Official preview season for Adventures in the Forgotten Realms is in full swing, and as a long-time Dungeons & Dragons fan I could not be more stoked about a new set! I’ve been playing Magic since 1994, and when it came out, I was squarely in its target audience since Magic was conceived as a quick game D&D fans could play at conventions in between campaign sessions. At the time I had a sizeable playgroup of friends who’d come together to play D&D over the years, and we enjoyed playing all sorts of games, role-playing or otherwise.
I first learned to play D&D in 1979—or more accurately, learned to play Advanced Dungeons & Dragons—when a cousin of mine from New York came to stay with me a week during the summer. At the time I was totally immersed in reading fantasy fiction, sparked by The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. I devoured the Amber series by Roger Zelazny, the Conan books by Robert E. Howard, and tons of other fantasy authors like Michael Moorcock, Fred Saberhagen, and Fritz Leiber.
A game where I could actually play an adventurer exploring mysterious ruins, fighting monsters, and winning treasure – basically, becoming a character inside a fantasy story – was a concept I immediately fell in love with, hard.
A few days later my cousin went back home to New York. And I… was left a bunch of neighborhood kids in rural Virginia who’d never heard of D&D. So, I begged my mom to pick up the AD&D books for me, and when she finally relented I dove in, reading them cover to cover, drawing tons of maps, and writing up encounters. I tried desperately to recruit the neighborhood gang to the cause, but everyone thought it sounded weird. A few even expressed alarm at the book covers, concerned that it might be dabbling in the occult.
Salvation came in the form of Alan, a friend from school who one of a group of us who collected comic books and dabbled in drawing superheroes. I don’t know who mentioned D&D first, but we both realized another person who knew the game was a rare find. We started off just playing with each other, each of us creating a campaign where the other would play in with an entire party of characters. One day I’d be the Dungeon Master, the next time he’d be the Dungeon Master; my party consisted of six or seven characters, while Alan was a maniac with ten or more. The DM would sit on the floor with his maps behind the DM’s screen, while the other would sit across the floor from him with all of his characters spread in a semi-circle around him. It was glorious.
In high school we were able to slowly recruit more people to the cause, eventually growing the group to around six people who played regularly. When we graduated, we merged with another gaming group who were a couple years older, and while we transitioned to be more into partying than gaming for a while, there was always a D&D session or two going on each week for decades, and we’d often break out board games to play on party nights.
In 1994 I was dabbling in White Wolf’s World of Darkness paper roleplaying games, running a Vampire: the Masquerade campaign and I’d picked up White Wolf Magazine to read up on any new strategies or products, where I ran across a review for Magic: the Gathering. It immediately jumped out to me because it merged my love of fantasy gaming with a love of card games I’d developed in college, where I played Spades, Hearts, and Bridge. At the time, you could buy Magic either in booster packs or starter decks, which were a box of 60 cards with two rares, thirteen uncommons, and 45 commons including basic lands; I bought two of them and convinced my friend Scott to take one of them and we’d play against each other.
Basically, we just shuffled up the deck and played—the mana was of course terrible, and we got the rules all messed up, but it was glorious—there were Clerics and Wizards, Fireballs and Giant Growth, Goblins and Sprites and Elementals… it was literally D&D in card game form! Scott and I carried our find back to our gaming group, and after pushing through some initial skepticism, Magic caught on like wildfire. While we kept our D&D sessions, Magic was played on party nights as well as just whenever a few of us happened to be free together for an hour or three.
Eventually, most of my old gaming friends fell away from Magic, but the D&D bug remained for a lot of them. I regularly played with them until life got in the way a few years ago, but D&D still shines bright in my gaming soul alongside my obvious love and obsession with Magic.
And now, finally, we’ve got D&D and Magic together, officially merged into one glorious gaming experience!
As you may have guessed, I am beyond excited about it. And the cards that they’ve previewed so far really show this to be a flavor home run—the designers have realized so many cool elements of D&D in various Magic cards and mechanics, it’s glorious! In particular the “venture into the dungeon” mechanic is incredibly cool, and I can’t wait to see all the cards that support it so that we can build Commander decks to take advantage of it.
But Commander fans who love D&D don’t have to wait to start brewing, we’ve already gotten previews of some really cool legendary creature cards featuring iconic characters from the Forgotten Realms, and today I’m going to do a deep dive with arguably the most famous D&D character of all time: Drizzt Do’Urden! We first got to know Drizzt from the classic D&D novel, The Crystal Shard by R. A. Salvatore.
The brilliance of Salvatore’s writing was his masterful melding of epic fantasy storycraft that also felt totally immersed in the Dungeons & Dragons game. Even if you never played D&D you could still love the fantasy story, but if you were familiar with D&D you’d recognize character classes, monsters, and magic from the game. And now we get to play these characters on Magic battlefields!
