Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur's Gate Set Review - Black

Elder Brain (Variant) | Art by Nino Is

White | Blue | Black | Red | Green | Gold I | Gold II | Artifacts & Lands

The Dawn is Especially Cruel this Morning

For our opponents, that is!

Welcome to my review of the black cards of note from Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur's Gate! Whether you're an avid fan of the Forgotten Realms or a newcomer to the Sword Coast, it's a great time to be playing black. Now, enough introduction: let's see the cards!

(If you haven't already, make sure to familiarize yourself with the new mechanics featured in this set!)


Mythics


Ancient Brass Dragon

Nonlegendary Elder Dragon? That's a first!

This card needs haste to be really good. Our dear opponents won't simply let us untap with this bad boy. Sneak Attack could do the trick. I think it'd be a good fit in Bladewing the Risen, which allows us to play cards like Anger or Dragon Tempest. You just don't want to be casting a seven-mana 7/6 flyer that does nothing else for a turn. It's also is a potential inclusion in Kaalia of the Vast.

When you do hit one of your opponents, the effect can be quite good. A middling roll - a 10, for instance - can bring back a surprising number of creatures. I still don't think you want to include this in any Reanimator deck that can't give haste; at this cost, you'd want a creature that can reanimate on ETB, like Sepulchral Primordial.


Blood Money

Okay, hold your horses. The Treasures come in tapped, and seven mana is a lot. There are a lot of efficient wraths in black: Toxic Deluge, Damnation, or Mutilate. I know the first two are a bit pricey, money-wise, but Languish is playable, and Deadly Tempest can cause some serious hurt. I find myself cutting Necromantic Selection and In Garruk's Wake more and more from decks because they just cost too much.

With that out of the way, oh my God, Treasures. Consider a pretty conservative board state: two creatures per player? That's eight Treasures right there. Sure, you can't use them on the turn you cast Blood Money, but they're waiting for your next turn, and it'll be much faster for you to rebuild that board.

What about decks that can benefit from Treasure synergy? I wonder if this is good enough for Breya, Etherium Shaper or Prosper, Tome-Bound, who already have access to good colors for board wipes. Eloise, Nephalia Sleuth wants to sacrifice a lot of tokens, and I would argue that Treasures are the easiest way to trigger her Surveil ability. This strategy also pairs well with Marionette Master and Disciple of the Vault.

As for new commanders from this set, I'd consider including the card in Jan Jansen, Chaos Crafter and Mahadi, Emporium Master decks, or any commander that chooses the Agent of the Iron Throne Background.


Pact Weapon

Bob in weapon form!

I wouldn't get too excited about the "not losing the game" part, though. It's a pretty fragile strategy to rely on having an artifact stick to the board to stay alive, and the Equip cost is a bit steep. Yes, Pact Weapon will get you card advantage in the long run, but you have to swing three times to be up a card.

I do think that Pact Weapon's design is interesting. You want to draw a high-mana-value card to pump the equipped creature a decent amount, but then you lose that much life. My first thought is to go with commanders with lifelink, since it immediately gains you the life back, like K'rrik, Son of Yawgmoth or Liesa, Shroud of Dusk. Then, there are commanders that love when you pay life: Greven, Predator Captain and Willowdusk, Essence Seer. Equipment decks that include black, like Syr Gwyn, Hero of Ashvale, might want to consider this, and Syr Gwyn in particular lets you bypass the Equip cost.

I think Pact Weapon offers interesting gameplay, but don't count on it to save your butt. We all know how pacts with otherworldly entities end.


Rares


Altar of Bhaal

I feel like every knob on this card has been turned down a notch. Three mana for a tapped skelly guy, at sorcery speed. Exiling a creature to reanimate another, at sorcery speed. You're driving a hard bargain, Bhaal! Of course Squee, the Immortal and Eternal Scourge exist, but that engine costs a lot of mana. There are so many ways to reanimate stuff efficiently: Reanimate, Animate Dead, Necromancy, etc. Being able to reanimate repeatedly is appealing, but it's a lot easier if it's on a creature, like Priest of Fell Rites, Doomed Necromancer, and company. You can always exile token creatures to pay the cost (thanks Jadar), but to me, Altar of Bhaal just isn't worth the trouble.


Astarion's Thirst

Four mana is what we usually pay for this effect, e.g., Vraska's Contempt. Baleful Mastery lets you reduce that cost to two mana by giving your opponent a card, and everything I just said until this point is meaningless because Deadly Rollick exists and why wouldn't you play that instead?

Astarion's Thirst seems fine. You need at least one or two exile effects in your deck to get around indestructible and graveyard recursion, so this could serve. This card's value goes up if you have a deck that cares about +1/+1 counters, like Felisa, Fang of Silverquill maybe?

Also, hot Vampires are hot.


Call to the Void

Inspired design that will lead to funny moments, but ultimately, not a very reliable card.

Do you choose the most dangerous creature on the board? Or do you go for the second-best one because obviously someone will pick Atraxa, Praetors' Voice? And on your side of the board: do you sacrifice your worst creature, or your best one because it's gonna die anyway? Maybe there's four big threats sitting there. Who's to say that the four players won't all choose the same one?

