This article is one of our set prospectives, a series in which we survey the Cube community about the cards they intend to play in their cubes from a particular set. Our survey is conducted between the set’s full-spoiler and official release and is meant to measure and document Cube designers’ first impressions of new cards.
Commander 2020 is the first supplemental set we’re covering in our prospective series. Given its concurrent release with Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths we surveyed cube designers on both sets simultaneously. The majority of respondents are not testing a single card from Commander 2020 in their cubes — it’s safe to say that the set is a miss for most cube designers.
|Verge Rangers||14 / 90||1.8|
|Ethereal Forager||11 / 90||1.8|
|Sanctuary Blade||7 / 90||1.6|
|Sawtusk Demolisher||4 / 90||1.4|
|Kalamax, the Stormsire||3 / 90||2.0|
|Slippery Bogbonder||3 / 90||1.7|
|Cartographer's Hawk||2 / 90||1.5|
|Fireflux Squad||2 / 90||2.1|
The processed data from the survey is available on Github.
Verge Rangers and Ethereal Forager are the two standouts in Commander 2020, but in terms of the number of people testing these cards in their cubes they fall behind a full twenty cards from Ikoria proper. Respondents gave both average rankings below 2, indicating that even those trying them out are not particularly enthusiastic about doing so. Verge Rangers is competing for a tough slot in many cubes against a handful of notable cube favorites and has a conditional ability which will be irrelevant half of the time. Forager has a novel ability and a high ceiling, potentially providing an undercosted body and a stream of card advantage, but may be asking players to jump through too many hoops without guaranteed value.
Pauper and Peasant cubes are not graphed above because there is only a single card that our surveyed, rarity-restricted cube designers are testing from Commander 2020: Bonder's Ornament. The latest Manalith-with-upside is a promising combination of effects — providing ramp and card draw for when you inevitably run out of spells to cast with all the extra mana you’ve generated — but does not rank highly in terms of efficiency. Nevertheless, if 3 CMC mana rocks can hang in your environment you might consider it.
So why so little interest from cube designers in Commander 2020? I personally often look forward to supplemental products like pre-constructed Commander decks as they are one of the few opportunities for Magic R&D to design and print cards that are too good for standard. Indeed, Commander product has brought us some extremely powerful cube cards in the past.
In this particular set, much of the design space is dedicated to mechanics that don’t work well in most cubes. Partner is narrow and hit-or-miss in a limited environment without modified draft rules — Wizards even went as far as seeding packs in Battlebond to ensure that a given two-headed giant pair could always get both halves of a partnered pair. Like Ikoria at large, the set is wedge themed, and many of mythics in the set are three-color gold cards, which are difficult to cast with drafted manabases. Arguably the most impactful and pushed cards in the set can be cast for free, but only if you control a commander, a stipulation that is never met in most cubes.
In a broader sense, I believe the cards in pre-constructed Commander decks have been trending downward in terms of raw power level, not for Commander itself, but for Legacy, Vintage, Cube, and other formats that might use them. I chalk this up to R&D getting better at designing for this particular audience without incidentally throwing a wrench into eternal Magic. The most unique, powerful, and fresh designs in Commander 2020 cater specifically to the differentiating features of the format: the delight that comes from building a carefully synergistic constructed deck, the joy of casting big spells with prohibitive mana costs, and the treacherous politics of multiplayer Magic. In short, these cards are not for us, and that’s ok.