One of my favorite aspects of Brawl mode in MTG: Arena is that it can give you more chances to win the game with your Commander’s alternate win condition (“win con”). If you go into your collection and type into the search field “win the game,” then you’ll see several options for how to win without emptying your opponent’s life total or running them out of cards. You can then type “loses the game” to see a collection of cards that (in two-player games) will have the same effect. Just make sure you type “loses” instead of “lose” – the latter search will get you cards that will make you lose if you’re not careful.
For the record, there are many cards that “might as well” win you the game, but we’re not talking about these today. A good example is Liliana, Dreadhorde General’s ultimate ability which leaves your opponent with a shrunken board state and only a single land.
Committing to the alternative win con
There are a few things to keep in mind when considering an alternative win condition. First is the question of how committed you are to “building around” your win condition. How many cards are you going to put into your deck that are intended to win the game that specific way, and how flexible are these cards for other uses?
In Brawl, it can be a lot of fun to go “all in” and choose only cards that earn you that sweet win con. But it’s wise to include at least a few of the strongest flexible cards in the color(s) you’re playing. For example, I’d be hard-pressed to think of a blue deck that wouldn’t benefit from Brazen Borrower regardless of what its goals are. Brazen Borrower is arguably the best card in blue right now because it can bounce (return to hand) enemy creatures and then provide a 3/1 flying attacker.
On the other hand, an incredibly powerful but inflexible card is Rotting Regisaur. Sure, it’s really big and really cheap, and it’s one of my favorite cards (not just because it’s a zombie dinosaur). But that downside is epic. Just imagine how awful it would be if your opponent bounces your Regisaur after you discard a card to it. That’s an expensive dinosaur!
I won’t go into percentages, but I will say that if your win con is on your Commander’s card, it’s safe to commit most of your deck to winning with that Commander.
Do you need “outs”?
An “out”, short for a “way out”, is a card that can bail you out of a problematic situation. When we’re talking about alternative win conditions, an out is going to be your “Plan B” way to win: either milling your opponent or bludgeoning them to death. Brazen Borrower is a rather good “out” if you have to give up and just beat down the other player.
Let’s look at how to hit that alt win con with two different Commanders, discuss how flexible the decks are, and we’ll touch on the “outs” for each deck.
Today’s examples: Etrata and Jace
For today we’re going to talk about Etrata, the Silencer and Jace, Wielder of Mysteries. The first time I laid eyes upon these cards, I started to wonder about ways to actually make their win conditions work. All of these fun ideas cooking on the backburner were set loose when Brawl mode came out. With the Commander rules in place, you start with them available and immune to Thought Erasure!
Let’s start by talking about Etrata. Her advantages are strong: She’s an unblockable 3/5 for 4 mana, she can exile your opponent’s strongest creature every time she punches through, and you only have to do this three times!
Critically for Etrata, Brawl mode is usually far more creature-heavy than Standard. This is important because she requires the opponent to have creatures for her win condition to trigger. Has anyone ever played a creatureless Brawl deck? I suppose it’s possible but it would not be easy!
That said, take a look at the last line in her “wall of text”. Every time Etrata completes a “hit”, you must shuffle her back into your library. That’s quite a disadvantage!
Cheating the system
One of the core principles of Magic: The Gathering is: “How far can I bend the rules?”
Sure, you can plod along and cast Etrata on turns 6, 8, and 10 and hope against hope that your opponent is unable to murder, destroy, or exile her the whole time. This could get you up to one win for every, say, thirty-eight games you play. If you want an even lower chance of winning for some reason, you could shuffle her into your library every time she dies.
Let’s talk about three ways to break Etrata out of the cast > hit > command zone cycle.
The simplest method to avoid losing Etrata to the library, or to have to recast her for 2 more mana, is to just bounce her back to your hand! Etrata is clearly used to bouncing, her artwork looks like she just landed on a rock after her latest jump. Extra bonus: bounce spells can double as a way to protect Etrata from spells that are out to destroy her, landing her safely in your hand just as the Murderous Rider gallops by in an attempt to bring her to a Swift End.
Just keep two things in mind:
– The bounce effect must be instant speed.
– You must enable full control.
So, the way you cheat the system is to split Etrata’s triggers in half. First is the “hit” trigger, followed closely by the “dive into the library” trigger. If you are in full control mode, then you can target a creature for the hit, click Submit, then cast an instant-speed bounce spell on Etrata.
