Last updated on October 30, 2023
Baba Lysaga, Night Witch | Illustration by Slawomir Maniak
Another day, another Ultimate Guide, right? Today’s Ultimate Guide is a bit unusual in that it’s focused on a multiplayer Draft format: Battle for Baldur’s Gate. I thought the best way to make the guide useful was to focus very heavily on the commanders and backgrounds of the set. If you’re ever unsure how to build a deck around a certain legendary, just look it up here and learn!
But before we get into the thick of this kind of analysis, I wanted to touch on some larger concepts that I didn’t mention in my last Commander Draft guide. Ready? Let’s get into it!
Mazzy, Truesword Paladin | Illustration by Justyna Gil
Each deck is different, but one of the things I’ve found helpful when building normal EDH decks is this ratio from SaffronOlive. He includes this in each of his precon update articles as targets for how he builds new beginner friendly decks:
- 50 mana: Lands and ramp, usually a 37-13 split.
- 10 card draw: Cards that net you 2+ cards in hand.
- 8 targeted removal: Split between creatures/artifacts/enchantment removal and counterspells.
- 3 board wipes: Creature-light decks might want one more, creature-heavy decks might want one less.
- 2 graveyard recursion.
- 2 flexible tutors: I recommend more tutors for higher budgets.
- 1 graveyard hate: Because you need to keep graveyard decks honest.
- 1 finisher: Something that can win games the turn you cast it without too much setup.
While this is of course not directly applicable to 60-card Draft Commander, I also have a fixed version of it for you that you can apply to your Drafts:
- 23-27 lands is the ideal balance, with 25 being the default number (similar to 17 lands in 40-card Draft). You can increase or decrease the number of lands you’re playing depending on how many extra mana sources you have, as well as how much card advantage your commander generates. Very gassy commanders like Shadowheart, Dark Justiciar and Volo, Itinerant Scholar make flooding out less of an issue and might want an extra land or two.
- 5-10 mana rocks is a good number to shoot for, with two being much better than three options like Decanter of Endless Water and Lantern of Revealing. How much extra mana you want should depend on how your curve goes and how much value you can generate, with aggro commanders being the least likely to want too much ramp.
- 10+ creatures, because there are far fewer sweepers in Battle for Baldur’s Gate than normal EDH. You want to protect yourself early, and keep the initiative if possible. Try to avoid cards that immediately fall off unless you have ways to retain their usage (usually synergy with your commander or deck). For example, don’t play Zhentarim Bandit without good uses for Treasure and maybe a Thieves' Tools or two so that it doesn’t become useless after a few turns.
- 3-6 spot removal spells depending on how controlling your deck is and how good the removal is. Certain commanders, like Gale, Waterdeep Prodigy, will exceed this number.
- 5+ ways to get card advantage, which is the lifeblood of battlecruiser EDH. You really don’t want to be the first player to run out of things to do!
- Play as many ways to complement and make use of your commander’s core theme as possible! For instance, include every dragon/adventure card you can in Lozhan, Dragons' Legacy.
It’s harder to provide an exact rubric since your deck is built on the fly, but it helps to at least have a blueprint for what your deck might look like when you’re done!
The Draft Itself
Tasha, the Witch Queen | Illustration by Martina Fackova
There are a few approaches to actually drafting a deck in this set’s meta. Let’s go over some of those approaches briefly before getting into the meat of this.
This is what I call it when you get a great commander P1P1 that you know you want to build a deck around. This is correct when the commander is very good, but justifiable even if it’s just something you want to work with.
From here your Draft is shaped around that commander as much as possible (i.e., taking myriad for Commander Liara Portyr, or dragons for Miirym, Sentinel Wyrm) and you want to ignore any signals you get to jump into other strategies. This is less punishing to do than in normal Draft because you can’t splash busted cards you get passed. Not to mention that the set is full of decent playables and synergies worth building a deck around.
This is more common when you P1P1 a commander you really like that needs you to find a background for it. For instance, P1P1’ing Volo, Itinerant Scholar locks you into a Ux creature deck with a focus on creature type diversity. You don’t need to pick “x” until you get a feel for what the table is sleeping on, so feel free to “shop around” a bit and take the best cards you see of any color.
You can note which legendaries and powerful cards went late and in which color once you’ve gone through P1, and then pair them with blue.
The most difficult way to start a draft of Battle for Baldur’s Gate is without a good legendary. Given that this will happen a lot, it’s important to know what to do. The easiest way to salvage this situation is to lean into one color while keeping an eye on a bigger supported archetype in the set.
For example, let’s say you have a bad rare/legendary in P1, so you P1P1 and P1P2 Amethyst Dragon and Lightning Bolt. The easiest way to play these cards is to look for an opening for Izzet () Dragons, Gruul () Dragons, or any other Rx archetype where you can play both since they’re high enough power level to make sense in any deck. But the commitment here should be lower than in semi-autopilot, because you can abandon your starting color for a sufficiently powerful or late 2- to 3-color legendary.
If you’ve played the original Commander Legends then you likely remember the partner mechanic. Background is a new take on partner where you can pair your commander with a legendary enchantment instead of another creature. These background enchantments provide a wide variety of bonuses. Some touch on larger supported themes in the set like flicker, dungeons, and self-mill, while others are more specialized.
Backgrounds can be further split into two types: “normal” and “combat-centric”. A combat-centric background is one that specifically triggers when your commander attacks, while a normal background works in a variety of other ways. Combat centric backgrounds can be powerful but put a target on your commander’s head and are poor fits for many commanders that do not attack well.
As a simple background with basically zero utility, Flaming Fist is only ideal for a handful of combat-centric commanders. Amber Gristle O'Maul, Erinis, Gloom Stalker, Skanos Dragonheart, and Wilson, Refined Grizzly are strong candidates for this one. Consider trying to use the pressure this card creates for politics! Your opponents might be willing to Murder someone else’s creature instead if you attack someone else for a turn…
Far Traveler helps support two larger themes (Azorius () flicker and Orzhov () leave), but requiring the creature to be tapped is a bit of a hurdle. Great cards to pair with this background are evasive value creatures like Aarakocra Sneak and Juvenile Mist Dragon, which are useful to blink and easier to attack with safely. Alora, Merry Thief and Imoen, Mystic Trickster are good commander pairings for this card.
