Commander season is on us in a powerful way. New armies will be built and existing one augmented. Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate provides both Magic: the Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons fans (where there’s lots of crossover) some shiny new toys to explore our love of the format. It also supplies a deep dive into Baldur’s Gate, both the PC games and the setting, for those of us who don’t know all that much it.
This is a set review for Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate in Commander. For the most part, we’ll discuss the set in the mid-range part of the format. If a card has significant impact on the higher-powered end, I’ll bring that up as well. It’s a flavor-driven set that will clearly have favorites due to players’ nostalagia. I’ll break down every color, multicolored, and colorless, picking my Top Five for each, as well as the top common and top uncommon (assuming they’re not already on the list).
The criteria are subjective, which may include a card’s power level, flavor, synergies, or various other intangibles. Since last week we talked about all the legendary creatures, I’ll try to not repeat myself too much.
My individual opinion of a card also won’t be colored by my thought that the number of Treasures in Commander is just too damn high; individual cards can’t be held responsible for bigger design philosophies. I’ll lean into the idea that many folks like Treasures and leave it there. I’ll also look past the fact that we have Elder Dragons which aren’t legendary. Maybe we need a new supertype called “mediocre” or something. Some of my disappointment with the Elder Dragons can be mitigated by the fact that dungeon stuff has come back.
#5. Noble Heritage
I knew this was the best card because it had the most words on it. Seriously, it’s an amazing Background that fits into many strategies. It’s reminiscent of Orzhov Advokist. Even if we play it just as an enchantment, it provides some protection for us when players want to get greedy.
#4. Lae’zel, Vlaakith’s Champion
A clever way of getting +1/+1 counters onto the other strategy you like, Lae’zel lets us choose a Background to go along with this solid Gith Warrior. Clan Crafter and Master Chef provide compelling directions. The latter, in fact, will offer all the Juniper Order Ranger shenanigans you like.
#3. Ancient Gold Dragon
A knock-off of Rith, the Awakener’s block, Ancient Gold Dragon will have us creating creature swarms like there’s no tomorrow. Add the handy Whispersilk Cloak or Rogue’s Passage to ensure you can’t be blocked. Forebear’s Blade offers trample, which will make it highly likely to get through; all we need is one damage for the trigger—and 10/13s don’t get chumped very often. Toss in Strionic Resonator or Lithoform Engine to double up on the triggers.
#2. Ascend from Avernus
The trick with Ascend from Avernus will be how long we wait to cast it. Because it exiles itself during resolution, we can’t do the same kind of things we might in looping Living Death. We’ll just have to wait for our moment after the dust has cleared from some battlefield sweeper and then rise up to the highest peak.
#1. Archivist of Oghma
I suspect we might see this Halfling Cleric at high-power tables as well as others. It’s simple and doesn’t take anything away from other players, yet provides a huge amount of value on what some players are already doing. Having flash is nice because you can wait most of the early turn cycle without exposing Archivst of Oghma to targeted removal.
#5. Imoen, Mystic Trickster
Despite the fact that we could choose mono-blue and have Imoen, Mystic Trickster as the commander, I’d prefer to run it in a deck led by Sefris of the Hidden Ways. This way, we can speed-run dungeons with Hama Pashar, Ruin Seeker helping out and Dungeon Delver giving us more triggers. I was going to keep my ten-card upgrade deck together, but Imoen and Dungeon Delver make rebuilding the deck sufficiently attractive.
#4. Ancient Silver Dragon
Prior commentary notwithstanding, Ancient Silver Dragon is a card to make the inner Timmy in all of us squeal. We’ll once again want ways to make it unblockable. Thassa, God of the Sea is a fine choice. Then we start smashing faces and drawn cards and smashing more faces. Perfect.
#3. Candlekeep Sage
So simple, so beautiful. I adore the fact that a common made the Top Five. Particularly useful in decks led by partners, Candlekeep Sage triggering on commanders entering or leaving the battlefield means we’ll likely replace our commanders getting killed numerous times. My first try for a legendary creature / Background pick might be Candlekeep Sage and Abdel Adrian, Gorlon’s Ward to generate many tokens.
#2. Volo, Itinerant Scholar
Like the original Volo, Guide to Monsters, this version of Volo rewards us for playing a broad array of creature types. Volo’s weirdly-worded activated ability means that it can still be Stifled, but once we’ve noted two creature types, the draw are very inexpensive. I like the flavor of the card, with hexproof making it difficult for other players to read the Journal, which grows only more powerful through Volo’s journeys. Super flavor win.
#1. Kindred Discovery
Tribal/Not Tribal decks are cool. Kindred Discovery gives us much more value than Arcane Adaptation for just two additional mana (yes, there’s a power creep concern there). I’d want to make a deck with this that’s about half creatures in the tribe and then a few outside the tribal that will pick up value because of it. We just have to be careful not to deck ourselves with Chasm Skulker.
