A Limited Guide to Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate
Some of my fondest childhood memories involve sitting in the backseat of the car during long summer trips. The car never had air conditioning, and my sister and I were always mad at each other, but one thing made it more than all right: the large stack of library books in my backpack. Hours of driving passed by in a flash as I fell into mysteries and thrillers and fantasy novels. And among the latter? The classic Forgotten Realms tales of Drizzt and Wulfgar and Catti-Brie.
I’ve long outgrown those stories, but I still felt a nostalgic thrill when they re-appeared thirty years after I first met them. Adventures in the Forgotten Realms set was an enjoyable Limited format for me, and now the setting returns with an added wrinkle: this time it’s a Commander set! Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate mixes setting, format, and mechanics together into something new; let’s take a look!
Commander, Limited, and You
Before we dive into set specifics, let’s quickly refresh the rules of Commander Limited.
- Each booster pack has twenty cards. The deck you play with must be sixty cards.
- You must draft your commander(s), and the cards in your deck must match the color identity of your commander(s).
- The Faceless One card can be used as one or both of your commanders, even if you do not draft any. This guarantees you access to any commander color pair.
- To balance this color requirement against the draft process, when a player makes a pick from a pack, they take two cards.
- In addition, there is no singleton restriction; you can play multiple copies of a card if you draft them.
- Games are often multiplayer, so prepare to use diplomacy and play politics!
Mechanics and Themes
Backgrounds are legendary enchantments that can be paired with certain legendary creatures that say “Choose a Background”. Together they serve as your commanders, easing the difficulty in finding commanders that match a specific color pair. Each background grants your commander - and only your commander - an ability, allowing for some interesting customization options for your commander.
Note that a background can still be part of your main deck and played as a normal enchantment.
Initiative / Undercity Dungeon
Dungeons and Monarch are both popular mechanics, and CLB brings these concepts back - with an interesting twist! The Undercity is the only Dungeon available for exploration, and if you played AFR you’ll immediately notice that it provides far greater rewards. However it is also far more difficult to venture into, as a player can only do so if they have Initiative. Initiative works similarly to Monarch: only one player can possess it at a time, and it’s passed around through combat damage. This creates added incentives and tensions when deciding how and who to attack!
Goad is a returning Commander mechanic that allows you to introduce some chaos into the combat step. If you goad a creature, it must attack and it must attack someone other than you if possible. This is an excellent way to force some combat action without risking your own safety.
Myriad is another returning Commander mechanic. When a creature with Myriad attacks a player, its controller can create temporary token copies of that creature attacking each other player. Myriad creatures are a great way to close out games by pressuring multiple opponents at one.
Introduced in Throne of Eldraine, the Adventure mechanic makes a flavorful reappearance. Adventure cards have built in card advantage: cast the sorcery or instance half first, and you’ll be able to cast the permanent half later. Better yet, each half often synergizes well with the other.
The definitive Magic/D&D mechanic also returns: dice rolling. These cards ask you to roll a d20 to determine the scale of its effect, with a low roll resulting in a reasonable - but uninspiring - result and a higher roll resulting in something far more exciting. And some of these cards have an absolutely devastating effect if you roll a 20, making each roll of the die an enjoyably fraught experience for all.
Although CLB is a set designed around Commander, it still follows modern principles for Limited sets. There are ten two-color signpost uncommons - in this set, they’re all legendary creatures that can be used as your commander - that lay out the intended strategy for each color pair. Let’s take a look!
Creatures that do something when they enter the battlefield are quite valuable, as they’ll have an impact no matter what. Combine creatures like that with blink effects and you can end up with a cavalcade of value. Oji, the Exquisite Blade gives you both halves of that value package by gifting you life and a scry when he comes into play, while also giving you a way to blink him or any other creature you control. The Far Traveler background and Alora, Merry Thief are two additional ways to enable this strategy.
Although not identified as such, Minthara, Merciless Soul is basically a creature that users the Aether Revolt mechanic Revolt by gaining you experience counters at the end of your turn if something’s left your battlefield (and note that this includes Treasure tokens, and also triggers through blink effects). What’s the benefit of these experience counters? Protection for Minthara, and a powerful buff for your entire army. Better yet, note that the player gains the experience counters and not Minthara. This means that if Minthara dies and is recast, she’ll still count all the experience counters you may have gained before her death. If you want some added incentive, Lulu, Loyal Hollyphant and Sarevok, Deathbringer bring alternative benefits for triggering Revolt.
