Brawl has now been out and available to the public now for a few weeks. I've had the chance to attend PaxEast and spoke to several players from around the country who have built decks and played the format to get their sense of things and what they think of the format in general beyond the uninformed hot takes we were getting when Wizards first released the format. I focused my questions about Brawl in its multiplayer format rather than 1v1. These were very informal so I won't be quoting anyone. My thanks to everyone I spoke to about Brawl and for sharing your input since it was released!
I asked this primarily to people who had Brawl decks and were looking to play games. While most Magic players had heard of Brawl as a format, most didn't have a deck. Reasons varied, but there was no real consensus. When presented with the option of using someone else's deck, virtually everyone was willing to try it out.
PaxEast had Brawl as an available format every evening. Players were divided into four-player pods and invited to battle casually. The value for those tournaments (for lack of a better term) was great and ended up meaning that the actual cost of playing was only a dollar or two, since I understand no prizes were awarded. The player I spoke to estimated the turnout to be between eight and 20 each night.
The players I spoke to said that the format only seemed to be going as far as the local store was willing to carry it. Interested Brawlers are still hopeful for steady growth and players I talked to had played between five and 25 games, but it doesn't appear to be taking over the popularity of Commander any time soon.
This really wasn't a question I was asking of most players. I made the assumption that a four-player game is best, simply because it is the optimal number for Commander games and most 60-card games. One playermentioned that he preferred three-player games instead. There were fewer, and smaller, board stalls in three-player games, so the games moved a little faster. I noticed this in games too, but still preferred to interplay of a four-player game.
This was something I was very interested in. Part of the difficulty with Commander is the wide range of power in the decks. The best games tend to involve decks with similar power levels. I hoped to find out if the power balance was more easily achieved in Brawl, with the thought that a Standard-sized card pool would limit the range of power among decks.
This does not appear to be the case. Optimizing one's deck for a new format is difficult so even determining what is optimized and what isn't is difficult. This early in the existence of the format, most players are just choosing a Brawlstar (no, I wish I had thought of it!) and adding legal cards and calling it a deck. With this, games are all over the place with some carefully crafted decks with powerful commanders running roughshod over more casual builds.
I expect this will change in the long run as players get better at putting together decks, but for now, Brawl is the Wild West of formats. The benefit multiplayer Brawl has is multiple players who can work together against a single powerful deck. This can certainly help the format.
Commander players are often frustrated by the length of Commander games. Two-hour long games are commonplace and it was hoped that Brawl would offer a multiplayer game with a shorter duration.
The answer from everyone has been a resounding no. While there are some shorter games, game length tends to be just as long, or longer, than the average Commander game. My Brawl games were regularly over two hours. I did find three-player games were shorter, but three-player Commander games are shorter too. The games were generally long and grindy. With a smaller deck I would have expected a chance at more games ending with the inability to draw cards, but that wasn't the case. The games tended to go longer because of convoluted board states that demanded consideration before anyone would consider attacking.
Board stalls. This was the resounding answer and I saw it over and over again. Some decks could get around the board stalls naturally. My Locust God deck relies on overwhelming numbers of small, flying creatures to win games, so that deck could often get around a board stall, but other decks would see masses of creatures all lined up and unable to break through. Players would be forced to leave themselves open to an attack from a different opponent to try to break through.
The smaller format also limits the cards you can use that will break up a board stall, so that encourages it as well. With fewer combos and weaker synergies than regular Commander games, Brawl decks are often completely reliant on creatures to get the win so a board stall can leave everyone just sitting there drawing card after card and unable to break through.
This was less a question and more a statement. Players need to learn to build their decks differently. The format is not just Commander-lite. The Commander deckbuilding rules where you want 10 percent of your deck to be ramp and 10 percent of your deck to be card draw simply don't apply to Brawl due to the smaller card pool. If you are running green, you'll be able to ramp, but if not, you'll reach a point where the ramp is so bad that running another land just to prevent yourself from missing a land drop is a better option. Card draw isn't there in the traditional Commander sense, either. While blue still has plenty, other colors are forced to look at card replacement or other less straightforward ways to draw cards that can prove to be too inefficient to be worth it.
Players also need to understand that creature combat – in Brawl even moreso than Commander – is king. This means evasion gets even more valuable. Overcosted flying creatures should get a hard look.
An old theory said that 60-card constructed decks were essentially decks with nine cards. You chose the best nine cards for the deck, ran four copies of each to maximize the likelihood of drawing them, then added lands. I ported that theory to Commander, saying you would choose the best nine concepts for your deck, then run the seven best cards in each of those concepts to get to 63 cards, then add lands. I expected that I would do the same for Brawl, except I would just need the four best cards in each concept. After discussions with several players, it appears Brawl decks will not be solved so simply. Instead you'll need to look and determine which if the format has four cards that will hold up to the concept you're considering. If not, you may be looking at adding more concepts. I had a long conversation with friend and former Muse Vessel alum, Brandon Isleib. He suggested that with many decks you are likely looking at 10 or 12 concepts and running two or three cards to support each concept. This leads to more varied gameplay and demands you be prepared to change your plan of attack on the fly, depending on what the deck presents to you.
Another variation in deckbuilding are the two-card synergies. With decks of 59 cards, you are more likely to match two cards, so running less optimal cards that work exponentially better together is a better option in Brawl than in Commander.
A final point a few players made about deckbuilding: Kaladesh is giving the format plenty of great artifacts. This means that the rough mana bases that are being held together by Kaladesh artifacts may come undone when Kaladesh rotates out of the format. Even if your Brawlstar doesn't rotate out of the format, it could be that the manabase simply doesn't support playing the card any longer.
Players were concerned about rotation, but there were a variety of reasons. Some players didn't want to see their work putting together a deck to be lost. Some were less concerned as they planned to use Brawl to test cards for Commander decks. Others were looking at a version of Brawl called Eternal Brawl, where you build a Brawl deck that fits in any Standard format that has ever existed. This would let them keep their current deck for as long as they wanted.
Several players were adamant that they would never build a Brawl deck, even after playing the format with someone else's deck. These players said they were unwilling to update decks that often, that they didn't play enough to make it worthwhile or that they were convinced it was just going to cost too much.
There were a couple who tried it and didn't care for it, but most of the people who were willing to try it enjoyed it. Some players liked getting a chance to play cards that just wouldn't make the cut in a Commander deck. Some liked the idea of a Commander variant to spice up their Magic playing. Many liked the idea that the format is still new and isn't solved, and likely won't be given the yearly rotation. Amongst Commander players, it seemed to depend on the time that they had to play Magic. Among those who don't play as much Brawl was less appealing, since it was going to be one less game of Commander with a deck they love to play. Among those who play more often, Brawl was more appealing.
Most of the players I talked to intend to build a Brawl deck or two and keep it around for a change of pace. No one is looking to jump ship to Brawl, but adding a 59-card Brawl deck to their arsenal of decks is something most will be doing.