#5. Brainstealer Dragon
I’m enjoying this look at black we’ve had since the Dungeons & Dragons sets started, with plenty of alternate win conditions. Using other players’ cards to defeat them is a specialty of mine, so Brainstealer Dragon easily jumped onto my list. In addition to the normal things we might think about doing with Brainstealer Dragon, there are plenty of temporary steal effects that we can then use Conjurer’s Closet to seal the deal on. Although we don’t need its combat abilities, Brainstealer Dragon is a 6/6 flyer, so it’s heading for the Red Zone.
#4. Agent of the Iron Throne
Adding to the Zulaport Cutthroat suite, someone else better have some enchantment removal ready or sacrificing all those Treasures we’ll create will get their life total to zero post haste. I might move into mono black for the first time in a long time to run Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder as a commander. Add some sacrifice outlets and Treasure creators and run Thrulls to death. As far as a commander to make Agent of the Iron Throne into a background, there’s once again Abdel Adrian, Gorion’s Ward for making Soldier tokens.
#3. Ancient Brass Dragon
I’m probably picking Elder Dragons in each color despite my earlier note because they’re just big and stupid, the way Commander was intended. Plus, reanimating stuff from the graveyard is one of my absolute favorite things to do. I’ll probably play this in a deck that has Spore Frog, just so there’s always a good hit.
#2. Elder Brain
We won’t need Elder Brain to get through in order to do its thing, since that’s an attack trigger. We’ll want to keep it alive, but its size and having menace count. Then we have a Gonti’s worth of cards at our disposal. When Elder Brain attacks next time, we get more. I like this lean into the Horrors of the Forgotten Realms.
#1. Shadowheart, Dark Justiciar
I’m going to stick with my highest-rated black card from our first looks at Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate. We didn’t talk about Backgrounds, though. We’ll want to pick one that buffs our creatures to get more value from Shadowheart. Noble Heritage provides a solid ongoing set of buffs, which we could combine with Veteran Soldier in the 99. Thinking outside the box, we head for Dragon Cultist and provide additional Fling effects to make sure we can deal damage for Dragon Cultist’s ability to trigger—then the Dragons it creates are fodder for Shadowheart.
#5. Delayed Blast Fireball
Delayed Blast Fireball is reasonably-costed for what it does, wiping out big chunks of the battlefield, and doming opponents for five when cast off foretell. It’s also a just a big flavor win. This was one lots of Dungeons & Dragons players wanted previously, so they should be pretty happy with what they got now.
#4. Karlach, Fury of Avernus
The Barbarians are definitely at Baldur’s Gate. Karlach is one of a relatively newer form of power-gated, limited extra combat step providers. They can be finishers when we need to squeeze through that last bit of damage, but can’t go infinite. It’d be fun to pair Karlach with Acolyte of Bahamut for some Dragon action or Criminal Past to put commander damage kills on the table.
#3. Elturel Survivors
The answer to ramp isn’t land destruction; it’s making them pay for all the land they have. Paired with Bedlam and maybe a nice, timely Mercadia’s Downfall, Elturel Survivors will claim quite a few notches on their belts.
The kind of big fire Demon that I’m sure attracted us to Dungeons & Dragons in the 1970’s or 80’s and still today, there’s lots of Balrog in Balor. Getting the crunch against a player with a big hand will feel especially nice.
#1. Baeloth Barrityl, Entertainer
While I’m more likely to put Baeloth Barrityl into my existing Karazikar, Doom Tyrant Goad is GOAT deck, there are some nice windows otherwise to pass it through. I’d pair it up with Sword Coast Sailor, then use buffs like Sword of Light and Shadow and other favorite Equipment in order to both get it through rough combats and tick up what he goads.
#5. Erinis, Gloom Stalker
Great for the folks that love everything from Evolving Wilds to Misty Rainforest and beyond, Erinis triggers on attacking, so chump blocking is irrelevant. I doubt too many folks are going to put their big creatures in front of it either, so it’ll be around next turn to do the same thing.
#4. Majestic Genesis
I’m a big fan of the design space of encouraging people to play higher-cost commanders. Majestic Genesis in a Maelstrom Wanderer deck is going to be kind of silly (which I guess could be said about a number of cards).
#3. Durnan of the Yawning Portal
Durnan gets paired with Agent of the Shadow Thieves and sets out to attack the players with the highest life totals. In a creature-heavy deck, we’ll get lots of hits on Durnan’s abilities. We’ll add creature-casting enablers like Vizier of the Menagerie and we’ll be off to the races.
