You've no doubt recently heard about the new Magic format, Brawl. Last week, Gavin Verhey released the announcement on the mothership , to quite a bit of discussion, and a day later Katie Allison did the same , to even more discussion. I have a few things to say about the format I've already heard folks calling "Commander Lite." They're almost all entirely positive. First, let's review the mechanics:
Standard Legal : Seems okay so far.
Legendary Creature or Planeswalker as Commander : Also seems okay, but you bet we'll talk about that a little more.
Same Color Restrictions as Commander : I would hope so; otherwise it seems silly to have a commander.
Same rules for the commander : It costs two more each time you cast it from the command zone, and if it would go to other zones (graveyard, library, exile), you can choose to put it back into the command zone. Again, it's silly to designate a commander without having special rules for it.
30 Life : Not unreasonable.
No Commander Damage : This is where we may call Houston.
Let's work on the details a little. Standard legality seems to be the biggest draw so far. In terms of card availability, cost, and accessibility, this is a strong choice. We aren't in the days of Standard when your playset of Primeval Titan or Baneslayer Angel would cost you $200. A quick search of the site shows that only four cards (Rekindling Phoenix; The Scarab God; Search for Azcanta; Chandra, Torch of Defiance; and Carnage Tyrant cost over $20). That's a huge plus in my book. Being Standard legal means familiarity is better for players as well. These are the cards they're drafting and building the FNM decks with. There are 1371 cards between the sets (not counting duplicates, like basic land), so the card pool is pretty tight. It's not like regular Commander in which you have to pore over lists of cards, some of which are older than you are. You don't have the broad and (admittedly) broken stuff that Commander is famous for. The sandbox you're playing in is quite a bit smaller, although that doesn't mean you have to be less creative; in fact, you probably have to be moreso. You can't necessarily rely on old staples to fill out your decklist with (" okay, let's start with Solemn Simulacrum, Burnished Hart, and see if I have any Sol Rings laying around "), you have to be thinking from the first card choice about how you're going to sculpt the whole thing.
Over on the Premium side earlier this week, Chas Andres highlighted how inexpensive some of cards which are likely to be top Brawl commanders might be , from the $7 Gishath down to the 79 cent Captain Lannery Storm. Chas' most lingering point is that cards which will be good in Brawl might be excellent speculative choices, since there's always going to be demand for them from the Commander crowd. You're welcome.
One of the things that's both good and bad is that there will probably be a limited number of viable archetypes. The bad is that you're going to see the same stuff over and over, way more than you might in Big Commander. The good is that you're going to know more about what other people might be playing, so as to be adequately prepared. I'm pretty sure that even though it's called casual, Brawl is going to be end up a competitive format. On the Elder Dragon Statesmen podcast this week, Anthony and I picked which pros we'd like to see build decks. I'll let you tune in to hear Anthony's (sort of fanboyish) choice, but mine own, Sam Black, told him that he's hip-deep as we speak in an article with five decks in it. If Sam's that far in, we know it's going to have a good competitive side, while it can probably still support some casual.
The downside that I see to being Standard legal is of course that cards rotate out. One of the draws to Commander is that you can build a cool deck, carry it around with you for a long time, occasionally update it, and still have something ready for action. With maybe a third to a half of the cards moving out of your deck annually, it'll be something that you have to pay closer attention to; I'm not saying that it's a fatal flaw or anything, but when one has limited time already for Magic, adding something onto the pile which is more time-consuming can be a negative. Honestly, it's hardly a big one.
To me, the real upside of the Standard card pool is that infinite combos are pretty hard to find-although Magic players are pretty good at finding them, wherever they are. It feels like this format will be much more about playing the game and interactivity, which is always an upside. The biggest upside I see to the Standard card pool is that when your cards rotate out, you can just add those other 40 to the deck, and boom, you have a Big Commander masterpiece (props to Niels Bars-Roosemalen on Facebook for offering me that suggestion).
As far as choosing your commander goes, there's the big thing we have to talk about: Planeswalkers being legal choices. Surprisingly, given the Commander Rules Committee's stance that we're not going to make PWs legal, I'm on board with this decision. For one, I think recent Planeswalkers are much less likely to be broken as commanders than older ones. One of the reasons the RC has chosen to not make this particular leap is that we'd have to ban some number of them, and we'd really like to keep the list as short as possible, as well as keeping as much message clarity as we can. I've been asked numerous times if Brawl allowing Planeswalkers will open the door to us reconsidering it. The first thing I'll say is that we try to never close doors. The second thing is that the presence of them as available commanders in Brawl probably makes us less likely to pull the trigger on making a change, since now there's an option for folks who want to try it out (beyond the normal option of convincing your playgroup to give it a whirl). I'm obviously quite curious about how it works out, although my current thought is that it can be good for Brawl and not good for Commander at the same time.
