Background is an interesting variant of the Partner Mechanic, and Scott takes a look at some possible Commander Background pairings for fun new decks!
With Battle For Baldur’s Gate comes Backgrounds, the spiritual successor to Partner and Friends Forever. It’s fairly straightforward in concept: you take a legendary creature with “Choose a Background”, and pair it with a Background. These are legendary enchantments that can reside in the command zone and be played in the same way you play a regular commander. This seems to have been a way to prevent the Partner pool from growing out of control, while also providing an excellent way to make flavorful adjustments to the legendary creature you choose.
Many players have found interesting and powerful combinations among these cards already, like Wilson, Refined Grizzly with Raised by Giants or Flaming Fist. There are many other options too; excluding Faceless One, there are 899 different commander/background combinations! I’ll highlight some of the more interesting and odd combinations I’ve found, as well as some cards that would compliment the strategies. If you’re looking for inspiration for a new deck, then look no further!
Wyll, Blade of Frontiers & Sword Coast Sailor: Dice Rolling Voltron
Dice rolling is a very popular mechanic, particularly among more casual players. Until now, Delina, Wild Mage has been the only Commander legal legendary creature that features dice rolling, and she only uses it to advance her own creature copy game plan. Wyll, Blade of Frontiers is a total shift in focus, who functions as a buff for dice rolling as well as a payoff. Sword Coast Sailor not only gives you access to blue, but it gives you a guaranteed way to give Wyll much-needed evasion.
Red has access to fifteen cards with a dice rolling theme, and blue has thirteen, which is plenty to fill your deck with ways to turn Wyll into a formidable threat. Many of these cards are quite powerful in their own right, and will help you play a solid game while rapidly boosting Wyll’s stats. Cards like Wyll’s Reversal and Diviner’s Portent will let you interact while also keeping your hand well stocked, and Critical Hit will close games out quickly. Between the dice cards alone, you’re already set up for a sweet and powerful brew!
Gale, Waterdeep Prodigy & Scion of Halaster: Spellslinger
Spellslinger is often one of the best ways to be interactive in Commander, as it tends to minimize the card disadvantage associated with dealing with problems on a one-to-one basis. Gale, Waterdeep Prodigy is emblematic of this style, as he lets you reuse spells from your graveyard. When you pair him with the Scion of Halaster background, you have a powerful little engine in the command zone that will keep your graveyard stocked and keep you in control for the whole game.
Most spellslinger decks feature a suite of mostly blue creatures that generate tokens when you cast spells, and this would be no different. Docent of Perfection, Sedgemoor Witch, and Talrand, Sky Summoner are classics that can serve as your blockers and threats. Black gives you access to powerful removal and tutors, and you can use cantrips and cheap draw spells to keep ahead on cards while answering any problem you encounter. This level of card quality in conjunction with Gale’s abilities as a Scion of Halaster, is more than enough to out-control anyone else.
Baeloth Barrityl, Entertainer & Raised by Giants: Goad Everything
Goad tends to be one of those love/hate mechanics: either you love playing with it, or you hate getting goaded. Baeloth Barrityl, Entertainer has a static goad effect, meaning it stays in effect until he leaves play. This is pretty rough to deal with, but at least it only affects creatures that have less power then Baeloth. That’s why I suggest running Raised by Giants to effectively goad 99% of creatures in Commander
Red is known for having a lot of goad effects already, so you’ll have plenty of additional methods of keeping creatures off your back. Komainu Battle Armor will grow Baeloth a little more, further reinforcing their abilities while also providing evasion. You can further dissuade attacks through effects like Circle of Flame, and to improve your survivability when you’re down to one opponent, since goad won’t work then. This is where Raised by Giants and other cards like Belt of Giant Strength come in handy: the power boosts you use to goad everything can now be repurposed for a voltron kill!
Rasaad yn Bashir & Candlekeep Sage: Toughness Blink
There are plenty of Blink strategies in Commander, especially in Azorius colors. The reason why the combination of Rassad yn Bashir and Candlekeep Sage is so interesting, is because it brings something new to the archetype. Playing creatures with excess toughness over power is now a benefit thanks to Rassad’s abilities, and Candlekeep Sage makes your commander into a great value flicker target.
The usual flicker targets are still great, like Archaeomancer and Peregrine Drake, but Rassad makes a number of lesser played creatures much more interesting. Aarakocra Sneak has great stats for a toughness deck while also giving you the initiative for Rasaad’s toughness boost. Kor Celebrant is now a great beater as well as a way to buffer your life total. These can all be flickered for additional value too, so you’ll always have plenty to keep you busy. Even cards like Solidarity turn into game ending plays, particularly when Rasaad can double its already absurd boost!
Ganax, Astral Hunter & Haunted One: Dragons
Dragons are certainly a fan favorite tribe, but a lot of their decks tend to look similar to each other. Rather than going for the usual suspects like The Ur-Dragon or Tiamat, why not take a look at a hybrid dragon-aristocrat-reanimator approach? Ganax, Astral Hunter generates value in the form of treasures whenever a dragon enters the battlefield, and Haunted One can bring them all back through undying, as long as Ganax is tapped.
Since red is the primary color of dragons, you’re spoiled for choice. The best ones in this kind of build are the ones with powerful enter the battlefield abilities, like Terror of the Peaks; when they die with undying, they’ll come back and trigger their abilities again! Immersturm Predator is an on-theme sacrifice outlet, and Bladewing the Risen is both a way to recur your lost dragons, and as a way to pump the team for lethal. You can even use lands like Survivors’ Encampment to tap Ganax at instant speed, giving your dragons undying on an opponent’s turn. This is a super resilient approach to build dragons, and one that doesn’t even fear board wipes!
