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By: Kumagoro42, Gianluca Aicardi
May 13 2020 12:00pm
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A GUIDE TO BRAWL: IKORIA: LAIR OF BEHEMOTHS

 Spring update to the Brawl series: Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths is in the pool! The legendaries from the giant monsters world provide further options when it comes too choose a commander for your Brawl deck, on top of those already available in the current meta, i.e. all the creatures and planeswalkers from Guilds of Ravnica, Ravnica Allegiance, War of the Spark, Core Set 2020Throne of Eldraine, and Theros Beyond Death.

 The 26 new commanders are mostly multicolored, covering all two-color combinations and enemy-aligned three-color combinations. No monowhite, monoblue, monoblack or colorless commanders this time around, but there's a new five-color option. With these additions, the total number of available commanders is raised to 168 – which is 171, minus three that are banned ones: Oko, Thief of Crowns (banned in November 2019), Golos, Tireless Pilgrim (banned in March 2020), and Lutri, the Spellchaser (banned in April 2020).

  

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

  • Monowhite: 13 commanders
  • Monoblue: 14 commanders
  • Monoblack: 14 commanders
  • Monored: 17 commanders (+2)
  • Monogreen: 16 commanders (+2)
  • Azorius: 5 commanders (+1)
  • Dimir: 7 commanders (+1)
  • Rakdos: 5 commanders (+1)
  • Gruul: 8 commanders (+1)
  • Selesnya: 8 commanders (+1)
  • Orzhov: 8 commanders (+2)
  • Izzet: 8 commanders (+2) – 1 banned
  • Golgari: 8 commanders (+2)
  • Boros: 7 commanders (+2)
  • Simic: 10 commanders (+2) – 1 banned
  • Esper: 1 commander
  • Grixis: 1 commander
  • Jund: 1 commander
  • Naya: 1 commander
  • Bant: 1 commander
  • Abzan: 2 commanders (+1)
  • Jeskai: 3 commanders (+2)
  • Sultai: 2 commanders (+1)
  • Mardu: 3 commanders (+1)
  • Temur: 2 commanders (+1)
  • Pentacolor: 4 commanders (+1) – 1 banned
  • Colorless: 2 commanders

 The Historic options available through the direct challenge on MTG Arena are here. The older commanders added to Arena through the Brawlidays and Brawlers' Guildhall events, and also made legal in Standard within the digital platform, are currently four: Rhys the RedeemedTalrand, Sky Summoner, The Gitrog Monster, and Bladewing the Risen.

   

 Now let's see what the new set brings!

 Jump to: Monored, Monogreen, AzoriusDimir, Rakdos, Gruul, Selesnya, Orzhov, Izzet, Golgari, Boros, Simic, Abzan, Jeskai, Sultai, Mardu, Temur, Pentacolor.


 MONORED BRAWL COMMANDERS

  

 Yidaro, Wandering Monster: I know what you're thinking, but no, you can't cycle a card from the command zone, sadly; cycling only works from hand. So in order to get access to Yidaro's alternative deployment, you'll first have to hardcast the multiverse's fastest turtle for its full seven-mana cost, then have it return to hand somehow, then cycle it and forfeit to send it back to the command zone, then draw your single shuffled copy three more times. It's not exactly worth it, especially in a monored deck. We can safely say Yidaro wasn't designed to be a commander.

 Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast: Ikoria's protagonist/antagonist is a solid combo-oriented planeswalker. Once again, though, monored is not necessarily the best shell for his cascade shenanigans. It's possible to conceive a build where you make sure to always get a top-end creature out of his minus ability, but in singleton, either you run only one top-end target in the deck, at the risk of just drawing into it, or you'll have an assortment (say, Drakuseth, Maw of Flames, Terror of Mount Velous, Meteor Golem and our pal Yidaro up there), but then you won't know what you're going to get. Also, monored doesn't have too many ways to ramp into Lukka and then use a mana dork as fuel for his ability, without other hits in between. He's still viable, and you could play the minus straight, just as a way to improve on something that doesn't mind being sacced, like Grim Initiate or Careless Celebrant or even a Phoenix, perhaps while mostly using the plus on the way to an ultimate that might well result in a game win.