People will play this card for the lols, and lols will be had - just expect the unexpected.


Cultist of the Absolute

Are you willing to sacrifice a few friends for some spooky tentacles? The effect is okay; it makes your commander a good blocker, or gives it evasion in the case that it wants to attack. It also provides a sacrifice outlet. The ward ability, though, is basically meaningless in Commander.

Sarevok, Deathbringer seems like a good candidate for this Background. Lulu, Loyal Hollyphant also has a trigger about permanents having left the battlefield, and who wouldn't want to transform this cute Elephant Angel into an Eldritch abomination? I can imagine a low-to-the-ground Viconia, Drow Apostate deck that recurs small creatures, like Dusk Legion Zealot, to trigger Zulaport Cutthroat, for instance.

This Backgroud will like having cards like Jadar, Ghoulcaller of Nephalia in the deck. As for playing Cultist of the Absolute in the 99, Shirei, Shizo's Caretaker or Elenda, the Dusk Rose might be interested. Alesha, Who Smiles at Death needs to attack for her trigger to go off, so a bit more evasion can't hurt, and you'll be able to bring back the creature that you just sacrificed.


Elder Brain

We have the same issue here as with Ancient Brass Dragon: will you untap with this creature? People don't like when their hand goes to exile (even if they draw seven cards afterwards). Elder Brain feels very slow, and its stats are underwhelming. Menace is a form of evasion, sure, but far from the best, and you might have nowhere safe to send this creature. When it hits, though, that's a lot cards! Its saving grace is that you can cast the cards from exile even if Elder Brain gets removed.

My guess is that Elder Brain will find a home mostly in Horror tribal decks, like Umbris, Fear Manifest and Captain N'ghathrod. We also might see it in theft decks, like Gonti, Lord of Luxury, Arvinox, the Mind Flail, or Tasha, the Witch Queen.


Eldritch Pact

I find it difficult to believe that you would want to cast this at any time. It seems like it'll always be too early (not enough cards in the graveyard) or too late (it'll kill me if I cast it). I understand the appeal of drawing fifteen cards for fifteen life, but - at the risk of repeating myself - seven mana is a lot. Another use for Eldritch Pact is targeting someone else to kill them. Graveyard strategies are pretty popular, so you could face those kind of decks a decent amount of the time. I think, though, that you want Eldritch Pact to work for you most of the time and consider it upside if you finish an opponent with it. Another thought: graveyard decks that would play this card already have tons of card advantage because their graveyard is their second hand, so this card falls in a weird spot. I, for one, will not be dabbling in the dark arts.


Intellect Devourer

After Papa Brain, it's Baby Brain! The possibility that your opponents will exile three lands is quite high, but it's not bad if that's the worst case, I suppose. It's still card advantage! So what do we think about a four-mana 2/4 that draws you three cards? Pretty decent. I'm not sure people will waste removal on this guy, so you'll probably be able to play the cards across a few turns at least.

Intellect Devourer will mostly fit into decks where we will see Elder Brain, as listed above, though it might also fit into Prosper, Tome-Bound.


Ravenloft Adventurer

The second ability alone is good enough to be playing this card. Dauthi Voidwalker makes a lot of lives miserable with its incidental graveyard hate. And taking the initiative is nice. There's a lot of work required for Ravenloft Adventurer's third ability to trigger, but that's just gravy.

Now, let's talk about hit counters. Not too long ago, Etrata, the Silencer was the only card that cared about those. In Streets of New Capenna, though, we got Mari, the Killing Quill, and now we get Ravenloft Adventurer. There is definitely someone at Wizards working very hard to make their Etrata deck work.

All joking aside, there's already some tension between the cards. Mari lets you remove hit counters, whereas Ravenloft Adventurer and Etrata want you to accumulate them. Obviously Ravenloft still goes into those decks because there's just not enough hit counter generators at the moment. I'm willing to bet there will be more support for this in the future.


Shadowheart, Dark Justiciar

A lot of the cards found in Ghoulcaller Gisa would be good here: low-mana high-power creatures, like Phyrexian Soulgorger, aristocrats payoffs, like Zulaport Cutthroat or Dictate of Erebos, or Thornbite Staff for untap synergy.

Shadowheart will likely come out on turn three or four, but the fact that the sacrifice outlet costs two mana makes her a bit slow. Also, her effect is quite powerful, and people are not going to let you draw all the cards willy-nilly, so be ready to get out your boots and your Malakir Rebirths.

Appealing Backgrounds for Shadowheart include: Agent of the Iron Throne for yet another aristocrat payoff, Cloakwood Hermit for some token generation and access to green, or maybe Street Urchin for some additional flexibility and access to red.


Uncommon Legends


Agent of the Iron Throne

The word "artifact" is what caught my eye here. A Background like Agent of the Iron Throne can be very scary with all the Treasures we see nowadays, and it can pair well with a lot of commanders, from Gut, True Soul Zealot to Lulu, Loyal Hollyphant. It can be played in the 99 of aristocrats and artifact decks, like Teysa Karlov and Breya, Etherium Shaper, respectively. It might also be a consideration for decks that just use a lot of Treasures, like Tivit, Seller of Secrets or Prosper, Tome-Bound.


