The Year of Commander is nearing its end. There have been ups and downs, but most importantly, it’s been a key developmental time for Magic’s most popular format. From new legendary creatures in Standard sets to the hugely successful Commander Legends, there are now more ways than ever to build your own Commander deck.
But building a Commander deck has also become an increasingly complex process. With more generals and card choices come increasing decision paralysis — and it’s for this reason that I recommend preconstructed Commander decks to most players. Whether you’re making the transition from other formats or you’re new to the game entirely, these play-out-of-the-box experiences are a convenient entry point for almost everyone. They’re also exceptional for non-Magic players to pick up as a Christmas gift for the spell-slinger in their life.
2020 saw the release of nine preconstructed decks, which is more than we’ve ever seen in a single calendar year before. This can be an overwhelming amount of choice for anyone trying to choose one, so I’ve done a lot of the groundwork for you. This is a breakdown of all nine preconstructed decks released in 2020, from Commander 2020 to Commander Legends. We’ll cover everything from cost, value and upgradability to eventually crown the best overall picks.
Before we begin, here’s a quick recap of all the Commander precons released this year.
Commander 2020 (April)
The first release of the year was Commander 2020, which featured five decks. These were all centered around different mechanics that featured in Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths. The deck names and their archetypes are as follows:
- Enhanced Evolution – Sultai Mutate
- Symbiotic Swarm – Abzan Keywords
- Timeless Wisdom – Jeskai Cycling
- Arcane Maelstrom – Temur Spellslinger
- Ruthless Regiment – Mardu Humans
Zendikar Rising (September)
Autumn’s Zendikar Rising set featured two preconstructed decks. One was a Rogue Tribal deck (a nod to the main set’s party mechanic), and the other was focused mostly on landfall, a mechanic native to the plane of Zendikar.
Commander Legends (November)
The recent release of Commander Legends saw two more decks enter the fray. These were closer to “traditional” Commander archetypes than the rest of this year’s releases.
Deck Cost & Value
Let’s talk about how much bang you’re getting for your buck. All the decks released this year have contents whose combined value is higher than their price tag, though some of them will hold their value better than others. Commander 2020 decks will likely retain value for longer due to the number and quality of the contents (see New Cards below), but they also cost more to buy in the first place. Here’s a ranking of each deck, based on the extra value you’re getting:
|Deck||Deck Cost||Value of Contents||Extra Value|
|5||Reap the Tides||$32||$53||$21|
|8||Arm for Battle||$32||$47||$15|
While it may look like there’s a huge difference in terms of value, it’s worth noting that there are no bad choices here. You’re getting more than your money’s worth no matter which deck you choose, and all the decks contain plenty of great cards that see play throughout the format.
Each of the decks feature new cards, though some have considerably more than others. Commander 2020 decks contain roughly sixteen new cards per deck; this is a huge contrast to the other releases, which only had three new cards each. They also contain a new cycle of cards that are free to cast if you control your commander, some of which became extremely sought after. Fierce Guardianship from Timeless Wisdom is the most expensive card ($45) in any of this year’s decks, followed by Deflecting Swat in Arcane Maelstrom ($26), and Deadly Rollick in Enhanced Evolution ($16). These cards see a lot of play outside of these decks, too, roughly to the same proportions as their costs.
In addition to these free spells, each Commander 2020 deck contains additional new commanders that can be used in place of the main general. Here are the most popular alternate commanders from these lists (according to EDHREC):
- Zaxara, the Exemplary (Enhanced Evolution)
- Xyris, the Writhing Storm (Arcane Maelstrom)
- Haldan, Avid Arcanist // Pako, Arcane Retriever (Arcane Maelstrom)
Several of the other new cards show up in more niche strategies, though these are the most impactful from Commander 2020.
The rest of the preconstructed decks from this year can’t hold a candle to Commander 2020 when it comes to new cards, either in impact or quantity. The most notable from Zendikar Rising was Sneak Attack’s general, Anowon, the Ruin Thief. Obuun, Mul Daya Ancestor has made less of an impact, as there are generally more interesting and powerful commanders in their colors. As for the Commander Legends decks, both commanders are relevant new cards for the format. Aesi, Tyrant of Gyre Strait is showing up in many ramp decks, and Wyleth, Soul of Steel is a good inclusion for equipment and aura decks.
When it comes to reprints, most of the decks contain at least a few important inclusions. Sol Ring is ubiquitous across every release, and Arcane Signet is in all but the Commander Legends decks. Every deck contains a decent number of format staples in their colors, from mana rocks to removal. Even though most of the reprints are on the more affordable end, they’re an excellent way to quickly grow your card collection for the format.
There aren’t too many reprints that have dramatically influenced price or availability, though Commander 2020 has helped to keep the price of many staples down, like Skullclamp and Lightning Greaves. Commander Legends continued this trend, with cards like Avenger of Zendikar in Reap the Tides and Sigarda’s Aid in Arm for Battle helping to keep the costs low.
Zendikar Rising has slammed the price of a few cards, however, turning them into new budget choices. Admonition Angel, Omnath, Locus of Rage, and Rites of Flourishing are great reprints from Land’s Wrath, knocking up to 90% off their cost. Sneak Attack had a similar effect with some excellent reprints, most notably Oona, Queen of the Fae, Obelisk of Urd, and Notorious Throng.
How Do They Play?
One of the most important points to consider is how fun these decks are to play — it’s the main reason to buy them in the first place! Truth be told, you can’t really go wrong with any of the decks on offer here: every one of them gives you a fun and unique play experience, though there are discrepancies between the decks in terms of strength.
