Backgrounds Seize The Spotlight In Baldur’s Gate Commander

The Backgrounds of Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate bring an exciting new dimension to the MTG command zone. Bennie Smith shows how to put Backgrounds in the spotlight.

Raised by Giants
Raised by Giants, illustrated by Kai Carpenter

Preview season for Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate is done, and we have the full card image gallery up and preorders are ready to roll.  There are a lot of cool cards and some new mechanics, but to my mind, the coolest new cards for our Commander toolbox are the new enchantment subtype, Backgrounds! 

From the article on the mechanics of Baldur’s Gate, Backgrounds are a new type of enchantment. Legendary Background cards represent the story that brought your commander to the point where we find them now. Each one gives your commander a bonus that will help them (and therefore help you) in the game. Most often, this bonus comes in the form of an ability your commander gains or a boost to their power and/or toughness.  A Background enchantment that’s in your commander’s color identity can, of course, be played in a Commander deck just like any other card.

Choose a Background

There are 28 legendary creatures in this set that have an ability that allows them to start the game with a Background in the command zone, called Choose a Background. Choose a Background is a very specific version of the partner ability, which can allow a player to have more than one commander. If the legendary creature you’ve chosen as your commander has chosen a Background, you may start the game with both that creature and a legendary Background enchantment in the command zone. If you do, that Background functions as a second commander for your deck. This means that the Background can have a different color identity from the legendary creature, and you use the combined color identity of both the legendary creature card and the legendary Background card to determine what the other 98 cards in your Commander deck. 

For purposes other than color identity, that Background is treated as an individual commander on its own. If it is put into your graveyard, exiled, or would otherwise leave the battlefield, you may put it back into the command zone. “Commander tax,” the additional cost of two mana for every time you’ve cast a commander from the command zone, applies separately to your Background.  Having Backgrounds count as commanders can be quite potent for a whole host of cards that have been printed since Wizards of the Coast (WotC) started designing cards with Commander in mind, since enchantments will often be more resilient to mass removal spells than creatures.

I also really like Backgrounds in the 99 or 98 of your Commander deck as a way to increase the power of your individual commander or commanders without the traditional “Voltron” style of piling on Equipment or Auras attached directly to the commander.

Background Breakdown

There are five Backgrounds for each color: one rare, one common, and three uncommons.  There is also a colorless background called Faceless One that’s there mostly to help fix Commander Legends Draft and Sealed:

Faceless One

Faceless One can either be your commander and let you choose a background, or it can be a background for a legendary creature with the Choose a Background ability. Perfect for helping to fix your color identity in Sealed or Draft, but since it doesn’t have any inherent abilities, I can’t see this seeing play in Commander. But let’s dig into the Backgrounds that you very well might want to have in your deck!

White Backgrounds

Far Traveler Flaming Fist Inspiring Leader

Noble Heritage Veteran Soldier

Most of the white Backgrounds are combat oriented, creating creatures or boosting them and that’s cool.  But there’s also Far Traveler for decks looking for Blink effects; and I really like Noble Heritage for +1/+1 counter strategies but also some political shenanigans too.  Noble Heritage being so cheap at two mana means you can replay it quite easily.

Blue Backgrounds

Candlekeep Sage Dungeon Delver Feywild Visitor

Shameless Charlatan Sword Coast Sailor

For blue, Feywild Visitor and Sword Coast Sailor are combat-oriented, and Candlekeep Sage makes your commander into a card-drawing machine whenever it enters or leaves the battlefield. I really like Dungeon Delver as a way to support dungeon strategies, either for the new initiative cards that send you into the Undercity, or for the original dungeon cards from Adventures in the Forgotten Realms. Or both in the same deck!

