It’s no secret by this point that the general belief among the community is that Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate very likely did not perform well financially as a product. We’ve seen the prices of the Collector Boxes plummet, the Draft Boxes and Set Boxes are very low and still dropping, the value of the product tied to a select few cards that are incredibly difficult to pull due to the scarcity of non-legendary rares and mythics, and video after video on YouTube about how stores are struggling to offload the product. By comparison, the original Commander Legends was a hit, despite releasing in the middle of a pandemic, when few had the opportunity to draft it. What went wrong? How did this follow-up to such a popular set end up seemingly flopping as hard as it has?
I want to lead with what I think the problem is, and then break down why I think that’s the issue: Wizards listened to the vocal Commander players on social media who insisted that they did not like good, powerful cards, and instead wanted “fun”, “gimmicky”, and “unique” cards that are “interesting”. They voiced how upset they were that the first Commander Legends had several powerful cards, such as Jeweled Lotus, Opposition Agent, and Hullbreacher. Even some lesser power cards, like Kodama of the East Tree, were targets of complaint. In a sense, it makes a lot of sense to say that Wizards was given a powerful message about what the Commander community actually wanted, and this new set looked to, for the most part, match that player demand.
Unfortunately, the player base is often bad at articulating what it actually wants. What was being presented was a nice idea, but not one that they were willing to heavily invest in. Commander players like the idea of weaker, gimmicky cards, but they don’t buy enough of them to make them valuable. Instead, the actual primary audience for Commander Legends, Limited players, were left with a set that is lower power than the original set and, in some ways, feels closer to a Core Set. It feels like, for better and for worse, a follow up to Adventures in the Forgotten Realms. What the Commander players actually want, based on prices, are powerful cards like Jeweled Lotus. They’re the primary market for singles from the set, after it’s been drafted to death by Limited players, and after it’s been cracked a ton by stores for value. When the set is too weak and uninteresting for Limited players, and the pulls are too bad to justify mass cracking product, you end up in the Battle for Baldur’s Gate scenario, wherein the set isn’t making anyone happy beyond people who like looking at the cards and not buying the product.
A key element of this, of course, is the lack of needed reprints. I understand that this is the narrative being bandied about on Twitter these days. “It’s not the lack of good, new cards. We don’t want those! It’s the lack of solid reprints.” They cite Dockside Extortionist, Imperial Seal, Mana Drain, and Smothering Tithe being reprinted in Double Masters 2022 as the primary culprits behind Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate flopping, and there is an element of truth to that. That’s definitely part of the story, absolutely. But it’s worth acknowledging that the cards the players are asking to be reprinted are the exact same sort of card they’re actively rallying against: powerful cards that are arguably considered staples by many Commander players in present times.
On top of that, we should again note that there were some reprints in Battle for Baldur’s Gate that did impact prices, namely the dual land cycle from Battlebond (e.g. Sea of Clouds), Reflecting Pool, Bramble Sovereign, Kindred Discovery, and Nature's Lore, as well as several other cards relegated to the Battle for Baldur’s Gate Commander precons.
It seems that, unfortunately, the Commander Legends line is stuck in an awkward spot. It essentially has different audiences demanding it to be three different things: Commander Horizons, Commander Masters, and Commander Core Set. Wizards has opted, with this second set, to aim directly for the latter for the most part, and all audiences have seemingly rejected it beyond some acknowledging that they like it (though again not necessarily spending money on it). They’re likely going to take a look at what happened, try to evaluate feedback on the set, and ensure that any future Commander Legends sets better satisfy actual player needs. Mark Rosewater has commented that they aimed too low in power overtly, so it’s not like they haven’t already gotten the message.
It felt more like Dungeons & Dragons: Adventures in Forgotten Realms 2 than Commander Legends 2.
The set chose to mix two different components, and many players felt it did a much better job of matching one element than the other. This wasn’t just an issue of reprints, but also a feeling that the set didn’t have enough cards that would have a strong enough impact on Commander.State of Design 2022
Good, new cards sell sets. They’re the most expensive and most desired cards in any given set for a reason, and given that it extends well beyond just tournament staples, we know it’s not just because of Spikes. Players, in general, enjoy powerful cards. They’re fun to play. Yes, that includes powerful reprints, as well, but new ones are necessary, too, as they typically lead the charge in supplemental sets like these. Masters sets exist, but have the luxury of focusing entirely on reprinting cards. They’re reprint-only sets, after all. Commander Legends, at least in their current form, are not Masters sets, and there’s no hint that Wizards wants them to become Commander Masters. In order to meet the demands of the three audiences (Limited players, Commander players, and LGSs), they have to include new cards that will wow these audiences beyond what the vocal minority insist it is that the game needs.
I know many people will say they love Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate. Heck, many are still in denial as to it’s status as a sales disappointment. I’ve seen the most prominent Commander content creators go to bat for the set already, insisting it’s good and that it’s just the lack of reprints that hurt the set, or that it released too close to Double Masters 2022 (note that no other set has ever suffered from releasing a month apart from another set). Again, there’s likely some element of truth to these assertions, but again, they’re leaving out that players want powerful cards, and those are scarce in the set. Taking Dockside Extortionist as an example, it’s expensive and sought after because of how crazy powerful it is. It’s so strong that it’s been a discussion point for a potential ban for months now.
I also, connected to this whole discussion, want to briefly touch on Rule Zero (adjusting the official Commander rules to fit the individual play group). For as vocal as the complaints were about cards like Jeweled Lotus in the first Commander Legends set, it’s worth pointing out that, because Commander isn’t competitive, players can essentially opt-out of playing with cards they deem to be too powerful or too un-fun for their games. The problem is that Rule Zero isn’t enough for these players, and they actively want to ensure that the audiences that enjoy more powerful cards don’t get more of them. That’s actually the great truth that belies the issue: They will boast about how great Rule Zero is at crafting the sorts of experiences they want, but then take actions that suggest that it’s not good enough at it’s job. Or worse yet, they’ll take action to “yuck someone else’s yum”, so-to-speak.
I hope, by having opined on what went down and what’s going on now with regards to this set, that you all can see that there’s potentially a lot of audiences who got left by Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate. Not every product has to be for you, as they say, but the product has to be for enough people to justify existing. With regards to Battle for Baldur’s Gate, it seems like the audience for this sort of product is significantly smaller than the Commander player base assumed it would be. Commander is a diverse format filled with a lot of powerful, broken cards, so I’ll end by saying that it’s important to remember that the way you enjoy Commander may not be the way in which most others enjoy it. Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate may be the definitive proof of that.