The rewards for venturing into the Undercity are great, and they’re even greater with a commander such as Rilsa Rael, Kingpin, who makes your combat a nightmare for opponents - if you’ve managed to complete a dungeon. Therein lies the rub, as claiming the Initiative is easier than holding on to it. There are two ways around this drawback. One is to simply reclaim the Initiative by playing a card that says you do so. The other is to have a defensive board that heavily discourages attackers. It’s no coincidence that this Blue/Black commander is great at both these roles! There are other ways to power up a Dungeon deck: Safana, Calimport Cutthroat gives you valuable Treasure for mana acceleration, while the Dungeon Delver background turns up the benefits of exploration to an insane degree.
Blue/Red: Dragons (Burn)
A multiplayer game leads to a complex board state that makes it difficult to navigate combat. But what if you had a commander that allowed you to simply blow up (almost) any target you desired? Lozhan, Dragon’s Legacy does just that, turning your dragons and Adventures into explosive burn spells. Dragon Cultist can also lead you into this archetype, giving you an additional benefit for burning your opponent, while Renari, Merchant of Marvels lends the strategy an additional degree of trickiness that will give your opponents pause.
Sacrifice decks in Limited usually come in one of two varieties: they’re either extremely aggressive, or they slowly drain your opponent out. Mahadi, Emporium Master introduces a new reward that’s far better suited for multiplayer: Treasure! Sivriss, Nightmare Speaker and Street Urchin give you alternative benefits for a self-sacrifice deck. The plethora of potential benefits means that this archetype can be extremely flexible, adapting to the situation as needed.
A 1/4 creature is typically not a scary attacker, even if it does have deathtouch; most players will just shrug and take the minuscule damage. Kagha, Shadow Archdruid is different though, as her attacks come with built-in card advantage. Alternatively, if you have a way to keep your graveyard well-stocked, Viconia, Drow Apostate and Erinis, Gloom Stalker both allow you to gain substantial benefits. The latter helps you accelerate out your threats; the former guarantees that you’ll never run out of creatures to play.
Aggressive decks are a hard sell in Commander; it’s not easy to go all out on one opponent, let alone three. Commander Liara Portyr helps you do so by giving you precious card advantage the more you attack. Amber Gristle O’Maul and Veteran Soldier also help you keep the pressure on, albeit in different ways: Amber allows you to refill your hand after playing out your cheap and aggressive spells, and Veteran Soldier allows you to exert a little pressure on everyone!
Red/Green: Dragons (Aggro)
The second dragon archetype is not a subtle one. Thrakkus the Butcher is a 3/4 with trample, and when he attacks he doubles his own power and that of any other attacking dragon. That combination kind of says it all! But don’t confuse a lack of complexity with a lack of effectiveness: both Dragon Cultist and Skanos Dragonheart have the potential to utterly take over a game by smashing your opponents into the dust.
People who like tokens tend to really like tokens, and they’ll love Cadira, Caller of the Small who positively explodes your token count - if, that is, you can get her to deal combat damage to a player. Trample eases that condition, but you’ll likely want ways to make her bigger in order to increase the likelihood that you’ll trigger her ability. If you’d like to give your tokens some added oomph, look for commanders such as Halsin, Emerald Archrduid or Inspiring Leader. Both of these cards do an excellent job of ensuring that your smallest tokens become a threat worthy of notice.
Green/Blue: Dragons (Card Advantage)
The last of the dragon archetypes is far more patient than the other two. Korlessa, Scale Singer’s high toughness and low power point towards a defensive strategy. However its ability is extremely potent in the long game, granting you the dual gifts of knowledge and dragons. Those dragons can be expensive though, making Acolyte of Bahamut ideal for casting your big threats way ahead of curve. Sword Coast Sailor solves a different sort of problem, allowing you to always find a way to attack even in the late game when the board is often clogged with creatures.
Note that CLB also contains a few three-color commanders. These are all rare, so you won’t be seeing them as much. However they are also extremely powerful, as many of them tie together multiple archetypes.
An obvious example is Miiryn, Sentinel Wyrm, who gives you access to all the dragon themes in Red, Green, and Blue. Jan Jensen, Chaos Crafter is a more subtle example, as it single-handedly enables revolt and self-sacrifice, while also allowing for aggressive attacks.
This section will be abbreviated, as color considerations are different for Commander Limited. Most decks will be two color, and require little-to-no fixing. The rare three color deck may benefit from some fixing, and there’ll be the odd land or artifact that enables that. That’s basically it!
However there is an additional topic of interest, which is -
Some commanders have abilities that encourage you to play a strategy outside of the ones listed above. Not all of these strategies are viable in CLB Limited - there are nowhere near enough positive auras for the aura commander - but a few of them are.
