Hop in, magicians — we’re going Brawling!
If there’s one thing Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths has in abundance, it’s cool legendary creatures to build around! The Apex cycle opens up powerful three-color options, and the various companions can be used as your Brawl commander even if you don’t meet their special deck-building requirements. The various legendary humans and new Planeswalkers are pretty fun, too!
I’ll quickly run through ALL the new candidates you could choose to lead your Brawl decks in the (currently free) MTGA event, and then I’ll show you a few that I specifically picked out to build into full, unique decklists. No matter what style of Magic you prefer, there’s something here that will make you smile.
THE LEGEND LINEUP
Okay, one-minute evaluation on how you can expect to use each new card as a Commander:
Brokkos seems like a perfect choice to lead graveyard-based value decks, especially if you value access to the whole Sultai wedge. His special mutate-from-graveyard clause means that so long as you include enough creatures, you don’t need to worry about commander tax. Just send him to the ’yard when he dies and mutate him back in to turn any mana dork into a threat.
A real treat for GB midrange players. Any commander under four mana is a strong choice simply because you can play it early and often, and Chevill takes that to the limit. Deathtouch and 1/3 stats makes him trade up well, and his ability generates advantage from GB’s awesome removal suite. Slam dunk.
The leader of the fortified human enclave and monster-hater-in-chief gives tribal humans decks a lord effect out of the command zone. The graveyard-exiling effect is just a bonus, but can help against a lot of random value cards played in Brawl. Between that and his removal ability, you can really shut out certain commander choices.
Ah, our first companion. This is the most controversial and volatile mechanic printed since dredge, immediately shaking the foundations of every format, and Brawl is no exception. It’s worth noting you can play Gyruda as your commander and have another companion in your companion slot, so long as you meet its requirements! Anyway, the immediate combo-kill Gyruda produces in every other format is much harder to achieve here due to singleton rules and a lack of clones. But you can still sprinkle ultra-bombs like Vilis into an average UB deck and get some value out of the demon kraken.
The Apex cycle’s effects are variably fitting for the value-heavy Brawl format, but Illuna is probably the best of them. The first way to build around it is to run as many other mutate cards as possible to try and trigger Illuna repeatedly. But you can also try and make a deck of mostly instants and sorceries, with a few massive hits like Kiora Bests the Sea God. Then just play some token generators to mutate with Illuna!
Of all the companions, Jegantha is the least likely to hop over into the commander slot — if only because it works so well as a companion to any other five-color commander choice! Producing reliable rainbow mana off access to only green (or red) is nice, but doesn’t compare to other options like Niv-Mizzet Reborn and Kenrith, the Returned King.
Cat tribal is becoming a thing again with Ikoria — although some of the better options do stray outside of GW. Perhaps greedy cat players could put Jegantha in the command zone for WUBRG access and keep Kaheera as companion?
Keruga is a solid-sized threat stapled to one or more free cards; not especially interesting, but certainly hard to argue with. It’s even stronger as a commander because you’re allowed to add a few cheaper permanents (like mana dorks) while still getting that awesome ETB.
The parade of incredible Simic cards continues for another set — who do they have on the inside at Wizards R&D? Kinnan has a very obvious line of synergy, and stacking your deck with mana dorks and rocks will definitely get you most of the way there. It’s harder to go infinite on mana in Brawl, but you can still go very big and then play Mass Manipulation.
The set’s definite flavor-in-design winner: a King Kong commander who brawls with other monsters, smashes airplanes (artifacts) and grabs stray humans back to his (your) hand! Mono-Green definitely has a lot of competition for “generic big creature” commander, but Kogla’s attack trigger is a really handy effect to get for free. Plus, there are enough humans available in the format to make him a sticky threat.
One of the new Planeswalker commanders for Ikoria. I’ve done a full decklist and explanation for him in the next section!
Lutri may have been the companion to cop ban attention before the set released, but it’s Lurrus who’s shaping up to be the most powerful companion in Ikoria. A “free card” which then generates more free cards by recurring things is just good in almost any deck. By selecting Lurrus as your commander, you can skip out on the deck-building restriction to include high-CMC staples like Doom Foretold!
Unfortunately for mustelid-lovers everywhere, this Elemental Otter is already banned in Brawl. Yes, even as your commander. I’m sorry.
A great spells-matter commander, a purist’s choice for no-creatures control, or a color access choice to lead Jeskai Superfriends! I’ve got a full decklist for this versatile Planeswalker in the next section.
Along with Illuna, the most powerful Apex for the Brawl format. I’ve got a full decklist for this one as well, so keep reading!
Like Torbran, but with more color access. Also important to note that doubling damage incentivizes a somewhat different set of damage-dealing effects than Torbran’s. Yet another companion which is probably better off in the command zone so you can play a full curve.
The on-brand choice for “Izzet Phoenix”/”Spells Matter”-type decks, which are always a popular archetype. Both abilities are staggeringly powerful, turning the many efficiently-priced looting effects in Standard into awesome draw spells! I can’t wait to Fling this lady at my enemies.