 MONOGREEN BRAWL COMMANDERS

  

 Kogla, the Titan Ape: Expensive finishers aren't usually a good choice for a commander, because they don't help achieving a strategy, they're just the payoff for it, and the commander tax hits them hard, especially when they don't come prepackaged with some built-in resilience like hexproof or indestructible. This said, our King Kong homage here features several relevant abilities collectively making him capable of removing most things our opponents will bring to the table against us. He also has a little bit of conditional resilience, although at a cost that, combined with the six mana you're already paying to have Kogla show up, probably impedes an immediate use of it. Plus, Human is not the most common subtype you can found in monogreen – although, there are a few, including a number of adventurers one might be happy to return to hand (looks like Kogla is going to compete with Lovestruck Beast for Edgewall Innkeeper's affection), so that's a potentially interesting build.

 Vivien, Monsters' Advocate: The latest Vivien incarnation is a strong commander for creature decks – which is of course what most green decks want to be anyway. You get to churn out 3/3s with various keywords, possibly taking advantage of The Ozolith to engineer superpowered individuals; and more importantly, you can tutor up one extra creature for every creature you cast, which leads to all sorts of little combos and silver bulleting (and since we're operating from within the confines of a singleton format, the toolbox element is sort of built-in for no cost). She might not have the overwhelming impact of Nissa, Who Shakes the World, or even of the previous, and cheaper, Vivien, Arkbow Ranger herself, but she's still a fun, more surgical approach to a Stompy build.


 AZORIUS BRAWL COMMANDERS

 

 Yorion, Sky Nomad: The legendary companions are tricky to evaluate, because, while you can just run them as commanders, you can also play them in addition to having a commander, provided your deck satisfies their companon clause and their colors match your chosen commander's identity. When it comes to Yorion, though, once again the format rules take precedence: Brawl can't have a starting deck of size other than 60, much like its big brother Commander is forced to run 100 cards and 100 cards only, no more and no less. Therefore you can only run the elongated bird in two of its three ways: as a regular card in the deck, or as a commander. Good news is, it's a pretty powerful one, a different take on blinking staple Brago, King Eternal, except Yorion doesn't even need to connect in order to flicker all your board. Granted, the ability being on ETB means you won't do it as frequently as Brago would, but, you know, commanders tend to come back, and you can still copy or flicker the flickerer to set off the reality-shifting chain reaction that reactivates all your other ETB triggers (and surely there's no shortage of those in Azorius; did I hear somebody say Agent of Treachery?). On top of that, it has a more threatening flying body than the ghostly king.


 DIMIR BRAWL COMMANDERS

 

 Gyruda, Doom of Depths: This demonic sea monster might be the most popular of the ten companions in these early weeks of Ikoria Standard, as the lists that elect it as a companion are capable of engineering very explosive sequences where the ETB trigger ends up hitting either a clone or a blinker to keep the kraken train going. In Brawl you can only have one copy of each of those creatures, and you even lose some of them, like Charming Prince, to color identity. It remains a strong cascade effect, probably better employed as a companion than as a commander (Lazav, the Multifarious seems the best candidate for that job, so you can copy something that got milled but not reanimated), given that the price of doing business with Gyruda is not too steep.


 RAKDOS BRAWL COMMANDERS

 

 Obosh, the Preypiercer: The odd-loving Obosh is the other side of the coin to even-minded Gyruda, and has its own impactful effect that can be exploited right away, if you already have permanents on the board or mana left to cast damaging spells you can double the output of. It's similar to Torbran, Thane of Red Fell in some way, which mean you might want to actually run it as a commander of an aggressive Rakdos build – although the even converted mana cost of Torbran means the dwarf king himself won't be able to partake in the carnage, and neither will Embercleave, which is awkward but likely intended. In their place, we get all the black and black/red sources of damage that we couldn't run with Torbran. Well, all the odd-costed ones at least.


