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Brawling with Vraska

Creativity often thrives within constraints. To some that seems counterintuitive, but ask any song writer, filmmaker, graphic artist, web designer or anyone else working within a creative field, and you’ll hear the same thing: boundaries helps creativity thrive.

For this reason, the new Brawl format immediately intrigued me. I love creativity and I had a hunch that the limitations in this format would make the deck-building and the game play a lot of fun.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Brawl, here are the basics:

  • Decks must include 60 cards from the current Standard-legal card pool.
  • Decks are singleton decks, aside from basic land cards, just like in Commander.
  • Also like Commander, Brawl decks have a Commander! Any Standard-legal legendary creature or Planeswalker may be used. Normal casting rules about the Command Zone apply. Commander color restrictions apply.
  • Unlike Commander, you start with 30 life and there is no Commander damage.

I consider Brawl a variant of Commander. It’s sort of a mashup of Commander and Standard, forcing players to use cards from the current Standard environment, but also putting them in a multiplayer game with higher variance than what they might find at Friday Night Magic.

Three Strategies for Vraska, Relic Seeker

I picked Vraska, Relic Seeker as my first Commander for Brawl for two outside-the-actual-game reasons:

  • I pulled her in a random pack of cards given to me on my birthday. There’s nothing quite like pulling an awesome, playable mythic.
  • I really enjoyed the storyline with Vraska and Jace from the Ixalan saga. (What can I say? I’m a Vorthos.) Vraska is a great character. I’m certain she’ll return to the Spotlight when Guilds of Ravnica releases later this year. I’m looking forward to the next chapter for her, Jace, and Nicol Bolas.

When I actually started building the deck I stumbled upon a happy problem: there are many ways this deck could go! Take a look at Vraska’s abilities and you’ll see what I mean.

Vraska, Relic Seeker

At the time of this writing, Standard included Kaledesh, Aether Revolt, Amonkhet, Hour of Devastation, Ixalan, Rivals of Ixalan, and Dominaria. As I examined the Standard card pool and considered the options, three different strategies emerged.

  1. Graveyard Recursion
  2. Pirate Tribal
  3. Token Swarm

To me, this is the sign of a great Commander. It can drive a number of strategies, not just one. The only question was, which strategy should I build around?

Yahenni's Expertise
Forerunner of the Coalition
Overcome

Breaking Down the Possibilities

In the next three sections I’ve tried to list the auto-include cards for these three strategies. I’ve also tried to focus on only the best card options and have not included every card that fits each strategy. I’ve only included the cards that work best with the given strategy, and that are particularly on-flavor (within reason). Naturally, there is some overlap in the lists if a card works within multiple strategies.

I have not listed cards that could be included in any bg deck, like Naturalize, Foul Orchard, or Woodland Cemetery. Nor have I listed powerhouse cards like Azor's Gateway, which could arguably go in any deck ever. One other powerhouse that garners a special mention is Bontu's Last Reckoning. This board wipe works particularly well with Treasure Tokens and other mana rocks because the downside isn’t as bad for you.

Azor's Gateway
Sanctum of the Sun
Bontu's Last Reckoning

The lists are separated by card types. I hope they’re helpful for you as you consider your own brew for Vraska, Relic Seeker[/card]! The deck I ended up building is at the end of the article. But first, the three strategies . . . 

Graveyard Recursion

Recursion is, in my view, the go-to strategy for bg decks. The two colors synergize so well. In this deck you want to use our graveyard as a resource by casting and re-casting your creatures. You want sacrifice outlets and you want creatures with abilities that trigger when they enter the battlefield or when they die. (Just watch out for Sentinel Totem.)

Creatures: Apocalypse Demon; Bone Picker; Bontu the Glorified is a great sacrifice outlet for this strategy; Deathbloom Thallid; Defiant Salvager is another sacrifice outlet; Demon of Dark Schemes can recur creatures if you commit to energy counters; Dire Fleet Ravager causes major damage when it’s cast and re-cast; Doomed Dissenter; Dread Wanderer; Festering Mummy; Golden Guardian; Gravedigger; Hope of Ghirapur is a card you want to sacrifice and recur over and over, Scrap Trawler and Workshop Assistant will help recur it; Jungle Creeper; Lingering Phantom; Ovalchase Daredevil; Ramunap Excavator; Scrapheap Scrounger; Sparring Construct; Thallid Omnivore; Thallid Soothsayer; Treasure Keeper; Whisper, Blood Liturgist.

