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By: Kumagoro42, Gianluca Aicardi
Jul 20 2021 12:00pm
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A GUIDE TO BRAWL:
ADVENTURES IN THE FORGOTTEN REALMS

 Summer update to the Brawl series! The legendaries from the crossover world of Dungeons & Dragons: Adventures in the Forgotten Realms are added to the pre-existing Brawl commander options from Throne of Eldraine, Theros Beyond DeathIkoria: Lair of BehemothsCore Set 2021Zendikar RisingKaldheim, and Strixhaven: School of Mages. Brawl is at its zenith!

 The 35 new commanders cover all monocolored and dual-colored combinations, but only one triple-colored, which is Naya, and one five-colored. With the pool at its largest, Grixis is the only combination that has no commander to its name (not counting the very unusual quadricolor ones). Bolas really is gone. Also, the enemy-colored pairs, in average, have twice the number of commanders the allied-colore pairs have, mostrly due to Strixhaven focusing on the former.

 The total number of available commanders is brought up to 207 – which is 211, minus the four that are currently banned: Oko, Thief of Crowns (banned in November 2019), Lutri, the Spellchaser (banned in April 2020), Winota, Joiner of Forces (banned in May 2020), and Omnath, Locus of Creation (banned in October 2020).

   

 The count by color becomes as follows (not including the planeswalkers from the starter decks).

  • Monowhite: 16 commanders (+4)
  • Monoblue: 18 commanders (+3)
  • Monoblack: 19 commanders (+4)
  • Monored: 18 commanders (+4)
  • Monogreen: 20 commanders (+4)
  • Azorius: 6 commanders (+1)
  • Dimir: 7 commanders (+2)
  • Rakdos: 7 commanders (+2)
  • Gruul: 8 commanders (+1)
  • Selesnya: 7 commanders (+2)
  • Orzhov: 11 commanders (+1)
  • Izzet: 11 commanders (+1) – 1 banned
  • Golgari: 14 commanders (+1)
  • Boros: 12 commanders (+1) – 1 banned
  • Simic: 15 commanders (+2) – 1 banned
  • Esper: 1 commander
  • Grixis: 0 commanders
  • Jund: 1 commander
  • Naya: 2 commanders (+1)
  • Bant: 1 commander
  • Abzan: 1 commander
  • Jeskai: 2 commanders
  • Sultai: 2 commanders
  • Mardu: 3 commanders
  • Temur: 1 commander
  • Quadricolor: 1 commander – 1 banned
  • Pentacolor: 6 commanders (+1)
  • Colorless: 1 commander

 Aside from the four banned commanders, three extra cards cannot be included in Brawl decks: Sorcerous Spyglass, as it shuts down commanders that are planeswalkers; Drannith Magistrate, as it prevents the casting from the command zone; and Runed Halo, as it can be easily abused by naming the opposing commander.

  

 The ban list for Historic Brawl includes the same cards that are banned in regular Brawl, with the exception of Winota. Additionally, Meddling_Mage and Gideon's Intervention are two other hosing cards that are not playable in the extended format, as well as Nexus of Fate and Teferi, Time Raveler. Also banned in Historic Brawl are four of the reprinted Mystical Archive cards, namely Channel, Demonic Tutor, Natural Order, and Tainted Pact.

   

 Now let's see what the world of Dungeons & Dragons brings to Brawl!

 Jump to: Monowhite, Monoblue, Monoblack, Monored, Monogreen, AzoriusDimir, Rakdos, Gruul, Selesnya, Orzhov, Izzet, Golgari, Boros, Simic, Naya, Pentacolor.


 MONOWHITE BRAWL COMMANDERS

     

 Icingdeath, Frost Tyrant: Forgotten Realms includes a cycle of mythic Dragons, and Icingdeath is the white one. Not the most powerful of the lot, but the cheapest, and still the highest-powered evasive commander in the color. It's not saying much, though, he's basically just a Serra Angel that leaves an Equipment behind when he dies. We may equip a new instance of Icingdeath with the token Equipment, thus giving his own tongue back, but that's about it as far as synergies are concerned. With the pool at its largest, the competition in monowhite is steep enough that Icingdeath doesn't seem like a top pick.