Inspiring Leader is one of the strongest uncommon backgrounds, and also a card I’ve liked in the 58s of decks like Abdel Adrian, Gorion's Ward and Cadira, Caller of the Small. Token generation is of course the goal here, so pair it with cards like Halsin, Emerald Archdruid, Recruitment Drive, and Undercellar Sweep for best results!
Veteran Soldier is another combat-centric background, but this one generates 1/1s instead of buffing your commanders stats. This is one of the weakest backgrounds in the set in my opinion since most of the commanders that play well with tokens and fodder are poor attackers themselves (i.e., Ellyn Harbreeze, Busybody and Sivriss, Nightmare Speaker). I guess I’d play this over Faceless One, but I wouldn’t prioritize it.
Noble Heritage is a very powerful background that’s basically like having Orzhov Advokist in the command zone. It incentivizes your opponents not to attack you, and also gives you quite a bit of +1/+1 counters to put on evasive or lifelink creatures. The best commanders to pair with this are those that leverage +1/+1 counters well, but there are also few bad pairings since this background is so broadly useful.
Drawing cards is of course great, so Candlekeep Sage is my pick for one of the better common backgrounds. It’s easy enough to get this to be a 3-mana Divination from the command zone, and it plays even better in a flicker strategy. My favorite pairing for this background is Abdel Adrian, Gorion's Ward, which also wants to re-enter the battlefield as much as possible. Blink and Pegasus Guardian are key cards for making this happen!
Dungeon Delver can be one of the strongest backgrounds in the set if you build around it, and it also makes sense in the 59 of Rilsa Rael, Kingpin. The key to making this work is having as many “take the initiative” cards as possible, plus ways to protect yourself and retake the initiative if necessary. Safana, Calimport Cutthroat is an ideal pair for this since Dimir () takes the initiative a bit more than other color pairs.
Feywild Visitor is a solid background that plays well with lots of flying and unblockable creatures. Lulu, Loyal Hollyphant plus this is a decent start for an Azorius skies strategy since it can pump the many 1/1s you’ll be creating. This is by no means limited to just Lulu though, because it’s a pretty generalist bonus for any deck with fliers.
Sword Coast Sailor is a niche background that only plays well with a handful of commanders. Skanos Dragonheart is probably the best one since it normally gets chump blocked all day but makes for potent cheese with this background.
Shameless Charlatan is a tricky one to build around, because you won’t be able to revert your commander to its original state without it leaving the battlefield. The best Charlatans are actually weak or cheap commanders like Wilson, Refined Grizzly, Viconia, Drow Apostate, and Wyll, Blade of Frontiers. Wyll will keep +1/+1 counters after changing forms while Viconia can switch forms early on and then return later when you have a stocked graveyard.
Cheap library manipulation is always useful, so it’s nice to have access to it without spending a card from your hand. Scion of Halaster is also decent support for commanders like Gale, Waterdeep Prodigy and Erinis, Gloom Stalker that would like a stocked graveyard. Black has some of the more niche backgrounds in the set (three of five of them are combat-centric), so this background is a bit better than it looks.
Agent of the Iron Throne is a deadly build-around if you can generate enough Treasure or fodder creatures. This is actually tricky without certain black legendaries, so I’ve liked this better in my 58/59s than in the command zone. Safana, Calimport Cutthroat and Mahadi, Emporium Master are top notch cards for burning out your table with this.
Agent of the Shadow Thieves is a combat-focused background that lets your commander freely attack the player with the most life. Erinis, Gloom Stalker seems to get mentioned every time I bring up a combat background, but it’s ideal here once again.
Criminal Past is another combat background that wants you to trade or self-mill creatures as much as possible. Your reward for doing this is the potential to one-shot someone with commander damage. Wilson, Refined Grizzly is a perfect candidate for this since it has trample and is in the best color pair for self-mill. It’s also a Refined Grizzly with a Criminal Past which has solid meme value.
Cultist of the Absolute has the potential to damage you more than your opponents, so tread carefully if you decide to play this. As yet another combat-focused background you’ll want to pair this with commanders that attack well, plus some fodder to sacrifice. Don’t cast this early; use the implied threat of it to bully your table around. Sweepers like Breath Weapon and Arms of Hadar might force you to sacrifice your commander to this earlier than you’d like to!
Tavern Brawler is a bit clunky, but Outpost Siege-style card advantage and pump are both useful bonuses. This is a decent background for most commanders, especially if you can’t get more specialized options at higher rarity that fit your deck. Wilson, Refined Grizzly is excellent with this thanks to trample and Gruul being a so-so combination for card advantage.
The reward with Dragon Cultist is excellent, but five damage isn’t an easy task either. Keep in mind that it’s five damage from a source you control, so you have to go tall rather than wide, and the damage doesn’t need to be combat damage or to players. Fang Dragon, Breath Weapon, Earth Tremor, and Thunderwave are some great cards to play with this. The choice of commander is less important than your overall deck composition with this background, but Skanos Dragonheart is a good fit.
Free Treasure for attacking the lead player with your commander makes for a generally underwhelming background. I still prefer Guild Artisan to something like Veteran Soldier because Safana, Calimport Cutthroat is at least a great fit for the Artisan.
Street Urchin is a powerful background for bigger Treasure or sacrifice themes. This is useful in the main deck for commanders like Mahadi, Emporium Master and pairs well with Safana, Calimport Cutthroat in the command zone. Topaz Dragon and Poison the Blade are awesome combos with this for cheap mass removal!
Popular Entertainer is one of the best backgrounds in the set because the combat trigger isn’t limited to just your commander, and goad is a potent mechanic! This pairs well with just about any commander as long as you plan on attacking your opponents regularly in some form. Cheap and evasive creatures are ideal and can also provide more room to take the initiative.
