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By: Kumagoro42, Gianluca Aicardi
Sep 18 2019 12:00pm
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A GUIDE TO BRAWL

 Brawl, or Standard Commander, is the exciting new format that joined the Magic world in 2018, and it has recently been given the spotlight with its first dedicated supplemental product, released in conjunction with Throne of Eldraine. You should definitely give Brawl a try both on MTG Arena (as soon as it'll launch, presumably in October) and on MTGO.

 To make deckbuilding easier for everyone interested, in the previous installment we covered all the Legendary creatures that will be available as commanders for Brawl after Standard rotates at the end of the month, but without looking into the new additions from Throne of Eldraine yet, since those will be examined in a specific update, as will happen for every subsequent set.

 And now it's time to explore the other side of the Brawl experience: the planeswalkers. The main difference between Commander and Brawl, in fact, is that the latter allows for every planeswalker to be your commander, not just those whose rule text is expressly saying so. This could both be enticing and scary, especially with all the overpowered planeswalkers from War of the Spark still smack in the middle of the meta. And in general, your average planeswalker has the potential to contribute more in terms of versatility, if not even sheer power level, than any creature could. Let's then have a look at what crazy noncreature cards we're given the chance to call our commanders.

 A caveat, though: the total number of planeswalkers from Guilds of Ravnica, Ravnica Allegiance, War of the Spark, and Core Set 2020 is a whopping 60 (with WAR alone counting 39 of them among its ranks). However, we're going to trim that number down by disregarding all the planeswalkers from the starter decks, since those are usually negligible cards, often overcosted and overly generic, or even just strictly worse versions of those featured in the actual sets. You can still have fun with them, but chances are you'd rather have a "real" planeswalker at the helm of your deck. There's eleven of them (two for each regular set, five for the core set), and we'll just feature them here, as a reminder they exist, but they won't be given an entry in the list below.

   

  

   

 Jump to: Monowhite, Monoblue, Monoblack, Monored, Monogreen, Azorius, Dimir, Rakdos, Gruul, Selesnya, Orzhov, Izzet, Golgari, Boros, Simic, Grixis, Colorless.


 MONOWHITE BRAWL PLANESWALKER COMMANDERS

    

 Ajani, Strength of the Pride: Of course Ajani is the commander you want for "life matters" decks (although, unfortunately, he won't be able to include Bloodthirsty Aerialist in them). He could also work in generic aggro lists, but Gideon is probably the better choice for those.

 Gideon Blackblade: The go-to commander for White Weenie decks. After all, he was part of the main lineup of White Aggro during that archetype's zenith at PAX East. Some of those cards aren't in the meta anymore, but there's always going to be enough White Weenie fuel to ensure the archetype's existence in a form or another.

 Teyo, the Shieldmage: Probably not the monowhite commander you want. Not even in a Wall deck (which wouldn't be monowhite anyway). Not even in a deck trying to be as casual and low-impact as possible.

 The Wanderer: Now, this interplanar woman of mystery makes for a solid choice of an utility commander, as having a couple of exile creature effects periodically available is pretty major. Think of it this way: your four-mana commander could send most of the high-end opposite commanders back to the command zone twice per iteration, creating essentially a commanderless game (unless the opponent is also using a planeswalker as commander, of course). Which maybe isn't the most entertaining approach to Brawl, to be honest, but can efficiently lead to a more control-oriented monowhite build.


 MONOBLUE BRAWL PLANESWALKER COMMANDERS

    

 Jace, Wielder of Mysteries: A commander with a built-in strategy AND endgame. If you aim to win through Jace's static ability, what's better than to have him always at the ready in the safety of his own command zone? Looks like a no-brainer. The plan, I mean. Jace, on the other hand, has notoriously a big brain.

 Kasmina, Enigmatic Mentor: Some board presence, some card filtering, some removal disruption; Kasmina provides a wide array of useful abilities, and seems like a safe choice for monoblue control in Brawl, albeit in competition with Narset.