 Nadaar, Selfless Paladin: In theory, this is a functional "dungeons matter" commander, but Nadaar's issue is his color identity, since there are just so many playable dungeon cards, so a deck that focuses on them needs access to at least another color, either blue or black. And given that both these combinations have a perfectly valid option for a dungeon-oriented commander (Hama Pashar and Barrowin, respectively), the chance of Nadaar being placed at the helm of a Brawl deck is dim.

 Oswald Fiddlebender: Now then, a Birthing Pod for artifacts? (Or a Prime Speaker Vannifar, rather, but much cheaper to drop). Yes, please! Only, maybe not in Brawl, where the payoffs at the end of the chain are going to be a bit limited. Historic Brawl seems a much more fitting format for this tinkering Gnome. Or, dare I say, Commander itself?

 Grand Master of Flowers: The Dragon-in-disguise Bahamut is arguably the most exciting new commander in white. The singleton format prevents the fetching of more than one copy of Monk of the Open Hand (though he can fish it back from the graveyard too, so it's a more or less a guaranteed presence), but the flowery Grand Master can still act as pacifier, with the plan being having him ascend to his true draconic form asap, thus getting a large indestructible flyer for just a four-mana investment. It seems a pretty good deal, and a perfect fit for any monowhite "good stuff" build.


 MONOBLUE BRAWL COMMANDERS

    

 Grazilaxx, Illithid Scholar: This Mind Flayer makes for a peculiar monoblue commander. Unlike most of his colleagues, he wants to be surrounded by creatures, to act as a surrogate Toski – even if his card-drawing output is much lower than the Squirrel's. Furthermore, he wants ETB effects on those creatures, to capitalize on the self-bouncing ability. Ideally, we'll have at least one evasive creature on the battlefield by the time we drop Grazilaxx, so we can get our value immediately. Problem is, there aren't too many one-drop or two-drop monoblue flyers in Standard, at least not that warrant inclusion in any deck. We have Silver Raven as a good partner for Grazilaxx, as well as Thieving Skydiver and, until rotation, the adventure creatures, which are happy to be returned to hand in order to cast their adventure sides again. A satisfying Grazilaxx deck can be built for sure, and his universal Curiosity effect is certainly appealing.

 Iymrith, Desert Doom: The mythic blue Dragon. She doesn't synergize with much of anything, but she's defensively resilient, provides a decent clock, and draws cards. Probably more effective than Alrund in their mana value range.

Mordenkainen: Currently the most expensive commander available in monoblue, Mordenkainen has two excellent turn-by-turn abilities and an over-the-top ultimate that only wishes to be reached within one of the formats where Omniscience is still legal (Historic Brawl is one of those). The plus is more or less a See Beyond, the minus creates a repeatable creature token of potentially large size. This archmage doesn't come cheap, but he definitely knows how to deliver the goods. A curve-topping commander might be risky, but at least Mordenkainen will leave some value behind even if the opponent deals with him right away, as they should.


 MONOBLACK BRAWL COMMANDERS

     

 Acererak the Archlich: This big Zombie doesn't necessarily require a "dungeons matter" build to function, but only relying on his first ability to complete Tomb of Annihilation, like he was a black Greenbelt Rampager, is not ideal. First of all, because Acererak costs three mana, not one. And second of all, because the Rampager only requires to be bounced twice to finally stay on the battlefield, while the Archlich demands three at the very least – and that would entail discarding a card plus sacrificing one to three permanents, which wouldn't be worth the payoff. Therefore, we're back to the same consideration made for Nadaar: Acererak is a must-include card in a deck commanded by someone else, namely someone who has access to a wider range of venture cards.

