Jeremy casts spells in between his careers as a chemical analyst and campus manager.
How Is Brawl Different From Commander?
Commander's arguably the most popular Magic format in paper play, and while it isn't yet available in the online game MTG Arena, there's a close substitute in historic brawl. Like commander, brawl has you pick a legendary to lead your 100-card deck with no repeated cards (beyond basic lands), letting you recast your commander each time they die by paying two extra mana.
The primary differences are player count (brawl has 2 instead of commander's usual 4), starting life (commander begins with 40, brawl with 25), and card availability; both formats allow cards from all sets, but since Arena hasn't programmed all expansions, some cards are missing in it. Still, we have plenty of powerful generals to lead our forces—these are the 10 best Magic commanders in historic brawl!
10. Captain Sisay
Key Cards: Paradox Engine, Wrath of God, Growing Rites of Itlimoc
Sisay isn't particularly powerful at 2/2, but she rewards protection by tapping to find any legendary card, including lands, planeswalkers, or whatever else you need.
So, your goal is simple: ramp into Sisay fast with mana-tappers like Llanowar Elves, shield her while she finds Paradox Engine, a powerful artifact (banned in commander but legal in brawl) that untaps your non-lands when you cast a spell. With a few mana rocks and Sisay, this goes infinite.
9. Teferi, Hero of Dominaria
Key Cards: Doomskar, Counterspell, Lotus Field
Teferi aims to win the long-game through control. White accesses great board wipes to handle creatures, like Doomskar and Wrath of God, while blue provides counterspells.
Speaking of which, counterspells are terrific once Teferi hits the field, as his +1 not only draws a card but untaps two lands at your end step, often providing enough mana to counter whatever your opponent throws your way. His -3 is an excellent removal that can hit any permanent, and if you build up to -8, you get a game-winning emblem that exiles an opposing card whenever you draw.
8. Emry, Lurker of the Loch
Key Cards: Paradox Engine, Midnight Clock, Mind Stone
Emry's one of the best single-color commanders, and since she costs one less mana to cast per artifact you control, you can often play her for a single blue, even with commander tax. While weak at 1/2, Emry taps to let you play an artifact from your graveyard. This lets you begin ramping with mana rocks while answering threats with blue's abundant counterspells.
Like Captain Sisay, your endgame is to cast Paradox Engine , which untaps all non-lands when you cast a spell—go infinite with mana rocks and get infinite graveyard-casts by continuously untapping Emry.
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7. Winota, Joiner of Forces
Key Cards: Selfless Savior, Blade Historian, Angrath's Marauders
Here's a very one-trick deck, usually failing if Winota dies or is countered before triggering, but winning with just one or two activations. Your goal in your early turns is to play non-humans, who activate Winota's effect once she arrives: when you attack with a non-human, you look at your deck's top six cards and play a human that's attacking for free, and it gains indestructible for the turn!
Swarm non-humans while protecting Winota with defensive abilities on low-cost cards like Selfless Savior and Alseid of Life's Bounty to overwhelm foes with a brutal offensive.
6. Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God
Key Cards: Dark Ritual, Chromatic Lantern, Narset, Parter of Veils
Bolas costs five mana of specific colors, but he's devastating once out, wielding a brutal +1 that draws a card while making your opponent exile one from their hand or field. -3 can destroy a creature or planeswalker, -8 makes your opponent lose the game if they don't control a legendary creature, and Bolas automatically gains the loyalty abilities of other planeswalkers on the field.
In essence, Bolas works great for control players that want access to multiple colors. You'll have to protect Bolas from enemy aggro, which comes in the form of board wipes like Extinction Event, Anger of the Gods, and Hour of Devastation. Meanwhile, color-fix with multi-color lands and cards like Chromatic Lantern to ensure you have early access to Bolas's devastating effects.
