November 16, 2019

Brawl is Magic: The Gathering — Arena’s best mode. Make it permanent

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I’ve fallen hard for Magic: The Gathering — Arena. Before 2018, I’d never played Magic (as I’ve detailed before). But now it’s my favorite card game. I’ve spent hours brewing decks, learning the basics of drafting (and getting a few undefeated runs), and even getting into the paper game.

A few months ago, a friend of mine invited me to play Commander, a popular casual format in which you build a singleton deck (one without any duplicate cards, besides basic lands). I had a lot of fun. Highlander decks (that’s a fancier name for singleton) are some of my favorite in Hearthstone, Blizzard Entertainment‘s hugely successful card game. But I can’t get together with people often enough to play Commander.

Enter Brawl. When Wizards of the Coast announced that this format would be coming to Arena, I smiled. I started researching this singleton format, and my excitement grew. The creativity, flexibility, and variety of Commander, in a Standard package … and one I could play any time I logged in? But then disappointment hit when Wizards of the Coast (Magic’s publisher) said Brawl would not be a permanent mode.

Brawl debuted last week with a special event, and I’ve been playing it every day. I can’t remember the last time I’d had so much fun. I’ve even spent money on the free-to-play game, too, so I could build more decks.

It’s just a shame that Brawl — and all this fun — won’t be a permanent mode.

What is Brawl?

Above: Ayara, First of Locthwain is the commander of my favorite Brawl deck.

Image Credit: GamesBeat

Brawl is a 60-card format. It’s a singleton deck, meaning you can’t have more than one copy of any card that’s not a basic land (so in a Black deck, you could have 20 Swamps, but you could only have one Witch’s Cottage). You build the deck around a Commander that’s a legendary card, and you can only use cards from its color identity (so it’s a Green card, you can only use Green or colorless cards; it’s its Red-Black, you could use Black or Red cards, and so on).

What’s great about Brawl is its variety. Yes, it does have a metagame, but it offers so many different build options than Standard (the biggest format on Arena) offers. Standard is dealing with oppressive decks built around a particular the planeswalker Oko, Thief of Crowns. Arena hasn’t been as fun or creative as when the Throne of Eldraine set launched in late September. Magic: The Gathering Hall of Famer Ben Stark explains why Oko’s been a problem.

For me (and many others, no doubt), Brawl has been a relief from Oko and his elks. But more important, it’s been a lot of fun. I’ve made dozens of decks, setting on 18. Some I’ve netdecked (that’s copying from deck sites or other players), but I’ve created a bunch from scratch as well. My favorite is a Black sacrifice-graveyard deck that I brewed that’s all about killing my creatures and then bringing them back on the board, doing damage whenever one dies or comes back. It’s commander is Araya, First of Locthwain, an elf noble that deals damage to my foe — and gives me 1 life — whenever a I play a black creature.

Why is Brawl important to Arena?

Brawl is important, from my point of view, for a couple of reasons:

  • It’s fun, and it offers a mode that no other competitor (such as Hearthstone or Shadowverse) does.
  • It offers a different way to play, for those who enjoy making creative decks
  • It’s a welcome respite from Standard, as not every player can afford Draft modes, and Historic is, well, nonexistant unless you know that you can play it in the Casual queue (nothing says this, by the way, inside the game).

Now, Brawl is a smaller format than Standard. It’s a casual way in which to play Magic, but it’s one that publisher Wizards of the Coast supports, using Standard cards. So one would assume that it’d be something folks could play every day.

What’s the problem?

Above: The Brawl decks I’ve settled on during the final day of the event.

Image Credit: GamesBeat

Brawl is a lot of fun. After playing it for six days in a row, playing 20-30 matches a day, I’ve enjoyed it more than any other mode in a card game. This includes standard modes, legacy modes, or drafts (which had been my favorite). But after this launch, Brawl will only be available once a week, on Wednesdays (when I imagine some people would have a limited amount of time to play it since it’s the in middle of the work week.

I asked Wizards of the Coast why Brawl is only going to be once a week, and I got this response.

“We want to always keep things interesting in MTG Arena, and a big part of that is mixing up the event programming we offer. Traditionally, we begin new limited events on Thursday or Friday, and our specialty events run Sunday through Tuesday. We’re trying Brawl out on Wednesdays to keep adding variety throughout the entire week. This could change in the future, but we think we’ve struck a nice balance at the moment,” Magic: The Gathering — Arena executive producer Chris Cao said over email.

It’s a reasonable answer, but it still doesn’t really explain why Brawl isn’t a daily mode, as it comes from the point of view that Brawl is a special event. This makes me wonder if Wizards either doesn’t see Brawl as a full-fledged way to play Magic in Arena, or would rather have players take part in Standard because decks often have run four copies of a card … and may be spending more on cards.

(Noxious, one of the big names in Magic, also believes Brawl should be a permanent mode.)

But even this theory feels flawed. I bought packs this week so I could get wild cards to craft Legendary cards I was missing from my collection. Now, I may be an outlier; I enjoy the deck-building and experimentation of card games as much as playing matches, if not more, so I wanted to tinker with many deck commanders.

Regardless, Brawl should be a permanent mode. It’s fun, provides a needed break to Standard, and gives players different problems to solve when it comes to deck-building, especially when it comes to countering decks.

And besides, Wizards sells Brawl decks for paper Magic — there’s no reason why it can’t for Arena as well if it’s worried about losing money on card packs.