Yeah, the recent designs for M21 and Ikoria legends have been A+. I'm extremely curious what caused the change, and whether it was coincidence or if it was an intentional effort - 2019 had a ton of problematic cards (Golos, Kenrith, Chulane, Urza.... to say nothing of Oko / Once Upon a Time / etc), and I wouldn't expect all the negative feedback to have that much of an impact yet, given that most sets are designed years in advance. I'd actually assume it to be a result of the sets and slots that cards were designed for.
Working backwards and hypothesizing about how some of the recent cards were designed....
Golos - 'let's make a callback to Solemn Simulacrum
that's also a 5C commander for brawl'
Kenrith - 'let's make a 5C group hug commander'
Chulane & Korvold - 'let's make a 3C commander for Brawl'
Urza - 'let's make a pushed card for Modern'
Gavi, Nest Warden
& other Ikoria commanders - 'let's make a commander to support an Ikoria mechanic, and to support an Ikoria wedge'
Jumpstart commanders - 'let's make a 1C/2C commander to support a specific Jumpstart archetype pack'
Jolrael & other M21 legends - 'let's make a 1C commander for a classic character'
Rin and Seri, Inseparable
- 'let's make a commander for cats and dogs'
So, looks like the main elements are that they're making cards to support a specific deck or mechanic, instead of making a more open-ended legend for the sake of supporting an archetype in more colors. I'll hope that things keep up and stay more focused. Still, I wouldn't say that all the old commanders were all too strong (Yorvo, Lord of Garenbrig
, Athreos, Shroud-Veiled
, and Ayula, Queen Among Bears
say otherwise), nor are the new commanders necessarily perfect. Emiel the Blessed
is a potential combo engine, while I've also seen complaints about Neyith of the Dire Hunt
being too generic. I'll also call out Kels, Fight Fixer
vs Korvold, Fae-Cursed King
being very similar - Kels looks weaker because it is targeted towards new players with Jumpstart instead of being designed to pull experienced players into Brawl, but there isn't that much difference otherwise.
....I'll also say that the focus also means that a lot of new commanders are misses for me - if I'm not excited to build a deck for a specific mechanic, then I'm going to ignore the associated commander. Simultaneously, if a commander is tied to a specific deck too closely, then there may not be enough space for the deck design to actually be interesting.
...as a counterpoint though, there are a ton more legends being printed this year - with both Jumpstart and Commander Legends bringing a ton of legends in addition to the normal commander decks, it may have just been necessary for commanders to be significantly more specialized so as to not step on each others' toes. Simultaneously, a larger percentage of misses is acceptable as long as the number of hits is consistent - I'm only planning to build ~2 new decks per year, so whether that is 10% of 20 new legends vs 1% of 200 new legends doesn't matter that much to me.