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By: Kumagoro42, Gianluca Aicardi
Sep 24 2020 12:30pm
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A GUIDE TO BRAWL: ZENDIKAR RISING

 Fall update to the Brawl series: it's rotation time! The legendaries from Zendikar Rising push all the previous Brawl commanders out of the pool, except for all the creatures and planeswalkers from Throne of Eldraine, Theros Beyond DeathIkoria: Lair of Behemoths, and Core Set 2021. Brawl is at its nadir!

 The 20 new commanders contribute to all monocolored combinations, except for white, and all dual-color combinations. No new three-color commander is added, which leaves Grixis unrepresented in the meta (Nicol Bolas was defeated, after all!). On the other hand, we have a new pentacolor option in the new Tazri and even one of the extremely rare quadricolor commanders in the new Omnath.

  

 Post rotation, the total number of available commanders is brought down to 111 – which is 114, minus the three that are currently banned: Oko, Thief of Crowns (banned in November 2019), Lutri, the Spellchaser (banned in April 2020), and Winota, Joiner of Forces (banned in May 2020).

  

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

  • Monowhite: 8 commanders (-7)
  • Monoblue: 11 commanders (-7, +2)
  • Monoblack: 11 commanders (-8, +2)
  • Monored: 10 commanders (-11, +1)
  • Monogreen: 12 commanders (-8, +1)
  • Azorius: 3 commanders (-4, +1)
  • Dimir: 4 commanders (-4, +1)
  • Rakdos: 3 commanders (-3, +1)
  • Gruul: 6 commanders (-4, +1)
  • Selesnya: 4 commanders (-5, +1)
  • Orzhov: 5 commanders (-4, +1)
  • Izzet: 5 commanders (-4, +1) – 1 banned
  • Golgari: 6 commanders (-4, +2)
  • Boros: 5 commanders (-4, +2) – 1 banned
  • Simic: 5 commanders (-6, +1) – 1 banned
  • Esper: 1 commander
  • Grixis: 0 commanders (-1)
  • Jund: 1 commander
  • Naya: 1 commander (-1)
  • Bant: 1 commander
  • Abzan: 1 commander (-1)
  • Jeskai: 2 commanders (-1)
  • Sultai: 1 commander (-1)
  • Mardu: 2 commanders (-1)
  • Temur: 1 commander (-1)
  • Quadricolor: 1 commander (+1)
  • Pentacolor: 3 commanders (-2, +1)
  • Colorless: 1 commander (-2)

 Thanks to Jumpstart and Amonkhet Remastered, the Historic options available in special events and through the direct challenge on MTG Arena are now too many to easily keep track (226 in addition to the Standard ones). The non-Standard commanders added to Arena through the now discontinued Brawlidays and Brawlers' Guildhall events are not legal in regular Brawl anymore.

 Aside from the three 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. Gideon's Intervention is added to this list for Historic Brawl.

   

 Now let's see what Zendikar Rising brings!

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


 MONOBLUE BRAWL COMMANDERS

  

 Charix, the Raging Isle: Do you like Crabs? If you do, enjoy the very first time a Crab is eligibile as a commander (legendary Leviathans are also a recent thing, as the first was Slinn Voda from Dominaria, and then there was Xyris, the Writhing Storm from Commander 2020). In a monoblue deck, putting together a large number of Islands shouldn't be a problem, so one can dream of witnessing Charix reach its end-of-the-line +16/-16 activation. Helping your gigantic crustacean connect afterwards is a different kettle of fish (pun intended). Definitely a Brawl commander for the memes.

 Jace, Mirror Mage: Monoblue is whimsical in Zendikar Rising, but this new Jace goes beyond the novelty factor of Two Jaces for the Price of One (quite literally: the kicked version equals to the cost of Memory Adept or Unraveler of Secrets). Having a commander that drops in two copies is useful, as the opponent must work twice as hard to get rid of both – even if they're quite fragile, as the Jaces are, the distraction adds up. Double Jace's impact on the battlefield is subtle, not splashy, but the members of the Beleren Team work well with each other, one scrying to ensure the other's card draw won't kill him. And there's a chance you'll find a way to further copy non-legendary doppelgänger Jace; although, unfortunately, Mythos of Illuna has the wrong color identity for a monoblue Brawl deck.


