Brawling with Dominaria's Commanders

Feature Article from Adam Yurchick
Adam Yurchick
4/19/2018 11:01:00 AM
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Last week there was an announcement that Brawl would be supported on Magic Online with the release of Dominaria. When the format was first revealed, it was described as a casual and multiplayer format, but I can't help but see its competitive potential, especially as an alternative to the traditional Standard format that has languished over the past few years. I've had a lot of fun playing 1v1 Competitive Commander online, and I imagine Brawl will be a similarly good time. Compared to Commander, which is played with 100-card decks that include cards all the way back to the oldest sets – which leads to expensive decks – Brawl has the upside of being easier to enter and appealing to a dramatically wider player base, which could lead to widespread support and bigger events, maybe even major paper events.

The announcement that the release of Brawl would also come with Friendly 1v1 Brawl leagues may seem like it's pushing Brawl towards being casual, but don't let the name fool you – these are played with real tickets for real prizes and are plenty competitive, just lower stakes and with a gentler prize structure than the more expensive and top-heavy Competitive leagues. Pauper has thrived with Friendly leagues, and I imagine Brawl will do the same.

Another exciting part of the announcement for Brawl is that a Brawl Challenge is being added to the weekly Format Challenge events. This means it will be played very competitively for relatively high stakes for Magic Online, and it puts the puts the format on the same level as Pauper and 1v1 Commander.

I'm super excited about playing in these Brawl Challenges, and I aim to be ready for the one this coming weekend. That means I'll have to be up-to-date with what's going on in the format, which online already includes Dominaria, so any Brawl brews need to include the new cards.

Mox Amber

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 Mox Amber
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Magic MTG Card Mox Amber Magic MTG Card
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The most important Dominaria card for Brawl is Mox Amber. It's an artifact that can go into any deck of any color, and its ability goes perfectly hand-in-hand with the rules of Brawl. Each player has access to a legendary creature or planeswalker as their commander, so a way to enable Mox Amber will never be out of reach. Decks with very cheap commanders will have a very easy and consistent way to enable Mox Amber even without the help of other legendaries.

Also consider that legendaries lend themselves very well to Brawl's on-of card restriction rule, so they will never suffer from Diminishing Returns as extra copies sit useless in hand, so some decks will include many different legendaries. Mono-Red, for example, could play Kari Zev, Skyship Raider as a commander to consistently enable Mox Amber, but also include a cast of legendaries including Pia Nalaar, Hazoret the Fervent, Chandra, Torch of Defiance, Captain Lannery Storm, and new legendaries Jaya Ballard, Squee, the Immortal, and Verix Bladewing.

Just this week, both Chrome Mox and Mox Diamond were banned in 1v1 Commander for being too powerful and game-warping when played. In some ways Mox Amber is a more powerful card, because it doesn't require spending another card, so it's closer to Mox Opal or the original Moxes. Its requirement is not easy to fill for all decks, but it will be overpowered with cheap commanders like Kari Zev, Skyship Raider and Oviya Pashiri, Sage Lifecrafter.

Because a Brawl deck will always have access to its commander, it's worth building a deck around the commander in a way that would otherwise only be possible with a ton of tutors and card drawing. These commanders define each game, so any deck that can fully utilize its commander has a big edge on the competition. Dominaria is a set defined by legendaries, so I've looked at the spoiler closely for any potential commanders. There are a ton of options, but playing 1v1 Commander has given me clues as to what might work and what won't.

The best commanders in that format are those that generate some form of card advantage, whether when they enter play, like Breya, Etherium Sculptor, or over time if are left in play, like Thrasios Triton Hero and Tymna the Weaver, so that's my primary focus when looking at the spoiler. There are also commanders that enable a deck to build its entire strategy around it, like Azusa, Lost but Seeking in a land-focused ramp deck or even a combo deck built around Teferi, Temporal Archmage, so any new legendary that could enable a specific strategy is something to look out for.

A unique facet of Brawl is that it allows any planeswalker to be used as a commander, so special attention needs to paid to them. They generate value, both when they enter play and over time, so they have the potential to be excellent commanders.

Teferi, Hero of Dominaria

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Magic MTG Card Teferi, Hero of Dominaria Magic MTG Card
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Teferi, Hero of Dominaria generates value with its +1 ability, and its -3 ability is another source of value. This gives the planeswalker an immediate way to impact the battlefield and protect itself, which is the most highly-desirable ability for a planeswalker to possess. Teferi, Hero of Dominaria is a perfect commander for a White-Blue Control deck, which can be filled with instants to take full advantage of its ability to untap lands to be used on the opponent's turn.

Teferi, Hero of Dominaria gets a boost from some new control tools in Dominaria that might even be good enough to play in Standard. Seal Away is an efficient piece of removal, and it works very well with Teferi's ability to untap lands. Blink of an Eye is similarly effective for protecting the planeswalker. Syncopate is a new counter that's an easy addition to Brawl decks without many great countermagic options, as is Wizard's Retort even without Wizards.

