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By: Kumagoro42, Gianluca Aicardi
Jan 23 2020 12:00pm
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A GUIDE TO BRAWL: THEROS BEYOND DEATH

 Winter update to the Brawl series: Theros Beyond Death is in the pool! The legendaries from the return to the sadly departed Gideon's home plane 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 2020, and Throne of Eldraine.

 The 30 new commanders come in all combinations of one or two colors, except for Azorius. No new three-color, five-color or colorless commanders are part of Theros Beyond Death. With these additions, the total number of available commanders is raised to 144 (technically 145, but Oko, Thief of Crowns is now banned) and the count by color becomes as follows (not including the planeswalkers from the starter decks):

  • Monowhite: 13 commanders (+4)
  • Monoblue: 14 commanders (+4)
  • Monoblack: 14 commanders (+3)
  • Monored: 15 commanders (+2)
  • Monogreen: 14 commanders (+3)
  • Azorius: 4 commanders
  • Dimir: 6 commanders (+2)
  • Rakdos: 4 commanders (+1)
  • Gruul: 7 commanders (+2)
  • Selesnya: 7 commanders (+2)
  • Orzhov: 6 commanders (+2)
  • Izzet: 6 commanders (+1)
  • Golgari: 6 commanders (+1)
  • Boros: 5 commanders (+1)
  • Simic: 8 commanders (+2)
  • Esper: 1 commander
  • Grixis: 1 commander
  • Jund: 1 commander
  • Naya: 1 commander
  • Bant: 1 commander
  • Abzan: 1 commander
  • Jeskai: 1 commander
  • Sultai: 1 commander
  • Mardu: 2 commanders
  • Temur: 1 commander
  • Pentacolor: 3 commanders
  • Colorless: 2 commanders

 The Historic options available through the direct challenge on MTG Arena are here. Two older commanders have also been added to Arena through the Brawlidays events, Rhys the Redeemed and Talrand, Sky Summoner, both made legal in regular Standard Brawl within the platform.

 

 And speaking of Brawlidays, please don't engage in such a reprehensible initiative. You shouldn't have to pay in order to simply get access to a specific format at any time instead of just one day per week. It's disgraceful behavior from Wizards of the Coast and shouldn't be encouraged. If you want to play Brawl on Arena, use ArenaBrawl.net instead.

 Moving on, the two planeswalker-deck planeswalkers are these. As usual, they're not very desirable, though Elspeth at least contributes three mana symbols to devotion.

 

 Now let's see what the new set brings!

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


 MONOWHITE BRAWL COMMANDERS

    

 Daxos, Blessed by the Sun: The Demigods are all uncommon so their power level is not the highest, but they still have a modicum of appeal as commanders. For one thing, they're generally cheap, so they can be replayed multiple times from the command zone. Daxos in particular does a reasonable impression of a Soul Warden, which makes him a perfect fit for "lifegain matters" strategies, in competition with Ajani, Strength of the Pride (though he's gonna lose that competition).

 Heliod, Sun-Crowned: The Gods appear, predictably, as a superpowered version of the Demigods, and they rank among the best new Brawl commanders Theros Beyond Death has to offer. After all, having an indestructible permanent in the command zone is quite the advantage, and they mostly have a monocolored identity anyway, so the devotion required to wake them up is kind of built-in. In Brawl, Heliod won't get to enjoy the infinite combo with Walking Ballista, but we can still count on his self-sustained quasi-Archangel of Thune trick, resulting in yet another good white commander for "lifegain matters" decks, but also perfectly fitting any monowhite "good stuff" build.

 Taranika, Akroan Veteran: The late Gideon's #1 fan is a solid creature, if not particularly synergistic with anything you could pair her with when you run her as a commander. She gives a Gideonesque boost to another attacker, and she plays some defense, but she's bound to be quickly outclassed on the battlefield. Her set of abilities works well only in the fastest White Weenie lists, and even there, if you have to specifically like her better than Gideon Blackblade himself.

 Elspeth, Sun's Nemesis: Truth be told, I'm not entirely convinced by this return of Elspeth. Sure, she can escape the graveyard again and again (not endlessly, as there's a finite amount of cards to exile over the course of a game). But what she does on the battlefield doesn't feel like it's going to change the outcome of the battle too much. Also, in a format with the command zone, where recursion for the commander is already enabled, escape loses a bit of value – it basically becomes a matter of which resource you have available at the moment between mana or cards in the graveyard. A fine choice to have, but not extremely relevant in the long term.


