After playing a double-header of Dominaria Sealed prerelease events, I happened to walk by a small gathering of players who were jamming games of a crazy looking format. There were a bunch of buck-wild Constructed cards on the battlefield and what appeared to be generals in the the command zone. What the deuce?

I quickly realized these players were “Brawling,” which is to say, playing a relatively new casual Constructed format. It was the first time in a while that I actively regretted not having planned ahead of the curve to design and bring my own deck! Lucky for me, my friend Jono did, and had some extra decks sleeved up so that I could join in the fun.

What Is Brawl and Why Is it Great?

Brawl is a brand new casual/Constructed format that Wizards of the Coast recently announced during Dominaria spoiler season.

The CliffNotes version of the format is as follows:

  • 60-card highlander (no more than one of each card with the exception of basic lands).
  • Standard cards only.
  • Each player chooses a legendary creature or planeswalker to be their commander and must build around that creature or planeswalker’s color identity.
  • Players start with 30 life rather than 20.
  • The format can be played heads up, but Wizards suggests that it makes a fantastic multiplayer format.

Sounds great. Let’s try it out!

Before I had even played a game I felt like I was going to enjoy the format. I love the way it encourages players to explore the Standard card pool in a new way. Instead of looking for a core 6-10 cards to build a typical deck around this format requires players to look for 30+ unique spells that work well together.

Believe it or not, games of Magic can be a lot of fun when players are required to think beyond just doing the same handful of obviously powerful tactics over and over again. You know the drill—one of the big draws of formats like Commander, Cube, or Highlander is the fact that each game yields very different scenarios and gameplay.

Applying Commander rules to Standard works in some interesting ways. First of all, with a smaller card pool it is difficult to create a deck with too much redundancy. I designed a Sliver Overlord Commander deck years ago that was basically 50 different flavors of Rampant Growth and a combo that I could tutor up. It does not appear at the onset that these types of redundant decks are a thing. Thanks small card pool of Standard!

The takeaway is that I love the way the format encourages creativity in deckbuilding and provides extremely diverse lines of game play (because of less redundancy). If you like to brew and play lots of different kinds of games, Brawl is tailor made for you (and me!).

My First Attempt at a Brawl Deck

I got a chance to battle a few games after the prerelease with my friend’s deck: Nicol Bolas (Grixis Treasure) versus Nissa, Steward of Elements (Merfolk). The first thing I wanted to do when I got home was to brew my very own deck. I did a Gatherer search of legendary creatures and planeswalkers to find a general.

Hapatra, Vizier of Poisons

Brian DeMars

I’ve always thought that Hapatra, Vizer of Poison was a really neat Magic card. I also have the added nostalgia of my Team Sealed teammate Kyle Boggemes calling his shot of opening the powerful legend in both of our Amonkhet Sealed pools!

I don’t know a ton about the Brawl metagame. I wanted to build a deck that would be decent in 1v1 and multiplayer, and this grindy -1/-1 counter synergy has played fairly nicely. It isn’t the most spikey deck but it is powerful and consistent. Most importantly, it’s a blast to play!

The second deck that I’ve been working on is built around Kambal, Consul of Allocation. The card is obviously powerful in multiplayer and lends itself to a flavorful Orzhov strategy.

Kambal, Consul of Allocutions

Brian DeMars

My second try at building a deck came out even better than the first! Not surprising, as I learned a lot about which kinds of cards were good from the first run.

Kambal is a house in multiplayer since it triggers for each opponent who dares to cast a noncreature spell while it is in play. The “drain 2” isn’t particularly scary to any individual opponent but the damage adds up. In particular, it results in the B/W deck gaining a handsome sum of life over the course of a long game.

The deck also has a lot of good mass removal, as well as some potent late-game threats to wrap up the game.

At this point, it is a little bit tough to actually build decks because I don’t really know what other people are even playing! I wanted to hedge and have a couple of decks that could rumble in 1v1 or multiplayer, because I honestly don’t know whether potential brawl opponents will be more likely to want to play multiplayer or 1v1 next time I’m up at the game store. The good news is that I built my first couple of decks to do either, which means that no matter how people feel like playing, I’ll be able to join in the fun!

I assume that as the format continues to gain popularity that most decks will shift toward being either focused on 1v1 play or multiplayer, but it’s kind of cool that for the moment most people are just brewing and doing both. It’s a really fun time to be dabbling in a new format because nobody really knows that they are doing, which means you can do whatever you want.

I wanted to play Hapatra and Kambal, and so I am. Pick a favorite and brew a list. It’s fun.