Muldrotha, the Gravetide

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 Muldrotha, the Gravetide
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Magic MTG Card Muldrotha, the Gravetide Magic MTG Card
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When I was looking at the spoiler for potential Brawl commanders, Muldrotha, the Gravetide stood out because its ability is so similar to that of Kess, Dissident Mage, which is a highly-competitive 1v1 Commander. Combined with the right cards, Muldrotha's ability could be even stronger than Kess's because it allows for multiple extra cards to be played each turn, and it doesn't exile these cards, so Muldrotha can reuse them turn after turn.

Muldrotha, the Gravetide's ability includes lands, so Evolving Wilds is a free land every turn with just like it would be with Ramunap Excavator. Grasping Dunes adds an engine for picking off creatures. It's also good with Ifnir Deadlands and other deserts like Cradle of the Accursed. Dominaria brings a new cycle of lands that sacrifice for value, and all three on-color ones will be great in this deck.

The deck is filled out with other cards that can put themselves in the graveyard or generate value. Walking Ballista is incredible with Muldrotha, the Gravetide, and Unbridled Growth not only helps fix the mana but also combos with Muldrotha to draw an extra card every turn.

Muldrotha, the Gravetide will work best when it has a variety of different permanent types to play, so it's a nice place to try out new saga enchantments, which sacrifice themselves after they have told their story. Rite of Belzenlok generates two 0/1 tokens before cashing itself in to generate a 6/6 flying trample token that sacrifices a creature each turn, which can be used to sacrifice value creatures so they can be recast with Muldrotha, so it could work here.

Demonlord Belzenlok is one of the more impressive legendaries on the spoiler because its enters-the-battlefield ability will always deliver an extra nonland card, potentially multiple. It's definitely a card I'd like to play with in Brawl, but I am not sure that it's better commander than Gonti, Lord of Luxury, which offers similar value – and arguably more – at a lower cost. It also trades easily so it can be reliably cast again to unlock more value, but there's definitely something to be said for the massive flying body of Demonlord Belzenlok.

Garna, the Bloodflame

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Magic MTG Card Garna, the Bloodflame Magic MTG Card
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Garna, the Bloodflame has the powerful enters-the-battlefield effect of returning to hand all its controller's creatures that entered the graveyard that turn. It's the sort of effect that creature sacrifice decks would love to always have access to, especially because they will have the means to sacrifice Garna, the Bloodflame and use it repeatedly. I actually could see the card being degenerate with ways to sacrifice creatures for mana that would allow for casting the commander multiple or even infinite times in a row, so I bet it will see plenty of play in Commander where it has access to cards like Phyrexian Altar and Ashnod's Altar. Garna's ability returns creatures that go to the graveyard from anywhere, including discarding or milling, so there's a world of potential.

Garna, the Bloodflame could work in Brawl where there aren't degenerate ways to use its ability but a little bit of value could go a long way. Even returning just a couple creatures with Garna, the Bloodflame would be enough to make its ability quite good, especially if the returned creatures can generate more value. Garna, the Bloodflame also comes with the upside of giving other creatures haste, and having flash means it can be used to counteract removal, and both these effects will be valuable in Brawl.

Standard has a handful of quality sacrifice outlets, but making the most of the card means filling a deck with creatures that can sacrifice themselves to get more mileage out of Garna, the Bloodflame. Fanatical Firebrand is great here, as is Walking Ballista. The reprinted Siege-Gang Commander is great in the deck since it's a sacrifice outlet and source of fodder all-in-one. The deck wants Skirk Prospector too, since it can be used to make Garna, the Bloodflame cost one less every time it is cast if the commander returns the Goblin each time.

Dominaria provides other great new tools for a sacrifice deck. Thallid Soothsayer is a sacrifice outlet that turns creatures into cards, so it's the perfect way to get the deck moving. Whisper, Blood Liturgist can sacrifice two creatures to Reanimate a creature, so it will be perfect in a deck with many value creatures. There's also Vicious Offering, which has the kicker cost of sacrificing a creature and will be good at destroying commanders like Hazoret, the Fervent and The Scarab God. I couldn't forget Squee, the Immortal, which is an endless supply of sacrificial fodder.

Those are my best ideas, but there are a few other Dominaria legendaries that I've identified as good potentially commanders. Teshar, Ancestor's Apostle could provide a ton of value in the right deck built around it, as would Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain. Shanna, Sisay's Legacy is a cheap legendary and would shine in a deck full of creatures to pump it. Adeliz, the Cinder Wind is also prime to be built around as the centerpiece of a tribal Wizard deck.

What are your favorite Dominaria cards for Brawl?

-Adam

@AdamYurchick




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