Last weekend at San Diego Comic-Con we knew we’d be getting some tidbits about the Fall Magic expansion, so all of the Magic community kept their collective eyes peeled to social media waiting to hear about it. Those of us who are also Commander fans wondered if there might be a few nuggets just for us, perhaps something teased about the Commander 2019 products coming in August?
The answer to that was no… but, kind of yes too!
In conjunction with the announcement of the new set – Throne of Eldraine – was some pretty exciting news about Brawl. In his writeup for Wizards, A New Era of Brawl, Gavin Verhey talked about how they were planning on rebooting the Brawl format with better support this time around, including new cards specifically designed with Brawl in mind and preconstructed Brawl decks that people can buy and play right out of the box. Which sounds a lot like the Commander preconstructed decks that have helped support and grow the most popular Magic format on the planet.
Now, I gave Brawl a try when the format was initially rolled out and I really enjoyed it. I played in the Brawl Championship that was held at GP Richmond, and barely missed the Top 4 finals. It’s a fun format, but it definitely has a few flaws. In particular, nongreen multicolor decks have a hard time functioning well because there just isn’t that much good color fixing in the Standard card pool, particularly when you apply the singleton restriction to your deckbuilding.
In Gavin’s article he previewed two cards that will feature in the Brawl product this Fall. One was a three-color legendary creature that can helm a Brawl deck, and the other one was a new spin on multiplayer Magic’s beloved “mana rocks.”
Chulane got the largest amount of attention initially, because it’s a seriously powerhouse card. In fact, it’s almost obnoxiously overpowered, rewarding a player for just doing what any player typically wants to do – play creatures – by giving them more of something every player wants more of – card draw and mana ramp. It actually reminds me a lot of Yarok, the Desecrated by being just so generically powerful for very little deckbuilding effort.
I tend to value commander legends that are more puzzle-like, where what’s good to run isn’t always the most obvious, so cards like Chulane and Yarok bother me a bit. That said, I do recognize that puzzling out what to put into each Commander deck isn’t something that everyone enjoys as much as I do, so perhaps it’s fine to have legends like these that are straightforward to build around.
Besides Chulane, there was a “common” artifact previewed too—Arcane Signet. And boy howdy is that a spicy card! Brawl definitely needed a card like that to help enable multicolor decks, and many Commander decks will want to run it too.
The Need for Color Fixing in Brawl
As an example of the issues with color-fixing in Brawl, let’s pick a nongreen multicolor legend we might want to build a Brawl deck around. Green naturally has color fixing and ramp in its colored spells, so we’ll usually be able to cobble together a base-green multicolor deck without too much trouble. I’ll choose Kaalia, Zenith Seeker.
Now let’s take a look at what the land base for the Mardu color combination might look like:
The mana mix from these lands isn’t terrible, but that is an awful lot of lands that enter the battlefield tapped. With no lands that produce more than two different kinds of mana, there is certainly the possibility of getting hosed on a particular color in the early-game.
We do have a few other options to add to the mix, but these certainly slow the deck down even more:
Adding more of these will potentially cut down on the basic land count, which could interfere with the checklands like Isolated Chapel entering the battlefield untapped.
When it comes to actual mana ramp, we need to turn to artifacts such as these:
These are pretty good ramp cards, but there are relatively few of them and all of them are also quite slow as well, especially in conjunction with lands that enter the battlefield tapped.
Now consider that we are at a flush eight Magic sets in the current Brawl format, and this Fall we’ll lose four expansions while we add Throne of Eldraine to the mix. Quite a few of these cards will rotate out, and will be slowly replaced with other options in the coming year.
With all this in mind, we can clearly see that Arcane Signet will be a vital part of making viable nongreen multicolor Brawl decks function. At two mana, it can help “catch up” from the stumble of having to play a large number of lands that enter the battlefield tapped.
A Commander Staple, Not an Auto-Include
I’ve heard a lot of people in the Commander community express concern that Arcane Signet is an “auto-include” for every deck, on par with Sol Ring and Command Tower. First off, really the only auto-include in every Commander deck is Sol Ring. Command Tower isn’t played in monocolor decks; you only play Command Tower when you need the color-fixing. That makes Command Tower a staple. Arcane Signet will play a similar role and will be a staple card for multicolor, nongreen decks.
But wait a minute—Arcane Signet can do work in a green multicolor deck too, right? Sure, it can, but green-based decks have much better options at two mana.
I would rather play any of these cards over Arcane Signet in a green-based multicolor deck.
But Arcane Signet can provide two-mana ramp for monocolor decks too, right? Sure, it can, but again I think there are better options out there.
So no, I don’t think Arcane Signet is anywhere near an auto-include in any Commander deck, but it is a very good color-fixing and mana ramp option for nongreen, multicolor decks. And that’s a good thing for the format to have. Green-based decks can have such an incredible mana advantage over other decks and can often translate that early mana advantage into jumping out far ahead of opponents with battlefield presence and resources. I think providing this tool for other color configurations helps close the gap on that advantage.
There’s Nothing Wrong with Staples
One of the strengths and joys of Commander is how each one is so different from one another, but when there are cards that go in every deck, people worry that uniqueness will give way to sameness. I think that concern is way overblown. To illustrate, each Commander deck is 35-40% lands. Many of the same lands, such as Command Tower, are used in a wide variety of decks. Does that make them all play very similarly? Maybe in a technical sense, in that we want our lands to tap for the right kind of mana and sometimes serve useful other functions, yes. But we play these lands because we need mana sources to have a functioning deck.
There are other cards that become staple cards for certain colors and deck archetypes because they serve an important, functional role. And while they cut down on the slots available for customized spicy choices, their inclusion lets you play the nuts and bolts game of Magic. Removal spells, card draw, mana ramp, interaction, good creatures. Cards that are good at these functions are cards that you should put in your deck. Using them doesn’t mean you’re selling out; it just means you want to play good Magic.
And seriously, even having a fair number of staple cards in your deck, you still have plenty of room for spicy tech cards that your opponents will need to read when you play them. And since you’re playing some staple cards that lets your deck play a good game of Magic, you’ll be able to cast those spicy cards when you want to.
Potential Cost Issues for a “Common”
Another area of concern I’ve seen raised about Arcane Signet is potential cost issues. The card is technically a “common,” but it’s not going to be available in regular booster products. You’ll get a copy in each of the Brawl preconstructed decks, and there’s a chance for it to show up in the Collector booster products. Since the Collector boosters are a limited price run and quite expensive, I doubt enough supply will be coming through that channel to meet what will undeniably be a large demand from both Brawl and Commander fans. So, based on what we know so far, there is certainly justifiable reason to worry about Arcane Signet costing $5 or even $10 on the singles market, if not even higher.
Here’s my take. Wizards clearly wants to make Brawl something that players will want to play and keep playing. They are investing Play Design resources into designing cards specifically for the format, knowing full well cards that are good for Brawl are also going to good for Commander, the most popular format on the planet. It would be silly for them not to include plenty of copies of Arcane Signet out there to meet the huge demand. My hunch is that there will be other avenues to acquire copies of Arcane Signets; for instance, maybe through some sort of promo give aways through local stores. Most of these stores will be having a Brawl event the weekend of October 26th, and I’d be shocked if every single participant wasn’t given a free Arcane Signet.
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I’ve been writing about the Commander format and Magic: The Gathering in general for nearly two decades. Visit the Star City Games article archives for tons of content dating back to January 2000!
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