MTG's Battle for Baldur's Gate lives up to the promise of a D&D set

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Products from the Battle for Baldur's Gate set (Photo: Yahoo Gaming SEA)
Products from the Battle for Baldur's Gate set (Photo: Yahoo Gaming SEA)

If Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) fans were slightly disappointed with the Dungeons & Dragons: Adventures in the Forgotten Realms set for Magic: The Gathering (MTG), then the recently released Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur's Gate set promises to make up for it.

Released on 10 June, Battle for Baldur's Gate is a D&D crossover MTG set, the second D&D crossover set after Adventures in the Forgotten Realms last year (not counting the Secret Lair sets).

The set contains 361 regular cards, with borderless and rulebook framed variants as well. Booster packs also contain 81 Art Series cards that depict art from the set.

MTG has had good representation in D&D books, with three campaign setting books (Guildmasters' Guide to Ravnica, Mythic Odysseys of Theros and Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos), with the flavour of MTG sets shining through in each of the setting books.

But when it came down to representing D&D in MTG sets, it didn't quite work out for the Adventures in the Forgotten Realms sets.

While the set had cards that referenced many elements of D&D, it didn't feel flavourful or evocative enough — many cards felt more like they were designed to blend into both the D&D and MTG worlds, rather than being specifically D&D.

Thankfully, Battle for Baldur's Gate learnt from last year's lesson and leaned in hard on its D&D and Forgotten Realms references.

It draws on inspiration not only from the books, but also the games (as the Baldur's Gate series is probably the most well-known D&D game out there).

Githzerai Monk (Image: Wizards of the Coast)
Githzerai Monk (Image: Wizards of the Coast)

Almost every other card contains a D&D specific name, such as the Githzerai Monk and Scion of Halaster.

That cements the D&D connection much more and makes it feel more true to the Forgotten Realms — like you're actually playing in the Sword Coast, rather than just having some D&D terms dropped in for the sake of it.

Descent into Avernus (Image: Wizards of the Coast)
Descent into Avernus (Image: Wizards of the Coast)

The set also literally takes inspiration from the books, with several cards named after D&D 5th Edition books like Descent into Avernus, Storm King's Thunder, and of course, the Monster Manual.

More pertinently, choosing to name a card Descent into Avernus makes its Baldur's Gate even stronger, since the book's full title is Baldur's Gate: Descent into Avernus (and it covers an adventure that begins in the eponymous city).

Monster Manual (Image: Wizards of the Coast)
Monster Manual (Image: Wizards of the Coast)

But where the set shows that it is truly aimed at the D&D crowd is when it comes to the choice of D&D monsters that made it to the set, such as the Hezrou, Vrock, and Gray Slaad.

Not only are these iconic extraplanar D&D monsters, they're also very D&D-specific — it's unlikely that you'll know what a Hezrou is unless you've played D&D before.

All that is known of the creature is from the artwork on the card, so non-D&D players might have to do some research to fully appreciate what the monster is.

Hezrou (Image: Wizards of the Coast)
Hezrou (Image: Wizards of the Coast)

There's a risk that using D&D monsters may alienate some MTG players (as opposed to using more common and familiar mythical monsters), of course, but it also shows a healthy degree of respect for the D&D audience.

On another level, it also plays into the Planeswalker idea that is inherent to MTG, since these are monsters that herald from other planes in MTG.

 

The set also caters to fans of the Baldur's Gate series, as that is where a good many D&D players got their first exposure to the game.

Players will remember one of their first companions in the game in the form of the Imoen, Mystic Tricker card, as well as a card for the villain of the first game, Sarevok, Deathbringer.

And of course, there's the Minsc & Boo: Timeless Heroes card. Although Boo adorns the package of every booster pack, he doesn't get his own card, to which I say... boo.

Minsc & Boo, Timeless Heroes (Image: Wizards of the Coast)
Minsc & Boo, Timeless Heroes (Image: Wizards of the Coast)

Another improvement of Battle for Baldur's Gate is that it has fewer of the "You..." cards that plagued Adventures in the Forgotten Realms.

They were meant to represent the adventures of a party venturing through the campaign represented by the set.

Unfortunately, there were too many of them and it felt like they cluttered the Adventures in the Forgotten Realms set, which already didn't have as many D&D specific references that it should have.

For Battle for Baldur's Gate, there are only a grand total of four such cards — Your Temple Is Under Attack, You're Confronted By Robbers, You've Been Caught Stealing, and You Look Upon The Tarrasque.

It's a definitely a step up from the previous set.

You Look Upon the Tarrasque (Image: Wizards of the Coast)
You Look Upon the Tarrasque (Image: Wizards of the Coast)

 

Battle for Baldur's Gate also contains a fair number of reprints, some from Adventures in the Forgotten Realms like Dawnbringer Cleric and Minimus Containment.

Thankfully, they're the more flavourful cards, which serves to intensify the D&D feel of this set.

And what would a D&D-themed MTG set be without some icons of the Realms? Bane, Bhaal, and Elminster all make appearances - but so do second-tier characters like Liara Portyr and Ulder Ravengard.

And if you played the Descent into Avernus campaign, a charming little friend also returns – Lulu the Hollyphant.

In that campaign, Lulu was instrumental if you wanted to attempt to redeem Zariel from her fall from grace.

Bane, Lord of Darkness (Image: Wizards of the Coast)
Bane, Lord of Darkness (Image: Wizards of the Coast)

 

Overall, Battle for Baldur's Gate lives up to the promise of a D&D-themed MTG set.

The Dungeon Card mechanic seems to have been played down (the Adventures in the Forgotten Realm Dungeons Cards were not reprinted for this set) and there are no more awkward Class Enchantment cards, which makes this new set feel more streamlined.

Commander Liara Portyr (Image: Wizards of the Coast)
Commander Liara Portyr (Image: Wizards of the Coast)

At the same time, it also draws from different sources and mediums for its D&D flavour, making it more than just porting over some D&D-specific names into the cards.

Battle for Baldur's Gate feels true to D&D, the Forgotten Realms, and of course, Baldur's Gate. For D&D players thinking of making the jump to MTG, this is the set you should start with — not Adventures in the Forgotten Realms.

Marcus Goh is a Singapore television scriptwriter, having written for "Lion Mums", "Crimewatch", "Police & Thief", and "Incredible Tales". He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. You can find him on social media as Optimarcus and on his site.

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