A Sneak Peek at Commander Legends

Posted in Feature on August 22, 2020

By Gavin Verhey

When Gavin Verhey was eleven, he dreamt of a job making Magic cards—and now as a Magic designer, he's living his dream! Gavin has been writing about Magic since 2005.

Last year, I went on the Command Zone with Jimmy Wong and Josh lee Kwai and talked about how it's the Year of Commander, announcing a slew of Commander products—including Commander Collection: Green and, the big one, Commander Legends.

And while this year has definitely taken its share of twists and turns, I'm so happy that throughout this big year of Commander, the community has continued to hold its excitement for the format and these products.

Even playing games against each other on webcam has proven to be huge—I highly encourage you all check out CommandFest Online this weekend and go play some Commander against people all around the world! (Any camera lets you play—even just your phone! You can check out my Good Morning Magic video for instructions.)

In any case, these products were very exciting . . . but the downside is that they weren't going to be out for a very long time. And so, patiently, you have all waited until the time comes to talk about them. Until the time when you would finally get to learn just a bit more about what you will find inside.

Well, that time is now.

In today's live Commander panel, we dove deeper into both of these products, what you can expect from them—and, of course, shared some preview cards.

You can watch the replay of the panel over in the archives of twitch.tv/ChannelFireball, and I encourage you to go back and watch if you didn't originally to catch all the action and details (along with expert thoughts from the fantastic Jules Robins and Ari Nieh, who also worked on these products). But for a quick overview, and the big hits, follow along below!

Commander Legends

I cannot overstate how excited how I am to finally be able to talk about this set with all of you.

By the time it releases, it will have been nearly six years since I originally came up with the idea. Think about what you were doing six years ago! It has been a long time coming for this one.

Concepted, architected, and vision designed by me, then handed off to Jules Robins for the final set design (with some great initial architecture from Mark Globus along the way, too), this set is really a love letter to Commander . . . and really, just some of the awesome characters in Magic's history.

Before getting into cards and the Draft format, there are three big things about the set which are important to set context for early.

  • The set can pull from anywhere and anytime in the multiverse. From Lorwyn to Alara—the tales of the Weatherlight Crew to present day (and even some far deeper cuts!)—there's tons there.
  • While it's similar flavor-wise, mechanically the set is not Modern Horizons. This isn't about putting graft on a flashback card (. . . don't ask) and doing other weird mechanic mashups, nor is it about a substantially increased power level. In that sense, it is mechanically much closer to what you would find in a Magic set—just with a Commander bent. For reference, there are four total non-evergreen mechanics in the main set of Commander Legends: three returning, and one new. (Let the speculation begin!)
  • It is a way to play Limited Commander. That's how this whole idea began, after all! You can play Draft or Sealed with it—and actually, it's a great format to play while at home: you can draft with a smaller group than eight, or play Sealed with friends across the internet using something like Spelltable or Discord. There's plenty of Commander staples around, but also, much like normal Draft, you'll get to play some cards which wouldn't normally make the cut in a Commander deck. That's part of the fun!

Okay. Now with that all said, let's get into how it works!

In Commander Legends, you'll be drafting three 20-card booster packs. Yes, 20 cards! Each pack will have two legends in it—there are two dedicated legend slots, in fact! (Oh, and every pack has a foil too.) Our favorite way to play is to draft at a table of eight and split into two games, but you can also draft as a number smaller than eight and play one game, too!

They look like this, by the way:

CMR Booster

So, you'll crack open your first pack, like a normal draft. But there's one big wrinkle to drafting here: for every pick of Commander Legends, you'll be taking two cards at a time! Like the Two-Headed Giant Draft in Battlebond, or the first pick of Double Masters, you will snag two cards at once for every pick.

Why? Well, there are a few reasons. The first is that part of the fun in Commander is finding cool synergies between cards—and this lets you look through all 20 of these cards and grab two synergistic cards together. Second, it makes the draft go a little bit faster—with 20 cards per pack, it was taking a while, and this sped up the drafting process. Third . . . well, we'll get there in a second. Hold on.

