As I mentioned in my newsletter this week, Backgrounds are a great iteration on the partner mechanic. They don’t play with the two-color partners that many of us find to be a bit frustrating in terms of power level, and they open up some safer space to play in while also hinting at possible future mechanics in a similar vein. Can’t wait for “Choose Your Weapon” or something similar that lets us put a piece of Equipment in the command zone!
In my newsletter, I focused on commander and Background pairings that I’m looking forward to in Limited. Today, I’ll be showing off a pairing that I’m interested in trying in constructed Commander, with some suggestions for cards to build around both from the new Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate and from previous sets!
Take a second read on Gale here – you do not get to cast the spell from your graveyard for free. No shame – it took me two reads too. Maybe you’d hope to see a spellslinging-focused Background to go with Gale’s triggered ability, but that sounds pretty boring to me. Dragon Cultist gives us a different subgame – hit an opponent right in the dome with a high-damage spell and get a 4/4 Dragon for your trouble. That means we’re going to be doing something I’ve never done in Commander – we’re going to cast Lava Axe.
But why, and how? Well, the game plan here is pretty simple.
- Get Gale and Dragon Cultist onto the battlefield.
- Put big damage sorceries into our graveyard while getting some extra value in the process.
- Assemble some Treasures and other sources of big mana to get ready to cast them.
- Cast cheap instants to trigger Gale and cast the big damage sorceries.
- Copy those big sorceries with more instants, getting more Gale triggers.
- Get Dragons to back up our spellslinging!
Let’s take a look at some of the big damage sorceries we’re going to be casting.
Not all of these are created equal. Many are cut from the same cloth as Lava Axe – deal damage to the dome – but others have a twist. Blast of Genius helps us discard more big sorceries for future Gale triggers, and Inferno Jet even discards itself. Fiery Encore and Ignite Memories both have storm, which plays well with our “multiple cheap instants in one turn” strategy. Mostly though, we’re just going to the face for large numbers. You can also just cast these in the midgame, but discarding or milling them and drawing more castable spells early is great if you can make it happen.
So how do we get these into our graveyard? Well, we have plenty of self-mill and discard enablers to work with.
Our self-mill section includes a card that (ironically, when you consider its name) requires a reread if you haven’t seen it before. I experienced and heard about players at the Judgment prerelease misunderstanding Book Burning based on its line breaks. Once you get a handle on it though, it makes perfect sense in this list, either milling us for six or dealing six to a player. Either outcome is fine by me! Consider, Mental Note and Thought Scour are all great ways to self-mill while also being cheap instants for Gale triggers. Search for Azcanta gives us a repeat source of self-mill, while Bond of Insight mills everyone and likely gets us some cheap instants back to cast more sorceries with Gale.
As far as discard enablers, we have three looters here, though you could certainly go with more. Bedlam Reveler lets us buy a new hand on the cheap, and Izzet Charm just does whatever we need it to do in the circumstances, though I expect to choose the draw/discard mode a lot.
Let’s get some Treasures going! We have the busted and controversial Dockside Extortionist, but we’re also playing Lava Axe, so give me this one, okay? Early Treasure generators like Impulsive Pilferer and Strike It Rich help us set up for later, and both are great to discard or mill. Seize the Spoils and Big Score both let us discard cards, which is sweet too. Descent into Avernus gets us (and everyone) Treasures, but it might also trigger our background once we get deep enough. This is the kind of deck that can benefit from the whole table having a lower life total, so I’m fine with some group damage. Seething Song also figures into my plans – you can use all five red mana to cast a Lava Axe, after all! I chose not to add the smaller rituals, but that might be a mistake.
We’ve already gone over many of our cheap instants, but I have more!
Lightning Bolt is just nice to have around in a pinch when you just need to burn something or someone. The rest are just here to draw cards and keep things moving while we trigger Gale.
Most of these are cheap – I just wanted to include some countermagic to protect us. Both Confound and Keep Safe are great options for protecting high-value creatures, especially commanders, and Confound is even more flexible than Keep Safe.
If we’re spending all this time and energy to cast big face damage sorceries, why not copy them?
That’s the mainline game plan here, but I have some supporting cast members that may be of interest.
Protecting Gale is really important, and with that in mind, I’ve thrown in these pieces of Equipment to keep removal spells off his mind.
Soul-Guide Lantern deals with all graveyards except ours. Convenient!