Artifacts: Bontu's Monument and Rhonas's Monument will help you re-cast creatures; Conqueror's Galleon; Daredevil Dragster; Forebear's Blade will be fun to move around as you sacrifice your creatures; Gate to the Afterlife and its combo buddy God-Pharaoh's Gift; Key to the City; Perpetual Timepiece; Servo Schematic, Silent Gravestone will protect your graveyard; Urza's Tome.

Enchantments: Arguel's Blood Fast; Journey to Eternity; The Mending of Dominaria; Unbridled Growth.

Sorceries and Instants: Boneyard Parley; Dark Bargain; Final Parting; Fortuitous Find; Gaea's Blessing; March of the Drowned; Nature's Spiral; Raise Dead; Recover; Resourceful Return; Shadow of the Grave; Soul Salvage; Verdant Rebirth; Wander in Death; Wildest Dreams; Yahenni's Expertise; Yawgmoth's Vile Offering.

Land: Conqueror's Foothold; Atzal, Cave of Eternity; Gold-Forge Garrison; Memorial to Folly; Sequestered Stash; Temple of Aclazotz

Planeswalkers: Liliana, Death's Majesty’s first and second abilities are perfect for this strategy; Nissa, Vital Force will recur your creatures with her second ability.

Hope of Ghirapur
Sequestered Stash
Silent Gravestone

Pirate Tribal

The Ixalan block made tribal cool again! Vraska’s first and second abilities really lend themselves to this strategy. Rrrrr!!

Creatures: Gleaming Barrier is a cheap way to protect Vraska; Deadeye Tormentor and his combo brother Deadeye Tracker; Direfleet Hoarder; Dire Fleet Poisoner, Dire Fleet Ravager, Fathom Fleet Captain and Forerunner of the Coalition for obvious reasons; Metallic Mimic; Pitiless Plunderer; Kitesail Freebooter; Ruin Raider; Ruthless Knave; and Tomb Robber (which I almost always read as Tomb Raider); and Winding Constrictor which pairs nicely with any creature that Explores.

Fathom Fleet Cutthroat could also be included as an extra spot removal spell. Dinosaur Hunter is a good choice if you think it’s likely that your opponents will be playing with Dinosaurs.

Artifacts:Bontu's Monument for all of the Black pirate creatures; Captain's Hook let’s any non-Pirate creatures you might run synergize with the rest of your deck; Conqueror's Galleon // Conqueror's Foothold; Dusk Legion Dreadnought has vigilance, which is especially important in multiplayer formats; Fell Flagship; Pillar of Origins; Pirate's Cutlass; Prying Blade; Treasure Map; Vanquisher's Banner

Enchantments: Dead Man's Chest is perfectly on flavor; Durable Handicraft; Growing Rites of Itlimoc; Path of Discovery; Revel in Riches; Shapers' Sanctuary; Sixth Sense for creatures with flying or menace; Song of Freyalise to pump your crew.

Sorceries and Instants: Contract Killing; Costly Plunder; Grim Captain's Call; Heartless Pillage; March of the Drowned; Walk the Plank

Land: Arch of Orazca can be activated with the help of your Treasure and Pirate Tokens; Memorial to Unity will help you find the right pirate at the right time; Treasure Cove; Unclaimed Territory.

Revel in Riches is a card that must, must, must be included in a Pirate Tribal deck. It’s relatively easy to get to ten Treasure Tokens and it’s a fun, flavorful way to play. You can also use Benefaction of Rhonas, Diabolic Tutor, Final Parting, Mastermind's Acquisition, or Razaketh's Rite to find it.

The Pirate Tribal strategy also works really well with Angrath, Minotaur Pirate. This article isn’t about Angrath, but take this Pirate list and swap out the Green cards for Red cards . . .  just sayin’.

