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By: Kumagoro42, Gianluca Aicardi
Apr 22 2021 12:00pm
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A GUIDE TO BRAWL: STRIXHAVEN: SCHOOL OF MAGES

 Spring update to the Brawl series! The legendaries from the magicky world of Strixhaven add to the Brawl commander options from Throne of Eldraine, Theros Beyond DeathIkoria: Lair of BehemothsCore Set 2021Zendikar Rising, and Kaldheim.

 The 25 new commanders come for the vast majority in one of five the dual-color enemy-paired combinations that define the set (Orzhov, Izzet, Golgari, Boros, and Simic), with the only exception of two monocolored (white and black), one Mardu and one pentacolor.

 The total number of available commanders is brought up to 171 – which is 175, 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: 12 commanders (+1)
  • Monoblue: 15 commanders
  • Monoblack: 15 commanders (+1)
  • Monored: 14 commanders
  • Monogreen: 17 commanders
  • Azorius: 5 commanders
  • Dimir: 5 commanders
  • Rakdos: 5 commanders
  • Gruul: 7 commanders
  • Selesnya: 5 commanders
  • Orzhov: 10 commanders (+3)
  • Izzet: 10 commanders (+4) – 1 banned
  • Golgari: 12 commanders (+4)
  • Boros: 11 commanders (+5) – 1 banned
  • Simic: 12 commanders (+5) – 1 banned
  • Esper: 1 commander
  • Grixis: 0 commanders
  • Jund: 1 commander
  • Naya: 1 commander
  • Bant: 1 commander
  • Abzan: 1 commander
  • Jeskai: 2 commanders
  • Sultai: 2 commanders
  • Mardu: 3 commanders (+1)
  • Temur: 1 commander
  • Quadricolor: 1 commander – 1 banned
  • Pentacolor: 5 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. Meddling_Mage and Gideon's Intervention are added to the Historic Brawl ban list for similar reasons. 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 Strixhaven brings!

 Jump to: Monowhite, Monoblack, Orzhov, Izzet, Golgari, Boros, Simic, MarduPentacolor.


 MONOWHITE BRAWL COMMANDERS

 

 Mavinda, Students' Advocate: The only monocolored legendary creature in the set, Mavinda introduces us immediately to the two main themes of Strixhaven: college tropes and "instant and sorceries matter". This owl-person (or Owlin) student advisor essentially gives flashback to one spell per turn, which seems pretty good, especially paired with a decent flying body for a reasonable cost. It only really applies to spells that target our creatures, though, because the eight-mana tax isn't really sustanaible otherwise. A bunch of white combat tricks and protection spells doesn't look like something worth build around in monowhite, but it's at least a clear motif.


 MONOBLACK BRAWL COMMANDERS

 

 Professor Onyx: Liliana's back, trying to escape the trauma of the War of the Spark and the guilt for the death of Gideon in her new secret identity as a Strixhaven teacher. Unfortunately, this six-mana incarnation isn't as strong as Liliana, Dreadhorde General. Her starting loyalty is lower, the static ability's incidental lifedrain is much less of an advantage that her previous version's card-drawing, the minus kills only one creature, and she has no way to create chump-blockers for defense; in fact, this is a Liliana that has nothing to do with Zombies at all, perhaps to signify her taking some distance from her past. On the plus side, growing loyalty through card selection is not bad way to march towards an ultimate that's a potentially game-winning Torment of Hailfire for seven. All in all, a Brawl deck with Professor Onyx as commander is conceivable, but she's more likely to just be a curve-topper in other builds with access to black.


 ORZHOV (SILVERQUILL) BRAWL COMMANDERS

   

 Shaile, Dean of Radiance: The two deans of Silverquill College. Both traffic in +1/+1 counters, Shaile places them on every creature that entered the battlefield under our control the turn she activates, Embrose on a single creature that can endure two damage (so that also doubles as removal for one-toughness creatures). Shaile has the advantage of being a small vigilant flier, so she can deal some damage in the air and still be ready to activate. Embrose has a larger body and draws a card when creatures with +1/+1 counters die. Together, they make for a solid commander of a white-black deck dedicated to +1/+1 synergies, even if that hasn't really been a theme widely supported in the colors before Strixhaven.

 Killian, Ink Duelist: The signature Silverquill student, Embrose's son. He's a "bear" with two useful but not essential keywords, and he makes targeting easier. Probably not enough value to employ him as a commander.

