Throughout the course of its existence, Magic has seen a bevy of unique planes, intriguing characters, nefarious villains, and winding plots. Though they aren’t technically the main focus of the game – try as one might the cards themselves will trump any fiction created around them – Wizards nevertheless puts an admirable degree of focus into their unending narrative. And yet that isn’t the only kind of story told when you shuffle up and play. For every game of Magic itself tells a story in its own right, from the parties involved to how each one unfolds.
After all, although it’s largely lost on the player base these days, in reality that is what each playthrough of Magic is about: players as planeswalkers waging an epic battle against their foes in a battle of arcane supremacy.
In this sense a draft can be seen as a short story, with novice planeswalkers fighting a pitched clash with limited resources at their disposal, whereas duels are fully-fledged novellas that are concise, pointed, and provide an enticing glimpse into a larger world as wildly disparate mages vie for victory. But for an experience more like the epic tales befitting the likes of Merlin, Ged, Gandalf, and the Harrys? For those stories you have EDH.
Known for (among other things) the length of time needed to play, the incredibly varied gameplay even within the same deck, the sheer number of opponents at the table, and above all, the continually shifting table dynamics, no other Magic playthrough tells a story quite like Commander.
This is a place where you can start off with a meteoric rise in board position, to having your assets completely wiped away, to pursuing a campaign of rebuilding and retribution before emerging once again in the climax. People’s status fluctuates from prominence to ruin and back again with regularity, often tied to memorable turning point moments. We take for granted this degree of meta-level storytelling when reminiscing with our friends or recapping the events of the game at a later date, but most of the time if you bottle a Commander game and extrapolate out the chain of events within, they usually make one hell of a story.
Personally, one of the most engaging parts of a narrative is that moment right before a pivotal scene. Everyone has spent an extensive amount of time building up their mana reserves, shoring up their defenses, firing shots across their enemy’s bow, and generally trying to get their deck’s engine up and running. No matter the color, style, or theme, every deck goes through several periods of building and rebuilding over the course of a Commander game. Eventually though, much like any arms race, something eventually has to give. One way or another, every playthrough will reach tipping points. Everyone’s guns are loaded, aimed, and ready to fire. In this state, the game simply cannot exist for long; the standoff must end and a new equilibrium must be reached.
These are the moments of a massive attack, an attempt to set off some kind of devastating multi-card engine effect, or even a simple board wipe. In these moments, everyone who can react will, activating abilities, casting a flurry of spells in response, and so on. And once the dust settles…well, the process begins anew.
The thing is, provoking one of those watershed moments where you deliberately upend the current table state…it’s kind of fun. Even if it hurts you to the same degree as everyone else, there is a certain appeal to standing there in an armed magical standoff and pulling the proverbial trigger. Whether it’s done for calculated or whimsical reasons is irrelevant – the thrill comes from setting off a chain of events and seeing what the outcome will be.
In celebration of that fact, this week is a strange but amusing card guaranteed to trigger one of these pivotal moments.
Today we have: Brawl
Edition: Mercadian Masques
Focus: Damage Dealing / Board Control / Combat Control
Highlights: Mercadian Masques is a truly bizarre set, in that on the whole it didn’t work especially well cohesively, competitively, or flavorfully, and yet there is a litany of cards that came out of it people are finding new appreciation for as the years go on. For one, Masques has a surprising amount of cards that were deemed bad to mediocre for normal gameplay but work well in multiplayer for a set in the era before multiplayer was really factored into design and development. Brawl was one of these cards.
It’s not hard to figure out why this isn’t an especially useful dueling card. For one, it’s a five mana instant, which many aggressive players already would be wary about. Second, and even more damning in their eyes, is that the card in and of itself doesn’t do anything. Instead, it enables all creatures the ability to tap and deal damage to other creatures. Given that the average number of creatures you have at any given time in a duel is in the 2-3 range, Brawl was tossed aside as yet another overcosted, ineffective Mercadian rare. (To be fair, there were a bunch).
In a Commander setting, however, Brawl has much more agency. First, you have the option to cast this card whenever you have the mana, bestowing the ability of every creature on the board to shotgun one another. With one opponent this isn’t that appealing, but in a multiplayer setting its more unpredictable and chaotic – anyone and everyone is fair game. However, because it is only in effect for the turn it’s cast, it’s very much a ‘use it or lose it’ opportunity.
Sure, while there’s a chance that you could cast it and no one does a thing, someone is ultimately going to pull the ripcord. And once that happens, the fun begins.
Naturally if your creature is being targeted for lethal damage and you have the means to respond, it’s foolish to simply let it die – especially if it’s one of a sizable variety. Therefore, your most likely response is to tap that creature in response and deal its damage to something else. And so on. It may create a shields-down moment for several players, but also possible there won’t be many creatures afterwards anyway. Moreover, Brawl allows the potential for several creatures to focus target an oversized one as a means of taking it down, or winnow away a player’s army of creature fodder. Brawl benefits anyone with creatures of any size, shaking up the current board state and changing the political dynamic of the game. It’s not quite a de facto creature board wipe, but it’s certainly a partial one.
All of this also presupposes that you are using the card proactively, say, as a means of setting off the firefight on your turn or at a moment when it’ll cause the most calamity. But as it’s an instant, Brawl can be used in a reactive capacity as well. This may be in response to someone else’s actions, right before you take your turn, or as is commonly overlooked, in response to someone attacking you. Casting Brawl once your opponent’s creatures are already tapped is a handy combat trick that opens up the potential to pick off several attackers before you ever have to block, or in tandem with blocking to deal damage twice in whatever combination would be the most effective. Sure others can jump in at that moment as well on either side, or create their own side fight, but that’s pretty apropos really. It is called Brawl for a reason.
All in all, Brawl is a more useful card than it initially seems and has more of a direct impact on the game than its Mercadian sister card Shoving Match. And it’s sure to add one heck of a moment in the creation of your next epic Commander tale.
Keep an eye out for us to be regularly featuring other more accessible-but-worth-it Commander cards going forward. In the meantime, we’ll keep the light on for you.
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