Last updated on January 7, 2021
Alpha Brawl | Illustration by Randy Gallegos
There are constantly changes in sight for the ever-popular Brawl format, so it’s about time that we talked about it. We’ll provide an in-depth guide for playing MTG’s Brawl as well as some strategy talk for deck building, but don’t worry! We won’t stop there. Consider this your one-stop-shop for everything Brawl, from paper Magic to MTG Arena and back!
The MTG Brawl Format
Brawl is a game mode in MTGA that went live back in September of 2019. It’s kind of a Standard-esque substitute for the famous Commander format, or at least it’s very similar. Commander is a popular format among veteran MTG players, and it definitely wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that players love it.
MTG Brawl Rules
When it comes to Brawl, the rules are kind of a mishmash between the Commander format and Standard. It’s a non-competitive format that tries (and in most aspects succeeds) to be the best of both worlds. So, let’s dive into what exactly that entails, shall we?
Rules for Your Deck and Commander
First let’s get the basics out of the way: your deck will contain 60 cards with only one copy of each card except for basic lands. You’ll have one “commander” card along with 59 other cards to (assumingly) support your commander.
When it comes to decks for Brawl, you need to create an entirely different deck that follows different rules than Standard. First, you need to pick a legendary creature or planeswalker as your commander, which is placed in the “Command Zone” at the start of the game. This is just next to your hand in MTG Arena, as you can see on the opponent’s side below:
This means that, since your commander is not in your deck, you don’t need to draw it and can play it as soon as you have the mana. If your commander is removed from the battlefield (killed, exiled, destroyed, etc.) then it’s placed back in your Command Zone. Its mana cost is increased by two every time this happens, but you’re able to play it (in theory) as many times as you want.
The next thing to keep in mind when it comes to choosing your commander is your “color identity”, which is dictated by your commander’s mana cost and any mana symbols in its rule text. Your deck must then be built using cards that follow your color identity.
For example, if you pick Niv-Mizzet, Parun as your commander, you can only use red and/or blue cards for your deck. You don’t need to have every color from your color identity in the rest of your deck, so you can pick a multi-colored commander but build a mono deck. Don’t forget that you need to have enough mana to cast your commander if you go this route, though.
Quick note: If you select a colorless commander, you can only use unlimited copies of one type of basic land. No mixing and matching for you.
Mirror Match | Illustration by Steve Prescott
Brawl vs Commander and Standard
MTG’s Brawl is somewhat similar to the Commander format, but there are some differences:
- Players start the game at 25 life instead of 40
- Your deck consists of 60 cards instead of 100
- The commander damage rule (if a commander deals 21 damage to the opponent its controller wins) doesn’t apply
- You get a free mulligan
- Your deck must be Standard-legal
Brawl Ban List
Brawl mode also has a separate ban list than Standard, with the following cards currently banned:
- Oko, Thief of Crowns
- Sorcerous Spyglass
- Lutri, the Spellchaser
- Drannith Magistrate
- Runed Halo
- Winota, Joiner of Forces
- Omnath, Locus of Creation
The two formats are vastly different and the same cards don’t have the same impact, so having the same banned list wouldn’t make much sense. Except for Oko. Oko is always broken.
The reason Spyglass is banned is simple: if your opponent has a Planeswalker as their commander, this spell easily shuts that down with a measly mana cost of two colorless. Bit of a rain cloud on your parade.
Acid Rain | Illustration by Nene Thomas
The Golos ban centers around it’s popularity as well as its five-color identity, which is a little cheaty if you think about it. It’s also able to tutor for specific lands which helps mitigate future commander re-cast costs. Kind of defeats the purpose of the continuously increasing mana cost.
What it Means to be Singleton
Now, let’s talk about MTG Arena Singleton. Brawl is a Singleton mode, which means that you can only include one copy of each card in your deck. Duplicating them during play with spells like Quasiduplicate is free game, though.
You might already be familiar with the Singleton event that occasionally comes up, since it changes the way you formulate your strategy. Because you can only have one copy of each card in your deck, you need to pick cards that have value on their own and don’t need multiple copies to work well.
A perfect example of this is Seven Dwarves, which would have very little value in a Singleton mode. You also need to make sure that your cards have a good balance between value and synergy. Don’t worry, we’ll discuss strategies like this in just a bit.
Ayara, First of Locthwain | Illustration by Ryan Pancoast
Introducing Historic Brawl
If Brawl sounds great, but you’re interested in playing with a larger card pool—using all of MTGA’s cards including the Historic anthology—you’re in luck. Wizards introduced this new format in March 2020.
How to Actually Play Brawl in MTG Arena
Well, our overlords have spoken, and it seems they’ve finally listened to the masses! As of July 1, 2020, Brawl is now a free, full-time play queue, and it’s never been easier to find.
1. Click the orange “Play” button
2. Click “Brawl” under ‘Find Match’ and then click “Select Deck”
3. Click on the deck you want to play with and then click “Play” to get your Brawl on!
The History of Brawl in MTG Arena
The Brawlers’ Guildhall was the name for the Brawl event in MTGA, and it’s how you would find and play Brawl matches.
Just before WotC released the full-time Brawl queue, the Guildhall was free for a little while. To throw players a bone, Wizards decided to make the “Brawlers’ Guildhall” free to enter while many were sheltering in place during the COVID-19 pandemic.
But the price of Brawl was very contentious before that, costing up to 2,000 gems or 10,000 gold for the privilege to play for a month. The only reward was a copy of the “commander-of-the-month” after your first win. Yay.