 Mu Yanling, Sky Dancer: Yanling has a similar set of abilities as Kasmina, but with a different distribution and a larger focus on preventing creature damage while producing an advantageous board state. She's also faster and, unsurprisingly for a wind goddess (or whatever she is, she does look otherworldly pretty in her artwork), a good match with flyers. So perhaps her ideal home is some monoblue "flying matters" deck, though she could successfully lead any kind of blue list.

 Narset, Parter of Veils: Putting Narset at the helm of your Brawl deck is basically like having Impulse as a commander. Which is, of course, very desirable in blue. You cast her turn three, get your Impulse going, hopefully for two turns in a row, then you wish the opponent will be annoyed enough by her static ability (and they will: Commander formats relies on card drawing a lot to overcome the lack of redundancy) to try and remove her from the battlefield, so you can do it again. Narset is a very narrow commander, but her one trick is extremely valuable and can translate into crucial card advantage and selection. No monoblue Legendary creature currently compares with her, and going with one of the other monoblue planeswalkers also feels like sacrificing power level in favor of versatility. Not bad for an uncommon, but that's War of the Spark for you.


 MONOBLACK BRAWL PLANESWALKER COMMANDERS

    

 Davriel, Rogue Shadowmage: It'll come a point during a game when investing more and more mana into recasting Davriel to force a single discard leads to diminishing returns, especially since the opponent will see that coming and can take countermeasures like keeping lands in hand. And the potential upkeep damage is small potatoes. All in all, Davriel's presence is not significant enough to make him a major monoblack commander, but he's of course still the right choice for a dedicated discard deck.

 Liliana, Dreadhorde General: Very appropriately, Liliana is the Brawl option for the monoblack player who pursues raw power. Faster and more resilient than Vilis, Broker of Blood, more versatile than Massacre Girl, six-mana Lili impacts the battlefield like a dark meteor, sweeps, gives you cards, as well as two different forms of inevitability (her ultimate and her Zombies). You can't go wrong with big Liliana.

 Ob Nixilis, the Hate-Twisted: Nixie is a strange beast. He ensures two instances of creature removal, much in the same vein as The Wanderer, but he also gives away cards in exchange, which is a big no-no in Brawl. Trying and winning through forced draw damage doesn't seem too viable in monoblack, not to mention a plan that's bound to backfire at any moment, so perhaps the best application of our demonic friend is a deck where you want him to target your own creatures for value. It could be an interesting build.

 Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord: Well, it doesn't take a scientist to understand where you want Sorin as your commander, and which deck you're compulsed to build around him. Yeah, it's Vampire Tribal all right. He loses you access to all the white ones, unfortunately, but he'll manage.


 MONORED BRAWL PLANESWALKER COMMANDERS

    

   

 Chandra, Acolyte of Flame: The endless parade of Chandras (spoiler alert: they're all good!) starts with the cheapest one, who's also one of the most alluring. Granted, in monored you can't sacrifice her Elemental friends to Priest of Forgotten Gods or in the presence of Judith, the Scourge Diva or Mayhem Devil, but I'm sure you can still find a use for two free creatures per turn. And you can certainly find spells to flash back with her minus ability, and what about the fact that this little Chandra is apparently an inspiration to all other red planeswalkers (possibly because even Sarkhan finds her adorable)? Monored Superfriends, anyone?

 Chandra, Awakened Inferno: The Chandra who's come of age shows all her destructive power. While generally quicker than their Commander counterparts, games in Brawl tend to last longer than in regular Standard, so Chandra's emblems might be a reliable wincon against aggro too, and the rest of her abilities are just burn, baby, burn. She's going to be a common sight in the command zone.

 Chandra, Fire Artisan: A combination of card advantage and inevitability, this is the thinking man's Chandra. Okay, maybe that's overestimating the way she'll be used, since in all the non-Brawl games where she's featured, she's been just a matter of drawing into more burn, then drawing into all the burn while you also burn their face for seven.

