It’s Fine That MTG’s Battle For Baldur’s Gate Is Weaker Than Commander Legends
Magic: The Gathering's first Commander Legends set was a major shake-up of the Commander format when it launched in 2020. Alongside reprints of staples like Sol Ring, Swords to Plowshares, and Mana Drain, we also had new, format-defining tools that pushed Commander into new design spaces, like Opposition Agent and the now-banned Hullbreacher. Its mix of high power and a novel drafting format made it a huge success, and is among my personal favourites of all time.
The follow-up to Commander Legends, Battle For Baldur's Gate, isn't quite that. Gone are the bomb spells and format-benders – we've not even had controversy as big as the stir Jeweled Lotus caused yet. Baldur's Gate is much more restrained, aiming to inject a lot of new cards into the lower end of the power spectrum and banking on its Dungeons & Dragons theme to shift packs.
While players criticise Baldur's Gate for its lack of new staples and prize cards to crack boosters, they're completely missing the point. Not only is it fine that Battle for Baldur's Gate is weaker than the original Commander Legends set, but it's also probably even better for it.
To argue that Baldur’s Gate isn’t bringing high-powered cards into Commander is just bunk. We've seen a new flicker deck toy with Lulu, Loyal Hollyphant; and Owlbear Cub is arguably a better Collected Company you can trigger every turn. It isn't that Baldur's Gate isn't introducing power to the format; it's that it isn't repeating the problems Commander Legends had by trying to push too far into cEDH (competitive Commander) territory.
The power level of Commander has been inching its way upwards in the year and a bit since Commander Legends. We've had a dozen preconstructed decks, each full of exclusive new cards like Archaeomancer's Map or Veyran, Voice of Duality that have had their own influences on Commander. We had Modern Horizons 2 and its ludicrously strong introductions like Esper Sentinel. We've had the Treasure-overload of New Capenna, and the numerous counters and vehicles of Kamigawa. It's fine that Wizards is taking its foot off the pedal for Baldur's Gate, because we don't need each new release to have another staple we have to jam into every deck.
Appealing to players through its Dungeons & Dragons aesthetic, rather than promoting yet more power, has given Wizards the chance to encourage players to try the more sedate, silly world of Battlecruiser Commander. Battlecruiser is all about slower games that like playing big, splashy, but expensive spells to make memorable moments. Take Legion Loyalty, for example: an enchantment that gives your creatures myriad is immense, but it costs eight mana so likely won't appear until later turns when the game is already coming to a natural conclusion. It's a showstopper card designed to end a game on a high, not serve as a core piece in some combo strategy like a Jeska's Will or Hullbreacher.
Someone may look at a product like Baldur's Gate and argue that, as it's a Commander product, it should be catering to all aspects of Commander. They may argue that it should have just as many cards for cEDH or high-power players to enjoy as it does for the Battlecruiser players. But that's ignoring the simple fact that Magic sets are defined by their strongest cards: if you stuff Baldur's Gate full of bombs, it doesn't make a set everyone can enjoy – it makes a set the high-powered players kind of enjoy if it didn't have all those lower-powered cards mucking up the place.
I've regularly said that people should be allowed to play Commander at whatever power level they like. If you want to run a one-turn win combo deck and have enjoyment doing that, then it's just as valid as a Battlecruiser deck hoping to win on turn 12 by swinging out with its Okapi tribal setup. A format where both decks can be played and discussed and enjoyed by a whole table is fantastic, but you can't do that if every lower-power product released is met with derision for not having a new Mana Drain.
cEDH is an amazing part of the Commander format, but Battlecruiser gets people in the door. The thrill of big, silly spells like Ascend From Avernus are easy for new players to understand and appreciate in a way a complex Ad Nauseam combo isn't – and you won't get those players in without catering to them with sets like Battle for Baldur's Gate.
If you want spicy combo funtimes, just wait until July for Double Masters 2022. It won’t kill you, just your wallet.
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