A few wraths never hurt anyone, right? Oh, they do hurt? Well, that’s fine. Immolating Gyre and Volcanic Vision have the decency to be asymmetrical, and both play quite well with our theme. Blasphemous Act is just a nice pressure valve.
Since we do have to pay mana for the spells we cast out of the graveyard, I thought I’d include some cost reducers to lessen the pain of so many multi-spell turns. Font of Magic is a great new entrant that plays incredibly well with partners or partner-like mechanics such as Background, and the rest of these are pretty classic cost reduction choices for spellslinging.
Speaking of spellslinging, I threw in some additional payoffs to help us amass an air force alongside the Dragons we’ll get from our Background. These can be useful chump blockers or, in the case of Manaform Hellkite, enormous temporary beaters. I love the idea of casting a Volcanic Vision and then hitting someone for seven with a Dragon Illusion!
Casting two spells a turn? Jori En seems like a perfect fit. That’s what this deck’s all about, so enjoy the extra card draw!
Five mana rocks, along with the cost reducers, should help us get where we’re going. Onward to the mana base!
Desolate Lighthouse is an all-star here – sometimes you just really need a discard outlet, so here’s one that survives most board wipes. Beyond that, we have some cycling lands and Castle Vantress to smooth things out, Ghost Quarter and Tectonic Edge to deal with problematic opposing lands and the usual NEO suspects. We also have Command Beacon to help out Gale when necessary.
These two help us amass some mana for big turns in the late game, with Mage-Ring Network sticking around for the long haul while Treasure Vault makes an exit once you have a turn to burn.
Since we have lots of red and blue mana symbols to deal with, let’s make sure we have a sufficient number of duals and fetches to get our mana base moving.
I hope you enjoyed this exploration of “how can we get Lava Axe to be sweet in Commander?” It’s a fun thought experiment and probably a fun deck – we’ll see if any better red Backgrounds for Gale get spoiled, but honestly, I like that we’re operating on a janky premise here. I’ll leave you with the full deck list – see you soon with a full set review of Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate!
Commanders: Gale, Waterdeep Prodigy & Dragon Cultist 1 Arcane Signet 1 Baral, Chief of Compliance 1 Bedlam Reveler 1 Big Score 1 Blasphemous Act 1 Blast of Genius 1 Bond of Insight 1 Bonded Fetch 1 Book Burning 1 Brass's Bounty 1 Cascade Bluffs 1 Castle Vantress 1 Command Beacon 1 Command Tower 1 Confound 1 Consider 1 Counterspell 1 Darksteel Plate 1 Descent into Avernus 1 Desolate Lighthouse 1 Dockside Extortionist 1 Fiery Confluence 1 Fiery Encore 1 Fiery Islet 1 Font of Magic 1 Forgotten Cave 1 Galvanic Iteration 1 Ghost Quarter 1 Goblin Electromancer 1 Goldspan Dragon 1 Ignite Memories 1 Immolating Gyre 1 Impulsive Pilferer 1 Increasing Vengeance 1 Inferno Jet 8 Island 1 Izzet Charm 1 Izzet Signet 1 Jace, Vryn's Prodigy / Jace, Telepath Unbound 1 Jace's Sanctum 1 Jori En, Ruin Diver 1 Keep Safe 1 Lava Axe 1 Lightning Bolt 1 Lonely Sandbar 1 Mage-Ring Network 1 Manaform Hellkite 1 Mental Note 1 Merfolk Looter 1 Mind Stone 8 Mountain 1 Murmuring Mystic 1 Opt 1 Otawara, Soaring City 1 Peek 1 Ponder 1 Preordain 1 Primal Amulet / Primal Wellspring 1 Prismatic Vista 1 Riverglide Pathway / Lavaglide Pathway 1 Scalding Tarn 1 Search for Azcanta / Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin 1 Searing Flesh 1 Seething Song 1 Seize the Spoils 1 Shivan Reef 1 Sokenzan, Crucible of Defiance 1 Sol Ring 1 Soul-Guide Lantern 1 Spiteful Repossession 1 Steam Vents 1 Stormcarved Coast 1 Storm-Kiln Artist 1 Strike It Rich 1 Sulfur Falls 1 Sundering Stroke 1 Swiftfoot Boots 1 Talisman of Creativity 1 Talrand, Sky Summoner 1 Tectonic Edge 1 Thought Scour 1 Training Center 1 Treasure Vault 1 Volcanic Vision