 Chandra, Novice Pyromancer: The youngest Chandra was a nice kid who took care of her beloved fire pets and didn't cause too much damage. It's actually the Chandra with the most flexible disposition, providing a bit of ramp, the occasional Shock, some anthem. The latter is the key element, though, since the direct reference to the Elemental tribe will push you to build around it, resulting in a monored Elemental deck, which of course will also feature all the older Chandras coming together to help their past self – a time-traveling Chandra theme deck!

 Jaya, Venerated Firemage: Arguably the commander of choice for Brawl Burn decks. She's also a must-include in every kind of Chandra-lead deck, and not just because she's her mentor – Jaya's static ability fittingly boosts everything Chandra does in any incarnation.

 Sarkhan the Masterless: Another powerful monored commander that lends himself to two different, very crowd-pleasing themes that can potentially be combined together – planeswalkers and Dragons. Unfortunately, the rotating Core Set 2019 was the Dragon-themed set, while the upcoming Standard environment doesn't have too many good monored Dragons left (though Skarrgan Hellkite is still around; plus of course Drakuseth, Maw of Flames). However, Sarkhan remains the main competitor to Chandra, Acolyte of Flame for the role of commander in a monored Superfriends list – durability vs. brute force.

 Tibalt, Rakish Instigator: Burn may either try to increase its damage output with Jaya, or ensure itself against lifegaining with Tibalt. He's also a faster drop that leaves some board presence behind at each iteration. He seems the way to go when attempting a Cavalcade of Calamity deck, albeit I doubt that's actually viable in singleton.


 MONOGREEN BRAWL PLANESWALKER COMMANDERS

     

 Arlinn, Voice of the Pack: Even with the additions we can expect from Throne of Eldraine, Tribal Wolf will likely remain a pipe dream in Brawl – plus Garruk is coming back to claim that list for himself.

 Jiang Yanggu, Wildcrafter: Yanggu would be the perfect commander for +1/+1 shenanigans decks – if Vivien, Arkbow Ranger didn't exist, that is. The reduced casting cost and the bit of ramp he provides don't make up for Vivien's overall superiority.

 Nissa, Who Shakes the World: One of the most powerful cards in Standard, period. Hard to justify going monogreen in Brawl and not using Nissa as your commander; in fact, Nissa's existence is what will entice many players to go monogreen in the first place, just to make sure to have her out by turn five – or, more likely, sooner. Nikya of the Old Ways has a similar ramping effect and opens the deck to one additional color, but at the cost of giving up on noncreature spells. What's more likely, that you don't want any noncreature in a singleton ramp deck, or that green creatures are already enough to ramp into? Plus, Nikya is just one body, if decently sized, while Nissa is 18 damage in three turns, and doesn't die to Murder.

 Vivien, Arkbow Ranger: Now, if one wants to avoid the too obvious Nissa route, M20 Vivien is probably the second best option, still beating all the monogreen creature competition pre-Throne of Eldraine. Her wishboard will be shut down by the absence of a sideboard in Brawl, but her other two abilities are strong enough to compensate, the triple green cost is not a factor in monogreen, and her plus is what you want in any deck that cares about +1/+1 counters – or just to give a persistent boost and trample to your beaters.

 Vivien, Champion of the Wilds: While not as impactful as Nissa or her other incarnation, this cheaper Vivien has the monopoly on flash-based decks. Unless you manage to collect enough creatures with native flash (which has become increasingly common in green), then you won't even need the Champion of the Wilds, who's after all a very frail planeswalker with a reduced range of abilities.


 AZORIUS BRAWL PLANESWALKER COMMANDERS

   

 Dovin, Grand Arbiter: Dovin is a solid option for going Azorius in Brawl, a color pair that doesn't have many other choices at the moment (with only one Legendary creature to its name), although the shadow of Teferi looms large on the whole endeavor, threatening to make every other discussion moot. Still, Dovin wearing the Grand Arbiter cape is a nice commander, if one with a limited scope, as he mostly creates Thopter tokens. His little Thopters are good at multiple jobs, though: they generate synergies with either flyers or artifacts, help go wide within an aggro build, and function as chump-blockers in control. There are more things going on with this Dovin than it might be apparent at first.

