The Keys to Success in Brawl

Feature Article from Seth Manfield
Seth Manfield
3/30/2018 11:04:00 AM
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Yes, I have decided to go ahead and dip into what looks to be one of the best casual formats Magic has to offer. Brawl as a format is brand new – in fact, it hasn't actually officially made its debut, which will come alongside the release of Dominaria. The format is a cross between playing Commander, Singleton, and good old Standard! The full details of the format are here.

Since Singleton means only getting to use one copy of each card, this automatically puts a big constraint on deckbuilding. Basic lands aren't included in these constraints but nonbasic lands are. This means that many cards that don't traditionally see play in Standard might see use in Brawl. Decks will have to dig beyond the more obvious inclusions, and that should be pretty fun to watch in action. Let's focus on some principles that apply to Singleton and can be ported over to Brawl.


This is a huge aspect of deck construction – you want to have many cards that provide a similar effect. For example, in Singleton you might have say one Hero's Downfall, one Ruinous Path, one Vraska's Contempt and one Dreadbore, rather than four copies of one. While that is a good example, we also don't have access to all those cards, as Brawl only uses the Standard card pool, which limits our options from the start.

One way to create redundancy is simply by having creatures of the same tribe. Here is a Merfolk list I have been working on as an idea:

Most of the creatures here are Merfolk. Not all of them are ones you would see in your typical Standard Merfolk deck, but that's okay. Brawl is a format where you get to play with cards that might normally only see play in Limited. It is still possible to have a deck with lots of synergy, so of course Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca is the commander here.

Merfolk decks are all about flooding the board with little creatures and then finding ways to make them into significant threats. Inevitably it can't all be synergy, so there are some creatures thrown in like Llanowar Elves and Walking Ballista that are generically strong. I like being able to use Sagas here. The Sagas should make an impact in Standard – especially in a format like Brawl where there are almost always going to be some creatures in play, which make many of the effects better.

 Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca
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Tophat Cards 1 $7.00
Game Haven MD 1 $7.29
book garden 1 $7.41
Unloaded Collection 1 $7.50
mtgmintcard 8 $7.59
Woke Mtg 1 $7.67
Mana Crypt Gaming 2 $7.67
Miniature Exchange 1 $7.79
Mulligans Gaming 2 $7.79
Etherworld 1 $7.99
Magic MTG Card
Magic MTG Card Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca Magic MTG Card
Magic MTG Card

In Brawl, it is tough to make a straight up Blue-Black Control deck like the ones we see in Standard. Those decks tend to play almost no creatures at all. Here, there are simply not enough good noncreature spells to play a deck like that, so you must mix in creatures. There is an issue with lowering your power level by too much and going too hard on having to have good synergy, which could be the case for the Merfolk deck.

In the early going, I expect to see more of the generic “good stuff” decks do well. These decks will simply try to play as many cards that already see play in Standard as possible, while not focusing much on a particular synergy. This is Andrea Mengucci's take on using The Scarab God as a Commander:

This deck looks a lot like a Blue-Black Midrange deck we could see in Standard. Many of the cards already see play, so unlike the Merfolk list we are pretty familiar with most of what is going on here. The Scarab God is widely considered to be the most powerful card in Standard right now, so having it be the Commander makes some sense, though it may not actually be ideal.

Low Cost Commanders Are Easier to Cast Repeatedly

Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca fits better as a Commander because you are going to get more value out of being able to repeatedly cast it. Like in Commander play, you can cast your commander for its original mana cost, and then each additional time costs an extra two mana. While neither of these lists have a planeswalker as the commander, that too is a possibility. Expect to see more of the three and four-mana planeswalkers as opposed to more expensive ones, since you want to be able to recast them should they fall. Being able to play your commander many times over the course of the game is quite an advantage..

We see here the theory of having repetitive effects being applied as well. There is a variety of removal, countermagic and card draw. Of course, you can no longer choose which removal spells to play, just jam they all in there! The nice thing about having a deck full of one-ofs is it becomes very difficult to play around one specific card. I want to move onto some general deck building ideas we can apply to Brawl.

Tutor Effects Are Great

There aren't that many tutor effects in Standard, but in general tutor effects get much better in a Singleton format. Being able to search for one specific card is extremely powerful as your deck is essentially one big toolbox. We see decks going out of their way in Constructed to have singleton creatures – think Chord of Calling targets. In the Merfolk list, a card like Forerunner of the Heralds becomes much better when it can search up almost any creature in your deck.

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MTG Rares 9 $0.02
The Mana Fix 26 $0.02
IDeal808 45 $0.04
ChaosGames and More 2 $0.04
Wizards Warehouse 3 $0.05
SalesbyStephenB 5 $0.05
The Wizards Chest 20 $0.05
OldSchoolGaming 12 $0.05
The Battle Garden 5 $0.05
Magic MTG Card
Magic MTG Card Forerunner of the Heralds Magic MTG Card
Magic MTG Card

Having ways to get one specific card out of your deck is very valuable because the likelihood of naturally drawing any one card is much lower in this format. It is going to be difficult to build a combo deck in Brawl, since combo decks traditionally rely on drawing a couple specific cards to win – think about trying to play Splinter Twin with only one copy of the enchantment in your deck.

I don't expect to see many combo decks, but if we do see them then tutors will need to be involved to find those specific cards. In addition, cantrips also become very useful as ways to dig through your deck. A card like Opt that doesn't see much play in Standard will see play in most Brawl decks because it is going to dig through your deck and find those key powerful cards.

Two-Color Decks Are Best

Expect almost all the Brawl decks to be two colors. There are a couple key reason why this is likely to be the case – the decks will likely not be mono-colored because they won't have access to enough high-powered spells that way. The only deck I could possibly see working would be Mono-Red because it is already a very powerful Standard deck and has more tools than the other colors.

Decks also will struggle to be three colors because the mana bases can become too inconsistent. There simply aren't that many nonbasic dual lands, and you don't want your three-color deck to be reliant on basic lands. Also, there may not be a strong incentive to add the third color as it may not increase the power level of your spells by that much. We could see three-color decks, but they will also likely need to play other nonland forms of fixing like Traveler's Amulet, which inevitably slows your deck down.

Build Around the Commander

I already talked a bit about the value of having a cheap commander, but there is more to it than that. The commander is by far the most important card in the deck. You have access to it every single game, and there is a pretty good chance that it will be on the battlefield. This is much more than can be said for the rest of a deck full of one-ofs. You want to be able to leverage your gameplan, rely on your commander being good and maximizing its effectiveness.

Many of the rules and ideas stated here may seem obvious to Commander or Singleton players, but for guys like me a lot of this is new information. Brawl has real potential of grabbing players who traditionally only play Standard and introducing them to a casual format, which is a cool prospect.

Thank for reading,

Seth Manfield

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