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Top Ten Rivals Brawl Commanders


Hello folks! I hope you are having a great day today!

So I'm sure you've seen by now! Wizards of the Coast has created a new casual format that is inspired by Standard and Commander called Brawl.

It's not every day that Wizards officially endorses a new casual format, so that they are doing so now is pretty interesting. And unlike other casual formats out there, this will have the weight and heft of the company behind it. That's not nothing.

If you haven't heard of it yet, then check it out! But I'll spell it out for you now.

Here are the rules for Brawl.

  1. Build a deck of exactly 60 cards
  2. Use only Standard legal cards (if it's banned in Standard, it's banned in Brawl)
  3. You can't run more than one copy of any card, save for basic lands
  4. Just like Commander, you choose a leader and build a Commander deck, with the various rules, such as using he Command Zone, an color identity, of Commander.
  5. Your Commander can be either a legendary creature or a planeswalker
  6. You begin with 30 life.

And that's it. It's basically Standard Commander with 60 cards, 30 life, and you can use a 'walker instead of a creature and without the 21 Commander damage as an alternate win condition.

Please note that because this thing backtracks onto planeswalkers, and emphasizes Standard, then it has a whole different set of options available for your leaders.

So, if you wanted to take a spin, which are the best? Some are easy to build. Plug in Admiral Beckett Brass, insert pirate treasure, turn to activate. But while that may be the first place a lot of folks look for deck ideas, tribal leaders may not necessary have the chops for the format later on.

What are the best options out there? I have been sitting with this idea for a while. The format was debuted, and then I've been thinking for more than a week about the top ten options. I gave the list some time to percolate, so this isn't just Abe's Quick Take and then I move on to my next article. This is a new format, and I wanted to give it time to simmer, and play around with some actual decklists and such.

So what presented itself?

The good thing about using a 'walker as your Commander is that you can lean into their abilities and kill them, knowing you can replay them later for two more mana. Take, as one good example, Nissa, Vital Force. You can get her to ultimate on just the 2nd turn you control her. You can ultimate her fast, and then recast it and then get her back out the same turn you lost her and then repeat.

Here, let me break it down (I will be assuming it starts on turn five, it could be earlier with mana acceleration)

Turn five. Cast Nissa. Use her +1 to give her 6 loyalty

Turn six. Use Nissa's ultimate ability, and she dies. You now draw a card for each land you drop. Play your land for the turn, and draw a card. She'll cost 7 mana now, so you might not be able to cast her this turn, but if you can, with mana acceleration in your deck, cast her immediately again, and use her +1.

When she leaves play and comes back, she is a new Nissa and can use her ability again.

Turn seven. Use her ultimate. She dies. You now draw two cards for each land you drop, yadda yada.

That's the power of a planeswalker here. You can be a lot more aggressive with the minus abilities in this shell.

Honorable Mention to:

Admiral Beckett Brass
Elenda, the Dusk Rose
Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca

All of these are cheap, and easy to exploit in a Tribal setting. You can build them well.

There just aren't really enough Minotaurs for Neheb, the Worthy to really make an impact, and you have multiple options for Dinosaurs, all of which are pricier.

10. Neheb, the Eternal

Neheb, the Eternal

Some people have called Hazoret the Fervent the best Mono-Red leader in Brawl. I don't know that those people have played Neheb. Neheb is better. First of all, there is a surprisingly strong amount of direct damage and removal that's playable in Brawl running around. Support like Angrath's Marauders and Blood Sun. Hazoret and see below.

Burn that only takes out dorks -- Abrade, Bombard, Deem Worthy, Liberating Combustion, and Sand Strangler.

Burn that only hit players -- Inferno Jet, Manticore of the Gauntlet, and Needletooth Raptor.

Flexible Burn -- Lightning Strike, Shock, Chandra, Torch of Defiance, Chandra, Pyrogenius, Chandra's Pyrohelix, Flame Lash, Hungry Flames, Insult // Injury, Repeating Barrage, and Vance's Blasting Cannons.

Mana Sinks -- Captivating Crew, Imminent Doom, Indomitable Creativity, Shivan Dragon, Tilonalli's Summoner, and Zealot of the God-Pharaoh.

Captivating Crew
Zealot of the God-Pharaoh

Creatures with a huge board presence:

Burning Sun's Avatar
Charging Monstrosaur

Combustible Gearhulk
Etali, Primal Storm

Toss in stuff like Primal Amulet and this is a deck that clearly builds itself!

9. Saheeli Rai

Saheeli Rai

Note that changes to Standard rotation mean that Kaladesh Block will remain legal until rotated out when the 2nd large set hits stores. That means all of the useful 'walkers are still running around, like Chandra, Torch of Defiance, Tezzeret the Schemer, or Dovin Baan, as well as this one. This is the best for the cheap cost, and flexible impact on the board. Getting a free copy of a turn of any artifact or creature you control is still good. Smash with haste. Copy a key artifact. But in a casual multiplayer game, a 3-drop that slowly scrys and shoots people while ticking up loyalty is solid and has long term value, setting up better draws for getting useful Clone targets later. Don't sleep on the 'walkers from this block for value either. Dovin Baan is great for wu control, Tezzeret is strong for ub artifacts, and more.

