While there are many options for Commander and background pairings, Backgrounds are still great in the 99. Kristen highlights five Commanders that get a lot of mileage out of backgrounds in the 99.
Backgrounds are an exciting new mechanic from Battle for Baldur’s Gate. While they are primarily used as an enchantment that works like a Partner in the Command Zone, they can just as easily slot into the 99 of a deck, where they’ll do a lot of work. Remember that when used with Partner commanders, they’ll grant the buff to both creatures, becoming even more potent. In the spirit of Partners, let’s kick things off.
The first deck I’m looking at today is a Mardu tokens build. Mardu decks are already great token decks, with Commander pairings like Akiri/Tymna and Commanders like Isshin proving pretty popular. With Mardu tokens you can do big combat damage, but you can also be an aristocrats-style deck and draw a lot of cards.
Rograkh/Tymna benefits hugely from the token-based backgrounds. Inspiring Leader means your tokens will get a huge +4/+4 while both Commanders are in play, which is frankly absurd for just three mana. You can combine this with Commander’s Insignia, which gives +1/+1 for each time you’ve cast a Commander, for potentially huge gains. Commander’s Insignia is partly why I opted for Rograkh in this pairing, as casting Rograkh multiple times is very easy to do. Rograkh and Tymna, between them, also offer some brilliant keywords. The secret Commanders in a deck like this are Odric, Lunarch Marshal and Akroma, Vision of Ixidor. Building a tokens deck that wants to share keywords and buff the tokens in big ways is what you want to be doing here.
Veteran Soldier ties into this strategy well, giving us a burst of tokens each time any of our Commanders attack the player with most (or tied for most) life. Dropping this on turn 2 after a turn 1 Rograkh gives you an instant board, a board which benefits from casting a turn 3 Tymna immensely. When combined with the likes of Adeline, Resplendent Cathar, Increasing Devotion, Cathars’ Crusade and myriad cards, such as Battle Angels of Tyr? You’d be surprised how quickly you can amass an army.
If you’d rather stick to a tribal theme, then you could instead go for Jirina Kudro Humans, which still makes these backgrounds hum. At that point, you can happily consider Folk Hero and Haunted One too, as they both excel in tribal builds. Honestly, this is a deck I’m pretty excited about, and whatever Commander I choose, I think I’ll be building it soon. For what it’s worth, Kyler, Sigardian Emissary could also use these backgrounds, but Mardu Tokens is way more interesting to me and gets a much bigger buff from them.
Sisay, Weatherlight Captain is an obvious choice for a backgrounds Commander, and you could absolutely do “Oops, all backgrounds!” as you tell the tale of Sisay’s early career working dead end jobs and finding herself. I’m less interested in an all-backgrounds deck, though, and way more hyped to include some very specific backgrounds that can truly enable her to pop off.
Much like Bard Class before it, Noble Heritage is a cheap and easy way to buff Sisay that we can play on-curve. Noble Heritage puts two counters on Sisay when we play her, and, provided she survives around the table, another two on our upkeep. That’s a six-power Sisay going into turn 4, which is good enough to get most things we want so early in the game. The protection this offers is excellent, too – if an opponent takes the counters, you won’t take combat damage or be able to be targeted by them until your next turn. For two mana, this is a lot of power.
The other include is obviously Raised by Giants. Most Sisay decks aim to buff Sisay with +1/+1 counters and equipment, and so modifying her base power brings her to even headier heights. Ten power is more than enough to get absolutely anything you want in a Sisay deck, and you could pull this out of the deck as early as turn 4 if you play Noble Heritage into Sisay. It also increases the chance you can achieve Commander Damage kills, which is pretty nice.
Cosima is a pet deck of mine. I love jumping through hoops in EDH, and mono-blue landfall is a set of hoops that’s always fun to jump through. Though many build Cosima as a vehicle deck, I find she works best as a tempo deck. I run her with disruptive creatures like Wandering Archaic, Aboleth Spawn and Scourge of Fleets, before playing finishers like Nezahal, Primal Tide or Marit Lage’s Slumber. My win conditions vary between Commander damage, creature damage, and a janky-ass combo with Walking Atlas.
Cosima benefits from a wide breadth of Backgrounds. Candlekeep Sage gives you an extra card whenever she enters or leaves play. I’d say this is potentially the most important pickup for the deck for quite some time, as it increases the rate at which you can send Cosima to exile and bring her back – you’re essentially able to retrieve her two landfall triggers sooner than you might otherwise.
