Today I’ll be taking a look at the upcoming Magic: the Gathering Commander Legends set and the cards I’m most excited to add to my Battle Box called “The Danger Room.”
A Battle Box is essentially a format that is 100% player and fan controlled. I update my stack “The Danger Room” with each MTG release but ultimately building a Battle Box can be whatever a player wants it to be. I fully encourage players to build their format as they see fit, or even start with one of the blueprints I’ve written about and adding a personal touch or flare to it. As is the case with a Cube, the format can be whatever you can imagine!
My stack is by no means the be-all-end-all of Battle Box. My “Danger Room” is the first Battle Box to exist and I’ve been adding on, tightening up, collecting, and playing with it for nearly a decade now. As a result of all the years of learning about my format, tuning it, and listening to player feedback – it’s a pretty consistently solid gaming experience. I always listen attentively to player and fan feedback and try my best to incorporate new insights into how it can be improved.
So, to all the players who chat Battle Box with me on social media and share their insights and feedback, I want to extend a big appreciative “Thank you,” for enjoying and supporting the content for this crazy fun format with such enthusiasm and participation.
COMMANDER LEGENDS IN THE ABSTRACT
COMMANDER LEGENDS is by no means a regular or normal Magic: the Gathering expansion. As the name suggests, it is a set that is specifically designed for the often multiplayer Commander format. The mechanics and types of cards we tend to see obviously have multiplayer games of Commander in mind.
With that said, there are going to be a lot of cards I simply can’t use in my stack. I remain firm that equivalent access to mana production is a cornerstone of what makes my Battle Box such a fun play experience.
Each player starts the game with these ten lands (I also sometimes use the Thriving Land cycle) in Exile and each player can play one per turn as though it were in their hand.
With equal access to mana being a sticking point with how my stack works, obviously I’m not going to be interested in the wide array of ramp and mana acceleration spells.
My Battle Box is also not played with a Commander, which diminishes the value of “Commander’s Matter’ mechanics such as Partner.
Perhaps a Commander Based variation of Battle Box could be fun, especially on the heels of a Commander set. One variation could be that cards from the stack are randomly revealed until each player hits a Legendary Creature from the top of the deck and that Legend would enter the Command Zone. It’s sort of a cool idea for aspiring Battle Box architects to ponder building around. With that said, today’s update will be a traditional style update to my stack and not a dramatic rebuilding exercise.
Once we eliminate the cards that outright won’t work properly (Ramp, Acceleration, Lands, and things that directly evoke Commanders or Command Zone) we’re left with the potential pool of cards to consider adding.
Having scoured the spoiler, I can make some generalizations before I talk about specific cards. The first one is that I’m pretty blown away by how interesting this set is! There are a lot of really interesting cards that I think would be very fun to play with not only in Commander, but in my Battle Box. The power level of the set is quite high (as it doesn’t need to work in Standard) which makes for a lot of strong and exciting designs.
It’s also dense in multicolor spells which is always great for a Battle Box.
The last “trend” (which is a little bit disappointing) is that a lot of the cheap spells (Converted Mana cost equal to or less than three) tend to be reprints. While WOTC has selected a lot of sweet cards to include in the set and for the Limited environment, for the most part the low converted mana cost spells in this expansion set tend to be primarily reprints that are already in my stack or I’ve passed on when they were first printed.
There are certainly a few cheap spells I’m going to add, but in general a lot of the low cost spells tended to be reprints. Which means, the majority of the pool of cards I’m able to use are 4+ mana cost. The good new is a lot of these cards have designs that are meant to be fun and interesting (as they are designed for a casual multiplayer format) which makes them EXACTLY the kind of cards I love incorporating into my stack.
THE DANGER ROOM
By Brian DeMars
The sheer magnitude of cards in the stack has typically led to some mistakes in the list. I’m going to try my best to get everything as exactly correct as possible this time around. If you notice 3 cards being added, and only two cards coming out, it’s because the list from the previous article was one card short, etc.
ARTIFACTS & COLORLESS (60 CARDS)
OUT: WRETCHED GRYFF
I’ve never been particularly impressed or wowed by Wretched Gryff which makes it an easy card to swap out for Maelstrom Colossus. I do like high converted mana cost Artifact Creatures because they are vulnerable to flexible modal “shatter effects,” such as Abrade or Kolaghan’s Command that are peppered in through my stack.
In general, I also think that most of the ways I’ve rebuilt my stack in the past year make “Cascade” a more reliable mechanic. I’ve moved away from redundant Counterspells, which reduces the number of Cascade misses. The curve is also less glutted at 3, 4, and 5 which reduces the odds of cascading into more expensive spells a little bit.
Since Cascade is one of the more interesting returning mechanics in Commander Legends that tends to play out nicely in my stack, I’ve leaned into trying to include as many as I can throughout the update. In general, I think it’s a pretty fun and unique Battle Box mechanic. It’s likely something that I’ll have to keep an eye on as I expand my pool of games in the future, but in general I find Cascade to be pretty fun and I’m cool with trying to tune my stack toward making it work in a way that is satisfying and fun to play with.
