How does MTG Brawl Work? (And Should You Get Into It?)

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How does MTG Brawl Work?

Magic: the Gathering has been around for almost thirty years, and one of the reasons why is that it keeps finding new ways to stay fresh.

One way it keeps itself new for its players is by having a variety of ways to play it. Unlike many other games out there today, there isn’t only one set of rules to follow.

Whether you’re someone who prefers a long game or a short game or whether you prefer new cards or old cards, there’s a format that will fit your preferences. Brawl is one such format.

So how does MTG brawl work?

We’ll answer that question and more in this guide. Here’s what you’ll find out about:

  • Brawl’s basic rules
  • The differences between Brawl and Commander
  • Our suggestions on who would enjoy Brawl the most

Let’s jump right in.

Basic Brawl Rules

Brawl is basically a variant of Commander, and the rules are similar.

It’s a pre-constructed format, which means you’ll need to make your deck in advance. The deck must have exactly 60 cards, including a Commander card.

That Commander can be a legendary creature or a planeswalker. The rest of the cards in the deck should reflect the Commander’s colors.

If the Commander is colorless, the deck can use any number of lands from one basic land type of their choosing.

Aside from basic lands, you can only have one of each card in your deck. The only exception to this rule is if the card itself specifically says you can have as many as you want in any deck.

Your life total starts at 25 or 30 depending on how many people are in the game. In games with only two total players, life totals are 25 and those with three or more players start with 30 life.

Can you choose any card to be in a Brawl deck? Not exactly.

Brawl permits only cards from sets that are legal in the Standard format. These sets rotate every fall with the release of the newest set, so you’ll want to keep an eye on that rotation.

You can monitor which sets are legal in Standard right here. 

As of February 2020, one popular Brawl commander was Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God. He really shines in a deck with a lot of planeswalkers, because he gets every loyalty ability of every other planeswalker on the battlefield.

Differences Between Brawl and Commander

You might have noticed that there’s a lot in common between Brawl and Commander at a glance. But there are a few key differences.

Just what are they?

The differences are the following:

  • Life total
  • Potential Commanders
  • Legal Sets
  • Deck Size
  • Commander Damage
  • Colorless Commander Land Base

Life Total

In a traditional Commander game, all players always start with 40 life. The reason for this is that it helps slow down the game.

Commander games are designed to be enjoyed over the course of an hour or two with friends. More life gives players time to cast bigger spells.

In Brawl, though, players only start with 25 or 30 life depending on the number of players. This can result in a slightly faster-paced game.

Potential Commanders

With Commander, you have fewer options for your actual Commander card. Aside from a handful of exceptions, you can only use legendary creatures.

There are some sets with more legendary creatures than others. We’ve written a guide to that here if you’d like to look into buying a box to expand your pool of potential Commanders. 

Otherwise, in Brawl, you have a little more options, because you can choose a planeswalker or a legendary creature card.

Legal Sets

Unlike most other formats, Commander is what’s known as an “eternal” format. That’s because it doesn’t really change.

Sets don’t rotate out in Commander – they only rotate in, and then they stay legal indefinitely. Players can choose from any set, as long as the card they pick isn’t specifically banned in Commander.

You can view a list of cards banned in Commander here. 

In comparison, Brawl uses the same legality rules as Standard. Only the newest sets are used in Brawl, and the older ones rotate out of the format every fall.

Deck Size

With Brawl, you’re building a typical 60-card deck. One of those 60 cards must be your Commander.

In true Commander, your deck is almost double that size at 100 cards including the Commander. The reason for this is primarily that Commander is a much slower format than others.

Because the games typically go on longer, you’ll need a larger deck for Commander than you would for Brawl.

Commander Damage

In a Commander game, you have the option of attacking players with your Commander, since it’s a creature. If any player takes 21 or more combat damage from a specific Commander, they lose the game.

That’s why it’s a perfectly viable strategy in it to get a cheap Commander out, like Isamaru, Hound of Konda pictured above. If you pump it up with enough enchantments and artifacts, you could potentially do enough Commander damage in one hit to eliminate another player.

Brawl does not follow this same rule. The reason behind this is obvious: with less life, it would be much easier to do enough Commander damage to force a player out of the game.

Colorless Commander Land Base

In Brawl, players can use multiple copies of any basic land to represent colorless mana when they use a colorless Commander.

Commander typically requires players to buy Wastes, a colorless land, to represent this. Otherwise, players are forced to find other ways to create colorless mana, which can get expensive.

By allowing players to represent colorless mana with basic lands, Brawl makes it easier to use colorless Commanders.

Should you play Brawl?

You may be wondering after learning more about the format whether or not you should get into it.

Interestingly, there was a bit of backlash when Brawl first came out. Some players felt there was no reason to play it since it was too much like Commander with the addition of having to constantly buy new sets and update old decks to keep them legal.

But there are differences that can result in a different feel to a Brawl game as opposed to a Commander one. Those differences could appeal to various types of players.

For example, if you’re a huge fan of planeswalkers, you might enjoy building a Brawl deck around one of your favorites.

Brawl can also lead to games with a faster pace than Commander, so if the Commander format is too slow for you, Brawl’s a fine alternative.

If you do decide to play Brawl, you may want to put some sleeves on your deck. Take a look at our recommendations for the best sleeves for Commander-like decks.