Magic: The Gathering‘s upcoming Commander Legends expansion isn’t like other sets. While most of the game’s expansions are designed to work with traditional two-player gameplay formats, the 361 new cards arriving in November have Magic’s four-player Commander format in mind.
“[F]our players means that just trying to go after one player quickly isn’t an effective way to win,” senior game designer Gavin Verhey told Mashable via email. “You have to play the long game, and think about how you can use your resources to fight off three opponents… ‘I’ll attack Gavin instead of you if you don’t attack me next turn… deal?’ is the kind of thing you hear plenty of.”
This shift from a duel to a free-for-all brawl significantly changes players’ strategies, and thus how cards in Commander Legends have been designed.
In the lead up to the set’s global release next month, Mashable can exclusively reveal three of the new cards designed for four-way fights: Gor Muldrak, Amphinologist; Amphin Mutineer; and Natural Reclamation.
Gor Muldrak, Amphinologist
Gor Muldrak, Amphinologist is a Rare 3/2 Legendary Creature with the unusual ability to grow your opponents’ armies as well as your own. Fortunately this Blue/Green Human Scout also gives you protection from the creatures it creates, as well as from all other Salamanders in the game.
“You and permanents you control have protection from Salamanders,” reads the card text. “At the beginning of your end step, each player who controls the fewest creatures creates a 4/3 blue Salamander Warrior creature token.”
This means you don’t have to worry too much that you’re giving your opponents troops, since the Salamanders can’t hurt you or any creature you control. As such, your enemies will probably use the amphibians to attack each other, letting you simply .
“I see this [as] a way of putting yourself in good stead with the rest of the table,” professional Magic player David Mines told Mashable, noting you’ll likely give Salamanders to others more often than to yourself.
“This means your opponents will be less likely to attack you as you just keep giving them free tokens. Free tokens that they just keep sending at each other while you just get to sit back with all your value creatures and try and amass resources your opponents can’t keep up with!”
Amphin Mutineer is a Rare 3/3 Creature whose two formidable abilities make it significantly more powerful than it appears.
The first is its triggered ability, which allows you to quickly get rid of any non-Salamander creature regardless of how big or powerful it is: “When Amphin Mutineer enters the battlefield, exile up to one target non-Salamander creature. That creature’s controller creates a 4/3 blue Salamander Warrior creature token.”
“[Amphin Mutineer] is able to take out one of your opponent’s biggest creatures and leave them behind with what in Commander is a fairly innocuous 4/3 body (as it’s more the creature’s abilities than their power and toughness that matters),” said Mines, who considered the card significantly more powerful than Gor Muldrak, Amphinologist.
This triggered ability itself is enough to significantly hinder an opponent, who probably put a few eggs in their beefy monster basket. The Salamander Pirate doesn’t stop there, though. Mines noted that where Amphin Mutineer really shines is in its Encore ability: “Exile this card from your graveyard. For each opponent, create a token copy that attacks that opponent this turn if able. They gain haste. Sacrifice them at the beginning of the next end step. Activate only as a sorcery.”
“Being able to ‘reanimate’ this card from your graveyard and take out all of your opponents’ biggest creatures and leave them behind with these nearly irrelevant creatures is absurdly powerful,” said Mines. “I would not be at all surprised to see this salamander causing opponents many headaches.”
Natural Reclamation is a Common Green instant requiring 5 mana to play, which would be a fairly high cost if it was only a removal spell (“Destroy target artifact or enchantment”).
However, it also has returning mechanic Cascade: “When you cast this spell, exile cards from the top of your library until you exile a nonland card that costs less. You may cast it without paying its mana cost. Put the exiled cards on the bottom of your library in a random order.”
“Cascade effects have always been very powerful in Commander,” Mines told Mashable. “Maximising value is a backbone of Magic… Getting two cards for the price of one is a way to get ahead.
“Artifacts and enchantments are among the most important things in Commander so being able to take out your opponent’s most powerful permanent and get an extra card for it will not only stop them from winning the game on the spot, but also will build you favour with the rest of the table. Meaning they’re less likely to kill you!”
Verhey told Mashable he originally conceived the idea for Commander Legends almost six years ago, but it took a long time to work out the set’s structure.
“Normally when you start making a set, you have the ground floor of how it’s going to work figured out for you: It’s just normal Magic rules,” said Verhey. “But with Commander Legends, we had to figure out how you could draft Commander – something which has never been done before!”
Their solutions included putting two Legendary cards in every pack, and introducing the new Encore mechanic to enable impactful late-game plays. This mitigates the fact that, because Commander Legends is designed to be drafted, players will likely have fewer Rare cards in their hand to give them “big, splashy plays.”
“[W]e created Encore as a way to make sure you still had huge plays late in the game,” said Verhey. “It usually appears on cards you can play early game, so you can still get the game rolling, and then several turns later it can work from your graveyard to make sure that you have a huge effect you can play.”
Verhey is also excited that Commander Legends let their designers introduce Legendary cards from across Magic lore, without any restrictions on time or location.
“That means we can go back and revisit a ton of characters that haven’t had cards in years, or have even never had cards!” said Verhey.
“We have new versions of characters from worlds like Kamigawa which we haven’t seen in ages, we have hotly requested characters, like the previous unnamed black-white Innistrad Angel, and we even have some really deep cuts I don’t think anybody is expecting — like a character from some Magic comic books released in 1995!”
“[T]he emphasis in Commander is truly on fun,” said Verhey. “I always say, a good Commander game isn’t about who wins and loses – it’s about if everybody can leave the table happier than they started.”
Magic: The Gathering‘s Commander Legends set will be released on November 20.