When Wizards offers up a new format to the Magic Community, I'm bound to get excited. They started talking about Brawl and I was curious what this new format would offer. Gavin Verhey's article from last week lays it all out. As a quick summary, here is Brawl:

1. Follow all the rules for Commander;

2. Decks are 60 cards instead of 100;

3. The starting life total is 30 instead of 40;

4. You can only use cards legal in Standard;

5. Your commander can also be a planeswalker;

6. There is no commander damage rule.

While there are several changes to Commander, everything comes from the rule that limits the card pool to only the cards in Standard. You would want a 60-card deck because a full-sized Commander deck with only the cards in Standard would lead to including a bunch of weak cards that weren't on theme. You want to make planeswalkers commanders since there are fewer legendary creatures to choose from. Reducing the starting life total makes sense with smaller decks, since you don't want players to run out of cards. With the reduced starting life total, there is little reason to keep the commander damage rule for most cards.

So is this new format something worth trying out? I built a deck and spoke briefly to Wizards of the Coast members Gavin Verhey and Robert Schuster about some of the decks they had seen during testing. Based on this I have broken down the main talking points into "pros" and "cons" for you to consider while you look at possible Brawl builds!

Game Length

Pretty much every Commander player knows that games can take time. While some games end quickly due to mana screw or someone finding a combo and ending things, many games take hours to finish. Depending on the player, you may find this a good or bad thing. When I looked at Brawl I figured the games must go faster. With a smaller life total you have to do less damage. With a smaller card pool, I expected you would have to dig deeper to find playables, and this would likely lead to decks that were overall a little more aggressive. I also figured it may lead to more grindy games, as there would be fewer big cards that would break stalemates. I asked Gavin how things worked in playtesting:

Bruce Richard: I'm guessing the meta skews a little more aggressive overall, compared to Commander? With less super high end ramp and card draw, along with 30 life, I would expect a lower curve, to smash a little faster?

Gavin Verhey: It can be, totally - it really depends on the decks people bring. We've had plenty of grindy, 2+ hour long games. We've also had tables where two people bring aggro and the game is over in 30-45 minutes. In general, I find people don't play a ton of aggro - but it can happen here, unlike Commander, and that's some of the range of the format! :)

Gavin was kind enough to share an aggressive Angrath deck:

Deck Building

When talking about deck building, I looked at how decks were built and the variety in those decks. Commander deck building can be a bit of a long process. Players generally find a commander, then get a variety of ideas and find cards that fit those ideas. I generally follow a 9x7 rule: I get nine groups of seven cards each, with each group doing a particular thing the deck wants. One group draws cards, one group has great equipment. I search for the best seven cards for each group and then try to put together the best deck. The same rule applies for Brawl, but it becomes the 9x4 rule.

Not surprisingly, deck building is faster for Brawl, since you are looking for fewer cards in a smaller pool. For example, here is the Sram deck I put together:

As far as variety, Gavin was kind enough to ship me his list for Sram!

While there are changes, I expect that is mostly due to Gavin being a better deckbuilder than me and tuning the deck. The other issue though is that Sram is a one-dimensional build. He obviously wants auras, equipment and vehicles, so that is how you would build him. Even in Commander, the variety amongst Sram decks is based on availability of cards more than the options the commander offers.

I asked Robert about this directly:

Bruce: How much variety did you find between builds? Meaning, are Sram builds from different people different, or does the format rely on different commanders for variety?

Robert Schuster: Though I can't speak for Sram as I was the only person's I saw in testing, we had multiple people play Tamiyo with very different builds.

Not surprisingly, a commander that offers more build options, saw a bigger variety of decks.

Introduction/Reducing the Commander Community

This is less a pro vs. con argument and more about how Brawl will affect Commander. Some have suggested that Brawl is a great introduction to Commander. With the ease of deckbuilding and the smaller card base, players can get into Brawl much easier than they can into a format that includes almost every card in existence. Others have suggested this isn't the case. With Commander decks being released every year, it is easier than ever to break into the Commander format with a competitive deck right at the start. Anyone playing for a few months will soon see which cards are staples in most decks and just by getting those cards will have the basics for plenty of deck ideas. With Magic database search engines all over the internet, finding old cards usually just involves a couple of search terms.

Several players have suggested that rather than be an introduction to Commander, it will lead to a reduction in popularity in the format, as some Commander players leave the format or at least play less often if Brawl becomes popular. There is concern that the Commander product that is released every year that brings new players to the format, is dropped or reduced in frequency to include product for Brawl, Commander will see a drop.

Without data, we simply don't know which argument holds more validity.


I can't say which format will cost more. Check out the cost of your current Commander decks and compare that to the cost of one of the Brawl decks in this article. Are the Brawl decks with all the Standard cards more costly or less? Will changing decks regularly cost more than buying the cards you need for your new decks in Commander?

If you are someone who drafts regularly or is already playing Standard decks, the cost to Brawl could prove to be minimal. Perhaps Brawl would be adding another format and another group of cards for you to buy. Perhaps you are someone who carefully watches card prices and can mitigate costs that way. Perhaps the extra cost doesn't mean anything to you as long as the format is fun to play. The pros and cons are very particular to the player here.

Rotating Format

And here we come to the real crux of the difference. Commander offers stability with some change. Each new set offers some new cards that you can use to change your decks to make them better. Or you can choose to ignore the new cards and simply play with that same deck. I have Commander decks that haven't seen a change in three or four years. Other decks see a couple cards come out on a regular basis.

Brawl offers constant change. Are you sick of your friend's Rashmi deck? Don't worry because in a couple of months you'll add a high percentage of cards to the format that may make the deck easy pickings because of the new cards, or you'll see the problems in the deck disappear as the cards rotate out. Perhaps you are a perpetual deckbuilder? Brawl demands new decks constantly, while Commander offers so many more commanders and cards to build around.

While I know it isn't a particularly accurate comparison, I see Commander as the format for the Tinkerer. The player who isn't excited to build from scratch again and again, but instead prefers to make minor adjustments. Someone with several Commander decks can be happy just making minor adjustments to each of their already constructed decks as the sets come out. Brawl is the format for the Builder. That player that loves starting from scratch and building the entire deck. Obviously, both styles work in both formats. Commander offers plenty for the Builder and Brawl, with its smaller decks can really reward the Tinkerer as changing just a couple of cards will come up more often than it does in the larger 100 card Commander decks.

Which of these are pros or cons depends on you and your group! Several players in my group haven't updated their decks in years. The idea of a format that would force them to deckbuild every few months is something they want no part of. Others in my group love building new decks and always seem to have something new and exciting for every month!


Like everything, this is going to depend on you and your meta. Will your store support Brawl? Do you want to buy in? Do your friends want to play it? I'd love to hear your thoughts on Twitter and in the comments below.

Whatever you decide, the excitement of a new format is there! I hope to get in a few games and see how it performs as sets come and go!

Bruce Richard