It's been a week, and Brawl has already been broken.
Baral, Chief of Compliance was banned in 1v1 Commander due to how powerful and oppressive it is to have near-permanent access to a card like this, and he's already ravaging the Brawl tournaments on Magic Online. Jamin Kauf, who co-hosts the podcast Stacking Hundreds with Thoralf Severin and me, had an incredible undefeated run right through this weekend's Brawl Challenge, cleaning up by going 10-0.
The deck itself is a mono-blue masterwork, playing more or less every half-decent counter in Standard in addition to some hard-hitting finishers. It's classic, old fashioned control - and with Baral, Chief of Compliance providing two incredibly relevant and incredibly powerful abilities, the deck is just too good. Here's what Kauf used to crush his enemies in the Challenge.
As you can plainly see, this deck is more or less all-in on a single game plan: play Baral on turn two, counter every relevant play they make on a one-for-one basis, then reload with draw spells to do it all again until the game is locked up. Baral naturally smooths out awkward draws by looting, and it's difficult for this deck to be put in a position where it truly struggles.
Reducing the cost of all the countermagic in this deck is just absurd – it means that opponents can't hope to sandbag enough threats and safely unload them through countermagic once you're tapped out. Turning Cancel into actual, literal Counterspell is bonkers, not to mention playing Negate and Revolutionary Rebuff for just a single mana!
It doesn't stop at countermagic, however – there is a smattering of permanent interaction with cards like Expel from Orazca, Blink of an Eye and River's Rebuke for when things don't go exactly to plan. Lastly, Chart a Course, Glimmer of Genius and of course the mighty Pull from Tomorrow are all cheapened by Baral, turning fair, modern-day draw spells into ridiculous powerhouses that hark back to Magic's olden days.
You would think a quick, aggressive deck might have what it takes to pile on enough pressure to take Baral to task, but that simply isn't the case – not only does Baral block small creatures as a 1/3, the starting life total of 30 means that the game will go long enough to wrestle any aggro player under the yoke of a squillion counters.
What about going big, another traditional way to overcome permission decks? The issue any ramp deck will face when coming up against Baral is the sheer number of irrelevant cards they have in the matchup. Baral doesn't have to counter any of the ramp spells – just the huge payoff cards. Additionally, in the late game lands aren't dead draws for Baral, as they can be looted away or used to fuel a massive Pull from Tomorrow. Any deck going up against Baral, however, is going to have a terrible time topdecking lands late in the piece.
As soon as this deck pulls ahead, it's very, very difficult for any deck to stage a comeback. Countering spells will help Baral draw further counters, establishing something that feels a little bit like a soft lock – it's just so hard for Baral to draw badly in the late game thanks to his looting ability! Once the game is on lock, there are an extremely limited number of cards that a Baral deck has to worry about – but there are a few.
Firstly, creatures with eternalise are tricky. They require a Disallow or a timely Scavenger Grounds to be effectively neutered, and a judicious opponent will time their eternalizing very carefully to play around the answers you have. Often, it's better to let a Resilient Khenra stay on the board – held off by your fearsome 1/3 commander – than to have it hit the bin.
Secondly, utility lands can sometimes be a problem as counters (outside of Disallow) don't interact with them. Most significantly, an opposing Scavenger Grounds can hit a Commit // Memory in your 'yard. Memory is crucial in drawn-out games to prevent decking, which is at risk of happening quicker than usual with all the looting and card draw, so do what you can to protect it from being exiled.
Similarly, Arch of Orazca can fuel opponents into the late game and steer them toward card parity - the only answer is Field of Ruin. Having said this, it's often too late for an opponent to catch up (especially after a massive Pull from Tomorrow), so the Arch isn't the silver bullet you might think it could be.
Finally, Carnage Tyrant is a commonly played anti-control card that can cause some headaches for this deck. However, there are still several answers to it: double-blocking with Baral and Gearhulk, targeting it with Commit while on the stack, River's Rebuke or blocking with tokens produced by Metallurgic Summonings. While the card can be a problem, there are enough tools in the deck to ensure it doesn't completely wreck you.
Kauf's dream run was capped off with a masterfully piloted mirror match in the finals. Unsurprising, considering how far ahead this deck is of all other contenders! If you're considering taking Baral for a spin, you can be certain you'll have to get through a fair few mirror matches – here's what you need to know.
There is no one-mana Counterspell for Baral. This means that the first two turns are always both players deploying their respective commanders. Critically, this allows the person on the play to then jam a card advantage or selection engine like Search for Azcanta, Azor's Gateway or Treasure Map – and still keep up one mana for any number of potential counters.
Your best bet to pull ahead is to initiate a counter war over an end-of-turn draw spell, baiting your opponent into tapping out; you then have the opportunity to resolve a powerful mirror-breaker and pull ahead. Nezahal, Primal Tide is an example of such a card – when backed up with counters or enough cards in hand to protect it, it's essentially unanswerable. Who would have guessed that an uncounterable card advantage engine that also happens to be 7/7 would be good in a blue control mirror?
As Foretold is another crucial card in this matchup, as the long-term mana advantage it provides really can't be overlooked. However, the perhaps most emphatic way to snatch a victory from your opponent is by drawing your Mox Amber in the first two turns. On the play, deploying a Baral followed up by Mox Amber is essentially game over, as you can use Censor/Rebuff/Syncopate/Jace's Defeat to counter their Baral. Easy game.
This deck isn't perfect, and could still bear improvement. It's incredible to think that a deck that is so powerful and tough to beat could still be made better, but that's the way it is – there are some clear upgrades that would further strengthen this powerhouse list.
I caught up with Kauf about his vision for the deck moving forward, and the first card he's looking to get rid of is Dynavault Tower. "It's too slow at killing Baral in the mirror," he explained. "Taking out your opponent's small creatures is usually not necessary."
Kauf added the other cards on the chopping block. "Precognition Field is just a bad card," he told me. "I also think I'll cut Entrancing Melody, as stealing creatures is not important and usually kind of a win-more thing."
Given the deck's core comprises of counters, are there any changes that should be made to the suite of countermagic? "Essence Scatter is pretty bad in the mirror but fine everywhere else," said Kauf. "You're also able to loot it away when it's irrelevant, so I'll keep it in mind."
Apart from this, Kauf is looking for another way to shore up one of the deck's few weaknesses. "I want another way to prevent decking," he revealed. "Commit // Memory can get exiled to Scavenger Grounds. Someone suggested Perpetual Timepiece, but I don't know if I like that."
Kauf was kind enough to share the updated decklist he's currently running through the leagues.
Baral, Chief of Compliance will be banned in Brawl. There's no doubt about it. This card is not only supremely oppressive, it also enables a type of game play that many find miserable and probably runs counter to the intended spirit and philosophy of the format. Additionally, it doesn't seem like the format is equipped to deal with what Baral does, unless Prowling Serpopard suddenly becomes the best card in the format.
Make hay while the sun shines, my friends – before much longer, Baral will be watching from the sidelines.
- Riley Knight