 Shadrix Silverquill: The Elder Dragon that founded and gave the name to Silverquill College. Five mana for a 2/5 double striking flier is an okay deal, but the combat trigger is what makes him interesting. It's a strange one that makes us pick two of three modes, but one of the chosen ones gets applied to the opponent. We may decline the trigger altogether, but then what's the point of running Shadrix? It's more fun to figure out what's the best line based on the board state. Giving a 2/1 flier means Shadrix will probably be blocked, especially if we chose to boost his power. A card is always a dangerous advantage to grant, while the +1/+1 counters are a good option only if the opponent's team is small or even non-existent – in which case the choice gets pretty easy. He can be an entertaining commander.


 IZZET (PRISMARI) BRAWL COMMANDERS

   

 Uvilda, Dean of Perfection: The two deans of Prismari College. The Djinn Uvilda gives an ersatz suspend 3 to an instant or sorcery from our hand; it eventually only reduces the cost by four, but it could still help cast an Alrund's Epiphany on turn six, or maybe Sea Gate Restoration. There are actually a few high-cost options in blue-red, and the card remains exiled with the ability to be cast, which makes even something like Sublime Epiphany into an appealing target for Uvilda, although the card is exiled face-up, so the opponent will know it's coming. On the back, the Efreet Nassari steals card from the top of the opponent's library, and grows bigger when they're cast. Overall, a valid commander for a spellslinging deck in the colors that most suit the approach.

 Rootha, Mercurial Artist: The signature Prismari student, a legacy of the college. She's basically a repeatable Fork effect, though limited to spells we cast. But the ability costs generic mana and doesn't require tapping, plus Rootha is returned to hand, so she circumvents commander tax every time she does it (if we have an instant to copy and enough open mana, it could even protect her from removal). She's also a sturdy blocker in the meantime. A narrow but not bad commander, with some combo potential.

 Galazeth Prismari: The Elder Dragon that founded and gave the name to Prismari College. He's the smallest and cheapest of the five Dragons, only providing a 3/4 flying body and a Treasure token. The most noteworthy line of text is the ability to tap artifacts for mana, which also applies to his own Treasure (unfortunately, Treasure tokens, unlike Gold tokens, require tapping to sacrifice too, so we can't double-value them through Galazeth). It's an unconventional way to ramp in blue-red, one that could position Galazeth as the commander of choice for artifact-based builds that aim to win with big instants or sorceries.

 

 Rowan, Scholar of Sparks: We meet the Kenrith twins again, and now their back story caught up with their Battlebond adventures. After leaving Eldraine and becoming champions of Valor's Reach, they were invited by Kasmina to join Strixhaven U, where they ended up being mentored by Liliana. We've seen them first on two separate cards linked by "partner with", then both on the same face of a shared card, now they're again on one card but on different faces. Both reduce the cost of instants and sorceries. Rowan on the front has only two loyalty abilities: the plus deals a small amount of damage to the opponent, and the ultimate is an emblem that automatically casts a two-mana Fork on every instant and sorcery we cast afterwards. Will on the back shows more flexibility than his sister, with his plus defending him from one creature (that doesn't have +1/+1 counters on it), a minus drawing two cards, and the ultimate turning five permanents into 4/4 Elementals, which could be used offensively, defensively, or a bit of both. They don't seem to be the best incarnations of the siblings, but between the two of them they pack enough versatility to be maybe worth a shot at the command zone.


 GOLGARI (WITHERBLOOM) BRAWL COMMANDERS

   

 Valentin, Dean of the Vein: The two deans of Witherbloom College. The Vampire Valentine is a one-drop, which means he can recur a lot in a game of Brawl. He supplies a bit of lifegain, especially early on when he can leverage menace against single blockers. The token-making is a bit situational and mana intensive, but at least has the side effects of negating graveyard recursion to the opponent. Plus, once Valentin dies, we can always switch to the vastly more poweful Lisette, who permanently boosts the team and grants universal trample every time we gain life. The build-around factor is clearly there, but it's not a very demanding one. Interestingly, all the Witherbloom commanders play extremely well witch each other and will always be part of the same deck no matter who's in charge.

 Dina, Soul Steeper: The signature Witherbloom student, an orphaned Dryad rescued by Lisette. She makes for a cheap commander with a static ability that's a less effective version of Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose, at least if we include lifegain effects that gain more than one life per iteration. However, Dina's more direct advantage on Vito is the access to green, which has a number of lifegain synergies of its own, since it's what Witherbloom is mostly about. And the other thing Witherbloom does is creating Pest tokens (which also gains life, by the way, so the package is tight), and Dina's sacrifice outlet ability provides utility as well as a secondary angle of attack. Easily the most playable, and coolest, of all the uncommon students in this cycle.

