Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate is one of the longest Magic set names ever, and I’m going to make a point to type it as few times as possible today. This is difficult to do in an article focused around the set and its Cube-worthy cards, but I’m choosing to believe that it’s abundantly clear what we’re talking about today.
As both a Commander-focused set and a Dungeons & Dragons-themed set, it has a lot of cards that can be skipped over for most two-player environments. The set is most significant for Commander Cubes, whereas I gave myself a free pass not to read any Background cards while poring over the set for Cubes broadly.
Similarly, cards that referenced commanders or choosing a background aren’t anything that I’ve paid much mind to. I’m more intrigued by rolling d20s than a lot of Magic players, though we all know that very few cards with this mechanic have been pushed to this point, and what we’ve gotten hasn’t generally been worth examining too closely either. There are a couple of mechanical themes that look more significant for non-multiplayer Cubes, though.
I haven’t personally worked on any Cubes with Gates as a theme yet, though the thought has crossed my mind more than once. There are a couple of nice payoffs, and you can employ house rules like allowing players to add any number of Guildgates to their decks after drafting to really make them work if that’s what you’re about. Basilisk Gate and Baldur’s Gate are just a couple of the potentially powerful new “Gates matter” cards, and the cycle of “Thriving” Gates as upgrades to Thriving Isle and company is intriguing.
There still aren’t many different ways to make Gates work in Cube, but the new tools are cool and the mechanic is quirky and fun. Gatebreaker Ram isn’t officially on my Cube bucket list, but it is a card that I think about now and again.
The more generally appealing mechanic from the set is the initiative. The monarch mechanic is pretty hotly contested in my circles with regard to whether it’s fun to Cube with, but you can’t deny that the cards are powerful. I particularly like that they put some emphasis on the combat step, even if the execution is often rough around the edges.
The monarch tends to give a player a significant advantage as they draw the game out, whereas the initiative actually offers more in terms of closing the game than card advantage. Taking the Forge into Trap! progression offers a ton of potential damage, and finding a basic with the Secret Entrance is less likely to allow one player to bury the other in card advantage than a one-sided Howling Mine.
I’m a huge fan of the mechanic, though most of the cards that take the initiative are generally underwhelming. I imagine that, if we see the initiative again, it won’t be for some time, but I’m hopeful that we see more of it someday.
General notes on the set aside, let’s take a look at my Top 10 list of Cube-worthy cards from Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate.
10. Baba Lysaga, Night Witch
We’ll start things off with a weird one. Baba Lysaga will be a poor fit for most Cubes, as sacrificing three card types is a pretty big ask. The payoff is huge, though. This is mostly going to work in a Cube that actively supports delirium, but any Cube that does that and has a sacrifice theme will likely want to include Baba Lysaga as a payoff. This is an easy Spooky Cube inclusion for me, though the relevant themes are are fairly popular these days.
The most common set of permanents to trigger Baba Lysaga will be land, creature, and artifact, in large part thanks to Scrapheap Scrounger, though there’s a decent number of solid enchantment creatures these days, too. I don’t know how often you’ll want to sacrifice Bitterblossom to Baba Lysaga, but don’t forget that tribal counts, too!
Baba Lysaga would be a miss for me with weaker stats, but a 3/3 for three with Human as a relevant creature type is enough for me to like.
9. Gale’s Redirection
It’s pretty bold to put a die-rolling card on my Top 10 list, because that factor alone will disqualify this card from a lot of Cubes. All the same, this is a rad counterspell, and it isn’t hard to imagine it being swingy and powerful even in Vintage Cubes. I imagine that Gale’s Redirection is significantly weaker than Mystic Confluence, but it’s also far more exciting.
As a baseline, the card is always good against instants, as you can just use the free mana to cast them right away. This gets more significant all the time as we see more and more threats with flash make their way into Cubes. I’m looking at you, The Wandering Emperor! If you do win the high-roll lottery, then I think it’s easy to understand how a cheaper, more splashable Spelljack is desirable. On a 1-14, you’re playing what is ostensible a weaker and more narrow Fractured Identity, but Fractured Identity is totally busted and this card is mono-blue.
Gale’s Redirection probably ends up in more Commander Cubes than 1v1 environments, but it’s definitely a powerful option if you can stomach the variance of a d20.
8. Mahadi, Emporium Master
The templating on Mahadi is interesting, because it does trigger for every creature that died, but not until the end step. This means that you won’t be able to do something like go infinite with Gravecrawler, but you will be able to generate a ton of treasure tokens.
Beyond not being able to fully combo, sacrifice decks are often lean and don’t have a ton to do with an abundance of mana. This is easily solvable while curating a Cube, but it’s something to consider, and a reason that Mahadi won’t be able to immediately slot into a lot of Cubes. Cards like Korvold, Fae-Cursed King and Midnight Reaper do a good job of keeping a Sacrifice player’s hand stocked with things to spend all that mana on. Or, if we’re playing at a higher power level, there’s always Skullclamp.
7. Horn of Valhalla
Ysgard’s Call and Horn of Valhalla are both pretty inefficient, but it’s always worth paying mind to Equipment that are stapled to threats. This is another cool effect to drum up with Stoneforge Mystic if you’re into that sort of thing.
Horn of Valhalla will be at its best in Cubes that tend to generate battlefield stalls. Both making a swarm of tokens and making one creature huge help to break through a glutted battlefield. This card is convincingly inefficient for Vintage Cube, but Cubes at a more modest power level like my original Twobert are definitely interested in cards of this nature.
