Standard is healthier and more diverse than it has been in years, but the imminent release of Dominaria and the changes it will bring make it hard for me to really dig into the format. On the other hand, I'm pretty excited about the announcement of the new Brawl format, which brings Commander to Standard in the form of 60-card decks. I've never been much of a Commander player and I only have a couple multiplayer Commander games under my belt, but over the past few months I've jumped head-first into competitive 1v1 Commander on Magic Online. It's a decidedly different experience than traditional four-player Commander, but one I have thoroughly enjoyed. It's also a format and experience that I foresee being popular with Brawl, because even though the format has been announced as intended as a multiplayer casual format, I expect it to draw the attention of more competitive players and see plenty of 1v1 play. It seems like a great format for a local game store to host, and would make a fine format for side events at larger tournaments. Depending on how popular it becomes, it could be the main focus of a big tournament. If a Pauper Grand Prix is on the table, who is to say a Brawl Grand Prix won't be held one day?
Whatever becomes of Brawl, it looks fun, and I can't help but think about what cards would make great commanders and what decks might look like. Today I'll share some of my ideas by brewing around some cards that look especially promising as commanders.
One of the coolest features of Commander and Brawl is that the command zone means you will always have access to your commander, so it lends itself to building a deck around a card in a way that would be inconsistent in a normal deck. An example is Leovold, Emissary of Trest in 1v1 Commander, whose deck typically includes cards that break its card-drawing restriction like Lore Broker, Geier Reach Sanitarium, Anvil of Bogardan, and even Timetwister, which are used to punish the opponent rather than help them.
A perfect example for Standard Brawl is Sram, Senior Edificer, which can be used as the centerpiece of a deck built around auras, equipment and vehicles. Not only will Sram, Senior Edificer provide value from these cards, it also functions as a consistent body that supports these cards by holding them and crewing vehicles. There is already a Standard deck built around making the most of Sram, Senior Edificer, so it's not a big stretch to make it work in Brawl, where more consistent access to the creature may make the deck even better. The Standard version is a white-blue deck based around auras, but the Brawl version is restricted to white, so the deck will have to dig deeper into some equipment and vehicles.
The deck gets a surprising number of useful cards from Dominaria that help round out the strategy. Danitha Capashen, Paragon reduces the cost of auras and equipment, and it's an ideal holder of these cards with first strike, vigilance and lifelink, so it's a great addition to the deck and could even be used as the commander, but it's hard to get away from the value Sram, Senior Edificer provides.
A fantastic new aura for the deck is On Serra's Wings, which gives +1/+1 and flying, vigilance and lifelink, so it's perfect way to take over the game. Dominaria also provides Dub, which with a +2/+2 and first strike boost is a nice way to pump a creature and a great follow-up on curve to Sram, Senior Edificer. Dauntless Bodyguard is an excellent addition that helps protect Sram or whatever other creature is holding auras and equipment.
One aspect of the deck that helps it be competitive is the huge assortment of Pacifism effects in Standard, so the deck has access to multiple pieces of removal that have synergy with its commander. There aren't actually many white auras in Standard, so these Pacifism effects are critical to making the deck viable. One of the best available is Conviction, which doesn't have a big effect but can be returned to hand, which creates a card-drawing engine with Sram, Senior Edificer. The deck doesn't have many Knights, but I'm still a big fan of History of Benalia, which provides a ton of value and adds to the deck's token subtheme, which provides plenty of creatures to enchant. The token theme makes this mono-white deck a perfect home for Benalish Marshal, which pumps them all.
Adding all the playable auras, equipment and vehicles add up to about half of the nonland cards in the deck, which seems like the perfect balance of cards that trigger Sram, Senior Edificer to other creatures and removal.
The equipment in Standard leaves something to be desired, but a new one that seems tailor-made for Brawl is Blackblade Reforged, which has a restrictive equip cost unless it's equipped to a legendary creature. Sram, Senior Edificer will provide a consistent creature to target with its ability that gives +1/+1 for each land its controller has in play, which makes it a perfect finisher.
My favorite card in Dominaria so far – and one that's going to be hard to top – is Karn, Scion of Urza. Its four-mana cost and ability to generate card advantage and tempo makes it look like a shoo-in for competitive play, even in eternal formats. It's the sort of card that is perfect to build a deck around, and – because unlike Commander, Brawl allows planeswalkers to be used as commanders – it's going to be a great commander if there are enough artifacts to fill out the deck, which it looks like there are.
