Buying Into Brawl

When Wizards of the Coast announces a new format, that should get your Magic finance senses tingling! Chas Andres certainly knows that feeling, and today he’s sharing his insights. It’s all about the Brawl as he shares his top tips for scoping out the Standard-legal singleton setup for fun and profit!

I was going to write about Modern this week, but then Wizards of the Coast had to go ahead and announce a brand-new sanctioned Magic format. Those rascals! Seriously, though, if you haven’t read about Brawl yet, go take a look. It’s essentially a Standard-legal version of Commander, but you only play 60 cards, your life total starts at 30, and all planeswalkers are legal as commanders.

I’ll admit my first reaction was to say, “oh, neat” and move on. Wizards of the Coast’s introductory article makes it clear that this is a format aimed at new and casual players, so there probably won’t be any $50 Brawl staples like there are with Standard. It’s also not an Eternal format, so you can’t make a killing buying out some weird gem from Odyssey that’s going to break Brawl in half. The financial fallout from Brawl’s inception isn’t going to be all that big, like when Modern was announced and suddenly there were dozens of $5 cards breaking $30 overnight.

Of course, the introduction of Modern is a pretty high bar to clear, and there’s a lot of room below that bar for Brawl to be moderately successful while still making us money. In fact, the more I think about Brawl, the more I like the niche that it’s designed to fill. Brawl is great for playing pick-up games before FNM or between rounds. It’s great for people who like to optimize their silly decks and find the Commander card pool to overwhelming. It’s also the perfect casual format for Arena, which is why I suspect Brawl was created in the first place. Wizards of the Coast had to want a Commander-esque format that could exist in Arena at launch, right? This is it.

This last fact may be the most important, too. If Arena catches on outside the established Magic community—and I suspect it will—then Arena-first players are going to want to create paper versions of their digital Brawl decks. This in turn could lead to a greater adoption of Brawl as a go-to casual format in the paper sphere. I’m not saying this is a lock to happen, of course, but I can certainly see a world in which Brawl ends up being very popular. And unlike Frontier or Tiny Leaders, Brawl has the might of Wizards of the Coast firmly behind it. Brawl may not catch on immediately, but I wouldn’t be shocked if its future ends up being bright.

Yep, we’re gonna have to look at some Brawl specs.

Ixalan Block’s Legendary Creatures and Planeswalkers

Even though Kaladesh and Amonkhet block are going to be Brawl-legal (this new terminology will take some getting used to) until late September, I’m not really interested in speculating on those cards. Your window to flip those specs is too tight for my liking. I’d rather focus on Ixalan block, which has an additional year of Brawl legality.

Why focus on legendary creatures? Much like with Commander, new Brawl players will likely begin here when selecting their deck. Commander has hundreds upon hundreds of potential options, though, and Brawl only has a few. This means that the best Standard-legal Commanders have plenty of room to grow if Brawl catches on.

When possible, focus on buying foils. Not only are Brawl players likely to gravitate toward these, but you’ve got the added bonus of hedging your bets based on future Commander demand. That’s why I like this spec: even if Brawl ends up being a forgotten joke of a format six months from now, these cards are going to either hold or increase in value regardless thanks to existing Commander demand. Hate taking on massive amounts of risk? This might be the spec opportunity for you.

Ixalan‘s Primary Tribal Leaders

If you want to play with any of Ixalan‘s four major tribes, these are your best four options. There are a few other tribal legendary creatures, but they’re either mono-colored or they don’t directly benefit your chosen tribe. Of these four cards, Admiral Beckett Brass seems a touch underpriced. It’s the weakest of the four, admittedly, but people are always going to want to play with Pirates and there aren’t really any alternatives to Admiral Beckett Brass—she’s the second most-played Ixalan commander, according to EDHREC. I like these foils at $6.

On the expensive side, Brawl could finally be the format that gives life to Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca. Everybody really wanted to make Kumena work in Standard, and it still bums me out that it didn’t work. This foil is going to hold its value regardless, so snagging a copy now seems reasonable to me. Who knows? Maybe some of Dominaria’s Merfolk will step in and help out.

Ixalan‘s Secondary Tribal Leaders

These two legendary creatures are tribal leaders as well, but they’re only in one of their tribe’s chosen colors. I doubt people will choose them as their Brawl commanders because of that, and the fact that their foil copies don’t demand a significant premium due to current Commander playability back this up.

Fast and Easy to Cast

  • Captain Lannery Storm – $0.79 ($2 foil)
  • Here’s a spec that I absolutely love. $2 for a foil copy of what might be the best mono-red commander in Brawl once Hazoret the Fervent rotates? Yes, please!

    There are plenty of alternatives in the normal Commander format, which is why you don’t see a significant premium currently, but the people who value playing out their legendary creature quickly in Brawl can’t be nearly as picky. The price point is fantastic, too.

    Other Splashy Legendary Creatures

    This is my catch-all category for all the other legendary creatures in Ixalan block. Of these cards, it’s pretty clear that Zacama, Primal Calamity is the one that has already caught on the most in regular Commander. I’m not sure how much more room it has to grow, but you can rest assured that the price floor is pretty close to where it’s at now, since it’s not like this thing sees Standard play.

    I also really like Azor, the Lawbringer. U/W Control is always going to be popular in formats like these, and there aren’t any good alternatives to Azor in the current Brawl card pool. This one also has a significant Commander foil premium currently, which tells me that demand is likely to remain strong regardless. Oh—and there’s still an outside shot of Standard playability somewhere down the line.

    Last, Etali, Primal Storm is a very popular card in Commander that should be a standout in Brawl as well. According to EDHREC, it’s the most popular utility card in Rivals of Ixalan by almost a factor of two. Since Brawl is going to be slower than Standard, expect Etali to stand out.


    All five of these cards would see an uptick in play if Brawl caught on. In a slower singleton format, planeswalkers are a lot better than they are almost anywhere else. A tight U/W or U/B control deck made for smashing faces in Standard might not have room for Jace, Cunning Castaway, but I’m probably slotting him into almost every blue Brawl deck I build. I’m not sure if this will translate into a major increase in price, of course, but if we’re speculating on Brawl, this is one of my favorite places to look for value.

    As you can see, the foil premiums aren’t quite as large here because you can’t normally use your planeswalker as a commander. You can in Brawl, though, which means that many of these foil prices could end up increasing in value. Again, I like looking at the top and bottom of this list. Jace, Cunning Castaway shouldn’t be so much lower than these other cards. Vraska, Relic Seeker is clearly the most powerful card of the five and yet her foil isn’t even commanding a 2x premium right now.

    I also want to touch on the Planeswalker Deck-exclusive planeswalkers for a moment. These weren’t worth thinking very much about before Brawl, because why would you play a slightly worse version of Jace, Huatli, Angrath, or Vraska? The existence of a singleton format changes that calculation entirely. Since those cards are already at a much lower supply, we might see them double in price if Brawl takes off. I’m certainly not at the “buy out my local Walmart” level of excitement about those cards, but I’m absolutely trading for them at current retail.

    Ixalan Block’s Multiplayer Utility Cards

    These are the EDHREC standouts, and I don’t see a reason why they wouldn’t be just as good in Brawl. Take note of the (relatively) cheap foil multipliers on Wayward Swordtooth and Vanquisher’s Banner – regardless of Brawl, these foils should be on the rise simply due to Commander demand.

    I also wouldn’t be surprised if Brawl gives people another excuse to hype up Growing Rites of Itlimoc. It has been a disappointing card in both Standard and Modern, but the would-be Gaea’s Cradle has proven quite powerful in Commander so far. At some point, this one is going to start crawling back toward $10, right?

    Other Possible Brawl-Out

    About three and a half seconds after Brawl was announced, several different people on my timeline began tweeting about their desire for Modern Brawl. At first glance it seems like this hypothetical format would have a more significant financial impact, but I’m not sure that hypothesis would actually bear itself out.

    As we learned with Tiny Leaders, the bigger the card pool of a format becomes, the more it begins to resemble an existing Eternal strategy. A highly tuned Modern Brawl U/W Control deck in Brawl would almost certainly have Snapcaster Mage, Ancestral Vision; Jace, the Mind Sculptor; Cryptic Command, Reflector Mage, Path to Exile, etc. A more casual U/W Control deck in Modern Brawl would probably look…well, a lot like any current U/W Commander deck, only with fewer cards. Modern Brawl is also not going to happen on Arena, at least not for a couple of years, so I doubt Wizards of the Coast is going to be pushing hard for it. I wouldn’t start speculating on this format any time soon.

    I’m far more interested in another potential impact of Brawl: the idea that planeswalkers can be your commander. The more I think about it, the more I wonder why Commander hasn’t adopted this rules change already. I feel like this is an inevitability, and Brawl should only help bring it around sooner.

    Which planeswalkers might benefit the most from this rules change? Here’s a short list of my favorite specs:

    What do all of these cards have in common? They’re all:

    • Multicolored
    • Near the top of the EDHREC list of most-played planeswalkers in Commander
    • Never released as a mass-market promo foil
    • Still cheap, not super-expensive already thanks to Modern or Legacy

    Some of these cards have pretty low foil modifiers right now. I’d expect foil copies of Xenagos, the Reveler; Sorin, Grim Nemesis; Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver; and Sarkhan Unbroken to jump pretty quickly if they were ever allowed to be used as your commander, and non-foil copies of at least five to six cards on this list would spike pretty quickly regardless. You might be waiting on this spec to pay off for a while, and it’s possible that some of these cards will be reprinted in a future Masters set, but I’m bullish on the idea that this is going to happen at some point in the foreseeable future.

