In case you missed it, Dominaria is bringing with it a new Commander variant – Brawl! Let’s start by talking about what this new format is.

Brawl Is a Singleton Format

This means that you can only play one of each card in your deck, with the exception of basic lands. There’s really no difference between Commander and Brawl in this respect.

Brawl Uses 60-card Decks

This is a little different than regular Commander, which uses 100-card decks. In Brawl, you will start the game with one card in your command zone and 59 cards in your library before you draw your opening hand.

Brawl Is a Commander Variant

This means that you are allowed to desginate one legendary creature to be your commander. This card is removed from your deck and placed in the command zone before you shuffle up and draw your opening hand.

Additional Eligible Commanders

In regular Commander, you’re only allowed to use a planeswalker as your commander if the planeswalker’s rules text specifically indicates that it can be your commander. In Brawl, any of the 32 standard-legal planeswalkers can be your commander.

Smaller Card Pool

Unlike Commander, which allows you to use all of the cards in the history of the game (with a few exceptions), Brawl only allows you to use the cards that are currently legal in Standard. The first Brawl environment will include Amonkhet, Hour of Devastation, Ixalan, Rivals of Ixalan, and Dominaria. Brawl will not allow you to play cards printed in supplemental sets like Commander, Conspiracy, Unstable, or Masters sets unless the card is otherwise legal in Standard.


Most Commander variants have their own banlists. If it’s legal in Standard, it’s legal in Brawl! It’s unclear at this time whether new standard bans would be reflected in Brawl, but for now I think it’s safe to assume that will be the case.

Why Is This Format Being Introduced?

There’s a lot of speculation that this is a format that will allow people to play something like Commander in the new Magic Arena environment without requiring the design team to implement the entire catalogue of cards legal in Commander. This is really great news for people who want to play something-like-Commander but might not live in an area where the community supports Commander playgroups.

I also see a pretty incredible secondary benefit to this kind of a format. For those of you who know me, you’ll know that one of my biggest interests in the world of Magic is learning and discussing how people learn and discuss the game. For quite awhile now, I’ve been gathering information to develop a guide or process to how to gradually expose new players to the complexity of the game without overwhelming them with information from the start. I think most people can appreciate how complex and Magic’s rules are, but that’s much easier to do when you’ve got a solid foundation that allows you to understand why certain nuances exist.

As part of this process, I’ve often considered EDH to be one of the most advanced things a new player can learn. As it stands, I list EDH as one of the very last things I’d expose a new player to on their journey of learning and discovery, because political acumen, stack management, and specific card knowledge are essential skills for enjoyment of the format. I honestly think that Brawl fills an interesting niche as a stepping stone for the larger format. Draft and standard players are able to leverage their knowledge of the current standard environment to hone their stack management and political skills without the added task of knowing that you don’t shuffle your deck after casting Impulse, Dryad Arbor is still green when there’s a Blood Moon in play, or that Winter Orb doesn’t function when it’s tapped.

It’s much easier to pick up a standard deck that has 10-15 unique cards in it and figure out how to play it than it is to pick up an EDH deck that has 4-5x that number. With the latter, new players spend most of their game reading what their own stuff does at the expense of understanding what their opponents’ stuff does.


Personality of EDH

I know, I know. Normally I’m a vocal advocate against the idea of the “spirit” of Commander. I deliberately didn’t use the term “spirit” of Commander because I’m not going to talk about the social contract, the attitudes the players should ideally bring to the table, or my opinion on why people should be motivated to play this particular format over others.

What I am going to talk about is the personality of Commander, which is a term I’m going to define as:

The effect Commander’s unique ruleset has on deckbuilding, gameplay, and metagame.

I see three major themes as being the personality of Commander:

  1. Deckbuilding diversity

    This is the idea that two decks are very unlikely to be identical or even close to identical. If you pick up two random mono-green lists on TappedOut or another decklist aggregator, you might end up with Selvala Brostorm – an incredibly fast mono-green storm variant – or you might end up with Omnath, Locus of Mana. Even within the scope of one particular commander, there’s an incredible amount of variance with respect to how the deckbuilder chooses to take advantage of colour identity and the commander’s rules text. Deckbuilding variance is a natural consequence of Commander’s massive cardpool being available to creative deckbuilders. People are actively encouraged to take chances and try new things because even if what you’re doing isn’t good or efficient, it’ll be a good story to tell after the game.

  2. Gameplay variance

    This is the idea that no two games are exactly identical. In 60×4 constructed formats, consistency of execution is often the primary goal. In singleton highlander formats – especially those played with 3 or more players – consistency is only possible if you devote a ton of time and effort to building your deck a very specific way. Most people who play Commander don’t do that, so even when four pilots shuffle up the same decks over a large number of games, the story of each game is entirely unique.

  3. Diversity of motivation

    This idea is a little more nebulous than the other two, but it never ceases to amaze me. Commander players are motivated by art and lore, optimization and incremental improvement, desire to recreate their favourite experiences in Magic’s history, and a host of other things. Even as an experienced player, when I sit down at a table of strangers, I’ll very regularly see something I’ve never seen before. This kind of constant exposure to novel experiences really shapes the feel of the format.

With this in mind, I think most people are really tempted to judge Brawl by its perceived diversity. Questions like “can I do something that’s never been done before?”, or “how many chairs are standard-legal right now?” are on the top of our minds because these are the things that drew us to the format and eventually kept us here.

Format Diversity

The very first thought that crossed my mind when I heard this announcement was “How many commanders are in standard?”. I ask this question because the average commander night at my LGS sees 30 people pulling out an average of 22 to 25 unique commanders. I know from some of my previous articles that certain colour identities (Jeskai) don’t get a ton of love, so my gut says that any given standard environment is going to have some identities overrepresented and others underrepresented or totally absent.

