So we are more or less through the spoiler season for Commander legends, Battle for Baldurs gate (except for the Commander pre-con decks that have not yet been spoiled at the time of writing), and there are some great new cards and mechanics introduced in this set.
Today let’s take a brief look at the Mechanic “Background.”
In the Background
Background works a little like the “Partner” mechanic. If the legendary creature has the phrase “choose a background”, you can start with a background card in the Command Zone alongside your Commander.
A Background is a legendary enchantment that affects Commander spells specifically; it is akin to choosing a backstory to your character in D and D.
The collective colour identity of the deck has to match the colours of both your Commander and your background, but the background card can be a different colour from your Commander. Want to run Dimir, that’s fine; want to run mono-blue, also fine, but the cards in the 99 have to match the collective colour identity. You can also run background cards in the 99 if you want to.
There are tons to go through for this particular mechanic; we have 27 Commanders and 25 Background cards. So this is going to be a two-parter. We will also look at the Commanders specifically and discuss what backgrounds might go best with them. There will be some overlap as some backgrounds will work well for multiple commanders.
so, let’s get into it
First up, we have Abdel Adrian, Gorion’s Ward, a 4/4 Legendary Human Warrior for 4 and a white. He is a white Worldgorger Dragon, essentially. When he enters the battlefield, you exile any number of non-land permanents until he leaves the battlefield; we create a 1/1 white soldier creature token for each permanent exiled.
This is great for 2 reasons, we don’t need to exile everything; if there is a card that we want to keep on board, we can, and it gives us an infinite mana line; an infinite enters the battlefield or leave the battlefield line if we pair this in black. That way, we can run enchantment auras like Animate dead. So the background we will pair this with is Agent of the Iron Throne, which drains each opponent for 1 life when a creature or an artifact hits the graveyard.
We will need the usual Sac outlets that Orzhov colours give us for the combo to work. Viscera Seer, Phyrexian Altar, Woe Strider and Ashnod’s Altar will provide us with a sac outlet to start the combo off.
We can also include Zulaport Cutthroat, Cruel Celebrant and Bastion of remembrance to keep the damage going.Grim Haruspex, will let us keep drawing a card each time our commander hits the graveyard.
If you want to make this a bit meaner, we could also include Dictate of Erebos or Butcher of Malakir to get some more value on our death triggers. Including Teysa Karlov in the deck will also double up on our triggers.
Ellyn Harbreeze, Busybody, is a 2/4 Legendary Human Peasant for 3 and a white. With the text: “Tap: Look at the top X cards of your library, where X is the number of tokens you created this turn. Put one of those cards into your hand and the rest on the bottom of your library in a random order”.
This is not unlike Florian, Voldaren Scion, from Innistrad: Midnight hunt, which let you scry X, Where X was the amount of life lost by opponents this turn, but being in white, we specifically care about token generation.
Token generation leads us to look at using a green background card to allow for Selsnya Strategies; we can use Master chef for this. Master Chef is a green enchantment for 2 and a green that gives our commanders and creatures an additional +1/+1 counter when they enter the battlefield. Buffing all our tokens that we are going to create.
This pairs nicely with Cathars Crusade, Maja Bretagard Protector, Torens, Fist of the Angels and Bennie Bracks, zoologist, and don’t forget Anointed Precession, Parallel Lives and Second Harvest, which double our token generation.
We can also use Growing Ranks and enchantment for 2 and 2 Selsesnya ( either 2 white, 2 green or 1 white and 1 green) that lets us populate on upkeep. If we have Mirror Box from Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty, we can start creating copies of our Commander or Maja to really get the token generation going.
If you wanted to make this Mono-white, you could run Inspiring leader, a background enchantment that specifically pumps tokens by +2/+2, but I think including green gives us much more to work with when building this deck.
Box art cover Lae’zel Vlaakith’s Champion is a 3/3 Legendary Gith Warrior for 2 and a white. This is a counters matters deck. She reads: If you would put one or more tokens on a creature you control or on yourself, put that many plus one of each of those kinds of counters on that permanent instead.
So again, this pairs really nicely with Master Chef, which wants to give counters to things entering the battlefield.
Playing green also gives us access to Hardened Scales, Hamza, Guardian of Arashin, Leinore Autumn Sovereign and Kodama of the west tree.
Inspiring Call gives us a card draw; Toski, Bearer of secrets, can also be excellent if we can get him pumped up. Again, playing Cathar’s crusade is perfect in a deck like this, and Hydra’s Growth could be potentially disgusting.
We can also play 2 planeswalkers in a deck like this; Ajani Greathearted and Jiang Yanggu Wildcrafter care specifically about giving out counters.
Lulu, Loyal Hollyphant, is a 3/2 Legendary Elephant Angel for 3 and a white, with flying. At the beginning of our end step, if a permanent left the battlefield this turn, we can put a +1/+1 counter on each tapped creature we control and then untap them.
