An Introduction to Brawl

28 May 2020 - 11 min read

The Hexdrinkers are proudly sponsored by

TCGplayer Affiliate Link

So, you want to hear a story eh? Legendary heroes battling for supremacy using their might and wisdom and general badassery? Sit down, grab a drink. It’s time to learn about Brawl.

image sourced from scryfall.com

No, not that one. Get outta here, this is a Magic site. We’re talking Brawl the format (although I’d completely understand if more of you were familiar with the former.)

My love for Brawl started at the Dominaria prerelease.

image sourced from scryfall.com
image sourced from scryfall.com
image sourced from scryfall.com

It was just after the format was introduced and Dominaria was built for Brawl on a fundamental level. Each pack had a dedicated legendary slot, and the prerelease box came with an extra date-stamped legendary. Originally, I had chalked up Brawl as a one-off way for Wizards to bring the Commander community into the rotating Standard environment and saw Brawl support just as a way to level up some of my 99-card decks…but as I flipped through those six packs of cards, my mind just started forming connections. A limited cardpool lacking “staples” can breed creativity.

image sourced from scryfall.com

I found myself drowning in potential options and was mentally sorting cards into build categories for at least half the deck construction time and spent the rest of the prerelease scheming potential decks in the back of my head. I’m going to pretend that the preoccupation with potential Brawl builds is why I walked away from the event without a win to my name. But who cares!!! I knew exactly what I needed to structure a Tetsuko Umezawa, Fugitive deck OR how I planned to trade my friend Harrison for his Josu Vess, Lich Knight to aide Aryel, Knight of Windgrace in knight tribal.

After leaving the event, I spent the entire walk home trying to convince my friends to give Brawl a shot. Considering half of them had never even played Magic before that day, I knew I might be facing an uphill battle…but the resistance never came. Maybe it’s the casual nature of multiplayer magic where all four of us could just sit down with a beer or two after a day of class and sling spells at each other. It could also have been the powerful narrative of choosing a specialized general to lead your troops into battle. Either way we all agreed to give it a shot. I was ecstatic.

I met all these guys while studying abroad in New Zealand that semester, so even those of us who had some experience with the game were in a position where no one had any collection of cards to fall back on. Initially, we all just had those prerelease packs. This was incredibly fortunate for the budding playgroup to start on such equal footing, and allowed us to really experiment with combos of cards that otherwise would have seemed ridiculous. Eventually we found a local game store that would give draft chaff to students for free, and maybe we bought a pack or two…but singles were pretty much out of the question. I felt such a strong connection to when my friends back home and I had just started playing in High School. Both metas were defined by low-powered decks with one or two mid-tier rares that were absolutely devastating when dropped. Things like Helm of the Host or Siege-Gang Commander were among the biggest game-ending threats if they were allowed to get out of hand. Luckily this time around, everyone was able to skip the stage of only playing the coolest threats without any answers. If I were to list my all-time favorite Magic memories, that semester in New Zealand playing with low-powered brawl decks would easily be in the top three. It was really a testament to what crafty strategies we could build from the limited pool we had. To give an example of one of my sweetest creations, here is a selection from my Tetsuko Umezawa, Fugitive deck that’s still one of my favorite builds to this day.

image sourced from scryfall.com
image sourced from scryfall.com
image sourced from scryfall.com

Any equipment that gave just a boost to power was an instant include, making my wild army of blue 2/1s into actual threats (as long as Tetsuko was on the field), and Champion of Wits served as a sweet piece of late game tech to loot away any nasty lands while serving as a reasonable body in the early game. Considering how fragile my army was, there were also a fair number of counterspells like Unwind or Wizard’s retort , much to everyone else’s chagrin. Hey! Man’s gotta protect his army of ninjas, am I right?!

The group eventually coalesced around Darigaaz, Reincarnated , Hallar, the Fire Fletcher , Slimefoot, the Stowaway , and Tetsuko Umezawa, Fugitive . We’d all gather round a booth in the lobby of our student housing with maybe a beer or soda from the machine and spend the night laughing at the absurdity of being slowly whittled down by a Graven Abomination until someone could draw an Abrade . Then, maybe we’d go down to Burger Fuel for a bite or end up doing a bit of group studying. It was the perfect pressure release and a time dedicated to seeing friends amongst everyone’s busy schedules.