 Beledros Witherbloom: The Elder Dragon that founded and gave the name to Witherbloom College, the only female one of the group. She creates free Pest tokens using the always welcome "each upkeep" wording from classic Verdant Force. It's an ability that can get out of hand quickly, if properly defended and supported. Now, Pests aren't the best finishers, and they're supposed to be sacrificed to fuel lifegain synergies, but they're versatile enough to do the job if called for. The problem with Beledros is that seven mana are a lot for something that sits in the command zone and then requires a lot of further turns to get going, and her body is not very impactful. None of the Founder Dragons is very large, but they all cost four or five mana, with the other exception of Velomachus Lorehold, who's still bigger than Beledros and able to attack and provide advantage right away. The crux to Beledros's chances at a command position resides in her last ability, which can occasionally double the mana output for a turn at the steep cost of ten life. Is that a cost that a black-green lifegain deck will be able to pay more than once in Brawl? If so, Beledros might turn into a combo commander.

 

 Blex, Vexing Pest: The escaped, overgrown Pest can make for a solid commander, if maybe less focused than the other new options from Witherbloom College. Blex's anthem effect mostly affects other Pests, although it could give a boost to Scute Swarm's copies, so that's probably a card that will be auto-include in its deck. Its body/cost ratio and death trigger are also good, and the occasional casting of the sorcery on the back, reminescent of Sylvan Library's card advantage (but finally moved into the proper color), gives us some precious late-game selective refueling. Definitely a card to be feautured in each deck that has access to it, but also a much cheaper commander than Beledros, and more straightforward than Valentin and Dina, suitable for less complex and more "good stuff"-ish black-green builds.


 BOROS (LOREHOLD) BRAWL COMMANDERS

   

 Plargg, Dean of Chaos: The two deans of Lorehold College. Plargg is a rummager with a mana sink ability that, for five mana, can essentially cascade once per turn into one nonlegendary three-drop (at the most, it can also be just Shock). Augusta on the back has completely different priorities, giving our creatures a power or toughness bonus, in a convoluted way that also involves them having pseudo-vigilance, and being able to activate one of their tapping abilities one more time, even if they weren't attacking. The sum of the two faces of this card seems hard to evaluate as a commander, since it could lead to different builds based on the dean you're more interested in, but it sure packs enough versatility to warrant consideration. Plus both sides are cheap and can be deployed according to the needs of the current board state.

 Quintorius, Field Historian: The signature Lorehold student, a nerdish Loxodon boy. He clearly wants to be the commander of a Spirit tribal deck, but preventing access to blue loses us a few members that such a deck would have loved to include, like Shacklegeist and Ghostly Pilferer. This said, there are still enough red-white Spirits in Standard, some of which highly playable (Skyclave Apparition, Clarion Spirit, Usher of the Fallen), to be worth the attempt at a tribal list under Quintorius, if knowing it'll probably be far from a top-tier. Especially because the little Elephant has the mythic rare Hofri Ghostforge as a direct competitor.

 Velomachus Lorehold: The Elder Dragon that founded and gave the name to Lorehold College. It's the showiest and the most immediately impactful of the five Dragons, swinging for five and free-casting any instant or sorcery among the top seven cards of our library, all already from the turn he drops on the battlefield. Seven mana are still a lot for a commander, requiring a ramp that Velomachus's colors aren't really equipped to provide, but he could still be a valid finishing move waiting to close the game as a reach-granting complement of an aggressive red-white build. He's probably not the most efficient commander for this kind of list, though.

  

 Hofri Ghostforge: Well, that deck with Quintorius at the helm is never going to happen, is it? Same mana cost and colors, larger body, much more valuable abilities. Hofri is just teaching the young Loxodon how it's done – but he can still have a place in Hofri's deck, I guess.