Strategically, having a planeswalker as the commander suffers from the fact that it tends to be vulnerable. Generally, they have a tough time defending themselves, so you'll need to build in some sort of defense, assuming you want to get to that emblem. If you're defending, you're not attacking, and attacking is the way to win. I suspect that the lion's share (no Ajani puns intended) of new decks we see try to work in Planeswalkers as commanders, since it's the new, shinier feature.
As far as choices for commanders go, you currently have 88 choices. Eliminating the mono-color ones, you have 34 (as a public service, listed here):
I'm sure that some of the mono-color ones will be really good, but I have trouble seeing it. When you limit yourself to one color, you constrict yourself a great deal (which might be great creatively, but strategically it can be quite awkward).
There's a broad selection of commanders available to suit every taste, it seems-although classic control might be tough. Perhaps with Azor, the Lawbringer, but it's expensive enough that you had really better be ready to defend your board position. In the 30-life game, multiple castings of a commander are going to happen far less often, since games will be faster (which is what I suspect will be one of the draws to it).
I'm about a month from the end of the semester at the moment and have a major research project and Digital Humanities prototype project to build ( check out the brief description of it here ), so I haven't gone into deep thought yet about which of these cool commanders I'd build a deck from this pretty spicy list. Off the top of my head, Gishath, Sun's Avatar seems attractive, because, you know, Dinosaurs, but with the lack of quality ramp in Standard (not necessarily a downside in the bigger picture of the format), it might be tricky. What I can already see as problematic is that the Dinosaurs that you'll want to have in the deck can be nearly as pricey as their boss, so you won't have too much early action.
My first real thought is Rashmi, Eternities Crafter. She's at the right cost, and she gives you free stuff. With the relative lack of ramp, card draw will likely be of heightened importance in Brawl, and Rashmi is happy to help you in that regard-and she's in the proper colors to help even more.
My second off-the-cuff choice is Elenda, the Dusk Rose, because I think life gain is going to be huge in the format. Huge. More on that, in a bit, though. Elenda gets pretty huge rather quickly, and can be gaining tons of life for you in short order. And you can play Victory's Herald, which may end up a format all-star.
I have to go with The Scarab God as the third choice, somewhat just because Zombies, but mostly because it's a thoroughly awesome card. First looks like the Zombies aren't all that great, but there are a few hits, like Nantuko Husk, Fleshbag Marauder, and Lord of the Accursed. I wonder if Dominaria will have any Zombies in it...
As far as the format having the same color restrictions as Commander, I'm completely on board. The format is identifiable from those (as discussed, creativity-enhancing) restrictions; Commander and Brawl will be forever linked by them. And since there aren't any hybrid mana cards in Standard, we won't have to make Mark Rosewater sad.
Thirty life has the distinct purpose of making games faster and making hyper-aggressive strategies more viable, which is eminently reasonable in a format called Brawl (40 life makes it more of a chess match). You're going to have to be careful that your life isn't in a precarious position on what could be some early turns. The card pool isn't going to allow those 200-damage turns that we've all come to know and love from Commander, so you can still feel generally safe that no one is going to do the big wipeout-but there's more than enough power available to kill one person easily enough. When you're the one getting killed, it's a small solace that not everyone else did, too.
My largest concern, which has not yet developed into a full criticism, since I haven't played the format yet, regards the lack of Commander damage. With the life totals set at 30, it feels like life gain will be the biggest of deals. If you're capable of gaining it faster than people are dishing it out, there's no downside. Even if you're just keeping pace, you'll have quite a bit of advantage. In a format that's meant to be faster and more aggressive, making life gain sufficiently important seems to be at counter purposes to getting games done in a timely fashion. In fact, the idea of commander damage was one of the first things which I realized would be great about the format, back when it was called EDH. Multiplayer games, even those which started at 20 life, tended to bog down as life gain took center stage, and no one was ever in any danger of dying. You have to understand that back then creatures weren't anywhere near as good as they are today (by orders of magnitude), and control strategies ruled the day. What we used to call General Damage mitigated the idea that you could just pillow fort your way through a game. Some of my fondest memories of Commander games have involved getting hit for 21. One was when Anthony from my local group killed me by attacking with Riku of Two Reflections then casting Mercadia's Downfall, and copying it with Riku's ability. Never did a shrug-worthy "I'll take two" turn so fast to screams. The other epic commander damage win was when one of the locals killed me with damage from Zedruu, the Greathearted-over about 10 turns, finally getting the last bit through by jumping Zedruu with Elspeth, Knight-Errant. Again, I want to reserve judgment until I see the format play out, but my early take is that the lack of commander damage might end up as problematic for the format. We shall see.
