Welcome to Faerûn everyone, where your Adventures in the Forgotten Realms will lead to deadly foes guarding glittering treasure. Is this hook for your next tabletop RPG? No, just the lead in to the highly-anticipated Magic: The Gathering/D&D crossover that’s going to provide your Commander decks with all kinds of new toys (not to mention trips into the dungeon).
Last time, we talked about the set’s legendary creatures; this time, I’ll take a look at the set from an eagle’s-eye view. I’m going to do this review a little differently from normal. Instead of breaking down all the individual cards that might get some play in Commander, I’ll offer a few honorable mentions in each color (including multicolor and artifacts) and then go into detail on my Top 5 for each. It’s not too jarring a departure from the way I normally do it. I’m simply trying to not get too far down into the weeds, but instead focus on the real highlights. Note that this review doesn’t include any of the cards from the new Commander decks; we’ll get to those soon.
Forgotten Realms fans are going to find lots to like here just based on card names and themes. For 40-year veterans of TTRPGs and players in the setting like me, there’s nostalgia around every corner. For those of you not familiar with the world, there’s quite a bit to discover about how some of us greybeards got excited about D&D in the first place.
One of the new mechanics that has really piqued my interest is the Class enchantment. They’re a cross between level up cards and Sagas, offering a resonant feel for cashing in on your character’s experience points. Sadly, unless they end up doing more D&D worlds, this doesn’t seem like mechanic they’ll repeat.
The mechanic names that echo D&D spells are fine, but a little distracting. While I like most of the nostalgic elements of the set, I find this one just makes the cards a little busier than they need to be. Flip that over to the cards that get you into scenarios for your tabletop game, like You Hear Something on Watch or You’re Ambushed on the Road, and we have something special. The identifying names make all the sense in the world there. This is outstanding design.
Remember that this is a review for Commander only. This set looks great to draft and there will be cards that are bombs there, but I’m focusing on the 100-card format. I’m also focusing on what we call the target demographic power level: the mid-tier, longer games on which the format built its popularity.
The much-beloved D&D creature will turn into a card that makes you plenty of friends. There will be simple early chip damage blocks in exchange for cards, but remember that you don’t have to give the card to the player who deals damage to Flumph. In fact, if someone is killing it, I suspect the card will go elsewhere. I love the kind of politics that Flumph will create — and people won’t be able to resist the urge to say its name.
4. The Book of Exalted Deeds
I think I’m keeping the Book around for a while to create all those Angels, but eventually turning one of them into Platinum Angel will be good as well — especially if that Angel is Avacyn, Angel of Hope or anything Aegis Angel is taking care of.
3. Paladin Class
It’s inexpensive to cast and makes it more difficult to counter, especially on early turns. Getting the Anthem effect isn’t all that expensive either. Level 3 is where it gets strong, as giving double strike to something large and commander-ish can get pretty deadly in short order.
2. Oswald Fiddlebender
Birthing Pod for artifacts has been much-discussed already and I know the brewers are having fun with the idea. I’m trying to get my head around something other than working my way up to Duplicant at six, but it’s hard to break out of old habits.
1. Guardian of Faith
While a card like Faith’s Reward will bring back all your creatures along with the other stuff, it doesn’t preserve counters. Guardian of Faith phases out your creatures in response to a sweeper, keeping them in the state you’d prefer them. This is my kind of card.
5. Sudden Insight
Six-mana card draw spells are something that folks might want to shy away from, but I have a feeling that Sudden Insight is going to draw more cards than you think. It’s an instant, and unless you’re the unfortunate victim of a Tormod’s Crypt, you’ll be happy.
The emblem will be bonkers if you ever get it, but I’m just focused on making that immense Dog Illusion which doesn’t get scared when people target it. We’re going to see someone drop Mordenkainen after they’ve cast Enter the Infinite and it’s going to be hilarious.
3. Iymrith, Desert Doom
You’ll want to play Iymrith in a thing that blue doesn’t often want, namely getting the number of cards in your hand low. Then its card draw ability will really start to shine.
2. Grazilaxx, Illithid Scholar
I’ll repeat my commentary from last time on Grazilaxx: it’s Cunning Evasion with a decent body that goes into decks that like to return things back to hand. You can swing wildly into combat, knowing that your unfavorable attacks will bounce anyway. You only draw one card per combat (it’s no Edric, Spymaster of Trest), but we don’t need to be greedy.
1. Wizard Class
It’s straightforward and it just drips with value. Draw cards. Make your creatures bigger. What better Magic is there? I’m also thrilled that my top card is an uncommon.
5. Feign Death
You’re playing black, so your creatures are going to die anyway. Why not get one more use out of them? Also, saving your best creature from a sweeper for one mana? Priceless.
4. Westgate Regent
Being a Vampire makes Westgate Regent a little better because there’s good tribal support for it. Like its bigger cousin Necropolis Regent, this card might get out of hand pretty quickly.
3. Sphere of Annihilation
It does exactly what it says it’s going to do. Happily, it exiles itself so there can’t be the same kind of silliness there is with Nevinyrral’s Disk. Still, you’ve announced your intentions pretty clearly; it’ll only take a single trip around the table to make it happen.
2. Lolth, Spider Queen
Unlike many other planeswalkers, Lolth’s ultimate ability will happen. Additionally, you’ll be able to use her first activated ability pretty freely since (as we’ve said many times before), you’re playing black and your creatures will die.
1. Asmodeus the Archfiend
Probably the most-talked-about card in the Adventures in the Forgotten Realms set, Asmodeus is as strong in Commander as the Demon that bears its name in D&D. Being able to get around draw triggers has become huge in the format, although maybe less so now that Hullbreacher is gone. You’ll obviously always want to keep that one black open when Asmodeus is on the battlefield; when you do, you’ll have access to those exiled cards whenever you want them.
