It's been a little over a month since Gavin Verhey, head spokesman of Brawl, published a little article called " The Future of Brawl ." In it, he laid out a whole bunch of interesting changes coming to the format. And aside from the rather predictable banning of Baral, Chief of Compliance , I'd say the biggest shakeup comes in the form of an entrance, not an exit.
I'm referring, of course, to new support for Karn, Scion of Urza.
Yes, Karn was already legal in Brawl before Gavin's update. But now the rules have been fudged a bit so that he can more easily serve as the commander of your deck. Instead of being forced to play all colorless lands (of which there were only about 20), one can now play basics of any one color with Karn, so long as the rest of the deck remains colorless.
Was this the right decision? Let's take a closer look.
I'm not a doom-and-gloom kind of guy (unless we're on Innistrad, in which case I'm all in favor of both), so let's start with the good of this decision.
I'll admit, Karn as a commander is just plain cool. He's a popular character, an influential figure in Magic lore, and an excellent planeswalker card to boot. He's also fun to play with and (sometimes) against, which is a big plus for the format. Brawl, after all, is a format founded on fun (note that Gavin used the word "fun" fourteen times in his article). Providing added support for Karn as a commander supports that mission statement, since players have more fun when reasonably powerful cards are available.
But does all this value come without a cost? I don't think so. I've got a few concerns, and I'd like to share them with you today. See what you think.
Karn Creates Heightened Competition Among Players
Karn is one of those rare cards that sees play in almost every format. In fact, at a recent team Grand Prix , one team was unofficially dubbed "Team Karn." That's because they played Karn, Scion of Urza in all three of their decks; Standard, Modern, and even Legacy. Anecdotally speaking, he's also viable in Commander, Cube, and maybe someday even in Vintage.
To put things bluntly, Karn is basically playable in every format, ever.
This ease of play creates natural competition among different types of players. On one hand, you've got the spikes who play in tournaments (for example, the fellows from Team Karn). They want multiple copies of the silver golem for Standard, Modern, and I guess now Legacy, too. On the other hand, you've got the casuals who play Brawl. Before, they wanted Karn for their 59. Now, they want him even more since it's easier than ever to build a deck around him.
Here's the issue: When spikes and casuals fight over cards, guess who wins? It's the spikes every time.
We've seen this type of situation become an issue in the past. In the Commander 2013 product, for example, True-Name Nemesis made its first appearance. Though it reads "commander" on the box, members of Wizards R&D later admitted that True-Name was printed more for Legacy than Commander . Since Legacy players couldn't obtain the card any other way, they began buying out entire precon Commander decks just for the Nemesis. This left fewer copies for the casual Commander players, for whom the product was actually designed. The Grixis deck from that year became scarce, its price skyrocketed, and the whole thing became such an issue that R&D later reneged on that particular design philosophy entirely.
I think the new Karn ruling sets up a similar situation. When both competitive and casual players vie for the same product, the competitive players win because they spend the money. As a result, the casual players who want Karn as their commander are left with a big fat feel-bad moment.
Karn's Deck Building Cost Has Been Eased Too Much
One of the most interesting aspects of Magic is balancing cost with reward. Some cards ask a lot of us but offer excellent payoffs; others provide long-term advantage for a reasonable cost upfront; still others bestow strong effects for low cost, but likely don't continue to produce as the game continues.
Before this announcement, Karn as a Brawl commander had a steep cost, but rewarded players with a suitable payoff. In exchange for playing janky lands like Cascading Cataracts and Cradle of the Accursed, you got one of the most powerful cards in Standard as your commander. Karn asked players an interesting question: Am I powerful enough to justify playing such lousy lands, and so few?
Thanks to the new rules, this question has been invalidated. Now there's basically no cost to playing Karn-unless you care about your deck being colorless. I personally don't see this as much of a drawback, especially considering that most colorless cards are artifacts, which is exactly what Karn wants to play with, anyway. Building with Karn as a commander used to be interesting simply because it was so difficult. Now, however, we're offered an excellent commander with almost no deckbuilding cost.
Karn Doesn't Fill Any Holes in the Format
Also, did Brawl even need Karn? I don't think so. It's not like the format's missing powerful planeswalker commanders. We already had Chandra, Torch of Defiance; Teferi, Hero of Dominaria; Vraska, Relic Seeker; and more. Karn adds nothing that wasn't already there.
For the purpose of comparison, let's frame Karn's new rule like an unbanning. Unbannings work best when they add to formats without skewing the metagame. Just look at Jace, the Mind Sculptor's recent entry into Modern. Wizards wanted to add a weapon for blue control decks since they've historically struggled for relevance in the format. Additionally, Jace unlocked a number of interesting archetypes, such as Temur, Sultai, and even Miracles. And that's just a short list. We'll likely see more Modern decks made possible by Jace in the future.
In contrast, Karn's newfound format support doesn't augment any existing archetypes or create any new ones. As mentioned previously, the closest he gets is bolstering an artifact theme. But that was already viable (and probably better) with commanders such as Tezzeret the Schemer and Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain. Truth is, he's basically just great irrespective of the cards surrounding him. That doesn't feel like it's adding much of interest to the format.
Though supporting Karn as a Brawl commander was clearly done with noble intentions, I'm still not in love with the decision. I like that Wizards listened to the players-I just wish they'd gone about supporting Karn in a different way. Maybe they could've tried to print more colorless lands. Doing so would've retained Karn's deckbuilding constraints while still giving players a bit more to work with.
Nonetheless, it looks like Karn's here to stay. The question is this: was it worth it?