 Asmodeus the Archfiend: From an Archlich to an Archfiend. Asmodeus is the closest a creature has been to Necropotence. Of course, it's more fragile and much more expensive, not to mention mana-intensive: you can only draw packets of seven cards, and in order to do so, you have to spend four mana per packet (or, I guess, seven mana for two packets – it's like a convenience store discount!). Still, in the right deck, it's an insanely powerful way to refuel in the late game. The only real issue is that dropping Asmodeus before having the mana to also activate his abilities in the same turn runs the risk of him being killed before he could offer us his deal. So we're talking of a very rampy monoblack deck here, one that Brawl might not be able to properly support.

 Ebondeath, Dracolich: The black mythic Dragon is as unexpensive as the white one, but it can dribble the commander tax by being recast from the graveyard through his morbid-like ability. It's pretty much the only thing he has going for him, since his flash capability is purposely deprived of an ambush angle, and his toughness is very underwhelming and accidents-prone – sure he can come back at will (provided the graveyard doesn't get exiled, which it might), but we'd prefer not to have to pay for his casting cost every other turn.

 Lolth, Spider Queen: Lolth is like a slightly cheaper, slightly less effective version of Mordenkainen – which is to say, she's still a pretty damn good presence in the command zone. She draws one card rather than two, and she creates two small Spiders rather than one big Dog, but at least they're not vanilla; in fact, they have relevant keywords, and their number can matter in the right build, and their death returns loyalty back to their Queen. There might be a go-wide theme to enforce with Lolth, but even just in a "good stuff" role, she's better than most of her midrange competition in monoblack.


 MONORED BRAWL COMMANDERS

     

 Delina, Wild Mage: Dice-rolling is the other main Forgotten Realms mechanic along with venture into the dungeon, and its synergies are found in blue and red. Delina here has one of the strongest dice-related abilities, but the odds (pun intended) are that she'll just reside within a Farideh buil.

 Inferno of the Star Mounts: The red mythic Dragon is the most threatening of his cycle. There's nothing much to say about him as a commander. The 20-damage trigger will probably never happen, but he can still be a viable option in a red deck that can use a one-shot uncounterable swing to close out the game.

 Zalto, Fire Giant Duke: Same things said about previous monocolored "dungeons matter" creatures apply to Zalto, too. Or even more, since his venture ability is not too easy to trigger. Plus he's in absolutely the worst color for dungeon synergies (there's only another red card that ventures into the dungeon, and it's even just a one-time deal). And failing that, he's just a 7/3 trampler for five mana. Not exactly the most intriguing commander.

 Zariel, Archduke of Avernus: Here's another planeswalker that creates token, but this time as a loyalty-neutral ability, so she can do it every single turn. And those are Devils, and each one of those little suckers can easily trade for a two-toughness creatures all on its own. Additionally, Zariel provides universal haste and an offensive anthem. Not too shabby for a four-mana walker these days.


 MONOGREEN BRAWL COMMANDERS

    

 Old Gnawbone: The most expensive of the mythic Dragons. She creates a lot of Treasure tokens, but that kind of super-ramp only makes sense if we have a lot of high-profile mana sinks to exploit, so that's probably the only incentive to try and build with Old Gnawbone in the command zone.

 The Tarrasque: Let's be honest, the Tarrasque, the most frightening of all D&D monsters, should have been much more powerful than this. Regardless, I can't find any reason whatsoever to elect a nine-mana creature as a commander of a Brawl deck. Sure it's hard to target, but not even that hard to kill, as sweepers are a thing that exist in Brawl, too.

 Varis, Silverymoon Ranger: Yet another dungeon venturer in a color that's not the most suitable for the strategy. Green has three other repeatable sources of dungeon advancement, with Ellywick Tumblestrum, Intrepid Outlander and Wandering Troubadour all very solid at their job, but I'm not sure that's enough to earn Varis a place in the command zone.