Drizzt offers a lot of value packed into five mana, effectively ten power across two bodies when you consider Drizzt’s double strike ability. He makes a legendary 4/1 creature token when he enters the battlefield: Guenhwyvar, his constant Cat companion, so he plays well with certain token strategies that boost creature tokens. And when a creature with power greater than Drizzt dies, Drizzt can gain a number of +1/+1 tokens equal to the difference in power between the two. We can even take advantage of +1/+1 counter strategies. And double strike is a potent ability to have on a commander, making it very easy to rack up lethal commander damage.
Okay, let’s dive in and see what sort of adventures we could take Drizzt Do’Urden on with a Commander deck!
An interesting angle to take might be to include a number of cards that can boost the power of target creature. Not only do these get doubly effective when you target Drizzt with his double strike ability, but you can also use them on other creatures that are about to die from combat or direct removal in order to pump the power higher than Drizzt’s, effectively providing Drizzt a permanent boost in +1/+1 counters.
Keep in mind, Drizzt doesn’t care whether it’s one of your own creatures that’s dying or one belonging to your opponent, so there are going to be a lot of tricky maneuvers you can pull off with these sorts of spells and abilities. Berserk is always a great multiplayer tool since you can target a threat creature that one opponent is attacking another opponent with, and that attacking creature will die during the end step, so Drizzt will gain a great benefit from that power doubling.
A more niche angle to explore are cards that can reduce a target creature’s power. With Belbe’s Armor on the battlefield, attacking and blocking against you becomes problematic, but also you can use it on Drizzt to reduce his power potentially all the way to zero, getting full advantage of the power of a dying creature in +1/+1 counters.
If we’re going to lean into a lot of spells that adjust a creature’s power, we can also dig into cards that like a lot of spells. Selesnya isn’t exactly known for its “spellslinger” style, but we can touch some of that with cards like Glademuse and Monastery Mentor.
Circling back to Drizzt’s double strike ability, that pairs quite nicely with deathtouch so that Drizzt will kill just about any creature dead no matter how big it is. In particular Ohran Frostfang is awesome with Drizzt since he gets deathtouch on attack, no one is going to want to block him, and when he deals damage to an opponent, you’ll get to draw – twice, once for first strike damage and once for regular damage. Huzzah!
Lifelink is another ability that works great with double strike, getting you double the life for each combat. I’ve been particularly high on Bond of Discipline lately as a cool way to break through cluttered battlefields that have stalled the game, and it is particularly devastating to the player on your right since they stay open until their next untap step.
Similar to lifelink, any ability that triggers from combat damage to an opponent is going to be doubly effective with Drizzt’s double strike. I mentioned Ohran Frostfang above. Toski, Bearer of Secrets can perform a similar function for drawing extra cards. Umezawa’s Jitte can do some nifty things with double strike; you’ll get two charge counters from the first strike damage, and you remove charge counters before regular damage is dealt to either boost Drizzt’s size or reduce a creature’s size. Keep in mind that the -1/-1 ability is another way you can shrink Drizzt to get some extra +1/+1 counters from another creature dying.
One bit of tech here: since so much of Drizzt’s power is tied up in combat, don’t leave home without Questing Beast! It does such a nice job of shrugging off Fog effects.
+1/+1 Counters Matter
If you want to lean into +1/+1 counter synergies, there are plenty of awesome cards to choose from in Selesnya and Drizzt plays right along. Kalonian Hydra in particular can become terrifying if Drizzt has accumulated some +1/+1 counters along the way. And don’t leave home with The Ozolith!
Since Drizzt enters the battlefield with Guenhwyvar, a 4/1 Cat token, you can build a deck that cares about creature token synergies. Things like Anointed Procession and Doubling Season won’t let you keep two copies of Guenhwyvar since she’s legendary, but having that extra copy die immediately isn’t a bad thing since the Cat’s power is one higher than Drizzt, giving Drizzt a +1/+1 counter right away. Emmara Tandris prevents all damage dealt to creature tokens, which is quite helpful since Guenhwyvar only has one toughness. Plus, she’s an Elf like Drizzt if you want to go with Elf synergies with tokens.
Speaking of Elves, you could easily build a Selesnya Elf tribal deck around Drizzt if you wanted to do something different from the current Golgari slant that Elf tribal has gone with. In particular, Timberwatch Elf and Immaculate Magistrate play great with Drizzt since they boost a creature’s size and either directly boost Drizzt’s double strike ability or boost the power of a creature that’s dying and giving Drizzt some +1/+1 counters.
Sacrifice For Profit
Lastly, you might want to include a few cards that can sacrifice your own large creatures for profit since that death trigger can mean a bonanza of +1/+1 counters for Drizzt. Mercy Killing in particular seems good with many of the strategies we can pepper into our deck, giving Drizzt a death trigger and giving us a bunch of Elf tokens too, all at instant speed.
So, what do you think of Drizzt Do’Urden as a Magic card? Does it evoke any fond D&D memories? What other sorts of cards do you think would play great in his Commander deck?
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! 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 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.
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