After that initial Dominaria hype, the community’s love for Brawl also drastically declined. There were a few powerhouse cards that needed to be banned, (see: Baral, Chief of Compliance ) and Wizards had only pushed Brawl for that one set so support was severely lacking in Core 19 and Guilds of Ravnica. Sure, there were legendary creatures, but no excitement from the Mothership to spur innovative design in the format. I think one of the final nails in that early coffin was fall rotation, when all the commander players realized why a lot of them had drifted away from rotating formats in the first place…half their deck was no longer usable.

But like all good things, eventually it came to an end. When I returned home, I really struggled to get any of my “killer” brawl designs upgraded into the commander meta. All the strategy and unique designs I’d spent months crafting didn’t really hold a candle to the more powered-up strategies of a legacy cardbase, and I found myself not really wanting to tarnish the memories I had with particular standard cards in favor of pushing a deck out. Since I didn’t have a brawl group anymore my interest in the format really petered, and it seems I wasn’t alone.

Official Support didn’t return until Eldraine over a year later. This time, with preconstructed Brawl decks to really spur momentum. Most demand for these products ended up going towards Commander since at that point the Brawl player base was around two people. New staples like Arcane Signet and Tome of Legends instantly started popping up on EDHRec, but besides a couple articles the lasting Brawl impact wasn’t there. I don’t think many people even considered these cards for Brawl at the time. Maybe you’d play a few precon games with friends, but then you’d immediately turn Chulane, Teller of Tales into a beastly 100 card monstrosity. It really took the introduction of Brawl into Arena shortly after to give the format the jump it needed.

Giving Commander players (and a budding Brawl community) a version of their favorite format online was an incredible selling point, and even though Wizards started small (only weekly events and some special occasions to play), the numbers wanting to line up behind their favorite legendary and throw hands only grew.

image sourced from scryfall.com

That of course brings us to the present day. Now, Arena is only increasing its Brawl offerings from weekly queues to month-long events that give incredibly powerful legendaries from sets past their turn to completely rock the metagame. Stagnation is no longer something to associate with Brawl. Finally, two years after I dropped Tetsuko Umezawa, Fugitive for the first time, Brawl is getting the recognition it deserves.

Alright I’m Hooked, What are the Specifics?

Brawl’s official announcement from WOTC can be found here. TLDR: You build a 60 card singleton deck (the deck can only have one copy of each card besides basic lands), with one powerful legendary creature or planeswalker as your “commander” who starts outside the game.

image sourced from scryfall.com
image sourced from scryfall.com
image sourced from scryfall.com

Think of this legendary character as the general of your forces. The best brawl decks build around the effects of their commander to create a synergy that benefits from constant access to your commander who starts essentially as an eighth card in hand. Also, being a singleton format you only ever need one copy of any given card. This becomes a huge boon when looking at MTGA’s wildcard structure. You don’t really want to be spending 4 wildcards on a playset of Breeding Pool s, right? Sure they’re cool but you’d rather save your redeems for Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath or Kinnan, Bonder Prodigy . It gives a lot more flexibility on how to spend your hard-earned wins when you don’t need to buy 4-ofs to be competitive.

That should not dissuade enfranchised players though.The singleton nature of the format creates a landscape much harder to solve since it lacks the consistency of other 60-card formats. Finding ways to enact a successful game plan across multiple matches is an incredible puzzle to solve.

Brawl’s Official Rules

Unlike Commander, whose rules are handled by an external entity to Wizards, The Rules Committee, Wizards handles Brawl in-house and can provide the most in-depth description of the various mechanical specifics here.

Brawl functions almost exactly like Commander, so if you’re a recent convert from Brawl’s big older brother the TLDR is your commander can be either a standard-legal legendary creature OR Planeswalker, and the starting life total for 1-on-1 is 25. It goes up to 30 for games of more than 2 people which I did not know…until I was doing research for this article.

For those of you more unfamiliar with Commander…

  • Your Commander is a Legendary Creature or Planeswalker who starts outside the game, meaning your initial deck is only 59 cards.
  • All cards in your deck must fit into the color identity of your Commander. If your commander is a Simic creature, all spells in your deck must be blue, green, both, or colorless. The easy way to check this is if any other mana symbol outside of what’s on your commander shows up ANYWHERE on a card - you can’t use it. MTGA will also help and notify you of illegal cards if you choose one.
  • Your first mulligan is free, so the first time you decide to shuffle your hand back into your deck - you draw seven cards again. After that, it follows normal London Mulligan rules
  • Perhaps the biggest new concept is this idea of the “Command Zone” i.e. where your Commander starts the game. Basically, it’s a special place where you can cast your commander from any time you could cast them from your hand. The benefit is, any time your commander would be moved from one zone to another (battlefield to exile, graveyard to exile, hand to graveyard, etc.) …you can choose to have them sent BACK to the Command zone instead! Making sure you always have access to what is probably your greatest weapon. Now, this does come at a cost though: Each time your commander is sent back to the command zone, it’ll cost two more generic mana to cast the next time. This is called Commander Tax and balances some of the benefit of always having your commander accessible.