Free Brawl Matchmaking Outside MTGA
To combat the exorbitant prices—and limited availability, such as events like Brawlidays—of Brawl, third-party websites came to the rescue to help people play for free. You could get your Brawl on any time, any day.
Although you could play Brawl with players on your friends List, not everyone had that many friends on MTGA. Thankfully, ArenaBrawl.net was created to circumvent the events system by finding players to play Brawl with. Take a look.
Here’s an example of how to use it:
Is Brawl Exclusive to MTG Arena?
Happy day, happy day! We’re pleased to let you know that Brawl is in fact not exclusive to MTGA!
You can play Brawl on MTG Online or even go with paper Brawl if you want. Keep in mind, though, that there aren’t many players who invest in Brawl decks so you might have more luck playing digital Brawl.
Good news is that you can play paper Brawl with two to six players, so if you like multiplayer games it might be worth haranguing your friends into playing with you.
Paper Brawl Products (Spoiler, Oops)
WotC does have some paper Brawl products if you’re gearing up to play with your friends or local Magic players. Check out Amazon for the Knight’s Charge or Faerie Schemes pre-con decks, or even get all four Throne of Eldraine pre-con Brawl decks at once.
Unfortunately, if you’re looking to start an ever-flowing collection of Brawl products, that’s about the end of it. Fear not, though! You can also check out CardKingdom, MTGgoldfish, or TCGPlayer for recently published Brawl decks or individual cards if you’re itching for more.
Brawl Strategy and Deck Building
We’ve covered a lot regarding Brawl, but now it’s time to talk about strategy. There are two main things to keep in mind when it comes to Brawl decks: first, your deck needs to be Singleton
in case you forgot over the last four paragraphs, and second, you need a good commander.
Vanish Into Memory | Illustration by Rebekah Lynn
Selecting Single Cards for Singleton
If you are fond of playing decks that stack multiple copies of a card, then—sorry to say—you’re going to need to change your strategy. If you want to stack Ajani’s Pridemate, for example, you only get one shot at it unless you have a way to bring it back from your graveyard. The same goes for stacking merfolk.
When it comes to MTG Arena Singleton decks, you need to both choose and play your cards more carefully. If your high-value card gets removed, it’s probably going to hurt more.
Most control decks are going to suffer in Singleton format. You can’t have multiple copies of the same counter-spells, so you need a variety of similar but yet still different spells. This makes it more expensive to play Brawl with a control deck, but the same idea goes for any deck that relies on multiple copies of the same cards. Insert shameless self-plug here: if you’re in need of more cards, check out our promo codes article if you haven’t already.
Jace, Wielder of Mysteries | Illustration by Anna Steinbauer
Choosing Your Commander
Choosing your commander can be tricky. It determines your color identity, it has to be a legendary creature or Planeswalker, and it needs to have synergy with the rest of your deck. If you want to get really crazy, you can even play a five-color commander.
You need to stick with your commander’s color identity when selecting the rest of your deck, and you won’t gain anything if your commander doesn’t fit since it could probably be removed easily. Even though you can play it again and again with a higher cost, this can add up quickly if your deck isn’t well suited to protect your commander.
Artful Dodge | Illustration by Tomasz Jedruszek
You should pick a commander that you’ll be able to use in coordination with your deck, and vice-versa.
Some Commander Commendations
If you need any help deciding which creature or planeswalkers would be best, check YouTube for the latest Brawl decks. Content creators like Merchant talk about Brawl strategies in depth and would definitely be able to shed some light if you’ve got any more burning questions.
Reddit is also a great place to check as players discuss the latest meta and come up with counters to great decks they’ve faced. Websites like MTGgoldfish and Aetherhub are another great place to find the latest and most successful Brawl decks.
Alela, Artful Provocateur
Alela is a great example of a useful commander. She has individual strength as a 2/3 with flying, deathtouch, and lifelink, provides bonuses to other creatures with flying in the form of a +1/+0 counter, and she’s got synergy with both artifact and enchantment spells.
Alseid of Life’s Bounty
Aphemia, the Cacophony
Watcher of the Spheres
Linvala, Shield of Sea Gate
Zareth San, the Trickster
If you’re looking for some rogue action, then Zareth San’s list would be a good choice.
Torbran, Thane of Red Fell
If you’re looking for a solid early game option, Torbran’s mono red budget deck is a good option. It’s pretty straight-forward and also affordable.
Anax, Hardened in the Forge
Korvold, Fae-Cursed Kind
A popular Brawl decks right now is the Korvold sacrifice deck. Keep in mind, though, that it needs some insight to play well. As the name suggests, the entire deck is based on sacrifice synergies and making sure your commander is on the board and getting buffed up. But it’s a bit of a double-edged sword: if you play your hand without any plans or weighing your opponent, you’re going to end up with nothing to sacrifice
and lots of regret instead of control of the board.
Jolrael, Mwonvuli Recluse
Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger
Gadrak, the Crown-Scourge
Klothys, God of Destiny
Syr Konrad, the Grim
Ashiok, Nightmare Muse
Currently one of the most popular decks in the meta is Ashiok’s Dimir list. Take a look:
Cling to Dust
Eat to Extinction
Rain of Revelation
A Commanding Conclusion
And that just about finishes it all up. Thanks for coming, hope you had fun, don’t forget to tip your waitress!
Mons’s Goblin Waiters | Illustration by Pete Venters
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