 Ellywick Tumblestrum: What just noted for Varis is true of Ellywick, too. But at least she has a card-drawing ability in addition to her dungeon explorations, which might be just taken as small incremental rewards. It's probably not enough, though. Also unfortunate that, in order to reunite the set's signature party of Ellywick, Hama, Nadaar and Varis, one is soon going to need a five-color commander in Brawl, since the only Bant one, Chulane, will rotate out next September.


 AZORIUS BRAWL COMMANDERS

 

 Hama Pashar, Ruin Seeker: One of the commanders for a tentative "dungeons matter" Brawl deck. Here's the thing about the mechanics that are native of Forgotten Realms: they don't really synergize with previous sets, and the'll probably remain an isolated case going forward as well, at least in the immediate future (I'm positive a new D&D product will be released at some point that will add more fuel to the original mechanics). So what we have here is what we get, basically. And when it comes to building around dungeons in white-blue, this means there's a grand total of one commander plus 18 extra cards to count on, only three of which are rares. It could be enough, it certainly beats attempting to do the same in a single color, but I still wouldn't expect such a deck to be super-competitive.

 Now that we have a full Standard, we can look back and see that Azorius didn't get anything really amazing when it came to leader options. Best one is probably Yorion, followed by Niko Aris.


 DIMIR BRAWL COMMANDERS

  

 Krydle of Baldur's Gate: This thief/poet is a deceptively low-profile commander. He's cheap, and connecting with him ensures a few morcels of value, but nothing crucial. What is crucial, instead, is the ability to make any one creature unblockable each combat, by just paying two generic mana. It's important to note Krydle doesn't have to attack to use that trigger, and there are several "saboteur" creatures in blue-black currently, including a few that have Curiosity effects, like Sea-Dasher Octopus and Soulknife Spy. Or we can just push some big dumb monster through and close the game.

 Xanathar, Guild Kingpin: Now, this is the kind of ability that gives you an adrenaline rush just by reading it. Xanathar can be a fun commander to try and build, just out of the sheer, greedy power we're going to feel running through our veins when we'll start casting spells off the top of the opponent's library, and/or fateseal-lock them out of the game. Only concern is, it's a six-mana creature with no protective angle whatsoever, aside from a decent chunk of toughness. What it's likely going to happen is: we finally get to six mana and drop our Xanathar; they'll have removal ready, because they saw him coming; and suddenly our multiocular crimelord has an eight-mana price tag. The fateseal aspect is also problematic. On some level, we have to lean in that direction, to prevent the opponent from drawing into removal for Xanathar. But what if we find a land already on top? I guess we just pass on the opportunity to get card advantage that way, but then our big commander is just ensuring his own survival without improving our gameplan too much, since he's just a not-too-formidable vanilla 5/6 on the battlefield. In short, if we were behind, we stay behind – unless we just stop worrying and learn to love the mirror version of Future Sight, even if playing the opponent's cards isn't going to be as advantageous as playing our own, because chances are we won't find as many synergies there.

 Best Dimir commander at the zenith? I'd say probably Ashiok, Nightmare Muse or Atris, Oracle of Half-Truths – it turns out Theros Beyond Death was a really good set for that color pair. Zareth San is popular, but losing half of his rule text by residing in the command zone has to suck.


 RAKDOS BRAWL COMMANDERS

  

 Kalain, Reclusive Painter: Kalain essentially offsets her commander cost by one at every iteration, which isn't bad. For the rest, she wants to be in a deck with a lot of Treasure-production, which would results in stronger creatures. Not an incredible payoff, but it's conceivable to build Rakdos Aggro with her at the helm.

 Orcus, Prince of Undeath: This Demon packs a lot of utility, if at a costly price. Both a sweeper a la Toxic Deluge and mass reanimation are powerful effects to have available at any time, multiple times. In a pinch, we can even count on a 5/3 frampler for four, although, clearly, Orcus is going to be the kind of a commander that sits in the command zone until the late game, and then unleash his power when it matters most.