Karlach, Fury of Avernus & Guild Artisan: Treasure Stompy
Red is usually known for being the fast and aggressive color, but it can really go big when you build it right. Karlach, Fury of Avernus is a phenomenal new commander that wants to initiate combat twice, which is best paired with some large creatures for maximum damage output. This is why I suggest Guild Artisan as a possible pairing: it can give you up to four treasures a turn when Karlach attacks, which will let you power out some truly terrifying monsters!
First of all, to get to your large creatures, you need to make treasures. There are plenty of cheap treasure generators, like Unexpected Windfall, Captain Lannery Storm, and Surly Badgersaur. You can really generate an absurd amount of treasures in a short space of time, making massive beaters like It That Betrays or Blightsteel Colossus trivial to cast. With Karlach’s double combat ability, it won’t be long before your opponents are decimated. If the game goes long however, you have creatures like Reckless Fireweaver to whittle down life totals while making treasures, and Academy Manufactor to make clues for more card draw. Treasure ramp may be temporary, but their ability to deploy massive threats while grinding out is to be respected!
Lulu, Loyal Hollyphant & Haunted One: Angels
Lulu, Loyal Hollyphant is a wonderful little uncommon that holds a bit more power than people first thought. If they’re used as a commander alongside Haunted One, they could prove to be an incredible angel commander. It’s not hard to make permanents leave the battlefield regularly, especially when the other permanent in the command zone can bring a lot of them back!
There are a decent number of Angels with enter the battlefield abilities, so flickering them is one way to trigger Lulu and gain some extra value! White has a ton of premier flicker spells like Ephemerate, and black can give you access to Deadly Dispute, whose sacrifice downside can be mitigated through Haunted One. Karmic Guide is an example of a great on-theme way to bring back any creatures you happen to lose, and you can include the Reveillark combo if you like to add a deterministic way to win. Since undying and Lulu will be putting counters on everything, you can proliferate with cards like Grateful Apparition to grow them even more! This approach certainly has the tools available to amass a terrifying army with a scary amount of value and resilience, and shouldn’t be discounted without trying!
Sarevok, Deathbringer & Raised by Giants: Punisher
A lot of group slug style decks tend to be red, black, or a combination of both. That’s why Sarevok is so interesting with Raised by Giants: Golgari punisher decks don’t really exist at the minute. These two together can take out a whopping ten life if a player doesn’t remove a permanent from play! This is probably best paired with discard and sacrifice effects to constrain opponents’ access to resources to sacrifice. Think of Giant Sarevok as a sort of supercharged The Rack of sorts!
First, you’re not going to be immune to Sarevok’s ability, so you’ll need to make sure you don’t end up taking damage or losing value. Ichor Wellspring and Deadly Dispute are ideal to minimize your risk while maintaining parity or even gaining value. Cards like Plaguecrafter will help to keep your opponents’ boards and hands light, which will reduce their chances of being able to deal with your problems. When you really want to put them in the chokehold, Death Cloud will really lock them down. It’s not the friendliest deck idea in the world, but it can be a lot of fun to play, as well as a fun puzzle to try and fight against!
Lae’zel, Vaalkith’s Champion & Clan Crafter: Artifacts
Lae’zel has been paired with Master Chef a lot since preview season, and for good reason. However I think she could be a great artifacts commander when paired with the Clan Crafter background. Sacrificing artifacts for cards and counters is a tried and true strategy, and extra counter synergy from Lae’zel can turn her into an enormous voltron threat in no time!
There are countless artifacts that give you value when sacrificed, like Myr Retriever and Chromatic Star. These will keep the cards and action flowing, even if you’re not using Clan Crafter’s ability. You can very easily recur them once they’re in the graveyard, like with Emry, Lurker of the Loch or Hanna, Ship’s Navigator. This looping series of sacrificing and recursion is bound to grow Lae’zel rapidly; once she’s large enough to take out your opponents, you can play cards like Wedding Invitation to pierce defenses. This style of deck tends to lack a way to close the game outside of a combo, so swinging with your value-buffed commander is a breath of fresh air!
Vhal, Candlekeep Researcher & Raised by Giants: Big Mana
Vhal, Candlekeep Researcher is one creature that has fascinated me since the day she was first spoiled. When you pair her with Raised by Giants, she taps for a whopping ten mana! The “downside” is that you can’t cast spells from your hand with that mana, but I see it as an opportunity to build a unique Simic deck that doesn’t care much for the contents of your hand.
You can play cards from the top of your library with the Reality Chip and Future Sight, and you can use Vhal’s mana to pay for them. You can also use excess mana on activated abilities, like those on Steel Hellkite or Prophet of Distortion. To close out the game, you can pump excess mana into Silvanus’s Invoker to turn your lands into threats. It’s certainly a more strange and possibly lower powered approach at a Simic ramp deck, but it would have a very unique and fun feel that will impress other players.
These are just about 1% of the possible combinations available with commanders and backgrounds, and you can already see how wild and varied the decks can be. They’re a treasure trove for brewers; who knows, you could find your next favorite deck among them! I hope this has helped you to get creative and find the background that best suits your playstyle.
What are your favorite commander and background combinations? Are you running any of the backgrounds in the ninety nine of other decks? What about the commanders? I’d love to hear about all of your sweet tech ideas and brewing plans, so be sure to share them with me on Twitter! Happy brewing!
Scott is an Irish content creator and the Head of Budget Magic for the Izzet League. He focuses on affordable decks in Pioneer, Modern, and Pauper, particularly ones that stray from the mainstream. When he’s not writing about his favorite decks, he can be found talking incessantly about them on Twitter and on The Budget Magic Cast.