Last updated on October 4, 2021

Karn, Jhoira, and Teferi - Dominaria Key Art by Tyler Jacobson

Karn, Jhoira, and Teferi | Dominaria Key Art by Tyler Jacobson

Updated for MID meta by David Royale

Even though the format was originally announced in 2018, it’s pretty common nowadays to see MTG communities organizing Brawl tournaments or inviting each other to friendly Brawl games. It’s evolved quite a bit since it was first introduced to Arena. From Wednesdays-only to the Brawlers’ Guildhall (I didn’t say the evolution was necessarily good), Brawl has come a long way.

But what about mixing formats? That’s right, today we’re going to talk about an even cooler way of playing Brawl, if there even is such a thing: Historic Brawl.

What is Historic Brawl?

If you’re not familiar with this other format, Historic is a constructed, non-rotating game format introduced for MTG Arena in late 2019 that includes sets that have rotated out of Standard. It’s fair to say that players really enjoy the format as it’s become a pretty popular play mode in Arena.

As for Historic Brawl, as the name suggests, it’s a variant of Brawl format. It was first introduced on during the Festival: Erebos’s Memoir of Death event in March. It was even extended for an extra day because of how popular it was!

MTG Arena Festival Erebos's Memoir of Death event

Basically, Historic Brawl is just what you would expect: the Brawl format (which otherwise uses only Standard-legal sets) with the added Historic card pool. That is to say, sets that are no longer Standard-legal due to rotation.

Historic Brawl was recently added to the regular game modes on Arena due to popular demand. It also switched from a 60-card format to a 100-card format meaning you now have more options to brew your decks that’s more similar to Commander.

How to Play Historic Brawl

Originally there weren’t many events where you could test your beloved Historic Brawl brews. But as I just mentioned it’s now available indefinitely in the Arena queue! You can also try joining unofficial channels like the Brawl Hall discord channel or the Arena Brawl website to find other players who want to play Historic Brawl.

Building a Historic Brawl Deck

Slimefoot, the Stowaway MTG card art by Alex Konstad

Slimefoot, the Stowaway | Illustration by Alex Konstad

Historic Brawl decks follows the same ruleset as Brawl decks, except for a single, important difference. Do you remember what it was? That’s right, you can use cards from the Historic card pool including the Anthologies and any other cards released during Brawl events.

When it comes to Brawl’s general deck building rules, you choose a legendary creature or planeswalker as your commander and pick a single copy of 59 other cards within your color identity to build your deck.

Your commander defines your color identity, which means that you can only use cards that have the same colors as your chosen commander. You don’t need to draw your commander since it waits patiently in the command zone looking over the battleground, and its’ cost raises by 2 mana each time you cast it.

Banned Cards

These are Historic Brawl’s banned cards:

Keep in mind that this banned list applies to Historic Brawl events as well. There are some cards that are banned in just Brawl or just Historic, but these separate ban lists don’t apply.

Something to note; when you’re building a “Friendly Brawl” deck in MTG Arena (which is used for playing Historic Brawl) you can still build your deck without any errors, but any cards that are banned in either Brawl or Historic shouldn’t be used anyway.

Building the Best Deck

Bladewing the Risen MTG card art by Kev Walker

Bladewing the Risen | Illustration by Kev Walker

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s jump into what makes a good Historic Brawl deck.

Pace Yourself

The first thing that you need to keep in mind is the pace of the format. Although games in Brawl tend to last longer, it’s different for Historic Brawl. Since players have a larger pool of cards to choose from, they have access to more low-cost, high-value cards, especially in the 2- to 3-mana range. Considering that this is a singleton format, players can’t include multiple board wipes in a single deck unless they have a wide collection, so creatures are much more important compared to other formats.

Although I hate playing by the meta, I must confess that since you can have more low-cost cards, establishing a solid mana base is much easier. Command Tower alone can save you from a pinch, so multicolor decks are an easier reality. But what about control decks?

Control the Board

Kinnan, Bonder Prodigy MTG card art by Jason Rainville

Kinnan, Bonder Prodigy | Illustration by Jason Rainville

If you don’t like fast-paced aggro decks, you can still play reliable control decks thanks to the singleton format. Since your opponent won’t have more than one copy of the same card, countering one of their key cards may see their strategy crumble.

However, keep in mind that there are a lot of players building their decks on brute force, so you may need to have more 2- to 3-mana creatures than you’re used to. But if you’re a little creative and can prevent the swarm for a while, it’ll be much harder for your opponent to make a comeback once you take out their key cards.

