MTG Background: How It Works and What It Does

As far as mechanics go, Background is pretty ambitious. It essentially changes the way you build your commander deck and adds an entirely new element to Magic’s most played format. As such, it’s important to understand exactly how it works.

Background is a type of Legendary enchantment which can be paired with certain mono-colored commanders. These enchantments serve as an extension of your commander, expanding their color-identity while also giving players constant access to the enchantment.

If this all sounds a bit complicated, don’t worry. I’ll do my best to answer any and all questions you might have about this exciting new mechanic.

What Is Background?

Background: An enchantment type that, in combination with the “choose a Background” ability, may allow a legendary enchantment to be your commander. See rule 702.124, “Partner,” and rule 903, “Commander.”

Comprehensive Rules

Background is a type of Legendary enchantment introduced in the Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate set. The easiest way to think about Background is to compare it to the Partner mechanic. With Partner, you get to use two commanders instead of one. Background is basically the same thing, but instead of your second commander being a creature, it’s an enchantment.

Background also expands your commander’s color-identity. For example, if your commander is mono-white, and you choose a green Background, then you can include green cards, as well as white, in your main deck.

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How Does Background Work?

Certain Legendary creatures have the text “Choose a Background”. If you pick one of these creatures as your commander, then you get to choose a Background card to be your second commander.

These Legendary creatures and enchantments appear at every rarity, making the mechanic perfect for draft as well as regular Commander games.

Let’s take a look at a few of the cards. Ellyn Harbreeze, Busybody and Inspiring Leader is a good commander and Background combination to take a look at.

ellyn harbreeze busybody

Ellyn Harbreeze, Busybody is a commander that cares about token creation. Her activated ability lets you look at the top X cards of your library where X is the number of tokens you created so far that turn. Then you get to add one of those cards to your hand. Ellyn also lets you choose a Background to use as a second commander.

It just so happens that one of the new Background cards, Inspiring Leader, pairs pretty well with Ellyn.

inspiring leader

Inspiring Leader says “Commander creatures you own gain ‘creature tokens you control get +2/+2.

I think these two cards are a great example of the flavor that Wizards of the Coast is going for with this mechanic. You get to choose a “background, and your commander gains certain abilities based on that background.

Background FAQs

Does Background Change Your Commander’s Color-Identity?

Yes, choosing a Background can expand your commander’s color-identity. For example, if your commander is mono-white you can choose a red Background. You can then include both white and red cards in your main-deck.

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Can I Run Background enchantments in the Regular Deck, or Only in the Command Zone?

Yes, players can use Background enchantments in the main deck, as long as they’re not already using the same card in the command zone.

What Happens When a Background Leaves the Battlefield?

If your Background card gets destroyed, exiled, or otherwise leaves the battlefield, you can choose to have it return to the command zone instead.

Does Commander Tax Apply to Backgrounds?

Yes, when casting a Background you have to pay an extra two mana for every time you’ve cast it from the command zone previously. This works the exact same way as it does with your regular commander.

Full List of Background Cards

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Best Backgrounds

Shameless Charlatan

shameless charlatan

Shameless Charlatan is a two mana Background that lets you turn your commander into a copy of any other creature on the battlefield. The best part is that you can activate the ability at instant speed, making it a great combat trick.

Scion of Halaster

scion of halaster

Scion of Halaster lets you line up your draws and fill your graveyard, making it an amazing Background for commanders that like to cast spells from the yard. This Background goes particularly well with Gale, Waterdeep Prodigy. It’s a really enchantment to run in your 99, as well.

Cultist of the Absolute

Cultist of the Absolute has a lot going for it. It costs just one black mana to cast. It gives you a reliable way to protect your commander, and it gives you a sacrifice outlet. This is an overall great card in any aristocrat style deck.

cult of the absolute

End Step

For those who might not know, the Background mechanic comes directly from the Dungeons and Dragons game. For Magic players who aren’t familiar with D&D, the Background mechanic might seem a bit forced and strange. Once you actually play with these cards, however, it all makes perfect sense.

Background is a very flavorful mechanic, and I personally can’t wait to see more cards in the future.

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Joe Doak

I started playing Magic in 2015 after impulsively buying a fat-pack of Khans of Tarkir. It didn't take long for me to fall in love with the game, and it's been a big part of my life ever since. Nowadays, I play moslty Modern, Commander, and Limited, but also enjoy keeping up with Standard. Whatever the format, I always find a way to brew up janky decks, convince myself they're great, get proven wrong, and love every second of it.