Hello again friends, and welcome back to Cardsphere. Last time we did a deck tech for Jan Jansen, one of my favorite new commanders from Commander Legends 2: Battle for Baldur’s Gate. Today we’re kicking off our official set review. Now if you’ve been keeping up with the card previews, you know that this set is massive. It’s a set fully dedicated to the Commander format, and as such, it’s going to have a lot more toys for us singleton players. With that in mind, I’m going to break my review up into three parts. Part one, which you’re getting today, is going to look at the mono-colored commanders and the backgrounds. Then next time we’ll dig into the multi-colored commanders, and the final installment will look at the rest of the set. So grab a bag of Cheetos and a Red Bull, and let’s roll for initiative.
Abdel Adrian, Gorion’s Ward - It’s sad that this guy doesn’t have Flash, but then again having Flash in the command zone is a mixed bag. I think the route you’d be going with Abdel is blink strategies, in which case you’d want to give him a blue background, probably
Candlekeep Sage. We’re looking to make a lot of soldier tokens, so
Anointed Procession is an easy add.
Captain of the Watch,
Catapult Master, and
Field Marshal go in for soldier synergy. And the card I’m most excited about is
Elspeth Tirel. Drop Abdel, exile all your nontokens except Elspeth, then ultimate Elspeth. Abdel goes away and you get all your other stuff back, while your opponents are left with nothing but lands and tokens.
Ellyn Harbreeze, Busybody - Ellyn can give you some excellent card advantage in the right deck. I wouldn’t run her in the command zone, but in the 99 of token decks, she excels. I recently saw her in action in my friend Beth’s
Adeline, Resplendent Cathar deck, and it did work.
Lae’zel, Vlaakith’s Champion - Lae’zel’s ability by itself is unimpressive in the command zone. In the 99, however, it’s going to be fantastic in planeswalker decks. Adding another +1/+1 counter to a creature isn’t going to make much difference, but adding an additional loyalty to your planeswalkers when you activate their plus abilities is huge. In the zone, I would pair this with
Master Chef for a white/green deck so you can run
Doubling Season and similar cards.
Lulu, Loyal Hollyphant - While Lulu may be cute as hell, it’s also a lot to digest as a commander. There’s two things we need to have happen on our turn for this commander to be worthwhile: losing a permanent and tapping creatures. The main way we tap our creatures is to attack. But what if there’s no good attack? We don’t want our commander to have a turn off from doing anything, so I think we’ll also want to have a lot of activated abilities on creatures that require tapping. Mana dorks come to mind, of course, but do we get much benefit out of having those untapped for our opponents’ turns? If we need blockers, I suppose. Especially since we’ll be pumping them with counters so they’re more likely to survive combat. Convoke is another option for tapping many creatures. Both of these would lead me to choose a green background for Lulu. However, to get the trigger rolling at all, we need to lose a permanent. We can’t rely on our opponents killing our stuff, so we need sacrifice outlets. Or, we run it in a treasure deck. Maybe
Smothering Tithe comes to mind. But still, I’m really not convinced that, as Josh Lee Kwai would say, “the juice is worth the squeeze.”
Rasaad yn Bashir - We’ve seen “combat damage equal to toughness” before.
Arcades, the Strategist is one of the most popular commanders ever, but it only works for creatures with Defender. Rasaad doesn’t have that clause. Then there’s
Doran, the Siege Tower, which affects all creatures, including your opponents’. Do I think Rasaad ousts either of these commanders for the “big butt” prize? No, but it could be great in the 99 of either of those decks.
Alora, Merry Thief - First thing that comes to mind with Alora is Ninjutsu. However, Alora could also make for a great voltron commander, as she can target herself. Suit up with a bunch of equipment to make her really big, then target herself with unblockable. Also great for rogue tribal decks.
Gale, Waterdeep Prodigy - At first this feels like a light-beer version of
Kess, Dissident Mage, since you have access to one less color and have to first cast a spell to have access to cards in your graveyard. But Gale does have two qualities over Kess. First, you’re not limited to once-per-turn. And second, it's active on any turn, not just yours. This second quality is really only relevant if you’re able to cast sorceries at instant speed, but that’s not hard to accomplish. Pair Gale with a red background for the best spellslinger cards, or with a black background for self-mill to have more spells to cast from your yard.
Imoen, Mystic Trickster - There’s really not much to say about this one. It’s not good.
Renari, Merchant of Marvels - The first of several commanders we’ll see that are dragon-focused. It goes in the 99 of your 5-color dragon decks, but only if you care about timing.
Vhal, Candlekeep Researcher - If we can get Vhal’s toughness up to 5, she’ll go infinite with
Staff of Domination. You can then draw your entire deck and win with
Laboratory Maniac. You can’t use Vhal’s ability to cast spells from hand, but we can use it to pay for abilities or for casting from elsewhere. Paired with a red background, we could do a lot with impulse draw effects like
Commune with Lava. Where you go from there, I’m not really sure.