 MONOBLACK BRAWL COMMANDERS

  

 Drana, the Last Bloodchief: Drana's back, and she's now the only surviving first-generation Vampire on Zendikar (as well as a veritable war hero). She's returned to her original form of a five-drop 4/4 flyer, but her additional ability is now an extremely powerful attack trigger that just resurrects a creature from your graveyard, with an additional +1/+1 counter to boot. Granted, it's the opponent that chooses what gets reanimated, but it's easy enough to manipulate that choice and turn it into no choice at all. As far as midrange commanders with impactful abilities go, Drana is going to be popular, although she could disappoint when faced by removal-heavy opponents, given that in monoblack there aren't at the moment too many ways to give her haste (only Crashing Drawbridge comes to mind) in order to profit from the trigger right away.

 Taborax, Hope's Demise: This little Demon looks like a fun build-around commander, almost a miniature Korvold for monoblack. You just need to cobble together a sacrifice shell – which, admittedly, might be harder now than it was pre-rotation, given the loss of key elements like Priest of Forgotten Gods. At least Cauldron Familiar is still legal in Brawl, even if it's not a Cleric – building Taborax in a way that fully exploits that tribal interaction might be tricky for now, but definitely a challenge worth undertaking.


 MONORED BRAWL COMMANDERS

 

 Moraug, Fury of Akoum: This snazzy Minotaur is already populating the dreams of every Johnny/Jenny and Timmy/Tammy out there, who are now fantasizing of scapeshifting their way toward a truly flamboyant game over (in Historic, at least). Restricted to monored, he's not going to have too many fancy ways to enable landfall. But once you have a six-mana beater that gives the entire team a power boost and at least one additional combat phase, it's probably already reason enough to put him in command and see what happens.


 MONOGREEN BRAWL COMMANDERS

 

 Ashaya, Soul of the Wild: Nissa's BFF, the Swamp Thing-like Elemental who's also a fragment of Zendikar's worldsoul, finally gets her own card, after having been relegated to the role of a mere token for Nissa, Sage Animist. And since Ashaya turns everybody on your side into a Forest, including herself, she would have really loved to share Standard with Nissa, Who Shakes the World. Alas, Big Nissa is gone, but Ashaya could still shine. As a commander, she's a form of creature ramp that also provides a potentially very large body (remember those asterisks are the sum of all our lands, which means also the sum of all our nontoken creatures), albeit deprived of any keyword that could help her perform in combat. But making all your creatures into Forests – the ones that are already on the battlefield as well as those that are entering it – is so massive a global effect, it must hide a way to be exploited in some grandiose way. One word: landfall.


 AZORIUS BRAWL COMMANDERS

 

 Linvala, Shield of Sea Gate: The party mechanic has a perfect home in Azorius – white provides Clerics and Warriors, blue Wizards and Rogues. With her pareo days firmly behind her (whatever Linvala, the Preserver was going for, nobody remembers), the freethinker Linvala went to school and got herself a Wizard degree, which, combined with her combat trigger, makes her one of the commanders of choice to try and make party work in Brawl. Sacrificing your commander is kind of a sketchy proposition, but if the result is saving the team from mass removal, it might be worth the trouble; and she's cheap enough to offset the commander tax for a couple of iterations, at least. Will Azorius Aggro be a thing?


 DIMIR BRAWL COMMANDERS

 

 Zareth San, the Trickster: Zareth is the Rogue in Nahiri's hired party of adventurers (we see him meet his demise in Zendikar Rising's trailer). He's also essentially a Ninja without the ninjutsu keyword. Unfortunately, he also lacks the commander ninjutsu keyword, which would have allowed him to be ninja-ed onto the battlefield from the command zone. The way he is worded, he makes for a very appealing version of a Rogue Tribal deck that will sadly never happen in Brawl or Commander.