Revel in Riches
Angrath, Minotaur Pirate

Token Swarm

Some players just love token decks. I am one of them. I usually build token decks that are gw, but Vraska’s first ability makes me think the Token Swarm strategy is a viable option for her.

Creatures: Cogwork Assembler; Crested Herdcaller; Cultivator of Blades; Deathbloom Thallid; Doomed Dissenter; Filigree Crawler, Ghirapur Guide will enable early attacks with your swarm of tokens; Hapatra, Vizier of Poisons; Josu Vess, Lich Knight; Jungleborn Pioneer; Majestic Myriarch; Overgrown Armasaur is a productive blocker; Oviya Pashiri, Sage Lifecrafter is perhaps the ideal turn one play for this strategy; Polyraptor; Slimefoot, the Stowaway and its combo buddies Tendershoot Dryad, Verdant Force and Yavimaya Sapherd; Torgaar, Famine Incarnate; Whisper, Blood Liturgist

Enchantments: Chainer's Torment; Durable Handicraft; Fungal Plots; Growing Rites of Itlimoc; Panharmonicon will trigger over and over again with your tokens; Rite of Belzenlok should be easy to maintain with all of your tokens (and it’s an uber-cool nod to classic card, Lord of the Pit); Sandwurm Convergence; Shapers' Sanctuary; Song of Freyalise.

Artifacts: Conqueror's Galleon; Sky Skiff and Sleek Schooner are both cheap, effective, and easy to crew with tokens; Throne of the God-Pharaoh; Whirlermaker.

Sorceries and Instants: Driven // Despair; Eliminate the Competition; Fungal Infection; Gruesome Fate; Harvest Season is amazing in a token deck; Mouth // Feed; Overcome; Rhonas's Last Stand; Saproling Migration; Spore Swarm; Stir the Sands; Strength of the Pack; Wild Onslaught

Land: Arch of Orazca should be easy to activate with your various tokens; Conqueror's Foothold

Josu Vess, Lich Knight
Overcome
Throne of the God-Pharaoh

You could also include cards that focus on artifacts or on the keyword Fabricate. There are many cards in the Kaledesh block that create Servo and Thopter Tokens. If you go this route consider including Chief of the Foundry, Phyrexian Scriptures, and Underhanded Designs. These cards give you maximum value in decks that focus on artifacts.

Making the Deck Real

So which strategy did I end up building around? Well . . .  I built a hybrid deck.

I quickly ruled out Graveyard Recursion. Though it’s a strong strategy, I’ve played many different bg recursion decks in the past and wanted to try something new.

But I don’t have enough of the best Pirate cards or token cards to go all-in with either direction. So I opted for a deck that focuses specifically on Treasure Tokens and simple synergies with Pirates, but that mixes in some of the token cards too.

Treasure Tokens seemed like the best direction to go in order for me to get the highest value out of the cards I currently own. If I can get out Revel in Riches then I’ve put a clock on my opponents. Which I’ve done more than once. But if I don’t draw it, or if my opponents remove it, Treasure Tokens are still extra mana which fuels the rest of the deck. I also count on always having treasure tokens because of Vraska’s second ability, which is removal, and is an ability I use a lot. In multiple games I have used the second ability more often than the first.

This deck list includes removal cards (Ambuscade, Slice in Twain), mana-ramping cards (Naga Vitalist, Oashra Cultivator), and cards that enable me to draw (Painful Lesson, Watchful Naga), but which were not specific enough to put in the above lists. And anything with flying, reach, or vigilance is there to protect Vraska and Nissa.


End Step

What do you think of the Brawl format? Have you tried it yet? I hope you’ve found it to be as much fun as I have.

Which strategy with Vraska, Relic Seeker interests you the most? And which cards would you add or subtract from these lists?

Or, have you already built a Brawl deck around Vraska, Relic Seeker? Post your deck list in the comment section below, or Tweet at me @Steamfloggery. I’d love to see it.

Thanks for reading. May all of your Magic brawls be fun and flavorful!


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