The 600 - Predicting the Popularity of Baldur's Gate Commanders, Part 1

(Tasha, the Witch Queen | Art by Martina Fackova)

Return of the Legends

I don't know who Baldur is and I don't know why they left their gate open, but I do know this: I'm excited for this set. Now let's speculate, 600 style.

In this article series, I try to guess how popular new commanders will become in one year's time. Each commander gets an "Over" or "Under," the former meaning that I'm guessing they'll lead 600 or more Commander decks, the latter meaning I'm guessing they'll lead fewer. There's also one "Can't Miss Pick," which is my surest selection of the set (unless I get it wrong, in which case, forget I ever mentioned it). Check back in a year's time to see how I fared.

Since there are so darn many commanders in Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur's Gate, we're doing half now, half later. This article will cover all the mono-colored commanders. Without further ado, let's open those gates!


Abdel Adrian, Gorion's Ward

This card feels like an inferior version of Lagrella, the Magpie, which doesn't bode well. Lagrella leads a modest 238 decks as I write this article, yet her color identity is far more appealing than Abdel here. Even with his Background, I don’t see many players playing him (unless they mistake him for Gideon Jura).

My prediction: Under

Ellyn Harbreeze, Busybody

"Busybody" is an incredible job title, and the rest of the card isn’t half bad, either. Not only does Ellyn give you fairly consistent card draw in white, she gives card selection. Furthermore, with the right Background, one could add a complementary color for mana fixing, such as green, or additional card draw, such as blue. Prepare to gossip, people.

My prediction: Over

Lae'zel, Vlaakith's Champion

Lae'zel is Hardened Scales on a stick, with upside. You get extra loyalty counters, energy counters, experience counters, and more, all on a three-mana commander that comes with your choice of Background. What a champion.

My prediction: Over

Lulu, Loyal Hollyphant

When I think of the name "Lulu," I don’t think of a flying elephant—I think of the classic 2011 album by Lou Reed and Metallica.

Just kidding, that album is horrendous. I'm not sure our pachyderm friend here is much better. Sure, triggering Lulu's ability is easy, what with Treasure, Clue, and Food tokens aplenty, plus fetch lands. But what do such cards have to do with tapping creatures? And how are you tapping your creatures safely every turn? I suppose you could run a deck full of creatures with activated abilities, but how many useful ones are there in white, and does tapping them an extra time really offer much? I'd rather listen to the album.

My prediction: Under

Rasaad yn Bashir

We first saw this text on Doran, the Siege Tower, and it’s been popular ever since; just check Arcades, the Strategist, the most popular Bant commander of all time. Rasaad is far easier to cast than either of those, plus he comes with the Background of your choice. The Initiative thing is just gravy, and tasty gravy at that!

My prediction: Over

Alora, Merry Thief

This card is basically Bilbo Baggins if he’d chosen a life of crime. Evidently, he wouldn’t have been very successful. Alora gives one free unblockable attack per combat and helps cycle ETB effects, but since you pay full price to recast the attacker, the applications are limited. A fine card, but perhaps a smidge too underpowered for widespread play.

My prediction: Under

Gale, Waterdeep Prodigy

No, this isn’t Oprah’s friend Gayle—this is Gale, the Wizard! Alas, I don't think he'll achieve quite the same level of fame. Gale requires cheaper spells, since you don't cast the card from the graveyard for free. What's more, you need a healthy split of instants and sorceries, since casting one allows you to cast the other. You do get a Background, but I don't see that making up for these limitations. Shoutout to Gayle King.

My prediction: Under

Imoen, Mystic Trickster

Dungeons never really took off in Commander, or Standard, or Modern, or Draft, or really anywhere, so I doubt Imoen will have much more luck here. At least she appears to be having a good time, though.

My prediction: Under

Renari, Merchant of Marvels

Aside from Vedalken Orrery, there’s little demand for cards that grant flash. Yeva, Nature's Herald and Shimmer Myr have their fans, but overall, the upside is too minor to significantly move the needle.

My prediction: Under

Vhal, Candlekeep Researcher

This card reminds me of Errant, Street Artist, in that you read it and immediately say, "Huh?" Cards with Flashback or similar effects work, plus you can use the mana to cast your Background, which is pretty neat. However, even if you boost Vhal's toughness to double digits, there's a limit on what can reasonably be accomplished with colorless mana, especially considering the card's aforementioned restrictions. Interesting, but unlikely to be popular.

My prediction: Under

Volo, Itinerant Scholar

Here's a recent entry from Volo's Journal:

Dear Diary,

Today, some goof I've never heard of wrote about me in some article series called The 600. He seemed to think I'd become popular, what with my unique abilities, my flavorful charm, and how fun I am to play with. While I cannot dispute any of these charges (nor would I, if we're being honest), I must take umbrage in the fact that he mentioned my previous incarnation, Volo, Guide to Monsters, from Adventures in the Forgotten Realms.

How dare he! I am my own man, my own Volo, and what’s more…

All right, it goes on and on, but I've got a word count to stick to, and didn't anyone ever tell you it’s impolite to read someone else's journal? Let’s give the grade and move on.

My prediction: Over

Safana, Calimport Cutthroat

I know I just said nobody cares about Dungeons, but players do love Treasure. Whether it’s Kalain, Reclusive Painter or Prosper, Tome-Bound, commanders with Treasure tokens always seem to go over.

That said, Safana is a fairly unimpressive commander that does essentially nothing without the Initiative, and even then doesn’t offer much until you've completed a Dungeon. It should play well in Draft and mediocre outside of it.

