As a long-time player and fan of Dungeons and Dragons, Magic: The Gathering, and the Commander format it's easy for me to say Commander Legends: Battle For Baldur's Gate looks like a great set. But, let's face it, this looks like a great set! There is something for everyone out there whether it's the new Background mechanic, new Adventure cards, or even more cool tribal ideas. Let's take a look at some of the more exotic ones and I'm sure you will agree that this set has a lot to look forward to!
Yes, Lightning Bolt! This is my absolute number one pick of all-time for removal in the game with only Swords to Plowshares ever fighting for that spot. The thing is, Bolt can kill both Planeswalkers *and* players along with most creatures that see significant play all for the low cost of one mana. For those reasons, it takes the top spot. It's an iconic Magic spell, and, while less iconic than Fireball or Magic Missile, is still a noteworthy spell in D&D.
Backgrounds are a very interesting mechanic and are essentially a follow-up and more balanced version of Partner. Wizards clearly saw that Partner is a popular mechanic but had to be sure not to create too much future power creep and Backgrounds are essentially the way forward. This is a uniquely D&D concept that became a core game mechanic in Fifth Edition although there were similar sub-systems in earlier versions as well.
Not only are Backgrounds a cool build around functionally speaking, but they also allow for expression in terms of flavor. Twice as many parameters to build around is definitely twice as much fun. The raw number of possible combinations from Commanders that have the Background Mechanic (27) + the Background itself (25) is something like 728 possible combinations. This is definitely enough room for variation and replayability.
A New And Darker Dungeon
Clutch of the Undercity and Seize the Initiative gives us a new Dungeon to delve. This is my absolute single favorite new *and* returning mechanic to Baldur's. Going into the Dungeon was a cool and thematic effect but it was not nearly powerful enough for what it required to do it well. Now with both a better Dungeon in Undercity and the ability to trigger The Initiative *immediately* you get better and faster rewards. This is a nice addition from Wizards and I feel like it shows that Magic *can* continue to innovate.
Literally Baldur's Gate!
They had to and they did! Not only did they make a ton of new Gates but they made the one, the only, A-Krydle of Baldur's Gate and it's good! I hope you will agree that the best part about the new Gate cards is actually powering up cards like Maze's End! Great flavor, good power, awesome synergy, sign me up.
While not *Legendary* Elder Dragons all of these creatures pack a huge punch and the D20 mechanic will create some spicy game moments. A roll of five or less certainly is not game-ending but each step higher is likely to be game-changing. I rate them from low to high as Gold, Bronze, Brass, Silver, and at the top Copper. The lower mana cost and the mathematical average of adding ten more mana on turn seven certainly looks strong but all of the Dragons are at the very least playable.
Mechanics From Random Sets
Escape(6), Foretell(5), Monstrosity(4), Overload(6), Replicate(5), Suspend(9), Unearth(5). I may have missed one but this is a crazy amount of different keywords for one set *on top of* everything else. If you checked out my last article here it's about some of the older, forgotten abilities that have cycled through Magic's life. The number next to each keyword above is the Storm Scale from one to ten on how likely something will be reprinted as a keyword in Standard. The simple fact is, this is a Commander set. At the same time, I think it's always nice to see that even Suspend which is rated at *nine* "I never say never, but this would require a minor miracle" can show up in a set at all. The other keywords are effectively "Is it right for the set? If so they can show up." As a huge fan of Magic's history, it's good to see these throwbacks when possible. Banding is coming, people!
And Now For Something Completely Different...
While the more powerful cards coming from the set will get piles or air time, these cards are my favorites for a variety of reasons and I wanted to go over each one briefly.
Wrathful Red Dragon
Wrathful Red Dragon is everything a red card should be and, also, it is everything a red dragon in D&D is. Are you not a Dragon? Take damage. The thing that strikes me the most about this card is that it is *NOT* a may ability. While you likely always have your opponents as non-Dragon targets, technically, you have to deal the damage. Circumstances could force you to hit your own non-Dragon creatures or even yourself or there could be higher upsides to such a play. For me, this card captures both the destructive nature of red Dragons in D&D while also calling back to older Magic design mechanics when there were significantly more symmetrical abilities and virtually nothing said "may." In the millions upon millions of Commander games that will be played in the future someone, eventually, is going to get killed by their *own* Wrathful Red Dragon just as it should be. To quote another game I am fond of "Never deal with a Dragon."