We could build this one of 2 ways, we can make this an Orzhov sacrifice pay off deck or an Azorious Flicker deck; looking at the backgrounds available to us, I think Azorious is the way I think this wants to lean.
Candle keep sage is a background which reads, “commander creatures you control own have “when this creature enters or leaves the battlefield, draw a card.”
So we are filling this deck with a bunch of creatures to pump up and a bunch of stuff to flicker our Commander so that we can draw 2 cards from the background. You better believe it’s 2, 1 for when it leaves and another for when it enters again.
Thassa, deep-dwelling, gives us a flicker on the end step trigger; Brago, King Eternal, lets us blink any number of creatures when he deals combat damage. Ephara, God of the Polis, will act as more card draw, and Ranar the Ever-Watchful will let us make 1/1 spirits for blinking our stuff, which is a perfect place to put those +1/+1 counters.
We can add Lavinia of the Tenth to give us some protection and Scheming Fence if we need to stop a big boy like Blightsteel Colossus. Herald of Secret Streams will make sure we get through, making all our creatures with +1/+1 counters on them ublockable, and if we really want to be gross, we can put a Blighted Agent in.
There are tons of blink cards in these colours, allowing us to make a large spirit army with considerable power thanks to the +1/+1counters from our Commander.
Our last White Commander is Rasaad yn Bashir, a 0/3 human monk for 2 and a white. He makes all our creatures assign damage with their toughness rather than their power, and if we have the initiative, we double the toughness of each creature when he attacks.
When I read this, it makes me want to make a bunch of unblockable stuff that deals damage with its toughness, which is more a blue type effect, so we will be running a Blue background called Feywild Visitor, which lets us create 1/1 tokens when we deal combat damage to a player.
We can then add cards like Charix, the raging Isle. A 0/17 legendary leviathan crab for 2 and 2 blue, which when we pair it up with Tetsuko Umezawa, Fugitive suddenly deals 17 damage to someone’s face that cannot be blocked; if we have the initiative, it’s 34. That’s potentially player removal.
The reality chip can serve 2 purposes in this deck; it is a 0/4, so it is a relevant body when it attacks. It allows us to look at the top card of our library, and if we want to, we can reconfigure and attach it to a creature to enable us to play lands and spells from the top of the deck.
Ruin Crab is a cheap card that can mill our opponents for extra value, and again we can consider Blighted Agent; double striking infect is no joke.
Alora, Merry Thief, is a 3/2 legendary Halfling rogue for 2 and a blue which lets us make one of our creatures unblockable; we then bounce that creature back to our hand at the beginning of the next end step.
As a side note, if we put Sundial of the infinite in this, we never have to bounce, and you can keep making that disgusting Blightsteel colossus unblockable if you want to. But I digress.
This Commander is already making a creature unblockable; we don’t want counters to matter because, in all likelihood, they will be removed when the creature is returned to hand. We could make this a Simic Voltron deck by running Raised by giants as our background, giving our commander base power and toughness 10/10, but this is a glass cannon. You will swing once, bounce your Commander and then when you play it on your next turn, you have to wait for another entire turn cycle to attack again.
Not what we want to be doing.
I genuinely think this will be a mono-blue unblockable list similar to Rasaad yn Bashir, but it’s not as exciting.
Gale, Waterdeep Prodigy, on the other hand, has already been highlighted as a potential cEDH level commander. He is a 1/3 Human Wizard for 2 and a blue which reads, whenever you cast an instant or sorcery spell from your hand, you may cast up to one target card of the other type from your graveyard. If a spell cast from your graveyard this way would be put into your graveyard, exile it instead.
We are going to pair this up with the black background Scion of Halaster, which gives our Commander the ability, when you would draw a card each turn, instead look at the top two cards and put one of them into your graveyard and the other on top of your library then draw the card.
Because this says each turn, we can run Rhystic study and Mystic Remora and get the same effect filling up our graveyard.
Because we will run a lot of card draw and self mill, we want to run Thassa’s oracle and Laboratory Maniac. If you have Demonic consultation, by all means, run it, but it’s costly, and most people don’t have access to it.
We then need to run a bunch of low-end instants and sorceries to cast the high-end from our graveyards; also, this will get around timing restrictions. So we can cast sorceries on other players’ turns. If we run the free counterspell from Ikoria: Lair of behemoths Fierce Guardianship. You could realistically counter someone’s win-con and mill each opponent for 20 with Tasha’s Hideous Laughter.
This will be a draw heavy deck, so playing cards like Archmage Emeritus will give us more fuel whilst also triggering from both the instant and sorcery cast.
Tainted Indulgence will let us draw 2 cards and discard a card in the early game; if we have 5 cards with different mana values in the graveyard, we don’t need to discard them.
Ledger Shredder and Cemetery Tampering are perfect editions in this sort of deck. Oriq Loremage acts like a tutor in this deck, acting like a Buried Alive but providing a buff on our creature when we stick a card in the yard.