Think Creatively

Don't hug me i'm scared notepad

Finally, the most important thing that decides whether you win or lose is creativity. Since you have access to a lot of sets, you can easily find some combos that work miracles. You can combine adventures with mutations, riot with mutations, or tokens with mutations. I have a love-hate relationship with the mutate mechanic.

Jokes aside, there are a lot of hidden combos that can be very rewarding if you can manage to pull them off. Hint: there were a lot of mill-based decks in the previous sets and we now have some recent cards that can help you trigger them multiple times.

Mana Base

Your mana base is one of the most important aspects of deckbuilding. Probably the most important in fact since you can’t cast your spells without lands, as someone once said. You should prioritize building your mana base by adding lands that add more than just one color as a rule of thumb. The more colors you play, the more complicated it gets to play lands that produce just one color or even colorless mana.

Another important piece is to rely on both your curve and the archetype you’re in to determine how many and which lands you should run. If you’re in an aggro archetype and your curve is really low, you can run fewer lands than a control deck that relies on 5- and 6-drops to win games.

In a 100-card deck you should have around 34 to 42 lands depending on your curve and archetype. 34 would be the norm for any aggro deck and 42 for any control or ramp archetypes. Midrange goes in between those numbers and it depends on how many mana rocks you run and what your curve looks like.

You should run around 34 lands if you have a deck that’s 60% 1- and 2-drops, 30% 4-drops, and 10% 5-drops, which is valid for aggro decks.

Additional Tips

In brewing and deckbuilding there’s no such thing as good or bad decks. You learn that on the road as you keep testing it. It may feel like a trial-and-error approach but you can test as much as you want since this isn’t a competitive format. But make sure to keep an eye on your wildcard count since the only downside is that it can punish you heavily if you’re spending wildcards left and right on decks you never end up using.

Other than that you’re free to test and switch numbers between your builds like how many interaction cards, how many lands, how many creatures, how much removal, etc.

You’ll be good as long as you know what archetypes you’re trying to do. But if you’re new to deckbuilding keep reading to find out how to fill those numbers.

Archetypes vs Strategies

Toski, Bearer of Secrets - Illustration by Jason Rainville

Toski, Bearer of Secrets | Illustration by Jason Rainville

Without going too deep, deck strategy relies a lot on synergies between your cards.

Let’s use Oswald Fiddlebender as an example. It’s a commander with only one color identity: white. In terms of deckbuilding, Oswald restrains you a lot as you can’t play more than one color. But the whole reason to run it is that you can abuse its ability to tutor for any artifact from your deck and put it into the battlefield. The “strategy” here is to play cards that interact with Oswald and build your deck in a way that all the artifacts (or the vast majority of them) have an enter or leave the battlefield trigger and end games that way.

So then, what would an archetype be? Well the most common ones are aggro, midrange, and control. The decks running these don’t rely too much on their commander to win games.

Take Toski, Bearer of Secrets as an example. This is a commander that leads you to build a heavy aggro mono green deck that happens to benefit from the fact that Toski itself provides tons of card advantage every time one of your creatures connects. But the deck still operates very well without Toski since you’re running cards that are already strong even without the mighty squirrel to give you some names. You could even replace Toski with another green commander like Vivien, Monsters’ Advocate and you deck will behave pretty much the same way as it would with Toski as its commander.

What would be the difference? Just personal preference or card availability.

What I’m trying to say is that if you make an archetype as a base to build your deck you’re not tied to a specific strategy. This makes deckbuilding a little easier since you can find multiple cards that fill the same role and save your precious wildcards.

Archetype and Strategy Composition

Kinnan, Bonder Prodigy MTG card art by Jason Rainville

Kinnan, Bonder Prodigy | Illustration by Jason Rainville

Follow these common tips for deckbuilding as a rule of thumb.

You want creatures that pressure your opponents early for aggro builds. More than half of your deck (not counting lands), let’s say around 70%, should be composed of creatures. Out of those you need to distribute your curve to have 60% of them be early drops (1- and 2-drops), 30% midrange/utility creatures (3- and 4-drops), and the last 10% are finishers and big bombs.

The other 30%(ish) should be filled with interaction spells, anthem effects, or card advantage. The most common are either card draw engines, planeswalkers, and tutor effects like Collected Company.

