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Introducing Eternal Brawl

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My playgroups and several article commenters on Brawl, the newest Magic format, have landed at the same spot on it:

"Sounds cool, but why do things have to rotate out?"

It makes total sense for Wizards to want to keep a handle on what the format consists of, not only from a messaging standpoint but from a design/testing standpoint. I love Commander, but designing for Commander is difficult because there so often is one card or a couple cards that turn a new commander from a bust to busted. Mairsil, the Pretender has Aetherling and Quicksilver Elemental; The Gitrog Monster has Dakmor Salvage; Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind has Curiosity; and so on. By synchronizing to Standard's watch, Brawl gets to piggyback off Standard testing. That's an efficient use of R&D resources.

But none of that speaks to the bigger issue of your cool casual deck becoming officially obsolete. That's where turning the format into Eternal Brawl comes in. Not only have I been researching this since Brawl was announced, I've already built three decks for it. And if you're going to Grand Prix Seattle this weekend, I'll be there, ready to play you with my Standard Brawl deck or the three Eternal Brawl decks (and maybe more if I'm inspired before then).

Is This Burning An Eternal Brawl?

The way Brawl keeps a consistent power level isn't by rotation; it's by restricting card pools to roughly two years of cards. So a non-rotating, or Eternal, Brawl has the same chronological compression but for any Standard. In other words, if Brawl asks if your deck is legal in this Standard, Eternal Brawl asks if your deck was legal in any Standard in history.

I've compiled every legendary creature and planeswalker and every Standard (including banlists) and put them in one handy spreadsheet so you don't have to do that work. Standard started when Fourth Edition was a thing, so Eternal Brawl isn't going to be your Ixalan draft commons against somebody's Power Nine, Sol Rings, and dual lands; they were never in Standard, so they'll never be here either. And a lot of the toughest legends to deal with from Legends (never in Standard) didn't make it into Chronicles (part of the original Standard), so several bullets are dodged there.

So how does this play out?

Let's say you want to brawl with one of the brawliest of all brawlers, Nicol Bolas. Based on the sets Nicol Bolas was in and the bans in his color identity, you get these Standards to build an Eternal Brawl deck for him:

Fourth Edition, Fallen Empires, Ice Age, Chronicles, Homelands — This might not as wide a card pool as the next old-school option, but it's available.

Fourth Edition, Fallen Empires, Ice Age, Chronicles, Homelands, Alliances, Mirage (Mind Twist is banned) — This is where Eternal Brawl starts to get interesting from a deck-building perspective. This Standard gets two more sets, but you can't have Mind Twist in it. If Mind Twist's power is high enough and you can't find anything you want from Alliances or Mirage, then maybe you want the first option for Standard instead of this one.

Fourth Edition, Chronicles, Alliances, Mirage, Visions (Black Vise, Ivory Tower, Mind Twist, and Strip Mine are banned) — Here, you lose Fallen Empires, Homelands, and Ice Age, most of which you might not miss, and you gain Visions. Maybe you weren't going to run Strip Mine in a three-color deck to begin with, so this ban is okay to you. But that ban feels worse if you're running a commander like Stangg, where your fixing is fine enough to run Strip Mine.

Ninth Edition, Ravnica block, Coldsnap, Time Spiral block — Yes, Nicol Bolas was timeshifted, and pairing him with some Ravnican friends sounds pretty tasty.

Ravnica block, Coldsnap, Time Spiral block, Tenth Edition - Both Ninth Edition and Tenth Edition give three-color decks all ten painlands. That is a very big deal when you start building and find out how little color-fixing you get in Eternal Brawl compared to Commander.

Coldsnap, Time Spiral block, Tenth Edition, Lorwyn/Shadowmoor block — Which multicolored block do you like more? Do you have more of the filter lands than shock lands? Shadowmoor's hybrid mana cards mean it's easier for you to swing the color commitments, but maybe that's not enough to take you off the Ravnica block's power.