Otherwise, drafting proceeds pretty much as normal. (But with more cards!)

After the draft, you will need to build a 60-card deck—much like how a traditional deck of Magic is 60 cards and a traditional draft is 40, here it's 60 to Commander's 100.

Your deck will need a Commander that locks in its color identity for deck building, your life total is 40, and there's Commander damage, and all additional Commander rules are still in play . . . with one exception.

You can play more than one copy of a card if you draft it: the Singleton rule does not apply. We increased the number of commons in the set from normal to help mitigate how often this comes up, but it can happen. It also stops you from making Draft picks you feel sad about later: "I took a second copy of this card on accident. Whoops!" It's a nice quality-of-life rule, and because you're drafting, don't worry, there's still tons of variety in your decks.

Now, there was a big challenge during the initial design of the set. People were drafting, but they would pick a legend early and get locked into those colors. Because you needed to find the right color combination, the odds of you hitting the correct two- or three-color legend in a future pack to even play the colors you were drafting weren't high enough for you to speculate that you might find it.

Then the team and I uncovered the glue that would hold the whole thing together. The element that made drafting work.

Are you ready for it?

Monocolor partners.

It was PERFECT. You could draft a red partner and still easily find a monocolor partner of a different color to pivot into—while keeping your red color alive. This is pretty similar to a normal draft, where you will start off drafting a color and then look for another color to be open. It played great! (This is another reason, by the way, that picking two cards per pack is awesome: you can grab two partners at the same time!)

Plus, you have all asked for monocolor partners since the mechanic originally appeared in Commander 2016—so this was also a perfect opportunity to deliver on something I've been asked for so many times.

And speaking of something I've been asked for so many times, what better way to deliver this to you than on another thing I've been asked for so many times: Baron Sengir.

Here it is folks. Your first preview card: a new Baron Sengir with partner. Let's see it!

Sengir, the Dark Baron

Looking pretty good, buddy! This thing grows big quick—slam it down on your board, pass the turn, and it can pretty easily grow to kill somebody in a single shot . . . or perhaps a more sinister person would play it in a sacrifice deck, cast it with food at the ready, have Lightning Greaves, and kill somebody out of nowhere.

It also conveniently gets huge so your opponents will want to attack other people. Which then eventually triggers its second ability—excellent!

Why does it have partner? Well, not every partner in this set intends to do nice things with their buddy. Thanks to the dies change, your Commander triggers dies effects when it perishes. This is a card that particularly loves partners who die. There's a few I have in mind . . . but we'll have to save those for closer to the set release.

Also, just because this set doesn't have a hodgepodge of mechanics from across history doesn't mean we didn't make plenty of great mechanical references too. The two +1/+1 counters here is a reference to Baron Sengir's +2/+2 counters.

And speaking of the old Sengir, artist Pete Venters is an iconic part of Baron Sengir's look. He drew the original character, and it was a great opportunity to bring him in on the fun, too.

So, a special promo card you'll be able to get at a Commander Legends preview event (sort of like a Prerelease; more information on those closer to the date) is this alternate-art Sengir, the Dark Baron!

Prerelease Pete Venters Sengir

I am so happy we got to do this—and when I said this set was a love letter to longtime Magic fans, there is a lot like this here for you.

But it's not all about the Baron. There are tons of other legends in the set—and many at uncommon too.

The Baron had an old card—and Commander Legends not only gives new cards to old characters, and introduces some brand-new characters, too, but also finally gives some beloved characters cards.

When we first fleshed out these two characters in the Magic story "Under the Silver Moon," they quickly became fan-favorites. Their plucky story and their wonderful relationship are things I had long wanted to get into cards as actual characters. They've been on my legend list for a while.

And now, they're finally both here. I give you the renowned tracker and trapper duo of Innistrad: Halana and Alena!

