The 2020 rotation is upon us with Zendikar Rising’s release, and the Standard format waves goodbye to many great cards. As Commander players, this is the moment we’ve been waiting for: it’s time to buy some new singles! Today, I’m going to be sharing my picks of the best cards to pick up this September.
Rotation is a great time to review what you’re building, what you’re planning to build, and what you’ve been waiting to pick up. Thanks to Guilds of Ravnica, Ravnica Allegiance, War of the Spark, and Core 2020 leaving Standard, many of the more popular cards will see a reduction in price. If you’ve been waiting to pick up cards like Hydroid Krasis, now’s the time!
I can’t write this article without ignoring the elephant in the room. It’s always a Generous Gift when shocklands are reprinted, and this time is no different.
At the peak of their play in Standard, circulation comes to a high — which does help to sate demand — but thanks to the explosion in Commander’s popularity, the demand for shocklands is unlikely to go down. Now’s as good a time as any if you need a few more.
There’s one other relevant data point to take into consideration this rotation: all the rotating sets came out before the advent of Collector Boosters. In short, this means that foils of the more popular cards are likely to rise over time as copies dry up. Without the deluge of foils that come from Collector Booster openings, format staple rares like Smothering Tithe and Teysa Karlov aren’t going to stay as cheap as newer staples if foils are your bag.
With that out of the way, let’s get into it.
Guilds of Ravnica
Guilds of Ravnica has a couple standout cards beyond the shocklands, and Assassin’s Trophy and Divine Visitation are the more popular ones for Commander. Two-mana interaction is always good, and unique token effects are always popular. If you’ve never played an Ophiomancer with Divine Visitation out, you haven’t lived.
Chromatic Lantern is a great way to fix mana, and it should be high on your priority list if you don’t have access to an expensive mana base. It’s especially good in Orzhov decks that demand a lot of colored mana. On the subject of Orzhov, I also think it’ll be awhile before we see an effect like Dawn of Hope again, so that’s worth grabbing, too – white lifegain-based draw is always good.
Two cards that have seen a lot of play since their release are Knight of Autumn and Beast Whisperer. As ever, green continues to get some of the most efficient and universally strong effects in Commander, and these cards are no different. Adding a couple to your collection is an easy way to increase the consistency of your decks.
My wildcard (if you can call it that) for Guilds is Chance for Glory. Everyone loves an “extra turn” spell, and when you can cast it for three mana, an extra turn might be all you need. With the high power level of cards like Winota, Joiner of Forces and Moraug, Fury of Akoum, red and Boros decks often only need one extra turn to close a game these days. I can easily see a future card making this even more playable!
Ravnica Allegiance is probably the better of the two sets that include shocklands, in part because of the greater quantity of sought-after EDH rares.
Smothering Tithe is far and away the most popular white card of the past few years, and unless it sees a reprint, expect the price to continue rising. Guardian Project is also another great effect that most green decks want, and again, it’ll continue to gain in traction as time goes on.
Cheap finishers are always good, and a budget Craterhoof Behemoth is a boon for many green creature decks. End-Raze Forerunners is a fantastic option to close games, and I’d also advocate for picking up Mass Manipulation for the same reason. “Big mana” decks love this kind of card, especially decks like Zaxara, the Exemplary.
Teysa Karlov is probably the most universally great Aristocrats card we’ve seen for a while, and doubling death triggers is exactly where you want to be. Teysa’s split card, Revival // Revenge, is also the place to be when it comes to this cycle. With the printing of Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose, Revival // Revenge has become a relevant combo card, but outside of that, it’s still excellent in lifegain strategies. Bedevil is just solid, and Rakdos can always use flexible removal.
War of the Spark
War of the Spark is notorious for powerful cards, and I have plenty to recommend for Commander. Liliana, Dreadhorde General has some great abilities and finds a home in most black decks, from Massacre Girl to Teysa Karlov. As a source of card draw and a way to get around hexproof Voltron commanders, she’s a slam dunk of a pickup.
EDH is all about mana, and grabbing a Nissa, Who Shakes the World for your green decks is a great idea. Mana doublers are some of the strongest cards in the format, and Nissa can come down for cheap and provide great value for your money.
Likewise, Ugin the Ineffable is secretly one of the best cards available to Mardu decks and artifact-based decks alike. Card draw, cost reduction and removal on one card is incredible.
Rounding out the most useful ’walkers are Ashiok and Kiora. Ashiok effectively shuts off ramp spells, and Kiora can provide a mana boost and card draw in stompy Simic builds.
Some things never change, and both splashy green mythics and solid white mythics seem to be on that list. Finale of Devastation is an absurdly powerful effect and a great win condition for all kinds of decks. God-Eternal Oketra, meanwhile, has cemented herself as a premier mono-white commander — and a great inclusion in the 99 of go-wide builds, too. Both of these kinds of cards tend to appreciate over time.