The ability on Karn, Scion of Urza worth building around is its -2 ability, which can be used twice in a row to generate a sizable board presence. To make these creatures formidable, the deck wants to curve out with artifacts the first few turns, so the majority of the artifacts should cost three or less. Everything is based around improving these tokens, like Metallic Mimic naming Construct, and the deck even includes a handful of other Constructs. There's also cards that can help protect the planeswalker, like Wall of Forgotten Pharaohs and Deadlock Trap. There's also plenty of artifacts that produce value, like Filigree Familiar and Treasure Keeper.
There aren't many artifacts in Dominiara that look like good additions to the deck, at least not yet, but one excellent new artifact is Voltaic Servant, which in addition to being a nice defensive creature untaps artifacts to help along cards like Treasure Map, Azor's Gateway and Edifice of Authority. I also like Sparring Construct, which fills in the one-drop slot to help the deck curve out and generates some value when it dies.
One of the coolest inclusions to the deck is Awakened Amalgam, because the colorless manabase means the deck can include singletons of all the colorless utility lands it can get its hands on, and they each add to Awakened Amalgam's stats.
The mana base is the biggest issue for the deck, because the rules of Brawl says that the deck can only include mana symbols that are shared by the Commander, which includes mana symbols in the text box. I interpret that to include basic lands, so the deck is forced to only include colorless lands, and there are only 18 of those in Standard – 19 including the new Zhalfirin Void. A deck with a curve topping off at four for Karn, Scion of Urza would typically want 22 lands, meaning 19 isn't so far off that the deck can't function, but it's definitely less than ideal. Some two-mana cards in the deck help dig for the third and fourth land, including Treasure Map, Azor's Gateway, Sunset Pyramid, Eager Construct, Prophetic Prism and the cycling on Hollow One. I've also loaded the deck with all of the available mana rocks, Cultivator's Caravan, Manalith, Hierophant's Chalice, Orazca Relic and Powerstone Shard, which bring it to 24 mana sources, so hopefully there's enough to get the deck to where it needs to be, but any new colorless lands would be a welcome addition. Besides that, the best plan for the deck is to keep its curve low, so besides artifacts that can have their cost reduced like Metalwork Colossus and the improvise artifacts, or the powerful Skysovereign, Consul Flagship, it tops off at four.
Some other legendary cards that I have my eye on as fun and powerful commanders are Jace, Cunning Castaway, Saheeli Rai, and Gonti, Lord of Luxury, which generate extra value every time they are cast, and Rashmi, Eternities Crafter and the new Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain, which like Sram, Senior Edificer generate a ton of value if left in play.
As far as the most competitive commanders, The Scarab God immediately sticks out as one of the very best. Mono-Red is the obvious aggressive deck of choice, and it has a wealth of options for commanders beyond the obvious Hazoret the Fervent. Chandra, Torch of Defiance is less aggressive but offers more value, and would be especially exciting in a bigger build that takes advantage of its mana-generating ability. Captain Lannery Storm sits somewhere in the middle as an aggressive tool that also ramps. Whenever I play Mono-Red in Standard my win percentage skyrockets when I have a turn-two Kari Zev, Skyship Raider, so it's another viable option that would give the deck consistent access to its most aggressive two-drop without suffering from the legendary rule that means the Standard version can only play two or three as opposed to the four it would otherwise. A commander that could be useful for the value it provides is Pia Nalaar. The beauty is that most Mono-Red decks are going to include all these cards anyways, whether they are main deck or used as the Commander, so there's the option to switch them out for any given game when the pilot wants a different experience.
I wasn't planning to include a Mono-Red list, but because it's one of if not the best 1 v 1 Brawl decks and sets the pace of the format, here's how I'd build it.
Dominaria provides some new tools for the Mono-Red deck, like Skizzik, which is one of my favorite cards from my early days of Magic and is a great addition to the strategy, whether at four mana as a pseudo-burn spell to finish off the opponent or a planeswalker or at five mana as a threat the opponent must continue to deal with. Another great addition is Keldon Overseer, which as a three-power haste threat for three-mana fits the bill, but comes with the excellent kicker of Threatening a creature, which makes it like a super-Ahn-Crop Crasher with its ability to remove a blocker. Siege-Gang Commander also seem like a no-brainer addition that gives it a hue dose of power, and may very well change how the Standard version is built. Squee, the Immortal is a threat that never goes away, so it's like a Scrapheap Scrounger that doesn't run out of a fuel. At four mana, Verix Bladewing is just a bad Rekindling Phoenix, but at seven mana it's a huge two-for-one.
What decks are you brewing for Brawl? What legendary cards have the most potential as commanders? Share your thoughts in the comments, and I'll answer any questions.