Master Chef is another one of the better common backgrounds. Free +1/+1 counters are a generally useful bonus and this scales well with tokens and going wide. It works fine in any creature-dense deck that wants access to green, but it’s absolutely bonkers with Lae'zel, Vlaakith's Champion.
Acolyte of Bahamut is narrow but very efficient in a deck with lots of dragons. That’s not a difficult request given that green is one of three dragon-packed colors! Renari, Merchant of Marvels and Ganax, Astral Hunter are perfect pairs with this background for a Simic () or Gruul dragons strategy. Just be aware that this won’t reduce costs unless your commander is out, meaning you can’t ramp into Ganax with it. Card draw is also important so that you don’t run out of dragons to play.
Cloakwood Hermit is a flexible background that can play well with both self-mill and sacrifice themes. The key word here is anywhere, which makes this rather versatile. Sivriss, Nightmare Speaker makes good use of the 1/1s and can set up the self-mill required to keep it going. This background might also be worth playing in the 59 for Kagha, Shadow Archdruid since easy access to self-mill makes this a rather efficient token generator.
By now you should get that I’m lower on combat-centric backgrounds in general, but Hardy Outlander is boring even for a combat background. Not only does your commander have to attack the player with the highest life, but you also have to target something else with the bonus when it does. This is a lot of hoops for a pretty so-so reward, so I’d recommend Master Chef over this in most decks.
Making your commander into a 10/10 is really powerful, even if six mana is rough. Raised by Giants is fairly broad in its application, playing best with small evasive commanders like Lulu, Loyal Hollyphant and Safana, Calimport Cutthroat, but it’s fine with most others. It won’t do anything early, but it does give you a potent late-game gimmick and is just plain fun.
A legendary creature that few even know exists, none have ever seen its face and lived to tell the tale. It hits with three times the power of the average Soldier and has the toughness required to slaughter two Sanctuary Cats and emerge unscathed. I once revealed two Faceless Ones as my commanders, only to have all three of my opponents hand me their decks and say “we’re good bro, you win.”
Jokes aside, well, this card itself is basically a joke. You play it for free if you couldn’t manage to get a background in the color you wanted, but otherwise 5-mana 3/3s are so bad that even Alpha had more efficient creatures! Don’t ever worry about drafting it since it can be used as a failsafe whether or not you pick it.
As you’d expect from a commander Draft set, Battle for Baldur’s Gate comes with a massive number (57) of legends for you to build a deck around. I’ve included a full analysis of each commander with some helpful tips for each so you know what to look for when building around them.
Abdel Adrian, Gorion's Ward
Abdel Adrian, Gorion's Ward is a clunky but potentially very powerful engine that wants to play with mana rocks, ETB creatures, and ways to flicker it. The mana rocks do double duty of getting you to Abdel combos faster and providing extra 1/1s since you can put the rocks under Abdel and then blink it to get the rocks back. You can actually generate mana while doing this if you have enough rocks or flicker, as long as the rocks don’t “enter tapped.”
The best deck I’ve drafted so far in Battle for Baldur’s Gate was an Abdel and Candlekeep Sage deck with four Blinks, Displacer Kitten, 10 2-cost mana rocks, and a lot of ETB creatures like Roving Harper and Winter Eladrin. You can also try Abdel outside of Azorius but sacrificing it to get 1/1s is much clunkier than flickering it.
This is my pick for one of the best non-rare commanders in the set!
Card advantage is hard to come by in white, so I’ve quite liked Ellyn Harbreeze, Busybody despite her humble appearance. I don’t always play it as my commander, but even when I don’t it’s usually a good inclusion in the 58/59.
Ellyn cares about any kind of token you can make, so Treasure or creatures work just fine. This means that Ellyn decks of any color are conceivable since every color has ways to make some form of tokens, and white can contribute with Recruitment Drive and You're Confronted by Robbers. Feywild Visitor and Cloakwood Hermit are also great fits for a background for extra tokens from the command zone.
Lulu, Loyal Hollyphant is cute and has a very fun name, but it’s arguably one of the more lackluster commanders in the set. Its main niche is go-wide aggro since triggering it each turn permanently gives all your attackers pseudo-vigilance and +1/+1.
You can trigger Lulu with myriad, Treasure tokens, flicker effects, or just plain old losses in combat. I like it best in Azorius or Orzhov, because Azorius Skies is a natural fit for Lulu and black is the best support color for conveniently triggering it each turn (Deadly Dispute is premium as always).
I didn’t mention Rasaad yn Bashir at all when I covered backgrounds, but this not because it’s a bad card necessarily. I didn’t mention it because Rasaad’s “butts matter” theme isn’t ideally supported by any backgrounds out there, though Master Chef and most combat-centric ones are serviceable.
Building around Rasaad is fairly simple. You want a creature-dense deck with a lot of high-toughness creatures plus as many ways to “take the initiative” as you can. Goliath Paladin, Aarakocra Sneak, and Vicious Battlerager are ideal fits for Rasaad as high-toughness creatures that help you finish the Undercity faster. Stoneskin is a must play here since “+10/+10” is extremely overpowered!
Lae'zel, Vlaakith's Champion
Lae’zel, Vlaakith’s Champion is a strong commander that wants you to build a deck around counters. Given that you won’t likely have any planeswalkers with Lae’zel, in Limited this means focusing specifically on +1/+1 counters. This is a narrow theme in Battle for Baldur’s Gate, so your best odds of pulling this off are in Selesnya (), because green has the most +1/+1 counters.
Master Chef and Lae’zel were mentioned above but it’s worth repeating to drill in how excellent the two cards are together. Some otherwise mediocre cards that play especially well in Lae’zel are Ambitious Dragonborn, Cloakwood Swarmkeeper (if you have some token support), and Drillworks Mole.
Alora, Merry Thief touches on three well-supported themes (adventure/flicker/dungeons) in a somewhat unusual way. Returning cards to your hand rebuys adventures and ETBs, and having such easy access to unblockable means no one will keep you out of the Undercity for long.
