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Can Brawl Damage Commander? The Arcane Signet Dilemma

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I want to explain my concern with what is happening with Arcane Signet, but I want to start by telling you what I'm not trying to do here:

  1. I'm not trying to tell you that that Arcane Signet is a bad card. Far from it. If you were hoping that I was going down that route, you are out of luck.
  2. I'm not talking about the dollar cost of the card. I am no finance guy. I don't know if the card will be twenty dollars, one dollar, or five cents.
  3. I'm not advocating for a ban. Or an unban. This is something completely different.

What I want to do is bring you through a series of points relating to Arcane Signet that will lead you to concerns about the Brawl preconstructed decks and how they will affect the Commander format. Let's get started.

Point One: Arcane Signet is really good in Commander.

This is an artifact that costs two mana and taps to give you one mana of any color you want in your Commander deck. This is good ramp. There are three criteria for excellent mana rocks. The first is that it cost two mana. Some mana rocks cost three and are considered good, but generally that is because they do something else. If the artifact is just tapping for mana, it should cost two mana. The second criteria is whether it enters the battlefield tapped. Arcane Signet doesn't do that, so we are good there too. The third criteria is whether it taps for colored mana or not. If the artifact just taps for colorless mana, it is "fine," but getting a colored mana from it is key. In this case, Arcane Signet gives you any mana you want. This is ramp that essentially costs you one mana the turn you play it, since you can tap it to offset the second mana, then every turn after gives you an extra mana!

This is excellent ramp! While I won't be running it in decks that have access to Green ramp, non-Green decks will be running this. I would argue that it is good enough to put into mono-colored decks. In these decks it is an artifact that taps for the color of your deck on turn two. It isn't a Medallion, but it is good enough for these decks. In two-color decks it is better than any Signet. Signet costs two and then you need another mana to activate it to get one mana of each color. Arcane Signet costs two and you get one mana of either color without having to spend another. Every turn after that, your regular Signet gives you one mana of either color while Arcane Signet can do that just by tapping for the color of mana that you didn't tap to activate the Signet, or you can get two mana of one color. Just think of the options as a Boros player with a two Plains and a Boros Signet in play as opposed to two Plains and an Arcane Signet in play. Arcane Signet gives you more options and activates first. And this doesn't even touch how good Arcane Signet will be in decks with more than two colors!

Point Two: Arcane Signet is an auto-include in a lot of decks.

So many get up in arms when I mention auto-includes, so let me just start by saying what an auto-include is to me. When I am building a deck, there are certain cards that start in every single decklist. Command Tower, Sol Ring, and Arcane Signet are a few examples. There are others, but you understand what I'm saying with these three examples. They gradually get weeded out as a commander is chosen. If I choose a mono-colored commander, I'm taking out Command Tower. If I choose a commander who includes Green, I'll take Arcane Signet out. If I look carefully at the commander and the deck and determine that colorless mana isn't helpful, I'll take out Sol Ring. It has never happened, but I won't say it never will.

Arcane Signet is an auto-include in every non-Green Commander deck that requires colored mana. I just laid out how good it is in point one. If your deck should be running any of the guild signets, then Arcane Signet should also be in the deck. It is simply that good.

Point Three: Auto-includes are bad for Commander

One of the defining aspects of Commander is the deck-building. Standard and most other formats involve you putting four copies of nine different cards in a deck, then adding lands to make it work. Commander asks you to find sixty (!) different cards, then add lands that also fit what your deck is doing, then finally round it off with basic lands. Commander is a deck-building paradise! Players find cool cards that others haven't found. They run funky decks with wild interactions. A big part of Commander is the actual deck-building.

Auto-includes take that aspect and say, "you should use these cards." Every time another card is created that is good enough to be an auto-include, the format loses some of its individuality. Remember those sixty different cards you are going to add to this deck that is completely you? Sol Ring means that you are looking at fifty-nine cards. Arcane Signet brings you to fifty-eight. Commander players like Wizards to make good cards, but we don't want the cards to be so good that it becomes a mistake not to run it.

Point Four: Brawl decks are Standard legal

The whole point of Brawl decks is that they are Standard legal. You want to be able to build a Brawl deck with cards you have left over from drafting. At least that's how it was originally sold. Then Wizards started to recognize the limitations of Brawl. How do you support two or three-colored commanders? Standard has mana fixing, but not a lot. This is when they decided to add some cards to Standard that would only be in the Brawl decks. The problem is making cards that offer mana fixing for Brawl, but do nothing to the Standard format. If you weren't worried about Standard, you could have made 10 mana rocks that were exactly the same as Arcane Signet, but just tapped for one of two guild colors (ie. Add u or b). Those would still be very good but only in more specific decks. It wouldn't be an auto-include in so many decks.

Could you imagine what those 10 mana rocks would do to Standard? That is the last thing Wizards would want, so instead we get one Signet that only works in formats that have a commander.

Point Five: If you want Brawl decks to sell, make them appeal to Commander players.

There are a handful of ways to achieve this. Cool commanders go a long way all on their own. A few commander reprints that are safe for Standard will work too. Both of these options will only sell the decks to players who specifically want that commander. A card like Arcane Signet, that most of the Commander base will want multiple copies of, guarantees the Brawl decks will sell. While I don't doubt that Arcane Signets will be reprinted in future Commander decks at the same rate as Command Towers and Sol Rings, right now, there are limited ways to get them, and the Brawl decks are the best way, specifically because they are auto-includes.

The need to appeal to Commander players is the issue. Wizards can come up with cards that can work in Brawl, that Standard players won't want, that aren't auto-includes in Commander. The problem is whether those cards will be enough to draw Commander players into buying the cards. Auto-includes are obviously strong cards that Commander players will want, so Wizards is incentivized to make those cards.

Point Six: Brawl decks will damage Commander.

Brawl decks will need mana fixing in a way that Standard decks can't use. This means they will need cards beyond Arcane Signet to do that. Admittedly, the format does rotate, so in theory, they could reprint Arcane Signet in two years to make it legal in Brawl again, all while adding to the number of Arcane Signets available. I just can't decide if they'll actually do that. A three-mana rock that taps for two mana of any color in your commander's color identity would not be as good as Arcane Signet, but it is pretty solid. Watch for other impressive cards in the Brawl decks that dodge the Standard limitation by mentioning the commander or the command zone. They want cards that appeal to Commander players, but they are nicking away at what makes Commander such a fun format just a little bit every time a card like Arcane Signet appears. Unlike Brawl or Standard, Arcane Signet will be with Commander players for a long time.

Commander is a strong format. Printing a card like Arcane Signet is not going to kill the format. Consistently using the pattern that produced Arcane Signet is a path best not traveled. This will make deck-building less fun and will leave some players looking for something else. Wizards knows the dangers involved in simply offering more powerful options in a non-rotating format. They need to heed those warnings.

Bruce Richard

@manaburned

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