Initial Impressions and The Mechanics of Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur's Gate


Within the next several weeks, Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur's Gate is going to be released. I never finished Baldur's Gate and I'm not a huge Dungeons and Dragons fan, so this is not as exciting to me. What does excite me is that it is a Commander Legends set. Those interested in commander cubes are especially looking forward to what is in store for this set. For myself, I was hoping they would add new partners, expand upon venture and party since it was a Dungeons and Dragons set, and a multiplayer mechanic.  The first set was using the entirety of Magic's lore to create commanders of the set, which finally got us to see cards of old and new characters such as Liesa, Jeska, and Akroma. It really felt like the R and D team was given more room to explore the design of the set. This was evident in the re-exploration  the monarch mechanic found in CN2 by adding new cards in different colors such as the Court cycle or Emberwilde Djinn.  Adding a whole slew of partners was one of the best things that could have happened with this set. It opened the doorways for new commander decks, but also created a template for cube designers to follow for a commander cube. 

This is the second iteration of the Commander Legends product.When it was announced as a DnD set, my mind immediately thought of how they approached Zendikar and AFR and based my speculations of that. I really liked the idea of the party mechanic from ZNR and a DnD setting would seem like an opportunity to expand it. They didn't the first time and this might be a second chance. There were a lot of problems with it, mainly the restrictions on assembling a party, but they were a couple of stand out cards. If WotC bumped up the rewards for creating a party, the incentive to run a party would play out better. From AFR, venture was an interesting mechanic because of the options it presented, however the majority of the cards that supported it were awful. Seeing more solid support cards is what I am hoping for. As for the DnD setting itself, one of the less talked about things is that they bring tribes to other 

From the previews Tuesday, it seems like my dreams are mostly crushed. Like any normal person, I like something and I dislike somethings. For this post, I will be focusing on the mechanics of this set and breaking them down from the lens of a commander cube. For the uninitiated, commander cubes value synergies over raw power since decks are designed to resemble commander decks as much as possible. This post will not focus on singles as the set has not been spoiled  yet. If you're interested in that I'll have a list for both traditional cube and commander cube later when the set is fully spoiled. I will not being posting about spoilers as they come out.


The biggest bummer to me is the Background Mechanic on the commanders. The Background mechanic allows you to select a legendary creature with background and a legendary enchantment with the Background subtype and use both of them as your commanders. From a commander standpoint, this is cool and different. Much like partner, it gives you a chance to mix and match any combination of the appropriate cards. Lots of interesting choices, however for commander cubes, this is just awful for one reason: it's really parasitic for commander cube. 

Partner is the best comparison to this mechanic. It is a flexible mechanic that allows you to choose 2 creatures with partner and have them be your commander. Initially this would have been parasitic at well since your only options were partners of Commander 2016. However, the release of the first Commander Legends set fixed by introducing 41 new legendaries with partner. WotC has tried doing different things with it by having cards partner only with one other legendary creature. For the sake of commander cube, this is really limiting as well because you had to draft both cards to have a viable commander for your deck.

This ties back into the inclusion of Backgrounds in cube. The background cards only care about themselves. The legendary creatures from what I've seen so far are relatively strong on their own, which makes them great inclusions on their own. The legendary enchantments are where the problems lie. From what is shown so far, these cards provide static abilities to your commanders making them more powerful than before similar to Bastion Protector. My issue with them is that they only care about commanders. Thus unless you have your commander on the board, the enchantments will do nothing. With cube having limited slots how can we, as cube designers, justify dedicating spots to Background.

As of the time of this post on 5/17, I can not see myself running background in any significant way. Because they behave like Bastion  Protector, I haven't written them off completely. If it were to make it into my cube, it would be a handful of cards based on their own rather than intentionally like partner is. The creature component seems fine, but I would prefer to have the enchantment components function more like normal enchantments at a higher cost rather than low cost and narrow for a new mechanic. In time, I hope WotC makes the mechanic a bit more open by introducing creatures that can choose between a background or partner.  I'll definitely include them at that point.

(Edit: They introduced the Faceless One to function in a similar manner to the Prismatic Piper as a fallback. This doesn't affect my opinion on Background)

The Initiative 

Initiative looks to be the new multiplayer mechanic in the same vein as Monarch. Much like Monarch, control of Initiative changes hand when a player plays a card that takes the initiative away from another or when a player is able to deal combat damage to the player with the Initiative. When a player takes the initiative they venture into the Undercity, which will be discussed in the next section. 