Alora’s ability is ideal when used to poke with cheap ETB creatures like Roving Harper and Winter Eladrin, but much clunkier with Oceanus Dragon and Sea Hag. I’d recommend against trying to play Voltron style with it and combat backgrounds since you’ll need to take a turn off each time to replay it, which is unacceptably slow pressure.
Drawing cards is great, so Imoen, Mystic Trickster must be great too, right? The answer is of course dependent on how often you can make your stay in the Undercity, so prioritize cards with “take the initiative” as much as you can. You won’t be able to pair Imoen with Dungeon Delver, but most backgrounds work fine for it.
Even combat-focused backgrounds aren’t terrible since ward 2 keeps Imoen a bit safer from the removal that such backgrounds tend to attract. You aren’t really limited to a specific color pair with it because initiative appears in all colors, so go wherever the best dungeon cards seem to be.
Renari, Merchant of Marvels is a passable blocker with a somewhat useful ability that wants you to build around dragons and artifacts. Letting you hold up mana while developing your board also makes cards like Dream Fracture, Gale's Redirection, and Jaheira's Respite much more useful.
It’s much easier to lean into the dragons with Renari than artifacts, so you’ll usually be Simic or Izzet () with him. Dragon Cultist and Acolyte of Bahamut are good fits for a background, but I’d prefer Lozhan, Dragons' Legacy or Korlessa, Scale Singer to this if possible.
This is a great mana dork that requires you to get a bit fancy to use it since you won’t be able to use the 3+ mana Vhal, Candlekeep Researcher adds with cards from your hand. Adventures are the main way to make use of Vhal, but there are also cards like Korlessa, Scale Singer, Intellect Devourer, and Elder Brain that work.
Stoneskin and Vhal are also worth mentioning as a combo for 13 colorless mana! Vhal works best in Azorius or Simic because those colors have the most adventures. But you could theoretically play her anywhere given that adventures appear in all colors. Avoid pairing Vhal with combat-centric backgrounds since it’s a very poor attacker for its cost.
Gale, Waterdeep Prodigy is a niche commander that wants you to build a spellslinger deck focused around an even mix of instant and sorceries. Variety is everything, so try to include a good mix of spot removal, card draw, and utility spells. Adventures aren’t ideal, but they’re better than nothing with Gale. You can’t cast them from your graveyard but you can use them to get a chain started.
Lots of mana ramp is also important since Gale won’t cast your extra spell for free meaning it’s pretty mana hungry. The best colors for Gale are Dimir and Izzet for access to Lightning Bolt and Murder, with Scion of Halaster and Dragon Cultist (very good with red sweepers like Breath Weapon) being my preferred backgrounds.
Volo, Itinerant Scholar is fun, powerful, and flexible, and it’s one of the best commanders you can open P1P1. There are a ton of ways to build a Volo deck because you’re definitely not limited in color. The key (as with Volo’s last incarnation, Volo, Guide to Monsters) is drafting a variety of creature types. This Volo is less punishing to work with than the last incarnation because you “note” the types in its journal and just need to play one new type each time. So it’s fine to have a deck with lots of dragons if they’re dragon warriors, dragon wizards, dragon rogues, etc.
The reward for all this work is a very strong card draw on a hexproof artifact. While you aren’t limited much in terms of colors with Volo, I’d still try to avoid combat-centric backgrounds. There are too many great inclusions in Volo to mention them all since there are tons of creatures like Blessed Hippogriff, Guardian Naga, and Steadfast Unicorn that have unique types. Bronze Walrus is a shoo-in as a colorless card of a completely unique tribe.
Regardless of what creatures you pick, try to round out your deck with some ramp and removal. You won’t need to stress about card draw as much thanks to Volo’s journal.
Safana, Calimport Cutthroat has been one of my favorite uncommon commanders. Treasure tokens are powerful, and menace makes Safana decent at retaking the initiative itself. Having extra ways to use Treasure is helpful, so prioritize Deadly Dispute and big fat dragons. Rakdos () and Dimir are the easiest fits for Safana thanks to its focus on Treasure and dungeons.
Sarevok, Deathbringer introduces a neat game of “hot potato” for your table to play. Players who don’t have something die or leave will be punished with three plus damage each turn. This includes you, so Treasure tokens, Deadly Dispute, and myriad are essential pieces of a good Sarevok deck.
You’d also like to have some equipment to increase the punishment your opponents’ take for not playing along. I don’t really love Sarevok on raw power level, but it’s an interesting commander with a unique punisher/Voltron style. Pair this red or white backgrounds for best results if that sounds good to you.
Similar to something like Alora, Merry Thief, Sivriss, Nightmare Speaker touches on two major themes (Treasure/sac and self-mill) at the same time. Having fodder to sac is priority #1 for Sivriss since the card is just Hill Giant without it.
Myriad and Treasure tokens are ideal for activating Siv’s ability over and over each turn. I also like including ways to give it haste (Stirring Bard), as well as Patriar's Seal for extra untap if you can. The best backgrounds are Street Urchin and Cloakwood Hermit, which go well with Sivriss’ playstyle.
We can’t all be winners in life, which is a sad fact that comes to mind when I look at Viconia, Drow Apostate. Requiring a full four creatures in the ‘yard before it does anything of note is rough, and the reward for doing so is also random for some reason.
This is one of the worst commanders in the set and dramatically outclassed by Sivriss, Nightmare Speaker, Erinis, Gloom Stalker, and Kagha, Shadow Archdruid for a self-mill commander. I don’t hate including this in the 59 of my Kagha, Shadow Archdruid deck but hope I could do better than this out of the command zone.
In contrast to the disappointing Viconia, Drow Apostate, Shadowheart, Dark Justiciar may be the best “choose a background” commander in the entire set! This is because it has very powerful card draw ability on top of decent vanilla stats. Breaking Shadowheart is as simple as pairing it with myriad cards, which provide copies that can be sacrificed in combat for insane value.