Since Brawl is a much newer format than Commander, and due to the lack of content produced in 2019 until Eldraine about the format…there aren’t nearly as many resources available if you’re looking for ideas. Initially, EDHRec had an entire site dedicated to Brawl but as of right now that still hasn’t come back. Luckily, MTGGoldfish and a couple others can offer some ideas on what people are currently playing. I’d be careful starting with a net deck though! It can be difficult to make your own connections between cards after seeing something you might consider as “better.” Always scheme out your own idea first, maybe focusing on just cards already in your collection - and use these sites as ways to upgrade or add new things. Or, if you really just want to jump in at a competitive level all decks on MTGGoldfish are listed with their popularity in the current meta.

Once you have a Commander in mind…Here are some tips that might help you on your journey to build the ultimate 60-card temple to badassitude.

Your Commander should be built around: With the recent focus on legendary creatures to the benefit of both Commander and Brawl, there are a huge selection of generals to choose from - and your deck should hone in on what your commander does best. Goodstuff is a viable strategy, but generally building something that focuses on your Commander’s unique identity will benefit you even more. For example, recently I’ve started building a Kinnan, Bonder Prodigy deck to try out new stuff from Ikoria. Since Kinnan boosts the power of anything that isn’t a land tapping for mana by crazy amounts that was a big emphasis in my design process. Normally in Simic I wouldn’t think Chromatic Lantern , Heraldic Banner , or Midnight Clock necessary - but their added utility to make bonkers mana makes them stand out far more than normal.

Another example is with Siona, Captain of the Pyleas . Hopefully you can tell Siona really wants to be in a deck with a high amount of auras and enchantments…but don’t forget that second clause of token generation! Maybe it’s not your main theme…but throwing in a Divine Visitation and maybe one or two other token generators might not be a bad use for a couple slots!

Take notes of what cards you see other people playing: In a vein of “learn from your mistakes,” the brawl meta is so incredibly different from Standard that even if you’ve been playing standard for quite some time - cards are going to come up you had no idea existed. Maybe you’ve come up with a sick General Kudro of Drannith deck when someone drops a General’s Enforcer …Write that down! I hadn’t even considered Jiang Yanggu, Wildcrafter for my Kinnan deck until someone else turned their entire board into mana dorks that each tap for two and allowed their Kinnan to go off several times a turn! That game didn’t last long after… I’m also ashamed to admit that I had completely forgotten both Arcane Signet and Command Tower were in Arena until someone else played them. Actually, on that note….

Get Arcane Signet and Command Tower: You wouldn’t have gotten these in packs, but they’re so incredibly powerful and should probably go in every deck you make. Plus, they’re both commons and I cannot think of a more powerful impact that can be made by literally any other cards legal in the format. Get yourself some incredibly cheap mana fixing to offset the cost of buying/crafting a shock land.

Take Rotation Into account: Brawl does have the same looming threat as Standard. Come Fall, how many of my cards will still be useful? This can be an incredibly annoying thought when first starting in the format but shouldn’t be something that you worry too much about. Apart from the occasional Historic Brawl event, maybe you do want to focus your efforts on including cards from Eldraine, Theros Beyond Death, and Ikoria. I will admit though, the sacrifice of one mythic wildcard for a Hydroid Krasis …is definitely one worth making. You still have like six months to enjoy its absurdity, and your deck would be better for it!

Finally, watch streams! Like with any other format, you can learn a lot from watching other people play the Brawl decks they’ve meticulously created and care about - see synergies and ideas for their decks that you didn’t even think of. I suppose this is also the point where I should shamelessly plug our streams - where personally, I’ll be playing a fair bit of brawl in the coming days and hopefully this article will convince Julian to join in as well…

Now go out, have fun, and let us know what you think!

More Entries in Enter The Guildhall:

See All...