Shameless Charlatan is, of course, a flavor win in a Cosima deck, which you’ll know if you’ve ever watched Orphan Black. What makes it so great in Cosima is that it allows you to bring Cosima into play from exile, dump a load of +1/+1 counters onto her, and then have her change into whatever evasive/doublestriking/trampling creature is in play. This is a devastating way to get Commander damage wins, and I’m excited to see it do some work. Remember that the enchantment grants the ability, so she can still change to something else – just not back to Cosima. Unless, of course, there’s another Cosima in play, which there might be if you’re playing clones in the deck.
And yes, clones work with Cosima. If you send Sakashima of a Thousand Faces to exile on your upkeep when it has copied Cosima, it’ll come back, get the +1/+1 counters and card draw, but is still crucially able to enter play as a copy of anything you have in play. Spicy.
Last up, Sword Coast Sailor. Cosima likes to play at Voltron, and Sword Coast Sailor lets you get in unblocked. There’s not much more to it than that – plus it’s a flavor win if you’re going for a sea theme.
I’ll be honest – Prosper really didn’t need any more help. If you weren’t aware, Prosper is an incredibly consistent Rakdos Commander that can string together pseudo-storm turns once set up with ways to make mana and play from exile.
Agent of the Iron Throne slots well into the deck as a win condition. Prosper cracks a lot of treasure, and this allows redundancy when we’re already probably playing cards like Disciple of the Vault. If you don’t enjoy the idea of playing Prosper, you could always try a mono-black Burakos deck with this or Agent of the Shadow Thieves in the Command Zone.
Of course, Prosper is most excited about Passionate Archaeologist, and for good reason. It’s likely you’ll cast more from exile than you’ll sacrifice artifacts, and this gives a very real clock and win condition to the deck. Again, though – if you aren’t a fan of Prosper, or all of your friends have built it, you could do worse than playing this in the 99 of Commander Liara Portyr, a Boros attempt at playing from the exile zone. It’s a great deck to slot in a Rest in Peace & Eternal Scourge combo, that’s for sure. Either you’ll attack three opponents to make the Scourge free to cast, or you’ll have cost reduction in play like Cloud Key and Ugin, the Ineffable. With a sac outlet, that’s a pretty spicy combo.
Lathril is one of the more popular precons of the past few years. In my upgrade guide, I suggested many directions you could take the deck. The one I ultimately settled on for my build was a tribal elf build, featuring the likes of Seedborn Muse, Mobilize, and Vitalize. The goal was to try and amass the elves needed for the tap ability, and then try and use that in combination with Poison-Tip Archer, Skemfar Shadowsage and Shaman of the Pack to win with life drain.
There is another avenue you can take Lathril, though, and it’s one I find super exciting: Voltron. I didn’t build it myself, as I already have many Voltron decks, but the gist is that you essentially use the Elf tokens as fuel, either to pump Lathril to killing power, or as disruption. This takes the form of Stoneforge Masterwork and Attrition, for example.
First up, Cultist of the Absolute. Giving Lathril extra evasion, Ward, and +3/+3 for one measly mana is bonkers good, and the fact this comes down ahead of Lathril, or later to buff her, is… well, yeah. It’s one mana! The best part is the sacrifice downside only happens if Lathril is in play, and it’s very likely you’ll have a token to sacrifice, which isn’t much of a downside all things considered.
Agent of the Shadow Thieves is a way to grow Lathril to get more tokens, and have her attack with impunity. Often you only need one or two good attacks to get set up with Lathril, and this Background gives you that.
Finally, Haunted One. This one is probably the most exciting for Lathril. Whenever she becomes tapped, both Lathril and other Elves (and Nobles, I guess) get a buff of +2/+0 and gain undying for the turn. On its own, this gives us a four power Lathril, but what’s more, it buffs the whole team that we’ve generated through the game. What takes this to almost auto-include levels for Lathril is that this will trigger when you tap Lathril for the drain effect.
In short, this means that should you hold up the drain effect during your opponent’s turns, should they play a board wipe, you not only get to drain them before it resolves, but you also get to keep some of your board. Any non-token Elf you have in play will come back after the wipe. I love this, and can’t wait to play with it.
There you have it – five Commanders that benefit from the new background enchantments in the 99 of their deck. Backgrounds aren’t just for the Command Zone, and I hope this has given you some ideas of what you might do with them. What decks are you putting them in? Let me know on Twitter.
Kristen is a lover of both Limited and Commander, and can most often be found championing the Boros Legion when called upon to sit down and shuffle up. As a member of the Commander Advisory Group, Kristen lives and breathes Commander. When she’s not playing Magic, she works as a freelance writer and editor in the UK.