Commander is Magic‘s most popular constructed format for a reason. Or rather, a couple reasons.
Commander decks are fun and easy to build, and fun and easy to play. Most every Magic player owns enough cards to build a Commander deck, even if their deck isn’t optimized or especially competitive. And Commander allows players to play cards that would otherwise have sat idle in their collections (RIP Splinter Twin), within an exciting, engaging singleton format.
Most every selling point Commander has for paper Magic applies to Magic Arena‘s best “secret” format: Historic Brawl. Historic Brawl allows players to use Arena cards they’d otherwise not be able to use, building and playing decks that are as interesting and fun as most any casual Commander deck.
So with Magic Arena‘s audience growing, is Historic Brawl set to become the next Commander? Below, I’ll examine a few reasons I think Historic Brawl could become Magic‘s next big format, as well as a few factors holding Historic Brawl back.
Pro 1: Historic Brawl Decks Are Easy to Build
If you’ve been playing Magic Arena for any significant length of time, you likely own enough cards to build a decent Historic Brawl deck. I’ve spent $0 on Arena, and just yesterday I spent three wildcards to finish this Teferi, Hero of Dominaria Historic Brawl deck:
I’ve built roughly five or so different Brawl decks since Brawl came to Arena, and I’ve never felt like I did not have enough wildcards or suitable stand-ins to finish those decks. What’s more (and I’m saying this again because it bears repeating), I built those decks without spending any money. When you compare that cost ($0) to the price of my four Commander decks (~$1,400), you can see why I find Historic Brawl quite appealing. And why I think other Arena players will as well.
For most players, building at least one optimized Historic Brawl deck shouldn’t be a problem – in part because they already own most of the cards they need to do so.
Pro 2: Historic Brawl Decks Allow Arena Players to Use All Their Cards
To me, Commander’s deep card pool is a feature, not a bug. When I built my first Commander decks, I enjoyed trawling forums, Gatherer, and other websites looking for cards that synergized with my commander. I enjoyed ordering, trading for, and playing with cards from Magic‘s past, as well as finding new homes for cards I already owned.
On Magic Arena, cards that are not Standard legal do not currently have much use. For example, I enjoyed playing with Muldrotha, the Gravetide during its time in Standard, but since Dominaria rotated out, I hadn’t touched Muldrotha.
That is, until the other day, when I decided I should throw together a Muldrotha Historic Brawl deck. A bit of brewing and a few wildcards later, Muldrotha was ready to battle once more.
As more and more sets rotate into Arena‘s Historic card pool, nostalgic players will look for more ways to play their favorite cards from Standards past. The normal Historic format scratches that itch for competitive players, but those seeking something a bit more zany, casual, or offbeat will gravitate toward Arena‘s best Commander stand-in: Historic Brawl. Because of that nostalgia factor, and because it lets you play all your favorite Arena cards, I think Historic Brawl’s set to gain more and more fans at each Standard rotation.
Pro 3: Historic Brawl Is a Brewer’s Paradise (So Far)
The Historic Brawl card pool does not contain many Sol Rings. And by that, I mean there are not very many Historic Brawl cards that it would be silly to leave out of your deck.
Yes, Historic Brawlers should likely include Arcane Signet and Command Tower in all their decks. But beyond that, each Historic Brawl deck you build will look very different from your other Historic Brawl decks. And because the format already includes so many legends and decent enough mana, the sky’s the limit on what sorts of decks you can build. From Domri Rade aggro to Niv-Mizzet Reborn control, Historic Brawl supports most all deck types.
That said, every format settles eventually, and Historic Brawl will prove no different. But at the very least, Wizards of the Coast is unlikely to print the sorts of Commander-centric cards that have homogenized many decks in that format (Wizards could still do so, though – see Con 3 below), and players should remain able to play unique cards within their unique strategies, as opposed to having to play generic must-includes or clearly pushed commanders. While jank and brews will not rule the day in Historic Brawl over the long term, interesting, unique decks of every variety might.
Con 1: It’s Hard(ish) to Play Historic Brawl
So why hasn’t Historic Brawl already taken off? Well, first off, it’s hard to play Historic Brawl on Magic Arena.
Outside of a few random events and the ability to issue challenges to your friends, Historic Brawl does not actually exist on Arena. This stops most casual players, who are not willing to spend their free time scouring the internet finding ways to play Historic Brawl, from being able to play the format.
