Brawl's Most Important Matchup
- Jamin Kauf
Two weeks ago, Wizards of the Coast introduced Brawl on Magic: The Gathering Online. Since then, Baral, Chief of Compliance has taken over the format by storm. After tinkering with deck, this article will guide you through the mirror step by step, so that you can get ahead of the metagame.
The Deck to Beat
Brawl as a format hasn't been around for long, but it has already been broken. In the 1v1 version played on Magic Online, Baral, Chief of Compliance has taken over, dominating Brawl Leagues. I also used him to take down the first Brawl Challenge, not dropping out of a single game with this list:
After playing a turn two Baral, Chief of Compliance, this deck no longer lets your opponent resolve any more spells. Baral's second ability keeps the fuel coming and card advantage comes in the form of cards like Glimmer of Genius or Search for Azcanta / Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin. Not everyone was aware of just how good Baral was as a deck at the time. I only faced the mirror in five of the ten matches I played.
The Mono-Blue Control deck was definitely the best played deck that weekend by an unbelievable margin (and in my opinion, it still is). However, now that nearly every Brawl opponent is trying to counter their way to a win, I want to provide insight into the most important matchup: the mirror.
To understand the mirror, we first must examine the counterspells available to us: Standard's card pool is relatively small and, depending on the exact list, we're playing every two and three mana counterspell available to us. In addition, there are Spell Pierce, Spell Swindle, Commit // Memory and an occasional Insidious Will.
Did you notice something? There isn't a single way to prevent a turn two Baral from entering play! When you play Baral on turn two, it cannot be countered. This gives the player on the play an interesting decision: do they run out turn two Baral or keep up mana to counter an opposing one?
This decision is significant for the further course of the game and it depends a lot on your cards in hand. Are you holding a bounce spell? Did you draw Mox Amber? Do you have a value engine like Search for Azcanta or Dynavolt Tower to resolve next turn? If you answer any of these questions with ‘yes', you likely want to run out Baral. In close cases, I usually play Baral, since you can always draw the named cards next turn and still be ahead.
On the draw, I'd advise you to mirror what your opponent did. If your opponent passed with two mana open, you cannot throw your Commander into a counterspell, if your opponent played Baral, you cannot risk letting them untap before deploying your own Wizard.
By the way, why can't you just let your Baral get countered? If your opponent has Baral in play and you don't, it becomes near impossible to win any counter-war which is even worse since your opponent gets to filter his draw steps too. This leads to cheap bounce-spells being exceptionally good when trying to get a Baral off the board. When your opponent is trying to resolve something, bouncing their Baral in response is a very powerful play and will usually force action.
So, we played the first two turns, how do we proceed? The board should look something like this right now and it's player one's third turn.
Time to resolve good permanents! Get your Search for Azcanta, Azor's Gateway / Sanctum of the Sun, or Dynavolt Tower onto the battlefield while your opponent can't respond. After this, there will likely be quite a bit of “draw-go” Magic since neither player wants their expensive spell to get countered only for your opponent to untap and resolve their own Treasure Map / Treasure Cove or Metallurgic Summonings.
From here on, I cannot give you the step-by-step analysis for every turn, but I'll give you some guidelines that will help you navigate in the blue waters:
- Push the angle of the game you're ahead in: If your opponent was on the play, they're usually ahead on mana but behind on cards. Use this to your advantage and play powerful cards they have to counter. Don't let them resolve spells that catch them up in cards. If you're the one who's ahead on mana but behind on cards, make use of what you have: overload the opponent's mana by casting Glimmer of Genius in their end step only to resolve the real payoff during your turn.
- Don't let your opponent flip Azor's Gateway. Seriously. Winning with your opponent having access to upwards of 30 mana is near impossible.
- Don't let your opponent resolve a potential Spell Swindle. This one is similar to Azor's Gateway where your opponent suddenly has a huge mana advantage over you. While not as bad as the former, even getting three treasures is a huge deal. There is good news, however; even with Baral, Spell Swindle costs four mana to cast so playing around it should be possible most of the time.
