Commander is a fundamentally deeply personal experience, like visiting a place of worship or using a bidet. I fell in love with the format because there’s no one to say, “You’re doing it wrong.” We curate 100 cards that have meaning to us, either through their individual characteristics or because together they’ll help us crush people. They’re our Magic fan fiction.
When I tell you that your pet Commander from Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate (CLB) is not an ideal choice for Draft, that does not mean you need to send it to a farm upstate. Doing any “ranking” is simply to let you know it may need a couple of pills hidden in treats (extra artifacts for mono-colored legends, for example) or reduced expectations for their life expectancy (I’m looking at you, Faceless One and anything as a Background).
If he grabs you, Wilson, Refined Grizzly is your cross to bear.
The Power Context
What we do have is striation within archetypes where, when we toss out flavor, there are cards I believe are markedly better. Oji, the Exquisite Blade and Abdel Adrian, Gorion’s Ward both clearly belong in your blink decks, but I’d take Abdel in a heartbeat were they my two options. Nothing wrong with Oji; I just don’t see them witnessing a lot of double-spelling.
If you’re looking for a better understanding of how CLB ticks, then let me talk about my twenty favorites until the gate drops at midnight. If you’re not, stick around! I might have something funny to say.
Before we dig in, I would highly recommend reading some of my thoughts on the format as a whole in my earlier coverage of archetypes (Part 1 and Part 2) and my first impressions of CLB after CommandFest Richmond. I won’t be providing a TL;DR: other than to say that Backgrounds are incredibly powerful and that, if you highly disagree with anything I say, consider if it has “Choose a Background” printed on it.
Honorable Mention: Erinis, Gloom Stalker
I kept trying to sneak Erinis, Gloom Stalker into the Top 20, but they’re a tough sell on a couple of counts. It’s no easy task to get lands into your graveyard with our lone “fetch” as Evolving Wilds, and you need a few hits to pay the increasingly large Commander tax you’ll shoulder. As always, pods I drafted in were averse to self-mill, so staples like Colossal Badger and Gray Slaad that the deck runs on were free for the taking. You have better options, but the right Background can make anyone sing.
#20: Gut, True Soul Zealot
You will find yourself with a bevy of tokens and artifacts that you simply do not need anymore and decent bonuses for taking them out behind the shed. Gut, True Soul Zealot makes you vulnerable bodies that are only saved by virtue of them having menace. Of course, if your fodder has bonuses for dying, you’re probably okay if they go while taking out a body from your opponent’s side, too. Having a little evasion in these colors helps to regain the initiative.
#19: Mahadi, Emporium Master
Mahadi, Emporium Master feels right at home in a Gut deck, but my gut check tells me you’d rather go with the Cat Devil you know. Rakdos should be the only deck all that interested in Nimblewright Schematic and Noble’s Purse, two cards that thrive with your sacrifice theme. Getting free cards at the end of the draft is always a winning strategy, and damage can start to pile up if you snag an Ingenious Artillerist or two.
#18: Ellyn Harbreeze, Busybody
Subtle card advantage without putting a huge target on your back is something that I love in CLB, but Ellyn Harbreeze, Busybody from Nextdoor only quasi-delivers on the promise. Myriad can give you a free Anticipate or two, but turns where Ellyn has no tea to spill feel like you’re falling behind. She’s also not a natural fit for our token-generating Backgrounds that require she swing, such as Guild Artisan and Veteran Soldier, so that just leaves Cloakwood Hermit. Morbid isn’t a strong theme in Selesnya unless you get free swings with Tabaxi Toucaneers.
#17: Baba Lysaga, Night Witch
A couple of activations of Baba Lysaga, Night Witch will win you most games you play. In fact, it’s the minigame that I’ve had the most fun with so far. Everyone clocks Baba like they were listening to a baby monitor, but sometimes they get caught up in the action and you get a sweet rip. Dumping your lands and then recurring them with an Erinis in the main is your dream here.
#16: Zevlor, Elturel Exile
One of my biggest disappointments in Richmond was Zevlor, Elturel Exile, a card that simply thrives in Constructed but leaves you wanting more here. Why? CLB was designed to be multiplayer by its very nature, so your best spells often have multiple targets baked into their cakes. Even in the most egalitarian pods, a card that reads “do stuff to everyone” will meet a certain amount of resistance, even when it fails to live up to the hype.