Imoen Mystic Trickster is a 2/3 legendary human rogue wizard for 2 and a blue, with ward 2. She cares quite a lot about completing dungeons; she can also count for either a rogue or a wizard for the party mechanic.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much support for dungeons, especially since the background that cares about dungeons is also blue.Dungeon Delver is a background enchantment that triggers room abilities an additional time.
We can also consider cards like Yuan-ti Malison, which is unblockable so long as it attacks alone, and ventures into dungeons further when combat damage is dealt.
We Probably need to think about pillow forting so that when we do get the initiative, we can keep it. Properganda will slow our opponents’ attacks down. Bar the gate is a counterspell for creatures and planeswalkers that let us venture further into the dungeon.
Fly is a blue enchantment aura that gives a creature flying, and when the enchanted creature deals combat damage, we can venture into the dungeon further.
I think this will end up in the 99 of most decks, as there isn’t much support for a mono-blue dungeon deck.
Next, we have Renari, Merchant of Marvels, a 2/4 legendary Dragon Artificer for 2 and a blue. Renari allows us to cast Dragon spells as though they had flash. We can Pair Renari up with the background Acolyte of Bahamut, which reduces the cost of the first dragon spell we cost each turn by 2. We can use this to cast a tonne of good dragon cards on our opponent’s turns at a reduced rate.
Casting Kura, the boundless sky for 1 and 2 green is incredible value for a 4/4 deathtouch flyer that can ramp us when it dies. Old Gnawbone will ramp us with treasure tokens, and because we can cast it on an opponent’s turn, we can attack with it immediately when it comes back to us; we can pair this with Shimmer Dragon that will have hexproof from those treasures, and we can then tap 2 of them for card draw.
Kairi, the Swirling sky, is another big body with ward for protection that we can run out as a blocker.
Because we are in simic, we can also run some +1/+1 counter synergies with cards like Silkgaurd, Fight Rigging, Slip out the back and Master Biomancer. These synergies also let us play Tanazir Quandrix, which can serve 2 purposes in this deck. It can double our counters on ETB and buff Master Biomancer to a 4/4, which means our dragons can be flashed in and have 4 additional +1/+1 counters.
Vhal, Candlekeep Researcher, is a 2/3 Legendary Human Wizard for 3 and a blue with Vigilance. We can tap Vhal to generate mana equal to his toughness, the only downside, we cannot use this mana to cast spells from our hands.
We can, however, use this mana for a few other things. We can use it for abilities, like untapping Basalt Monolith. We can use it to cast from the top of our library with The Reality Chip, or we can use it to cast from exile or from the graveyard with flashback cards using Lier, Disciple of the Drowned.
This is a great card; the downside is that the only background that exiles cards from your library to cast Tavern Brawler pumps the power, not the toughness, so you wouldn’t get the full benefit from it.
So ideally, we would pick a background that pumps the toughness and offers a colour that allows us to add control into our mix, so personally, I would use the background, Noble Heritage. This will enable us to pump our creatures each turn and grant some protection from our opponents when they do the same.
We can then run a bunch of foretell cards that our Commander will let us cast from exile, like Alrund’s Epiphany, Behold the multiverse and Cosmic Intervention. We can run Lier to give our foretold cards flashback too. Vega, the Watcher, will cantrip when we cast a card from anywhere that isn’t our hand, and there is no reason to not run Ranar the Ever-watched, The reality chip and Ethereal Valkyrie to really take advantage of not casting from your hand.
The final blue Commander is Volo, Itinerant Scholar, a 2/3 Legendary Human Wizard for 2 and a blue. When Volo enters the battlefield, we create a legendary artifact called “Volo’s Journal.” when we cast a creature card, we note the creature types that haven’t been noted by the artifact before. We can then pay 2 and tap the artifact to draw a card for each creature type noted by Volo’s Journal.
Ideally, I think we are playing simic with this Commander because we can also include Volo, Guide to monsters from Adventures in the forgotten realms set.
Master Chef will probably be our best choice for this sort of deck; it will be very creature heavy, so we can capitalise on that and make them much stronger.
Whilst we are playing creature spells, we can play Errant, Street Artist who will let us copy target spell, not just instants or sorceries, any spell. Topiary Stomper has plant and dinosaur in its creature type and gives land on a body that can be relevant later on.
If we are building a big board state, End-Raze Forerunners is an excellent win-con, especially if we can copy it with Volo, Guide to Monsters and Errant.
Kioara’s Follower let us untap Errant, so we can stack the copies, and having a lot of Apex Devastators seems like a perfect simic big play.
Adrix and Nev, Twincasters can also double up our copies, Esix, Fractal Bloom can then let us turn those copies into something else. If you cast a 1 drop like Llanawar elves and want to copy something else huge on your opponent’s side of the board, you can, and it will be noted in the journal.
That will be it for this half as we have covered a lot of ground. What do you think of these background cards and the commanders they pair with? Is there any that your looking forward to in particular? The next article will be a little delayed, so you can expect the next on one Tuesday.