6. Monster Manual
The tools to cheat giant monsters onto the battlefield in Cube probably peaked with Reanimate and Sneak Attack, but Monster Manual manages to be compelling even in a world where those cards exist. Despite being inefficient, Zoological Study adding some consistency in finding the creature to cheat in is a big deal. Quicksilver Amulet is almost there on power level, and still makes decks in some Cubes, particularly those of larger sizes. Monster Manual is a massive upgrade on that card.
I can also see playing Monster Manual in a generally fair green ramp deck. It’s another tool to find your Craterhoof Behemoth and get it on the battlefield, in addition to offering some forgiveness for the times you draw your Terastodon in your Natural Order deck.
Monster Manual is trying to end the game in short order and the gameplay isn’t especially good, so I would generally only recommend it for high-powered Cubes, but it’s good enough to hang in those environments.
5. Altar of Bhaal
By contrast, Altar of Bhaal, isn’t a Vintage Cube-caliber card. Rather, it’s a much weaker version of Recurring Nightmare, which makes it more appropriate for the overwhelming majority of Cubes. I’m not a huge fan of Reanimator as a Cube archetype, given that the deck either does its very powerful thing or rolls over and dies, but Altar of Bhaal is more of a value engine that happens to access the graveyard.
Because the Altar exiles the creature that you use to power its recursion, you won’t be able to go off with Bloodghast or anything like that, but the ability to use Bone Offering to get the engine going is a nice piece of upside. This is just a nice tool to play a value game with token makers and creatures that generate value with other enters-the-battlefield abilities that is balanced in a way that makes it far more likely to run out of gas than Recurring Nightmare. I’m all about singing the praises of modest and cool designs, and this one hits the right notes for me.
It’s too bad Elminster can’t hang with Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. The card is also nowhere close to Fractured Identity. That said, there’s a lot of room to be weaker than these cards while still being both playable and fun. I believe that Elminster is both of these things in a lot of Cube environments.
A five-mana planeswalker with a solid starting loyalty that draws extra cards isn’t new and exciting, but Elminster’s static ability can make for explosive turns if you’re able to successfully untap with it still on the battlefield. This is true of any planeswalker that costs this much mana that’s worth playing, but it’s important to point out that Elminster does check this box.
What is most exciting about the card is using the -3 to great effect with some high-mana-value cards. Commit is an awesome one that comes to mind that’s already in a lot of Cubes. Elminster also makes a Jeskai deck featuring Nahiri, the Harbinger and a large creature like Emrakul, the Aeon’s Torn very attractive.
Elminster is generally playable and interacts very favorably with a couple different things. These metrics are the hallmark of awesome Cube cards.
3. Minsc & Boo, Timeless Heroes
Minsc & Boo, Timeless Heroes represents both a large threat and a stream of card advantage. That’s a lot to like on a four-mana Gruul card! Of course, the four-mana Gruul space is rather crowded…
And that’s not even counting the mono-red and mono-green options! Ultimately, I don’t expect the inclusion or exclusion of Minsc & Boo to have a dramatic impact on any Cube. That said, it’s a cool and powerful card that I would be happy to play with. It does offer more resilience against sweepers than non-planeswalker options in its slot, and I imagine that this will be the most significant motivation to choose Minsc & Boo over other four-mana options.
Despite its exclusion from the Magic Online (MTGO) Vintage Cube, Xenagos, the Reveler is my pick for the four-mana Gruul card with the highest ceiling. I’d put Minsc & Boo in second place in that race, though the waters get muddier once your Cube become more about combat and/or attrition. This is all to say that Minsc & Boo is powerful, but not revolutionary.
2. Descent into Avernus
I love this card. Will red decks benefit as much from the Treasure tokens generated as the average opponent? That’s unclear, but they will benefit a lot more from how quickly this card ends the game! A strictly different Sulfuric Vortex that doesn’t turn off lifegain isn’t for the faint of heart, but it is for me.
The thing about Descent into Avernus is that I don’t see it being just a tool for red aggressive decks. The extra mana can be put to work by combo or control decks alike, and while these decks are less incentivized to damage themselves, you can mitigate this downside by pairing it with win conditions and/or interactive spells that effectively leverage the Treasure tokens.
Descent into Avernus puts the game on a short clock, and I am here for it. When games go quickly, that means that we get to play more games! It’s also very exciting to think about what you can do with this sort of mana acceleration and how the symmetrical nature of the card impacts games. This one is for sure finding its way into the Grixis Twobert.
1. White Plume Adventurer
Finally, we come to the card in the set that actually offers the initiative at an efficient rate. White Plume Adventurer is balanced in the sense that it’s a creature that care about attacking and blocking, but as far as cards in that category go, it’s busted. The initiative isn’t the monarch, so this isn’t a Palace Jailer-level card, but White Plume Adventurer is in contention to be the most powerful three-mana white card for Cube.
Borderland Ranger is just solid in most Cubes. It wouldn’t even be embarrassing to start in Vintage Cube from time to time. Heck, we still Cube with Nissa, Vastwood Seer in the MTGO Vintage Cube! Technically White Plume Adventurer has the downside of the opponent being able to steal the initiative, but coming attached to a three-mana 3/3 makes the card strong at stopping the opponent from doing so early. I don’t know what goading is and I don’t want to know, but everything else that happens in the Undercity is quite powerful.
The only real downside of Cubing with the card is the tracking issue of the initiative and going through the Undercity, but that’s not a significant turnoff for me. Some Cubers are strongly against cards and mechanics from supplemental products like this, but I expect that those people aren’t reading this article anyway. I’ll be picking up some White Plume Adventurers and initiative tokens for sure.
While Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate is, unsurprisingly, primarily good for Commander, there’s still a lot to like from the set for non-Commander Cubes. Beyond my Top 10 there are several other nice ones, such as Amethyst Dragon for Peasant Cubes, and I’m looking forward to playing with quite a few cards from the set.