Join the Brawl

Posted in Ways to Play on March 22, 2018

By Gavin Verhey

When Gavin Verhey was eleven, he dreamt of a job making Magic cards—and now as a Magic designer, he's living his dream! Gavin has been writing about Magic since 2005.

It's not every day we introduce a new Magic format.

While previews for Dominaria have already started, today I'm excited to talk about something you might not have been expecting. Around the website, we'll be showing off glimpses of what's going on with the most hotly anticipated set of the year.

For example, maybe you already caught a glimpse of Firesong and Sunspeaker from Blake's article yesterday. But if you haven't, take a gander:

This is the buy-a-box promo for Dominaria! (And if you've read Blake's article, you know there's something different this time around—it's a special promo-only card.) These Minotaurs are pretty sweet. And most of all, you might notice something pretty crucial about them: they're legendary.

I've seen many of you guess it online over the past few months, so some of you should prepare to pat yourself on the back: Dominaria has a major legendary theme! The set has a ton of legends, old Dominarian favorites and newcomers alike.

But wait—what's all of this about a new format? I did mention that a moment ago.

Well, it's all connected . . . and that's what I really want to talk about with you today!

With Dominaria, we're rolling out a brand-new casual format where you can use this legendary theme to great effect. Let me tell you about it!

Building a Brawl

We're always looking at our range of options, listening, and trying to figure out what we can offer to all of you that our game is currently missing.

We offer many different formats to play competitive Constructed Magic, including Standard, Modern, and Legacy, just to name a few. They all include different ranges of Magic sets. If you're coming into Magic, you probably aren't starting with Legacy. You certainly could—but it makes a lot of sense to learn the ropes in something like Standard instead. These formats all encompass different periods of time, so people with varying collections have a way to play using them.

And it's not just about collections or experience either; different players simply prefer different kinds of gameplay. Legacy, for example, has all kinds of crazy mechanics and interactions, from aggressive decks with the best cheap creatures ever printed to combo decks that can end the game on the first turn. Standard, on the other hand, has a small card pool—which means more different things get to shine. There are plenty of players who have been playing for years and years who prefer Standard for that reason.

Okay. That's competitive Constructed. We have plenty of different formats there.

If you look at casual Constructed, though, there isn't that same kind of variety. It's usually just "almost everything is legal, go nuts."

Commander is probably our largest casual format. Now, I love Commander. (I would sure hope so, given that I led both the 2017 and 2018 Commander releases!) And I want to assure you, Commander isn't going anywhere at all. But at the same time, it's a bit daunting to hop into. All your new cards have to compete against the weight of the past 25 years of crazy cards we've made, and there are all kinds of ridiculous combinations and abilities going on. Even if you've been playing Magic for years, maybe you just don't want to play in a format full of the many, many years of these cards.

But if you didn't want to play that way, what were you supposed to do?

Cue Gerritt Turner.

Most of you don't know Gerritt, but you almost certainly have read words he wrote. Gerritt is a senior brand narrative designer here, penning much of the text you see on our packaging, and even coming up with our set names!

An avid Commander player, Gerritt built a variant format for his personal playgroup as an easy-to-get-into way to play casually, and the group had a blast with it. He then brought it to Wizards and his team really started to love it. After seeing such success, he brought it to R&D.

So we tried it. . . and we loved it, too!

This really did start as a grassroots effort within Wizards: someone far outside of R&D who had discovered something fun came to us with an idea. It was something that had been missing, and people were having a lot of fun with it. So, we spent a lot of time taking his original rule set, running playtests, making tweaks, and gathering data.

Eventually, we started running playtests across Wizards, and had some of the highest turnouts ever for them among all optional company-wide playtests. People who would never even touch casual Magic were giving it a try! It was clear this format was charming people.

And now I present it to you with Dominaria as Brawl!

Firesong and Sunspeaker
Firesong and Sunspeaker | Art by Zoltan Boros

Laying Down the Rules

So. . . what is it?

The idea here was to make a casual format that used a Standard card pool. This meant the focus could be on new and different kinds of decks you could build, and the format would be the right power level to allow them to thrive. It really adds a new dimension to all your Standard-legal cards!

The rules for Brawl are pretty straightforward. It has a lot of similarities to formats you already know and love—like Commander—and a few elements to make it its own format.

The short version is this: You build a 60-card Standard-legal deck around a legendary creature or planeswalker. You can only have one copy of any given card in your deck other than basic lands. Your legendary creature or planeswalker starts in the command zone and works the same way that you might be used to from Commander: you can cast it for its mana cost, and then again for an additional two mana each time. Each player starts with 30 life.