As far as the rest of the rares go, I’d recommend universally great cards like Casualties of War and Narset’s Reversal. Casualties can remove problem permanents, and, in archenemy situations, can reset a player running away with the game. Narset’s Reversal, meanwhile, can do some really fun things with the stack, and is an enjoyable card in both regular EDH and cEDH. Copying a Cyclonic Rift and returning the original to an opponent’s hand feels downright devious.
Bolas’s Citadel, meanwhile, is a premium combo piece in decks like K’rrik, Son of Yawgmoth and Vilis, Broker of Blood. If you’re looking to pick one up, consider the Draft Weekend foil to add a little bling to your build.
My second wildcard pick is Kefnet. With some spell-slinging sets on the horizon, like Strixhaven, spell-based decks could see a resurgence in the format. Kefnet is already a strong card, and I can see demand for it increasing if we get some particularly strong spell synergies over the next year.
Core Set 2020 feels like yesterday, but it’s already time to bid it adieu. The last of the rotating sets, Core 2020 isn’t shy of great Commander cards, either. My favorite card from the set has to be Ajani, Strength of the Pride. A one-sided board wipe for lifegain decks, this thing is a lot stronger than it looks.
The Cavalier cycle were all great cards, but of the cycle, I think the white and red ones are the best to pick up. The others aren’t unique enough within their colors to really get too excited about, but having a Generous Gift on a vigilant body with Cavalier of Dawn is something white can get excited about.
Likewise, Cavalier of Flame works in everything from Lands builds to haste-y beatdowns, offering fresh cards, haste, and team fire-breathing on the front, plus a bonus damage ability on the way out.
That’s not to say that Sultai colors don’t have some strong picks here. Vilis can draw dozens of cards if you build around it properly, and even the average black deck can draw a decent amount with a small life payment.
Gargos, Vicious Watcher is a great commander in its own right and a solid pickup for decks that care about fighting, too — think Rhonas the Indomitable or Neyith of the Dire Hunt.
Agent of Treachery will be a powerful effect for years to come. Whether you’re running it in a deck with blink effects or one that cares about stealing and cloning, it’s a worthwhile investment. While this type of card is less easy to resolve when playing webcam games, there are ways to make this process a lot smoother, like Dry Erase Infinitokens. They’re useful and fun!
Speaking of blink decks, Yarok, the Desecrated is one of the more popular commanders, and is even a solid pick in the 99 of other Sultai decks. Personally, I had a lot of fun playing it in a four-color blink deck helmed by Golos, Tireless Pilgrim, and it’s going to be a popular card for years to come.
Similarly, Omnath, Locus of the Roil is will always be welcome in ever-popular Lands decks. Now that there’s a new Omnath on the block, it might be worth revisiting this great little engine.
Mystic Forge is an all-around solid card for decks that care about artifacts. Whether you’ve recently picked up Breya, Etherium Shaper from Double Masters, or you’re putting together a Voltron list for Akiri, Fearless Voyager with a bunch of equipment and mana rocks, it’s going to be a great way to dig deeper into your deck.
Bonus Picks: Commander 2019
Before we close things up, I’d like to briefly touch on Commander 2019. These decks were a lot of fun, and they brought some popular commanders to the table like Chainer, Nightmare Adept, Anje Falkenrath, K’rrik, Son of Yawgmoth and Ghired, Conclave Exile.
The new-for-Commander cards in these decks were also a treat. If you haven’t picked up copies of cards like Sevinne’s Reclamation, Ohran Frostfang or Sudden Substitution, consider looking again. They’re really fun to play with and offer some real juice to decks that want them — Sevinne’s Reclamation is a favorite of mine.
Dockside Extortionist is far and away the most popular card from this year, and you can do worse than picking up a copy of Mystic Intellect to get your hands on one. It’s worth more or less the price of the deck on its own.
Rotation is an exciting time for Commander players, as it’s the best time to pick up popular Standard cards that don’t have a home in Modern or Pioneer. It’s also time to do a little thinking — what decks are on the horizon for me? What cards are always going to be great in Commander? These are the cards to consider picking up each year.
I also think it’s worth re-iterating that these are the last sets before Collector Boosters became part of the product line. As such, popular foils will end up being more expensive over time than rares and mythics printed in later sets. It’s something to keep in mind.
What are you thinking of picking up? Did I miss any spicy picks? Let me know on Twitter!
Kristen is a lover of both Limited and Commander, and can most often be found championing the Boros Legion when called upon to sit down and shuffle up. As a member of the Commander Advisory Group, Kristen lives and breathes Commander. When she’s not playing Magic, she works as a freelance writer and editor in the UK.