What's Brawl and Should You Care

On Thursday the 22nd March, Wizards of the Coast introduced a casual new format for Magic players – Brawl. This format is a variation of Commander, but with only Standard cards. This article looks at Wizard's new format and explains why you might want to give it a shot.

As explained by Gavin Verhey in this article, Brawl is a new way to play Commander. Commander is a singleton format, which means that each deck cannot contain more than one copy of each card (except for basic lands). In the Commander format, players choose a legendary creature and build a deck around that creature’s color identity. For example, an Animar, Soul of Elements Commander deck can only have red, blue, green, and colorless cards. Additionally, every multicolor pairing of the aforementioned colors is also permitted. Commander is an eternal format, meaning players are allowed to choose from all the cards ever printed from Magic’s past. How does Brawl differ from this and how do those differences matter?

Animar, Soul of Elements

As stated above, Brawl players can only use current Standard legal cards. There are other rule changes as well, though. For instance, instead of building a 100 card deck (99 cards + 1 Commander) and starting at 40 life, in Brawl, players build a 60 card deck (59 card + 1 Commander) and start at 30 life. In Brawl, players can also choose any Standard legal Planeswalker as their Commander. Everything else is the same for both Commander and Brawl.

Choosing your Brawl Commander

When choosing a deck for Brawl, players might make the mistake of assuming that it will feel exactly like a normal game of Commander. This, however, is not the case. In Commander players have access to Magic's entire card library (save of course the cards specifically banned for the format), giving them options for card draw, ramp spells and other utility cards available in all colors. Since Brawl is played with the current Standard card pool, not all colors will have access to the same effects. As a result, the colors your Commander gives you access too will be even more important, as you will likely sacrifice a lot of versatility as you go down colors. If you're planning to build a Ghalta, Primal Hunger deck, this limits you to only mono-green cards from Standard. Sure this offers ramp with cards such as Hour of Promise, Thunderherd Migration or Channeler Initiate but how are you going to deal with tempo decks or any god from Amonkhet and Hours of Devastation? Basically speaking, Deck-building in Brawl will significantly restrict your choices, more so than in Commander. Some colors will be weaker to other color combinations just by the card pool available to them. Choosing the right Commander will mean finding the balance between a card that can win games vs a card that gives you enough options to get to your game plan.

Ghalta, Primal Hunger

On a side note: Keep in mind that in Brawl you will not have the luxury to choose a Commander with your favorite color identity. There has to be a planeswalker or legend with that color combination legal in Standard in order to build a Brawl deck. For example, if you want to build a Bant Brawl deck, you can’t, since there are no legends or planeswalkers with those colors currently legal in Standard.

Combat

Another aspect of Brawl decks will be the fact that creature heavy decks will have an advantage. In Standard, creature spells tend to be more powerful than other spells. This pushes Brawl decks to be aggressive and focus on combat damage. Cheap removal spells in a singleton Standard format will be quite limited and when you factor in color-restriction, Players will only have access to a very small selection of removal spell (single or wraths) and casting them at the right time will be key. As a result, low converted-mana-cost creatures will still be very useful in the early stages of the game, to setup bigger plays or in the late game as extra pressure against your opponent. This would be a departure from Commander, where frequently players will not attack with small creatures because of their low impact on the end result of the game.

Ruhan of the Fomori

Strategy

As discussed multiple times earlier, playing color-restricted singleton with only Standard-legal card will necessarily limit your answers. This will push Brawl decks to play more linear strategies focusing on doing or achieving one thing before your opponents can. In a single game of Commander, you have the option of having cards that deal with a variety of effects. In Brawl, on the other hand, speed will be key as hate cards, like for example Silent Gravestone and Blood Sun, aren’t very powerful and/or versatile. Since Brawl will emphasize speed, lands will also play a key role. Since mana fixing is limited, players will have to rely on their mana curve and their lands to be able to play effectively. As a result, I expect Brawl decks to play more lands than usual. Mana fixing in Brawl will be very limited as players will not be able to rely on the mana rocks, ramp, and fetchlands they have become accustomed too. This will probably push land counts in decks to 25-26 lands. This is quite high compared to Standard, but because Brawl is a singleton format, players will not be able to rely on drawing their cheap ramp spells as easily in Brawl.

New Players

Brawl is most easily viewed as playing a watered-down version of Commander or Standard. This makes it easy to introduce to new players that are learning MTG for the first time to both formats. New players find it hard to jump into Standard due to the high cost of rotating decks. On the other hand, preconstructed Commander decks underperform in a multiplayer game where other players are playing with powerful Legacy staples. Brawl is a good way to introduce new players to both Commander and Standard formats by using cards from the current Standard sets. In Brawl, new players can learn card interactions from a significantly simpler format while also getting the multiplayer Commander experience that has taken the MTG casual scene by storm. This will also help new players slowly build a Magic card collection. Lastly. Brawl is a much cheaper format than Commander, as even expensive Standard cards are less onerous when you only need one of them. You also don't have access to the oppressively expensive mana bases that are required in nearly every Commander deck.

