What Brawl Needs to Succeed

Alex KatzBrawl

When Brawl was announced as a new format in spring 2018, my playgroup and I immediately started building decks for it. It’s my ideal format as a Magic brewer who loves the creative constraints of Commander and Oathbreaker, but finds the massive size of those formats’ card pools stressful to work with. But my playgroup and I were soon surprised to find ourselves as almost the only people playing Brawl, and we’ve been sad to see a format we love so much withering away.

Now Wizards has announced some exciting news for us Brawl holdouts: the fall 2019 season will feature not only the long-awaited Magic: The Gathering Arena support for Brawl, but also Throne of Eldraine-themed Brawl preconstructed decks. So we’re hopeful, but there are still a number of things that I’d like to see Wizards do to support Brawl.

Maintain Arena and Precon Support

Arena and preconstructed decks are among the best ways that Wizards introduces players to new formats. They both lower the financial barrier to entry for the formats they support, and make those formats visible in ways they otherwise might not be. Brawl, in particular, is a good format to introduce in these ways, since it’s designed to be fun and accessible in ways that Draft and Commander often are not. I’m looking forward to trying out Brawl on Arena, and to gaining brewing inspiration from the Brawl precons. An Arena-centered Historic Brawl format would also not go amiss.

Create Official Brawl Events

Official event support is a great way to increase the perceived legitimacy of a format and introduce it to a wider player base. A great example of this is Channel Fireball’s inclusion of Canadian Highlander in MagicFest side events. Once they started adding Highlander to the schedule, demand for events increased until, at this summer’s MagicFest Seattle, they had a Highlander event every day and still needed to schedule extra events to meet demand. Pauper is another good example: after Wizards sanctioned it as an official format, its player base increased dramatically.

Since Brawl is aimed more toward new and casual players than the relatively competitive Highlander and Pauper, it should have event support that’s accessible to new and casual players, such as Friday Night Magic and the events that accompany the introduction of a new set. Brawl precons could also be made available alongside Planeswalker Decks for free play at prereleases.

Keep Commander Options Diverse

The past six months represented a high point for the diversity of the Brawl metagame. Not every Standard season needs to have as many options as Dominaria and three Ravnica-themed sets gave us, but every Standard season should have at least one interesting legendary creature or planeswalker for each color and color pair. Three-color legends are nice to have, but not absolutely necessary. The important thing is to make sure everyone who wants to play Brawl can find at least one commander that they enjoy playing with.

Diversity is also important in the flavor of those commanders, since Brawl is about expressing yourself through your deck. The available commanders in any Brawl season should be representative of the diverse identities of Magic‘s player base, and especially welcoming to players of marginalized identities who may feel excluded from more competitive formats.

That said, there is at least one kind of commander that I’d like to see less of in the Brawl metagame: the That Player Loses commander. There are currently five Brawl commanders whose rules text includes the phrase “that player loses the game.” Granted, only one of these is truly demoralizing. Etrata, the Silencer is incredibly difficult to prevent from winning a game all on her own when she can be returned to the command zone and recast immediately instead of being shuffled away. The others are three Planeswalker ultimates, which can be more easily prevented, and Atemsis, All-Seeing‘s win condition, which can be difficult to set up. But having an inevitable-feeling loss condition hanging over your head isn’t fun no matter how difficult it is for your opponent to reach that condition. Brawl needs fewer of them.

Keep Brawl’s Philosophy Clear and Consistent

Brawl was developed as a fun, casual brewing format – an alternative to Standard for less competitive players, and an alternative to Commander for players who have limited access to older cards. Brawl products and events should be advertised with these groups in mind, and cards banned and unbanned from the format with a focus on promoting fun, friendly games. A statement of philosophy like the Commander Rules Committee mission statement can not only help Wizards keep designing for the spirit of Brawl and banning cards for the right reasons, but it can also make players and tournament organizers more aware of the social contract that makes the game work.

Let’s Start a Brawl

I’m excited for Brawl to have more support from Wizards, and I hope it finally gets the community recognition it deserves. Let us know what Brawl decks you’ll be building for the Throne of Eldraine Standard season!