I'm certainly going to play Brawl. I might even build four or five (hopefully balanced) decks so that I can gather with the local gang and play some, even if they haven't had the chance to build one yet. New formats breed excitement about the game in general and bring in new players, so they're never bad things. In fact, one of the things I keep hearing people say about the format is that it seems like that even at its worst, nothing really bad can happen. I suppose we'll find out.
This Week's Deck Without Comment is Borrowing Stuff, led by one of those Standard-legal Commanders.
Commander: Admiral Beckett Brass
- 1 Metallic Mimic
- 1 Solemn Simulacrum
- 1 Treasure Keeper
- 1 Brazen Buccaneers
- 1 Captivating Crew
- 1 Conquering Manticore
- 1 Deadeye Navigator
- 1 Deadeye Plunderers
- 1 Deadeye Tracker
- 1 Dire Fleet Hoarder
- 1 Dire Fleet Interloper
- 1 Dire Fleet Ravager
- 1 Dominus of Fealty
- 1 Fathom Fleet Captain
- 1 Fathom Fleet Cutthroat
- 1 Hellkite Tyrant
- 1 Hostage Taker
- 1 Kukemssa Pirates
- 1 Pirate Ship
- 1 Prosperous Pirates
- 1 Roil Elemental
- 1 Rowdy Crew
- 1 Ruthless Knave
- 1 Sailor of Means
- 1 Siren Lookout
- 1 Siren Stormtamer
- 1 Skyship Plunderer
- 1 Sower of Temptation
- 1 Talas Warrior
- 1 Wily Goblin
- 1 Zealous Conscripts
- 1 Captain Lannery Storm
- 1 Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
- 1 King Macar, the Gold-Cursed
- 1 Commander's Sphere
- 1 Conjurer's Closet
- 1 Door of Destinies
- 1 Herald's Horn
- 1 Pillar of Origins
- 1 Prying Blade
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Staff of Nin
- 1 Treasure Map
- 1 Urza's Incubator
- 1 Vanquisher's Banner
- 1 Arcane Adaptation
- 1 Curse of Opulence
- 1 Goblin Bombardment
- 1 Kindred Discovery
- 1 Revel in Riches
- 1 Cyclonic Rift
- 1 Depths of Desire
- 1 Reins of Power
- 1 Spell Swindle
- 1 Expropriate
- 1 Gild
- 1 Hijack
- 1 Insurrection
- 1 Kindred Dominance
- 1 Patriarch's Bidding
- 1 Pirate's Prize
Lavinia Blinks ; Obzedat, Ghost Killer ; Aurelia Goes to War ; Trostani and Her Angels ; Lazav, Shapeshifting Mastermind ; Zegana and a Dice Bag ; Rakdos Reimagined ; Glissa, Glissa ; Ruric Thar and His Beastly Fight Club ; Gisa and Geralf Together Forever .
Shards and Wedges
Adun's Toolbox ; Angry, Angry Dinos ; Animar's Swarm ; Borrowing Stuff at Cutlass Point ; Ikra and Kydele ; Karrthus, Who Rains Fire From The Sky ; Demons of Kaalia ; Merieke's Esper Dragons ; Nath of the Value Leaf ; Rith's Tokens ; The Mill-Meoplasm ; The Altar of Thraximundar ; The Threat of Yasova ; Zombies of Tresserhorn .
Adun Oakenshield Do-Over ; Animar Do-Over ; Glissa Do-Over ; Karador Do-Over ; Karador Version 3 ; Karrthus Do-Over ; Kresh Do-Over ; Steam-Powered Merieke Do-Over; Lord of Tresserhorn Do-Over ; Mimeoplasm Do-Over ; Phelddagrif Do-Over ; Rith Do-Over ; Ruhan Do-Over .
If you'd like to follow the adventures of my Monday Night RPG group (in a campaign that's been alive since 1987) which is just beginning the saga The Lost Cities of Nevinor, ask for an invitation to the Facebook group "Sheldon Menery's Monday Night Gamers."