Shameless Charlatan is an interesting Background that lets your commander creatures spend three mana to become a copy of another target creature. I’m not sure why you would build your deck around your commander only to have it change into another creature, unless your commander accumulates +1/+1 counters on it like Wyll, Blade of Frontiers, and once you’ve got enough on it you can copy a creature with a large body. Maybe it’ll be more used in the 99 of other commander decks?  I’m very curious to see what players come up with for Shameless Charlatan!

Black Backgrounds

Agent of the Iron Throne Agent of the Shadow Thieves Criminal Past

Cultist of the Absolute Scion of Halaster

Criminal Past and Scion of Halaster seem like they would work really well together in a graveyard-centered deck.  Agent of the Iron Throne seems tailor-made for Aristocrats-style sacrifice decks, while Cultist of the Absolute is an awesome way to really give your commander a big boost if you happen to have sacrificial fodder around but not necessarily Aristocrats-style. Agent of the Shadow Thieves plays quite well alongside black’s many ways to pay life for beneficial effect, making your commander(s) quite potent attackers against whoever is unfortunate enough to have the most life. 

Red Backgrounds

Dragon Cultist Guild Artisan Popular Entertainer

Street Urchin Tavern Brawler

I love that all of the red Backgrounds feel like they’d be at home in different decks! Dragon Cultist fits well in Dragon decks since a Dragon will often be able to deal five or more damage each turn, but you can also use it for value in a red deck that can just dish out a large amount of damage, like Torbran, Thane of Red Fell or Obosh, the Preypiercer. And if your commander has red in its color identity, evasion, and has power five or more, I’d likely just add Dragon Cultist to the 99. 

Guild Artisan slots into any of the many Treasure-themed decks running around these days, and Popular Entertainer is another goad enabler. If red is in your commander color identity for an Aristocrats-style deck, Street Urchin can do some work and might be a piece in the puzzle of the sort of “sacrifice artifacts for effects” themes that WotC has been pushing lately (see Oni-Cult Anvil; Juri, Master of the Revue; etc.).  If your deck likes the “impulsive draw” draw that WotC has been giving to red lately, Tavern Brawler can do some work; I could see it slotting right into Prosper, Tome-Bound.  It also seems to align with the goals of Hidetsugu, Devouring Chaos.

Green Backgrounds

Acolyte of Bahamut Cloakwood Hermit Hardy Outlander

Master Chef Raised by Giants

As a green fan, I’m loving all the green Backgrounds!  I quickly decided I wanted to build a mono-green Choose a Background Commander deck with Wilson, Refined Grizzly paired with Raised by Giants, and I’ve gone down a rabbit hole where I want just about all the “cares about your commander being on the battlefield” cards you can put in the 98 of a mono-green deck. Four of the five Backgrounds work great for this, but Acolyte of Bahamut is a bit of a sore thumb, since there aren’t all that many good green Dragons.  Well, until Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate!

Ambitious Dragonborn Ancient Bronze Dragon Avenging Hunter Draconic Muralists Dread Linnorm Earthquake Dragon Emerald Dragon Lurking Green Dragon Scaled Nurturer Skanos Dragonheart

Wilson and his Dragon Buddies.dec?  Seems pretty easy to make a Dragon sub-theme to the Wilson deck if you really wanted to include Acolyte of Bahamut. Which I think is a good guide for figuring out where else you might want to put this—you’d probably want a commander that costs three mana or less to help ensure that the turn after you cast your commander you can start playing discounted Dragons!  Seems like it would go perfectly in a Korlessa, Scale Singer Dragon deck.

Anyway, I really like Raised by Giants for decks with commanders that have small power and toughness stats like Sythis, Harvest’s Hand; Chatterfang, Squirrel General; Yorvo, Lord of Garenbrig; and Toski, Bearer of Secrets.

Commander’s Will

Akroma's Will Sakashima's Will Szat's Will Jeska's Will Kamahl's Will Klauth's Will

The commander Will cycle contains decent cards that get quite a bit better when you control your commander. If you start with a Background in your command zone, it’s much more likely you’ll get to take full advantage of these cards.