Midrange archetypes are similar to aggro except your 2- and 3-drops numbers are considerably reduced. 3- and 4-drops remain the same but you’ll get more 5-drops.

Control archetypes run few to no creatures, maybe about 20%. The rest of your deck should be filled with an equal number of finishers, mass removal, spot removal, and card advantage.

There are other archetypes like combo and tempo that share some of these numbers. Since those usually rely on their commanders, they should be looked at more like strategies and numbers can vary depending on how much they support your commander.

Suppose you have Kinnan, Bonder Prodigy as your commander. Half of your deck should be mana rocks or cards that add mana in the early game and the other half should be big spells to get cast ahead of time. For the aforementioned Oswald Fiddlebender, your deck should be about 80% artifacts and 20% non-artifacts spells.

Some Top-Tier Historic Brawl Decks

Thalia, Guardian of Thraben

Thalia, Guardian of Thraben - Illustration by Jana Schirmer & Johannes Voss

Thalia, Guardian of Thraben | Illustration by Jana Schirmer & Johannes Voss

If you like to annoy your opponents and don’t mind winning games very quickly, this deck is for you. This Thalia build runs the right amount of early pressure and cards with the ability to go wide at any moment, so don’t worry if you can’t close games on turn 4; the deck will get there.

Rowan, Scholar of Sparks

Rowan, Scholar of Sparks - Illustration by Magali Villeneuve

Rowan, Scholar of Sparks | Illustration by Magali Villeneuve

If you’re looking for different ways to annoy your opponents and completely overrun them with pure card advantage, this deck is for you! Other decks will have a hard time resolving their spells and you can permanently destroy them with your card quality when they do.

Firja, Judge of Valor

Firja, Judge of Valor - Illustration by Livia Prima

Firja, Judge of Valor | Illustration by Livia Prima

This is a deck themed around angels and demons and a bunch of removal spells. It’s a midrange strategy that benefits from its spells and that you can explode Firja’s ability from time to time.

The Difference Between Brawl and Historic Brawl

As you may have noticed by now, one of the crucial differences between Brawl and Historic Brawl is the speed of the games. It’s only natural to have a quicker pace with wider access to cards, so sometimes games will be over before you even get warmed up. This changes the meta a lot, so if you’re looking for longer games, Historic Brawl may not be for you.

Choosing commanders is also quite different. In Brawl, color identity and overall synergy with the deck is much more important, whereas in Historic Brawl, most people pick their commanders for their early-game strength. It’s still important to have a commander that synergizes well with the rest of your deck, but late-game power is way less important. Most top-tier commanders for Historic Brawl cost less than five mana and focus on early-game advantage, as you saw.

The Future of Historic Brawl

Torgaar, Famine Incarnate MTG card art by Lius Lasahido

Torgaar, Famine Incarnate | Illustration by Lius Lasahido

If you follow Reddit or are in touch with your local MTG community, you already know that Brawl has become very popular since its introduction. The same thing applies to Historic Brawl as there are a lot of people who are stuck at home, only able to play MTG Online or Arena. Since Historic Brawl is unique to MTGA, there are lots of people who use direct challenges to spice up their usual games.

However, I should mention that some portion of this success belongs to the fact that most in-person tournaments were either cancelled or postponed. Don’t get me wrong, Historic Brawl is a very fun way to play MTG, but the lengths you have to go to play it are kinda troublesome. If you don’t have a crowded friend list or don’t want to use unofficial channels to play, the format is a bit inaccessible.

Historic Brawl is a way for MTG Arena players to experience a simpler version of EDH since there aren’t as many cards. However, when more experienced players who play MTG Online start going back to their communities, the format might suffer.

If WotC wants to keep its popularity alive, it needs to introduce more in-game events or even its own queue so more people can jump in. Reddit is always full of players testing decks or asking for help against some troublemakers like Kinnan or Teferi, so it’s safe to say that the future is promising, but also depends on WotC’s love for the format. Let us know if you have anything to add and don’t forget, you can always use our Arena Tutor to keep track of your deck’s record and performance!

2 Comments

  • Lee June 13, 2020 5:36 am

    “since the format is now supported in-game as a separate deck building format” — not in my client as of the time/date of my comment post. I think ‘friendly brawl’ is the only format you can make this deck with.

    • Ender Orçun Çetiner June 13, 2020 6:11 am

      Yep, sorry about the confusion. I mentioned “friendly brawl” is used for building historic brawl later in the article but it should be moved, I’ll fix it. Thanks for pointing that out!

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