HalanaAlena

Unlike the Baron, who really loves when his associates die, these two play much nicer together. We took some notes out of the "partner with" playbook and made some flavorful combinations that work great together.

Of course, unlike partner with, you can pair these up however you want! If you want to bring Halana and Baron together (he'd fit in well on Innistrad, I'm sure!) then go for it—and enjoy as you fight off your opponent's creatures to grow the Baron.

Now I am going to tell you about what is probably the strangest card in the set—and has art fitting of its weirdness.

Whenever I was doing my early playtests and explaining how Commander Legends drafting worked, I would always, without fail, get the following question: "What if I don't find a Commander I can play with?"

Now, in reality, this almost never happens. But I bet you were thinking it, too, when reading what is above. But still, we wanted a failsafe—both to make people feel comfortable and also to solve this in case it does ever happen to you.

So, check out this weirdo:

Prismatic Piper

Aside from the incredible art (truly, Seb was the perfect artist for the task), what is going on here?

It's like a basic land—you can think of The Prismatic Piper as essentially a "basic legend." It's always available to you in Draft. Draft Halana but don't find a blue one for your green-blue deck? Don't worry, you can play the Piper alongside Halana to make it work. Miss on your colors completely? Well, you can use two The Prismatic Pipers as your Commander!

But it's nice to have it around. The Prismatic Piper shows up in about 1-in-6 packs, replacing a common, not replacing a legend. If you need one at the end of the draft (I will stress, this really doesn't come up very often), you will definitely be able to find one among the cards at the table.

Those are all the partners I'm going to show off today—but I will say that the set has a whopping 41 brand-new partners, all of them monocolor. (Provided you include the Piper as a monocolor card.) A sizable part of why the set took so long to finish was really put all those partners through their paces given how many combinations there are. (And why we brought in Jimmy Wong and Josh Lee Kwai from the Command Zone, along with Sheldon Menery, Gavin Duggan, Scott Larabee, and Toby Elliott of the Commander Rules Committee to give us feedback and even try them out.)

And don't worry: if partners aren't your bag, we have plenty of new, non-partner two- and three-color legends in the set for you, too.

And of course, the set has more than just legends. There are plenty of cool and unique cards running around Commander Legends. One thing we wanted to try and use this set to do was help out strategies in the format that needed some assistance.

Like, say . . . white?

Yes, white in Commander has been the topic of much discussion over the past year or so. There are many tools for it coming out in future sets, and today I wanted to share one you can expect in Commander Legends as an example of this.

Prepare to ramp up in white!

Keeper of the Accord

I know there has been a ton of discussion about if Verge Rangers and Cartographer's Hawk are good enough—well, regardless of what you think of those, I can tell you Keeper of the Accord should get the job done. It's pretty easy for this card to ramp you—actually ramp you!—multiple times, and then continue presenting ramp potential in future turns. The tokens are just the cherry on top.

I expect to slot this card into most of my white Commander decks, and you'll be seeing a lot of it on tables.

Commander Legends Booster Fun

It just wouldn't be Commander without some sweet-looking cards.

Commander Legends has a few different styles you can find, and I want to go over two of them: one of them can only be found in Commander Legends Collector Boosters, and the other is far more common in Commander Legends Collector Boosters.

Commander Legends Collector Booster

The first are extended-art cards. These appear only in Commander Legends Collector boosters and are similar to what you find in other Collector Boosters.

For example, here's the extended-art Keeper of the Accord.

Extended-art Keeper of the Accord

But there's a twist: you won't only be able to get rares and mythic rares as extended art. There's another slot in the pack (not replacing your extended-art rare or mythic rare) which has an extended-art common or uncommon of a selection of cards I handpicked. All these cards appear normally in Commander Legends associated products, whether the Draft Booster or its Commander decks.

I chose cards that tend to be Commander staples that don't have another cool version, or at least not one that's easily accessible. That way, you can bling out your Commander staples, and not just the rares.