 RAKDOS BRAWL COMMANDERS

 

 Zagras, Thief of Heartbeats: Rakdos is another solid color for party, and Zagras is a decent payoff, hitting fast and hard (especially planeswalkers) and giving super-deathtouch to the whole... well, party. This said, having a large party out on the battlefield at any given time to reduce Zagras's considerable casting cost is not going to be a walk in the park.


 GRUUL BRAWL COMMANDERS

 

 Phylath, World Sculptor: Landfall gets more different commander options than any other mechanics, and Phylath is specifically the one meant for going big. The kind of list that puts this gentle gardener in the command zone is probably going to feature a ton of land-based ramp, so its high casting cost might not be too much of a concern, particularly with Phylath's ETB and landfall triggers leaving board presence behind at every iteration. It's not exactly a legendary Avenger of Zendikar, because it goes wide with its tokens but then tall with its counters, which is sort of counterintuitive. But if properly supported, it might be effective enough to warrant a build.


 SELESNYA BRAWL COMMANDERS

 

 Yasharn, Implacable Earth: Post-rotation, Selesnya has lost the better part of its viable commanders. All those that are left are specialized – Calix for enchantments, Siona for Auras, Kaheera for tribal. Yasharn might not be a super-exciting addition to that roster, as it doesn't do much beyond tutoring up two basic lands and providing a form of situational hate that might not even matter; but it's playable, has a reasonable cost and decent stats. It doesn't exactly ramp, but it guarantees you won't miss your subsequent land drops, which is important in the format. A Selesnya Brawl deck that doesn't pursue any particular strategy – or at least not one of those laser-focusedly pursued by the other available Selesnya commanders – can use dependable Yasharn at the helm.


 ORZHOV BRAWL COMMANDERS

 

 Orah, Skyclave Hierophant: The older guy in Nahiri's little band of adventurers from the Sea Gate Expeditionary House is a commander that clearly and succinctly communicates what his build-around is going to be. Orah (which is the Buy-a-Box promo, but not exclusively anymore, as he can be found in boosters too) is specifically the guy you put in the command zone if you wish to build Tribal Cleric in Brawl. A 3/3 lifelinker for four mana is not an amazing deal, but the relatively high cost sort of works in conjunction with the death trigger. It goes without saying, Priest of Forgotten Gods will be sorely missed around these parts too – that crazy cultist girl really tied all these sacrifice decks together, and she would have really sparked in a dark marriage with Orah. Something to consider for Historic Brawl, definitely.


 IZZET BRAWL COMMANDERS

 

 Kaza, Roil Chaser: Another member of Nahiri's party, Kaza is the one who cares about Wizards and, of course, "spells" (used here as a placeholder for "instants and sorceries" – when will the designers finally find an operative word to batch these two types together?). She's a flyer with haste for two mana, which is good, but her activated ability is just mana production. Which can also be good, if you plan to cast more espensive spells, but that's not usually the route Izzet spellslinging decks care to take. But maybe, with Kaza at the helm, they will. Just don't mistake her for a replacement to Adeliz, is what I'm saying.


 GOLGARI BRAWL COMMANDERS

  

 Grakmaw, Skyclave Ravager: Grakmaw is a 3/3 for three that grows when one of your creatures dies, and then leaves an ersatz token around when it itself hits the graveyard (note that this kind of death trigger wouldn't have worked with commanders until the recent update to the rules explicitly allowed it). The whole package speaks to a sacrifice deck, so this black Hydra can get in line behind all the commanders who are mourning Priest of Forgotten Gods's departure from Standard, like Taborax and Orah. Grakmaw might also just work as a serviceable Golgari leader, although the color pair already has Chevill at two and Polukranos and Umori at four, all reasonable competitors for generic "good stuff" builds. 

