Last week we talked a little bit about Brawl, the new format dropping with the release of Dominaria in a couple weeks. Over the past few days I’ve been looking at the tools that are available to us in this format, and I’m pretty confident in my assessment from the last article. The gameplay environment is going to be pretty slow, the instant-speed interaction isn’t great, and there’s going to be a lot of emphasis on creature combat as the primary way to eliminate your opponents.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that I’m going to limit my brewing to creature combat strategies. I am a Johnny, after all, but creative brewing of non-traditional win conditions requires a pretty good understanding of what the traditional win conditions are!
With that in mind, let’s take a crack at brewing a creature combat deck.
Samut, Voice of Dissent
Flash is a really powerful ability, and it’s one that you don’t see too often outside of blue. What flash really does is allow you to mask your intentions until after your opponents have committed resources towards doing things on their turn. It blanks sorcery-speed removal for a turn if you’re able to cast it on your opponent’s end step, minimizes the amount of mana available to anyone who might have a counterspell in hand.
Even if you’re not able to take advantage of Flash, Samut has…
If at some point you’re forced to cast Samut on your own turn, she’s got haste! This is great for getting in for a bit (a lot) of damage when shields are down, or assisting with some untapping shenanigans on short notice.
Wait, did I say that we had to choose between the red zone and untapping shenanigans? That’s just incorrect. Fortunately for us, Samut also has…
We really want to shell out damage if we’re going to put together a beatdown deck, so having the flexibility to attack and use our commander’s ability should theoretically round out an impressive trio of ability keywords on Samut, Voice of Dissent.
But that’s not all we get for our 5 mana investment! Samut also gives our other creatures haste, which allows us to obscure our intentions as long as possible, to take advantage of our other creatures immediately after playing them.
So where do we go with this hodgepodge of abilities? We know we want to be aggressive, and we might get a little extra benefit from running creatures with abilities that cause them to tap (or things that benefit from staying untapped).
While I was looking at this list, I came across Lightning-Rig Crew, and I was immediately reminded of Kaladesh pre-release. My teammate and I were playing 2-headed giant and I put together a super cheesy deck featuring the five copies of Spireside Infiltrator that I opened.
This deck was surprisingly effective for two reasons:
- The rules of 2-headed giant disproportionately favour damage that affects “each opponent”.
- When vehicles are crewed, they don’t lose their crew ability. This means you can crew a vehicle more than once, and anything that triggers when the crewing creature is tapped can trigger as often as you can tap it.
We went 4-0 in some very short games that involved sticking 1 or 2 vehicles and crewing them with as many Spireside Infiltrators as I could draw and cast. My teammate – Winnipeg L1 judge Ryan Zacharias – put together a black/white control deck featuring two copies of Kambal, Consul of Allocation, which would further punish our opponents for daring to use removal on any of our key pieces.
It got me thinking that there might be a similar strategy that Samut could enable, so I changed gears (heh) and put together a search for future-standard-legal vehicles. It’s unfortunate that Smuggler’s Copter is banned in Brawl, because that’s exactly the type of vehicles that are really useful in an aggressive deck that’s going to want card advantage to mitigate wraths.
With 23 options, there should be plenty of options for things to crew. The next question is – who’s in the driver’s seat? Most people went straight to Depala, Pilot Exemplar as the go-to vehicle commander, and fortunately our colour identity includes Boros, so she’s in. One thing that I like to do when I’m building Commander decks is look for clues in a pet card’s oracle text to craft searches for similar or complementary cards.
With that, I put together a search of all of the Naya future-standard-legal cards that contained the words “Whenever”, “becomes”, and “tapped”, in an attempt to isolate similar cards. Note that I could have used the tilde symbol (eg. “whenever ~ becomes tapped”) to isolate only self-referential triggered abilities, but I didn’t want to exclude things that trigger whenever something else becomes tapped, so I deliberately left the search a little broader than it could have been. I shored up the search with all the cards that contain “whenever crews”, because I knew from drafting Kaladesh that some of the “crew matters”-themed cards specifically triggered when they performed the crew action.