Each of those gives you a very different deck, and it's not always clear which blocks are best suited for a commander until you start fitting the pieces together. I recommend finding cards you like in the block your commander comes from; that way, if you like the core, you're using either side of the block as a supplement and picking which one you like more.

What do Eternal Brawl decks look like?

I threw together a Nezahal, Primal Tide deck for Standard Brawl to get the feel of building for the format. Once I felt comfortable with the decision points, I built three Eternal Brawl decks that span all five colors and have different Standard formats. As I completed them the day I'm writing this, I have not yet played with them, but based on my initial games with Nezahal, I'm confident that A) I'm headed in the right direction with Brawl deck-building, and B) these decks offer major fun, and very different types of fun from each other. I get what the appeal of Brawl is now that I'm building for Eternal Brawl, and I think you'll like it if you give it a try.

Let's start with my oldest Standard brawler:


Normally, a Llawan Commander deck wants what Invasion block has to offer — color-changing cards like Blind Seer, Crystal Spray, and Sway of Illusion to alter Llawan and other creatures into whatever the situation requires. Because this is a 60-card deck instead of a 100-card deck, that rare strain of cards shows up more frequently than in Commander, making it a more viable plan. Plus, Seventh Edition, released in between the Invasion and Odyssey blocks, gives you Counterspell, and who doesn't want to run Counterspell?

But that runs into a big problem when you try to make a Mono-Blue creature curve out of fewer than two blocks (since Invasion block is multicolored, you don't get as many choices as you'd like from it). To find creatures capable of winning games, you have to run Cognivore and Benthic Behemoth. Not only are those mana-intensive in a format with little ramp and the possibility of aggro decks due to starting at 30 life; they're also subpar finishers compared to uncommon creatures in Standard Brawl (compare Seventh Edition's Benthic Behemoth to Amonkhet's Scaled Behemoth).

What you lose in synergy by switching to Odyssey block/Onslaught block/Eighth Edition Standard, you gain both in creature quality and classic creature-stealing spells. Eighth Edition provides Bribery and Onslaught provides Blatant Thievery; combined with Odyssey's Cultural Exchange, you can shore up Mono-Blue's creature deficiencies by eating off your opponents' plates.

The other big thing is that Scourge provides Day of the Dragons to upgrade your creatures into a flying army. That lets the deck run a creature curve with sizable stats because of everybody's (read: my) favorite Odyssey block creatures: the Wormfangs. They're decent power-to-cost creatures, but since they're in Blue back when Blue wasn't generally allowed that sort of thing, they come with big enters-the-battlefield drawbacks — Oblivion Ring-ing one of your lands, or one of your creatures, or for Wormfang Crab a permanent of an opponent's choice. But that plays well with both Day of the Dragons's blink and a card Commander players don't get to play but that was big in this era of Standard: Upheaval.

Yes, part of the fun of Eternal Brawl is getting to break out Commander-banned cards in multiplayer environments that are much safer for them because they're not comboing with the entirety of Magic — just two years of it. In this deck, if I've got a land and creature or two under my Wormfangs and I then cast Upheaval, I'll get all those things back onto the battlefield and be several permanents ahead of my opponents. That's as winning a formula now as it was back in its original Standard, and while random creatures are not as good as Psychatog, they'll get the job done.

Now fast forward a couple years to a deck that gets as much ramp and fatties as Blue doesn't:


One of the biggest lessons I learned from building Nezahal is that the comparative lack of ramp and tutoring in Brawl means you don't have as much space for packing cards like Shatterstorm as you do in Commander, as the inability to consistently access a particular card means you either jam your deck with Shatterstorm effects or are better off ignoring them. That leaves more room for decks like this one, a Bosh Affinity deck at its core. It's heavy on artifact ramp both for affinity and because Bosh being an 8-drop makes him hard to cast in the format naturally.

Other than Bosh, the deck just wants to hit hard and recur artifacts occasionally. Kamigawa block provides Heartless Hidetsugu and Umezawa's Jitte for some classic multiplayer beats, while Darksteel provides a Commander-banned card in Sundering Titan. I could have built this without Saviors of Kamigawa to get access to Great Furnace and Darksteel Citadel, but I really liked what Adamaro, First to Desire did for the aggressive side of the deck, and Hidetsugu's Second Rite has just enough chance of going off in a 30-life format that I had to try it.

