Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate, the next D&D x Magic crossover

Cartoon image of a giant miniature space hamster and a human barbarian from the game Baldur's Gate. (Image: Wizards of the Coast)
GO FOR THE EYES, BOO! (Image: Wizards of the Coast)

The first Magic: The Gathering non-Standard set this year is scheduled to be released on 10 June.

After the Godfather-esque set that was Streets of New Capenna last month, this non-Standard set is Commander-centric with a huge Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) flavour.

It will be the second time Magic brings us back to the worlds of D&D in the popular Forgotten Realms setting.

However, before I go on about the new mechanics and yes, one new preview card for the new Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate, here is a little background on Commander Legends.

Commander Legends was first introduced in November 2020, featuring many reprints Commander players have been asking for. It was also the first Commander set that was designed to be drafted.

Players could draft a 60-card deck with Commander(s) at the helm, except that this 60-card deck did not have to adhere to the Singleton format that Commander is usually played in.

Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate is set to return this drafting experience for Commander players, and it features new cards that are directly inspired by the characters, objects, spells and places found in the world of Baldur’s Gate from the Forgotten Realms, a storyline which first appeared in a role-playing game on the PC in 1998.

The Standard set Dungeons & Dragons: Adventures in the Forgotten Realm came out just last year, and it's no surprise that Wizards of the Coast is bringing back the crossover again since they own both Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons.

The new Commander Legends set will feature brand new mechanics, and the first of them is Backgrounds.

Image of the Acolyte of Bahamut card from Magic: The Gathering's new Commander Legends set (Image: Wizards of the Coast)
Of course we're getting to cast Dragons in a D&D set! (Image: Wizards of the Coast)

Backgrounds are a new type of enchantment, and when you have a legendary creature as your Commander with the ability “Choose a Background”, you can have a Background as your second Commander alongside the said legendary creature.

Image of Wyll, Blade of Frontiers card from Magic: The Gathering's new Commander Legends set (Image: Wizards of the Coast)
Dice roll is also making a comeback. (Image: Wizards of the Coast)

This is similar to the original Partner mechanics which allows players to have two Commanders (both with the keyword Partner) helming their decks.

A Background can have a different colour identity from the legendary creature (as it was in the case with Partner), and your Commander deck’s colour identity will be determined by both the legendary creature and the Background.

While the Background is an enchantment and we have not seen enchantments in the command zone yet, a Background shares the same Commander rules as legendary creatures (and some Planeswalkers which can be played as your Commander).

In other words, it starts in the command zone as the game starts.

You will always have access to it as long as it is in the command zone, and when it leaves the battlefield (i.e. sent to the graveyard or into your library) or is exiled, you can choose to return the Background to the command zone.

The Commander tax of playing an additional 2 generic mana for every time the Background has been cast from the command zone will apply, too.

The Initiative card from the new Commander Legends set (Image: Wizards of the Coast)
Commander decks are all about seizing the initiative (Image: Wizards of the Coast)

The second brand new mechanic will sound extremely familiar to players who also play Dungeons & Dragons, and it is The Initiative.

For the uninitiated (ha!), Initiative determines the order of turns during combat in Dungeons & Dragons, and the party member (or monster) with the highest dice roll (how else will it be in a game of Dungeons & Dragons) in combination with their Initiative modifiers will start combat first.

The Initiative is, however, a little different in Magic: The Gathering, and what is a better way to explain the new mechanic than with a brand new preview card? :D

Image showing the Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur's Gate preview card (Image: Nino Is/Wizards of the Coast)
Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur's Gate preview card! (Image: Nino Is/Wizards of the Coast)

Undercellar Sweep is the preview card Wizards sent over to Yahoo Gaming SEA, and features the new mechanic the Initiative.

The Initiative is similar to the concept of Monarch, and it is a designation a player can have during the game. When the game starts, no player has the Initiative until a player plays a card like Undercellar Sweep to take the Initiative

When that happens, other players can get the Initiative by attacking the player with the Initiative with creatures.

When any creature is able to deal combat damage to the player with the Initiative, the creature’s controller will get the Initiative.

If a player with the Initiative leaves the game on another player’s active turn, the player whose turn it is will take the Initiative.

If the player with the Initiative leaves the game on their own turn, the next player in turn order will take the Initiative.

Taking the Initiative comes with significant bonuses (just like Monarch).

Whenever a player takes the Initiative, they will venture into Undercity (and specifically only the Undercity) which is a new dungeon card for this set.

The keyword ability Venture into the Dungeon was previously first released for Dungeons & Dragons: Adventures in the Forgotten Realm, and allows players to enter Dungeons.

Dungeons do not go into your deck and they start outside the game in the command zone. Usually, you can choose your Dungeon of choice but venture into Undercity comes with a slight twist!

Image of the Under city card from Commander Legends. (Image: Wizards of the Coast)
Exploration, ho! (Image: Wizards of the Coast)

Venture into Undercity is not possible with cards from Dungeons & Dragons: Adventures in the Forgotten Realm which allows you to Venture into the Dungeon, and you cannot choose any other Dungeons the moment you venture into Undercity.

If you are already in the dungeon of Undercity, any new Venture into the Dungeon trigger will still allow the player to move onto the next room in Undercity.

Players will also venture into Undercity at the beginning of their upkeep, if they still have the Initiative.

Every time a player ventures, they will move to the next room until they reach the final one, and the rewards get better with each room until the last.

When you venture into Undercity again after completing the Undercity, the process will repeat itself again.

However, if a player has already ventured into a different Dungeon (from Dungeons & Dragons: Adventures in the Forgotten Realm) and then ventures into Undercity, they will just continue venturing in the Dungeon they are already in. They will not be able to access Undercity until they have cleared the Dungeon they already are in.

Some cards in this new set will also give players additional benefits if they have the Initiative.

In the case of Undercellar Sweep, the benefits include two tapped and attacking 1/1 white Soldier creatures.

So, remember to build up your defences when you have taken the Initiative, or risk losing it and the benefits it brings in the very next turn!

If you are keen to try out the new mechanics mentioned above like Background and the Initiative as soon as possible, pre-release events for Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate will take place from 3-5 June in your local game stores.

Otherwise, the set will be available in tabletop from 10 June onward.

Jay Chan plays a lot of Dota 2 and MTG. He's terrible in Dota 2 and a scrub in MTG, and maybe spends too much money on both games.

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