 Reviewing the Rakdos commanders from this cycle, we may find out that most of them have been pretty good, with the group including two heavy-hitting mythics like Kroxa and Valki.


 GRUUL BRAWL COMMANDERS

 

 Targ Nar, Demon-Fang Gnoll: Pack tactics is the one Forgotten Realms mechanic that plays well with cards from any set, because you just need to put a bunch of power on the battlefield. The payoff with Targ Nar is a little power boost, but he's also a two-drop 2/2 that can double his own power and toughness. I'd rate him "solid".

 Time to re-evaluate all the commanders Gruul has gotten in the past couple of years. Most of them range from two to three mana and synergize pretty well together, with special recognition for the excellent Radha as well as the only mythic worth mentioning (as we won't talk of that disappointing Godzilla ripoff), which is the versatile goddess Klothys. The prize for the cutest commander goes to party goat-girl Gallia, though, hands down.


 SELESNYA BRAWL COMMANDERS

   

 Drizzt Do'Urden: One of the most famous Forgotten Realms characters gets an appropriately strong card, which makes for a very playable commander, if more leaning on the expensive end of the spectrum. For that initial five-mana investment, though, Drizzt puts seven points of power on the battlefiel, potentially hitting for ten damage. The death of our dark elf leaves the trusty Guenhwyvar behind, while the death of the panther leaves a +1/+1 counter on Drizzt, so the package has a bit of insurance against spot removal. Not really a build-around commander (there are only so many creatures with power higher than four we can run), but pretty okay as the lead of Selesnya "good stuff" builds.

 Trelasarra, Moon Dancer: Did you ever wish to be able to run Ajani's Pridemate as a commander? Now you can! With access to an extra color and some scry thrown in for good measure. Trelasarra is surely going to be targeted by removal before she can grow into a real threat, but is functional and provides incidental value. As for her build-around potential, lifegain synergies are always going to be a big part of the color pair, so that's never going to be an issue.

 So, how did Selesnya fare in this Standard era, as far as Brawl commanders are concerned? Eh, not too well, I'm afraid. Lots of specialized guys with limited synergies. Before the solid duo from Forgotten Realms, the most well-rounded commander in the colors was arguably Yasharn.


 ORZHOV BRAWL COMMANDERS

 

 Barrowin of Clan Undurr: The other half of the dual-colored dungeon decks, in competition with Hama Pashar. Orzhov has a slightly higher number of relevant cards compared to Azorius, and the mythic Acererak is one of those. Plus, Barrowin could be more effective as a commander. But at the end of the day, I reckon it's more a matter of just liking one pair better than the other.

 Being the union of two enemy colors, Orzhov is among the guilds that have gotten a double digit amount of Brawl commanders during this cycle. I name Lurrus and Kaya as its best ones.


 IZZET BRAWL COMMANDERS

 

 Farideh, Devil's Chosen: Dice-rolling is another parasitic mechanic from Forgotten Realms. The number of cards that care about it in Izzet is slightly larger than the number of those that care about dungeons in either Azorius or Orzhov. Not all of them look Constructed-playable, but one could try, if they happen to think rolling dice is fun.

 Izzet has had an okay Standard rotation, commanders-wise. I can't tell which one was the most appealing; probably Rielle or, to a lesser extent, The Royal Scions.


 GOLGARI BRAWL COMMANDERS

 

 Shessra, Death's Whisper: Shessra is as pretty as her battlefield presence and abilities are underwhelming. Maybe the Lure lite ETB makes more sense in a format with the command zone, where it could be repeated over time. Mostly, she wants to be in a sacrifice deck, to gain card advantage off the death of fodder, although the way she accomplishes that is a bit convoluted, and the cost/body ratio is still disproportionate.