Because Brawl of any type makes your synergy-based decks have enough cards to go with it in a way Standard doesn't have to worry about — here you have to find 35 different cards instead of nine to 12 - finding two-card synergies is important in Brawl deck-building. Lodestone Myr looks good in an artifact-heavy deck regardless, but its ability to break the symmetry of Howling Mine and Blinkmoth Urn by tapping them at the end of your turn is great. And again, unlike Commander, putting these in 60-card decks increases the odds that nifty discoveries like this will come up in a game.

Overall, note that there are many Commander staples in this deck — Myr Retriever, Solemn Simulacrum, and Darksteel Ingot are all familiar to 100-card mavens. And that will happen with most Eternal Brawl decks — there are around a dozen cards you're used to casting and that give you a framework for how the rest of the deck will function.

Speaking of staples, here's what you can get if you choose a Standard sympathetic to multicolored decks:


A cross between the weird creatures you only seen in Doran decks, like Indomitable Ancients and Grizzled Leotau, and an Abzan value deck, I've seen or played most of these in Commander decks. The hardest part about building this deck was choosing the Standard format. Time Spiral block and Coldsnap give Wall of Roots, Heartwood Storyteller, and Adarkar Valkyrie, but Alara block gives Wall of Reverence, Path to Exile, and Maelstrom Pulse. If you choose Alara block as I did, that gives another choice between Tenth Edition (Angelic Wall and Abundance) and Magic 2010 (Baneslayer Angel and Lurking Predators).

I chose the sets I did because they gave me a legitimately great mana-fixing package. As mentioned earlier, getting Tenth Edition painlands was a big deal versus just Sunpetal Grove from Magic 2010. But the key is how many ways I can tutor for Murmuring Bosk and fix all my colors. Safewright Quest gave me that option regardless of what Standard I chose, but Tenth Edition provides Sylvan Scrying and Joiner Adept, while Alara block provides Knight of the Reliquary and Pale Recluse.

Along the way, Qasali Pridemage, Wickerbough Elder, and Archon of Justice provide some of the best creature utility in Magic's history, never mind for a specific Standard format. I think this is the template for getting non-creature removal into a Brawl deck; there just isn't room in the deck or on the curve to perpetually hold up Krosan Grip.

My favorite dream-big two-card combo in here is Necroskitter and Pyrrhic Revival. Reanimating everybody's graveyards is usually bad, but this deck's creatures have enough toughness to survive better than most, and if Necroskitter's out, every opposing reanimated creature that dies, whether immediately for being an X/1 or later, will become yours. It's an interaction too narrow to build into Commander, but the Eternal Brawl pool is shallow enough and the deck small enough to hope for it. And that's what I'm loving most about Brawl building — those spaces that exist between Standard's tight synergies and Commander's mix of redundancy and kitchen-sink. You have to avoid dying early, you have to care about curve, and your removal has to be broadly applicable (like the Austere Command in this deck), but that still leaves room for some cool stuff that come up more due to deck size.

Conclusion

Look over the spreadsheet to get a sense of what's possible, and if you're nostalgic for a given era of Standard, why not build an Eternal Brawl deck around it? There are loads of sweet options available, from a Kamahl, Fist of Krosa Elf-Clamp build to an Ajani Goldmane-led Kithkin/token-fest (planeswalkers can lead Brawl decks too) to a Mirko Vosk, Mind Drinker deck that gets to mill 60-card decks instead of 100-card ones. A lot of annoying commanders, like Jhoira of the Ghitu, are naturally bounded by access to two years of cards instead of 25; if you enjoy their gameplay but not the reaction you get when playing them, try them here.

Whatever you think about the official Brawl format, I encourage you to try Eternal Brawl. And if you make something great, let me know, or beat me with it at Grand Prix Seattle!


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