This left me with a total of 7 two- and three-drop creatures that would form our core strategy:
To round out the list of creatures, I thought long and hard about what kind of other value I could get from crewing vehicles. Just as I was lamenting the fact that Lightning-Rig Crew can’t really crew vehicles, I got to thinking about high-power, low-toughness creatures and how you can sometimes get them at a bit of a discount (a la Ball Lightning and friends). For those of you who aren’t really into Commander, it might be useful to know that a popular cEDH deck takes advantage of exactly this concept – Selvala Brostorm. Selvala uses high-powered creatures with downside (usually “can’t attack”) to leverage her own ability, and I knew that there was at least one such creature currently in standard – Wayward Swordtooth! This is a 3-mana 5/5 that can’t attack, but it pilot a vehicle like nobody’s business! This gave me an awesome opportunity to include a trio of difficult-to-remove creatures in Oketra, Rhonas, and Hazoret who would offer similar utility.
Bears. Beats. Ballista Chargers.
The natural conclusion to this tangent, I think, is that the creatures who are crewing the vehicles aren’t always going to be the ones attacking alongside them. This means that we can fill out some roles in the deck by including creatures that have desirable abilities on them. Creature decks in Commander frequently do this using enters-the-battlefield abilities, but there’s an entire archetype out there that does something similar – hatebears! There are some pretty decent hatebears in standard, so I figure they’re as qualified to hop in a Sky Skiff as anything else, and simply having them on board provides some persisting detriment to my opponents.
I tried to avoid leaning too heavily on creature-based ETB abilities because of Tocatli Honor Guard, but you could easily cut the Honor Guard and include something you like more.
I took one final pass at the complete list of Naya future-standard-legal cards to see if I was missing anything, and found Throne of the God-Pharaoh, which I suspect will be really incredible in this deck, as well as Harvest Season, which I’m really looking forward to testing. It’s really unfortunate that the deck doesn’t run more 1- and 2-drops that would allow me to cast this on-curve for 2-3 lands, but I think there are definitely worse things than pulling 4 lands out of my deck in the lategame.
After settling on my creatures and vehicles, the deck was nearly completely built. I was staring at this pile of cards and – in all honesty – thought that this looked like a pretty unresponsive list. What was I going to do if people went to remove my stuff? What was I going to do in the face of a board stall with a bunch of chump blockers obstructing my path to victory?
The fact that our strategy means that we start each turn (ideally) with a couple creatures and a couple noncreature artifacts means that we get to take advantage of a pretty spicy piece of tech:
Slaughter the Strong allows us to keep Samut in play after a boardwipe, and we get to keep all of our vehicles! With something like Skysovereign and Oketra in play, this 3-mana spell has the potential for some massive blowouts.
In all honesty, though, I was pretty unimpressed with the types of removal and interaction available in this format. Green has some pretty interesting fight-related removal that we can take advantage of because we’ll frequently have the biggest creature on the board. Red’s options are mostly damage-based, and white has a few cute Oblivion Ring-esque enchantments, but none of them really synergize with what we’re trying to do. I added Pounce but wasn’t really feeling anything else. On the defensive side of things, I think that Pia’s Revolution might be good enough to salvage a little bit of card advantage from my opponents’ removal spells on my key vehicles.
After playtesting, if the pure beatdown plan is lacking, I’ll probably shore things up with some more fighting tech.
What I ended up with, after picking what I’m assuming is an appropriate level of fixing, is this list:
I think we could actually cut back on the number of fixing lands because – even though we’re in 3-colour, and we have a few double-coloured pips – 15 artifacts is an unusually high count for a stompy deck.
Considerations for Future Testing
I can’t believe I didn’t consider this while I was building, but a couple friends brought it up when I posted my list in a group chat before I published this article. This seems like a natural fit for this strategy, because Samut enables two combats per turn for as long as we can keep both of them in play. There’s definitely a cut for this somewhere, but I’m not totally sure what it is yet.
The Chopping Block
This will be the likely cut for Combat Celebrant. As a general rule, giving your opponents too much choice only ensures that they’ll always pick the option you don’t want. Given that this targets, though (rather than something like Sin Prodder), means that you can always target the person with the least amount of life, and theoretically they’re the person that’s least likely to drop 3 life to ensure my dead vehicles stay dead.
What do you think of the final list? Are you using any other commanders for a vehicle strategy? Are you doing something entirely different with Samut? Hit me up in the comments and let me know!