 GRUUL BRAWL COMMANDERS

 

 Zilortha, Strength Incarnate: Nobody knows what Ikoria's Buy-a-Box promo Zilortha is actually supposed to look like, since the Godzilla cross-promotion, devised by Wizards of the Coast in collaboration with the Toho Corporation, took over its card entirely (chances are we will see it at some point). Fourth-wall-breaking look apart, this guy is a strange build-around for a deck that wants you to run creatures with high power and low toughness, of which Ball Lightning is a classic and extreme example. Currently, there aren't many of those in Standard, though, or at least not aggressively costed enough to make a difference; just underwhelming chaff like Spikewheel Acrobat, Wardscale Crocodile and Nyxborn Brute. It looks like the exclusive Buy-a-Box promos are back to being harmless.


 SELESNYA BRAWL COMMANDERS

 

 Kaheera, the Orphanguard: There are two ways to play this card as a companion; one is the straightforward one, just building a multi-tribal deck that combines Ikoria's five Apex subtypes; the other one involves not running creatures at all, which still means you can have token generators that aren't creature cards. In this second case, you'll also get an extra 3/2 with vigilance as an extra critter that's always in your opening hand yet can't be disrupted. To be honest, neither of these approaches seems particularly attractive in Brawl, but it could still be fun to build a deck around one or more of those tribes, slap a more impressive creature on the command zone, and then keep Kaheera ready to one-shot drop onto the battlefield to take care of all your orphan monsters.


 ORZHOV BRAWL COMMANDERS

  

 General Kudro of Drannith: The archenemy of monsters is a superfriend to Humans, so it's pretty easy to figure out where you'd want to deploy him in Brawl. Even restricted to Orzhov colors, Human tribal contains a whopping 112 options in Standard (those Humans multiply more than rats), and includes a sacrifice and token sub-theme thanks to cards from Ravnica Allegiance like Tithe Taker, Teysa Karlov, Priest of Forgotten Gods, and Hero of Precinct One. Kudro slots right in with all of these, weaponizing his followers/sacrificial fodder to destroy large threats. The tribal-fueled graveyard hate is a nice bonus, essentially turning Kudro's destruction into exile.

 Lurrus of the Dream-Den: Speaking of graveyard recursion, this black/white kitty can be a true Nightmare indeed, doing a low-cost impression of Muldrotha, the Gravetide. Except in exactly half the time it'd take Muldrotha to get online, and possibly coming down as guarantee from the companion zone (or how you want to call it; technically, it's the sideboard). Now, I don't envision a Brawl deck where every permanent has a converted mana cost of two or less, albeit it's actually feasible; failing that, you can still have Lurrus as your commander – in fact, it's probably the better choice, so the recursion ability can persist past the first removal. Enjoy getting back your Dead Weight and Mire's Grasp again and again, as well as most of the creatures mentioned above for General Kudro. And the Cat in the Oven combo doesn't even require you to spend food anymore!


 IZZET BRAWL COMMANDERS

  

 Lutri, the Spellchaser: And just like in Commander, poor Lutri won't get to exist in Brawl, since the cute otter's singleton clause just means any Izzet, Jeskai, Grixis, Temur and pentacolor deck in existence would be eligible to run it as a companion in Brawl, no questions asked. Verdict: preemptively banned. We don't want to give Izzet any unfair advantage, do we?

 Rielle, the Everwise: The Izzet style of looting/rummaging for value, popularized for a hot minute by Arclight Phoenix, then consolidated in the "draw two" archetype from Throne of Eldraine (with cards like Improbable Alliance and Irencrag Pyromancer as payoffs), could already be translated into a Brawl deck with The Royal Scions as its commander of choice. Now Rielle is an alternative option, making the Scions themselves, as well as signature enablers like Thrill of Possibility and Cathartic Reunion, so much better. You'll still have to discard, but the gain for it will be strongly increased, sometimes doubled, like in the case of a jump-started Radical Idea.


 GOLGARI BRAWL COMMANDERS

  

 Chevill, Bane of Monsters: Golgari has already a quantity of excellent options for Brawl commanders, with Polukranos, Unchained being the latest of the lot, but Chevill is still very noticeable for being so cheap, which in Brawl translates into better chances to be cast again and again from the command zone. And he draws you cards when you do something that Golgari is the color combination best equipped to do: removing stuff. The monster hunter himself acts as a removal on his own, thanks to deathtouch, which can either be paired up with fight or "bite" spells (Ikoria just introduced one of the most effective examples of the latter kind with Ram Through), or just used as a blocker banking on his inherent replayability.