MULTICOLOR (280 Cards)
3-COLOR SHARDS & WEDGES (30 CARDS)
A card I considered that didn’t quite make the cut:
Ultimately, I like Nevinyrral as a game piece and a flavor add, but I simply liked the Esper cards I already have a little bit. If you’re looking for a powerful Esper color monster for a stack, this is certainly a card that could and should be on your radar as a potential addition.
GUILD (2-COLOR) MULTICOLOR SPELLS (250, 25 of Each Combination)
AZORIUS (25 CARDS)
I wanted to add this card so bad! I love the art and flavor of this strange bunny, my issue is that I don’t think it’s very good… at least not in 1 v 1 duels. In a battle box designed for multiplayer games, I think this card becomes a lot more fun and interesting and worth consideration.
BOROS (25 CARDS)
OUT: BRUSE TARL
Keeping a consistent baseline mana curve is really important in creating consistently good games of Battle Box. I have no issue with Bruse Tarl as a Battle Box card, but because CMRL Legends is so stilted in favor of 4+ cards (and doesn’t feature many new CMC 1 or 2 spells) this is a nice way to maintain. Reyav is a card I’d want to add no matter what. It’s a neat, legendary two-drop with unique abilities.
There are so many fun 4+ cards in the set that I can’t possibly include them all without expanding the size of my Battle Box! With that said, I think I’d prefer Bruse Tarl to Bell Borka but both are right in the wheelhouse of the kind of return I’d like to see on a CMC = 4 RW creature.
The purpose of the update isn’t to jam as many cards into the stack that work as possible, I want Danger Room to reflect designs from the entire history of the game with a relatively balanced distribution. It’s clearly getting to the point once again where I could start thinking about simply adding cards, but for this update I’m keeping the size the same.
DIMIR (25 CARDS)
Dimir got really nice Battle Box cards in Commander Legends:
OUT: DIMIR DOPPELGANGER
OUT: DRAGONLORD SILUMGAR
I’m actually a little nostalgic about cutting the Dragonlord because it’s such a rad card but I think Nymris will likely be a more interesting card. A dragon that steals an opposing creature if it can’t immediately be answered isn’t the most interesting play pattern, and there’s no shortage of Control Magic effects available already. It’s an effect that I’ve been trying to really minimalize without cutting completely.
I’m also excited about Yuriko, as I tend to enjoy playing with the Ninjitsu mechanic and this is a nice lean design. Dimir Doppelganger has been a fixture of the stack for a while, but it is very slow and suffers from being a three drop that requires a lot of set up.
When you factor in the reduced cost to play Yukirko via Ninjitsu, both of these swaps move these Dimir slots closer to the average power level of the rest of the stack (Silumgar was OP, and Doppelganger was under powered) while also slightly reducing on mana costs. In general, those are the types of criteria I try to use to inform how I update my stack whenever possible, as these trends tend to lead to better and more consistent gameplay over a larger sampling of games.
So, when you are tuning your own stack or thinking about whether to make a particular swap out keep in mind that lowering the mana costs and moving cards more toward the middle tends to make games more competitive over a large sample.
GOLGARI (25 CARDS)
GRUUL (25 CARDS)
IZZET (25 CARDS)
Again, I’m making changes based on the types of trends I find lead to better, more consistent gameplay. Expensive “Draw ‘em ups” are not an effect I want to go super deep on. With a lower curve, hands can be emptied more quickly as pieces trade off, and I don’t want players chaining a bunch of draw spells together in a stalemate.
Ludevic is certainly a card that can generate enough card advantage to swing a game, but slowly. It’s not necessarily a card that blows me away (in fact it would likely be one of the cards in the stack I’d be most likely to chop in favor of an Izzet card I like better down the road), but I do think it is a positive upgrade over Thoughtflare simply because its more flexible and does impact the board.
ORZHOV (25 CARDS)
RAKDOS (25 CARDS)
SELESNYA (25 CARDS)
SIMIC (25 CARDS)
IN: GOR MULDRAK
OUT: AETHER MUTATION
OUT: ETHEREAL AMBUSH
One of the things I’ve commented on in my updates for years is the lack of passable Simic cards for battlebox that are printed.
Aether Mutation is one of the most broken and game distorting cards in the entire stack, but I simply didn’t have other options before. Ethereal Ambush, on the other hand is just expensive and underwhelming! Essentially, we get to replace both with new cards that are much closer to center and combine to lower cost.
Gor Muldrak is a pretty unique card that I’m excited to try out especially in multiplayer. Imotri is a sweet one as well.
MONO-COLOR SPELLS (500 CARDS)
WHITE (100 CARDS)
OUT: APOSTLE’S BLESSING
OUT: AZORIUS HERALD
OUT: AJANI’S PRIDEMATE
These inclusions and exclusions line up pretty nicely. Benevolent Blessing is a different kind of combat trick that leaves something behind in Enchantment form.
I think Livio will be a more interesting and useful two drop than Ajani’s Pridemate which can be challenging to trigger when you can’t build specifically around it.
