At first, I was skeptical of Brawl. I assumed that the Standard card pool would force you to play too many atrocious cards.
I also believed that The Scarab God would be unstoppable. Using The Scarab God as your commander would mean that you would consistently have him on turn 5 in your blue-black control deck. Since it’s a singleton format, there would be even fewer answers for him than normal. Even if they found their Vraska’s Contempt, you could just cast him again later for 2 more mana, with even less chance of your opponent having another removal spell. Lastly, having 30 life gives such a blue-black control deck a lot more time to win with a grindy card like the The Scarab God.
So what made me change my mind? First, I was interested in the new legendaries coming out from Dominaria and with that, which cards were available for those new commanders. The card pool was definitely large enough for a 60-card singleton format. More than enough. Cutting cards was actually painful!
The other reason was that I found that beating The Scarab God was realistic if you’re crafty. More than realistic, it wasn’t even that hard. U/B has trouble dealing with enchantments, and cards like Gideon’s Intervention make it increasingly difficult for such a deck to even function without being able to cast their God. Sure, they can have Blink of an Eye, Commit // Memory, or Consign // Oblivion, but it will still become increasingly awkward. It’s not just Gideon’s Intervention, either. Cards like Deep Freeze or even Desert’s Hold are effective at dealing with TSG as well.
Outside of specific answers, dealing with him by exiling or countering him is more effective than you might think, even if you just do it a couple of times. After playing tons and tons of 1v1 EDH, I learned that cheaper commanders are a lot better than they look, even if they may seem underpowered.
The first reason is that they will always count as an “extra card in your hand.” Say that your commander costs 2 or 3. That means that you will definitely be able to cast it in a normal game as if you’ve drawn an eight-card hand. But if your commander is Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh and costs 7, it will be a lot of time before you can cast him at all.
Second, if your commander costs 2 mana and is worth trading a card for every time, you can recast it at 4 mana. Then at 6 mana. Compared to someone who casts their commander for the first time at 6 mana, if you’ve cast yours three times already, you’re up two cards. To add to the complexity, hitting land drops from six to seven or seven to eight is a lot harder than going from two to three. Hitting your third land drop on turn 3 will almost always happen on turn 3, while hitting your eighth land drop usually happens a lot later than turn 8. Recasting a card like The Scarab God for 7, 9, or 11 mana takes a lot more time than recasting your 2-drop commander.
Of course, 5- or 6-mana commanders are a lot more powerful than the third iteration of your 2-mana commander, but this complex part of the format should impact how you choose your commander more than you’d expect. I remember a long time ago when I wanted to build a Esper deck for the first time, and chose to go with Sharuum the Hegemon. That, after tons of play, was changed to Sen Triplets to make the deck smoother, which in the end turned into Merieke Ri Berit. The difference is huge!
Speaking of cheap, sweet commanders being great, why not start out with our first deck?
Commander: Shanna, Sisay’s Legacy
Shanna, Sisay’s Legacy is quite cheap, but to force your opponent to respect Shanna, you need to fill the deck with tons of creatures—and what’s the best way to do that? Tokens.
Since Brawl only includes Standard cards, there aren’t a ton of different playable wrath-effects, meaning that you will put a lot of pressure on your opponents to remove your tokens one by one.
When I researched this idea, I was surprised by the number of good token cards and effects that synergize with them. Besides Shanna herself, Huatli, Radiant Champion, Song of Freyalise, and Anointed Procession are nuts with tokens. Whenever this deck draws Anointed Procession, things get wild, since almost every card interacts well with it. I even included Benefaction of Rhonas, a card you don’t see every day, to find Anointed Procession while filling your graveyard with cards to bring back. Finding these hidden gems of the format that haven’t been shown a lot of love is one of the things I love about 1v1 EDH and Brawl.
Lastly, you may have noticed that my deck doesn’t contain a lot of 2-drops save some necessary powerful ones for this strategy. Another advantage of having a proactive 2-drop commander is that you almost always want to cast it on turn 2. You don’t really need tons of other 2-drops to make your curve work. This also means that you can fill the deck with higher cost cards without making the deck too clunky, which is great.
Next up, I have a completely different option with a more expensive, more powerful commander that I believe we will see plenty of in Standard.
Commander: Teferi, Hero of Dominaria
Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir is my favorite card of all time. Teferi, Hero of Dominaria isn’t really the same thing, but he’ll do. Compared to say Ob Nixilis, Reignited, his minus ability doesn’t just remove creatures, but any nonland permanent. His plus ability doesn’t lose you any life, and it even untaps your mana to keep up reactive spells. His ultimate is even better! The only downside to Teferi is that he’s two colors (which, in Commander, is an upside).
Teferi is amazing, and his interaction versus The Scarab God is incredible. If these two commanders match up against each other, it becomes quite awkward for The Scarab God. Why? Because if you jam The Scarab God, the U/W player can just respond by playing Teferi, sending The Scarab God to their library or command zone, leaving an active planeswalker for the U/W player.
To enable Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, the best way is to go into a heavy control plan. Given that your commander is a planeswalker, you can also dodge tons of removal. This way, you already have an advantage over many other decks. Remember that you might get into an awkward position where even if you have taken control of the game, your opponent runs so much removal that they can kill all of your threats, leaving you no way to win. There is a way around that by taking control so profoundly that you exile all of your opponent’s lands with Teferi’s ultimate and then win the game. Since this road to victory is strenuous to say the least, I included Approach of the Second Sun, a win-con that can’t be dealt with by removal.
With some additional tools from Dominaria, filling your deck with reactive spells and card advantage isn’t hard. As I mentioned earlier, I even had to cut cards I felt strongly about. As you can see, there are tons of counterspells in this deck—more than in a normal Standard deck. Brawl will have so many different kind of threats and situations to answer that counterspells are the most efficient solution.
I even have more Essence Scatter effects than normal. Most of your opponents will have creature commanders, and you need to answer them effectively. Extra sweet is the addition of Hornswoggle. Not only does it have a great name, but it curves directly into Teferi, which will catch most opponents off-guard when they are trying to play threats to pressure you. It’s the Teferi deck’s own Benefaction of Rhonas!
I’m actually excited about Brawl. Since I travel to tournaments and play professionally, I own most Standard cards, meaning that playing the format and assembling decks will be super convenient. It might be the next thing to do between rounds or when I just need a break on a trip. If this is the case, you will see more about Brawl from me in the future! For now, what commanders would you play in Brawl and which ones do you think I should write about in the future?