 Umori, the Collector: Running Umori as a companion is a conceivable notion, but it's trickier than it looks. The default case appears to be electing creature as the card type shared by the entire deck, but that would result in a Golgari, Abzan, Sultai, Jund or pentacolor creature-based list that voluntarily deprives itself of the possibility to add planeswalkers and removal to its ranks (as well as, ironically, Guardian Project and The Great Henge). An artifact-only build is still not particularly viable in Standard, and it'll remain that way presumably until we'll return to Mirrodin/New Phyrexia; if it were, it'll probably be better off under a commander that cares about artifacts, and those aren't typically a subset of Golgari (cfr. Tezzeret, Master of the Bridge, Alela, Artful Provocateur, perhaps Ugin, the Ineffable). Now, Umori as a commander is a completely different proposition, since the deckbuilding isn't affected at all. The legendary Ooze doesn't feel extremely exciting in the command zone, mostly being an accelerator for more expensive plays, but it's still serviceable, can be tuned to care for whatever your hand contains at the moment, and at the end of the day it's just a way to run a surrogate Nylea, Keen-Eyed commander that also extends its purview to black.


 BOROS BRAWL COMMANDERS

  

 Winota, Joiner of Forces: This one-armed raccoon girl is one of the most powerful build-around creatures in the set. At first sight, you might think you'll need both Humans and non-Humans for her to combo off, but luckily a number of noncreature cards exist that are able to create non-Human tokens, like Raise the Alarm or Chandra, Acolyte of Flame, and even the tokens Skyknight Vanguard generates are just unaligned Soldiers. Playing Winota in Brawl as a Boros commander, you'd lose Agent of Treachery as her primary target of choice, but you'll still have Kenrith, the Returned King and Haktos the Unscarred. Also, all this other stuff.

 Zirda, the Dawnwaker: Here's another intriguing build-around, enlivening a color combination that's usually all about aggro (I mean, Winota is also aggro-oriented, but with a more elaborate approach than regular Boros Deck Wins). Our firefox's main appeal here is the two-mana discount to activated abilities, similar to the effect of Biomancer's Familiar, but placed on a legendary card that can be used as your combo-friendly commander. Or companion, if you manage to build your list in such a focused way as to exclude everything that doesn't combo with Zirda – in this regard, it's worth nothing that the Omen cycle does; unfortunately, Gauntlets of Light doesn't, but that infinite mana combo would also require green creatures anyway. You might not even look at Zirda as an enabler of some complex endgame state; it just makes a ton of abilities better. Now you can sacrifice food for one mana, activate Kenrith for cheap, create a token with Castle Ardenvale for half the cost. The possibilities are endless, and much more varied than Biomancer's Familiar would allow, since Zirda affects all permanents, not just creatures (it can also tap itself to prevent a block, but that's not super-synergistic with the rest. Guess Boros still has to have attacking as its existential goal).


 SIMIC BRAWL COMMANDERS

  

 Keruga, the Macrosage: Are fattie strategies your thing? Do you despise weenie builds and fast decks? Then Keruga is your hippo. In regular Standard, it's the new tool of Fires of Invention decks, which don't need to run anything under CMC 3, and rarely did to begin with, so they can run Keruga as companion and enjoy the extra card in their starting hand. You could attempt to replicate this approach in Brawl with a Temur or pentacolor list, maybe with Kenrith as commander. It won't probably be extremely consistent, though, but Keruga can still work as a commander of a "good stuff" Simic Ramp list that naturally runs a high density of midrange and expensive permanents, so you can profit from its ETB card draw now and then. Sort of a less threatening yet easily repeatable Hydroid Krasis.

 Kinnan, Bonder Prodigy: Here's a commander that doesn't just capitalizes on Simic Ramp; it makes it happen! Kinnan drops on two and then doubles your entire nonland mana production, while also providing an outlet to sink all of that excess mana into, eventually. Prime Speaker Vannifar and Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner are still around, but Kinnan openly challenges their status of best Simic Brawl commanders.


