Magic’s newest expansion has us delving into the Forgotten Realms once again, to find the city of Baldur’s Gate besieged by the forces of Avernus and the evil Dead Three: Bhaal, Myrkul, and Bane. A new set means new mechanics, and we’ve got some good ones as well as some returning ones. In this article we’ll talk about the mechanics and offer some thoughts on what they mean for Commander and how they’ll play.
Backgrounds are the most significant new mechanic, Legendary Enchantments that are meant to represent the origin story of your Commander. Ones that are in your Commander’s color identity can be played in the 99 like any other card, but a number of cards like Lae’zel, Vlaakith’s Champion allow you to Choose a Background, which lets you start with that Background in your Command Zone. This functions like a limited version of the Partner mechanic, allowing you to choose any color Background to add to your color identity.
FromTheShire: I really like the Backgrounds – add a color is a very common and popular house rule for mixing things up, and how many times have you had the perfect deck idea but the Commander isn’t in quite the right color combo? This opens up some great flexibility for decks with a specific concept that don’t want to run an unrelated Commander just for the colors, and because the pool of combinations is limited, there is less room for brokenness.
BPhillipYork: These are fine, it’s another variant on the partner mechanic, limited to this set in theory. Personally, I’d be fine if all mono-color commanders had the ability to add a background automatically, there are only a couple where that would be problematic (Krr’ik and Urza come to mind) but in general, the new, enchantment version of partners is fine. I think where this will have the most impact will be including it in the 99 of your deck. Of course, since it affects “commander creatures you control” the highest impact will be in decks that run partner commanders so, good job there WotC.
TheChirurgeon: This is a neat mechanic, though I’m skeptical that playing these with a Commander who doesn’t let you pick a background isn’t a waste of time and energy.
The Initiative functions somewhat like the Monarch in that no one starts the game in possession of it until a card introduces it, and it is transferred by dealing combat damage to the player who currently has it or when the controlling player dies. Unlike the Monarch, when you take the Initiative you venture into the Undercity, even if you already had the Initiative, and you automatically venture further into the Undercity on your upkeep if you still control it.
FromTheShire: Mechanics like this that encourage combat are great, and help prevent the prolonged board stalls that can sometimes break out in games by incentivizing attacks and fostering grudges. It’s not quite as rawly powerful as the Monarch, but the different rooms in the Undercity offer an array of great options for gaining value. Do note that regular ‘venture into the dungeon’ abilities will not let you pick the Undercity to begin with, and that if you play a card with venture into Undercity, you may not pick a different dungeon instead. However, once you have entered Undercity, other venture cards can still progress you through Undercity, which is a nice way to not make this a single-set parasitic mechanic.
BPhillipYork: Dungeons were bad and now there’s a new, additional dungeon so um, great I guess. To be fair the entrance to the Undercity is pretty solid. The completion to that dungeon is pretty solid, letting you look at 10 cards to put any creature into play with 3 +1/+1s and hexproof is remarkably solid. You have to venture 4 times after taking the initiative to hit that, which is a serious investment, especially given how many venture abilities are limited to one time per turn. I think this is basically lame, to be honest. And it has nothing to do with having the initiative, being speedy, going before other people, or anything, so I don’t know.
TheChirurgeon: I was wondering how they’d solve the problem of dungeons getting more powerful each time a new one was published – and having a dungeon with a bespoke venturing mechanic seems to be what they landed on. I’m not a huge fan, but dungeons weren’t for me either. The card itself seems strong, though.
Gates are a returning land type which mostly matters for a selection of ‘number of Gates you control’ cards.
FromTheShire: Gates decks began as basically a Maze’s End alternate win con meme, and while those are still fun and it’s great to get more fuel for them, with the printing of Gatebreaker Ram, Gates Ablaze, and Guild Summit among others, it has turned into a real deck in Pioneer and even sees some Modern play, and if we continue getting support like this in Commander it becomes less and less of a joke deck.
BPhillipYork: Woohoo new gate deck. There are actually a number of solid new gates and solid new get gate cards and I’m already planning a fun gate deck. Also since Wizards keep insisting on stuffing every precon with garbage etb lands the gates aren’t so bad in comparison. Having enough gates you can get to 10 with a 3-color deck is nice. You can also have a deck that’s basically all gates for lands which is neat.
TheChirurgeon: I love this. I am hype for more gates. Let’s make Commander Gate happen.
Myriad is another returning mechanic that allows you to create token copies of the attacking creature tapped and attacking each other player. This means they will not get attack triggers, and they exile at the end of combat so you have to put a little bit of work in if you want to get up to serious shenanigans.
FromTheShire: It’s nice to see myriad back. There aren’t many of the original myriad cards that see play, but that is due more to power level than anything wrong with the mechanic, and it looks like they are starting to bump that up.
BPhillipYork: I think this is basically deciduous at this point. It’s something to slap on clunky 4+ cost creatures and use it as an excuse for commander. Battle Angels of Tyr is semi playable, but so much myriad stuff just isn’t.
TheChirurgeon: Yeah, Myriad seems like something we’ll see in every Commander set, and it’s just a really good mechanic to have in the toolbox for what would otherwise be subpar creatures. At the very least it’s a fun mechanic for players who want to turn things sideways as part of their win condition.
Adventures return from Eldraine and fit perfectly with the feel of the Forgotten Realms and D&D. These allow you to choose either to cast the permanent spell or the Adventure – if you successfully do the latter, the spell is then exiled and the permanent may then be cast at a later time.
FromTheShire: Another great return thematically that also introduces non-creature permanents with Adventure for the first time. Some great abilities found here, and modality is always a plus.
BPhillipYork: Before, the adventures felt more organic. The “cast a card then it goes to exile, then you can cast it from exile” is a neat mechanic. I think it mostly works pretty well. But a lot of the sorcery / permanent combos in this set feel a lot more jammed together and less thoughtfully.
The Party mechanic from Zendikar Rising returns, with cards that care about if you control a Cleric, Rogue, Warrior, and Wizard. If you have a full party you can often get an even larger bonus.
BPhillipYork: Have they not heard of dual-classing? Multi-Class? Prestige classes? Who even plays a vanilla warrior anymore. Anyway, most of the cards are in black and white, and it seems fine for fun decks, a couple of solid commanders to exploit the party mechanic. I’m still frustrated that the party mechanic has nothing to do with venturing into the dungeon. “Venture X, where x is the number of members in your party”. Heck, the Venture ability could’ve been tied to the … you know what never mind.
TheChirurgeon: I always thought it was weird that the party mechanic wasn’t in Forgotten Realms. It seemed like a slam dunk to have the mechanic around your group of dangerous murderhobos and then they just… forgot about it. Also I agree that having Venture X tied to party would have been an another absolute slam dunk and it’s frustrating we didn’t get it. Damn it, Phillip, stop reminding me about the missed opportunities of the DnD set.
Next Time: The Set’s Monocolor Cards
That wraps up our look at the mechanics of Battle for Baldur’s Gate. We’ll be back later to look at the most noteworthy cards in the set, starting with the monocolor cards in the main set, then in the following article we’ll cover multicolor and colorless cards before moving on to the set’s Commander decks. As always, if you have any questions or feedback, drop us a note in the comments below or email us at email@example.com.