Gray Slaad and Chain Devil also make for fine fodder cards if you need to make do without myriad for a bit. If you want to play Shadowheart alongside myriad cards, you’ll want to be Orzhov or Rakdos, but there are few backgrounds that fit Shadowheart’s theme ideally. It’s so juiced that this doesn’t really matter, so play whatever you have to for access to the colors you want!
Amber Gristle O'Maul
Amber Gristle O'Maul is a hard-working dwarf that rewards you for aggression, myriad, and dumping your hand onto the table. Myriad is particularly useful for being able to get three cards off Amber without needing to overcommit or split up attackers.
Unlike the majority of commanders so far, combat-centric backgrounds are a great fit here. This commander needs to stay in the fray to do anything useful. It’s also pretty flexible in terms of colors, although I’d avoid Izzet if possible.
Ganax, Astral Hunter is a decent dragon tribal commander that also touches on the set’s Treasure theme. I’d prefer Lozhan, Dragons' Legacy or Thrakkus the Butcher to Ganax and a background, but I like the card in my dragons’ 58/59.
But don’t fret if you need to play Ganax as your commander. The card is solid, if not spectacular. Acolyte of Bahamut is a natural fit for dragon tribal, but you could also get away with any of the combat backgrounds too since Ganax is already a well-sized flier to begin with.
The main themes Gut, True Soul Zealot touches on are sac and myriad, suggesting it plays best in Rakdos or Boros (). Myriad is particularly good here because you can exchange a temporary copy of your creature for a permanent 4/1 menace each combat, and this trigger isn’t even tied to Gut attacking itself.
Combat-focused backgrounds are a possibility here if you care about having Gut be anything more than a Gray Ogre on its own.
Livaan, Cultist of Tiamat is a niche build-around that’s kind of like having Kiln Fiend in the command zone. Any noncreature will do, but Liv’s trigger cares specifically about the cost of the spell, so bigger is best.
Adventures are helpful with Livaan for padding your noncreature and creature count at the same time. Two-Handed Axe would be a lovely inclusion if you can find one for its one-shot kill potential. Underappreciated backgrounds like Flaming Fist, Sword Coast Sailor, and Hardy Outlander can be ideal fits for a strategy built around cheesing with Livaan.
Wyll, Blade of Frontiers wants you to build around a fringe theme that shows up in each color: die-rolling. Wyll not only improves the odds you’ll get a good outcome, it also grows into a considerable threat overtime.
There’s one common “roll a d20” card in each color plus a couple more at higher rarities, so you’ll want to focus on this gameplay as much as you can. Boros and Izzet are my favorite pairings for Wyll since Recruitment Drive and Contact Other Plane seem better than Myrkul's Edict and Druid of the Emerald Grove.
There are no backgrounds that care about rolling dice and Wyll itself grows overtime, so most combat-centric backgrounds are actually a good fit here. And try to draft Iron Mastiff and Vexing Puzzlebox if you can since both cards are ideal with Wyll.
I said that Shadowheart, Dark Justiciar may be the best for a reason! Karlach, Fury of Avernus is just gross, and revealing this at the start of the game should rightfully put a target on your head. You basically get a free cast of Relentless Assault every single turn as long as Karlach sits in play, plus first strike in both combats!
You can pretty much guarantee that your opponents will Murder and Astral Confrontation this whenever they can, so drafting some Blessed Hippogriff and Armor of Shadows is a good idea. Karlach isn’t too picky on backgrounds, but I’d want to play a good creature count and have some ways to generate value in case Plan A (smash face) doesn’t immediately work out.
Erinis, Gloom Stalker sits in an odd spot between an aggressive commander and a value-based one focused on self-mill. You’ll have to set the trigger up if you want more lands, but doing so means attacking with it, and it appreciates some help surviving combat.
The good news is that 3/3 deathtouch and “draw a card on attack” is pretty strong, so Erinis can be worth the effort. Combat-focused backgrounds have been maligned many times so far but are a great fit for this commander.
Halsin, Emerald Archdruid is a unique commander that wants to play with 1/1s and Treasure tokens. This is best accomplished in Selesnya, Gruul, or Golgari (), so avoid Simic unless you’re playing this and Feywild Visitor.
Halsin can put a ton of pressure on your opponents by turning all your junk into bears and bashing face, but can’t really do much to generate value. You can try to compensate for this by drafting a few haymakers and clunky card draw spells to round out an otherwise lean/aggressive Halsin deck.
Skanos Dragonheart is one of the hardest-hitting commanders in the set, but the entire process of attacking with it is very telegraphed. You’ll not only have to play and untap with a 5-mana commander, you’ll also want to have set up a dragon in play or in the ‘yard first too.
You can approach Skanos from either a dragon tribal angle where it plays a knockoff Thrakkus the Butcher/Korlessa, Scale Singer plus Izzet backgrounds, or as a cheese strategy built around it and Sword Coast Sailor that kills players with commander damage.
I prefer the second strategy if possible since Skanos is otherwise rather outclassed.
Wilson was mentioned a lot in the backgrounds section as a good choice for a lot of combat-focused backgrounds. This is probably the best way to approach it since its abilities provide little incentive to do anything else. Make sure your opponents are tracking commander damage since those bear attacks can add up!
Jaheira, Friend of the Forest seems just dreamy outside of Limited where you can build consistent tokens decks that have all kinds of amazing things to do with the extra green mana. But I’d probably prefer Cadira, Caller of the Small or Ellyn Harbreeze, Busybody plus Master Chef here in the land of 60 cards.
That doesn’t mean Jaheira is bad or unplayable, since tokens is a pretty approachable theme and it’s easy enough to get extra mana from Jaheira with Recruitment Drive. If you can’t find anything fancy to do, lean on adventures to make use of the extra mana. Selesnya and Golgari are probably the best fits for Jaheira thanks to their access to creature and Treasure tokens.
These legendaries constitute a classic “signpost uncommon” cycle for Battle for Baldur’s Gate, showcasing common themes in each color pair. There isn’t a single bad commander on this list since all of them are solid build-arounds with a lot of support in the set.