 Dovin, Hand of Control: The uncommon Dovin from War of the Spark is more focused on pure control, putting a tax to the opponent's battle plan while also neutering one of their permanents five times before going back to the command zone to recharge. He's generally less appealing than his mythic version, but still serviceable.

 Teferi, Time Raveler: Oh, man. The prospect of facing a Teferi-lead deck might be enough to put players off the Brawl experience entirely. I will say this, though: while having Teferi as commander is clearly better than just having a singleton copy of him floating around in the deck, it's also somehow worse than being allowed to run four copies. It's true that he can come back infinite times from the command zone, but after a while you'll be asked to pay more than he's worth, and you won't be able to simply string together a series of Teferis for three mana apiece; in fact, you'll have to wait for the opponent to get rid of the present iteration on the battlefield (or for you to find a way to do it yourself) in order to cast him again. So, he might prove to be less of a warping element in Brawl than he is in regular Standard, especially if you're facing decks that don't much care for playing at instant speed.


 DIMIR BRAWL PLANESWALKER COMMANDERS

  

 Ashiok, Dream Render: Will Ashiok be able to make milling a wincon? It's possible, if properly defended then promptly returned to the battlefield upon exhaustion. After all, you only need to go through this process three times (or even two and a half) to completely erase the opponent's library. Plus, Ashiok shuts down graveyard recursion and tutoring, both critical elements in a Commander format. Might be a good choice for a Dimir commander, as strange as it sounds.

 Tezzeret, Master of the Bridge: A build-around-me card if there's one, Buy-a-Box promo Tezzeret is the commander you want for your artifact brews. Sure, Ugin, the Ineffable reduces the entire deck's casting cost, but he also precludes access to anything colored (including colored artifacts), whereas Tezzeret gives you two colors to work with – while still allowing you to run Ugin. I expect him to be popular, in proportion to the measure of in-color artifact support we'll be getting in the next few sets.


 RAKDOS BRAWL PLANESWALKER COMMANDERS

 

 Angrath, Captain of Chaos: Rakdos is another guild that's not given a ton of options in Brawl so far, with everything pointing at Judith, the Scourge Diva and her very specific brand of sacrificial deck. Angrath doesn't really change this situation, since even a generic good stuff black-red build would profit more from Judith's anthem and pinging ability than from universal menace and one Army token. If only Angrath, the Flame-Chained was still around.


 GRUUL BRAWL PLANESWALKER COMMANDERS

   

 Domri, Anarch of Bolas: Prior to Throne of Eldraine, going Gruul in Brawl is a question of choosing between the creature ramp of Nikya of the Old Ways or some Domri action. The smaller one is already a tried and tested presence in Gruul aggro decks: anthem, fight, little ramp, unconterability – he's a full package of utility. Gruul primary candidate, probably.

 Domri, Chaos Bringer: Four-mana Domri from Ravnica Allegiance is a more traditional planeswalker sporting a plus ability, a minus ability, and an ultimate – remember how simple things used to be before the War? He ramps at the same pace as his cheaper version, but also adds riot to the deal; this is the major point in his favor, and might be the deciding factor, along with his card selection ability, which is always extremely important in a singleton environment. So maybe this is actually Gruul Number One? Which Domri to elect as your commander, then? Aw shucks, just toss a coin. Or make them exchange place in between games, you know you'll run them both within your 60 anyway.

 Samut, Tyrant Smasher: Alas, Samut is just a strictly worse Domri, Chaos Bringer, since he also essentially gives haste to all your creatures to an extent – it's just less effective when you're adding more than one creature to the battlefield each turn. But considering Samut doesn't do much else, it's not even a choice, unless you find a way in red-green to engineer an endgame where you suddenly summon or generate a large number of creatures at once, which seems unlikely.