Most of these preconstructed decks would struggle to keep up with more tuned personal decks, though this is nothing new for this type of product. In terms of power level, most of them would sit roughly between 3 and 5 out of 10, with the more powerful ones coming from Commander 2020. If you’re looking to pick up more than one deck to play together, be sure not to choose poorly matched decks. As a good rule of thumb, the Commander 2020 decks all play well together; the Zendikar Rising and Commander Legends decks are less powerful, but evenly matched.
While there is a reasonable difference in power between Commander 2020 and the other products right out of the box, some simple upgrades can help rectify any balance issues. You can see my upgrade article for Reap the Tides here, and Kristen Gregory’s article for Arm for Battle here for some inspiration!
The majority of preconstructed decks can be easily upgraded, as they’re usually built with a main theme and one or two subthemes. This holds true for the offerings from this year, as evidenced by the extra commanders in the decks, and particularly in Commander 2020.
While I have been singing the praises of Commander 2020 until now, there is one important observation about two of the decks: Enhanced Evolution and Symbiotic Swarm. These decks are perfectly fine by themselves, though they feel like they have a lower ceiling when it comes to improvement. As Enhanced Evolution is so reliant on the mutate mechanic from Ikoria, you’re limited by the mutate payoffs in that set. There’s nothing “wrong” with the deck or strategy, but its power is limited by its options — much like Admiral Beckett Brass was before Commander Legends.
Symbiotic Swarm suffers a similar fate; there are only so many more keywords you can add to the deck, so you can only really improve its consistency by adding more ways to bin creatures for Kathril, Aspect Warper. This will certainly boost the power of the deck, just not to the same level that you can upgrade others (like Timeless Wisdom).
The rest of the Commander 2020 decks are all great choices for decks to upgrade over time, as they’re more focused on mechanics that are already very popular. There are more than 2000 Humans in Magic, cycling has returned several times throughout the last 27 years, and Spellslinger is one of the most popular archetypes of all time. You can upgrade these to suit nearly any budget, and they can be taken in any number of different directions.
The Zendikar Rising precons have a lot of scope for improvement, which is great considering how fun they are right out of the box. The first Rogue was printed back in 1994 and there have been hundreds printed since, so Sneak Attack has plenty of options available. Similarly, land-based cards have been around since Magic’s beginnings, so the potential of Land’s Wrath is immense.
The Commander Legends decks are excellent starting points for someone looking to join the format, or to start building a classic archetype, and their upgrade paths are outlined fairly clearly. Arm for Battle is a basic Boros Voltron shell that would likely end up putting Akiri, Line-Slinger and Bruse Tarl, Boorish Herder at the helm, while committing Wyleth, Soul of Steel to the 98. Similarly, Aesi, Tyrant of Gyre Strait can be a great start for a Tatyova, Benthic Druid build, while still keeping the original commander in the deck.
Best Value Picks
It’s difficult to measure value, as it depends on whether you’re talking about financial gain, the experience you’ll get from the deck, or the usefulness of the game pieces you’re getting. Taking this into account, I believe Arcane Maelstrom to be the best mix of all three. Ruthless Regiment isn’t far behind; it’s a blast to play, and will likely hold its value thanks to its contents. I chose Reap the Tides for third place, as anyone looking to pick up a bunch of format staples can’t go far wrong with this choice.
Best Budget Picks
Land’s Wrath is not only the cheapest deck, but probably the most affordable deck to upgrade. If built well, this deck could serve you very well for years to come. It helps that it’s fun to play, too! Sneak Attack is second best in this category as the upgrades can be a bit more expensive, but it’s a joy to play and a fantastic stocking stuffer. Finally, Arcane Maelstrom is still very affordable to pick up and to upgrade. Out of the three this has the greatest potential for upgrades, so if you’re choosing a deck to keep and build up over time, this is an excellent choice.
Best Intro Picks
If you’re looking to buy a deck to introduce a friend or loved one to Magic, Reap the Tides is my personal choice. It introduces players to the importance of resource management, card advantage, and triggers, all without being too overwhelming. It has complex lines and decisions, too, so it’s not one they’ll outgrow quickly. Similarly, Arm for Battle teaches you about more aggressive strategies; how they operate, how they sacrifice staying power for early pressure, and the importance of commander damage. Land’s Wrath is a nice middle ground between the two: it’s not too slow or too aggressive, and it’s easy to pilot yet difficult to master.
Best Family Picks
Finally, if you’re looking to buy a bundle of decks to try and convince the family to play over the holidays, any mix of the decks from Zendikar Rising and Commander Legends will work beautifully. They’re not too difficult to learn with, they’re nicely balanced, and play off each other very well. If you’d prefer to stay up late and start family feuds in Commander instead of Monopoly, this is the choice for you!
Whether you’re looking for a last-minute gift for your office Kris Kindle or your sibling that’s been meaning to try Commander, or you’re trying to get the entire household hooked, I hope this guide has helped you to find the right deck! Do you have a personal favorite from this year’s preconstructed decks? Let me know on Twitter what one is your choice for best of the year!
Scott is an Irish content creator and the Head of Budget Magic for the Izzet League. He focuses on affordable decks in Pioneer, Modern, and Pauper, particularly ones that stray from the mainstream. When he’s not writing about his favorite decks, he can be found talking incessantly about them on Twitter and on The Budget Magic Cast.