Agent of the Shadow Thieves

This gives your commander essentially a "better" Dethrone, because you can be the player with the highest life total and still get the benefits. It also will pair well with commanders that want to attack to trigger their abilities, like Karlach, Fury of Avernus, Erinis, Gloom Stalker, or Skanos Dragonheart. Lae'zel, Vlaakith's Champion can get you additional counters. It's a useful Background, if not an exciting one.


Criminal Past

This seems a bit weak to me. There is no toughness boost, and I'll say it again: I think menace on a single creature is no big deal. Amber Gristle O'Maul or Skanos Dragonheart can potentially profit from this Background, though. I can also see Criminal Past in the 99 of a turbo-mill deck, like Syr Konrad, the Grim. It's not the swinging that wins you the game in Konrad, but it can be a nice plan B. You can also play it in Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord, who already wants you to have a lot of creatures in your graveyard. Criminal Past is not an exciting payoff for graveyard decks, but it does enable attacking strategies.


Safana, Calimport Cutthroat

Safana is both a Treasure and an initiative commander. She can be either paired with Dungeon Delver for dungeon value, or with Sword Coast Sailor for that "unblockability" to get the initiative back, or Guild Artisan for sweet Treasure synergy. Unfortunately, I don't know if Safana, Calimport Cutthroat is good enough for Sefris of the Hidden Ways. Dungeons get completed pretty fast in that deck, so Safana would pay for herself the turn she comes in a lot of the time... but she doesn't give you the initiative. Otherwise, I seriously would have considered her.


Sarevok, Deathbringer

The man himself!

I really want to like Sarevok's effect, but I get the feeling that permanents will leave the battlefield very often. Whether it be Treasures, or your opponents working together to attack creatures into each other so they can die, I feel like too much agency is given to your opponents. But you might not need many triggers if Sarevok's power is high enough. Equip him with a Lashwrithe and he becomes real scary.

Like I mentioned before, he can be partnered with Cultist of the Absolute. You could also go Orzhov Blink with Far Traveler, as flickering is still "leaving the battlefield", or you can slam down a Raised by Giants and people will start sweating. If you want the flavourful route, go for Street Urchin.

He still is pretty cool, and his alternate art is friggin' metal.


Sivriss, Nightmare Speaker

As a commander, Sivriss is pretty open-ended. Sacrifice, artifacts, mill, and "leaves-the-graveyard" synergies are all explored with this Snake Cleric Warlock. The real question is, at what point do people stop paying life to give you cards? Pretty darn late, I think, so we have to think of this commander as a group slug/mill engine first and foremost. Backgrounds that synergize with Shadowheart, Dark Justiciar will also be applicable here. Choose Street Urchin and go for a Rakdos artifacts deck, or go mono-black with Agent of the Iron Throne. Sivriss does a lot of things that Syr Konrad, the Grim wants to be doing, so maybe they're worth a try in that deck.


Viconia, Drow Apostate

Viconia is doing her impression of Oversold Cemetery, but with a little gambling involved. Of course, if you built your deck right, it's always good no matter what you get back (insert obligatory "My Grandpa's deck has no pathetic cards, Kaiba"). Boiled down, Viconia is a three-mana 2/3 that draws you a card every turn, and that's just so fair nowadays. You could build a deck with very low mana-cost creatures with a good ETB and/or death trigger, and play them, sacrifice them, get them back, do it again, but Shirei, Shizo's Caretaker exists and is kind of better for that? Ultimately, Viconia is a bit too tame for my taste.


Commons & Uncommons


  • Cloudkill is at least a decent consideration if your commander has a mana value five or higher. As discussed with Blood Money, six mana is usually where I draw the line for board wipes, so I expect to see Cloudkill a decent amount.
  • I wonder if Nefarious Imp triggering on permanents instead of creatures is enough to make it better than, say, Warteye Witch, who doesn't see a lot of play outside Grenzo, Dungeon Warden. But again, think of the Treasures!
  • If you want to fill your graveyard, Scion of Halaster can help. It's a kind of Search for Azcanta that never flips? It's slow, but it provides some card selection.

I Have Become Death, Destroyer of Worlds

So how did black fare?

Theft decks, like Umbris, Fear Manifest, got new toys in Elder Brain and Intellect Devourer. It's slow, but I do like Ancient Brass Dragon; when it hits, it's really good. If we're going for power level, Agent of the Iron Throne might be in the running for the best black Background. Seeing Sarevok, Deathbringer on a card makes me very happy, even if his effect can be avoided somewhat easily.

But what do you think about the black cards of Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur's Gate? What are the ones that'll go directly into your decks? Am I totally wrong about Call to the Void? Are you excited to draft the format? I'm Philomène, and this was my set review. Enjoy the new cards and see you next time!

Philomène is a film composer from Montréal, Canada. Her love of card games started in the late 90's with Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh!, Dragon Ball Z and of course, Magic : The Gathering. Preferring a more casual kind of game in commander (art and lore being very high on her list of reasons to play cards), she satiates her competitive urges through Limited formats.