    This Week’s Trends

    Yet again, the Standard index was incredibly quiet this week. It’s all The Scarab God, all the time these days, and nobody seems very interested in dealing with that. Even The Scarab God itself dropped about $1 this week, which tells me that people just aren’t interested in engaging with the format at the moment. That will change once Dominaria previews get cooking, I suspect, which means that it’s time to at least think about picking up whatever you think you might need for the spring.

    Cards are still popping off all over Modern, though. With G/W Hexproof regaining popularity, Leyline of Sanctity is back up over the $40 mark this week. Noble Hierarch, Liliana of the Veil, Leyline of the Void, Trinisphere, Karn Liberated, Engineered Explosives, Tireless Tracker, and Mox Opal are all still gaining value as well. I’ll explore these spikes in a little more detail next week, but rest assured they’re going up in price due to Modern’s dynamic and still very diverse metagame.

    A few Modern cards dropped in price this week, but only by a few dollars each. Fetid Heath and Chalice of the Void are still dropping off a bit thanks to their Masters 25 reprint, while Daybreak Coronet, Dark Confidant, Celestial Colonnade, Gaddock Teeg, and Legion Loyalist are leveling off after some crazy spikes over the past couple of weeks. I don’t think that any of these cards are on a downward trend right now, and the Modern index continues to be robust.

    The Spring variant of Mishra’s Factory also spiked last week, roughly doubling in price. The result of my article on underpriced Antiquities cards, or did I simply get a few days ahead of an existing trend? Either way, I’ll be looking to explore more of these old-school sets in the coming months. There’s a lot of money to be made here still.

    The last thing we have to talk about today is Firesong and Sunspeaker, the Buy-a-Box promo for Dominaria. If it were a normal part of the set, I’d write a review praising Wizards of the Coast for creating a cool commander that might see play in the sideboard of a R/W deck or as the cornerstone of some wacky Saffron Olive brew. I’d call it a future bulk rare, but suggest that foils might end up in the $6-$10 range at some point.

    But Firesong and Sunspeaker isn’t a normal part of the set. It’s only going to be released as the Buy-a-Box promo, which means that there won’t be any more copies printed beyond the twenty to 40 received by each Local Game Store. Oh—and it’s going to be Standard-legal. Wow.

    First of all, I honestly do like what Wizards of the Coast is angling for here. By combining an exclusive promo with another new policy, allowing local shops the ability to sell sealed boxes of Dominaria a week early, Wizards is doing their core shops a solid. In an era when brick-and-mortar retailers are dying, this is Wizards of the Coast giving players a bonus for supporting their local shop instead of looking up the cheapest box price online or heading down the road to Walmart. This is crucial, because Magic would have a hard time thriving without plenty of local places to play FNM.

    How much will Firesong and Sunspeaker be worth? Nobody is pre-selling copies yet, not even on eBay, so it’s kind of hard to say. Assuming it doesn’t really find a home beyond Commander and Brawl, my gut tells me it ends up in the $15-$20 range short-term with the potential for more down the road if somebody chooses to buy it out and force the issue. I doubt the price will be much more than the gulf between the cheapest online boxes and the premium that most local game stores charge for their boxes, but it will probably be close enough to that gap to make buying a box locally worth it—especially if you want your own copy of the card.

    Of course, there’s always a chance that Firesong and Sunspeaker ends up being the backbone of a top Standard deck. It’s not likely, but it’s possible. Or if not this card, perhaps the next one, or the one after that, or the one after that. Wizards of the Coast will certainly try to keep this from happening, but the intersection between “this card looks super-fun in Commander” and “this card will never see play in any other Constructed format” is fairly small. There were some slippery slope worries when Wizards of the Coast printed Standard-legal cards exclusively in their Planeswalker decks a few years ago, and we seem to be progressing further in that direction.

    I understand why everybody online seems so scared of this possibility, but twenty to 40 copies of a card per local game store is probably enough to cover demand unless one of these cards ends up being the next Tarmogoyf. The most likely scenario here is that the centerpiece of a second-tier deck would end up in the $40-$50 range, which would be obnoxious but not disastrous.

    I can certainly imagine the scene on a tournament floor where a couple of teams will want to get in on this strategy at the last moment and there simply will not be enough copies to go around, and it’ll stink when there’s a fun deck in the format that is just unplayable for some people because some silly card is randomly $50 due to a lack of supply. But is that really all that different from how things are normally, when some Standard decks have eight to ten $30 mythics in them?

    I feel like this promotion has the potential to go off the rails, but that would require them to print something really powerful in that Buy-a-Box spot or slip further down this slope. As things are right now, though, I think it’ll work out well enough—especially for the folks who run your local game store.