Cadira, Caller of the Small is a token commander that asks you to both amass lots of tokens and repeatedly connect with it. But keep in mind that this says “tokens,” not “creature tokens,” so Treasure tokens work too (although the best Treasure cards aren’t Selesnya).
You're Confronted by Robbers is great with Cadira as both a token creator and a way to push it through for damage. Greatsword of Tyr, Saddle of the Cavalier, and Cloak of the Bat are useful equipment that can help Cadira connect more consistently.
Commander Liara Portyr is a build-around commander that rewards aggression and myriad with lots of value and mana discounts. Liara says “cast,” so you can’t play lands off it. Myriad is the simplest way to attack three players at once without overexposing yourself, and it just so happens to be a core mechanic in Liara’s two colors. Fliers are the next best thing to take safe chip shots at other players if you can’t just play all myriad creatures.
Kagha, Shadow Archdruid is a value commander that rewards you for self-mill, a core theme of Golgari in Battle for Baldur’s Gate. Make sure to include lots of cards that say “mill” on them like Atrocious Experiment, Circle of the Land Druid, and Colossal Badger to pick up some extra value from Kagha.
Cloak of the Bat is likely good here too, either on Kagha or any fatties you play, like Colossal Badger. Decking could be a concern in a very long game, but 60 cards makes this less of a problem than it would be in a normal 40-card format.
One of several dragon commanders in the set, Korlessa, Scale Singer can be a great commander if you build around it. It’s a strong blocker for two mana and a strong card advantage engine in a deck with a lot of dragons.
There are 24 dragons in Simic, none of which are completely unplayable, so take them highly if you want to build a Korlessa deck. Some of my favorite common ones are Scaled Nurturer, Young Blue Dragon, and Nimbleclaw Adept. Your curve should skew high with lots of ramp, dragons, and ideally some ways to protect them.
Lozhan, Dragons' Legacy
Lozhan, Dragons' Legacy is a neat commander that rewards you for including adventures or dragons in your deck in equal parts. Its ability can’t shoot other commanders, but anything else (including player’s faces) is fair game.
It’s also one of the more likely candidates for a commander damage win, since a 4-power flier is no joke. Lozhan plays very well with common adventure dragons in this set, so take Young Blue Dragon, Sword Coast Serpent, Fang Dragon, and Young Red Dragon highly!
Mahadi, Emporium Master can make a lot of Treasure if you play your cards right since it plays beautifully with sweepers. Without sweepers you’ll mostly be picking up some extra Treasure here and there, Murdering your opponents threats, or Deadly Disputeing your own fodder.
Having strong ways to use lots of Treasure, like Skullport Merchant, Swashbuckler Extraordinaire, and Marut is a good idea in Mahadi. Very expensive spells like Blood Money and Ancient Copper Dragon also play well here if you’re lucky enough to draft them.
Minthara, Merciless Soul is a powerful go-wide/sacrifice commander that starts weak and fragile but gets much more threatening as the game goes on. You’ll need to have something leave the battlefield on each of your turns to buff it, so pick up every Deadly Dispute that you can. I’d also want to include as many token generators as possible since cards like Recruitment Drive and You're Confronted by Robbers scale very well with Minthara’s +1/0 ability.
One of several flicker commanders available, but Oji, the Exquisite Blade is the only one without “choose your background.” Building around this commander isn’t difficult but is quite rewarding.
Focus on cheap ETB creatures like Dawnbringer Cleric, Roving Harper, and Winter Eladrin that make 2x spells easy and are great when flickered. You can also include some support cards like Blur that complement Oji’s theme. The cheap ETB creatures are perfect for getting value, but I’d also want to throw in some fliers to make actually winning games less of a hassle.
Rilsa Rael, Kingpin is a build-around commander that wants you to take the initiative as much as possible. This is rewarding in and of itself, but Rael goes a step further by giving you an insane +5/0 and first strike and menace boost every turn. Achieving this makes Rilsa a lethal threat (3-shots a player with commander damage) that has to be removed or double chumped by opponents.
A good Rael deck should prioritize finishing the Undercity quickly, so take cards like Aarakocra Sneak, Underdark Explorer, and Feywild Caretaker highly. Throwing in a few extra evasive creatures like Gray Harbor Merfolk could also be helpful.
Thrakkus the Butcher is a terrifying build-around that can get your opponents dead in a hurry with some dragons in play. Having ways to give haste to Thrakkus or other beaters is ideal, as is drafting as many other fat dragons as you can.
Include some ramp as well cards like Nature's Lore and Druid of the Emerald Grove to get to the dragon stage of the game faster. Thrakkus is also a great sport with Swashbuckler Extraordinaire and Two-Handed Axe for cheesy double strike combo-kills!
There are also 10 2-color rare legendaries in Battle for Baldur’s Gate. These cards mostly step outside the set’s established themes and mechanics in order to do their own thing. Only a few of these commanders share an overall theme with their uncommon counterpart, so you’ll want to know what you’re getting into before building a deck around them.
But the good news is that a couple of these are among the best commanders in the set!
Alaundo the Seer is a value commander that plays well with ways to untap it like Nimbleclaw Adept, Dread Linnorm, and Patriar's Seal in color. Keep in mind that cards exiled by Alaundo don’t gain suspend. Time counters are only removed after using its ability. You can’t build around this much since there are no other cards in the set that mention “time counters” besides Alaundo.
This commander is a tricky card to play with because cheap cards exiled with its ability get cast faster, but also save you less mana. But the game could very well be over before it even gets cast if you exile something too expensive, especially if your opponents bounce or kill your Alaundo a couple of times. My preference in theory is to lean towards exiling cheap proactive plays when possible and then using my mana for fatties and reactionary spells.
A good Astarion deck is one with fliers, evasion, and incremental damage sources to maximize its feedability. This is one of the least strict build-arounds in the set and should play well in most Orzhov decks.