As usual, the Boros/Mardu legend is nebulously aggro/midrange combat-themed, and therefore a bit weak in Brawl. On the plus side, Snapdax is essentially a removal spell that adds a bunch of damage to your next swing, and it allows you to grant double strike to creatures with combat damage triggers like Rankle, Master of Pranks.
This may not be the most interesting effect among the companions, but if it allows you to go hard on some cool theme like GB enchantments or Superfriends, then I’m glad it’s oozin’ around. Making it your actual companion is much harder, perhaps the most difficult restriction of all of them, but gets you big props from me!
The cheapest Apex is middle-of-the-pack when it comes to commander impact. Jeskai colors do have some of the best mutate support, and this trigger will almost always be strong. But I honestly see this card as being more at home in the main deck than the command zone.
A very fun and explosive Planeswalker design this time around, with a reliable token-flooding ability you can uptick forever and an almost combo-like ability to chain creatures out of your library. This seems like a great choice to really sink your teeth into if you want to play traditional green creature decks.
Boros colors? Check. Gain value as a reward for aggression? Check. Unique deck-building constraints to juggle? Check. Winota is everything I’m looking for in a commander!
Editor’s Note: Winota was banned in Brawl on May 18, 2020. This article originally included a full decklist for a Winota Brawl deck; we have since removed it.
Never say never, but this wonderful turtle could beat out even Jegantha as the least-played Ikoria commander. Yidaro is a spectacularly cool card which unfortunately falls into the same trap as Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni — putting it in your command zone invalidates the thing you most want to do with it. Just play Lukka and have this be your top-end target for his -2 ability.
This is the other companion making big Constructed waves, as people figured out that adding 20 cards to your deck isn’t that hard in older, deeper formats. Brawl, however, has a fixed deck size of 60, meaning Yorion can never be your companion. But this is still a nice option for fans of “flicker” decks as an alternative to mono-blue Thassa, Deep-Dwelling.
A versatile favorite of mine among the companions, which only becomes more versatile once you move it from the companion slot to the command zone. Play meticulously with cycling tribal, Dawn of Hope, and utility lands. Or go all-out aggro with pump creatures like Goblin Banneret and Weaselback Redcap alongside equipment. The choice is yours! Just make sure you know which abilities get discounted when deck-building.
A FEW BREWS
Now that we’ve sampled the many flavors of Brawl that Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths can offer, let’s go back and dig in for a deeper scoop of the more interesting ones!
Decklist: Narset of the Ancient Way
Did you enjoy playing Jeskai Superfriends in War of the Spark Standard, or in the early Fires of Invention builds? Does playing Brawl make you miss having a sideboard? Do you just find creatures too messy for your taste? Then I have the Brawl deck for you!
It doesn’t take much to make Planeswalker “tribal” (a.k.a. Superfriends) a good deck — Planeswalkers are, as a rule, very powerful cards. Almost all of them are must-answer threats, and they tend to protect each other with tokens or defensive abilities. You don’t need to worry about having a win condition when you generate this much value, but you’ve got Sarkhan and Jace to draw into, anyway.
Decklist: Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast
Lukka is my kind of Planeswalker commander, topping off the curve in a creature deck by providing good card advantage and some juicy combo potential. I’m using him as an excuse to try and make all-out red aggro work in Brawl, which is a little tricky due to the format’s flat power level. Still, the deck has a high enough creature count to really benefit from his +1, and there’s only Torbran and Yidaro above CMC three to hit with his -2.
The only way to get bigger value from him is to steal control of your opponent’s stuff — preferably their commander!
Decklist: Nethroi, Apex of Death
It’s certainly possible to build a generic, value-focused Nethroi deck. But the Cat Nightmare Beast screams out for combo kills, and Brawl has enough deck-building constraints that I was unsure how realistic that was. The goal is obviously to churn your library into your graveyard as quickly as possible, doing what you must to stay alive along the way. Then, once you reach seven mana (hopefully early thanks to mana dorks), you can mutate Nethroi onto any of your creatures, pick up a bunch of cards from your graveyard, and immediately win. Most of the true infinites here involve Woe Strider and Archon of Falling Stars, but you can probably cobble a win together with ETB/death triggers or even just going to combat. Remember, zero-power creatures are “free” for Nethroi to reanimate, including ones like Polukranos which derive their stats from counters as they enter play!
GO FORTH AND BRAWL
This list of Brawl ideas is only fitting for such a behemoth set as Ikoria! I hope you’re all having as much fun making mutant cat dinosaurs as I am, and I look forward to covering more of this set as the Constructed metagames start to take shape!
Tom’s fate was sealed in 7th grade when his friend lent him a pile of commons to play Magic. He quickly picked up Boros and Orzhov decks in Ravnica block and has remained a staunch white magician ever since. A fan of all Constructed formats, he enjoys studying the history of the tournament meta. He specializes in midrange decks, especially Death & Taxes and Martyr Proc. One day, he swears he will win an MCQ with Evershrike. Ask him how at @AWanderingBard, or watch him stream Magic at twitch.tv/TheWanderingBard.