 MONOBLUE BRAWL COMMANDERS

    

 Alirios, Enraptured: This Narcissus revisited makes for a commander that leaves a token behind at each iteration. Not groundbreaking or anything, but nice enough for three mana, and I bet a true Johnny/Jenny could find some devious uses for that token.

 Callaphe, Beloved of the Sea: In a blue deck based on enchantments and creatures (or enchantment creatures), Callaphe functions as poor man's Kira, Great Glass-Spinner. Probably not enough to feel very appealing as a commander, although there are worse specimens in the meta.

 Thassa, Deep-Dwelling: Now, Thassa is probably going to be the most popular new commander of this lot, because she's a combo engine on legs (or, you know, tail). Of course, only relying on monoblue targets, her range of action will be limited, but still wide enough to generate a multiplicity of effects, with Cavalier of Gales and Agent of Treachery being the most powerful. Nyx Lotus also remains in her purview, and if Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner won't unfortunately be there to untap it, Thassa is still allowed to have Corridor Monitor under her command, which means the Lotus will be open to fuel the sea god's activated ability in the opponent's turn. All in all, the possibilities are just too many to list: just build a Thassa Brawl deck and you'll soon realize what an incredibly synergistic card the new Thassa is. 10/10.

 Thryx, the Sudden Storm: One of Thryx's more interesting aspects is that he simultaneously interacts with cards that care for Elementals and cards that care for Giants. Of course, in monoblue, both approaches are severely hindered (neither Risen Reef nor Realm-Cloaked Giant will be available), and pursuing a build based around "converted mana cost 5 or greater" leads to a sketchy deck, if probably a fun one. However, just being a big-butted flash flyer might be qualification enough for the command zone.


 MONOBLACK BRAWL COMMANDERS

   

 Aphemia, the Cacophony: She's certainly a very inexpensive commander, but how many enchantments do we realistically expect to be able to exile to her trigger, especially in monoblack? And there aren't even many ways in current Standard to capitalize on the fact that those tokens are Zombies.

 Erebos, Bleak-Hearted: Arguably the weakest of the new Gods, and surely the most demanding, Erebos once again asks for a deck with a ton of sacrificial fodder, which isn't too hard to build in black, but has already similar if not even better payoffs, like Ayara, First of Locthwain or God-Eternal Bontu. One card and the removal of a single one-toughness creature for 2 mana, 2 life and one sacrifice is not the worst deal, but not the best, either. This said, Erebos is still very playable, since the bottom line with all the Theros Gods is that you're going to recur a reasonably costed, indestructible fattie just by putting one of them in the command zone and building around it a deck that's simply heavy on permanents.

 Tymaret, Chosen from Death: Tymaret is the commander you choose if you're obsessed with hating on the opponent's graveyard, as that's pretty much all he does.


 MONORED BRAWL COMMANDERS

  

 Anax, Hardened in the Forge: Purphoros's favorite makes each of your creatures, as well as each of his iterations as commander, leave behind up to two Satyr tokens. I, for one, smell combo potential. The little Satyrs can't block, but they can be pumped, and the whole routine might just mean you get to attempt alpha striking more wildly, because all the fallen bodies will be replaced by those horned suckers, opening the road for a second wave.

 Purphoros, Bronze-Blooded: The new incarnation of the God of the Forge is a conditional Sneak Attack. And the condition is even meaningless in a Brawl deck, which would be subject to the very same color restriction to begin with. This said, the cost to activate Purphoros in the same turn you cast him is high enough that you'd probably be better off just hardcasting the big dude already, but the God's indestructible, so we can afford to wait and unleash the hasty monster as a follow-up. Sometimes it'll mean durdling around while digging for the right target; other times, it'll just be devastating.


 MONOGREEN BRAWL COMMANDERS

   

 Arasta of the Endless Web: This godly Spider's triggered ability might come up more often than one would expect – in average, Brawl decks tend to run a larger amount of permanents than Standard decks, and the Gods will only reinforce this trend, but a good chunk of the opponent's cards (including removal for Arasta) will still result in an Arasta spawn, which is not a huge payoff, but it's something. She's a cute defensive commander for monogreen decks that either go wide, or combo off in a way that no commander directly supports, so they just need time.

