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Teaching Magic - In Defence Of Brawl


I think that by now just about every Magic player on our plane has heard of Brawl, the love child of Commander and Standard, so I won’t bore you with a lengthy explanation of all of the details as they can all be found here. What I hope to achieve in writing this essay is to encourage more of you excellent people to try out this fun format.  


Before we get into the meat of my argument, I want to make it clear that Brawl is fun. I have had a great time playing it both one on one and in multiplayer games. The games have all involved a lot of interaction, and many have had some great comebacks and exciting plays. As a fan of politics, longer games and an increased level of interaction I prefer Brawl as a multiplayer format, but it definitely works as a one-on-one format too. That said, some people that I’ve spoken to have some concerns about the format, over the next few paragraphs I am aiming to address some of those concerns.


It is a rotating format

Yes, your Brawl deck will eventually rotate out of Standard, but that doesn't have to be a bad thing. First off all if you enjoyed playing the deck, you can turn it into a Commander deck and keep playing it. Secondly if only part of your deck is rotating out, but the majority of your deck is staying in Standard it gives you an opportunity to change up your deck, potentially taking it in a new direction. Having a rotation also means you get to brew up new decks more often, which can be a lot of fun. If you are less of a fan of brewing, you could always net-deck as there are plenty of people posting lists for all sorts of budgets. Alternatively, you could pick a strategy and tune up your deck at each rotation (I think it is reasonable to assume WotC will continue to provide us with ‘Brawler’ options in each of the ten color pairs going forward if they want to support Brawl). Rotation also means that no deck can stay oppressive forever. Whenever you sit down across from a Brago, Narset, Prossh or Meren deck, you know that it is going to be an uphill battle every time. In Commander powerful decks stay powerful, the only time that changes is when even more powerful cards are printed. I for one am bored of seeing the same decks show up at every Commander night. That cannot become a problem in Brawl; even the most annoying brawlers will rotate out. One aspect of rotation that I haven’t covered yet is the cost, let’s get into that now.


It costs too much

Maybe you’re coming from Standard and buying into Brawl seems like wasting money on cards that aren’t good enough for Standard. Perhaps you’re coming from Commander and buying cards for Brawl feels like you are spending money on cards that aren’t good enough for Commander. I get it, Magic is an expensive game and it is easy to feel like every new format is just Wizards trying to squeeze more money out of us. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. Most players that I know attend at least one if not two or three pre-release events; at those events they are bound to open cards that are great in limited, but won’t make the cut for Standard, those are Brawl cards. Many people enjoy cracking a box or drafting a set a few times, there are plenty of cards printed that won’t make the cut for a Standard or Commander deck, but are fun to play and are thus perfect for Brawl. Cards like River’s Rebuke and Kefnet are underwhelming in both Standard and Commander, but they have been all-stars in my Tatyova, Bentic Druid deck. Likewise Mouth // Feed and the Dinosaur Avatars all have better analogues in most Commander decks and they are too slow in Standard, but they are sweet in my Gishath, Sun's Avatar deck. That means that you will have cards in your collection that can be awesome in Brawl and if you find yourself missing a card it can often be picked up for a few dollars. In a similar vein Brawl decks do not need to be expensive, the vast majority of my decks are commons and uncommons. This works because for every splashy rare or mythic that they print Wizards prints five or six cards (at least) at uncommon and common to support that strategy. Say you want to build a Rhonas the Indomitable deck; in Amonkhet alone there are ten other creatures in Green that have power four or higher, the most expensive of those in Prowling Serpopard, which is just a few dollars. Some of the most expensive cards in standard are the lands; competitive decks need good lands so that they don’t stumble on mana in their highly competitive metagame. In my opinion, you do not need ‘fast’ lands in Brawl as the decks are less consistent and usually played in a multi-player setting it is totally fine to play ‘tap-lands’ and clunkier mana-fixing as you have more time to stabilize and execute your chosen game plan. Hopefully, I have been able to convince you that building your next Brawl deck doesn’t have to involve you sacrificing a lot of your hard-earned treasure.


Brawl is underpowered

Some people may view Brawl as ‘bad-Standard’ or ‘Commander-lite’ and feel that it is not worth their time. Brawl’s lower power-level is one of its strengths, not a weakness. Many Commander games are won when players combo off and many Standard decks aim to interact with their opponents as little as possible, neither of these strategies is particularly fun to play against. By having less powerful cards than Commander, Brawl lets you play more interactive, mid-range Magic. You can still play a controlling or combo-ing deck, but you have to play more fair as either you are limited by the power-level of your cards, or you are limited by the amount of redundancy you can access. In Commander it is not uncommon for one deck to wrath the board four or five times in a game, in Brawl they might only have access to five wraths in their whole deck and some of them will be far less efficient than those available in the eternal card pool. The above means that control decks have to commit more resources to the board to protect their life-total, thus reducing the amount of card-advantage that they can normally get. In Standard you can pick the nine or so best cards in your color combination, find four of each and put your deck together, the deck’s power-level is going to be higher than a Brawl deck in the same colors and with the same overall game plan. That, however, is not a bad thing. By flattening out the maximum power-level of all Brawl decks we allow a more diverse range of decks and archetypes to flourish. Hapatra, Vizier of Poisons is a sweet card; unfortunately, she and her -1/-1 counters are not powerful enough for Standard, but in Brawl, she can do amazing things.


Consistency Issues

Some might argue that the singleton nature of Brawl will lead to it being too inconsistent, whereas others might say that having almost permanent access to a legendary creature or planeswalker will make your deck too consistent. I’m going to keep this short as others have said many of these points with regards to Commander, but overall Brawl hits the sweet-spot for me. If every time you play a deck, it functions the same way you will get bored with that deck. Thus having a somewhat inconsistent deck is good. If every time I played my Gishath deck I played Llanowar Elves into Rhonas’ Monument into Oasis Ritualist into Gishath, it would lose its luster and stop being exciting. In contrast, another challenge in Magic is too much variance, if you are mana-flooded in Brawl and you aren’t drawing spells the majority of the time you can still cast your brawler, which might get you back into the game.


Some final reasons to play Brawl

You get to meet and interact with new people. Many of us have our favorite formats or playgroups and stick to those, trying out Brawl will most likely result in you meeting more people in the community. Along the same lines, Brawl encourages you to trade cards more. As I mentioned before many of the cards you might be looking to pick-up are cheap which makes trading for them easier; I have not met someone who wants to barter over cards worth a dollar or two each. Trading builds the community and helps more cards see play. Brawl is good for new players. Yes, there are some complexity issues, but they are minuscule compared to the complexity of Commander. Additionally, the flatter power-level, higher variance and casual nature of the format are going to make it easier for them to face veteran players and win. Winning feels good, and it is crucial for new players to experience success if they are going to stick around. Just think, how many times have you seen a new player show up to a Commander night or Standard tournament full of excitement, ready to finally play their ‘sweet’ deck only to walk away without a single win. Finally, Brawl is fun, and I think it could be great for bringing the community together. So come along on a Thursday from 6:30p.m., Friday from 5p.m. or Saturday from 2p.m.


See you there,



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