However, when Arena has hosted Historic Brawl events (as it will again on May 15), I’ve had no problems finding an opponent. And dedicated Brawl players can always find Historic Brawl matches via ArenaBrawl.net.
As Arena‘s card pool grows deeper, and demand for Historic Brawl rises, I’m hoping the Arena team will add more robust Historic Brawl support to their features and play queue lists (especially because doing so would not be hard – the format is already built in to Arena). If they don’t, Historic Brawl will never become the all-star that I think it could be.
Con 2: There’s No Multiplayer Version of Historic Brawl
Commander would not still exist if it had started out as a single-player format. There’s no way an initial one-on-one version of Commander would have taken off like multiplayer has because, in contrast to multiplayer, competitive, one-on-one Commander has the same pricing and power level concerns that Vintage does. Additionally, playing against groups of opponents, rather than just one individual, allows more casual players to win on the back of politics and sweet plays. Multiplayer Commander is a completely different game than one-on-one Commander, and the hijinks that ensue in multiplayer scrums are part of the reason the format is so popular.
Now, because the cards that enter the Historic Brawl card pool will never be as powerful or hard to acquire as say, Mana Crypt, one-on-one Historic Brawl will certainly remain a thing. And I believe one-on-one Historic Brawl games will remain quite fun. But there’s nothing quite like the nonsense that ensues at a four-player Commander table, and Historic Brawl won’t have access to that level of nonsense (and fun) until Arena supports multiplayer Brawl.
Brawl was originally announced and conceived as a multiplayer format, so it makes sense for Arena to add multiplayer Brawl queues at some point. However, there’s been no firm announcement about when multiplayer queues are coming. This is totally reasonable, as there are lots of other feature and format requests that likely take precedence over multiplayer Brawl (thank goodness that human drafts are finally here). But for Historic Brawl to reach the same heights that Commander has, multiplayer support is a must. While nothing’s been announced, I hope this request’s been made enough that it’s on the Arena team’s radar.
Con 3: Historic Anthology and Other Non-Standard Additions Make the Format’s Future Unpredictable
The biggest question facing Historic Brawl, though, is this: What cards will end up being legal in the format?
Because the Historic card pool is not tied to Standard releases, literally any card that Wizards of the Coast has printed or will print could become legal in Historic. For instance, Captain Sisay became Historic-legal when she was added to Arena in Historic Anthology 1, and the Jumpstart cards will become Historic-legal (but not Standard-legal) when they’re eventually released.
With this much power to print cards directly into the format, bypassing Standard completely, comes a lot of responsibility. Lately, Wizards of the Coast has not seemed entirely up to handling that responsibility. Modern Horizons warped the Modern format so much that an entire summer of Modern play was invalidated, and multiple previously format-defining cards had to be banned. Anecdotally, I know at least one member of my playgroup dreads each year’s Commander release, because those decks include a bunch of new cards designed specifically to shape/bend/cater to (your verb choice may vary) the format. Wizards of the Coast seems very keen on forcing non-rotating formats to shift quickly these days (which is not the point of non-rotating formats), and they’re willing to print high power and potentially homogenizing cards to do so.
So how long before Wizards starts taking this approach to Historic and Historic Brawl? As long as the format remains beneath most players’ radar, it’s unlikely that the Historic Brawl meta will be forced to change quickly. However, my hope is that Historic Brawl becomes more popular. As it becomes more popular, it will inevitably draw more attention from designers, developers, and/or managers looking to shake things up. A Historic Anthology or Jumpstart every now and then, containing a limited number of unique or interesting cards, is likely fine for the format. A set of Historic Brawl pre-constructed decks, containing 15 exclusive cards designed specifically for Brawl, likely isn’t.
Where the line between those two things sits likely varies from person to person, based on your willingness to accept change within a non-rotating format as well as your interest in spending money on or keeping up with new releases. Personally, I wouldn’t mind having to spend a little money here and there to keep a Historic Brawl deck current. But I’m never going to spend as much on Brawl as I have on Commander, and I’m not interested in seeing new cards designed just for Brawl. If we ever see a Historic Horizons type set announced, I’m liable to sour on Historic Brawl pretty quickly.
But until then, I’ll continue to enjoy what I think is Magic‘s best kept secret of a format. If you’re convinced that Historic Brawl is worth a try, I hope to see you in the next Historic Brawl event queue. I don’t know exactly what I’ll be playing, but I know it will be sweet.