5. Hobgoblin Bandit Lord
I was going to discount this little Goblin, but then I remembered we have cards like Krenko, Mob Boss running around the format.
4. Minion of the Mighty
Don’t get distracted by the Kobold. Look up.
Although it’s the same color as Dockside Extortionist, Xorn’s power is when you’re making one at a time, effectively doubling your Treasures. It’s not spectacular, but it’s tasty enough.
2. Zariel, Archduke of Avernus
Zariel’s emblem won’t be all that difficult to get, especially if you’re dedicated to protecting her. Even if you’re not heading that direction, her +1 ability to buff your creatures and give them (all) haste is pretty big.
1. Delina, Wild Mage
You’ll always get one, and sometimes you’ll get more. The fact that you can copy a legendary creature (and have it not die) is really big. For a Wild Mage, that’s not particularly chaotic, but I’ll definitely take it.
5. Werewolf Pack Leader
Halfway to its own pack in size, Werewolf Pack Leader is going to draw a fair number of cards for you. Two-mana creatures sure have come a long way.
4. Ochre Jelly
A D&D-resonant take on Mitotic Slime, Ochre Jelly is that thing you kill which keeps on coming back again and again. It slots right into a proliferate deck so that you can keep the small ones alive.
Graveyard hate is arriving in the form of a Frog. With haste and trample, it can come out of nowhere and eat a big hole in someone’s graveyard, making it large enough to do even worse damage the next turn. I’m a fan.
2. Old Gnawbone
In the battlecruiser end of the format, Old Gnawbone is the USS Enterprise. I’m just waiting to see someone put Colossification on it. The card will definitely fuel the kinds of things that make Commander fun.
1. Instrument of the Bards
The operative point here is that putting a harmony counter on Instrument of the Bards is optional. If you have a sweet spot in your mana costs, you hit that and stay there. This seems like a strong inclusion in any hatebears deck. I put it above Old Gnawbone because of its subtlety, compared to the latter’s straightforwardness.
5. Gretchen Titchwillow
As much as I dislike design philosophy of the kind of generic goodness of Gretchen, it’s still a cool Halfling Druid with a strong ability. That’s the trap, right? We don’t want particular kinds of cards designed, but then when they are, we can’t resist the urge to play them. I suspect we’ll see her slipped into Tatyova, Benthic Druid decks for value and into various landfall decks for, well, more value.
4. Minsc, Beloved Ranger
Come on, now. You didn’t expect me to vote against the Hamster, did you? The Hamster has trample! This whole card is too cute for words.
3. Drizzt Do’Urden
Double-striking commanders are dangerous. Double-striking commanders that get even bigger when large creatures die are super-deadly. There’s no Elminster in this set, so Drizzt is the Forgotten Realms flagbearer.
2. Bruenor Battlehammer
Voltron is really a thing in Boros at the moment and Bruenor jumps into the mix with a vengeance. Paying nothing to equip him seems like your opponents are really going to want to have some protection from this Dwarf that will get immense in no time.
1. Bard Class
Bard Class is far and above the best of the Class cards for me. It plays right into whatever your commander might be, paying some of their cost and giving them a counter when they enter the battlefield. It makes all of your other legendary creatures cheaper and bigger, too. Then, just when it starts to feel like it’s going to peter out, you get to Level 3 and your legendary creatures bottle cards for you.
There aren’t enough cards in the category for an Honorable Mention section but there’s definitely a Top 5. None of the lands are particularly noteworthy, although we might see some play out of Treasure Vault. The OG D&D module treatment of the lands, however, is the biggest nostalgic bit for folks that remember those things. They’re a little jarring to the eye, but looking at them is full of memories.
5. Bag of Holding
We’ve had cards like it in Magic’s past, but they certainly couldn’t have made the D&D set without a Bag of Holding. You obviously set yourself up for some blowouts with it, but there are likely to be other artifacts in the game worthy of blowing up. There has to be a combo deck out there with this card’s name on it.
4. Treasure Chest
Will you spring the trap? Will you get Treasures or possibly more? Who knows what will happen when you open the Treasure Chest?
3. Eye of Vecna
Pretty simple stuff, really. Draw cards, lose life. What makes Eye of Vecna significant is moving that mechanic out of just black decks. You pay an extra life for the privilege, but decks that gain lots of life aren’t going to care.
2. Hand of Vecna
The other part of the iconic Vecna set, the Hand can make the equipped creature pretty large. If you want to go the best storytelling route, combine the Hand, Eye, and Book of Darkness to create the actual Vecna, an 8/8 indestructible Zombie God that gets the triggered abilities of all three.
1. The Deck of Many Things
Not the kind of card you want to play if you have a full grip all the time, The Deck of Many Things is for those who like to empty their hand and start refilling. If you haven’t been forced to discard on a bad roll, you’ll either get back a random card from your graveyard or draw two. Then there’s the natural twenty, which will really cause the chaos. You return a creature card from any graveyard to the battlefield under your control. Unfortunately for the owner of that creature, they lose the game when the creature dies, kind of like reverse Phage, the Untouchable. Memories will be created here.
Adventures in the Forgotten Realms hits all the right notes on bringing the world’s most popular TTRPG into the Magic universe, serving the type of Commander player who privileges the experience of a game with a few more storytelling elements to it. The cards will be especially compelling in a closed environment like Boxing League or some flavor of Adventures in the Forgotten Realms Constructed. The design team from Studio X knew who their specific audience was (we in the RC being in that crowd) and spoke right to them, so kudos for a job well done. This set is a bit different from most and will provide new kinds of play experiences, and that’s all kinds of good for the health of the format.