 Nylea, Keen-Eyed: Nylea instantly challenges every other green commander for the title of best leader of a midrange creature deck (of course Nissa, Who Shakes the World and Vivien, Arkbow Ranger still probably win that challenge). She's unvaluable in such a shell, reducing every creature's casting cost and especially digging for more of them, or just surveiling her way towards something juicy. Access to heavy ramp is strongly recommended: her mana sink is effective, but pretty hungry.

 Renata, Called to the Hunt: If you ever wanted to build a Grumgully, the Generous deck without red, now Renata says you can.


 DIMIR BRAWL COMMANDERS

  

 Atris, Oracle of Half-Truths: Dimir fans, rejoice! All your previous options for in-color commander involved some degree of build-around, but Atris is just a robust menace threat coupled with card advantage, all for a decent cost that allows for a number of recursions. And the miniature Fact or Fiction guessing game is a fun take on the card selection routine. What's Dimir without some mind games?

 Ashiok, Nightmare Muse: The new Ashiok incarnation definitely looks powerful, but I don't feel like it's a slam dunk (to be fair, none of the new planeswalkers give me that feel). A 2/3 body as a plus activation is alluring, but is the little Nightmares' ability supposed to support a mill plan? (Well, at least it doesn't awkwardly enable escape). The minus is akin to the Dispersal side of Discovery/Dispersal, and that's undeniably great, especially given the chance of becoming sheer removal instead of just tempo gain in the late game. And yet Ashiok is two mana more expensive than Teferi, Time Raveler, so it's not likely to be able to drop and minus on turn five without being threatened in return. This said, the ultimate is scary (though it's ultimately as good as the opponent's deck is, and has a random component to it), and as a commander of a control deck, you might be more inclined to in fact employ it as Dispersal for Dispersal mana, at least the first time around. And given Dimir's relative scarcity of viable all-purpose commanders, Ashiok is probably going to matter.


 RAKDOS BRAWL COMMANDERS

 

 Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger: The two Titans that ended up unbound from the Underwold exude power, but their signature mechanic feels a bit weird in Brawl and Commander, because there's actually no way to drop them onto the battlefield from the command zone. Don't worry, though, you can just trigger their ETB abilities and send them to the graveyard, where they'll be safe (if the graveyard gets exiled, they'll just go back to the command zone and you'll be able to repeat the process). At some point in the late game, when the libraries are nearly depleted, escape will probably cease to be operational, which means the Titans essentially turn into increasingly overcosted sorceries. In this sense, Kroxa is the narrower of the two, because forced discard is not going to matter very much after a while, though you might still count on its loss of life to finish off an empty-handed opponent. Judith, the Scourge Diva is still the best commander in Rakdos, hands down, but Kroxa compares favorably with Rakdos, the Showstopper himself, and certainly with Angrath, Captain of Chaos.


 GRUUL BRAWL COMMANDERS

  

 Gallia of the Endless Dance: Satyr tribal is, sadly, not a thing, but Gallia still does a fair job at being a cheap, aggressive commander with some capacity for refueling the hand. Plus, she's adorable. Problem is, Gruul is a very crowded combination at the moment, and the competition is steep. Our favorite goat girl just doesn't party hard enough.

 Klothys, God of Destiny: Speaking of which, meet the legitimate Gruul God whose place in the pantheon Xenagos had usurped the last time we were on Theros. Now Klothys is very angry (at Elspeth, too), and that rage is expressed through free graveyard hate and lifedrain. Starting from turn four (or possibly three, if she dropped on two), then every single turn after that, Klothys will take a card away from the opponent's graveyard, making harder for them to use escape or other such synergies. And what's even more relevant, contributing with a swing of four life to the ongoing battle, and that's without even considering the fact that she might be able to actually attack, on top of everything else. Occasionally, she can even ramp you, though in Brawl, with just Fabled Passage and Evolving Wilds as targets we might reasonably expect to find in the graveyard, it's probably never going to happen when you need to. On the whole, I feel confident to say that Klothys supplants Domri, Anarch of Bolas as three-drop Gruul commander of choice.