 SELESNYA BRAWL PLANESWALKER COMMANDERS

  

 Ajani, the Greathearted: Selesnya has a strong trifecta of eligible creature commanders for Brawl, and that's a good thing because its planeswalkers are somewhat lacking. This Ajani is playable, but he's much less apt to helm a "lifegaining matters" deck than his most recent monowhite incarnation. On the other hand, his minus ability might make him suitable as the leader of a large band of walkers – if we include all the white ones, all the green ones, the other Selesnya one and the colorless ones, there could be up to twelve of them in a Greathearted deck, which is an acceptable number to make the plan works, although their power level is very variable.

 Huatli, the Sun's Heart: Building a deck around Huatli's static ability could be fun, even if it's pretty limited in extent, as she doesn't actually help defenders attack nor gives access to cards currently allowing it, like High Alert (and if she did, then her ability would be redundant, as opposed to complementary). So, fun, but if we're being perfectly honest, also probably the weakest of all the planeswalkers from War of the Spark.


 ORZHOV BRAWL PLANESWALKER COMMANDERS

   

 Kaya, Bane of the Dead: Big Kaya plays similarly to The Wanderer, but she's more expensive because her ability is non-conditional and can target hexproof creatures. She also opens the deck up to a second color, which is huge, but you can do the same with the other Orzhov walkers, even if none of them is without their own shortcomings.

 Kaya, Orzhov Usurper: The Kaya from Ravnica Allegiance drops for half the cost of the one from War of the Spark, but she's also only good against certain things, namely the graveyard and permanents with CMC 1. She could lead a deck that exiles a lot of cards and aims to win through her ultimate, so she at least comes with a battle plan and is not just the "exiler fairy" – although, Ashiok, Dream Render would love to be part of her deck, and can't.

 Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord: Orzhov Aggro has probably in Sorin its best shot at a balanced commander. Universal lifelink, some recursion and some pinging – he's far from the best Sorin ever (he's too dependent on the board state compared to older cards like Sorin, Lord of Innistrad and Sorin, Solemn Visitor), but not the worst, either. And descending onto the battlefield only when the conditions are ideal is something being a commander helps achieving.


 IZZET BRAWL PLANESWALKER COMMANDERS

   

 Ral, Izzet Viceroy: Designed, like most Izzet cards, to be part of a spellslinging deck, this Ral actually has kind of a predictable pattern: he digs for spells, shoots down a creature every now and then, and if he won't need to do that too often, he'll get to the ultimate, which is a way to further weaponize instants and sorceries for the win. It's a good card, but I'd rather go with his rare, wilder version below.

 Ral, Storm Conduit: Now, this is a Ral that feels more like a dangerous, unpredictable mad scientist. The fact that his triggered ping also affects planeswalkers is already a neat tactical tool, but then he'll suddenly go and copy some key spell, with crazy, unexpected consequences – up to and including the very end of the game. A Storm Conduit deck can include everything Ral needs for all his combos, so going infinite with Expansion/Explosion is not off the table. Who could resist trying that in Brawl?

 Saheeli, Sublime Artificer: Another Izzet walker with mad combo potential. You have Flux Channeler, you have Runaway Steam-Kin, go nuts turning those little ornate Servos into instruments of doom. Or you can use your Saheeli more sensibly and just disseminate the battlefield with the little suckers, pursuing other avenues of victory while they're doing all the chump-blocking for you and protect their mistress.


 GOLGARI BRAWL PLANESWALKER COMMANDERS

  

 Vraska, Golgari Queen: I'm inclined to call this Vraska one of the best commander choices in Brawl. She's an accomplished, multifaceted walker, but has also always felt like an especially great design because everything she does has some condition attached, which makes things more interesting than if her abilities were just "draw a card", "destroy a creature" and "you win the game". While she'll be perfectly fine at the guide of any Golgari deck (Izoni and Storrev: you're good, but you're no Vraska), it'll be even more intriguing to build to her strengths.