 Nissa of Shadowed Boughs: Alas, the most powerful Nissa ever is not eligible as Brawl commander anymore. We're left with this humbler homecoming Nissa, taking on black mana for the first time. The novel color combination gives her a reanimator feel, with her minus offering a clear-cut way to return (and boost in the process) creatures from the graveyard, as well as cheating them into play from the hand if that lines up better. It's all linked to the number of lands in play, as is the proliferaton of Nissa's loyalty, so we clearly want her in a deck that's focused on ramping through extra land drops – but that's probably what most Golgari decks would end up doing anyway, so it's not really a gigantic deckbuilding constraint. A bit more disappointing is the fact that her signature animated land doesn't stick around this time, not even for a full turn cycle, like Nissa, Vital Force used to do. So Golgari Nissa fails the Planeswalker Viability 101 test, in that she has no way of protecting herself, short of hitting the battlefield with a land drop still available, then immediately ultimating – though such a move would only see her survive if the dropped land was a Fabled Passage, or if Ancient Greenwarded happened to be around.


 BOROS BRAWL COMMANDERS

  

 Akiri, Fearless Voyager: The member of her adventuring party that we Nahiri kill by her own hand in the official trailer, Akiri is also the one that most closely follows her ungrateful boss's lead, since, instead of a taking the tribal route for her class, like all her companions did, she's an "Equipment matter" commander. The suggested shell clearly gravitates towards a fairly typical Boros Aggro approach, as she's a solid 3/3 for three, draws a card when you perform an attack that includes equipped creatures, and can essentially rescue any member of her team (including herself) at the cost of unattaching their Equipment – and forfeiting their attack, if the opponent has timed the removal correctly. A solid ensemble, even while requiring some amount of build-around (but in a direction that Boros doesn't mind undertaking), and a valid alternative to Haktos.

 Nahiri, Heir of the Ancients: Nahiri returns to Zendikar and to Standard, and we're all meant to forget of that time she attempted Eldrazi-powered mass genocide on Innistrad (Nissa and Jace surely seem to have forgotten, despite having been on the front line of that crisis). Mechanically, she went back to the Equipment theme of her first incarnation, Nahiri, the Lithomancer; to the point that her plus ability is almost exactly the same, with the original Soldier token has been turned into a Warrior to better serve the party mechanic. As a Brawl commander, she might be even more effective than as a regular card in Standard – she can search for a piece of Equipment, find or create its carrier, and even attach the Equipment itself for free, which will combo wonderfully with stuff like Colossus Hammer in Historic Brawl. Of course, Akiri will be featured in the deck commanded by Nahiri, and vice versa, so here's hoping this time Nahiri won't brutally murder her follower – the whole Emrakul incident might have been swept under the rug, but Nahiri's self-important brand of villainy is not being underplayed in the least.


 SIMIC BRAWL COMMANDERS

 

 Verazol, the Split Current: Verazol is not going to become the new Hydroid Krasis, but it can be a functional commander for a ramp deck based on kicker. Simic has several alternatives, though, most notably the tier-1 Kinnan, so Verazol's quest for popularity is directly linked to how much people will love building around kicker, a mechanic that doesn't usually synergize with much else beyond the access to large quantities of mana.


 QUADRICOLOR BRAWL COMMANDERS

 

 Omnath, Locus of Creation: The fourth step in the evolution of Omnath marks the first time we have a four-color commander in Brawl since the format was created. To be fair, a four-color commander is not going to play too differently from a five-color commander. In this case, black wouldn't even do much to help the new and improved Omnath achieve its triple landfall trigger; it's more likely that the shell will mostly be Simic, with white giving access to better removal and Felidar Retreat, and red to a few additional landfall payoffs like Phylath and maybe Brushfire Elemental


 PENTACOLOR BRAWL COMMANDERS

 

 Tazri, Beacon of Unity: With Niv-Mizzet Reborn (finally!) gone, the only surviving option for "five-color soup" in Brawl was going to be Kenrith. Tazri doesn't seem like she could be able to challenge the good king, as far as generic builds go. Instead, she's the commander representative of yet another of the Zendikar Rising mechanics. We have Verazol for kicker decks, various options and especially Omnath for landfall decks, one specific commander for each of the party tribes, and Linvala for party: limited edition. But if you want to go full rainbow party, then Tazri is your girl. She seems inescapably gimmicky, but could be fun enough


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