For example, in the set you'll find Command Tower and Commander's Sphere.

Command TowerCommander's Sphere

These are great cards for the Draft environment since they fix your mana (trying to get enough color fixing and mana rocks into a set where you draft a color identity is an article for another day!)—but they're also played a lot in Commander at large. So, in addition to appearing in the main set, you can find extended-art versions in Collector Boosters.

Extended-art Command TowerExtended-art Commander's Sphere

Now, you might have noticed that none of the legends were up above. And that's because they have something new, different, and gorgeous going on.

Every legend in the set—all 71 of them—has an alternate version in a special frame using a brand-new foil process we call foil etched.

Foil-etched SengirFoil-etched Halana

Foil-etched AlenaFoil-etched Piper

And while we were doing this cool thing to all these new legends, how about we go back and do it to some fan-favorites, too?

We reached back in time and grabbed 32 popular legendary creatures not otherwise in Commander Legends and put them into this frame. For example, say hello to Prossh!

Prossh

Combining those together, the set has over 100 possible legends you can open! The most legends of any set in Magic history.

Now, this foil-etched treatment, as you might imagine, has something to do with foiling. These cards use a brand-new foiling process that looks different from our current foils. The frame was made especially with it in mind.

Trying to explain it in words is difficult . . . so instead, I have a video to show you! Below is a hot-off-the-presses video of Prossh, taken directly from the factory currently printing Commander Legends.

Simply gorgeous!

How can you open one of these? Well, they do appear in Commander Legends Draft Boosters—just at a very low frequency. Every now and then, one will pop up in a draft, and they add great replayability. But the main way to get foil-etched cards is in Collector Boosters, where you can find them in every pack.

Commander Collection: Green

We also revealed everything, yes everything, in Commander Collection: Green! You can read more about that here.

One More Thing . . .

I hope after seeing all of this you're excited about what's coming out the rest of the year—and to amp that excitement up even further, I have one more thing to show you today.

The moment I made the original cycle of these, I knew that we'd want to do the others someday. Where should they go? Commander Legends was the obvious answer.

Introducing . . . the enemy "crowd lands"!

Rejuvenating SpringsSpectator SeatingTraining Center

Undergrowth StadiumVault of Champions

And, since they're nonlegendary rares in the set, they have extended-art versions, too!

Extended-art Rejuvenating SpringsExtended-art Spectator SeatingExtended-art Training Center

Extended-art Undergrowth StadiumExtended-art Vault of Champions

You will find five crowd lands in this set: these five new members of the cycle. I especially love the fun nod of them all still being set on Kylem, the world of Battlebond, too.

To provide some perspective on how long I've been waiting to talk about these, here's one of my favorite designer comments I've ever left in our internal card database that I finally get to share today:

GSV 5/4/2018:
Handoff: Today is the day we previewed the Battlebond ones. On my other monitor I have pages and pages of comments about how they want the enemy ones. So, let's give them those. :)

Imagine keeping that in for over two years every time somebody asked for them. I am so glad to finally tell you about them today.

So, that's some of what's coming up in the year of Commander. And speaking of the year of Commander—go check out CommandFest Online this weekend and play a game! Maybe it'll even be me who joins your table.

I'll also be talking about Commander Legends plenty in the time to come on my YouTube channel, Good Morning Magic, so be sure to go subscribe over there if you haven't already.

If you have any thoughts or questions, I'd love to hear from you. Otherwise, enjoy Commander—and I'm sure I'll talk with you soon.

Stay safe, love you all, and have fun at the CommandFest this weekend—I'm so happy to get to experience this with all of you.

Talk with you soon,

Gavin
Email: BeyondBasicsMagic@gmail.com
Instagram: GavinVerhey
TikTok: @GavinVerhey
Tumblr: GavInsight
Twitter: @GavinVerhey
YouTube: Good Morning Magic

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