Fierce Guardianship | Illustration by Randy Vargas
Commander is the latest format to get the Masters treatment, with Commander Masters reprinting several staple cards for the game’s most popular format. Some of the most notable are spells that only have only had a single previous printing in a full set, like Grand Abolisher and Spellseeker.
Perhaps the most notable cards to finally see their first reprint are the free commander spells from the Ikoria Commander decks in 2020, with the cycle not only getting some sweet alternate arts but also their first foil printing for players who really want to bling out their decks.
But what makes this cycle so coveted, and which of the five spells is the best? That’s what we’re looking at today!
What Are the Commander 2020 Free Spells?
Deadly Rollick | Illustration by izzy
The Commander 2020 free spells are a cycle of instants printed in the Commander decks for Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths. There’s one for each color, and each lets you cast them without paying their mana cost if you control a commander.
All five are reactive spells that protect yourself or your board from your opponents. They’re all powerful effects, especially since casting them for free is ridiculously easy. Tapping out to develop your board while retaining some protection is why several of these have become cEDH staples and why the cycle is among the most notable reprints in Commander Masters.
#5. Flawless Maneuver
Flawless Maneuver defends your creatures for the low, affordable cost of 0 mana. Or 3 mana, which is still pretty on-rate compared to other white versions of this effect, like Unbreakable Formation and Make a Stand.
Flawless Maneuver is the least flexible of the Ikoria free spells. While many white decks are creature-focused, not all white decks play to the board enough to worry about protecting their entire team. Additionally, this fails to protect your board from wraths like Farewell and Toxic Deluge that circumvents indestructible.
This card also isn’t great for decks looking to protect a single piece. While free is good, sometimes free — sometimes 3 mana — feels inconsistent and overpriced when cards like Loran's Escape, Blacksmith's Skill, or Tamiyo's Safekeeping can protect a single card even better, as hexproof deflects spells like Path to Exile or Swords to Plowshares that indestructible doesn’t help with. Many go-wide decks are happy to run this in their suite of sweeper protection, but quite a few decks won’t find Flawless Maneuver necessary.
#4. Obscuring Haze
I think fogs are heavily underrated in Commander, especially at casual tables. Lower-powered decks tend to rely on combat damage as their win condition, and a well-timed Obscuring Haze can blow apart a close game when somebody makes an attack based on a player not being able to crack back.
Obscuring Haze is a particularly powerful Fog variant. Instead of preventing all combat damage, it only prevents damage from your opponents, which sets you up to do a reasonable Settle the Wreckage impression depending on your board state. It also doesn’t specify combat damage, so you can use it to shut down things like Niv-Mizzet, Parun or Mayhem Devil for a turn.
This effect drops off at higher power levels where decks are more likely to win through a combo than a mass of creatures, but this can stop many combos, like Glint-Horn Buccaneer, anything with Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, and combos that loop cards like Pyrite Spellbomb or Moonglove Extract for infinite damage. The few fogs I’ve seen in Commander have always been hugely impactful, likely because nobody plays around them. I think Obscuring Haze is the most underrated fog and likely the commander-free spell that will benefit casual decks the most.
#3. Deadly Rollick
Deadly Rollick is the only free spell that doesn’t protect your life total or board, opting to be free removal instead. Exiling an opponent’s creature for literally nothing is incredible. Exiling is already the best form of removal, and efficient exile effects often give your opponent a small boon to make up for how efficient they are, like Path to Exile and Swords to Plowshares.
When hard cast, Deadly Rollick is the worst of the free spells on rate. There’s a reason Vraska's Contempt and Eat to Extinction don’t see Commander play. Four mana is too much to hold up and often leaves you even, if not down, on mana in the exchange, while cheaper removal often gives you a mana-positive exchange.
That said, this card’s value when cast for free is incredible. It provides board impact, often wasting much of your opponent’s mana, if not their entire turn. If you have a cheap, easily protected commander, then Rollick is well worth a slot. I’d be less inclined to play it with expensive commanders that might not come down until later in the game and be hard to recast, as that likely leads you to hard casting this more often than you’d like.
#2. Deflecting Swat
Redirecting spells is one of my favorite effects in Commander. It gives you lots of choices and can really swing a game, making Deflecting Swat a fantastic card.
Deflecting Swat can often be a two-for-one, making this one of the stronger spells in the cycle. A common use of this is redirecting a removal spell like Swords to Plowshares away from your creature and to an opponent’s. This effect can go wrong in some situations; Swat needs another legal target, so it can’t protect your creature if it’s the only one in play, and it doesn’t help against board wipes.
Deflecting Swat is still a fantastic card despite those flaws. Getting to redirect spells with multiple targets is another useful ability that other variants, like Imp's Mischief and Bolt Bend, often miss out on. Redistributing a Mystic Confluence or Fire Covenant can be game-winning. It also provides red decks with additional backup in a counterspell war; if you aren’t saving a creature, you’ll likely redirect a counterspell to Deflecting Swat itself as it resolves to protect a card on the stack.
#1. Fierce Guardianship
Who’d have thought the blue spell would be the best of the cycle? One of the strongest game actions in Magic is to deny your opponents’ their own game action. Force of Will and Force of Negation are incredibly powerful spells for this reason, and Fierce Guardianship provides you with a third copy of this effect.
Only countering noncreature spells is a slight but necessary restriction on this card. Like Force of Negation, you’d prefer to cast for this free, but casting it normally is fine, even if is the most mana you’d be willing to pay for a Negate. Hitting noncreature spells lets this deal with most problems you’ll encounter. It protects you from interaction, be it spot removal or a board wipe, prevents your opponents from resolving tutors or threats, and protects your threats and tutors from opposing interaction. As an effective third copy of some of the best blue spells ever printed, this goes a long way in the singleton format of Commander.
Flawless Maneuver | Illustration by Zoltan Boros
Efficiency in Magic is about spending as little mana as possible to have the largest impact on the game. Spells that don’t require paying mana like Force of Will and the Elemental Incarnations from Modern Horizons 2 are historically among the strongest in the game for this reason.
The Ikoria free spells are some of the best free spells in Commander since they have such a low requirement for being free. They offer valuable protection and are more accessible than ever thanks to their reprint in Commander Masters. Which of the commander-free spells do you play? Do you play any other free spells in your Commander decks? Let me know in the comments or in the Draftsim !
Stay safe, and be efficient!Follow Draftsim for awesome articles and set updates: