Karn In Brawl: Was The Change Wrong?

Karn was recently “patched” in Brawl. While the change seems intuitive, was this really a good shift? Kyle Massa demonstrates why Karn may have been better off being left alone!

It’s been a little over a month since Gavin Verhey, head spokesman of
Brawl, published a little article called ”

The Future of Brawl

.” In it, he laid out a whole bunch of interesting changes coming to the
format. And aside from the rather predictable
banning of Baral, Chief of Compliance
, I’d say the biggest shakeup comes in the form of an entrance, not an

I’m referring, of course, to new support for Karn, Scion of Urza.

Yes, Karn was already legal in Brawl before Gavin’s update. But now the
rules have been fudged a bit so that he can more easily serve as the
commander of your deck. Instead of being forced to play all colorless lands
(of which there were only about 20), one can now play basics of any one
color with Karn, so long as the rest of the deck remains colorless.

Was this the right decision? Let’s take a closer look.

The Good

I’m not a doom-and-gloom kind of guy (unless we’re on Innistrad,
in which case I’m all in favor of both), so let’s start with the good of
this decision.

I’ll admit, Karn as a commander is just plain cool. He’s a popular
character, an influential figure in Magic lore, and an excellent
planeswalker card to boot. He’s also fun to play with and (sometimes)
against, which is a big plus for the format. Brawl, after all, is a format
founded on fun (note that Gavin used the word “fun” fourteen times in his
article). Providing added support for Karn as a commander supports that
mission statement, since players have more fun when reasonably powerful
cards are available.

But does all this value come without a cost? I don’t think so. I’ve got a
few concerns, and I’d like to share them with you today. See what you

The Bad

Karn Creates Heightened Competition Among Players

Karn is one of those rare cards that sees play in almost every format. In
fact, at a

recent team Grand Prix

, one team was unofficially dubbed “Team Karn.” That’s because they played
Karn, Scion of Urza in all three of their decks; Standard, Modern,
and even Legacy. Anecdotally speaking, he’s also viable in Commander, Cube,
and maybe someday even in Vintage.

To put things bluntly, Karn is basically playable in every format, ever.

This ease of play creates natural competition among different types of
players. On one hand, you’ve got the spikes who play in tournaments (for
example, the fellows from Team Karn). They want multiple copies of the
silver golem for Standard, Modern, and I guess now Legacy, too. On the
other hand, you’ve got the casuals who play Brawl. Before, they wanted Karn
for their 59. Now, they want him even more since it’s easier than ever to
build a deck around him.

Here’s the issue: When spikes and casuals fight over cards, guess who wins?
It’s the spikes every time.

We’ve seen this type of situation become an issue in the past. In the Commander 2013 product, for example, True-Name Nemesis made its
first appearance. Though it reads “commander” on the box, members of
Wizards R&D later admitted that True-Name was

printed more for Legacy than Commander

. Since Legacy players couldn’t obtain the card any other way, they began
buying out entire precon Commander decks just for the Nemesis. This left
fewer copies for the casual Commander players, for whom the product was
actually designed. The Grixis deck from that year became scarce, its price
skyrocketed, and the whole thing became such an issue that R&D later
reneged on that particular design philosophy entirely.

I think the new Karn ruling sets up a similar situation. When both
competitive and casual players vie for the same product, the competitive
players win because they spend the money. As a result, the casual players
who want Karn as their commander are left with a big fat feel-bad moment.

Karn’s Deck Building Cost Has Been Eased Too Much

One of the most interesting aspects of Magic is balancing cost with reward.
Some cards ask a lot of us but offer excellent payoffs; others provide
long-term advantage for a reasonable cost upfront; still others bestow
strong effects for low cost, but likely don’t continue to produce as the
game continues.

Before this announcement, Karn as a Brawl commander had a steep cost, but
rewarded players with a suitable payoff. In exchange for playing janky
lands like Cascading Cataracts and Cradle of the Accursed, you got one of
the most powerful cards in Standard as your commander. Karn asked players
an interesting question:

Am I powerful enough to justify playing such lousy lands, and so few?

Thanks to the new rules, this question has been invalidated. Now there’s
basically no cost to playing Karn-unless you care about your deck being
colorless. I personally don’t see this as much of a drawback, especially
considering that most colorless cards are artifacts, which is exactly what
Karn wants to play with, anyway. Building with Karn as a commander used to
be interesting simply because it was so difficult. Now, however, we’re
offered an excellent commander with almost no deckbuilding cost.

Karn Doesn’t Fill Any Holes in the Format

Also, did Brawl even need Karn? I don’t think so. It’s not like
the format’s missing powerful planeswalker commanders. We already had
Chandra, Torch of Defiance; Teferi, Hero of Dominaria; Vraska, Relic
Seeker; and more. Karn adds nothing that wasn’t already there.

For the purpose of comparison, let’s frame Karn’s new rule like an
unbanning. Unbannings work best when they add to formats without skewing
the metagame. Just look at Jace, the Mind Sculptor’s recent entry into
Modern. Wizards wanted to add a weapon for blue control decks since they’ve
historically struggled for relevance in the format. Additionally, Jace
unlocked a number of interesting archetypes, such as Temur, Sultai, and
even Miracles. And that’s just a short list. We’ll likely see more Modern
decks made possible by Jace in the future.

In contrast, Karn’s newfound format support doesn’t augment any existing
archetypes or create any new ones. As mentioned previously, the closest he
gets is bolstering an artifact theme. But that was already viable (and
probably better) with commanders such as Tezzeret the Schemer and Jhoira,
Weatherlight Captain. Truth is, he’s basically just great irrespective of
the cards surrounding him. That doesn’t feel like it’s adding much of
interest to the format.

In Conclusion

Though supporting Karn as a Brawl commander was clearly done with noble
intentions, I’m still not in love with the decision. I like that Wizards
listened to the players-I just wish they’d gone about supporting Karn in a
different way. Maybe they could’ve tried to print more colorless lands.
Doing so would’ve retained Karn’s deckbuilding constraints while still
giving players a bit more to work with.

Nonetheless, it looks like Karn’s here to stay. The question is this: was
it worth it?