Did you have relatives who gave you dollars on your birthday equal to how old you were? I’m really glad they don’t expect quid pro quo on that…Regardless, the return of Core Sets with years in them enables top X lists, just like those old birthdays.
Before we go through my top 19 Brawl cards from Core Set 2019, I wanted to share some of my selection criteria.
Broadly playable cards. Although some of this review covers cards that are good with a particular commander, that category is less of a concern in Brawl, with its smaller card pool. Occasionally in Commander, a mechanic comes along that suddenly bumps an old legend up a tier; that kind of coincidence will only show up in Brawl if, for example, a Dominaria legend was specifically designed to mesh with upcoming Ravnica themes.
Cards that break or circumvent board stalls. I emphasized this category’s importance in my first article here versus mass card draw and value engines. Those cards can be important, but they take a back seat to cards that enable sudden swings or impact life totals.
Cards that help current decks survive rotation. Commander players look for upgrades during spoiler season (like Shamanic Revelation over Collective Unconscious); Brawl players have to look for replacement cards, whether or not they’re upgrades. In October, Kaladesh, Aether Revolt, Amonkhet, and Hour of Devastation rotate out, so any new approximations to cards in those sets can sustain a deck another year.
With all that said, let’s get to the list!
Austere Command has six possible modes. Cleansing Nova only has two, but “destroy all creatures” is the usual Austere Command mode anyway, and Cleansing Nova‘s a mana cheaper. My Doran, the Siege Tower Eternal Brawl deck runs Austere Command, and it feels like a cut above everything else in Brawl. Cleansing Nova‘s close enough.
Mentor of the Meek
Because Brawl is a 60-card format and you rarely have 20 mana to spend on cards drawn seven at a time, I prefer my slow-drip card draw for my brews. Mentor of the Meek is perfect for this. When Mentor of the Meek came out in Innistrad, it was hailed by Commander players as a fully playable, no-drawback way for Mono-White decks to draw cards; it’s just as good here. Note that cards likely to be played with it like Benalish Marshal might up creatures’ power above Mentor of the Meek‘s trigger, but in that case, you have a huge army to cheer you up.
We haven’t yet seen a mono-white commander that wants this post-rotation – Oketra the True will love it for now – but it will look good in most white builds regardless.
As in Sealed, flying and slot-saving creatures (the ones that allow you to avoid playing sideboard cards) are vital. Remorseful Cleric is both things. Maybe having the same mana cost, power, toughness, and creature types as Selfless Spirit was a clue, but you’ll rarely be sad to include or draw this.
If you’ve watched Loading Ready Run do Brawl, you know that Cameron is big on Deep Freeze to use on opposing commander creatures – it serves the same role that Darksteel Mutation plays in Commander. Metamorphic Alteration can do most of that as long as there’s a random harmless creature on the board, but it can also make your stuff big. Now you can have your own Muldrotha, the Gravetide or Ghalta, Primal Hunger for two mana. This card is going to show up in all kinds of situations, and you’ll loathe facing it and love playing it.
This won’t draw cards as regularly as Mentor of the Meek, but it will draw a card on average every turn. More than that, milling someone for three every turn with upside is a long-range kill condition. Paired with Kumena’s Awakening, Patient Rebuilding gives slow, heavily blue decks a lot of cards. And when the Dimir guild returns to Standard in October, I expect to see some other good mill cards to make Patient Rebuilding a Brawl staple.
In my first article, I said, “You’ll want as many cards like Hurricane and Sleep as you can fit into your Brawl deck.” Sleep is a card like Sleep. You don’t have to swing all-out with your creatures for Sleep to be worth it; if opponents can spare a couple random attackers, you can take the Slept player down by 15 without difficulty. Sleep tilts power balances in Brawl; I can’t imagine a blue deck that won’t want this.
Open the Graves
Sweepers in Brawl have to be rationed due to scarcity. A passive anti-sweeper either increases in value for you over the game or forces opponents to sweep earlier and less optimally; you profit regardless.
I’m skeptical of recursive value engines in Brawl because they: A) usually don’t affect the board enough to be worth it; and B) have difficulty coming together. Reassembling Skeleton is so good at being a recursion piece that it might make those types of engines playable in Brawl by itself. It’s that good at its job (or volunteer work? I haven’t asked).
A staple of Izzet multiplayer decks everywhere, it hasn’t lost any of its power over the years. It isn’t a Wizard, so Adeliz, the Cinder Wind is a little sad, but it does exactly what that deck wants, and the Izzet are coming back soon as well. There are several commanders who want this, from Adeliz to Jaya Ballard to Firesong and Sunspeaker; expect to see loads of Guttersnipes for the next year and change.
While it lacks the raw damage output and synergy with tokens of its predecessor Where Ancients Tread, it’s at a much better spot on the curve, triggers on four-power creature spells, and threatens a board wipe if you get a really big creature. The trouble right this moment is that few seven-power creatures are red; they’re almost entirely green Dinosaurs. For now, this makes Zacama, Primal Calamity decks even better, and Guilds of Ravnica is likely to have some decent creatures for it. It also might look good in a top-heavy version of Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain, as Traxos, Scourge of Kroog, Nezahal, Primal Tide, and Slinn Voda, the Rising Deep are all historic.
