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A Brawl for All: The Best Aggressive Commanders Surviving Rotation

Written by Mike Keknee on . Posted in Brawl, Casual Magic

A Brawl for All: The Best Aggressive Commanders Surviving Rotation

Mike Keknee

Mike Keknee is a Magic grinder from the Columbus area. He has managed to put together a solid resume with four StarCityGames Open top 8s, including a win, as well as a Pro Tour appearance. He is also a co-host of the At Your End Step podcast available on iTunes and MTGCast.

Welcome to the first ”A Brawl for All“ article. I’m Mike Kenney; you might know me from such podcasts and articles as At Your End Step and, uh, other things from when I was a slightly more competitive player. Now I’m an older, fatter, soon to be dad who has settled into a comfortable cube/casual lifestyle. 

I’ve always enjoyed Standard, but life has made it hard to stay on top of a constantly shifting metagame. I also love brewing and playing wacky cards that may be questionable for top tier decks. Happily, Brawl now exists to bridge this gap. I get to play all of the Standard cards now,the good ones, the goofy ones, all of them. 

Hopefully you have given or will give Brawl a chance with the advent of the Throne of Eldraine preconstructed decks. If you are just jumping in, or coming back after Baral, Chief of Compliance attempted to end the format, now is the right time for Brawl. Rotation almost feels more exciting to me now, and I’m here to identify some of the best commanders that to survive rotation. 

Normally a rotation would lead to slim pickings, but War of the Spark’s incredibly high planeswalker count is mitigating the losses. Also, Gavin Verhey has made it clear that they are looking for ways to add commanders to the format, citing the three color legends from the core set. We still have a lot to choose from, so let’s narrow them down. 

I Want to Attack: The Best Aggressive Commanders 

Honorable Mention:

  • Gideon Blackblade: Gideon is one of the most powerful turn three commanders in the format, unfortunately, rotation leaves us with some pretty average white cards. It’s possible that focusing on knights or even the minor lifegain theme found in M20 and continued in Throne of Eldraine is cohesive enough to support Gideon, but I’m not excited about it. 

  • Angrath, Captain of Chaos: Angrath is an exciting curve topper in an aggressive Rakdos deck. Menace is more effective than people often think, and it can lead to punishing attacks. That said, amass is fine but not impactful. You may want a bit more out of your commander.

If you like to attack, then you definitely still have some strong answers. One of my favorites pre-rotation was Krenko, Tin Street Kingpin. The army in a can benefitted from one of the best selections of mono red cards that Standard has seen in a long time. Additionally, M19 and Dominaria both had a number of very strong Goblin cards, including Skirk Prospector and Goblin Warchief. Despite these losses, Krenko is still a strong option. Backed by powerful 4 drops like Experimental Frenzy and the new Torbran, Thane of Red Fell, the deck can present a scary curve. The key is to maximize (velocity) how quickly and often Krenko can attack. Cards like Samut’s Sprint and Infuriate can lead to big turns. I also can’t wait to drop an Embercleave on Krenko and laugh maniacally. 

Judith, the Scourge Diva hasn’t made the Standard impact some hoped she would, but she is a powerful option for Brawl. There is a bit of an awkward interaction with her ability (she doesn’t die/trigger when going to the command zone), but the tools exist to make a Judith build scary. Judith works well with death triggers and creatures that bring friends. Tokens might not get triggers, but the power bump is useful for making a swarm of creatures even scarier. You could also explore a sacrifice theme with new options like Witch’s Oven, Fling, Mayhem Devil, and Claim the Firstborn

If you like a buff to your team, with the added bonus of mana ramp, then Domri, Anarch of Bolas may be more up your alley. Gruul loses a little bit of punch in the format due to losing Ixalan’s dinosuars, but there are still enough solid options backed by good two mana ramp creatures to power out some scary threats. Cards like Skarrgan Hellkite and Ravager Wurm coming down two turns early feels powerful to me. Cards like Golden Goose help to replace Llanowar Elves, and powerhouses like Questing Beast slot right in to these builds. Considering how many of the best commanders in Brawl right now are planeswalkers, being able to power out early threats with a buff is a huge bonus. 

Lastly we come to an interesting decision point for those who prefer their aggressive strategies to play as many Savannah Lions as possible. Tajic, Legion’s End and Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice. While Boros Brawl decks could swap these two commanders in and out, they do suggest different game plans. Tajic wants to be cast on turn three every game. You want to have a one or two drop in play, but hopefully both, and you want to attack. Aurelia wants to attack too, but she does it from a safer position. Aurelia also survives much of the format’s best removal. This may just depend on personal preference. Boros gives you access to a lot of the format’s strongest aggressive creatures like Swiftlade Vindicator and Legion Warboss. I really prefer Tajic if a knights focus is your aim though. Aurelia may function better in a midrange building focusing on slower but stronger effects like Outlaws’ Merriment

Thoughts on Aggro Strategies in Brawl

Your choice of commander will definitely be influenced by how you choose to experience Brawl. Our play group of washed-up competitive players prefers playing 1 vs. 1. When Brawl comes to Arena, it will also feature only 1 vs. 1 play. Obviously aggressive strategies are better with fewer opponents, so you may want to adjust your choices and builds in preparation of this. 

A big takeaway from these commanders is the CMC – 3. Consistently playing your commander on curve is key for most of these strategies to be successful. Two mana commanders are better when possible, but Emmara, Soul of the Accord is not something I am looking for. While this piece is focusing on what survived rotation,I am excited to look at commanders like Syr Faren, the Hengehammer, Torbran, Thane of Red Fell, and Rankle, Master of Pranks going forward. 

Thanks for Reading! 

-Mike Kenney

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