 Vraska, Swarm's Eminence: Too bad the WAR Vraska is not at the same level as her Guilds of Ravnica counterpart, in that she's an extremely selective quasi-tribal lord that only cares about deathtouch creatures. This certainly means we can build a nice deck around the concept, and Brawl might even be the format where it comes together, because you won't have to run several copies of this Vraska to make sure you'll have her on the battlefield. But I'm afraid it'll be a casual venture at best. Which means we'll definitely see it, as it's too attractively linear to dismiss.


 BOROS BRAWL PLANESWALKER COMMANDERS

 

 Nahiri, Storm of Stone: Poor Nahiri really didn't put her best qualities on display during War of the Spark – in the story she disregards the crisis because she's mad at Sorin, and her card is pretty terrible. The Boros Legion wouldn't mind having to look elsewhere for a commander.


 SIMIC BRAWL PLANESWALKER COMMANDERS

  

 Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner: As unassuming as this uncommon Kiora is, it's actually the best incarnation of the Merfolk planeswalker. Which might sound like faint praise, considering her two previous versions were both severely underwhelming, but the Behemoth Beckoner is actually a fine card. As a commander, she suggests a deck where she can untap permanents for value and big creatures abound, both things very easy to provide in blue and green, so she's going to be a happy commander. I would rank her right after Prime Speaker Vannifar as the most productive Simic commander, and a case can be made for Kiora to be even more appealing than the majestic Ooze.

 Tamiyo, Collector of Tales: The first Simic Tamiyo (after she was first monoblue then Bant) is also a generally outstanding card, although her plus ability wasn't really meant for singleton formats. Nonetheless, having a commander who's able to regrow anything from the graveyard a few times, while also incidentally protecting from hand disruption and edict effects, shouldn't be understated. Whether she'll reside in the command zone or not, this Tamiyo is a must-include in every self-respecting Brawl deck with access to her colors.


 GRIXIS BRAWL PLANESWALKER COMMANDERS

 

 Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God: Grixis is the only three-color combination currently hosting a planeswalker – the signature one for that shard, Nicol Bolas himself, here in his more approachable of his incarnations, clocking in at just five mana, albeit all colored. The Dragon-God is a great Bolas and a powerful commander that's going to impact the battlefield every single time he'll recur. He also likes to have other walkers under his control, so that's a natural route to explore (there's 23 other planeswalkers you can include in a Bolas deck!)


 COLORLESS BRAWL PLANESWALKER COMMANDERS

  

 Karn, the Great Creator: Unlike Commander, Brawl gives a deck with colorless identity the chance to legally run the basic lands (which technically have a colored identity). Too bad it doesn't permit to assemble a sideboard too, which means this Karn can only search for cards in exile – still more than what (Vivien, Arkbow Ranger)'s ultimate is allowed to do, but not enough to make him too interesting as a commander, or as a Brawl card in general.

 Ugin, the Ineffable: Bolas's grumpy twin, on the other hand, remains as effective in Brawl as he is anywhere else. He's probably best used as an all-purpose removal and card advantage engine for every Brawl deck, but trying to brew a list where Ugin starts in the command zone, by taking advantage of his discount clause for colorless spells, can be fascinating enough, even if the ultimate success of such enterprise strictly depends on how many legal cards a Ugin deck has access to at any given time – a number that's currently set at 41, with only nine of them being rares, two of which (Glass of the Guildpact and Tome of the Guildpact) do absolutely nothing in a Ugin deck (Chromatic Lantern also doesn't help much).


>> Back to the top <<

 And that's that for the four sets that carry over from the 2018-2019 Standard season into 2020 (remember to also check all the Legendary creatures). We'll soon be able to fully appraise how much Throne of Eldraine is going to influence Brawl. Which is, probably, a fair amount. Keep your command zone clean and ready, and stay tuned.