#15: Lozhan, Dragons’ Legacy
This might be a little high, but I noticed two things: people are underrating the power of free cards in the form of Adventure, and big Dragons tend to go too late. Both are great news for Lozhan, Dragons’ Legacy, which can help you win friends and alter battlefields with diplomatic use of her triggered ability. Two toughness isn’t great, but there are a slew of Dragon-centric mana rocks that help ease your pain when it comes to paying taxes.
#14: Gorion, Wise Mentor
This rating depends entirely upon you drafting Adventures aggressively, as Gorion, Wise Mentor is another Commander that mostly exists to earn you future salt. You need to be able to balance your interaction with less aggressive plays like returning cards via Rob the Hoard on Crystal Dragon or protecting your creatures with Scale Deflection on Dread Linnorm. Don’t forget to prioritize ramp, as things get expensive fast when they’re off seeing the world.
#13: Cadira, Caller of the Small
We were thoroughly impressed with a beefed-up Cadira, Caller of the Small in our first draft pod until we realized we had read the card incorrectly and had been giving Bunnies for damage dealt, not equal to the number of tokens already on the battlefield. This ability stacks well with myriad and you love tossing Inspiring Leader in the fray, so don’t be afraid to run a Wyrm’s Crossing Patrol and turn your dead soldiers into terrifying rabbits. There’s a Monty Python joke in there my COVID-19-addled brain would love to unpack.
#12: Korlessa, Scale Singer
Blue has a litany of ways to manipulate your library in CLB, so Korlessa may seem less intimidating than she is. That is, until the game is firmly in your grasp. A two-mana Commander always piques my interest, and one that generates card advantage over the long term while not looking imposing is a real win. You really need to stuff your deck with Dragons for her to hit correctly, so I’ll revisit this ranking down the line.
#11: Myrkul, Lord of Bones
I’m likely biased by how badly our pod was destroyed by Myrkul, Lord of Bones. Many creatures with early enters-the-battlefield effects are actually better as enchantments in this set, so being able to untap and cast Chain Devil, sacrificing Chain Devil to itself, and then sacrificing anything from a Dawnbringer Cleric to a Druid of the Emerald Grove is a game-winning turn.
Everyone has been so busy throwing haymakers at each other that sometimes, you can truly live the dream. Abzan doesn’t have a hard time ramping, either.
#10: Karlach, Fury of Avernus
The hard thing with Karlach, Fury of Avernus is that everyone sees it coming. Starting out with a mythic rare on your side and a Background isn’t exactly playing Spy vs. Spy. You’re Clifford the Big Red Threat. Still, it would be a disservice to an immensely powerful card to besmirch his name with a lower ranking for those who don’t mind being the archvillain. The only downside is that you’d love to have myriad to take advantage of extra combats, but the first round of tokens will go before your second swing. It’s the hard knock life.
#9: Alora, Merry Thief
Unblockable is big game when it comes to initiative, a mechanic we haven’t discussed to this point. It’s so powerful, they only gave it to a single commander we may or may not be getting to. Alora, Merry Thief helps you pull tiny burglaries to move your way through various dungeons with alacrity. With no shortage of creatures worth bouncing to your hand and Secret Entrance giving you a land to help cast them, I’m a big fan of Alora as a mana sink.
#8: Duke Ulder Ravengard
Unlike Duke Silver, Duke Ulder Ravengard is right in your face from the jump with an ability the turn he enters the battlefield. That is, assuming he lives to the beginning of combat. Boros has some particularly cool creatures to give myriad to, from Patron of the Arts (“I’ll make three Treasures”) to Roving Harper (“I’ll draw three cards”) all the way to Bloodboil Sorcer (“I’ll complete 60% more of the Undercity”). That’s where I think the real power of this deck lies, and when you see it, it will bring a tear to your eyes. And the eyes of your opponents. It’s like a sweet sax solo.
#7: Miirym, Sentinel Wyrm
I don’t know why Miirym, Sentinel Wyrm needed ward, too. It seems a bit ostentatious, but it helps when you have a massive threat that really wants you to untap with her alive.
Ideally, you’re curving into some of those Turn 7 Dragon/Adventure splits that are freaking everywhere and closing out the game in short order. I advise being able to ramp or protect yourself, as you’re Public Enemy No. 1 from the moment the game begins.