Commander Lieutenant

Angelic Field Marshal Loyal Drake Demon of Wailing Agonies Loyal Subordinate Stormsurge Kraken Loyal Apprentice Tyrant's Familiar Loyal Guardian Thunderfoot Baloth Loyal Unicorn

The lieutenant cards also play great with the Background commanders. In particular I really Loyal Apprentice and Loyal Drake, since they can give you solid benefit early in the game before you get your commander creature on the battlefield.

Commander Creatures Get Bonuses

Bastion Protector Bloodsworn Steward Guardian Augmenter

The “commander creatures you control get” cards are quite nice, but they only affect your commander creatures, which is unfortunate—it would be great if Guardian Protector gave your Background indestructible or Guardian Augmenter gave your Background hexproof.  However, it does raise a deckbuilding challenge that I expect brewers the world over to rise to: how to animate your commander Background into a creature and kill someone with it through commander damage!  Opalescence and Starfield of Nyx spring to mind, but how about something a bit more obscure—enchanting your background with Imprisoned in the Moon or Song of the Dryads and then animating it with Destiny Spinner and a bunch of enchantments on the battlefield?

Times You Cast Your Commander

Commander's Insignia Commander's Insight Font of Magic Myth Unbound

Cards that care about the number of times you cast your commander get doubly good when you have two commanders in your command zone, so you’ll want to consider these for your Choose a Background Commander decks.

Commander Storm

Empyrial Storm Echo Storm Skull Storm Fury Storm Genesis Storm

Similarly, the “Commander Storm” cycle is another group of cards to consider, particularly if both commanders are relatively cheap, since they’ll likely get destroyed and recast more often.  You’d best believe that Genesis Storm will be in my Wilson deck!

Commander Free Spells

Flawless Maneuver Fierce Guardianship Deadly Rollick Deflecting Swat Obscuring Haze

It’s a shame that most of these are so expensive, but if you have them, you definitely want to play them in a deck with a Background as a commander, which should make it super-easy to ensure these can be cast for no mana cost.

Commander Familiars

Keleth, Sunmane Familiar Esior, Wardwing Familiar Falthis, Shadowcat Familiar Kediss, Emberclaw Familiar Anara, Wolvid Familiar

The Familiars from the original Commander Legends are quite potent for many Commander decks, but in particular Anara, Wolvid Familiar’s and Esior, Wardwing Familiar’s abilities will work nicely to protect a Background commander.  The other three will only juice up your Backgrounds if you’ve turned them into creatures!

Other Commander-Matters Cards

Skyfire Phoenix Geode Golem Flamekin Herald

These three cards are quite nice when you have two commanders in your command zone, and none of them care that one of the commanders is an enchantment, so stick them in your deck if they fit.

So, what do you think of Backgrounds?  Are you looking to pick up any for the main deck of any existing Commander decks, or are you excited to put together a Choose Your Background commander duo?  Let me know!

Talk to Me

Do me a solid and follow me on Twitter!  I run polls and get conversations started about Commander all the time, so get in on the fun!  You can also find my LinkTree on my profile page there with links to all my content.

I’d also love it if you followed my Twitch channel TheCompleteCommander, where I do Commander, Brawl and sometimes other Magic-related streams when I can.  If you can’t join me live, the videos are available on demand for a few weeks on Twitch, but I also upload them to my YouTube channel.  You can also find the lists for my paper decks over on Archidekt if you want to dig into how I put together my own decks and brews. 

And lastly, I just want to say: let us love each other and stay healthy and happy. 

CommandFest Richmond

On the weekend of June 3-5, thousands of Magic: The Gathering fans will converge upon the Greater Richmond Convention Center to celebrate their favorite 100-card format at CommandFest Richmond!  Experience Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate for the first time and meet dozens of fan-favorite Commander personalities and special guests.  Register now for the can’t-miss Magic: The Gathering event of the year!  

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