8. Depala, Pilot Exemplar

Depala, Pilot Exemplar

My favorite of the Tribal lot is Depala, as she plays into two archetypes more interestingly, although one of her friends is a little higher in the Top Ten anyway. She brings all of the vehicle loving from her block as well as Dwarf tribal. There are 23 Standard legal Dwarves, including cool ones lie Aerial Responder and Toolcraft Exemplar. They are Pilots and have synergy, such as Restoration Specialist, with the rest of the deck. Depala on!

7. Sram, Senior Edificer

Sram, Senior Edificer

Sram is great at doing a lot of smashing and setting up pain. For example, in Standard right now there are almost five different variants of Pacifism or Arrest, such as Caught in the Bights. You have Overwhelming Splendor as a cool Aura. You also have every Vehicle every printed, save for the banned Smuggler's Copter (see below for more comments on which cards from the Standard banned list I'd retain). As for equipment, how about something like Strider Harness or Dowsing Dagger? Sram is also a good addition to your previous Depala deck as well as best friends with Danitha Capashen, Paragon.

6. Huatli, Radiant Champion

Huatli, Radiant Champion

There are a few options here for Selesnya Tokens or going wide with a lot of critters, but Huatli is the best option. Don't forget you have cards like Oath of Ajani, Heroic Intervention, Angel of Invention, Legion's Landing,Tendershoot Dryad, Oviya Pashiri, Sage Lifecrafter and Oketra the True that are all legal right now and are either making your dorks or rewarding you for doing so. Huatli is a perfect leader for that deck as she can come down early with a big presence with that -1, or later after you've built up and gain 5 or 6 loyalty from her first activation and prepare for ultimate the next turn. See also: Ajani, Unyielding.

5. Gonti, Lord of Luxury

Gonti, Lord of Luxury

Gonti is really only held back in Brawl by one thing: The Mono-Black options aren't as great as some of the other mono-colored ones in the format. Otherwise he perfectly fits the format, especially as is cheap and has a pertinent ability that's unique and plays well with whatever your foes are running. Gonti has a level of flexibility as a result that other Brawl leaders cannot easily match. You love to recast Gonti over and over again from the Command Zone!

4. Baral, Chief of Compliance

Baral, Chief of Compliance

Baral is so annoying but powerful. Baral doesn't need a lot of options to work. Counters? Okay, toss them in! Any Standard format is going to have enough cards for Baral to work and be powerful leading a successful Brawl deck. Sure, here's your Cancel over here and your Disallow, Supreme Will, Spell Swindle, Failed Inspection, and such. Note that Baral also triggers for Looting effects when you counter a spell with an ability, so you could sacrifice Siren Stormtamer to counter a spell for Baral. Baral churns through stuff quickly, and creates an interesting dynamic where you have enough redundant counters because you are drawing into the next one quickly.

3. The X God Trio

The Locust God
The Scarab God
The Scorpion God

All three pf those are great choices for building around, and each looks a little different. I think The Scorpion God plays a little better than the other two in Brawl, but it's close and tight. Because when they die you can recast them later for no additional Commander tax if cast from your hand, they have a more reliable stick-to-the-board than other Commander, whom you can kill enough times to force a Commander tax high enough to keep them from coming back. These have a built in way to head back to your hand (and note that whenever a Commander in your hand would go to another zone, such as from discard, you can send it back to your Command Zone, so there's not a lot of reason not to put them into your hand normally). All three are burly, offer useful abilities, give you two colors, and have respected card options to use for them in the Standard card pool. Get your God on!

2. Gideon of the Trials

Gideon of the Trials
Gideon, Martial Paragon

Gideon of the Trials can be pretty irritating at the kitchen table, as his ultimate doesn't hurt him or remove him from the board, and it's pretty good for the long game. All you have to is have a Gideon somewhere. But with him as your Commander? You have a guaranteed 3-drop that can be ultimated immediately, while having a planeswalker that is hard to kill. You have basically the Pillow Fort'iest of planeswalkers at your disposal. You can easily combine them with other Gideons for more power, and then also when your Trials version is taken out, you can recast it over and over again, as well as have other Gideon's out as well, like Gideon, Martial Paragon, who's also saucy here. Gideon is a powerful archetype for Brawl!

1. Samut, Voice of Dissent

Samut, Voice of Dissent

I am so glad to say this, but so far, the early winner has not been Baral's Mono-Blue Boringness or Gideon's Pillow Fort-erery, or something so annoying, but Samut, Voice of Awesome Beatings. There are a few reasons for this, but one of them is just that she is one of the best ways to open up three colors of mana for your deck as well as a strong haste-enabler and swings for 6 damage on the turn you drop her. She's sturdy and she's fun!

Please note that the cards banned in Standard are also banned in Brawl. But play-testing has shown most of them to be down powered to the point that they are fine, such as Attune with Aether, one of the few Green land-search effects that just running one-of isn't hurting, but actually helping folks smooth mana. In my play-testing, the cards that were fine include Attune with Aether, Ramunap Ruins, Rogue Refiner, Rampaging Ferocidon, Felidar Guardian (You can't run it in a Saheeli Rai deck as it's off-color) and Smuggler's Copter, which is nowhere near as offensive as a Singleton in a baby Commander format. Heart of Kiran is better by far, when you can have a planeswalker as your Commander and use its loyalty to swing with the Heart. I would still stick clear of Aetherworks Marvel though.

And there we have it. Early results from play-testing and such with Brawl. So what have you found out? Have any overhyped cards failed to impress? Anything you think will punch above its weight class? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Dominaria is Now Available for Preorder!