Volo, Itinerant Scholar - Volo’s back! And this time he’s bringing a book. The original Volo copied your creature spells, and this one draws you massive amounts of cards. Volo’s Journal has hexproof, which should protect it pretty well. But if it gets nuked by a
Vandalblast or something similar, it’s gonna feel bad to have to start over. Still, this is a fantastic, creature-focused draw engine. A really unique design, and a lot of fun. Unless you hate writing.
Zellix, Sanity Flayer - I can’t get past the “one or more” part on this one. It nerfs the ability so much that it’s not worth running over better mill commanders like
Phenax, God of Deception. If you mill half of someone’s library, even if they have 30 creatures milled, you get one tiny little horror token. Doesn’t seem worth it. It’s probably decent in the pre-con deck that it comes from, but otherwise I’m giving this one a pass.
Burakos, Party Leader - I’m calling BS on this guy having no creature type except orc. Seriously, you want him to lead a Party deck and not be a member of a party? Lame, WOTC. Just lame. Anyway,
Maskwood Nexus is a card, I guess.
Safana, Calimport Cutthroat - This is the same card as
Imoen, Mystic Trickster, except with treasures instead of card draw. Now, if you had these two as a partner pair, you might have a stew going. But on their own, it’s just a weak sauce.
Sarevok, Deathbringer - Now we’re talking.
Titan Hunter in the command zone, but without the sac ability. This guy is great. Pair him with
Raised by Giants to make him a 10/10 if you want a quick game. Or
Tavern Brawler for a milder power bump.
Shadowheart, Dark Justiciar - This is quite powerful, and can work well with almost any color pairing. I especially like him with red so you can use
Act of Treason spells to steal other people’s creatures to sacrifice to Shadowheart. And I love that the ability can be activated at any time.
Sivriss, Nightmare Speaker - Reminiscent of
Athreos, God of Passage, and a nice update for our current treasure-soaked meta. Sivriss is a really fun, interactive commander that tortures your opponents with decision-making. If you’re running a lot of creatures,
Syr Konrad, the Grim is a great addition for the amount of damage he’ll do. Pair Sivriss with green for the most access to reanimation effects.
Viconia, Drow Apostate -
Oversold Cemetery in the command zone? Say no more. I’m absolutely, 100% sold. Hook it into my veins.
Amber Gristle O’Maul - This one’s a hard sell for me. A 3/3 attacker in Commander is not likely to survive many attacks. And the discard effect is just underwhelming. Keep in mind, you’ll only draw three cards, at most, if you attack all players. And you’re unlikely to do that every turn. The only place I could see playing Amber is in the 99 of
Rielle, the Everwise.
Baeloth Barrityl, Entertainer - I, for one, love our new Goad overlords. Baeloth is such a strong commander, and really upends the game for anyone looking to stockpile little token armies. Not to mention the things that happen when you pump Baeloth’s power. Pair with a green background for the best pump effects. And, as with any forced-combat deck, make sure to have your pre-game discussions.
Ganax, Astral Hunter - Another dragon commander, not strong enough to be in the zone. Great for the 99 though.
Gut, True Soul Zealot - This is great. Send in a pitiful 1/1 saproling, or whatever, then sacrifice it to turn it into a 4/1 with menace. Yeah, that’s all it does. But hey, it does it well! Throw in a
Gratuitous Violence or
Dictate of the Twin Gods for extra damage. Add a green background for some token doubler cards too (sadly the copied token won’t be attacking, but it’s still nice to have). And you can sacrifice an artifact instead of a creature!
Karlach, Fury of Avernus - I’m not sure that this will oust any other multiple combat commanders from their lead singer positions, but you can bet that this will go in the 99 of almost all of them. The First Strike add-on is just icing.
Livaan, Cultist of Tiamat - Who doesn’t love big spells? Also important, this isn’t just a once-per-turn effect. If you cast multiple noncreature spells, they’ll all add to a creature’s power. Look at spells you can cast without paying their full mana value, like Suspend cards (
Rousing Refrain would be great in this deck).
Wyll, Blade of Frontiers - Easily the best dice-rolling commander, outside of the un-sets.
Durnan of the Yawning Portal - I hope I’m not the only one who thinks this guy looks like Lemmy from Motorhead. Anyway, unless you have the new
Tlincalli Hunter on the board, Durnan just isn’t that great. A 3/3 with no evasion is unlikely to survive too many combats. Sure you can suit him up with auras or equipment to make him stronger, but if your goal is to make sure you have creatures in your top 4 cards, filling the deck with voltron cards is going to be counter-productive. And there’s only so many
Thunderfoot Baloth-type cards you can throw in the deck.
Erinis, Gloom Stalker - Again, we have a 3/3 commander that wants to attack every turn. A recurring theme in the set. The Deathtouch makes it a vast improvement over Durnan, but still not what I want to be doing in Commander. There are just too many good land recursion commanders for this to warrant consideration.
