Let’s Brawl!

You didn’t think Bennie Smith would let Brawl pass unnoticed, did you? Today he serves up his insights and a pair of lists. It’s about time someone bowed down to Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh…

I was pleasantly surprised recently when Gavin Verhey from Wizards of the Coast introduced a new hybrid Magic format called Brawl. It’s pretty much Commander meets Standard, the two formats I play the most, so it’s certainly in my wheelhouse.

If you haven’t already but have the time, definitely check out Gavin’s introduction to the format I linked to above, but if you want the short version, here you go:

You build a 60-card Standard-legal deck around a legendary creature or planeswalker. That creature or planeswalker starts in your command zone and you can cast it just like you can in Commander, including the two extra mana for each time you’ve got to recast it. All the cards in your deck must be within your Commander’s color identity. You can have only one copy of any particular card except for basic lands, and each player starts with 30 life. Note: there is no Commander damage rule in Brawl.

Be sure to check out Gavin’s Twitter feed for more info about Brawl.

Brawl is obviously a great way to ease new players into various Magic formats. I’ve created a few visual aids to demonstrate. Right now if you’re a new player, there are a few options for you outside of having a friend who’s already invested in the game give or lend you a bunch of cards or a deck.

I think a Prerelease is one of the best ways to get started once you’ve learned the game basics. You get a fair number of booster packs to start with, and you’ll get some experience playing the cards and seeing which ones you like and which ones you don’t. After that, you can expand your collection by opening some booster packs, maybe playing in some drafts. Then what?

If you want to play competitive Magic, you’ve got a pretty steep jump to make by getting into Standard. Most of the best Standard decks are chock-full of rares and mythics that can be quite expensive to buy and difficult to trade for. The new Challenger decks Wizards is releasing this Friday are certainly a big a help in this direction. But what if you’re not sure you want to invest in competitive Magic?

Another option is Commander, a most excellent choice! The Commander products are one way to improve your deck outside of the cards you’ve opened up so far, but the format is very deep and includes a lot of older, powerful cards that won’t ever be reprinted in a supplemental product. It can certainly be daunting for a new player to make the steep jump into Commander too.

This is where I think Brawl does a great job bridging the gap!

Now, once you’ve played in a Prerelease and have acquired some new cards, you can more easily build a Brawl deck than you could build a Standard or Commander deck. Once you play some games of Brawl, a new player should get a good sense as to whether they want to make the move into Standard or to Commander.

Adjusting your Brawl deck for either format is a much easier jump—it’s already Standard-legal, so you’ll just want to swap out the less optimal cards for more copies of the better cards. For Commander, you’ll just need 40 more cards — including a legal Commander if you’re playing with a Standard planeswalker.

What about not-so-new players? Is Brawl meant to bring Standard fans over to Commander? Or to bring Commander fans over to Standard? And for someone like me, who actively plays both formats, where does Brawl fit in?

I think the answer to all of these questions boils down to card availability. The way I manage my card collection is this: I have a stash of cards for Standard and build Standard decks out of that. All my other cards are part of my Commander card pool. Once cards rotate out of Standard, they go into my Commander stash. Sometimes, if a Standard card is too awesome to wait on I’ll go ahead and throw it in a Commander deck or two if I’m not playing it in Standard or have some extra copies.

When it comes to my Standard card pool, I don’t have four copies of every card. I’ll have enough to build a couple of competitive decks that interest me, but there will also be lots of Standard cards where I’ll only have one or two copies of and don’t have them in a deck. If I decide to play with them I’ll need to acquire some additional copies, but for the most part these cards are in limbo. The beauty of “highlander” formats like Commander and now Brawl is that just one copy of that card is all you need for your deck.

Take a card like The Scarab God, for instance. This mythic rare powerhouse costs $35, and if you want to play it in Standard, you’ll need to dish out money for at least two to three copies, if not a full playset. That’s quite an investment in money and in opportunity cost, since the money you sink in copies of The Scarab God is money you can’t spend on other Magic cards (or, you know, groceries).

So what if you open one copy of The Scarab God out of a booster pack? You have a few choices. First, you can trade it away for other cards you may need for a Standard deck that isn’t playing The Scarab God. If you want to play The Scarab God in Standard, now you’ve got to figure out how to acquire another copy or two (or three!) of a $35 card. Or, you can toss it into a Commander deck.

Now you’ve got another option: put it in a Brawl deck with some other Standard cards you don’t necessarily have a full playset of!

What I really like about this option is that the Standard card pool is chock-full of cards that aren’t quite good enough to make a dent in Standard. How many cool red creatures are riding the bench because you’d be crazy not to play four copies of Rekindling Phoenix and Glorybringer? How many planeswalkers do we see in decks besides Chandra, Torch of Defiance and the occasional Ajani Unyielding and Vraska, Relic Seeker?