Baba Lysaga, Night Witch is a build-around commander that requires a focused mix of fodder and diverse card types. The easiest configuration of types to trigger this will be artifact/creature/land or artifact/creature/enchantment. Artifact creatures are ideal since they’re the only way to get two to three card types with just one card.
Clockwork Fox, Pilgrim's Eye, and Treasure Keeper are great cards for Baba as double fodder and card advantage. Backgrounds like Cultist of the Absolute (one mana for a third card type) and Cloakwood Hermit (actually useful if it stays in play with Baba) are also good.
The Council of Four
The Council of Four is a value commander that gives you free cards and 2/2s when any of your opponents or you cast at least two spells in a turn or draw any extra cards. The Council won’t be doing much attacking on its own since it’s a 5-mana 0/8. But this works just fine since it’s more likely to stick around and keep accruing value overtime.
Needing to cast two spells to trigger this means it has a bit of synergy with adventures, which appear more in Azorius than other colors.
Duke Ulder Ravengard
Duke Ulder Ravengard is a powerful commander that can both end games and generate serious value. It beats out Commander Liara Portyr for the spot of best myriad commander, though Liara has been impressive as well.
The Duke’s ability to make anything into a myriad attacker plays very well with large fliers like Ancient Gold Dragon and Pegasus Guardian as well as value creatures like Roving Harper. Keep in mind that myriad does stack, so you could attack your opponents with six extra Tabaxi Toucaneers’!
A very strange jellyfish that’s one of the only group hug commanders in the set, Gluntch, the Bestower can give you some great value every turn but also requires you to give two of your opponents free stuff. Two of its options touch on supported themes in Selesnya (+1/+1 counters and tokens), but I’d prefer other commanders if I wanted to focus on building a deck around either.
Gluntch shines for the discerning player who wants to play politics or favorites and mess with the dynamic of your table. If I were to build a Gluntch deck I’d try to include other group hug cards like Cut a Deal, Your Temple is Under Attack, Skullwinder, and Clockwork Fox for maximum generosity!
Jon Irenicus, Shattered One is an intriguing commander whose gameplay loop revolves around handing permanently goaded creatures to your opponents. Its creatures protect themselves from Deadly Dispute naturally (very appreciated) and also draw you extra cards if Jon sees them attack. There are sadly no creatures in Dimir with drawbacks (i.e., Demonic Taskmaster or Phyrexian Negator) to give away.
A solid Jon deck should play lots of big fliers and beaters and hand them out to the table like candy. One last comment on Jon is that being the last player standing seems hard since your creatures will eventually attack you for real when two of your opponents fall. Bounce creatures like Winter Eladrin and Sword Coast Serpent could be good inclusions here since they let you rebuy your creatures if needed.
Neera, Wild Mage is an interesting commander that offers you a free Possibility Storm each turn. But this is a hard effect to build around in Limited since there isn’t all that much scry in the set and no Mystical Tutor-type effects.
Sapphire Dragon and Bronze Walrus are your best bets for having a little control over what you storm into. An ideal Neera deck has some cheap ramp and lots of haymakers to randomly flip over. It’s not reliable by any means, but you did sign up to play a “wild mage” after all!
Raggadragga, Goreguts Boss wins the prize for the coolest name in the set. It’s also a niche commander that heavily rewards you for playing as many mana dorks as possible. You do have a few common options for mana dorks (Reckless Barbarian, Scaled Nurturer, Undercellar Myconid, and Bronze Walrus), but only Undermountain Adventurer otherwise.
A good Raggadragga deck has some expensive haymakers and as many copies of those four commons as it can pick up. It’s probably easier to build around other RGx commanders since dragons is a more supported theme, but this has a sweet name and is a human boarto boot.
My pick for one of the strongest Limited commanders in the set, Raphael, Fiendish Savior is a tribal lord for four (small) tribes and is also a potent win condition and source of lifegain. Its second ability provides a great incentive to draft as many Deadly Disputes as possible.
Topaz Dragon is also potent if you have ways to sacrifice Devil tokens for the classic deathtouch and ping combo! A good Raphael deck has a nice mix of tribal creatures, sacrifice outlets, and other cards.
There are 10 3-color commanders in this set, 100% of which appear at rare. Being three colors is a double-edged sword since you’ll have an entire other color to draft from but will also need to spend picks on mana fixing (or risk stumbling on mana in the only game you’ll play with your deck).
A fair chunk of the 3-color commanders are also difficult to build around, but a few of them are very powerful. Which ones? Keep reading to find out!
The three gods are a bit softer on theming than some of the other commanders in the set because they definitely want you to have creatures die, but they don’t really care how you pull it off. Deadly Dispute is an all-star for sacrificing fodder and getting immediate value out of their death triggers.
The gods also all share the same “indestructible when at half life” gimmick. You can try to build around this by prioritizing self-harm with cards like Atrocious Experiment and Ancient Craving, but your opponents will still likely have to do a lot of the “work” for you.
Bane, Lord of Darkness is a bit fragile early on, but it has an interesting subgame where your opponents can either let you draw a card or take a shot in the dark at saving you a bunch of mana. But building around Bane is difficult since there aren’t any Karmic Guides in Battle for Baldur’s Gate.
Knowledgeable opponents should choose to let you play a card from your hand most of the time. You can build for this by including useful creatures with low toughness but a good sacrifice base (a.k.a., as many Deadly Disputes as possible) is arguably more important.
Goad is a really powerful mechanic, so I’d say Bhaal, Lord of Murder has a bit of an edge over Bane, Lord of Darkness in general. It’s a bit clunky to get going but it makes combat a nightmare for your opponents and gets to play some extra green fodder with the usual Rakdos sac cards.
Dynaheir, Invoker Adept is fun but rather narrow since it doesn’t have a ton of cards to work with and most of its ideal pairs are filler commons like Bane's Invoker and Bhaal's Invoker. Universal Solvent and Wand of Wonder are less obvious inclusions that go great with Dynaheir.
You won’t be able to fill the deck with 100% invokers so be sure to include some normal good stuff like mana ramp, dragons, and interaction.
