On Tuesday, May 17, we got our first official look at this summer’s Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate. The second Commander Legends draft set and the second set to use Wizards’ Dungeons & Dragons setting, Baldur’s Gate looks to build on the success of both its predecessors. There were an absolute ton of cards revealed and that gives us plenty to talk about.
First are some returning mechanics in dice rolling and Adventure. Both of these make perfect sense of a Dungeons & Dragons set. While I’m personally not a huge fan of dice rolling in my games of Commander, I really enjoyed how these cars were executed in Forgotten Realms. Giving players some additional variance without leaving everything up to chance can lead to some exciting moments in games and while I am not going to actively seek these cards out, I believe they are a net positive to the game.
The fact that Adventure was not in Forgotten Realms felt like a miss as the mechanic seems perfectly suited for the settings of Dungeons & Dragons. Having it here is wonderful as not only does it give existing Adventure decks more options, but it also provides them a Commander in Gorion, Wise Mentor, who acts as a Lucky Clover in the command zone. While you can’t Stomp in Gorion, you can absolutely Chop Down some big threats.
But this is just the beginning, as there are two more heavily supported mechanics in the set. The other two are twists on things that have come before. Let’s start with Background. There are legendary creatures in the set that allow you to choose a Background, and Backgrounds are legendary enchantments which can be placed in the command zone. Like partner, your deck has the color identity of its commander and its Background and Backgrounds are subject to the commander tax. Backgrounds grant your Commander additional abilities, whether that’s a boost to their power and toughness or granting them opportunities to gain some value. Backgrounds provide a neat twist on the concept of character creation. If the commander is your “player character” in tabletop RPG parlance, then Background allows you to provide your own take on something that is otherwise set by the game. For example, my Lulu, Loyal Hollyphant might be a Cloakwood Hermit while my friend’s Lulu might be a Shameless Charlatan.
I am a firm believer that one of the best things about Commander is how it allows players to use their deck as a form of self expression. Without knowing all the options, Background seems like a way to do just that provided you want to play a commander from this set. Being honest, I have not played a ton of Dungeons & Dragons in my life so I lack the connections to these characters others may have, but as ways to make the Commander experience more personal, I’m all on board.
The last mechanic is initiative, and I have lots of feelings about it. Initiative is similar to venture in that it lets you enter the Undercity, a new dungeon that can only be entered via Initiative. Once you have Initiative (granted by different cards), you advance through the Undercity during each of your upkeeps or any time you gain initiative (if you are already in a Dungeon, you instead will venture into the dungeon). Like monarch, the initiative can be taken either by playing a card that grants it or by dealing combat damage to the holder of initiative.
The benefits of the Undercity are worth about a card for each room, making this slightly worse than the monarch and potentially better than the dungeons from Forgotten Realms. These boosts are balanced by the fact that the Undercity was designed for a game with four players, not two. As a multiplayer mechanic, I absolutely love what Initiative does as it promotes action while also limiting what players can get from their adventures.
However, I cannot ignore what this might mean for two-player formats. The monarch has been a major factor in my 60-card format of choice in Pauper, and if pushed enough, initiative could prove to be a problem there as well. While I’m excited to see what else Baldur’s Gate has to offer Pauper in terms of Initiative, I am equally as anxious.
Overall, however, this set looks amazing. It builds on existing themes for different styles of Commander play while opening up plenty of new avenues too – including a party-based commander from the Commander decks. I know I’m going to be keeping my eyes glued to spoilers this season as I theorize about exactly how I want to build Baba Lysaga, Night Witch.
Alex Ullman has been playing Magic for 24 years. Since 2005, he's spent most of his time playing and exploring Pauper. While he long ago put Pro Tour aspirations to bed, he has focused his energies on his favorite format to better understand its metagame and share the nuances of Pauper with the Magic-playing world. One of his proudest accomplishments was being on the winnings side of the 2009 Community Cup. He makes his home in Brooklyn, New York, where he was born and raised.