Converting Brawl Decks to Commander Decks

Mara Katz Brawl, Commander

The upcoming release of Zendikar Rising marks the start of a new Standard rotation. Cards from Guilds of Ravnica, Ravnica Allegiance, War of the Spark, and Core Set 2020 will be leaving Standard to make room for a new year of Magic sets. If you’ve enjoyed playing Brawl over the last couple of years, it can be disappointing to see your favorite decks leave the format, but you don’t have to say goodbye to them forever. Here are some tips for turning your favorite Brawl decks into Commander decks you can enjoy for years to come.

Narrow the Field

Converting your decks from Brawl to Commander opens up your card pool tremendously, and it can be difficult to sort through all the possibilities. One way to make your search more manageable is to start by adding back any cards you may have played in the deck previously, or any cards from your initial deck brainstorm that didn’t quite make the cut. Still got your Path of Mettle from Ixalan block draft? It’ll be right at home in a Tajic deck, just like it was last year. The same goes for Hadana’s Climb in a Zegana deck, Creeping Trailblazer in Omnath, or any of the other multicolored spells you miss.

Another strategy is to focus on the flavor of your deck. If you built your deck around one of the Ravnican guilds, there’s a clear path for you: add cards that represented the same guild in previous Ravnica blocks. My Tajic deck has room for Assemble the Legion and Aurelia’s Fury, and I’m looking forward to replacing Boros Locket with a Boros Cluestone or Signet. Decks with non-Ravnican commanders also have a lot of flavor potential. Your Kaalia, Zenith Seeker deck can use cards that tell the story of her tumultuous life on Alara after Conflux, or your God-Eternal Bontu deck can draw on the themes of death and mummification associated with Bontu‘s home plane, Amonkhet.

Focus your Strategy

Now that you have access to more cards, you can work on tightening up your deck’s synergies. For example, the Boros cards in Guilds of Ravnica and War of the Spark have several different possible strategies: the +1/+1 counter strategy suggested by the mentor mechanic, the token-making strategy of Divine Visitation and Parhelion II, and a strategy built around instants and sorceries with Feather, the Redeemed. In Brawl, none of these strategies really felt complete, and you’d often see two or more in the same deck. In Commander’s larger card pool, all these strategies can find their missing pieces, and your deck will be more consistent if you can commit to one of them.

But that doesn’t mean you should cut cards you like just because they’d do more work in another strategy. I’m in the process of tuning my Tajic deck for token-making, but have kept a number of creatures with mentor, like Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice and Hammer Dropper, because I just like how they work.

A New Commander?

As you expand your deck, you may realize that a different legendary creature makes a better commander for the deck than the one you started with. It’s a good idea to double-check your options and find the commander that makes the most mechanical or flavorful sense with your new strategy. Remember that you can always swap out commanders between games to figure out which one plays best.

Since my deck was meant to represent the Boros Legion specifically, I limited myself to potential commanders who are actually members of the Legion. My deck goes wide, so I leaned toward commanders that support a lot of creatures attacking at once, and was less interested in commanders that only buff one creature (like Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice and Tajic, Blade of the Legion) or that have effects that aren’t repeatable (like Aurelia, the Warleader). I ended up keeping Tajic, Legion’s Edge as my commander, since his damage prevention ability protects all my creatures from removal, but I’m curious how the deck might play with Agrus Kos, Wojek Veteran as its commander.

You might also run into situations where you can no longer use your original commander, especially if that commander was a planeswalker. In those cases, you might want to look for a legendary creature with similar abilities. But it can be more fun to find a new commander that does something slightly different, but combines with the planeswalker’s abilities in interesting ways. You might try Multani, Yavimaya’s Avatar or Azusa, Lost but Seeking in place of Nissa, Who Shakes the World; if you were playing a Domri deck, Xenagos, God of Revels and Grand Warlord Radha are both good replacements.

Prepare for Multiplayer

A lot of Brawl decks are built for one-on-one games, and they tend toward faster strategies as the format gets more optimized. Playing Commander can feel very different: games usually involve three to five people and play more slowly, leaving room for archetypes with more buildup. Keep an eye out for board wipes and other cards that let you deal with multiple opponents at once, like Agent of Masks or Grasp of Fate. Some cards also let you profit from having multiple opponents, like Predatory Advantage and the nonbasic land cycle from Battlebond.

Since Commander decks are larger than Brawl decks, the proportions of lands and spells may be different from what you’re used to. I recommend around 33 lands for a one- or two-color deck and up to 36 if you’re playing more than two colors. That leaves you with room for around 40 creatures and 25 noncreature spells. You’ll also want a handful of targeted removal spells and one or two board wipes to keep long games from leaning too heavily in one player’s favor. Finally, you’ll want three or four ramp spells or lands like Evolving Wilds to help make sure you’re not stuck without the lands you need.

If You Love It, Keep It

The first rule of playing Commander is to have fun, and it’s also the first rule of Commander deck-building. If the idea of cutting a card makes you sad, don’t cut it, even if it doesn’t fit your new strategy. You enjoyed playing with it, and you’ve got plenty of time to figure out if you still enjoy playing with it. And if you play your new deck a few times and decide it doesn’t work, you can always swap it out later and find a better home for it in another deck.

Let us know which Brawl decks you’re excited to keep playing in Commander!