Here are all the planeswalkers we’re not playing in Standard:

What’s amazing is that you can pick one of these as your Commander for Brawl, making it feel quite a bit different from Commander! I mean, isn’t it a shame that Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh isn’t terrorizing Standard right now? Let’s Brawl with it!

Anyone who’s brewed in Brawl yet has quickly realized the mana is a bit sketchy compared to what we’re used to in both Standard and Commander. Just keep in mind that everyone else is in the same boat! Grixis has a little extra help because of Crypt of the Eternals – which is far from ideal – but I also stuck in Renegade Map and Cultivator’s Caravan for additional fixing.

The plan for this Brawl deck is lots of removal, a smattering of control, and some speed bumps to buy you time to get to seven mana so you can cast your awesome planeswalker and start bashing heads with it! I’m probably being a little foolish not including Glorybringer, but my mana curve at five was already rather loaded with Nicol Bolas flavor hits Dark Intimations, The Scarab God, The Scorpion God, and Neheb, the Eternal.

I’ve only got one copy of Torrential Gearhulk and have been hanging onto it for a while. The price jumped too high to fast for me to buy more copies, and there were too many other cards in Standard I was more interested in playing with. I’ve certainly been tempted to trade it away given its price tag, but its size and power is such that I’ll happily toss it in Commander decks eventually. But right now it’s been gathering dust in my Standard box, so I’m happy to add it to my Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh Brawl deck!

So what about legendary creatures in Standard we could build around? Here’s a list of what’s available now, though this list is going to grow by a huge amount since Dominaria is chock full of legendary creatures.

We’re all pretty sick of The Scarab God in Standard, so in the spirit of good fun, let’s steer clear of it as our Brawl Commander. Hazoret the Fervent is another frequent flier, and we occasionally see Rishkar, Peema Renegade; Gonti, Lord of Luxury; and Rhonas the Indomitable. That still leaves a ton of options here! I did check to see how many non-basic lands we have in Standard for Hope of Ghirapur and there are only eighteen, so you could potentially make an all-artifact deck with a super-low mana curve, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

Dare we try a Zacama, Primal Calamity ramp deck? One of the problems with ramping in Standard is when you draw all your ramp and not enough payoff. That’s not an issue in Commander, nor is it in Brawl. At the end of your mana quest, there’s a giant dinosaur ready and willing to sink all your mana into whatever your heart desires.

How about something like this?

I’ve got most of the usual ramp suspects, including just about all the two-mana creatures that tap for mana. Atzocan Seer taps for any color mana and has a nice side ability of being able to sacrifice and retrieve a Dinosaur from the graveyard. Verdant Crescendo may look a little odd, but I actually think Nissa, Nature’s Artisan fits pretty well with our plan anyway, so why not ramp and fetch Nissa and have the mana to cast Nissa?

I’m a little bummed about no Deserts for Zombie shenanigans with Hour of Promise, but I don’t think I can afford the pain of the colored-mana Deserts, nor the utility Deserts that don’t tap for color in a three-color deck where our mana is already a bit precarious. The enemy checklands from Dominaria will help a smidge.

Authority of the Consuls is a bit of a metagame shot in the dark since I haven’t played a single game of Brawl yet, but I imagine the natural enemy to this strategy would be a very aggressive monocolored deck and an early Authority of the Consuls could help with that. I also anticipate the mana creatures being targeted by removal early and often, so Shapers’ Sanctuary can help in that regard.

So, what do you think? Is Brawl something you want to try out? What do you think of getting to use planeswalkers as commanders? Which commanders do you want to build a Brawl deck around?

Around the Multiverse

For more on Brawl, be sure to check out Jim Davis’s take in his article Retention Versus Acquisition: A Rising Tide Lifts All Ships. Some good thoughts on casual formats and products from a competitive mind! Speaking of competitive, be sure to read Sam Black’s take on the format, especially if you’re hungry for some more Brawl deck ideas – yep, he’s got eight brewed up already!

Commander godfather Sheldon Menery weighs in with his thoughts on the new format with I’m Brawling, I’m Brawling, I’m Brawling for You.

For straight-up Commander goodness, there’s a special crossover event with two of the Commander VS guys square off against some ChannelFireball dudes. Justin unleashes his Ulasht, the Hate Seed deck; Jeremy cascades with Maelstrom Wanderer; Denis Stranjak unleashes Elven magic with Ezuri, Renegade Leader; and James Keating cranks up the experience with Meren of Clan Nel Toth.

Mark Nestico continues his quick Commander hits in the new set with Coming Soon to Dominaria, Part 2.

New to Commander?

