Wednesday, 15 June 2022 10:29

5 Draft Tips for Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur's Gate

Written by Bryan Hohns
5 Draft Tips for Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur's Gate WOTC

As a bizarre hybrid of Draft and Commander, Commander Legends Draft can be tricky to get the hang of. I want to help you cut through this unease and get the most out of your Commander Legends: Dungeons & Dragons - Battle for Baldur’s Gate draft decks.

I normally write limited guides for Draftsim (where you can also practice this set), but today I’m here on Magic Untapped to help you be the last one standing in your pod!

Know the Two-Color Archetypes

Most intermediate drafters should be well aware of the concept of “signpost uncommons” by now. These are two-color uncommons that are seeded in a set to showcase viable strategies for a two-color pair and highlight common themes.

Battle for Baldur’s Gate has these in the form of legendary uncommons that make for great commanders. But what’s especially notable about these themes is that they’re generally interchangeable with certain commanders and backgrounds.

Lozhan, Dragons’ Legacy: Izzet Dragons/Adventures

Blue, red, and green have the most dragons in the set, so Izzet is one of three color pairs that can be built around the creature type. Dragons make for a great theme supported by cards like Draconic Lore, Lapis Orb of Dragonkind, Breath Weapon, and Ganax, Astral Hunter.

Lozhan, Dragon’s Legacy caring about adventures makes dragons like Sword Coast Serpent, Young Blue Dragon, and Fang Dragon into premium commons for this deck. Renari, Merchant of Marvels or Vhal, Candlekeep Researcher, plus a red background are passable imitations if you want to build a deck around this theme but don’t have Lozhan.

Cadira, Caller of the Small: Selesnya Tokens

Tokens are a well-supported theme in Battle for Baldur’s Gate that can be approached from a few different angles. Cadira, Caller of the Small’s take is that more is better, so you want cards like Recruitment Drive and You’re Confronted by Robbers and some ways to connect with Cadira itself (Cloak of the Bat is a favorite).

Selesnya Tokens depends less on Cadira to be a cohesive strategy when compared to Izzet Dragons. Ellyn Harbreeze, Busybody plus Cloakwood Hermit/Master Chef or Jaheira, Friend of the Forest and Inspiring Leader both sound better than just Cadira to me.

Oji, the Exquisite Blade: Azorius Flicker

Oji, the Exquisite Blade is great, but its theme is one that’s pretty easy to build around with various other commanders and backgrounds. The best creatures to flicker are Roving Harper and Winter Eladrin, but there are plenty of other decent targets like Dawnbringer Cleric, Goliath Paladin, Scouting Hawk, Aarakocra Sneak, and Sea Hag (blink it on their turn).

Speaking of blinking, some of the best cards for flickering are Icewind Stalwart and Pegasus Guardian. Worthy background and commander combos for this theme are Abdel Adrian, Gorion’s Ward plus Candlekeep Sage and Alora, Merry Thief plus Far Traveler (stack the triggers so Alora is second). Azorius can also lean more on dungeon themes or unblockable if you’d like.

Commander Liara Portyr: Boros Myriad

Boros tends to be a bit of a dog in Commander, so I’m very pleased with how great of a commander Commander Liara Portyr is. Liara is a potent card advantage engine for a proactive deck that also generates quite a bit of mana.

The key to making it work is the myriad mechanic, so you’ll want to value Genasi Enforcers, Tabaxi Toucaneers, and Tiamat’s Fanatics quite highly. You’ll also want some evasive creatures, a bit of mana ramp, and a couple of "pack tactics" to blow out opponents who block your myriad tokens.

One last point on Liara is that it actually reduces the cost of your adventures thanks to its specific wording (“cards you cast from exile this turn cost X less”). If you’re in Boros without Liara, Ellyn Harbreeze, Busybody, Lulu, Loyal Hollyphant, Amber Gristle O’Maul, and Gut, True Soul Zealot all have some play with the myriad mechanic and can be combined with backgrounds like Inspiring Leader and Tavern Brawler to decent effect.

Rilsa Rael, Kingpin: Dimir Initiative

Rilsa Rael, Kingpin is a solid build-around commander that’s all about completing the Undercity as fast as possible. Its deathtouch ability helps you keep the initiative easier, and the reward it gives you for finishing a dungeon is game changing.

Even the mopiest cards with “take the initiative” like Aarakocra Sneak are obvious includes for Rilsa. Trailblazer’s Torch might be the only initiative card I wouldn’t hope to play, but a single copy could be passable. Safana, Calimport Cutthroat plus Dungeon Delver or Imoen, Mystic Trickster and Agent of the Shadow Thieves are ideal substitutes if you’re in Dimir but don’t have Rilsa.

