Is It Time To Ban Baral In Brawl?

With Chief of Compliance builds down to a science, people call to ban Baral in Brawl. But what should Wizards say? Kyle Massa, take it away!

Please imagine the following in a smooth baritone voiceover accompanied by Spanish guitar:

He takes your mediocre three-mana counterspell…and turns it into a card too powerful for Modern. The only spells he allows you to resolve…are the ones he doesn’t really care about. He wears MC Hammer’s pants…because he knows your cards can’t touch this battlefield. He is…the most controversial card in Brawl.

Yes, it’s official. Baral, Chief of Compliance has taken over Magic’s newest format. Just look at the results of Magic Online’s first two Brawl Challenges. On April 23, Baral took six slots in the Top 8 and won the whole tournament. The following weekend, he claimed another six spots and nearly won again.

If you’ve never been forced to comply with Baral, here’s his gameplan in a nutshell: counter anything relevant and ignore the rest. His deck keeps the battlefield clear of anything relevant and then finishes with haymakers like Nezahal, Primal Tide; Metallurgic Summonings, or Torrential Gearhulk.

There’s no question that Baral is good. The question is, is he too good? Let’s explore the issue.

The Case Against Baral

The first issue: Baral makes counterspells way better than they’re meant to be. A one-mana discount on a counter might not sound like much but in this case, it’s the difference between mediocre and overpowered. Consider this: Cancel is at best a mediocre playable in your average Draft deck. And Counterspell, as our voiceover mentioned, is too good for Modern.

The difference between the two? A single mana.

Still, there’s a deeper problem at play here. Though counterspells might look like conditional removal spells at first glance, they tend to be much more frustrating to play against. Let’s compare Doom Blade and Counterspell for a moment. They have the same converted mana cost and they both provide an answer to a wide range of threats. The key difference is denial.

At its most basic, Magic is about casting spells. Doom Blade at least lets players put their cards on the battlefield, even if it kills them just a few phases later. Counterspell, on the other hand, won’t even allow spells to resolve. This makes players feel they’ve been denied their chance to play the game, which leads to feel-bad moments. Baral directly incentivizes this style of play.

But the counterspell issue is obvious. The real reason Baral is so busted is his consistency. His low mana cost and mono-color identity mean that Baral will almost always enter on Turn 2. And if you untap with him (very likely, considering people aren’t playing much cheap interaction in Brawl), you can commence countering anything you’d like. Nearly every game with Baral plays out in exactly this manner, which is why he’s become so problematic.

The Case For Baral

But what if Baral isn’t that bad? Like many great villains, what if he’s just misunderstood?

For one thing, Brawl is still in its infancy. It might still need time to adjust. We could see newer decks favor cheap interaction, such as Fatal Push and Lightning Strike. Or we might see a rise in popularity of cards like Prowling Serpopard and Carnage Tyrant, both of which beat Baral rather handily. Metagames are all about adjustments so maybe we just need to give the format time to adjust.

For another, Baral is only egregious in one-on-one Brawl. The format is meant to be multiplayer; it exists as one-on-one pretty much only for Magic Online. In a multiplayer environment, Baral’s counterspells become far less oppressive. The Chief can’t possibly counter every relevant spell from three different players. Plus, countering spells is a great way to create a three-on-one game. The lone player never wins those battles, no matter how good their deck is.

Third, two tournaments might be too small a sample size to support Baral’s banning. Imagine, for example, we were looking for cards to ban in Modern. If we analyzed the results of the most recent Pro Tour, we might conclude that cards from Lantern Control deserve the banhammer. After all, the deck took down a tournament featuring some of the best players in the world.

But that’s the danger of limited sample sizes. When we look at wider results, we find that Lantern Control performs about as well as any other Modern archetype. Wizards of the Coast wasn’t fooled by that limited sample size, and we shouldn’t be either. If Baral continues to take multiple Top 8 spots week after week, then we’ve got a problem. But we at least need to see more results before a ban.

The Final Verdict

In the case of a Baral banning, I’m leaning toward yes. It’s hard to understate how un-fun it can be to play against him, and his gameplan is far too consistent. Aside from the aforementioned increase in cheap interaction, I don’t see many viable ways to combat him. As of now, Baral feels too good for the format.

However, we do have a glimmer of hope: Brawl is still a young format. We only have results from two tournaments. And just because I don’t see a way to beat Baral doesn’t mean no one else will. I have faith in you, my fellow Magic players!

I say we give Baral time to prove he can play nicely with the rest of the format. Let’s wait and see if the metagame adjusts. But if it doesn’t, I say ban away.