Brawl was launched on Magic Online last month alongside the release of Dominaria, and it was only a matter of days before the format had been broken by a Baral, Chief of Compliance-commanded Mono-Blue Control deck that nothing else could consistently beat. R&D has swiftly reacted to correct the course of their newest format, not only by banning Baral, Chief of Compliance, but by making some sweeping changes to the format that will help prevent it breaking in the future.
The biggest rules change is life totals being brought down to 20 from 30, which nerfs control decks like the Mono-Blue Control deck and prevents another control deck from simply taking its place as the best deck. It will add to format diversity by improving aggressive strategies like Mono-Red, which has been conspicuously absent from the metagame. The Brawl banned list is also being uncoupled from Standard, which in the future will allow for more fine-tuned bannings separate from anything going on in Standard, and for the time being adds some very powerful cards to the format. There's also been the subtle change of allowing basic lands in decks with colorless commanders, so Karn, Scion of Urza and even Traxos, Scourge of Kroog have become viable. Today I'll go into detail about how each of the changes will impact the format, and share some brews that take the changes into account.
Baral, Chief of Compliance being banned removes Brawl's most oppressive force, and it's a sensible move given that Baral, Chief of Compliance was banned in traditional 1v1 Commander for being too powerful. It immediately proved too powerful for Brawl too, so the decision to quickly squelch it was a great move for the health of the fledgling format. Its banning will add a ton of diversity to the metagame.
The banning will allow other decks to flourish, and maybe somewhat ironically, multicolor-blue control decks, which suffered heavily against the mono-blue deck that was much better equipped for a control mirror. Now there's room for commanders like The Scarab God, The Locust God and Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh to exist, and I especially Foresee a rise in Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, which with a suite of white creature removal and sweepers will be ideal for fighting back against the aggressive decks that will flood the format to take advantage of the new lower 20 point life total.
The banning also opens space for more traditional midrange and ramp decks that suffer against countermagic, so the metagame stands to become much more diverse. The highly disruptive Baral, Chief of Compliance being banned is also a good change for combo-style decks, which could begin a renaissance in the Brawl format due to Aetherworks Marvel and Felidar Guardian being unbanned.
Sorcerer's Spyglass has also been banned, mostly because it's so strong against some Commanders, specifically planeswalkers, and its banning will serve to strengthen such decks.
The starting life total in Brawl being moved from 30 down to 20 is a massive blow to controlling decks and a huge boon to aggressive decks. Mono-Red originally seemed like a shoo-in for being one of the top decks in Brawl, but it has turned out to not even be a minor player. This change all but guarantees it will be competitive now, and with so many great red cards in the format it's going to be interesting to see how the deck takes form.
The change makes all sorts of aggressive decks better, so it won't just be red benefiting. Ghalta, Primal Hunger has been the second-best deck in the format after Baral, Chief of Compliance, so it looks like the clear front-runner now. Admiral Beckett Bass is another aggressive deck that has improved. What will be interesting is seeing what other aggressive decks emerge, and if decks like White-Green Tokens with Shanna, Sisay's Legacy will become top-tier.
Cards banned in Standard now being legal in Brawl is a pretty big change going forward because it will allow for the format to be better managed. What it means for now is that some very powerful cards have been added and could become some of Brawl's best staples.
Attune with Aether and Rogue Refiner being unbanned opens up space for a dedicated Energy deck, which as Standard's most broken mechanic could be competitive. There's no Temur-colored planeswalker or legendary in Standard, but luckily Jodah, Archmage Eternal has all five colors of mana in its text box, so it allows for five-color decks or a deck with any number of those colors in combination. Taking advantage of the commander's ability isn't a necessity, but the commander is a huge resource in Brawl games, so being unable to effectively use the commander – or at least cast it – will be a big downside that would have to be made up for with a very powerful deck. Temur Energy has the ability to cast Jodah with Aether Hub or Servant of Conduit and could even play a Plains to find with Attune with Aether, and the flying threat will be welcomed in the aggressive strategy.