 Mila, Crafty Companion: This friendly Fox offers her services as a superfriend protector. Unfortunately, the War of the Spark times are long gone, and a single color pair in Standard doesn't result in more than a handful of planeswalkers. Red-white has six, which is probably not enough to bring attention to Mila's first ability, and they're not a very cohesive bunch anyway. The Shapers' Sanctuary ability is more generally useful, and then there's Lukka on the back. Lukka's presence on Arcavios is kind of random (and he once again allies with the wrong party), but it's the excuse to graft a six-mana incarnation on the back face of Mila, his newest companion. This time he's reanimation-based, pitching creatures to draw cards and then sending the discarded critters into the red zone, if in a Sneak Attack kind of deal. The Terror of the Peaks emblem is also worth pursuing and not that far away. All in all, the Mila/Lukka package has potential, but it's a bit disjointed, and it's not clear which way their deck should be built, and if both sides should be taken into consideration as opposed to just one of them: an aggro deck with Mila as refueler vs. a combo deck with big targets for Lukka.


 SIMIC (QUANDRIX) BRAWL COMMANDERS

   

 Kianne, Dean of Substance: The two deans of Quandrix College. Kianne provides a form of ramp, and then a mana sink to create Fractals. The size of her tokens is essentially linked to the quantity of times her first ability was activated, but it's probably not going to be very big. The exiled cards can be recovered by Imbraham on the other side anyway, so the two forms a nice team with a clear sequence of play, even if that means Imbraham used as a follow up to Kianne will always cost at least six mana. But that's what the ramp is for!

 Zimone, Quandrix Prodigy: The signature Quandrix student, a young math genius. She can be a simple, cheap, unassuming commander who ramps a little in the early game (nice interaction with Cultivate, for instance), then draws us cards in the late game. Not very splashy, but neat and, appropriately, smart.

 Tanazir Quandrix: The Elder Dragon that founded and gave the name to Quandrix College. He's a build-around that also works when the pieces are not coming together, because he's still a flier that pumps the team to some degree. But of course a Tanazir deck will be filled to the brim with +1/+1 counter creatures to make gigantic, and that could lead to the most spectacular entry of all the Dragon Founders, except possibly for Velomachus Lorehold hitting a big spell with his attack trigger.

  

 Jadzi, Oracle of Arcavios: The current Oracle, which is the mage deemed the wisest and most accomplished of the entire plane. Jadzi is indeed the most powerful creature in the set, almost impossible for the opponent to kill (in commander terms, it just nullifies the commander tax, but it's still a big deal when we're talking of a eight-drop that could otherwise become uncastable pretty soon). Her magecraft trigger could result in a big chunk of our library to be cast in a single turn, which is bound to lead to unrecoverable board states more often than not. The sorcery on the back is not very crucial, but if we're able to satisfy the "return to hand" clause, it's basically free, since it won't interfere with Jadzi's cost. Eight mana is typically not what we'd want our commander to ask of us, but in green-blue? Eh, that's just a realistic goal to achieve by turn six. Of course the opponent killing Jadzi again and again is going to prevent us from tapping into her power, because we'll still be too busy recasting her for eight mana (plus it's card disadvantage every time we return her to hand), and that could be game-losing. But the thrill of the possibility of the Oracle winning us a game in a glorious flurry of spells is undeniable.

 Kasmina, Enigma Sage: We knew Kasmina was a teacher, so it's not surprising to find her enrolled in Strixhaven's faculty. More surprising is her blue-green nature, which wasn't hinted at before. This new three-drop incarnation might not look like much at first sight, but has a clear pattern: scry, then make a token, repeat. The fact that her abilities can be shared by other planeswalkers can be relevant at times, particularly with planeswalkers who can use the double loyalty gain, or those who have surplus loyalty to turn into big Fractals. Still, putting her in the command zone of a blue-green superfriend build is probably not the best choice (her team would look like this). But for Simic Good Stuff, she's a decent, low-cost choice, in competition with Zimone.


 MARDU BRAWL COMMANDERS

 

 Extus, Oriq Overlord: The main antagonist of the story, the sinister leader of the Oriq, the cabal of masked mages that aim to destroy Strixhaven and take the Archive's forbidden spells for themselves. We can see Extus as a strong Orzhov commander, with good body/cost ratio and stats, and grafting Raise Dead onto every instant and sorcery we cast. He also provides access to red, though, and this fact alone boost his value further, even if we're willing to ignore the big sorcery on the back, which could however come in handy as a late-game sacrifice effect that might trigger endgame combos in the right build.


 PENTACOLOR BRAWL COMMANDERS

 

 Codie, Vociferous Codex: A self-aware tome of ancient magic. Codie is the commander for a very specific, very odd permanentless build. In that deck, he acts as a mana dork and mana fixer, and essentially grants cascade, once per turn, to any spell in our hand. How to win the game from there is the challenge it might be entertaining to accept.


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