Halsin, Emerald Archdruid - Any token? This one had me scratching my head looking for the obvious way to abuse it. We could go aggressive, make a bunch of treasure tokens, or plant tokens with
Avenger of Zendikar, and save up for an alpha strike. Or we can play defensive, use the bears to protect us from attackers until we can set up for a game-winning combo. There’s definitely something here, and worth further consideration.
Jaheira, Friend of the Forest - Jaheira, however, takes no thought at all. This card is a powerhouse in any token deck.
Awakening Zone would be give you an eldrazi than can tap for a green and then be sacrificed for a colorless. I don’t think there’s any particular color that is weak at making tokens, so you’re pretty open for her background pairing. And don't forget
Skanos Dragonheart - My first thought is to just run this in the 99 of other dragon decks, but without evasion I’m not sure it would be worth it. However, there is something here for voltron players. There are dragons who like to have artifacts, so maybe pair this with a red background for a casual dragon/equipment deck.
Wilson, Refined Grizzly - I’m going to build a deck with this bear just so I can shout WIIIIILLLSOOOON like Tom Hanks from Castaway whenever the bear dies. The obvious choice here is to make Wilson bigger so you can take advantage of the evasion abilities.
Raised by Giants makes the most sense for the background. But allow me to share my silly idea for Wilson. We pair him with
Shameless Charlatan. Wilson is super cheap to cast, and can’t be countered. So rather than trying to pump him, we just use the background to make him something better! There’s always big creatures on the board worth copying. Or powerful commanders. And fill the deck with lots of other clone and copy effects. I will build this deck.
Let’s move onto the backgrounds, which are a new type of card that can sit in the command zone. They’re all legendary enchantments that affect commanders you own. Notice that's own, not control, so even if your commander gets stolen by another player, your background still affects it. These backgrounds can only sit in the zone if your creature commander has the Choose a Background ability, which all of the mono-colored commanders in this set have. So unfortunately you can’t put them in the zone for any old deck, but you can put them in the 99 wherever they match your color identity.
We’re not going to discuss every Background, just the ones I think are going to be impactful in a wide range of decks. For instance,
Acolyte of Bahamut is only getting played in dragon decks. So we don’t need to spend any time on it.
Agent of the Iron Throne - One word: treasure. There are a lot of Rakdos and Orzhov decks that have very prominent treasure use.
Prosper, Tome-Bound is the obvious home for this card. But you can also consider it in
Strefan, Maurer Progenitor with all the blood tokens. This is, of course, completely ignoring that the enchantment triggers off creatures dying too. So aristocrats decks will also want it.
Candlekeep Sage - You might see this a lot in Partner decks, since you’ll have two commanders entering, and potentially leaving, the battlefield. Also great for blink decks.
Cultist of the Absolute - For just one mana, you can make your commander(s) way more powerful. Yes, you have the upkeep sacrifice trigger, but there are plenty of ways to build around it. Also keep in mind if you have two commanders that they both have the upkeep trigger.
Far Traveler - This is going to see play in blink decks. While it only blinks tapped creatures, it’s nice that you get to give a creature pseudo-vigilance.
Flaming Fist - Enchantress voltron decks, like
Tuvasa the Sunlit or
Light-Paws, Emperor’s Voice, will definitely want this.
Haunted One - This one is gonna be hot for tribal decks. Vampires and zombies are hugely popular tribes in black, and I can see them really latching onto this one for the power boost.
Inspiring Leader - I’ve seen enough token armies to know that this card is going to be big in those decks. If you’re playing this in a Partner deck, for instance
Tana, the Bloodsower and
Nadier, Agent of the Duskenel, your tokens will get +4/+4 if both commanders are out. That’s terrifying.
Raised by Giants - This is gonna be big (get it?). If you’ve ever looked at your commander and just wished it was ridiculously big, then this card is for you. It’s six mana, which will probably deter some people, but making your commander a 10/10 is beneficial in almost any deck that can play it.
Scion of Halaster - Great for any commander that wants to have stuff in the yard.
Kess, Dissident Mage,
The Mimeoplasm, and
Araumi of the Dead Tide, just to name a few.
Sword Coast Sailor - In blue voltron decks, this can basically let you just mow down your opponents. Also great for Ninjutsu decks, or any other decks that want your commander to connect.
Tavern Brawler - a strict upgrade on
Outpost Siege. Anyone playing Siege should replace it with this cheaper and more powerful version.
Onto the Next
That’s all for today, friends! What are your thoughts on Commander Legends 2 so far? Hit me up on Twitter at @AndyZupke and chat me up about it. You can also catch my budget content group Scrap Trawlers on YouTube and Twitch.
Check back next time, where we’ll discuss all of the multi-colored commanders from Battle for Baldur’s Gate. Until then, take care. And play lots of games!