 Luckily, Golgari was graced with a ton of Brawl commanders during the cycle that's coming to an end in September. Some of them were also disappointing, like black-curious Nissa or clunky doomwolf Sarulf. But there were also a very powerful Hydra in Zombie Polukranos and a fairly serviceable one in Grakmaw; the extremely popular bounty hunter Chevill; and even a big bad Garruk.


 BOROS BRAWL COMMANDERS

 

 Bruenor Battlehammer: Equipment is obviously D&D-adjacent (representing all those sweet, sweet magic items), but it's also more of an universal theme, and the overall selection of them, even just in current-Standard Boros, is quite large. So yeah, Bruenor has the potential to be a quite strong commander, even when Embercleave will not be part of his arsenal anymore. However, he has to compete with previous, similarly flavored command-zone aspirants like Nahiri, Akiri, and, to a minor degree, Koll. They clearly all go in the same deck, so they may want to take turns leading the whole endeavor.

 Those are also the best commander options for Boros in this era. With Winota banned, the next best thing is possibly the quirky build-around Zirda, or even Velomachus, if we want to go big.


 SIMIC BRAWL COMMANDERS

  

 Gretchen Titchwillow: Gretchen really encapsulates Simic, as she does the two things the color pair most care about – or rather the one thing, i.e. the Growth Spiral deal. And until the mana to pay for it is online (which, we're talking of Simic, so it's gonna be pretty soon), our little Druid plays the road-blocker role thanks to her surprisingly resilient butt. As a commander she's nothing fancy, but also nothing short of desirable.

 Volo, Guide to Monsters: Building around that restriction can prove tricky, because creatures have a lot of random subtypes in modern Magic, especially with the party mechanic still in the pool for another year. But the payoff is gargantuan. Until you have witnessed Volo duplicating a follow-up Elder Gargaroth or Froghemoth, you haven't lived.

 So these two are yet another couple of great Simic commanders, and we've had our fair share of those during this cycle. It's the multicolored combination that received the largest number of them (15, close to monocolored levels), and some of them were among the very best the format had to offer. Oko was (luckily) short-lived, but Uro is still around and so are Kinnan and Koma. And that's just to name the very cream of the crop.


 NAYA BRAWL COMMANDERS

  

 Minsc, Beloved Ranger: At last we get a viable commander in Naya colors (let's be real, Rin and Seri were just a meme). A truly beloved character from the Baldur's Gate video game series, Minsc brings to the world of MTG his trusty miniature giant space hamster Boo – as well as the ability to turn him into a threatening, trampling monstrosity at the drop of a hat. Well, provided we have to mana to sink into his X-costed activation, which is essentially a localized version of Mirror Entity's. His basic cost is very compact, though, triple-color requirement aside. On turn three, we can drop two bodies on the battlefield, one of which is hasty. The ability being sorcery speed neutralizes the threat of activation, but the whole package is still intriguing, and, of course, adorable.


 PENTACOLOR BRAWL COMMANDERS

 

 Tiamat: Honestly, we didn't need another five-color-soup commander, as we currently have way too many of those, and they tend to be overpowered, even just by circumventing one of the basic deckbuilding restrictions of Commander formats. Plus, their decks end up lacking personality, in exchange for sheer power. So we can say that at least the latter is not the case of the dragon goddess Tiamat – or better, the power level is still high, being a large evasive finisher that potentially turns into a quintuple tutor every time she drops, so she doesn't really fear removal since she already replaced herself five times over. But the theme is clear, and requires a certain measure of committment, otherwise her entire presence in the command zone kind of loses meaning. To be fair, Historic Brawl and Commander are probably going to be the formats where she shines the most; but Forgotten Realms, to nobody's surprise, just injected Standard with an overabundance of new Dragons (there are sixteen of them in the set, six of which at mythic rarity), and even post-rotation, we'll have 24 surviving in the meta, to chose from. Where's Sarkhan when you need him? (In Historic, that's where!)


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