Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate was released on the 10th of June, 2022. There was a tonne of hype around the set, with much anticipation building from its very successful predecessor Commander Legends released just over 18 months before.
But to paraphrase T. S Elliot, The set did not end with a bang but with a whimper. Boxes of booster packs were not flying from the shelves, and for a commander pre-release event that could actually be held in person for the first time since the pandemic, they were nowhere near as full as you would expect from a Commander Legends set.
With so much build-up for a set, which was the main commander product of the year, it should have performed much better than it did.
What caused the utter decline of this product which shared its namesake with an outstanding product from before.
Well, it’s complicated. There are a few elements I believe are responsible.
Let’s get into it.
One of the main problems this particular set seemed to suffer is also its central theme, cards set in the Forgotten Realms found in Wizards of the Coasts IP, Dungeons and Dragons, specifically Baldur’s Gate.
Characters from the Baldur’s Gate series were lovingly developed by the team, focusing on including many groups of people who seldom see representation in mediums such as this. Cards like Activist of Oghma are shown to be characters who have lost part of their arm or, Oji, the Exquisite Blade celebrating a black transexual hero. The element of “anyone can be a hero” shines through here and is wonderful.
The issue, however, is the expectation that this a set like the original Commander legends sets, much like how Guns ‘n’ Roses debut album; Appetite for Destruction, set such a precedent for the band that following albums were seen as weaker and were possibly unfairly compared against the debut. Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate is an excellent set if studied in its individuality rather than comparing it to a previous Commander Legends set.
Commander Legends was an undeniable hit, but it had been a pipe dream of Gavin Verhey for many years, which Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate did not benefit from. Years into development meant that wizards of the coast could iron out the kinks in the set until it was seamless. Perhaps the set would have performed better if it wasn’t shoehorned into the Commander Legends umbrella and should have been titled something else; perhaps Tales from the forgotten realms: Battle for Baldur’s Gate, which would still keep it with the theme but would not necessarily be a standard legal set and would also not make us players unfairly compare it to a set that it quite frankly could never live up too, and it isn’t because this is a bad set, it isn’t at all.
This set has a plethora of fascinating legendary creatures that can be used as a commander. In the weeks following the release, Miirym, Sentinel Wyrm had 2877 decks, Captain N’ghathrod had 1454 decks and Myrkul, Lord of bones had 1295 decks on EDHREC. These are huge numbers for such a small space of time. For comparison purposes, Streets of New Cappena has had more time in terms of deck construction and has very similar numbers, with the top Commander being Anhelo, the Painter, with 2520 decks on EDHREC.
This is no small feat and shouldn’t be ignored; the cards are fun to play with, the background mechanic lets you tailor a hero however you like, and White staples have been printed and given ammo to a colour segment that desperately needed it. Still, even with all these great cards, something is glaring that does do this set a disservice. Reprints.
Commander Legends and Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate had 100 reprints each. When the word “reprints” is thrown around, it creates an implicit expectation that many of the sought-after cards for our format will be reprinted, giving access to newer players who haven’t had an opportunity to play with some of the famous (and in some cases, infamous) cards.
The biggest reprints from Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate are:
- The Battlebond lands; Bountiful Promenade, Luxury Suite, Morphic Pool, Sea of Clouds and Spire Gardens, valued between £7.99 and £13.99
- Jeska’s Will, which was an original card from Commander Legends £10.99
- Nature’s Lore £2.99 and Three Visits £3.99
- Basilisk Collar £0.99
When we compare this with the reprints in Commander Legends, we see a different story which had:
- Vampiric Tutor £44.99
- Mana Confluence £24.99
- Mana Drain £32.99
- Scroll Rack £19.99
- Sigarda’s Aid £9.99
Undeniably there was much more substance to the reprints found in Commander legends, and it’s not as if it’s because some cards couldn’t be included simply because they didn’t fit thematically.
Dockside Extortionist could absolutely be included in this set. Baldur’s Gate has a port; after all, if we can have Pirate horrors, we can have a taxing goblin. But rather suspiciously, this card appears in the much more expensive product Double Masters 2022. Wizards of the Coast are a company, and their primary function is to make money, but this feels like a deliberate holdback to get players to buy both products in, let’s face it, a very short space of time.
No one is expecting a Cyclonic Rift or a Mana Crypt reprint in a Commander-focused set, but surely Sword of Feast and Famine could be reprinted in a set based on a game where finding loot is a central theme.
The Medallion cycle could be reprinted in this set. Getting a magical medallion for killing a difficult boss at the end of a dungeon is very on point in this set, but instead, we got the Diamond cycle.
This cycle was printed in Commander Legends previously. I appreciate that they are there to serve as mana fixing for the draft and sealed format, but there is no reason that it could not include both.
The never-ending spoiler season.
To date, we have had 5 sets released this year, without including Secret Lairs (which we have had 23 released).
We have had so many products this year. We haven’t really had a chance to appreciate the cards that have been pulled. There has been no time to play with them, try them out in different situations, and get to grips with some of the mechanics. Instead, we are bombarded with cards for months at a time, meaning that some cards get left behind and forgotten.
This damages the sets. Whilst R and D might be able to spend months playing and testing the cards between sets, we have not had the same privilege. Just look at the timeline below of set releases so far, and I think Wizards of the Coast know this; having delayed the following product, the Warhammer 40K commander decks, which were planned for release in August, have been pushed back until October (but is also released the same day as Unfinity)
Whilst the hype train relentlessly chugs on and excites us to be part of the community, it is impossible to keep up.
There are so many cards from the previous sets that I have totally forgotten about. Endless Detour from Streets of New Cappena looks like a really versatile spell, but I haven’t had a chance to make it work. By the time it was released, Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate was released, and then literal days after the release of Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate, the spoiler season for Double Masters 2022 began.
It’s too much; Streets of New Cappena has the advantage of still being relevant in standard, but Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate, not so much.
If players are expected to be constructing decks, playing draft and showing this set the love and play it deserves, there needs to be space to allow for creativity. It not only does a disservice to the set but also the players.
All of this and the addition of 23 Secret Lairs has led to product fatigue in the players, diminishing the impact that Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate had on Commander players.
Mo Money Mo Problems
As the Prof always says, it is always better to buy singles than draft packs unless you find cracking packs fun. That is the primary function of Magic: The gathering to have fun. I wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment. Full disclosure, I do enjoy opening packs with my friends, especially for draft, but it is always more economical to buy the singles you want rather than gamble on opening packs.
If players want to keep up and buy boxes for draft with their friends, they would have spent between £430-£450 (depending on retailers) in 3 months.
That is a lot of money, especially when sets like Double Masters 2022 get eaten up very quickly. Giving players breathing space will also allow them to not get a big hit on their finances all in one go.
Some of these are premium products and are not for everyone. However, in my view, it doesn’t justify such a short space between product releases.
Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate is an excellent set, filled with exciting mechanics, inclusivity in the artwork, and many great cards for the format as a whole. Its failings aren’t due to poor set design but poor management, poor communication and a bombardment of products that it felt impossible to keep up with.
If you have not yet had the chance to play this set, I implore that you pick up a few packs and draft them with your friends. If you are getting into commander, pre-con decks are perfect entry-level, which can be pretty powerful with a few tweaks.