5. Niv-Mizzet Reborn
Key Cards: Teferi Hero of Dominaria, Time Wipe, Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver
The name of the game here is two-color cards; when Niv-Mizzet enters, he adds any dual-color spells from your deck's top 10 cards to hand, but each set has to be a different color pairing. This normally averages 3-4 cards, great at refilling your hand while fielding a powerful 6/6 flyer.
Also, compared to other commanders, you don't have to overly concern yourself with protecting Niv once out; if he dies, you can simply recast him to find even more cards. Watch out for counterspells and you'll go far, especially since you have access to all spells thanks to Niv's rainbow coloring.
4. Baral, Chief of Compliance
Key Cards: Memory Lapse, Time Warp, Sublime Epiphany
The most counterspell-heavy commander, Baral is a cheap turn-2 play that makes your instants and sorceries cost one less. With this discount, you can cast super-cheap counterspells, and when you counter something, Baral lets you draw and discard a card.
Not only does this help ensure land drops, it lets you easily fill your graveyard with graveyard-activated flashback, jump-start, and escape abilities. Once you have enough mana, you'll eventually play game-changing cards like Shark Typhoon or Mass Manipulation to earn a control win.
3. Golos, Tireless Pilgrim
Key Cards: The World Tree, Casualties of War, Karn's Temporal Sundering
Despite a commander ban, Golos is legal in brawl, offering an excellent five-color general with a great entrance effect (playing a land from your deck tapped) and amazing ability, spending 7 mana to exile your deck's top three cards and let you play them for free that turn!
With a wealth of high-cost spells, the deck admittedly struggles against counterspell themes, but excels in the late-game. Thanks to five colors, you've also got several companion options, from ability cost-reducing Zirda to mana-tapping Jegantha. Some themes also exploit the secondary effect of The World Tree, which spends ten mana to play any number of god cards from your deck—throw in partial artifact typing, and you've got the most customizable competitive brawl deck.
2. Sythis, Harvest's Hand
Key Cards: Sanctum Weaver, Kenrith's Transformation, Hallowed Haunting
Sythis offers by far the best enchantment-based commander, drawing you a card (and gaining one life) just by casting an enchantment. This makes her a strong matchup against counterspell decks.
You want to load up on low-cost enchantments for tons of draws; go far removal-based ones like Heliod's Punishment, Kenrith's Transformation, and Prison Realm to trade one-for-one while replenishing your hand. Eventually, you'll find game-changers like Hallowed Haunting or Mirari's Wake.
One of the deck's greatest strengths is how it dodges many control deck board-wipe (which emphasize creature destruction) by swarming enchantments, which few decks include mass-answers to.
Sythis also offers a nice budget commander for paper play, costing around three dollars!
1. Kinnan, Bonder Prodigy
Key Cards: Mox Amber, Leyline of Abundance, Llanowar Elves
Kinnan's absolutely unrivaled in terms of mana ramp. He lets your non-lands tap for an extra mana, and gives you a nice outlet for hoarding mana by paying seven to instantly play a non-human from your deck's top five cards. Include a few counterspells to protect yourself from inevitable board wipes, and you can field aces like Vorinclex or Jin-Gitaxias as early as turn three.
So, your deck should be a mix of low-cost mana-trappers and high-cost behemoths for Kinnan to field. I enjoy utilizing a minor elf theme (think of cards like Freyalise, Skyshroud Partisan), but no matter how you customize your deck, Kinnan's always a tough fight.
Historic Brawl Ban List
Today we explored Arena's best leaders, but keep an eye on the evolving ban list; multi-color decks reigned supreme back when Field of the Dead wasn't banned, and if Paradox Engine ever gets hit, several decks will suffer.
Also, remember that Arena adjusts the costs and abilities of some cards compared to paper play, making overpowered spells like Alrund's Epiphany worse while strengthening cards like Wizard Class, but for now, vote for your favorite commander and I'll see you at our next Magic: The Gathering countdown!
© 2022 Jeremy Gill