#6: Jaheira, Friend of the Forest
There’s no end to things worth spending mana on in CLB. It makes the games rule and you always have more you want to do. Well, pine no more over potentially bigger turnsm because Jaheira, Friend of the Forest has your back. Jaheira suffers from the same issues as Ellyn earlier, in that it’s difficult for her to generate tokens herself, but I think she’s cool pairing with a Background like Street Urchin in red. Gruul can generate a lot of Treasure which taps for a green mana (without having to sacrifice a dang thing) and then can fling itself for a damage whenever you’re done with it. In a color rife with Dragons, that seems okay.
#5: Rilsa Rael, Kingpin
Taking initiative repeatedly throughout the course of a game is a win condition on its own. Rilsa is one of the few ways to do that. She gives a devastating ability to any creature you have out to help you regain the initiative once you’ve completed the Undercity, making it viable to hit multiple runs.
You also can’t just build around Safana, Calimport Cutthroat and Dungeon Delver because they don’t implicitly give you initiative, meaning you can wait all game to draw into it if your opponents aren’t on your same page. I implore you to not sleep on Rilsa, or she’ll make quick work of your pod while absolutely slaying in those knee-high boots.
#4: Abdel Adrian, Gorion’s Ward
I love Abdel Adrian, Gorion’s Ward because he creates a real tension for opponents. Again, blink is a highly supported theme and lots of creatures need to do something when they enter the battlefield because your next turn isn’t guaranteed in Commander. Not only does he come down and tuck them all away to get extra value out of later, but you get the pleasure of generating tokens to do so. His trigger occurs on leaving the battlefield, so even exile effects can deal with his inevitability. Don’t wipe everything before he comes back down? Welp, get ready to do it again. Pair him with Candlekeep Sage or, of course, Inspiring Leader and make hay, my friends.
#3: Volo, Itinerant Scholar
Of any rating I have, Volo, Itinerant Scholar feels like the hardest one to pin down. There’s no way to interact with Volo’s Journal when it comes down and there are only so many times the man can be killed on sight. It feels like creature types aren’t hard to find when everything is a Bear Warrior or Dragon Artificer and you’re only required to note half. The biggest issue I see is that there isn’t a slam-dunk Background for him that you can reasonably expect to see often, so you’re really just taking something that isn’t blue. I’m interested in how he plays in Limited, so Tweet at me if you wind up taking the plunge.
#2: Alaundo the Seer
Okay, my Simic is showing here on main, but Alaundo the Seer is pretty much exactly what I want to be doing in this format. First, he comes with a legit body that isn’t just going to get Bolted back to the command zone like a number of other options we’ve covered.
On top of that, we’ve got a free semi-loot, in that we get to keep the card we pitch and we keep it safe with time counters on it. While we can’t ditch lands—it’s a cast, not a play—we can count on those cards coming back as long as we stay alive. Accelerating the rate at which they come back for each activation is just the icing on the cake, as your five-drop tucked away can realistically come back in three turns. Meanwhile, you’re spending mana freely. I’m a sucker for this Seer.
#1: Jan Jansen, Chaos Crafter
I’m sure my editor knows and will include it as a note, but friendly debates over the pronunciation of Jan Jansen, Chaos Crafter have been running wild in a Commander Discord lately and have been killing me. Is it Jan like The Brady Bunch? Is it more of a Yan Yansen? Pronounced more like Yawn? [Copy Editor’s Note: Somewhere between those last two.] Is he, like my favorite chef, Swedish? (Of course, I’m talking about Marcus Samuelsson, not making a cheap Muppets joke.)
Well, you should know, because I feel like we’re going to be seeing a lot of him to come. Jan is a perfect intersection between Boros myriad caring about tokens as a holdover from white and sacrificing those tokens on the Rakdos side. He capitalizes on those sweet, free artifacts I mentioned back with Mahadi. He can ramp or fix you when you need it or create chump blockers when you’re threatened. Creating mana means he helps pay his own tax. Finally, you get access to three colors, which can help if you’re feeling the pinch in any pack. Say his name.
That’s it, your number one: the man named Jan. Have a different list? Share it in the comments if you read this on Facebook and I’ll come check it out. Tweet at @StarCityGames and me, @FakeJakeBrowne and I’ll give you a retweet. Let’s get the discussion going on CLB, one of my favorite Draft experiences of 2022.