Again, I say instant-speed specifically to warn you against using cards like Callous Dismissal and Exclusion Mage. If you want to get greedy and try get a creature out as a bonus while bouncing Etrata, keep in mind the sad face you’ll be wearing when you realize the opportunity to cast it has slipped away and Etrata is already lost in your library somewhere. Sure, there is one copy of Leyline of Anticipation in the deck, but don’t count on drawing it every time you play.
Bounce cards included in this deck (that can bounce your own stuff): Unsummon, Run Away Together, Teferi’s Time Twist (functions like a bounce), Unexplained Disappearance, Tyrant’s Scorn, Arrester’s Admonition, Portal of Sanctuary (repeatable), Turn Into a Pumpkin.
Just in case you’re wondering: Etrata does not have to be on the battlefield when the win condition triggers. I just tested that against Sparky the MTG Arena bot, out of curiosity.
Sifting through the library
Since we’re playing Brawl, we should consider diversifying our investments when it comes to getting Etrata back. The second method of reeling her in is to wait until she’s back in the library and pull her out of there. Pulling a specific card out of the library is colloquially referred to as “tutoring” after the old, very powerful card Demonic Tutor.
These days tutor effects are much weaker. They either have grave drawbacks, or there’s symmetry to them to allow both players to tutor now. This sort of defeats the purpose. Will the best card in your deck be better than the best card in their deck? You never really know. If the opponent already knows you’re looking for Etrata, it’s very likely that they’re going to find just the right card to destroy or steal her from you.
I didn’t include any library search mechanics in my Etrata deck, but here are some examples that I’ve seen in other Etrata Brawl decks:
“Y’all got any more o’ them… Etratas?”
The third way to get around Etrata’s shuffle mechanic, and in my opinion the most fun way, is to make more Etratas!
“But she’s legendary,” you might say, “and this is Commander, where I can only play one copy of her!”
Well, what we’re doing here is cloning Etrata. There are three Standard cards we can use in the Dimir (blue-black) colors that are able to copy another creature: Quasiduplicate, Lazav the Multifarious, and Spark Double. Quasiduplicate is not effective on your Commander or any other legendary creatures because of the “legend rule”. If you ever have multiple legendary cards on your board with the same name, you must keep sacrificing them until there is only one left.
The other two cards get around this in different ways. If you look closely at Spark Double’s “wall of text”, it says that the copy is not legendary. Lazav has two things going for him. First, he can only copy Etrata if she ends up in the graveyard… although putting her in your graveyard is a bit risky. Second, even if you’re able to revive Etrata, Lazav keeps the name Lazav no matter who he’s “copying,” thus getting around the legend rule.
Hit ’em with Haste!
There is one method in the deck that can enable Etrata to attack the turn she comes into play: Crashing Drawbridge. You can cast the Drawbridge early in the game, use it as a blocker, and unless the opponent is extremely aggressive it’s unlikely they’ll try to destroy it. It will just sit there, waiting until it’s time to drop Etrata, crash through, and exile an opponent’s creature all in the same turn!
For extra fun, let’s say you’ve completed one hit with Etrata so far then bounced her back to your hand. With eight mana available, you can recast Etrata, Spark Double her, give both creatures haste with the Drawbridge, then surprise your opponent by winning that same turn!
Let’s say your Etrata is on the board, and the opponent is refusing to play creatures because they know the creatures will just be assassinated right away. What do you do?
Well, with this deck it’s pretty simple: Just beat them senseless. Etrata and Brazen Borrower hit for 3, and you have other creatures that can hit for 2. You can use your bounce spells to protect your creatures from removal spells in order to keep slamming into that face!
Let’s wrap up Etrata by looking at a few decks. Don’t worry, we’ll still get to Jace.
Etrata, the Silencer Brawl Deck (Decklist)
Aside from all of the bounce and copy effects in this deck, it also has some great blue staple counterspells (Sinister Sabotage, Tale’s End), a touch of removal (Enter the God Eternals, Finale of Eternity), and my personal favorite Dimir card Thief of Sanity.
This deck is lighter on removal than what you might expect from a two-color deck featuring black. There are two reasons for this. One: Etrata counts as both creature removal and the win condition. Two: You have so many bounce spells that you can hopefully just buy yourself time for Etrata to win, without having to outright destroy that much.
Sure, you could build a different deck with stronger removal and less bounce. But that would ruin the fun of chasing after this alternate win condition, right?
Jace, King of Milling
Jace, Wielder of Mysteries is great at milling (chucking someone’s library into their graveyard). An early decision you need to make is: Do you mill yourself, or do you mill your opponent? There are risks to both. Here’s Jace again for good measure:
Milling yourself is of course Jace’s alternate win condition, and it has its own pros and cons. Let’s start with the biggest con of all:
If Jace is not on the battlefield, then trying to draw a card from an empty library will make you lose instead of winning!