Gorion, Wise Mentor is definitely one of the better 3-color commanders since adventures is a broadly supported theme that appears at common and uncommon in each of its colors. The key to making Gorion work is drafting as many adventures as possible, plus enough mana fixing and card draw to tie the whole thing together.
This intriguing gnome is just beggingfor infinite combo abuse in regular EDH, but I couldn’t find any for it in just this set. Jan Jansen, Chaos Crafter plays more of a value game, letting you upgrade your Treasure tokens, Nimblewright Schematic, and Prized Statue into more stuff. Said stuff can be sacrificed as well for even more stuff, a play pattern that can be lethal if you draft enough Ingenious Artillerists.
Patriar's Seal also deserves a shoutout as an artifact that’s excellent with Jansen, giving you another dose of value each turn. Try to draft Jansen early if you can as there are few other artifact build-arounds in the set, and the others aren’t nearly this good.
Mazzy, Truesword Paladin is another 3-color commander whose theme isn’t all that well supported in the set since there are only five playable auras in its colors. But four of them appear at common, and their gimmick of being removal actually plays surprisingly well with Mazzy.
Its +2/0 trample bonus works just fine with Predatory Impetus-style cards, and Minimus Containment will redraw itself when Mazzy sees your opponent sac whatever was under it. This means that Mazzy plus Minimus can be very annoying if you keep minimizing your opponents’ commanders!
You won’t necessarily win games this way, so try to also include some “boring” win conditions like Fireball and fat dragons. Card draw is also important as Mazzy tends to draw out games with this play style but will almost certainly get outdrawn by blue decks over time.
Miirym, Sentinel Wyrm is the GOAT, at least as far as 3-color commanders are concerned. It excels as both an insane dragon payoff and the only commander capable of playing all three of the dragon-focused colors!
This is a windmill slam P1P1 that can instantly shape the direction of your Draft. There’s no wrong way to build this as long as you’re focused on dragons and mana ramp, but don’t forget to include some Draconic Lore to stay gassed up. Make sure to also pick up mana fixing like Gates and Navigation Orb over non-dragon filler so that you have access to all three colors.
The last of the gods is a serious clunker, as costing seven mana makes this the single most expensive legendary in the set. But the good news is that the cost is probably worth it since Myrkul, Lord of Bones (a great commander, by the way) gives a very powerful death trigger to other creatures you control.
The same support cards that were good with Bhaal, Lord of Murder are great here, so expect to be base black with white and green as support colors. Drafting mana ramp is a higher priority than in Bane, Lord of Darkness and Bhaal, Lord of Murder for obvious reasons, but being in green helps a bit.
Gate tribal! This is a very niche build around since there are only nine Gates in the set and only a couple other cards that reference them (Gate Colossus and Explore the Underdark, or Navigation Orb to find them). Two of these Gates are unplayable in Nine-Fingers Keene as well thanks to its commander color restrictions, so you’ll need to draft the seven other Gates and ways to tutor them highly.
The good news is that no one else should be valuing Gates like that, plus Keene’s reward for achieving nine Gates is flat out absurd. I also appreciate how its vanilla stats (4/4 menace with a strong ward ability) are actually pretty good!
Zevlor, Elturel Exile is another niche commander, but maybe not quite as niche as something like Gate tribal. Zevlor wants you to build a spellslinger deck with a bunch of spells that only target one player or permanent so that it can copy them and spread the love to your other opponents.
And don’t forget that Zevlor received a day 0 errata to add “only” to its targeting clause, so spells that have more than one target won’t work with its ability.
Elminster is a strong commander that touches on a couple of themes. It rewards you for playing expensive instants and sorceries, scrying, and having ways to capitalize on generating lots of 1/1 fliers.
This planeswalker’s +2 already scries for you, but the set has a couple of decent playables like Guiding Bolt and Contact Other Plane if you want extra discounts. Prioritizing good instants and sorceries is ideal for getting the most out of Elminster. I’d also want to include some fat dragons if possible to maximize its -3 ability.
Tasha, the Witch Queen is a sweet commander that rewards you for playing your opponent’s spells with free 3/3s. Its basic +1 to -3 gameplay loop accomplishes this, but you’ll be limited to instants and sorceries your opponents have already played.
If you want other ways to get free demons, Gale's Redirection, Elder Brain, and Intellect Devourer are (rare) ways to do so. And just like with any planeswalker commander, protecting Tasha is of utmost importance so you want to draft a deck with lots of good blockers and removal. Its +1 draws an extra card every turn, so keep it alive and you’ll rarely run out of gas!
Baldur Gate’s most iconic duo returns, this time in the form of a planeswalker card. Minsc & Boo, Timeless Heroes is all about flinging Boo for removal and value and even has a simple self-contained setup with +1 to -2 for a deal 4/draw 4.
There are no other hamsters in this set and Boo returns each upkeep, so your priority should be building a deck that does a competent job of protecting Minsc. Anti-flying cards like Ettercap and Sharpshooter Elf can be a good fit here to keep it safe. I’d also want to include a couple of haste and trample creatures for more +1 options, and maybe some pump spells as well for epic Fling action.
Lae'zel, Vlaakith's Champion | Illustration by John Stanko
Did I really need to write this much for a casual set? Well, I suppose it’s too late to ask that question now, so I hope you enjoy the fruits of my labor!
Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate has been a bit of a disappointment in terms of market value and busted Commander staples, including the new Backgrounds, but it’s also been quite fun to draft for me. There’s a lot of variety in the deckbuilding and gameplay, and I’ve enjoyed the general balance between the colors and archetypes in this set. I hope you’re able to draft this one a couple of times with your friends and enjoy its unique Limited environment, and I look forward to the next Commander Legends entry.
What has your experience with this draft format been like? Have you had any awesome experiences you just need to share? I’d love to hear them! Feel free to pop them down in the comments down below or over in the Draftsim Discord.
Until next time, may you always have the most broken commander in your pod!Follow Draftsim for awesome articles and set updates: