We’ve been treated to the first week of Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate, which focused on the legendary creatures. As we might assume for a Commander-based set, there are some real bangers. We’ve seen 59 so far: 28 rare and mythic rare, 30 uncommon, and one common. The last one is Faceless One, the Pied Piper variant inserted into the Draft set in case players don’t get to pick other options.
While we’ll talk about the whole list of them in broader context during the complete set review, today I’m going to distill them down into the ten that you absolutely don’t want to miss as individual cards, regardless of other impacts to the set as a whole. We’ll discuss Baldur’s Gate’s legendary creatures mostly in the context of leading decks, since that’ll amplify their value.
In picking this list, I gave lower weight to the legendary creatures that have you choose a Background. There’s more interesting discussion to add when talking about them and the Backgrounds together; here, I’m looking at cards more individually. If there’s a particularly interesting use for a card as one of the ninety-nine, then I’ll bring that up as well. Remember to note that I’m evaluating cards in the battlecruiser-to-mid-power range of play. If something has high-power connotations, I’ll bring it up as a side note. I’ve chosen sixteen honorable mentions, which I encourage you to do some delving into on your own. Then we’ll drive right into the Top Ten.
#10: Shadowheart, Dark Justiciar
Number ten on the list is all about going into the ninety-nine of so many possible decks. Shadowheart will go into any deck that loves graveyard stuff, giving us the card that we’ll reanimate along with a chance of drawing the spell that’ll do it.
You know that I’m fond of sacrifice outlets, although I tend to prefer those that don’t tap (or cost mana) to activate. Shadowheart is so strong, however, that getting to only use it once per turn cycle is good enough. This goes right into my Kresh Into the Red Zone deck, alongside Stalking Vengeance (although we’ll have to make sure we don’t deck ourselves by sacrificing Lord of Extinction). There’s an obvious argument to go into Muldrotha, the Gravetide as well.
#9: Zevlor, Elturel Exile
There was a big fuss that Zevlor got Day 0 errata, adding the word only. While I find the only grammatically redundant, if it helps players understand the card better, then I’m all for it. It certainly wasn’t worth the fuss.
The card’s ability is very fuss-worthy. Getting an additional copy of an instant or sorcery for each player will play big dividends. Repulse, a card that was once the darling of the format, now draws three cards for us. That and other targeted removal goes at the top of the list, since one Doom Blade or Terminate now gets three creatures. We can’t copy a Comet Storm that has multiple targets, but we can spend two mana (the same amount we’d use to add the extra targets, so maybe Fireball is a better example) to send it to everyone’s face. I’m waiting for the day when there’s a battlefield full of big creatures and we can triple up on Phthisis.
If Zevlor had white, with the best targeted removal, in its color identity, it might be higher on my list.
#8: Wilson, Refined Grizzly
From an adorableness factor, Wilson will make everyone forget about a certain Otter—making it the only uncommon to crack the Top Ten. From the perspective of getting value for your investment, no other Bear comes close. You know you just want to slap Colossification or Eldrazi Conscription onto it. We can cast the former via Vedalken Orrery after we’ve declared Wilson as an attacker, and the tapping won’t mean anything (save that he’s not around to block). I look forward to a whole new list of similar cards in the future so that we might one day build Animals Drinking Tea tribal.
#7: Alaundo the Seer
The possibilities of Alaundo are quite compelling. It gives cards a kind of faux suspend, but unlike the kind-of-broken Jhoira of the Ghitu, you’ll have to wait longer for more expensive stuff. What we’re really trading here is time for mana.
The trick with the card will be in finding the right area under the curve so that we have multiple turns in which we’re casting something off of Alaundo’s exile ability and also something normally. Note that while we can exile lands with Alaundo, we can’t bring them back; the ability specifically says that you cast the card—plus it would have gone there with zero time counters on it. Fortunately, we don’t need Alaundo still around, since the card that we exile gets the abilities. What we might need are Paradox Haze and Sphinx of the Second Sun to give us additional upkeeps and shorten the time.
We’ll have to wait for the rules update to see if these cards count as suspended (for the purposes of Jhoira’s Timebug, et al.). Currently, under rule 702.62b, they wouldn’t, since they need to fulfil three requisites: being in exile, have time counters on it, and have suspend, which Alaundo’s ability doesn’t reference.
#6: Jon Irenicus, Shattered One
Jon Irenicus was the first one we saw, and it thrilled me to the point of wanting to write an entire piece about it last time. The week hasn’t dulled my enthusiasm.
It’s still the first one that I want to build after we’ve seen the whole set, more for its nuance than its raw power. Some folks are talking about the idea that we might be at the knee in the curve on seeing too much goad, but I say bring it on. More goad for everyone!
#5: Duke Ulder Ravengard
The Duke is straightforward in that it battles, yet takes Boros in a different direction. We can go high instead of wide. Copies of Malignus are every bit as saucy as the original, especially if we leverage one of the many ways in white to give our creatures lifelink. Trample is a little more difficult to come by in the colors, but not impossible. Archetype of Aggression is an inexpensive and underplayed card which folks might consider playing more often. There’s always Akroma’s Will, which pairs nicely when the Duke is our commander.
Of course, there’s also the artifact method, via Akroma’s Memorial for every ability under the sun, or the simple Eldrazi Monument. There’s a combo with multiple Reveillarks or Yosei, the Morning Star. Then there are just solid value engines by giving myriad to Solemn Simulacrum, netting two more lands and up to three cards. Maybe there’s a Spirit build with Hofri Ghostforge as the secret commander.
#4: Raggadragga, Goreguts Boss
Dust off your Citanul Hierophants and Cryptolith Rites, Raggadragga’s coming to town! Not only do our mana creatures get buffed, but they give rewards for swinging them into battle, in the guise of getting to tap them for mana again. I can see and appreciate the design approach here. With Raggadragga, we don’t need to cast other stuff to attack with; it was right there all along.
That’s just the buffs. The value of untapping the creatures is two-fold. First, it gives them pseudo-vigilance, meaning they’re around as blockers (assuming they survive combat). Second, it gives us the opportunity to cast combat tricks with them, since they’ve opened up mana. Then there’s the third ability, which is going to make people dead.
We can’t pack our decks with too many seven-mana spells, but for the ones we do stuff in, things are going to get wild. We’re going to threaten some one-shot commander damage kills with Raggadragga. The first one that comes to mind is Klauth, Unrivaled Ancient, who will help generate even more mana. When I hear seven mana, my mind also goes right to Nyxbloom Ancient, for even more. Even if we’re not trying to one-shot someone with Raggadragga, making him 11/11 with trample because we happened to cast Zendikar Resurgent just seems like winning all day long.
#3: Bhaal, Lord of Murder
I like all the Gods/commanders which become indestructible when our life total drops to twenty or below. It’s excellent protection for them and for us when we’re in tight spots. I like Bhaal because it suggests a deck that’s a bit of goad and a bit of face-smashing.
The first two cards I’d want to put into a Bhaal deck are Kardur, Doomscourge and Karazikar, the Eye Tyrant. They’re going to make combat happen, which is more likely to trigger Bhaal’s second ability. When another nontoken creature we control dies, we get to put a +1/+1 counter on a creature and goad it. While that’s likely to let us take advantage of Kardur and Karazikar’s abilities, what’s cool is that we can also just put the counter on one of our own creatures. The goad becomes pretty meaningless at that point, which it might already be if the game is down to two players—although it does mean the creature has to attack.
We’ll build the deck with our favorite Jund sacrifice outlets (here’s looking at you, Shadowheart, Dark Justiciar) to pile up the counters and just start smashing. Drawing cards with Erebos, God of the Dead will get us into territory in which Bhaal is indestructible. From there, it’s a short trip to both commander damage kills and life totals becoming zero.
#2: Captain N’ghathrod
Mind Flayer (yeah, okay, Horror) Pirate? Check the flavor box. Sweet abilities? Tick off the mechanical ones. Good Captain N’ghathrod points us in build directions and then leaves it up to us to figure out how to best take advantage of the third and splashiest one. At the beginning of our end step, we can return to the battlefield an artifact or creature card that was put into an opponent’s graveyard from their library this turn.
We obviously have the Horror tribal line to explore, since Captain N’ghathrod gives them menace. There are also more than you might think: 187 in Dimir colors alone. I was pleased to find that Geralf’s Mindcrusher, with its five-card mill, is a Horror. The thing we’ll want to watch out for is that they’re usually pretty large and expensive. We can always get around that by playing Arcane Adaptation or Conspiracy, naming Horror, and then just use the creatures we want. I’m a fan of themes, so I’d want us to stick with casting Consuming Aberration and Hullbreaker Horror.
Captain N’ghathrod’s second ability is tied to the tribe, but not weighed down by it. At the very least, we can have him dealing damage and milling his power in cards when he connects. If we want to buff him with Equipment, like Argentum Armor or Sword of Hearth and Home, too. Of course, we might get a pretty big mill of someone by hitting them with Consuming Aberration.
Will You Mill?
The question for building the deck is if we want to go full mill as a win condition or just some incidental milling as a method of getting creatures into the graveyard to regrow with Captain N’ghathrod. The path to the former is well-worn in the format, paved with cards like Traumatize, Maddening Cacophony, and Cut Your Losses. I’d lean into the latter, because people will play cool creatures, and it’s great to attack their owners with them. For that, we don’t have to go into the full mill suite that can put off people. If we do it all with Horrors and combat damage, maybe they just won’t notice. Also, don’t forget to run Strip Mine or Tsabo’s Web for protection against Homeward Path.
#1: Raphael, Fiendish Savior
Raphael is my top pick because he’s different. A Rakdos commander giving a subset of creatures lifelink (plus a buff!) is just something we haven’t seen. Fellow RC member Scott Larabee has a Zurzoth, Chaos Rider deck and one of its weaknesses is lifegain. Zurzoth gets jammed right into a Raphael deck and we’re off to the races. In addition to Demons, Devils, and Tieflings, Raphael also buffs Imps—and any excuse to play classics from the ancient days, Nettling Imp and Maddening Imp, are okay by me.
It’s in Raphael’s second ability that things start to get serious. At the beginning of each end step, if a creature card was put into our graveyard from anywhere, we get to make a Devil token. Because the creature token has the triggered ability of dealing one damage to any target when it dies, I call it a Ping Devil. We can build our Raphael decks to generate lots of Ping Devils. While we haven’t yet seen any other Tieflings, I suspect that Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate will have enough of them to use as a sub-theme.
Creating those tokens might give us enough reason to play old-school Demons like Lord of the Pit, which actually threatened to bring some pain with them. These days, we have good ones like Demonlord Belzenlok, Reaper from the Abyss, Harvester of Souls, and one of my favorites, Sower of Discord. There are plenty to choose from, so we can build to suit our tastes.
Opening the Gate
Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate is only partially previewed, and it’s already a success. The legendary creatures demonstrate the promise of the set—wide-open opportunities for builders to explore compelling themes and express themselves in unseen ways. I can’t wait to get brewing.
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