Kagha, Shadow Archdruid: Golgari Self-mill

Kagha, Shadow Archdruid is a difficult creature to block efficiently that showcases a larger self-mill/value theme in Golgari. A good Kagha deck wants a lot of cards that incidentally bin cards, as well as other cards like it that play off of this.

The larger deck size helps here. I’d be nervous about so many cards saying “mill three” and “mill four” in Limited otherwise.

Some great examples of cards aimed at this archetype are Circle of the Land Druid, Colossal Badger, Atrocious Experiment, and Summon Undead. If you can’t get Kagha, Viconia, Drow Apostate cares about the graveyard. Scion of Halaster and Cloakwood Hermit also make ideal backgrounds for a self-mill strategy.

Mahadi, Emporium Master: Rakdos Treasure

Mahadi, Emporium Master can headline a powerful Rakdos deck built around amassing as much Treasure as possible to fuel artifact synergies and expensive bombs. For example, one of my matches ended when the Mahadi player cast Storm King’s Thunder for X=6, copying a 6-damage Fireball!

Deadly Dispute is pure gas for this archetype, ideally sacrificing cards like Prized Statue and Nimblewright Schematic that make less sense elsewhere. Mahadi also appreciates sweepers and creature removal too since it counts each creature that died, not just yours.

Safana, Calimport Cutthroat, Sivriss, Nightmare Speaker, Ganax, Astral Hunter, and Gut, True Soul Zealot all touch this theme if you don’t have Mahadi, while Street Urchin and Agent of the Iron Throne are ideal backgrounds.

Korlessa, Scale Singer: Simic Dragons

Dragons are a very flush theme in this set since this is only the second of three different 2-color dragon signposts. Korlessa’s approach to dragons falls along traditional Simic lines: ramp, play some blue interaction, and slam lots of fat fliers into play.

Korlessa cares greatly about your total dragon density, so ideally both your curve filler and top end will both be dragons (Scaled Nurturer is ideal here). Renari, Merchant of Marvels and Skanos Dragonheart plus a background can play this theme without Korlessa, with Acolyte of Bahamut and Renari being a very worthy imitation of Korlessa.

Minthara, Merciless Soul: Orzhov Sacrifice

Minthara, Merciless Soul headlines a fairly open-ended theme that can play off of either Treasure tokens or creatures dying. Though it does require a bunch of different things to be good (fodder, ways to sacrifice the fodder, more fodder to win the game with +X/+0), Minthara protects itself from spot removal and scales well over time.

Deadly Dispute is an all-star here, as are Recruitment Drive, You’re Ambushed by Robbers, and Roving Harper. Ellyn Harbreeze, Busybody, Safana, Calimport Cutthroat, and Sivriss, Nightmare Speaker are the best replacements for Minthara if you’d like to do Orzhov tokens/sac. The backgrounds for this aren’t the best otherwise.

Thrakkus the Butcher: Gruul Dragons

Thrakkus the Butcher’s take on dragons is arguably the simplest of the three: it wants to smash faces in and it needs some help to do it. Power slanted dragons like Young Red Dragon and Fang Dragon play great with Thrakkus, but just about any dragon will do.

Skanos Dragonheart is a great fit for the deck and a great replacement commander if you can’t get Thrakkus. Avenging Hunter is also great in general but even better in Thrakkus since it already has trample. Play as much fat and mana as you can and then slot in a couple instant removal spells like Lightning Bolt and Earth Tremor for mid-combat blowouts with trample damage!

Evaluating Backgrounds

You’ll want to play a commander and background combination if you aren’t able to lock in a legendary two- or three-color commander. You can try to emulate the two-color signpost themes with certain commander and background combinations as I already mentioned above, but this isn’t all you can do.

A lot of the “choose a background” commanders have entirely different deckbuilding requests. Some examples:

  • Rasaad yn Bashir is a classic “butts matter” card like Huatli, the Sun’s Heart and High Alert that makes power=toughness in combat. It wants high toughness creatures and lots of initiative to finish dungeons. Goliath Paladin is a perfect inclusion.
  • Alora, Merry Thief blends together dungeon and flicker themes by offering unblockable and an easy way to rebuy ETB creatures.
  • Gale, Waterdeep Prodigy cares about instants and sorceries. A common theme in general Magic, but not in this set. Thankfully you can pair it with whatever color is offering you the best ones (usually red or black).
  • Shadowheart, Dark Justiciar is a busted commander that goes off with myriad and disposable creatures. Rakdos is a natural fit for it, but all kinds of combinations can work great.
  • Halsin, Emerald Archdruid is an underappreciated commander that’s a bit of an oddball for its color. It can target “a token,” which means 1/1s and Treasure makers are ideal pairings for some bear beatdowns. Halsin is a natural fit in Golgari or Gruul and can put quite a bit of pressure on the table.