This card obviously will see loads of play in Mono-Green decks, but don’t run it without evasion. Rhonas the Indomitable, Rhonas’s Monument, Key to the City, and Cartouche of Strength are rotating out, so look to Forebear’s Blade, Cobbled Wings, and new Planeswalker Deck card Aggressive Mammoth.
Goreclaw, Terror of Qal Sisma
This is a replacement for Overcome at the very least – it doesn’t go as wide, but it’s a 5/4 trampler on the attack, and it also ramps. I don’t think it measures up as a commander – that cost-reduction ability walks people into bad deckbuilding – but that attack trigger is a savage punch.
It’s a fine early body, but the key is how rotation will increase the impact of Ixalan lands for awhile. Everything from opposing Evolving Wilds to Spires of Orazca can draw you a card. As a group, creatures don’t have that impressive a set of activated abilities right now, but a lot of commanders are good because of their activated abilities, like Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca, Slimefoot, the Stowaway, Vona, Butcher of Magan, and Zacama, Primal Calamity. And the odds of upcoming Ravnica sets giving us ten playable Guildmages seems high.
In Eternal Brawl, I’m happy to run Carven Caryatid when it’s synergistic, and this can attack and draw more cards. If it doesn’t, it keeps opponents from activating abilities. Either way, I’ll take that deal.
My sister in surname vowels, Vivien comes with an emblem that gives the evasion Gigantosaurus wants. That emblem gives practical invincibility in Brawl and is a real consideration if Vivien is your commander. Her -3 ability certainly makes her well-rounded enough.
Vivien’s +1 is serviceable, but requires a critical mass of creatures to be valuable; that’s fine, though, because you’d need a critical mass of creatures to protect her. What that -3 does is allow the deck to run loads of generally good creatures instead of needing them all to be Thrashing Brontodon levels of value. Vivien Reid will be in Brawl for as long as Ghalta, Primal Hunger is; they each have strengths, but Vivien‘s more my style if I’m building Mono-Green.
Nicol Bolas, the Ravager
Grixis Control decks get a Nicol Bolas commander to replace rotating Nicol Bolas commanders. But most cards in that deck rotate, too, so any build will play differently. This card has so much text and two different modes, so it’s hard to know what the right build is straight out the chute. My instincts are that it wants other hand disruption to complement the enters-the-battlefield trigger, and that the 4/4 flyer will be more relevant to a typical board than the Planeswalker backside unless the -3 or -4 abilities are immediately necessary. It probably doesn’t have to be built around that strongly. But who knows? It’s bound to be good; we just don’t know how and in what ways yet.
Although Guttersnipe might change this, by and large Brawl decks can’t pack instants and sorceries at the rate of Commander decks. The emphasis on affecting the board means that any instants or sorceries in opponents’ decks are likely to pack a punch. Unless you know a deck has counterspells or cantrips, you’ll probably get something pretty big off Chaos Wand‘s activation in Brawl – and you’re also swiping those relatively few cards from your opponents. I wouldn’t put this in many Commander decks – maybe Hope of Ghirapur – but I can see this in loads of Brawl decks.
Crucible of Worlds
I’ve had a lot of fun with Ramunap Excavator and Deserts in this format, and while that group rotates soon, Crucible of Worlds continues remaining shenanigans. Recurring Field of Ruin seems excellent, recurring Evolving Wilds is plenty good (as Sun Titan fans know), and recurring Memorial to War is like an off-brand Strip Mine/Crucible of Worlds combo from Commander. Both Ravnica blocks had good utility lands worth blowing up, which also means they’re worth recurring, and the next three sets might have similarly good lands.
This card is much more open-ended than you might think on first read. For the next few months, it improves Temmet, Vizier of Naktamun decks by making Bats for each embalm and eternalize activation. For the next year, it lets Muldrotha, the Gravetide decks add Bats for every creature recast from the graveyard. But you might not need massive synergy to include this; if you get even four Bats, it’s a slower but cheaper Lingering Souls.
So, what are some common ways creatures leave the graveyard besides Muldrotha and Temmet? Reanimation like on Bishop of Rebirth is obvious, but anything from Conqueror’s Galleon (returning cards to hand) to Fungal Plots (exiling creatures from your graveyard) to Squee, the Immortal can provide Bats. Reassembling Skeleton‘s good here, too.
Unfortunately for value-lovers, mass graveyard exile like Scavenger Grounds will only produce one Bat from the Tomb. Even so, there are enough one-at-a-time ways of exiling creatures from your graveyard to make it worth running in several builds. If Standard gets a card like Withered Wretch (not likely, but I can always hope), then this card becomes very good, and it’s already pretty good.
Loads of Commander decks use Rogue’s Passage, and Brawl decks love unblockability to break ground stalls. This is cheaper to activate than Rogue’s Passage and blocks well. It’s good early and late, it has no color commitments, and the flavor is off the charts. If your deck is ground-based even a little, you’ll want this.
This is the first new Standard set since Brawl’s entrenchment, and for being a core set, there’s a lot of exciting stuff. The 19 cards I chose barely scratch the surface of Brawl commander potential – all the Elder Dragons are back, for crying out loud – but I think you’ll see this novemdectet do the most work.
Brandon Isleib plays a lot of Commander and Brawl and loves finding the intersection of unusual and effective plays. He worked for Wizards of the Coast in 2014, he has put flavor text on a few cards, and he’s partly responsible for “create” being the word for cards making tokens. He is a legislation editor for the city of Seattle, he has written a baseball book, and he is proficient at making his bio sound more impressive than it is.