of Flames

Over 600: Kykar, Wind’s FuryYarok, the Desecrated, Omnath, Locus of the Roil, Kethis, the Hidden Hand, Sephara, Sky's Blade

Can't Miss Pick: Rienne, Angel of Rebirth

Looks like a fun set. Can't wait to play it!

Kyle A. Massa is a writer and avid Magic player living somewhere in upstate New York with his wife, their daughter, and three wild animals. His current favorite card is Syr Ginger, the Meal Ender. Kyle can be found on Twitter @mindofkyleam.

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