As for the backgrounds themselves, they can be split into two main categories: passive and combat-centric.

The majority of backgrounds are passive backgrounds like Far Traveler, Candlekeep Sage, Scion of Halaster, Street Urchin, and Acolyte of Bahamut. I call them “passive” because they don’t require your commander to hit players to do anything, they just ask that your commander stays in play. On the other hand, combat-centric backgrounds like Flaming Fist and Sword Coast Sailor aid your commander in bashing face but do little else.

I’d recommend avoiding combat-centric backgrounds in most cases. They offer less value and utility than the others and narrow your game plan around merely attacking with your commander. Most commanders in this set touch on larger supported themes and fare poorly in combat themselves.

The few exceptions to this rule are Skanos Dragonheart, Wilson, Refined Grizzly, and Amber Gristle O’Maul, and possibly Rasaad yn Bashir. All of these cards thrive in combat and really appreciate the boosts given to them by most combat backgrounds.

Start with Deck Fundamentals

The best functioning decks at a table are generally the ones with the most mana rocks, card draw, and cohesive gameplans. Rare haymakers are valuable but can be replaced with clunky common six-drops more easily than two-drop mana rocks can.

Getting off to a solid start is very important for not being at the mercy of three strangers’ generosity. So you want to be taking cards like Arcane Signet, Nature’s Lore, and even Sky Diamond over mediocre playables.

There’s no deck that doesn’t want at least some amount of mana ramp, but the exact amount that’s ideal will depend on your curve and how much value your commander can generate. Leaner, more synergistic decks like Myriad Aggro and Orzhov Sacrifice want less mana rocks than fatter builds like Temur Dragons and Simic Ramp.

Value is basically always appreciated and having 58 or 59 cards instead of 40 is a huge boon for decks with lots of card draw or self-mill. The matches I’ve seen feature too many haymakers or fliers for decking to be much of a concern despite the battlecruiser nature of games.

The last point I’ll make here runs a bit counter to the next bit, and that’s your larger deck makes individual cards that aren’t your commander matter less. For example, I slammed an Ancient Bronze Dragon in one of my drafts and never drew it despite seeing 40 to 58 cards in my match. But the rest of my deck was mana and synergy pieces (for my Azorius flicker deck) plus some removal and other powerful cards. It worked great all the same.

Narrow Cards Can be Good

One takeaway from my games of Commander Legends was that building your deck around your commander is very practical and beneficial. Putting this to practice means that you can play situational cards that you only imagine being good in a developed board state with your commander. I had a great example of this in my games when I decided to include Inspiring Leader in the 58 of my Abdel Adrien, Gorion’s Ward plus Candlekeep Sage flicker deck.

My deck was basically Displacer Kitten, around nine mana rocks, lots of flicker-worthy creatures (two Winter Eladrins and about six or seven other ETB creatures), four copies of Blink (which was mostly to target Abdel), a second background with almost no interaction. I ended up mulling to five despite a free mulligan (two-lander, zero-lander, one-lander, kept three lands with Scouting Hawk and Inspiring Leader, and bottomed land/seven-drop). I was behind early but I begged the table for mercy and was spared early aggression. I rewarded this mercy by blinking my Scouting Hawk a number of times and catching up with the Temur Dragons player who had substantially ramped with an early Jaheira’s Respite.

I later had Abdel and Kitten and a bunch of mana rocks plus Hawk, which was gross. Each time I blinked my Abdel/Hawk I was also blinking my Arcane Signet/Mind Stone and floating the mana each time they returned, which let me amass 1/1s. I ended up with 13 tokens very early on and then slammed Inspiring Leader and killed the dragons player to my left. Abdel loops had taken my 3/3 Soldier count to nearly 100 before the game ended!

Experiment and Have Fun

Commander Legends Draft is ultimately a multiplayer format where a lot of crazy things can happen (and lots of things can go wrong). You’ll only be playing one game, so you could run into bad variance or get focused by the table even if you draft a sweet deck. There are quirky build-arounds abound in Battle for Baldur’s Gate, giving the set quite a bit of replayability.

The two-color themes are the easiest ways to put great decks together, but it would be a shame to draft this set a bunch of times without ever trying niche commanders like Wyll, Blade of the Frontiers, Gale, Waterdeep Prodigy, and Volo, Itinerant Scholar. And "choose your background” lets odd build-around commanders take on multiple forms too.

The possibilities in this set are nearly endless, so definitely give it a go with some close friends if you get the chance. And if you are going to draft these cards on MTG Arena with Alchemy Horizons: Baldur’s Gate, be sure to have Draftsim’s Arena Tutor by your side!