And that's it! Simple, easy, and a kind of gameplay you might already be familiar with. We suggest playing it multiplayer.

Let's take a look at the full rules overview of the format, courtesy of Rules Manager Eli Shiffrin:

  • Each player's deck is exactly 60 cards. Other than basic lands, no card may appear in a deck more than once. Each card must be legal in the Standard format; cards banned in the Standard format can't be played in the Brawl variant.
  • Before the game begins, each player designates one legendary creature or planeswalker card in their deck as their commander. This card begins the game in the command zone and the other 59 cards are shuffled up.
  • The mana symbols that appear on your commander dictate what cards may be in your deck. Mana symbols that don't appear on your commander can't be in the deck. For example, if the Dominaria card Firesong and Sunspeaker is your commander, your cards may have R, W, both, or neither, but no B, G, or U symbols may appear anywhere in your deck. This includes the card's text box as well as its mana cost; for example, Pride Sovereign from the Hour of Devastation set can't be in your deck if your commander has only G in its cost and rules text.
  • Each player begins the game at 30 life rather than 20. If you're playing a multiplayer game (which we recommend for Brawl!), each player draws seven cards again on their first mulligan and the player who plays first draws a card on their first turn.
  • As long as your commander is in the command zone, you may cast it from there. Doing so costs an additional two mana for each time you have cast the card this way this game.
  • If your commander is countered or leaves the battlefield, you may put it back into the command zone instead of putting it anywhere else it would go.
  • The Brawl variant has no other rules for playing, winning, or losing the game. Have fun!

Now it's time to answer a few questions.

First, why 60 cards?

Standard only has so many cards in it, and part of the fun here is building around themes. For example, Dinosaurs or artifacts. It's important that you have the room to actually build around them, though; if I asked you to make a 100-card Pirate deck, you would be stretched pretty thin for enough good options. With 60 cards, you can build a much more focused deck—and the singleton nature still makes every game feel quite different while offering consistency to your plan!

How about 30 life?

We playtested a number of different life totals: 20, 30, and 40 were all considered. In the end, though, 30 created by far the best gameplay. The cushion to your normal 20 starting life was important, so that games didn't end too quickly and you had time to fool around in the early game. However, with 40 life, games ran far too long and it was hard to put pressure on players. With 30 life, more aggressive decks can actually exist without winning too fast, slow decks still have plenty of time, and games end in a reasonable amount of time. We didn't want running out of cards to be a typical factor in the game either, and 30 life helps ensure that doesn't occur.

Another question you might have is, why legendary planeswalkers as commanders?

Well, for one: it's fun!

Like normal legendary creatures, planeswalkers are major characters and often enjoyable to build around. We wanted to let them have a chance at being commanders too. We played with a bunch of them to check how they worked and really enjoyed the possibilities they created. Being able to be attacked by multiple players ensured they were kept in check, while still promising powerful things.

I'm sure you have some initial thoughts and reactions. Some of you may be excited to go and build decks. Others might be skeptical. I really can't suggest strongly enough that you give it a go before passing judgment either way. This is something we've had tons and tons of fun with, and it's absolutely worth trying, no matter what kind of player you are!

Looking Toward the Future

Many, many games of Brawl have gone on already within the hall of Wizards, and I'm really excited for you all to start building and playing the format!

Dominaria was the perfect time to give this a try because of the legendary theme. Indeed, as you can start to see with Firesong and Sunspeaker, there are plenty of enticing decks to build with the myriad of legendary cards in Dominaria. . . and the rest of Standard! Just you wait and see what Dominarian goodies are in store!

With all of that said, this really is something we're trying out here, and we would absolutely love to hear your feedback. Do you like it? Dislike it? Wish there were small tweaks? All of those are on the table. For now, we would love for you to go try it out at home and at your local game store. After Dominaria, we're going to evaluate what we've heard from all of you and determine what our next steps should be and what kind of support this new format needs.

And that makes your feedback more important than ever.

So please, give the format a try and let me know what you think! There are some really sweet decks out there you can build. How quickly can you cast your Ghalta, Primal Hunger? What crazy things can you do with Rashmi, Eternities Crafter? How does a control deck with Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh at the helm work out? There are plenty of great decks and strategies to try here. Definitely go out, build decks, play, and then report back!

Where should your feedback go? You can always send me a tweet, ask me a question on my Tumblr, or send me an email at I'd love to hear from you!

Get your deck-building engines ready, and prepare for a new way of playing—with Brawl!



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