On the merit of the mechanic alone, I do want to include it into my cube. Much like Monarch, it encourages players to take swings at each other. Venturing is not as good as drawing a card every turn, but it does provide different options for what happens when you trigger it. The problem I can foresee with Initiative is what kind of cards will this be tacked on. As long as the cards are playable on their own, they will be able to earn a spot in cube. Running terrible cards to support a mechanic is never a good sign for cubes and this is no exception.

Having both Monarch and Initiative in the commander cube will lead to one of two scenarios, either players will swing around to try and steal both or players will become passive to avoid losing their passive bonuses. Part of my design choices for commander cube is multiplayer incentives. I like cards that steal other player cards, encourage attacks against others, and etc. This mechanic plays into it and I am hoping that its inclusion will turn my cube into a war zone. Really looking forward to this mechanic.

Venture into the Undercity

Venture into the Undercity is only triggered by Initiative, thus the utility of this mechanic is tied to the power of Initiative. How this works is that if you haven't entered a dungeon yet, you will enter the Undercity. Otherwise, you continue venturing in your current dungeons. This can be seen as an extension of the venture mechanic from AFR. One of the things I enjoyed about dungeons and venture was that it allowed colors to do things they normally struggle to do. As mentioned, this mechanic does let you continue venturing your current dungeon. The opposite is true as well and you can use the previous iteration of venture to continue venturing the Undercity.

Focusing on the dungeon now, the Undercity seems to be more powerful and versatile than the other dungeons, however you can only enter it through Venture into the Undercity. This is a problem because starting at one of the other dungeons is not an option with this mechanic. Undercity is much longer to complete than the previous dungeons. This will not matter too much unless you are running cards that are concerned with dungeon completion, typically the dungeon is a payoff itself. The Undercity itself has much more powerful abilities starting with your fetching a land to hand, then moving into a myriad of other options. 

As this is tied to Initiative, the inclusion of this mechanic will be dependent on the quality of cards with it. I am currently running both Nadar and Acerak in my commander cube as they are strong cards on their own. Both cards can trigger their own venture without dedicating too many resources. One of the large problems with venture was that they intentionally made anything that triggered it clunky by being mana inefficient. With this new set, I am hoping that WotC prints cards that are well costed and incidentally support venture. (Edit: The printing of White Plume Adventurer gets me hopeful about the direction of both mechanics)


Adventures make their 1st return since ELD. The mechanic lets you play your creature as an instant or sorcery, placing it in exile rather than the grave, and then you may play it from exile. I'm currently running Murderous Rider in both of my cubes due to its versatility. These cards better facilitate spells matter and midrange decks. Not much to say about this mechanic it was good when it came out and it will still be good for years to come. The cards with the mechanic will he judged based on their own merit versus the mechanic as a whole. For player's interested in an adventures deck, they created Gorion, Wise Mentor as an option.

Roll a D20

Returning mechanic from AFR. I have little experience with this mechanic, but based on what I saw from cards with the mechanic, it seems okay and neat. I'm not really a fan rng game play since we already have to deal with mulliganing, the randomness of our decks, and the randomness of our opponents. I'm planning to largely ignore these cards unless there are some powerful roll 20 cards. 


Bringing back Gates seems like an interesting choice. Gates have always been a budget dual land option for any format and normally they are the first cards to get replaced. Since their first printing in DGM, WotC has been creating cards that interact with the Gate subtype starting with Maze's End. From the look of things, CLB might not have the gates interaction which is fine. The printing of new gates, encourages players can go back a relook at the Gates archetype just to see if there is enough gates to enable the deck. Since EDH cube is a slower format and I run Golos as one of my commanders, I might be relooking into gates depending on what comes in the set. (Edit: I just saw Baldur's Gate and this does seem like a powerful pay off card for Gates, but so far no other supports)

Final Thoughts

I'm really looking forward to actually playing the set and getting a feel for these things. I did not get a chance to play the original Commander Legends as intended and now that I thought about it, it is the only limited multiplayer format I missed at retail. With SNC, I underestimated a lot of the mechanics that were introduced and paid the price for it at prerelease. I am hoping that I did the same for Background because it seems like an interesting take on partner.

If you're interested in seeing what cards I plan to be including into my cubes, I will be posting that around the time of the sets release. Thanks for reading and please leave a comment or come check back in.