 ABZAN BRAWL COMMANDERS

 

 Nethroi, Apex of Death: The Apex cycle brings mutate to the world of Commander and Brawl. It's not a shocking development – mutate is just an alternate cost requiring a target creature to be on the battlefield, so it's subjected to the commander tax as usual. The Apexes are mostly large threats that generate powerful effects in conjunction with mutate. Nethroi in particular lends itself well to self-mill and reanimation strategies, with some possibility of combos due to the potential large number of creatures returned at once, and the access to three different colors to choose them from. Seven mana to mutate is a lot, but you can just pay the basic five, enjoy the presence of a big lifelinker on defense, then mutate something else onto it later, triggering the mutant zombie apocalypse.


 JESKAI BRAWL COMMANDERS

  

 Vadrok, Apex ot Thunder: The smallest and least expensive of the Apexes, a medium-sized flying body that recurs small noncreature spells from the graveyard. Jeskai is not the color combination most commonly associated with mutate, but the mechanic is spread across all colors, and there are specifically 17 white, blue and red cards to represent it, including one from Commander 2020 (for comparison, Sultai has 24 of them, Abzan and Temur 20, Mardu also 17). All in all, Vadrok is a fairly dependable commander with built-in value for spellslinging decks.

 Narset of the Ancient Way: The first ever planeswalker in Jeskai colors, new Narset makes for a versatile presence, if not always an overwhelming one. Her routine activation just nets you some lifegain and a bit of ramp, building towards an ultimate that's not immediately game-winning, but definitely helps. On the other hand, her minus is card advantage with some potential removal attached, and you would like to be able to use this mode more often than every other turn, but it's still a good way to put expensive cards to some use in the midrange portion of the game. Vadrok might be a more effective commander, but this high-kicking Narset makes for a sensible choice too, and both arguably beats the only other pre-existing Jeskai option, the clunkier Kykar, Wind's Fury.


 SULTAI BRAWL COMMANDERS

 

 Brokkos, Apex of Forever: Not all commanders want to go back to the command zone. In fact, Brokkos wants to use the graveyard as its personal, tax-free command zone. And then, as long as you'll have a non-Human creature around, Brokkos will be able to turn it into a 6/6 trampler. There's no native trigger, just extreme dependability (give or take the opponent's graveyard hate). Is that enough for a commander? Maybe it is if you want to go Sultai, but don't want to feel forced to build around Yarok, the Desecrated.


 MARDU BRAWL COMMANDERS

 

 Snapdax, Apex of the Hunt: This dino-cat offers the most interactive mutate trigger of all the Apexes, a supercharged Lightning Helix that hits creatures and planeswalkers. And it's a double striker, meaning that, if you mutate it with a flying creature, Snapdax suddenly becomes a serious finisher for a reasonable amount of mana. It definitely takes over the Mardu spotlight, over the two more tribal-oriented options Kaalia, Zenith Seeker and Syr Gwyn, Hero of Ashvale.


 TEMUR BRAWL COMMANDERS

 

 Illuna, Apex of Wishes: Out of the five Apexes, Illuna has the largest body combined with the most threatening combat keywords, and that's already a plus. Getting an unconditional cascade effect per mutate trigger puts it over the top. Both costs are even reasonable; for the same non-mutate mana investment, Brokkos gives you Illuna's same basic stats minus flying, Nethroi is smaller and has no evasion of any sort. Omnath, Locus of the Roil wasn't a bad Temur commander, but Illuna takes it up a notch or three.


 PENTACOLOR BRAWL COMMANDERS

 

 Jegantha, the Wellspring: Did we need another way to make "five color soup" in Brawl? Probably not. Jegantha seems less oppressive than most pentacolor commander, though, as it's basically an oversized mana dork. Although, granted, it virtually doubles your mana in the following turn. You still need very specific spells to spend WURBG on. And the companion clause might not be something Kenrith, the Returned King and especially Niv-Mizzet Reborn want to put up with, as it'll make the card advantage Dragon lose access to several multicolored staples like Bedevil, Time Wipe, Casualties of War, Enter the God-Eternals, and Dream Trawler. The trade-off could still be worth it, since Jegantha can be a valuable companion in those decks, able to cast the first iteration of Niv-Mizzet all on its own.


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