From there, I set out to actually answer the question. These numbers are pretty tentative, but they include all cards in the Scryfall database as of March 21, 2018. I used the “future standard” setting so it would include everything that’s been spoiled in Dominaria so far.

Colour ID Commanders Nonbasic Lands Nonland Card Pool
Mono White 10 30 366 396
Blue 9 30 368 398
Black 10 30 372 402
Red 9 29 372 401
Green 7 30 369 399
Colourless 2 26 134 160
2C Azorius 4 37 611 648
Orzhov 5 38 618 656
Dimir 4 37 619 656
Izzet 4 37 619 656
Rakdos 5 36 623 659
Golgari 3 38 617 655
Gruul 4 36 618 654
Boros 5 37 618 655
Selesnya 4 37 616 653
Simic 4 38 616 654
3C Bant 0 48 874 922
Esper 0 48 876 924
Grixis 3 48 888 936
Jund 1 47 880 927
Naya 3 47 882 929
Mardu 0 48 883 931
Temur 0 48 878 926
Sultai 1 49 878 927
Jeskai 0 48 877 925
Abzan 0 49 878 927
4C Null-Green 0 63 1160 1223
Null-White 0 63 1159 1222
Null-Blue 0 62 1158 1220
Null-Black 0 62 1154 1216
Null-Red 0 63 1150 1213
5C 1 81 1449 1530


Some Quick Observations

Unless something changes, no love for Bant, Esper, Mardu, Temur, Jeskai, and Abzan. We weren’t really expecting any 4-colour legendaries, and that’s not really out of the ordinary. If you’re really dead-set on doing any of these, you’ll have to do them under Jodah, Archmage Eternal. This isn’t really a terrible choice, all things considered. With the serious lack of colour fixing that’s available in standard, a Fist of Suns effect in the Command Zone allows you to reliably pay a little extra to cast multicoloured, colour-pip heavy spells.

Colourless – even though there are two eligible commanders that are currently standard-legal – doesn’t really work in this format. The rough part about playing colourless is that you need enough unique lands for the deck to function properly. This isn’t generally a problem in regular commander, but in Brawl there are only 19 nonbasic lands that fit in a colourless identity. To add insult to injury, Evolving Wilds doesn’t do anything in a colourless deck unless Wastes are legal, which they don’t appear to be. Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem because the lack of coloured mana requirements means we can go a little deeper on mana rocks that only produce colourless mana. The best mana rock in this set – Mox Amber – doesn’t produce any mana in a deck that doesn’t have coloured permanents.

In total, I was actually pretty surprised at how many legendary creatures there are in standard at any given time. With the stuff we’ve seen so far in Dominaria, we have 98 viable commanders. That’s a little more than I expected, but it’s a lot less than what’s needed to result in format diversity. I indicated the number of cards that fit in each colour identity above. If we assume that any given deck will play 18 to 24 lands, we have 36 to 42 nonland cards from the available card pool for that colour identity. For each mono-colour commander (which accounts for about half of the available commanders), each deck will use approximately 18-20% of the total cards in that colour, or about 10% of the of the entire card available card pool (including artifacts). I suspect this is going to mean that any given white deck is going to feel like any other given white deck, and the same is going to be true for blue, black, red, and green.

After this kind of an analysis, I’m pretty comfortable calling it. We won’t see a lot of deckbuilding or gameplay diversity in this format. I expect that for any given commander, there will be a solved or optimal way to build the recommended on-theme deck, and there won’t be a ton of reasons or even ability to deviate. Reduced deckbuilding diversity naturally leads to reduced gameplay diversity, and the combination of these elements reduces the draw to play this format among the people who value them in Commander.

Is This a Bad Thing?

At this point you might be reading this article thinking that I have a pretty negative opinion of Brawl, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I really like the idea and how it’s being implemented. If the objective of the format is to replicate the things that make Commander what it is, I think it’s unlikely it will even come close. If the objectives of the format, however, are to:

  1. Bridge the developmental gap between Standard/Limited and Commander,
  2. Provide people with a way to play something-like-Commander in Arena,

Then I think it’s actually quite likely that Brawl accomplishes what it’s setting out to do. It’s probably not something that’s going to appeal to me as much as Commander does, but not everything has to be for me and I’m okay with that.

I’ve already got some Brawl content started that’s going to focus on metagame, the financial aspect of the format, as well as taking a really deep dive into whether it’s actually reasonable to make the jump from Brawl to Commander rather than Standard/Limited to Commander.

What do you think about Brawl? Are you planning on building any decks? Is it going to go the way of Tiny Leaders? Hit me up in the comments to let me know what you think!


2 Responses

  1. Nico

    I’m a seasoned Commanderplayer and I play occasionally Standard (showdowns, drafts, pre-release).

    I’m now building a Saheeli-deck.
    When I look up in my collection what cards for the Brawldeck I have, it seems to me that I have 1 copy of most of the “wanted” cards. So it fits perfectly for me.
    I don’t have to buy 4 Saheeli’s, 4 Padeems, 4 C Gearhulks, etc etc, but thanks to the drafting and buying a boosterpack from time to time, I have more then 80% of my unique cards for this Brawldeck.
    And I see that I’m going for Standardcards that I left in the box, because they were to costly for a standarddeck (both in price and in CMC), but now I find a place for them in my Brawldeck.

    • James LaPage

      Hey Nico!

      That’s exactly where I found myself with my Samut Vehicles deck that I brewed last week. When I went through my draft chaff and commander collection (which includes the kaladesh fast lands), I found that I had about 70% of the cards I needed to actually sleeve the deck up in paper. Barrier to entry seems a lot lower than Commander.

      Here’s the link to the Samut deck if you’re curious:


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