Energy was such a broken mechanic in Standard because each card built on each other as the game progressed. Every card that generates energy is adding a store of value that can be tapped by cards that come later, like when a topdecked Whirler Virtuoso can use stored energy to make three or four tokens instead of just one. This means that the Brawl Energy deck will need to be sure to play a high concentration of energy-generating cards in addition to plenty of good outlets. This will require digging a bit deeper into the stores of energy cards, some of which haven't really seen competitive play before.
One creature that sticks out is Empyreal Voyager, which is a nice steady source of energy with an evasive body. Peema Aether-Seer looks like it could be quite powerful as an Energy source and as an outlet. It's at its best with creatures that can spend energy to grow – Longtusk Cub, Electrostatic Pummeler and Bristling Hydra, and as an energy outlet it can be used to force small creatures to chump block. Architect of the Untamed is another strong energy source and outlet, and I am intrigued by Consulate Turret, which generates a nice stream of energy and can be used like a Dynavolt Tower to pick off creatures or whittle down the opponent. Both repeatable sources of energy are great with Territorial Gorger, which has the potential to be a huge threat.
Dipping into the well of available two-mana energy creatures, like Aether Swooper, Sage of Shalia's Claim and Shielded Aether Thief, give the deck the high density of two-mana creatures it was accustomed to in Standard. In this list I includes all the energy cards that seemed like they would work well in the deck, which is good for testing purposes, but the lowest performers could be cut in order to play more disruption or other types of support cards, planeswalkers or even non-energy creatures.
Another approach could be to take advantage of the five-color nature to dip into the best energy cards of all colors – like Glint-Sleeve Siphoner – along with other strong cards black provides like Muldrotha, the Gravetide and The Scarab God. Building around Aetherworks Marvel is a bit more tricky, but I'd start with Whir of Invention as a way to tutor for it.
There's also the topic of Felidar Guardian, which is now legal in Brawl along with Saheeli Rai, making the CopyCat combo one of the most powerful things to do in the format. Assembling a two-card combo with one-ofs in a format with very little tutoring will be difficult, but it's so strong that I imagine a deck can be built around it.
Jodah, Archmage Eternal is the only Jeskai commander in Standard, so the CopyCat deck would technically have access to all five colors if it wanted them. The best CopyCat decks in Standard were built to take advantage of the synergy that both sides of the combo have with creatures that generate value when they enter the battlefield, so I know the first place I'd start with the deck – whether it's five colors or just three – is Skittering Surveyor, the perfect card to blink with Felidar Guardian or copy with Saheeli Rai to generate extra value. My first attempt at building around the cards focused heavily on cards that could be used for value, but unlike in the old Standard deck with multiples of the combo pieces, having just one of each in Brawl mean there won't be many blink effects to go around. A deck built around using them would need multiple cards that could blink, and as far as I can tell Standard doesn't have those tools, with only Vizier of Deferment and Wispweaver Angel really standing out.
I think a better approach is to play only a handful of the highest-impact creatures that can be blinked for value and cards that are good on their own but will provide ample value from the two blink cards when they are not used for comboing, which will be in the majority of games. The best CopyCat deck before it was banned was Four-Color – with a green base for mana-fixing, acceleration and some nice value cards like Rogue Refiner – so such a build might work now, but that version was more reliant on having extra blink effects. After doing some brewing I think a better version might be a Jeskai deck similar the first version of the CopyCat deck, which was positioned as a control deck, and didn't have such a focus on value creatures.
The change of allowing basic lands in a deck with a colorless Commander isn't a huge deal, but it's a nice quality-of-life change that makes colorless decks a reality. It's a big boost to Karn, Scion of Urza, which is one of the best cards in Dominaria and all of Standard and will now be a viable Brawl commander. I brewed around the card when I first wrote about Brawl, and it was held back by not really having enough lands to function. Now the deck has plenty of mana available, and most importantly can take advantage of artifacts that tutor for basic lands, specifically Renegade Map and Skittering Surveyor, which are excellent cards for a colorless deck but weren't previously playable.
What do you think of the banning of Baral, Chief of Compliance and the other changes to Brawl?