Nalia de'Arnise is a *really* nifty card. If you've read my Heart of Commander article then you know all about the Deathtouch deck headed by Atraxa, Praetor's Voice. Looking at Nalia you can see she helps me synergize with Deathtouch, +1/+1 counters, and finally adds a potential tribal spin on top of all that! Now instead of just checking for Deathtouchers with additional abilities, I'm trying to specifically find Clerics, Rogues, Warriors, and Wizards with Deathtouch! Long live Party Touch! I'm always on the hunt for cards that offer this kind of unique intersectionality. As a slight aside, since I run Primal Surge as an ultimate win condition, she adds a hefty amount of damage so it's not *only* about flavor there's a decent power spike too!
Captain N'ghathrod is yet another card for my boat deck wherein all cards must have boat-based artwork on them, with no exceptions. This deck was started in approximately 2012 as a joke but soon took on a life all its own because Wizards just kept printing boats on every card. Now it has transformed from mostly a thematic but very bad pile of cards into a somewhat functional deck with some high power cards like Demonic Tutor and Capsize. I'm not entirely sure if I'm going to replace my current boat-punching commander Wrexial, the Risen Deep with N'ghathrod but it's likely I can use him just as a solid five drop for five with a cool ability to replace something significantly worse. Again, there is the possibility that there's a significant amount of new synergy to find with boat-based Horrors both in recent sets and in future sets. Is this the part where I make a boat pun? No, if I do that I might get a stern talking to.
Black Market Connections
This is my favorite card from the entire set. I have written more than once about using life as a resource and really think that black has done a good job with this idea over the entirety of Magic's life. Looking at what Black Market Connections does is just so fun. First, there is the fact that it does not trigger during your Upkeep so you get to use the card *right away*. Next, you make decisions after your draw step with more information. You can choose up to three modes but realistically you are almost always going to draw a card and get a Buried Treasure. Finally, you have the option of paying three extra life to get a 3/2 colorless creature with all creature types. This is really huge for so many reasons. There are lots of tribal effects that *do care* if you are a Knight, Dragon, Zombie, etc. A colorless creature also has the ability to block creatures with various Protection effects. Last but not least, it has three power which really is the amount required to be a credible threat, especially to Planeswalkers. Signs point to paying roughly six life per turn and getting insane value out of it. And, yeah, it's an Enchantment which is the type of card that seems to be sneaking under most radars. I give this five of five stars and will be trying it in most of my black decks.
Finally, Fraying Line is a card that probably looks a little odd to mention. For two mana it's a fairly slow and terrible board wipe. Nothing to write home about, yeah? The thing is, there is a story here, a D&D story. I had a group of players who were not new to D&D but we had never played together. We spent a fairly long time getting characters made and setting the adventure into motion. It was a rather standard affair, go kill some goblins in their underground lair.
At the top of the cave entrance was a rope that they could use to steady themselves while descending the steep cave floor. The difficulty to do this? Literally zero. Yes, I mean that, zero. On a D20 if they could get a one or better, they would succeed...except for penalties from armor. And yeah, these guys had a lot of armor. A few incredibly low rolls later and three party members had dropped the rope and tumbled down the steep slope taking damage and waking up the goblin sentries. A few shots later and the party was hurt and scrambling, they had to go back up the rope to retreat...and then it happened again. They slid down, smashed into the wall at the bottom, and thus we had a TPK (that's Total Party Kill).
To this day we reference the party that died to a piece of rope. Fraying Line, in your memory, I will build an entire deck around you being the most legendary rope in all the land and I will play this deck until it wins. Now that's dedication.
Dragons, Boats, Ropes, and More!
I am looking forward to Baldur's Gate for so many reasons but the single biggest reason is the building material. There are tons of good concept cards from D&D lore, mechanics like Backgrounds, and so many new tribal cards that the only limit here is your own imagination. That makes for a great Commander set in my opinion. What cards are you looking forward to from Baldur's Gate?