If you’re just curious about the format, building your first deck, or trying to take your Commander deck up a notch, here are some handy links:

Commander write-ups I’ve done
(and links to decklists):

Zurgo Bellstriker (Bellstriking Like a Boss)

Dragonlord Ojutai (Troll Shroud)

Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund (Dragons, Megamorphs, and Dragons)

Dromoka, the Eternal (One Flying Bolster Basket)

Shu Yun, the Silent Tempest (Tempests and Teapots)

Tasigur, the Golden Fang (Hatching Evil Sultai Plots)

Scion of the Ur-Dragon (Dragon Triggers for Everyone)

• Nahiri, The Lithomancer (Lithomancing for Fun and Profit)

Titania, Protector of Argoth (Titania’s Land and Elemental Exchange)

Reaper King (All About VILLAINOUS WEALTH)

Feldon of the Third Path (She Will Come Back to Me)

Sidisi, Brood Tyrant (Calling Up Ghouls with Sidisi)

Zurgo Helmsmasher (Two Times the Smashing)

Anafenza, the Foremost (Anafenza and Your Restless Dead)

Narset, Enlightened Master (The New Voltron Overlord)

Surrak Dragonclaw (The Art of Punching Bears)

Avacyn, Guardian Angel; Ob Nixilis, Unshackled; Sliver Hivelord (Commander Catchup, Part 3)

Keranos, God of Storms; Marchesa, the Black Rose; Muzzio, Visionary Architect (Commander Catchup, Part 2)

Athreos, God of Passage; Kruphix, God of Horizons; Iroas, God of Victory (Commander Catchup, Journey into Nyx Edition)

Kurkesh, Onakke Ancient (Ghost in the Machines)

Jalira, Master Polymorphist (JaliraPOW!)

Mishra, Artificer Prodigy (Possibility Storm Shenanigans)

Yisan, the Wanderer Bard (All-in Yisan)

Selvala, Explorer Returned (Everyone Draws Lots!)

Grenzo, Dungeon Warden (Cleaning Out the Cellar)

Karona, False God (God Pack)

Child of Alara (Land Ho!)

Doran, the Siege Tower (All My Faves in One Deck!)

Karador, Ghost Chieftain (my Magic Online deck)

Karador, Ghost Chieftain (Shadowborn Apostles & Demons)

King Macar, the Gold-Cursed (GREED!)

Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind ( Chuck’s somewhat vicious deck)

Roon of the Hidden Realm (Mean Roon)

Skeleton Ship (Fun with -1/-1 counters)

Vorel of the Hull Clade (Never Trust the Simic)

Anax and Cymede (Heroic Co-Commanders)

Aurelia, the Warleader ( plus Hellkite Tyrant shenanigans)

Borborygmos Enraged (69 land deck)

Bruna, Light of Alabaster (Aura-centric Voltron)

Damia, Sage of Stone ( Ice Cauldron shenanigans)

Derevi, Empyrial Tactician (Tribal Birds)

Emmara Tandris (No Damage Tokens)

Gahiji, Honored One (Enchantment Ga-hijinks)

Geist of Saint Traft (Voltron-ish)

Ghave, Guru of Spores ( Melira Combo)

Glissa Sunseeker (death to artifacts!)

Glissa, the Traitor ( undying artifacts!)

Grimgrin, Corpse-Born (Necrotic Ooze Combo)

Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord (drain you big time)

Jeleva, Nephalia’s Scourge ( Suspension of Disbelief)

Johan (Cat Breath of the Infinite)

Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer (replacing Brion Stoutarm in Mo’ Myrs)

Karona, False God (Vows of the False God)

Konda, Lord of Eiganjo ( The Indestructibles)

Lord of Tresserhorn (ZOMBIES!)

Marath, Will of the Wild ( Wild About +1/+1 Counters)

Melira, Sylvok Outcast ( combo killa)

Mirko Vosk, Mind Drinker ( Outside My Comfort Zone with Milling

Nefarox, Overlord of Grixis (evil and Spike-ish)

Nicol Bolas (Kicking it Old School)

Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius ( new player-friendly)

Nylea, God of the Hunt ( Devoted to Green)

Oloro, Ageless Ascetic (Life Gain)

Oona, Queen of the Fae (by reader request)

Phage the Untouchable ( actually casting Phage from Command Zone!)

Phelddagrif (Mean Hippo)

Polukranos, World Eater (Monstrous!)

Progenitus (

Fist of Suns and Bringers


Reaper King (Taking Advantage of the new Legend Rules)

Riku of Two Reflections (

steal all permanents with
Deadeye Navigator + Zealous Conscripts


Roon of the Hidden Realm ( Strolling Through Value Town)

Ruhan of the Fomori (lots of equipment and infinite attack steps)

Savra, Queen of the Golgari ( Demons)

Shattergang Brothers (Breaking Boards)

Sigarda, Host of Herons ( Equipment-centric Voltron)

Skullbriar, the Walking Grave ( how big can it get?)

Sliver Overlord (Featuring the new M14 Slivers!)

Thelon of Havenwood ( Campfire Spores)

Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice ( new player-friendly)

Uril, the Miststalker (my “more competitive” deck)

Varolz, the Scar-Striped (scavenging goodness)

Vorosh, the Hunter ( proliferaTION)

Xenagos, God of Revels (Huge Beatings)

Yeva, Nature’s Herald (living at instant speed)