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How to Play Brawl Format in Magic: The Gathering

Jeremy casts spells in between his careers as a chemical analyst and campus manager.

Magic: The Gathering has long enticed fans with a variety of great formats, one of the most recent being its new brawl playstyle. Officially supported by Wizards of the Coast, brawl combines some elements from standard format with some from commander to create an interesting hybrid worth exploring.

Brawl format in Magic: The Gathering

Brawl format in Magic: The Gathering

How Brawl Works in Magic

  • 60 card deck (including your commander) from standard-legal sets
  • Only one copy of any card (except basic lands)
  • Only cards within your commander's colors can be included
  • 25 life with two players; 30 live with three or more players
  • One free mulligan in both 1v1 and multiplayer

Like standard, brawl has players create decks of 60 cards from the latest Magic sets, meaning older cards aren't allowed. However, like commander, you pick a legendary creature of planeswalker from the current expansion to serve as your general, who is available throughout the match and can be recast from the command zone for an extra two mana (times the number of revivals).

Note that (unlike commander), you can use any current planeswalker as commander even if they don't specifically state such, and there's no commander damage win condition. Also, your deck can only duplicate basic lands; everything else has to be unique and fall within your commander's color identity, which you can quickly review below.

How to Determine the Color Identity of a Commander

For both brawl and commander, your deck can contain only colors that your commander possesses. For instance, the above blue/red Brudiclad lets you use blue, red, and blue-red cards. Additionally, all decks can make use of colorless cards, which include lands and most artifacts.

However, color identity is determined not just by symbols in a card's mana cost, but also those in its rule text. For instance, take a look at the thumbnailed "Daghatar the Adamant." His summoning cost only needs white mana, but he also includes a black/green mana trait, meaning his total color scheme is white, black, and green; using him as commander (or including him in your deck) would utilize all three hues.

Are More Colors Better?
In a sense; the more colors your commander has, the greater the number of cards you can deck-build with. That said, as you add additional hues, you run greater risks of drawing the wrong land types; for instance, even if you possessed two swamps and two forests, you wouldn't be able to play Daghatar because he needs at least one white mana in his casting.

Sorcerous Spyglass (banned)

Sorcerous Spyglass (banned)

What Is Brawl's Ban List?

Banned cards can't be used as commander or included in your deck. Brawl does not use standard or commander's regular ban list, so make sure to stay informed when crafting your build. As of this writing, only "Sorcerous Spyglass" is forbidden in this format.

The Disadvantages of Brawl

Some players haven't taken fondly to brawl, and I can understand why, but some of the complaints aren't really its fault. Magic already has multiple sanctioned (plus several unofficial) playstyles, so adding another further muddies the waters, even if it's a good one. Additionally, many commander players enjoy having access to old cards, which I certainly understand.

Still, your friend group is always welcome to bend the rules and allow standard games with older cards, essentially letting you play commander but with smaller, cheaper decks and less-intimidating matches to newbies. Plus, if you enjoy standard, you'll already possess a good chunk of the cards needed for brawl.

The Advantages of Brawl

Brawl mixes the best elements of standard and commander into one ultimate package. You've got the consistency, color schemes, and diversity (with new cards appearing each match) of commander, but the smaller (and more affordable) deck sizes of standard. And since only cards from the current sets are allowed, you don't have to scour through hundreds of old units when constructing your build.

Don't get me wrong, I love EDH, but it needs an updated ban list, and brawl helps enjoy a similar format without consistently facing broken cards (duel commander is another nice alternative). Despite the lukewarm reception, I'm interested in the future of this intriguing new playstyle. But for now, as we eagerly await Wizards of the Coast's next expansion of brawl-worthy spells, vote for your favorite format, and I'll see you at our next MTG countdown!

© 2018 Jeremy Gill