Nezahal, Primal Tide
Nezahal, Primal Tide is easily the most impactful card in the mirror. As soon as it enters play, your opponent can no longer fight counter wars without being massively behind on cards afterwards. No need to give up now though, there are still two and a half ways to win against Nezahal.
Your opponent just resolved a seven-mana creature, they are likely to be fairly low or out of mana. If you can go over the top of Nezahal by resolving Metallurgic Summonings, flipping Azor's Gateway, or cast Karn's Temporal Sundering, you might still have a shot.
Another way to victory is getting rid of her: Commit // Memory is the only way in the deck to “counter” Nezahal and also a way to shuffle her away. If she's already in play, try getting your opponent to activate her ability by targeting her with bounce and then Disallow the trigger that returns her to the battlefield at end of turn. Doing this will leave you behind on cards, but at least you're not dying to the 7/7 dinosaur anymore.
The second-and-a-half way to beat Nezahal is milling. This has never happened to me personally but Nezahal's trigger is not optional, your opponent has to draw a card whenever you cast a noncreature spell. Between a lot of mana, Ipnu Rivlet and multiple deserts, I've heard of games being decided by Nezahal's ability.
An Updated Deck
With the word of Baral being out there, you'll play lots of mirrors and I want to make sure you have a decklist that is tuned to beat the mirror, so let's talk about some of the cards I added/cut from my winning list. I tried out a lot of cards and will continue to do so, I can't talk about every single one and if you have any questions about specific cards that are (not) in the list, just let me know in the comments.
Torrential Gearhulk is in every single Baral list I've seen and I think it's a mistake. While it's one of the best cards against non-Baral matchups, it's bad in the mirror due to costing six mana and being less potent than other threats you could play instead. Once I realized that, it was an easy cut.
Entrancing Melody is a way to kill Baral, but it is too expensive at three mana and being a sorcery limits its utility even further. Bounce spells are cheaper and available at instant-speed.
Precognition Field is too slow and conditional at generating card advantage. While knowing the top card of your deck is nice, not being able to play lands from there makes this much, much worse than Future Sight.
Talking about slow enchantments, As Foretold is good at generating a virtual mana advantage and I thought it was great in the mirror. After playing enough games though, I came to realize that it's too slow at generating said advantage. I'm not 100% sure on this cut yet, but whenever one of my opponents plays it, I'm pretty happy they tapped three lands and spent a card on this enchantment.
Scavenger Grounds can exile an opposing Commit//Memory or prevent a Torrential Gearhulk from flashing back a spell. I also liked playing an additional land, getting flooded is rarely an issue with Baral's looting ability.
I added Unsummon and Perilous Voyage because getting rid of Baral is just that important. Drawing multiple bounce spells isn't the worst as often times you can find other applications or just loot them away.
With all of that said, here is the list I'm currently taking into Brawl Leagues to battle with.
|24Lands||8Other Permanents||28Instants and Sorceries|
|1Scavenger Grounds||1Baral, Chief of Compliance||1Chart a Course|
|1Arch of Orazca||1Nezahal, Primal Tide||1Karn's Temporal Sundering|
|1Field of Ruin||1Azor's Gateway / Sanctum of the Sun||1River's Rebuke|
|1Ipnu Rivulet||1Dynavolt Tower||1Admiral's Order|
|1Memorial to Genius||1Treasure Map / Treasure Cove||1Blink of an Eye|
|1Zhalfirin Void||1Metallurgic Summonings||1Cancel|
|1Search for Azcanta / Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin||1Censor|
|1Commit // Memory|
|1Expel from Orazca|
|1Glimmer of Genius|
|1Pull from Tomorrow|
Currently I enjoy playing Baral mirrors a lot, they are very complicated and skill-testing, I don't think I have played one perfectly yet. Between looting, picking spots to fight counter-wars and the dynamics of card- and mana-advantage there are simply too many decisions to be made!
I’ll leave you with a link to my youtube channel, where you can find Baral Brawl matches, including a mirror played by me and recent GP Bologna finalist Matthew Foulkes in a brawl league last week, hopefully giving you an idea of how complicated and interesting these can be.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.