My prediction: Under

Sarevok, Deathbringer

Sarevok is the anti-Lulu, and also pretty scary in his own right. Imagine him equipped with Colossus Hammer, for instance. However, he's relatively easy to play around, especially in a format with fetch lands, mana rocks that sacrifice themselves, and omnipresent commanders like Korvold, Fae-Cursed King and Breya, Etherium Shaper. He won’t be popular, but at least he sports a cool helmet.

My prediction: Under

Shadowheart, Dark Justiciar

A clean, simple design, but effective. It’s particularly powerful with any recursive creatures, such as Gravecrawler or Tenacious Underdog, plus even better with a Background like Master Chef or Agent of the Iron Throne. Not splashy, but solid enough to earn 600 fans or more.

My prediction: Over

Sivriss, Nightmare Speaker

All hail Magic’s first Snake Cleric Warlock! Looks like he's great in front of a crowd. He's also a decent (if plodding) card advantage engine, stuffing tons of cards into either your hand or graveyard, either of which works for black.

Still, it's not like we're talking about Consecrated Sphinx here. I also don't see any Backgrounds that combo particularly well with it. Hope you enjoy the extra cards, Siv.

My prediction: Under

Viconia, Drow Apostate

Packing one’s graveyard just to return a random creature seems vastly underpowered, especially compared to existing heavyweights with similar abilities, such as Meren of Clan Nel Toth and Muldrotha, the Gravetide. Not seeing it here.

My prediction: Under

Amber Gristle O'Maul

Amber takes the cake for best name in the set, though there's little else to mention. She's undersized, easy to kill, and not even a reliable card draw engine. Sure, she enables Madness, but there are far better options in red. Nobody tosses a Dwarf, but I'm tossing this one right in the Under bin.

My prediction: O'Under

Ganax, Astral Hunter

Neat effect, but five mana is far too expensive for a 3/4 flyer, even with the Treasure rebate. This plus Universal Automaton feels like the start of some infinite loop, but otherwise, Ganax doesn't have much going on.

My prediction: Under

Gut, True Soul Zealot

A 4/1 menace token is nice, but you only get one per combat, so you’re not getting much else from this dude aside from him being a "True Soul Zealot," whatever that is.

My prediction: Under

Karlach, Fury of Avernus

Players seem to love this effect, which is probably why Wizards of the Coast keeps printing it. This is one of the better variations, with first strike helping your creatures survive until the second combat. Plus, Karlach herself doesn’t need to attack to trigger the ability. I wonder if her friends call her Karl...?

My prediction: Over

Livaan, Cultist of Tiamat

I do not advocate for joining cults, but Livaan seems to know what he's doing. Imagine casting Treasure Cruise or Dig Through Time, giving your best creature a big bump for as low as one mana. Plus, it counts noncreature spells, not just instants and sorceries, meaning your own Background can trigger Livaan, amongst many other spells.

To me, this feels like Kiln Fiend in the command zone, with upside. I think that should appeal to 600 players, at least.

My prediction: Over

Wyll, Blade of Frontiers

I appreciate Wizards rolling the dice with this dice-rolling mechanic, but it wasn’t particularly popular the first time around, and I don’t think it will be here, either.

My prediction: Under

Erinis, Gloom Stalker

Attackers with deathtouch often survive combat, so that’s a good start. Erinis combos best with lands that sacrifice themselves, such as fetch lands, Urza's Saga, or, if you’re feeling really mean, Strip Mine. Plus, there are several Backgrounds that pair nicely with it, including Flaming Fist (making it virtually unblockable) or Sword Coast Sailor (making it literally unblockable). I like this hobbit.

My prediction: Over

Halsin, Emerald Archdruid

Halsin digs small tokens bearing useful keywords, such as 1/1 flying spirits. It also synergizes with several Backgrounds, including Inspiring Leader, Veteran Soldier, Feywild Visitor, and Cloakwood Hermit.

Still, you'll need to pay up every turn if you want to keep those tokens beefy. And there's another commander in this set that augments tokens far better. A close call here.

My prediction: Under

Jaheira, Friend of the Forest

Remember when I mentioned a commander that augments tokens? Jaheira is that commander. Now your Squirrels become Llanowar Elves, your Treasures become permanent mana sources, and even your Food tokens do something besides getting eaten. In short, Jaheira produces scary amounts of mana, which is exactly what you want to do in an Elf deck. Er, excuse me, half-Elf.

My prediction: Over

Skanos Dragonheart

A five-mana 4/4 that needs help to do anything else already sounds lousy, especially without built-in evasion or protection. You probably don’t want Skanos in Draft, let alone EDH.

My prediction: Under

Wilson, Refined Grizzly

The ultimate Bear in every sense of the word. A two-mana 2/2 with several relevant keywords, plus a Background (might I suggest Raised by Giants?). You can even play the Phish song "Wilson" whenever you cast him, or bellow "Wilson!" forlornly, a la Tom Hanks. Both will annoy your friends, but at least someone's having fun.

My prediction: Over (Can't-Miss Pick!)

Faceless One

This card has absolutely no applications other than mitigating train-wreck drafts. There are no drafts in EDH, of course, so there's no reason anyone should play this card, ever.

I say this, and yet 16 people are running The Prismatic Piper. Whatever. There's no way this card goes Over. If it does, I vow to retire from this article series.

My prediction: Under


Recap

Under (17)

Over (10)

Can't-Miss Pick

Part two coming soon. Until then, thanks for reading!

Kyle A. Massa is a writer and avid Magic player living somewhere in upstate New York with his wife, their daughter, and three wild animals. His current favorite card is Rasputin, the Oneiromancer. Kyle can be found on Twitter @mindofkyleam.