#2. Green Slime
I’m not sure from a flavor perspective why Green Slime gets flash, but I don’t mind. Targeting an activated or triggered ability is one thing. Blowing it up if it’s a source from a permanent (like Aura Shards!) just accelerates Green Slime’s value.
#1. Jaheira’s Respite
Ever since Inkshield, we’ve wondered how good Fogs could get. While this isn’t The Greatest Card Ever Made in Magic ™, it’s pretty saucy. Sure, folks are going to wonder what’s up when the green deck keeps open five mana, but they’re just going to have to find out.
#5. Dynaheir, Invoker Adept
First thought is making a extra copies of a permanent spell by adding Lithoform Engine to the Dynaheir mix. Second thought is what kind of real tomfoolery can we get up to by activating Memnarch’s second ability (and copying that with Lithoform Engine!). What calls to me about Dynaheir is that it’s a brewer’s paradise. There are many ways to go with it and there isn’t really a right or obvious build. That’s a good commander.
#4. Raggadragga, Goreguts Boss
The more I think about Raggadragga, the more I like it. The +2/+2 buff isn’t just offensive, it makes our mana creatures much harder to sweep away. I’m still on the Citanul Hierophants and Cryptolith Rites plan, and that plan has now added a Voltron package for Raggadragga that’ll have it lethal in a hurry.
#3. Bhaal, Lord of Murder
The goad idea I mentioned last time is the right frame in which to fit Bhaal. Another subtheme I want to explore is Asceticism plus Horobi, Death’s Wail. That way, we can machine-gun other players’ creatures without the worry of getting easily hit back. We’re also in strong colors for reanimation, so we can go down the line of creatures with good enters-the-battlefield triggers and go ham. If our creatures will be dying, then Agent of the Iron Throne is a nice addition, even if we can’t choose it as a background.
#2. Captain N’ghathrod
I can’t really say much that I didn’t already about the direction of a Captain N’ghathrod deck, but the intervening time has revealed some sweet Horrors to play with it. Grell Philosopher caught my attention
#1. Miirym, Sentinel Wyrm
Jund Dragons will always have a sentimental spot in my heart, but I’m ready for some very hot Temur action. I could even just port over my Karrthus and His Dragons deck, although we’d lose sentimental favorite Crux of Fate.
Copying Dragons is just wild with cards like Dragon Tempest, Warstorm Surge, and Terror of the Peaks. Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate gave us some spicy new ones as well, like the three Elder Dragons (in our colors), Ancient Bronze Dragon, Ancient Copper Dragon, and Ancient Silver Dragon. Add Renari, Merchant of Marvels to give them flash and we’re charging hard. This one’s going to see quite some play in the battlecruiser district of the format.
#5. Mighty Servant of Leuk-o
Getting the four-power/two-creature crew should be relatively easy. With trample and six power, Mighty Servant of Leuk-o is going to hit relatively often and draw those cards.
#4. Drillworks Mole
Two mana for two counters seems like a pretty good rate. A commander like Ghave, Guru of Spores will love the Drillworks Mole. Decks with persist creatures like Woodfall Primus and Puppeteer Clique also will, as the +1/+1 counter we add will cancel out the -1/-1 counter already on it, making it ready to use again.
#3. Fraying Line
I like the game-within-a-game that Fraying Line creates. Who is going to be the weight that drags everything down? This is definitely a card to cast when we’re behind or in a low-creature deck, since we can be the one who forces the action. Note that the beginning of upkeep triggered ability doesn’t target the creature, meaning we can put it on one with shroud if we like.
#2. Nautiloid Ship
I’m generally not that big on Vehicles, so it surprises me that there are two in my Top 5. Of course, this one has an ability that doesn’t involve getting crewed. With a little copy help from our old friend Lithoform Engine, we can nuke two graveyards. We’ll then have the creature cards in them at our disposal.
#1. Decanter of Endless Water
“Three-cost mana rocks that do something interesting” is a design strategy that’s been running for a while now. I’m here for it. Decanter of Endless Water doesn’t do anything spectacular; it just keeps our grip as full as possible. It’s not likely to be the thing that gets targeted with spot removal. There it will sit, activating every turn, keeping us from being thirsty.
Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate is a solid set for the format. Its strength comes from great flavor combined with cards that are compelling within a narrow band instead of being generically powerful. The decks are decent enough to just crack and play in most environments. The Draft element is compelling, especially with the background mechanic. Although I have nitpicks, like the Elder Draon thing, I consider the set a success from all angles.
As always, we have a channel on the Commander RC Discord server dedicated to discussing my articles. If you think there’s a card I’m really sleeping on or one I’ve overrated, pop on by and join the more than 6,000 friends willing to engage on this and a host of other topics. See you there!
Visit my Decklist Database to see my Signature Decks, the Chromatic Project, and more!