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By: CheshirePlaysGames, Albert Caynes
Apr 15 2019 12:00pm
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Gerritt Turner (senior brand narrative designer at Wizards of the Coast) had an idea for a new format with Standard in mind. As an avid Commander player, he dreamed of this new format being able to draw in new players to commander. So the story goes, but where did this awesome new format go off the rails? 

When Brawl was announced, I was one of the first content creators to swipe right. Fresh-faced and young, it seemed like the perfect new format with only a few minor issues. As time dragged on, a number of smaller issues started to become notably bigger issues. People stopped playing, stores started scrubbing play nights and views on content were down 90%. But what REALLY happened? BEFORE WE GET INTO THIS TOPIC: Please let me be clear that this isn’t me dumping on Wizard or Gavin Verhey, this is my opinion on the issues that Brawl faced that caused it’s slide from promising new format, to largely forgotten experiment.



Brawl was touted as being the ultimate new format for both newer players and commander players alike, boasting an ambitious rule to allow your planeswalker to be your commander, something commander has failed to deliver. When news dropped of this great new format, a number of content creators stepped straight in writing a number of great articles on theory crafting, number crunching, deck techs, lists of the available strongest cards and trying to spread that joy far and wide. Wizards did the same, launching Brawl on MTGO, directing you to request Brawl nights at your FLGS and releasing official rules for the format. 

Brawl is a 60 card singleton format, with 59 cards in your deck and a commander to head it up, any number of basic lands, but only one of any other card allowed in your deck. The format was originally intended for a 4 player game, however it was immediately adapted into a 1V1 format, immediately causing major design issues due to overpowered commanders such as Baral, Chief of Compliance.  At the height of its short-lived popularity, Brawl was the most talked about “casual” format second only to commander, but there was an issue looming like a dark cloud. 


The introduction of Brawl wasn’t all a bed of roses as some were quick to point out that this new format was actually heavily flawed due to a number of oversights that were either never address, or addressed far later than they should have been due to a number of bad timings.


Wizards launched the format March 22 2018 to a rather vocal sigh of relief from players due to a stale and horrible standard format filled with Aetherworks Marvel gross domination. However, the format wasn’t supported by Wizards at the local game store level. With Dominaria dropping, they used Firesong and Sunspeaker as a Buy a Box Prom and sighted that the new legendary creature was perfect for Brawl, but that was as far as that went. There was no promos made for brawl and this was the first misstep for the new format.


Some have argued that to entice new players, the Planeswalker Decks supplemental products that were being released for each new set could have been a 60 card Brawl deck instead, built around the face-fronting planeswalker as not only a way to entice new players, but also could have been used as a “the story thus far” primer to open players to the story at hand. This could have even provided unique opportunities for the content creators from Wizards by allowing those creators to create the decks from a select pool of cards.


Why do players play Friday Night Magic? Let’s be honest, everyone loves winning special art foil cards that are unique. Wizards could have created some special promos with Brawl in mind. “BUT CHESH, THE SPIKES WILL SPIKE AND WIN THE PROMOS!” Actually, not unlike the treasure boosters for the special event weekends, this “blind bag” direction would have been perfect for Brawl as an incentive. This means that you give out one blind pack to EVERY player and two to the winner. Even better, as this was supposed to be, DESPITE all the promotion by Wizards seeming otherwise, a casual free for all format, just give one to each player at the event.


Brawl was limited to “standard only” sets, meaning that there was concern that “casual players would have to continually buy and maintain a collection of cards to remain actually PLAYING the format”. You might be surprised to hear this, but that’s actually a non-issue if you’re cultivating a true casual 4P environment. The problem was actually far more overlooked.


Let’s talk about pro players like LSV being invited to STREAM this new “casual” format… as a NON CASUAL format of 1V1. That was a big mistake and a massive worrying signpost that we were in for a rough time. When you’re making a casual tournament, it makes more sense to focus on and lift up your more casual content creators using the casual free for all format you have been touting, not trying to push it through an extremely popular pro player.
Firstly, 1v1 as the promotion tool on MTGO was a massive mistake. No matter how you look at it, restricting your current online platform to not be able to PLAY the format as you were trying to communicate it, was a massive step off a cliff with no parachute.
Who here remembers myself, LRR and others streaming Brawl when Wizards had a Streamer Showdown after bringing Brawl back to MTGO? Right. Ahhh awkward you missed it. The major problem was we were all playing 1v1 instead of pods of four. This was very confusing as this is now
the second Wizards sponsored event showing it as a 1v1 format instead of playing to the room and doing pods of four. 


As Brawl was based on the standard format, the standard banned list was originally ported over with other items added many months after to assist with the health of the format. However, these new changes were already later than the players would have liked.  The original list was Aetherworks Marvel, Attune with Aether, Felidar Guardian, Rampaging Ferocidon, Ramunap Ruins, and Rogue Refiner and were eventually all unbanned with Smuggler's Copter staying banned due to it’s amazing card advantage. Later as the months passed, Baral, Chief of Compliance and Sorcerous Spyglass were banned due to the format wrecking both assisted in with Spyglass singlehandedly locking out planeswalkers.
It was far too late for 1V1 and I even wrote an article on how busted Baral was.


This is probably the most difficult question to answer as I still think Brawl can be saved and I have been longing for Brawl to be introduced to Arena since Arena was released to Beta users. Brawl on Arena will only ever be 1v1, there simply is too much programming work to make it a free for all 4
player experience. Though that does go against the format itself, Wizards has already seen just how much players LOVE singleton formats on Arena, so much so that they released Singleton to great success.


110% it can work indeed, Wizards just need to asses WHO they want to market it to, provide special promos for Brawl events and support the format with guest article from content creators like myself.
Hey Wizards, chuck me a box of the latest set (War of the Spark) on release day and I will have 4 deck tech articles to you in a week. Invite content creators to make content for you, feature those content creators who are immersed in the target audiences of casual and commander. Provide special 1v1 tournaments via Channel Fireball Events at GPs. There is a LOT you can do here, so take the plunge.
I loved Brawl, I wish it had legs and walked on its own, but we don’t always get what we want.