That’s right, with a single Murderous Rider your opponent can pull the rug out from under you and surprise you with a loss at the end of the game, leading you to the uncomfortable realization that you helped them win.
On the plus side, every card you draw gets you closer to your goal, and Jace can draw you a lot of cards! And if your goal is to mill yourself, and you’re up against a Gadwick / Persistent Petitioners mill deck, then you can just sit back and let your opponent whisk you to victory!
It gets pretty interesting when you’re up against another Jace mill deck. In that case, you might not know who to mill! It becomes an insane mind game where you bluff and counter-bluff. Sure, you could hold that Brazen Borrower until the end, hoping to bounce the opponent’s Jace at the last second and steal the win, but what if the opponent is holding counter-magic?
Your out: Milling your opponent
Emptying your opponent’s library is a classic win condition. This is an uncommon win condition, so your opponent likely won’t be specifically prepared for it. If your opponent is expecting to go up against a mill deck, they might include cards like Forever Young, Clear the Mind, or Finale of Revelation. These cards will erase all of your hard-earned progress at emptying their library and may lose you the game unless you have everything locked-down tight.
The good news is that shuffling their graveyard into their library is generally not a very useful thing to do in the game, unless they get some other kind of benefit. So you’ll likely not see your opponent play a Forever Young or Clear the Mind very often in Brawl, if at all.
In the same vein, depleting your opponent’s library generally doesn’t get you any benefits while it’s happening. Thankfully you have a few creatures with mill effects that can provide bodies: Merfolk Secretkeeper and Vantress Gargoyle.
Plan C: Beating your opponent with creatures
Blue creatures tend to not be very powerful, so this really is your Plan C. Your ground creatures aren’t terribly likely to punch through to the opponent, but you do have some fliers available. If you’re able to hit the opponent early with a Brazen Borrower or Hypnotic Sprite, maybe you could take it home by slamming in with the Vantress Gargoyle once your opponent’s deck has been milled a bit. Let’s take a look at two Jace decks:
Jace, Wielder of Mysteries Brawl Deck (decklist)
When playing this deck, generally your priority is to cast any repeatable mill cards as early as possible. Sometimes protecting yourself is a higher priority, so you’ll have to use your discretion here. Do you keep your Merfolk Secretkeeper in your hand until you’re able to cast Drowned Secrets first? If you’re able to cast Drowned Secrets first, you get an extra 2 cards of mill from Venture Deeper plus 2 cards of mill for casting the 0/4 creature.
It’s all about timing.
If you’re milling yourself and you’re close to the win, pay close attention to whether you think your opponent will be able to bounce or kill your Jace. You may need to bounce your own Jace so he can “dodge a bullet”, but if your library is already empty and you can’t recast Jace before you draw, you’re sunk. There is one copy of Lazotep Plating in this deck, this is Jace’s body armor when it really comes to it. Hopefully you’re able to draw this card instead of milling it into your graveyard!
Budget Jace, Wielder of Mysteries Petitioner Brawl Deck (decklist)
If you’ve played much Brawl, chances are good that you’ve seen this deck. Yes, it’s ridiculous. Yes, I’ve won a few games with it. Yes, it only takes four Common wildcards to get you infinite Persistent Petitioners available to put into your decks.
The drill is simple: Lay out your islands, then cast as many Petitioners as you can. If you have four out, tap them together to mill twelve cards. If you don’t, mill as much as you can. Decide early if you’re milling yourself or your opponent, it’s not good to change your mind mid-game!
If you don’t have a rare wildcard for Jace, you can drop an uncommon wildcard on Kasmina or Narset, Parter of Veils. They won’t perform as well, but this deck is mostly about the Petitioners anyway.
Let’s Wrap This Up
Glad to see you here for another Wednesday Brawl article! Join our Discord server if you have any questions or need any help, or if you’d like to share stories of your best Etrata win. See you next Wednesday!
If it’s not Wednesday and you want to Brawl, check out these options:
- Brawl Hall: This is a Discord server created by the popular MTG YouTuber and streamer Merchant. There are over 3000 people currently in the server that you can connect with to play Brawl on demand and have a friendly chat with each other.
- ArenaBrawl.net: This is a new website that allows you to enter your MTG Arena ID and find other players that are currently available for Direct Challenge. You can find players interested in Standard or Friendly/Historic Brawl, and the creators are working on a chat feature as well. Check out Drifter’s interview of the founders of ArenaBrawl.net!
- Brawlidays: Wizards will let people play Brawl any time in a month-long event, in exchange for gold or gems in the new December 12 update.