So my friend has recently starting playing MTG and has bought some of the LOTR set.

I, who has also never played before, was looking around for a set I like and came across the D&D Baulder's Gate one. I purchased the below:


However - I now realise that Commander cards are not legal in Standard or Modern...

My question is - is this illegality because of balancing issues, or some other reason? I'll happily play the cards against my friend if it's a fair game, but wouldn't be happy to if it's not balanced.

Also, I noticed some of the wording on the cards is purposeful such that it can apply to multiple players (the Commander format) but I'm happy to play these against only one opponent, obviously if they're still good.


  • 1
    Rule zero: in casual play you can modify the rules however you like to have fun (so long as all agree). You can play "kitchen-table magic" if it would be fun for you. See how well a standard deck holds up against a commander deck. You'll find certain cards will spike in power while others will be particularly weak. A standard mill strategy will fail to work for instance, but standard decks often run a high amount of targeted removal which can ruin a commander deck's day.
    – JMoravitz
    Jun 30, 2023 at 12:55

2 Answers 2


Generally it's not because of balance, and a lot of the cards in preconstructed commander decks were originally legal in standard at one point, often the standard set that went along with the decks (Like the 4 Lord of the Rings commander decks have many cards from the base Lord of the Rings set). There are a few issues with the cards that were specifically designed for commander that make them unplayable in one on one 60 card formats however:

  1. They need a commander - Cards like command tower or Path of Ancestry don't function at all if you don't have a commander, and some other cards like Deflecting Swat or Fierce Guardianship work but just become worse versions of other cards because part of their text doesn't work.
  2. They need multiple opponents - Most of these cards will still work, but won't do as much as they were intended to. Gandalf, Westward Voyager, for example, is a lot better when playing with three opponents than it is one-on-one, and Morphic Pool is pretty much a much more expensive Submerged Boneyard in one-on-one.|

The big reason for standard specifically that you can't use cards from commander is standard has a limited number of the most recent regular sets (currently 5-8 soon to be 9-12) allowed, this is one of the way they try to manage power creep in Magic: the Gathering, by rotating sets out and not allowing supplemental sets to be played in standard, they don't need to constantly print more and more powerful cards to beat existing deck power levels.

Also worth noting, the Lord of the Rings set is not legal in standard either, they are legal only in non-rotating formats currently like Modern and Legacy and Commander.

  • 1
    Side note: they do still unfortunately power creep, but that's because standard is an unpopular format, and card design has shifted to focus on creating cards playable in Commander and Modern.
    – Andrew
    Jun 27, 2023 at 13:27
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    I think it's important not to completely discount the fact that by not making Commander deck cards legal in Standard and Modern, Wizards allows themselves to print cards in the Commander decks that are too powerful for Standard or Modern without impacting those formats. For example, the new LOTR precons have cards like Swords to Plowshares, Toxic Deluge, and Reanimate, which would be very powerful in Modern.
    – murgatroid99
    Jun 27, 2023 at 20:36
  • @murgatroid99 True, though most commander cards are higher cost and splashier. You couldn't really put those against decks like hammer time, you might find new targets for Creativity, but the cards that would slot into modern are exceptions.
    – Andrew
    Jun 28, 2023 at 3:33
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    Claims of power creep are exaggerated. Of course there will be stronger sets (e.g. Throne of Eldraine), but they don't solve the issue by printing even stronger sets, They simply make the next set weaker and let the offender rotate out. Otherwise we'd have 2 mana 10/10s by now, 25 years later.
    – Hackworth
    Jun 28, 2023 at 8:39
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    @Hackworth not really, not anymore, and the blame lies on Commander, Pioneer and Modern. Because the formats that are now most popular don't rotate, they are creeping power more, and using other gimmicks (one ring) to get people to buy new product. You can see how worried they are about standard in the new change to the rotation schedule, making it a 3 year cycle.
    – Andrew
    Jul 7, 2023 at 13:40

I +1'ed Andrew's answer, but I'll add something else which I think cuts closer to the heart of the issue.

Standard has the lowest power level of all the constructed formats. It has the fewest "safety valves" - here meaning options for decks to counterbuild against an overpowering strategy. In Legacy for example, if a Red deck becomes overpowering, opponents can always add Blue Elemental Blast to their sideboard. If Black is too powerful, they have Veil of Summer. Failing everything, there is Wasteland and Force of Will. In Standard, these safety valves are much weaker. To quote an example from recent Standard (I am not familiar with the current metagame), The Immortal Sun is a safety valve against all planeswalker strategies, but it's 6 mana with no enters-the-battlefield effect. A superfriends deck can conceivably remove the Sun and keep pumping. If the superfriends deck is overpowered, then the Sun would still help, but it would not be a decisive sideboard card.

This means Standard is the most fragile of all constructed formats. If you print a powerful card, it's more likely to unbalance Standard than any other constructed format (with some exceptions).

When you have a set that cannot be used in Standard, you can print cards that would likely unbalance Standard without unbalancing other formats. An example of such a card is Seasoned Pyromancer. This card was printed in Modern Horizons, which is legal in Commander and Modern but not Standard. Would this card have unbalanced Standard? I suspect it would. It's a fair card, but its effects are very powerful, and it's resilient against hate. Another is Minsc and Boo, Timeless Heroes. It's a 4-mana 4/4 with haste and trample and is a planeswalker with 4 starting loyalty that snowballs in one turn if not removed.

This does not mean that there is a Commander card in recent sets that would have been overpowered in Standard, but it does mean that R&D could've designed the Commander cards more freely, because they don't have to worry about knock-on effects on Standard. Another way to think about this is that Modern, Commander, etc. have a higher power level than Standard. If you can only print cards that are Standard-legal, then you are less able to impact the Modern metagame (and therefore keep Modern players excited) without breaking Standard apart.

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