Adventure cards are inherent card advantage, and Gorion, Wise Mentor presses that advantage even more. If you see him early in a draft, snap him up and draft as many adventure cards as you can!
+1/+1 counters are an excellent way of making sure your early creatures scale up into the late game, and that your late game creatures are the biggest threats on the board. Although the +1/+1 counter theme is light in CLB, there are enough commanders - Lae’zel, Vlaakith’s Champion, Agent of the Shadow Thieves, and Master Chef to name three - to make a deck focused on growth a real possibility.
Although Wyll, Blade of Frontiers is the only legendary creature in CLB that cares about dice rolling, there are enough dice rolling cards in the set to make a dice rolling deck a live strategy if you’re lucky enough to draft him. The benefits are not insubstantial either, as can be judged by the difference in effects for cards such as Recruitment Drive or Myrkul’s Edict.
Experienced Limited players know that sometimes the easiest way to win a game is to play a bunch of flyers and watch your opponent gnash their teeth in frustration as you find victory in the skies. Pick an evasive commander, pair it with Feywild Visitor, and you’ll amass a flying army in no time. And if your opponents have their own flyers or creatures with reach, you can still whittle their life down with Gray Harbor Merfolk.
Drafting nine gates may be unrealistic, but Nine-Fingers Keene still has a nice suite of evasion and protection that allows you to dig out any that you may have. What are the payoffs? Cards like Basilisk Gate and Gate Colossus are very strong. And in the worst case, you can still cast your expensive bombs much earlier than usual.
Gale, Waterdeep Prodigy and Livaan, Cultist of Tiamat represent two different faces of a non-creature spell strategy: one leads to card advantage, and the other allows you to bash super hard. Both can result in very strong decks.
There aren’t a ton of cards with the “toughness matters” theme. However there are plenty of high toughness creatures, and Rasaad yn Bashir’s effect is so strong - essentially doubling the “power” of all your creatures - that drafting a deck around his ability definitely makes sense.
Key Commons and Uncommons
Efficient removal is typically king in Limited, but its value goes down in a multiplayer format where killing one creature does nothing to protect you from two other players. It’s still important to have some means of interaction so that you can disrupt someone going all-in for the kill, but efficiency and value are what will carry you through a long game.
- Cut a Deal: In a four player game, this card draws you three cards against your opponents’ one!
- Githzerai Monk: Want to win a game out of nowhere? A flash flier that taps all your opponents’ creatures can certainly do the trick.
- Undercellar Sweep: Initiative is valuable, especially if it comes with an onrush of tokens to help you win it back.
- Cone of Cold: This spell is the perfect way to turn a board stall into a victory.
- Draconic Lore: An instant that draws you three cards is playable, and being able to cast it for four mana just feels like cheating.
- Run Away Together: Originally printed in a Standard set, this bounce spell is extremely powerful in a multiplayer format where it’s possible to bounce two creatures that you don’t control.
- Cloudkill: There are certain decks with low value commanders that won’t want this card; the others will delight in finding an uncommon that is perilously close to a board wipe.
- Skullport Merchant: Not only does this three drop give you a treasure and a good defensive body; it threatens insurmountable card advantage as the turns go by.
- Vrock: Attacking your opponents safely is a difficult task in a multiplayer game. This creature shrugs and gives you a way to whittle them down with minimal risk.
- Bhaal’s Invoker: Massive mana sinks often feel like they do nothing; this one definitely does something.
- Ingenious Artillerist: I’m a big fan of out-of-combat damage, and this creature certainly fits the bill.
- Swashbuckler Extraordinaire: How much should a potentially deadly combat step cost? A few treasure seems like a deal.
- Overwhelming Encounter: This sorcery is a game ender that allows you to wipe an opponent off the map while still providing a defense against any remaining enemies.
- Sharpshooter Elf: Not all dragons have flying - but many of them do, and this creature is uniquely suited to shooting them down.
- You Look Upon the Tarrasque: This instant can be a blowout in so many ways by guaranteeing a safe combat step as an attack or blocker. If your board is wide enough it can also buy you a victory against a single opponent by making all but one of your creatures unblockable.
Here’s what I’d keep in mind when playing Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate.
- Multiplayer is a different beast than a one-versus-one duel. Be wary of making yourself appear to be too ahead of others. Let your opponents weaken each other, then strike at the right time.
- There will be many facets of the game that are outside of your control. Accept the chaos; better yet, embrace it!
- If you’re handed a reversal of fortune, don’t raise a big stink. Other players are more likely to give you a chance to recover if you take it easy.
- The cards in CLB are designed to encourage players to engage in combat. That gives instant-speed combat interaction extra power.
Good luck and have fun!