As we approach the end of the Brawl event (and the start of Wednesday brawls), I had the opportunity to approach two of my favorite subjects in Magic: The Gathering: singleton formats and budget decks. In both cases, I love the challenge of building decks with restrictions – having only one slot to devote to each card makes your decisions matter and having only a certain pool of powerful cards available is even more fun. While this is similar to a limited mindset (draft, sealed), having a larger card pool means that you don’t have to make nearly as many compromises – you rarely have to run obviously poor cards simply because they’re all you opened.
I took it as a challenge this week and weekend to see: how quickly could I go from a starter account to brawling without spending any money, and what would MtG:Arena budget builds look like? I also streamed most of the work over at Twitch.tv/YMHMI, and I’ll embed some of the replays below so you can get a good idea of how things went. If you’re just here for decklists that you can use, they start down here. So, what did I learn doing this?
First, that brawl is really fun. I knew this, but I expected a much spikier reception than I got during the event. While there are a few commanders that are simply broken (:cough: Oko, Thief of Crowns :cough, cough:) and few archetypes that just aren’t fun to play against, even if they’re not broken (Persistent Petitioners), the variety of commanders and decks I came across this week has been amazing.
Second, while Brawl has a much more limited card pool than Commander, it’s still possible to build fun decks even when you have self or system imposed restrictions. The challenge of building and entering brawl only took me about an hour and a half, partly to try to get a commander of some sort and partly to get the 1000 gold entry fee for the event. So, give or talke about a half-hour for the average player, and it’s entirely possible to get into a few brawls your very first day of playing in Arena. For the budget restriction, it’s obviously frustrating to have to pass over certain powerful cards, but if you’re smart about the theme of your deck, there’s a lot of synergy available from common and uncommon cards only. The uncommon planeswalkers from War of the Spark have a lot to do with that – the static abilities on them often provide board-state effects the turn they come in that uncommon legendary creatures lack.
The third and last important lesson that I learned is that, even going for a free to play brawl experience, you don’t have to ignore the constructed side of things to build fun brawl decks. With a few notable exceptions, most of the cards that are good in brawl are good in other constructed formats as well. While they might not always be top-teir includes, spending your rare wildcards on a few lands doesn’t mean that you lock yourself out of a good brawl deck and there are some great cards at mythic that can provide fun play options in Brawl or Standard.
Now that we’re done being philosophical, let’s actually break down some decks, shall we? First, here are the decks that we played on stream. While not always strictly budget, they include very few cards that need to be crafted.
Our first deck, Grumgully, the Generous is a nice card to brew around for a free to play player. It’s uncommon, so the wildcard investment isn’t particularly high. Grumgully also generally does what your limited card pool wants to be doing anyway – casting creatures and getting some additional value from them.
Almost all of the creatures in the deck are interchangeable – the only thing you want to make sure you have is a good mix of low and middling casting cost creatures so that once you get Grumgully on the board, you can quickly take advantage of the counters he puts out.
If I were to add one, low-rarity card to the deck it would be Trollbred Guardian. Giving your creatures with +1/+1 counters trample helps you to avoid board stalls that often come up with this sort of deck.
Our second deck was inspired by a chance opening of Judith, the Scourge Diva. This was a deck that relied far more heavily on the cards that we pulled from packs — Torbrand, Thane of the Red Fell, Stonecoil Serpent, Embodiment of Agonies, and Legion Warboss were all cards that we got from our packs during the second stream.
While this deck is more luck-based than budget, with the exception of Legion Warboss (who fits into almost any red-based, creature-focused deck) none of the rares are particularly key to the strategy this deck goes for.
One card that was missing from the deck when I played it on stream, but still an easy uncommon option for it, is Mayhem Devil. This creature just synergizes well with everything Judith wants to be doing.
If I were to recommend a budget version of this deck, I would replace Judith with Angrath, Captain of Chaos as a cheaper commander, and change out a few card choices to focus less on the sacrifice/death aspect that Judith encourages. That being said, this was a very fun deck to play, and there’s plenty of cheap cards that you start with that make Judith a worthy craft if you enjoy this style of deck.
The basic idea of the card is to simply play out creatures, draw into more creatures, and ramp out additional lands while you do. Basically it does everything you want to be doing anyway.
Perhaps the most glaring non-budget card in the deck is God-Eternal Oketra. In what’s become a theme of this experience, this was a lucky pull during the stream. While it does fit the deck theme rather neatly, it’s by no means a requirement for the deck to function and could easily be replaced by nearly any other creature. The nice thing about this deck is that the commander just wants one thing: casting creatures. It’s a commander I highly recommend trying out if you find Brawl is your favorite way to play.
I’m going to end the article with a few decks that use only uncommon, common and Arena provided cards to help inspire you. Each of the decks will also include one rare that I recommend you craft right away as it can be invaluable in brawl and still incredibly useful in constructed – Fabled Passage. Making sure you can get all the colors of mana during a game is incredibly important when you’re playing two or more colors in a deck, and that’s where Fabled Passage shines for any Arena format.