I also love Prava as a nice blocker on three that has a mana sink ability in the late game and some neat synergy with the other token cards in the deck. I’ve said it many times, defensive cards that fit nicely without always being a blowout are difficult to come by. Prava is quite powerful and I’ll have to see how the card plays out, but I’m always interested in giving these cards the reps.
BLUE (100 CARDS)
IN: FORCEFUL DENIAL
OUT: BAZAAR TRADER
One reason it’s important to take those opportunities to lower converted mana cost is that obviously there are going to be swaps that won’t function the same way. You always want to be pushing the curve down on that whole and not ticking it up overall
Again, I think across the board that Cascade is the most fun and useful mechanic that is supported throughout the set for a Battle Box and I love cards like Forceful Denial that are simple in design but create dynamic interactions with regard to how games will play out.
BLACK (100) CARDS
It may be the first set EVER where I haven’t added a black card. It’s easy to design black cards that are sweet in Battle Box but over the years the competition has become rather stiff!
In general, I don’t love “The Monarch” mechanic in 1 V 1 duels, especially on four drop creatures since they are so disproportionately good with regard to being on the play. They simply can’t be played on the draw on a lot of boards.
I like that Feast of Succession is more expensive to cast and is a relatively inequensive card to buy that provides a wrath effect. A really interesting card to consider especially for a Command and Uncommon Battle Box.
RED (100 CARDS)
IN: AURORA PHOENIX
OUT: MINDCLAW SHAMAN
Mindclaw Shaman is one of those cards that has probably been, objectively speaking, a mistake to leave in the stack all these years. I’m well aware it’s one of the most powerful cards in the stack. Casting a specific card from an opponent’s hand without paying mana is incredibly powerful and it frequently lines up to be a 2-for-1. It’s a card I’m sentimental about because its been in the stack for ages, but I think Aurora Phoenix provides a similar type of power and swinginess without being as obviously broken to play against. It’s important to have some powerful cards in the stack, we don’t want to just have all vanilla grizzly bears and shocks! With that said, this is an example of reigning in and replacing a power card with one that will likely be more fun and interesting to play with. Also, the difference between paying five or six for a game shaping card is non-trivial in terms of when the big even can happen in a game.
GREEN (100 CARDS)
OUT: EXCAVATION MOLE
Maybe a gutsy inclusion, I think Halara is a pretty fun looking card. I’m a big fan of pivoting a lot of the ways of generating advantage in my stack as abilities of cards that sit in play when possible and slowly shaving back on pure draw spells as a source of card advantage.
Halara does look to be a powerful card with a powerful ability and maybe it’s a little too much. I tend to think it will likely be a great fit. The thing I find particularly attractive on this card is the fourth point of toughness on a four cost creature, which gives it some protection against three points of damage, either from burn spells or three drop attackers.
Whether this card ultimately stays or goes will be a function of the games I play in the coming months as well as player feedback.
I love spiders and insects. It’s a theme I support even though it doesn’t do too much aside from adding flavor. With that said, I think this card is too weak! So sadly, a spider will not make the cut. I’m much more willing to add cards I like that are slightly overpowered than underpowered.
Overall, as a set, I have no problem saying I think Commander Legends is the best product Wizards of the Coast has put out in three years. I personally like this set, the designs, the direction, and the flavor. It feels like a “Magic” set to me and not an “Arena” set. By that, I mean that it’s the first set I’ve looked at in a long time where I can tell it was designed to be played with in cardboard form and not specifically for Arena – and it shows, these are fun and flavorful cards across the board.
There were several times I had a big smile on my face while reading through the spoiler and looking at cards that were not even close to being considered for my Battle Box for various mechanical reasons. There were also a whole slew of cards intended to be played specifically in Commander that made me want to play Commander. That is not typically how I have felt in the past when looking at the new Commander designs in the Commander Theme decks.
I’ve got to give props because I think WOTC did a great job with the set as a whole and I’m excited to collect, draft, and play with these cards in multiple formats!
TOP 8 BATTLE BOX STAPLES
*I want to stipulate these are the cards I’m most excited to collect and start playing with in my Battle Box. I make no guarantees without playing the games first, that all of these cards will work out as well as I hope. It’s an Eternal set designed around multicolor Legends. The cards are pushed, but with that said not to the point that I’d assume any of them to fail in Danger Room. I think and hope they’ll all be cards I’m playing with in three years from now.
Nymris is my favorite card in the set. I’m a sucker for a ⅙ flash Fairy. It’s also probably the most powerful card that I added. In terms of raw power, I think Halara, Kessig Ranger would get my prediction for #2. It’s always a nice call when the best card added from a new set is less powerful than the card I cut to make room (Dragonlord Silumgur) as it kind of makes me feel all of my additions are likely to be solid additions to the format!
As is always the case, I’d love to hear feedback about the Danger Room updates and encourage all of the Battle Box fans out there to drop their feedback in the comments. If there’s a sweet card you like that I passed by, let the other Battle Boxers know in the comments! I’m just one guy and certainly not the only player who has good ideas about the format! I’d like to thank the Battle Box readers for checking out the article, as well as all of the Battle Box fans who’ve helped me out with their thoughts and feedback during Covid-19.