Last updated on April 12, 2022
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.
Like Commander, Brawl is a best of one format without a sideboard.
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.
Brawl vs Commander and Standard
Mirror Match | Illustration by Steve Prescott
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:
The two formats are vastly different and the same cards don’t have the same impact, so having the same ban list wouldn’t make much sense. Right now, both formats do share a ban for Omnath, Locus of Creation. Probably because Omnath is just busted.
What it Means to be Singleton
Acid Rain | Illustration by Nene Thomas
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.
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.
Introducing Historic Brawl
Ayara, First of Locthwain | Illustration by Ryan Pancoast
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.
Historic Brawl Ban List
Historic Brawl is its own format, and with that comes its own ban list. The following cards are banned from play in Historic Brawl:
- Runed Halo
- Gideon’s Intervention
- Meddling Mage
- Pithing Needle
- Agent of Treachery
- Field of the Dead
- Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
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 click the Commander icon to select Brawl, select your deck, and hit the “Play” button once again.
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.
Selecting Single Cards for Singleton
Vanish Into Memory | Illustration by Rebekah Lynn
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.
Choosing Your Commander
Jace, Wielder of Mysteries | Illustration by Anna Steinbauer
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 5-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.
You should pick a commander that you’ll be able to use in coordination with your deck, and vice-versa.
Some Commander Commendations
Deck updates by Bryan
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.
Killian, Ink Duelist
Killian is a nice aggressive commander, with a relevant cost reduction effect that helps you push tempo. Most Killian decks are built to go under your opponent and leverage the pressure that comes with having the same great 2-drop every game. Try to fit in a bit of extra spot removal if you can, as it’s generally the best way to take advantage of Killian’s cost reduction ability.
Shaile, Dean of Radiance
Galazeth is a solid, consistent spell slinger that encourages you to fit some extra artifacts into your deck. It also plays well with any other cards that make Treasure tokens and is a bit more disposable than most commanders, as later Galazeths can use Treasure from prior ones. A Galazeth deck should play a nice mix of counterspells, sweepers, removal, card draw, artifacts, and flashy spell-based finishers like Crackle with Power!
Boros control is a pretty rare thing, so it’s fun to have a commander that calls for just that! The average Velomachus deck is a tap out control deck of sorts with a nice mix of spot removal, card draw, sweepers, ramping artifacts, and instant/sorcery based threats like Starnheim Unleashed. Filling out a full 60 in these colors can take a bit of creativity, though thankfully the card pool is wide enough to pull it off at the moment.
Reduce to Memory
Search for Glory
Seize the Spoils
Secure the Scene
Jadzi, Oracle of Arcavios
Jadzi headlines a heavy ramp deck with a subtheme of cheap instants/sorceries. I’d recommend a high land count and lots of card draw to try to leverage the Journey to the Oracle side which gives you access to very consistent openers. The key to success here is to dramatically out-speed your opponent in mana development and then go off with Jadzi once you’ve ramped enough.
Zimone, Quandrix Prodigy
Cosima, God of the Voyage
Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath
Kogla, the Titan Ape
Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider
Koma, Cosmos Serpent
Beledros is a strong commander that encourages a nice mix of ramp/sacrifice/life gain synergies. Not falling behind early in this deck is very important, as Beledros’ untap ability greatly rewards you for having a high life total. If you can stick it for a few turns, cards like Plumb the Forbidden will do obscene things too!
Dina, Soul Steeper
Toski, Bearer of Secrets
Ashaya, Soul of the Wild
Kogla, the Titan Ape
Codie, Vociferous Codex
As a 5-color commander with a harsh drawback, Codie definitely looks janky but can actually be quite a powerful build around! There are many ways to approach building a Codie deck; a standard build is just to play instant/sorcery tribal with all the best unconditional spells, but other options (such as 20 Dragon’s Approaches) exist.
Solve the Equation
Inscription of Insight
Mythos of Illuna
Escape to the Wilds
Body of Research
The World Tree
Mons’s Goblin Waiters | Illustration by Pete Venters
And that just about finishes it all up. Thanks for coming, hope you had fun, don’t forget to tip your waitress!
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