Brawl also creates an opportunity to get value out of drafts or bulk cards. Building a 60-card singleton deck will forcibly leave room for cards that don't see play in Standard, making a good portion of any Brawl deck extraordinarily cheap. This format might also give more value to Planeswalker decks, which are released with unique planeswalker cards not available from anywhere else, as these can now become their own Commanders for Brawl decks. Lastly, high-cost cards will find homes in Brawl, where the beefed-up life-total creates time for players to build up a lot of mana for powerful effects, much like in regular Commander.

Planeswalker Decks

Commander and Standard Players Coming Together

Brawl is also a good way to play Commander without the pressure of having to build busted decks. This might serve as a gateway for limited-only players into constructed Magic. They can take the various Limited decks they have assembled, pull the best cards out, and play a midrange-y Brawl deck with high-value cards and plays. This is both cheap and a nice way to give cost-averse players a chance at building their own constructed decks. Brawl might also serve as a gateway for Commander players to be introduced to the Standard format. A lot of Commander players play Commander because they do not have to build decks with the knowledge of having to replace them once rotation of Standard occurs. In Brawl, however, players do not need to invest a lot of money into Standard cards. Sure rotation will still occur, but players are still going to buy singles or open packs for their Commander/Standard deck, might as well use a lot of the ‘other’ cheap cards together with some of the Standard bombs for a Brawl deck. This aspect of Brawl creates a lot of limitations, which is a negative for many eternal players but, on the other hand, could lead to some interesting innovation. Having restrictions on what cards you can use and/or what Commanders you are able to choose from will force players to find clever solutions in the areas where they lack coverage. Deck builders/brewers will find it interesting to use a limited pool of cards, which rotates and changes every so often. Some of these ideas might even translate into other Commander or Standard decks. Sure, this is not for everyone, especially if you are a player who plays Commander because you hate Standard rotation, but as a casual format, the main aim in Brawl is to have fun. Also, Standard players will now find it easier to jump into Commander, since Brawl will give them enough experience to try and build Commander decks (probably they already have most of the cards they need or they were planning to buy them anyway).

Playing Magic

Returning Players

With the release of Dominaria next month, a lot of old players might be interested to join in on the nostalgia. Brawl offers these players an opportunity to test out the current game strategies without having to heavily invest into the cards. Just by purchasing packs or attending a pre-release these players will have enough cards for a simple Brawl deck. If they prefer to purchase a box, then they will have half the cards of the current set, which gives them an even bigger card pool to choose from. As a result, playing Brawl will be cheaper for these players who are not sure if they want to start playing MTG again, whether it is causal or competitive. The fact that Dominaria has a legendary theme will also offer a huge selection of new Commanders to experiment and build around since Wizards of the Coasts confirmed that there will be a legendary creature in each Dominaria Booster pack..

Planeswalker Fans - Super Casuals

For all those players that are huge fans of Planeswalker cards, Brawl seems like the missing part of the Commander format. I am one of these players, as I always wanted to build Commander decks with Planeswalkers as Commanders. Even though the current Brawl selection of Planeswalkers is a bit limiting, this does not mean you cannot create your own Brawl Standard for your own playgroup. As an example, my playgroup already agreed to start playing Brawl by using previous blocks instead of the current Standard. This means that at a given period, all players agree on which sets to use to build Brawl decks for the next game night. For example Theros Block or Khans of Tarkir Block, Innistrad block (including Shadows and Eldritch Moon) or even creating decks for the Brawl format using Modern legal cards only. This depends on the kind of players you are but if all agree on a particular house rule and this makes it fun for everyone, why not? Sure you can do this with any format including original Commander but that is the fun of Magic. You can play how you like (As long as the other players agree as well).

Final thoughts

Brawl is a very flexible format. Whether you are a casual or a competitive player, Brawl can be a format that makes you think outside the box. Again, this format is definitely not for everyone. Some players might not be attracted to the limitations Brawl has, others might complain about the fact that these limitations will make decks very similar to each other (since the card pool is small).

I am excited about this new format and I am interested to see how it develops. Causal players will have a new way to play MTG while competitive players will find a new use for their bulk cards. Not everyone plays to win or wants the best deck currently in the Meta. Some players are into MTG for the fun of it and Brawl can offer fun experiences for a fraction of the cost of either Standard or Commander.

What do you think? Will you be giving Brawl a try? What deck ideas are you planning for Brawl? Share them with us!

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.

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