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MTG’s Battle for Baldur’s Gate set treats Commanders like D&D Characters

Background cards trick out a deck’s star player and give access to more Mana colours.

The days turn and preview season gives way to yet another preview season. This time Magic: The Gathering showed off an in-depth look at the mechanics and themes of the upcoming Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate set, which include a couple new Commander format-focused mechanics and some big names from the Forgotten Realms.

Battle for Baldur’s Gate follows the lead of 2021’s Adventures in the Forgotten Realms by crossing the streams of Wizards of Coast’s two most profitable properties - MTG and Dungeons & Dragons. But whereas last year’s set was fairly standard in format, Battle for Baldur’s Gate has been designed to complement the Commander format - players can draft cards from boosters to build weeny Commander decks and face off on four-way battles, or use them in full 100-card singleton decks.

A recent livestream provided information on two new mechanics designed for the upcoming set that actually draw directly on D&D’s roleplaying legacy. The first is Background, which will appear on specific Legendary Enchantment cards that can be attached to their chosen commander. This won’t just augment their stats and abilities but allow players to access an additional Mana colour when drafting or building their decks. Think of it like choosing a background for your D&D character - it augments an existing archetype and gives access to a few more useful skills, training and other avenues of play.

For example, the white Mana Noble Heritage and black Mana Criminal background both grant new triggered abilities that fit the colour’s playstyle along with unlocking white and black Mana cards for their chosen deck, respectively. This works similarly to the Companion mechanic that appeared on Battlebond cards, the last Commander-focused set released back in 2018. Backgrounds will ostensibly stay in the Command Zone and do have an associated Mana cost to cast them from there onto the battlefield.

The second mechanic, Initiative, expands the dungeon delving mechanic that was core to Adventure in the Forgotten Realm. The designers mentioned that it was heavily inspired by the Conspiracy set’s Monarch and functions much the same way. Certain cards will grant players Initiative, which they will hold until another player’s creatures manage to land some damage and steal it away.

While holding initiative, players will venture into a new dungeon card on their upkeep that maps out the forgotten part of Baldur’s Gate - the Undercity. Like the three past dungeons, each initiative trigger will move a counter deeper along the Undercity’s path and grant helpful boons - one room might dump some +1/+1 counters onto a creature while another lets someone scry the top two cards of their deck. The final room, Throne of the Dead Three, will pull a threat from your deck and superpower it for one turn for some extra juice and subsequent hate from everyone else at the table.

The video team tries their hand at Magic: The Gathering's Commander format.Watch on YouTube

It’s not worth talking about Gates in too much detail, as they’re more of a returning mechanic. These specific lands will synergise with themselves and some specific creatures. Given Baldur’s Gate is a city designed around nine very important guarded barriers, expect these nine cards to present big worldbuilding opportunities for the set.

The preview stream ran down an admittedly huge list of creature, many of the unsurprisingly Legendary given this is a Commander format. Amongst all these easter eggs, notable pulls and lore nerd elbow nudges were a few standout characters. The first was, as the team mentioned, a very familiar face that many D&D fans were surprised not to see in AFR - Elminster. He will appear in the upcoming set as a blue and white Mana Planeswalker that can also serve as your commander. His focus will be on scrying through your deck and making big spells much cheaper to cast, along with creating a bunch of little faerie dragons.

On the other side of the moral divide are some supposedly dead gods who aren’t much acting like it. Both Bhaal, Lord of Murder and Myrkul, Lord of Bones showed up on previewed cards sporting three Mana colours in their cost and some impressive rules text to boot. Expect that third one to be lurking around somewhere close by.

The previews of cards from Cammonder Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate will continue up to its global release on June 10th. Though its design focuses on the Commander format and will have a quartet of preconstructed decks to that end, it will still be available in all the various booster packs, prerelease kits and other packaging Wizards of the Coast uses for its main releases. Keep checking Dicebreaker for more Magic: The Gathering coverage in the future.

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