Planeswalkers in Brawl

Tom Anderson Brawl

In a much-anticipated move, Wizards of the Coast have used the Throne of Eldraine preview season as a chance to debut their Commander-lite format, Brawl, on Magic Arena. Fans of digital Magic finally have the opportunity to build decks commanded by their favorite legendary creature – or Planeswalker!

Yes, one of the highlights of Brawl is that it allows you to choose a Planeswalker as your commander. Brawl uses only the current Standard card pool, but considering the focus on Planeswalkers in War of the Spark, that still leaves plenty of options. So which of those ’walkers shows the most potential to lead your Brawl deck? What new candidates are coming in Throne of Eldraine? And how should you change your deckbuilding and strategy when you have a Planeswalker in the command zone?

FORMAT FUNDAMENTALS

For those new to the format, Brawl uses 59-card singleton decks, with your legendary creature or Planeswalker commander as the 60th card. All other cards in your deck must fall within the “color identity” of your commander. Since you always have access to your commander from the command zone, the rest of your deck should be built to cover their weaknesses and ensure they have maximum impact when played.

BRING ON THE BODYGUARDS

Creatures are already more prominent in Brawl than traditional Commander for a few good reasons. The balance of card design skews more toward creatures than in eternal formats, and Brawl only has a starting life total of 25, making aggro a significant threat. And when you’re brawling with a Planeswalker commander, you need to play even more creatures than usual.

Since your commander can be killed by attacking creatures, you need to keep up with your opponent on the battlefield in order to get any use out of them. And that’s made even harder if your opponent has a powerful bonus creature to cast from the command zone!

A value-generating commander like Tamiyo, Collector of Tales needs a deck loaded with strong blockers so you can start leveraging her abilities ASAP. Planeswalker commanders who create tokens and control the battlefield, like Chandra, Awakened Inferno or the newly-revealed Garruk, Cursed Huntsman, can get away with a slightly lower creature count. 

WALK SO YOU CAN RUN

Another key deckbuilding consideration that Brawl shares with Commander is resource acceleration. The higher starting life and extra inconsistency of singleton decks slows the game down such that ramp is much more powerful, even outside of green. Many Planeswalkers draw you cards, so you can afford to play more mana rocks and ramp spells knowing you’ll still be drawing into action.

Of course, you can also take advantage of the slower pace to make ramp a main focus of your strategy! Nissa, Who Shakes the World is already a dominant force in Standard, both protecting herself and more than doubling your mana on the turn after you play her. If you want access to an extra color, Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner can contribute a lot of mana by untapping Lotus Field or Incubation Druid. She also helps keep your hand stocked with giant creatures so you can make use of your mana!

Finally, Tezzeret, Master of the Bridge can command a more unorthodox ramp deck focused on mana rocks and artifact creatures. Unlocking the dreaded “affinity” keyword on all your creatures can lead to more effective mana per turn than any other Planeswalker in Brawl. It’s nice that all of these ramp ’walkers promote a deck that can properly defend them: Nissa makes her own blockers, and Kiora and Tezzeret both incentivize you to play a high density of creatures.

ALL ABOUT CONTROL

Of course, there’s more than one way to build an effective Planeswalker deck. Instead of trying to overload on creatures, you can try to make the board as hostile to creatures as possible. This lets you play few to no creatures of your own and focus on getting value from your commander and other Planeswalkers.

Standard has seen a few of these “superfriends” decks recently, so we know the tools for one exist in Brawl. You generally want a commander that’s either white or black to ensure you have access to enough sweeper effects and removal, and blue for card draw and countermagic. Teferi, Time Raveler is cheap, effective alone, and dominates games where you’re at parity with his static ability and +1.

Dovin, Architect of Law is only available in a precon deck, but is still legal in both Standard and Brawl. He can be created on Arena for a single mythic wildcard and is likely the best replacement for Teferi, Hero of Dominaria once it rotates. Offering free cards and life every turn and decent loyalty, he’s the epitome of what we’re looking for in this archetype. Brawl also lets us justify playing Dovin’s Dismissal, a decent removal spell which can return Dovin from graveyard to hand to cheat the commander tax!

Izzet is the other guild whose colors support this kind of deck, with good options for a “counterburn” strategy. Most of the current UR ’walkers will do the job, but Ral, Izzet Viceroy is likely the best. He generates card advantage, kills any creature in a spells-matter deck, and threatens to end the game with his emblem.

WALKING ACROSS THE FINISH LINE

One of the more subtle traps to fall into with a Planeswalker commander is not having enough reliable ways to win the game! Even Planeswalkers which are technically capable of winning the game outright, like Kaya, Orzhov Usurper, often do so much slower than a creature commander. It can be easy to get caught up defending your commander and drawing cards before you realize that you need to end the game.

While in Standard “getting value” can almost be considered a game plan in itself, even aggressive Brawl decks tend to go bigger with premium threats. Find ways to end the game with your commander once you establish control, whether it’s with an emblem, a combo, or a resilient creature. Commanders like Chandra, Awakened Inferno or Ob Nixilis, the Hate-Twisted have abilities which will reliably grind people out if you just keep them in play. New Eldraine addition Garruk, Cursed Huntsman can just pump out a pair of 2/2 wolves every turn and dominate the board with raw power!

Just ensure you build around the strengths of your ’walker, include cheap and numerous ways to protect them, and have a few concrete plans to win. There’s a massive variety of decks you could build, and once you master them, you should be set to enjoy the Brawl format for months to come!