 SELESNYA BRAWL COMMANDERS

  

 Siona, Captain of the Pyleas: If you want to try and build a deck that cares for Auras, Siona might be your girl. She'll likely get you a card, and then some token once you successfully deploy that card. To enable a go-wide strategy, the best option probably remains Emmara, Soul of the Accord (Rhys the Redeemed on Arena), but if it's the Aura/heroic theme you're after, chances are you were going to be in Selesnya anyway, so you might well try this Amazon.

 Calix, Destiny's Hand: Expanding the theme from Aura to any enchantment, in the right build Calix provides conditional card advantage and some degree of removal. Maybe the right approach with this guy is to aim for the combo ultimate, though, self-milling and then Open the Vaults everything back for an explosive finish. After all, enchantments mean enchantment creatures too, so the potential for a degenerate board state is all there.


 ORZHOV BRAWL COMMANDERS

  

 Athreos, Shroud-Veiled: Theros Beyond Death's Buy-a-Box promo is somehow a strictly worse Thassa – much more expensive, worse stats, harder to wake up, requires a sacrifice to flicker his target. But hey, this is in Orzhov, so you'll have access to a completely different set of cards to combo with, and quite a few sacrifice outlets, so building Athreos combo still seems like an entertaining prospect.

 Kunoros, Hound of Athreos: At the other side of the spectrum, if you're sick of your opponents doing broken things with the graveyard, you're better off running Athreos's doggie than going with the extremely more limited Tymaret we discussed above. Kunoros is a good boy, with a nice array of combat abilities, but at the end of the day, he doesn't do any specific thing you can build on, and restricts your own recursion tactics, which is a bummer when you're in these colors.


 IZZET BRAWL COMMANDERS

 

 Dalakos, Crafter of Wonders: Hard to tell why there's an artifact guy in an enchantment-based environment, but within the Standard pool at large, Dalakos has obviously more applications. Izzet Equipment? Sounds ludicrous, but it's a challenge. There's not a ton of them that feel exciting, but those that do might be enough to make our tinkering Merfolk happy.


 GOLGARI BRAWL COMMANDERS

 

 Polukranos, Unchained: Polukranos is back! Literally – last time Elspeth killed him, now he's a Zombie Hydra. He incurs in the very same issue of the other escaping commanders: should we let them go to the graveyard to escape them later, or just ignore that part, except when it's evidently the best route to recursion? I guess it'll be part of the whole decision-making with them, and in the case of Polukranos 2.0, there's the added factor of getting a 12/12 instead of a puny 6/6.


 BOROS BRAWL COMMANDERS

 

 Haktos the Unscarred: Ah, the Achilles of Theros. Such a great and flavorful design, but so hard to evaluate. The main controversy is the randomized aspect of the "heel" – you can never be sure what Haktos will be vulnerable to, or even what you yourself will be able to target him with, though we know neither Gods Willing nor Embercleave will ever be an option. I won't lie, though, the idea of using Haktos as a commander (of an otherwise pretty regular "Boros Smash" deck) is pretty amusing, since his weakness will change at each iteration, resulting in unpredictable situations, even if in a high-variance singleton format, the odds of the opponent not running anything with the correct mana cost to harm him are pretty low.


 SIMIC BRAWL COMMANDERS

  

 Eutropia the Twice-Favored: Enchantments and creatures, assemble! Eutropia will make you larger and evasive! Granted, even with Oko down, the sheer quantity of viable Simic commanders is overwhelming (even planeswalker-deck Oko is not bad!), but amazingly enough, Eutropia manages to play into a theme that wasn't covered yet, so that's an additional trick up the sleeve of the currently most pushed color combination. Did somebody say Enigmatic Incarnation deck in Brawl?

 Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath: And here's another proof of the topical Simic superiority, if you needed one: their Titan outranks the Rakdos Titan, since drawing a card is better than letting the opponent choose and discard a card; possible ramping is better than not ramping at all; and this verdant behemoth's three-life swing is guaranteed, whereas its brethren's is conditional. The escape reservations still stand, but those might sort themselves out eventually, when the usage pattern of escape in Brawl will have become clearer.


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