Wednesday Brawl – Deck the Brawls with Rienne and Rhys!
For this most festive time of the year, we’ve chosen Naya colors for our focus this week: green, red, and white for Christmas trees and Santa Claus! Keep an eye out for random Christmas carol lyrics peppering the article.
We’ll cover two Commanders this week: Rienne, Angel of Rebirth and Rhys the Redeemed. Rienne is the only Naya Commander in Magic: The Gathering Arena, making him an obvious choice for a Naya article. For Rhys the Redeemed, you’ll go down in history. That is to say, you can only use him in Friendly Brawl, also known as Historic Brawl because it includes the Historic set of Brawl cards (all the cards in Arena except for a few banned cards like Oko, Thief of Crowns and Sorcerous Spyglass).
They say it’s better to give than to receive, but Rienne turns this saying on its head. With him on the battlefield, every time another multi-colored creature is about to give up the ghost, you instead receive them back into the safety of your hand! Who ever said Christmas couldn’t be about getting a second, third, or fourth chance?
Let’s lead in with Rienne’s potential for a gift-giving spree. If you’re playing against the kind of deck that prefers board sweeps (destroy all creatures) over spot removal (destroy one creature), then rejoice! Every time you’re hit with a board sweep with Rienne on the table, he’ll rescue every other multicolored creature you have… while falling on the sword himself. It’s the kind of altruism you’d expect from an angel. So unless you’re playing Friendly Brawl and attacking with all against white (the color with Settle the Wreckage), you don’t have to worry too much about holding back your creatures to avoid board sweepers.
Another circumstance where Rienne truly shines is with creatures who have effects when entering the battlefield, such as Knight of Autumn and Ravager Wurm. Let’s say you cast your Knight of Autumn, destroy your opponent’s Fires of Invention, then attack her into a Rotting Regisaur. That poor dryad! Well, not to worry – Rienne whisks her away from the snapping jaws of the zombie dinosaur back into your hand, where you can re-cast her to destroy your opponent’s Signet Ring, or regain 4 life! Sure, your opponent may decide not to block, but in that case you effectively have an unblockable creature.
Even better is Ravager Wurm. You can cast it and have it fight the Rotting Regisaur, and after the behemoths kill each other you get the wurm back into your hand! Now, you keen observers out there are saying, “Wait a second, the Ravager Wurm is a 4/5. Even with the +1/+1 counter from Riot it can’t kill a Rotting Regisaur.”
Well, that’s when we talk about the third great benefit of Rienne, Angle of Rebirth. He doesn’t just rescue your multicolored critters, he also buffs them with an anthem effect (increase the power and/or toughness of your creatures)! Every member of your multicolored army gets +1 attack, which is just enough to kill that Regisaur with the Ravager Wurm. Those of us with some Magic: The Gathering experience can tell you that in most cases +1 attack is far better than +1 defense, because extra attack benefits you every time you hit the opponent’s face. One extra block is only good in those rare circumstances where your creature just barely outmatches the opponent’s creature.
For extra fun, drop a Heraldic Banner and a Glass of the Guildpact into play to get an 8/7 Ravager Wurm, outsizing that Regisaur by a fang-festooned nose – great reason for some holiday cheer!
Of course, there are some drawbacks that bring your celestial Rienne back down to earth a bit. Not least of which is the gigantic target painted on his back! There will be Grinches out there who enjoy nothing more than to knock your angel out of the sky and back into your Command Zone.
At this point you might be wondering, “Is there a way to protect Rienne?” Well, unfortunately since Shalai, Voice of Plenty rotated out I’m not aware of a permanent that will grant him hexproof (unable to be targeted by your opponent’s spells and effects). Without any options for permanent hexproof, you’re stuck keeping mana untapped to cast spells like Gods Willing or Root Snare. I wouldn’t recommend putting Root Snare in this deck, although Gods Willing is a versatile card since it gives you a free scry.
While Rienne is a strong 5/4 flier and he combos well with ETB creatures, he gives you no immediate benefit when you cast him. This is contrasted with immediate-benefit Commanders like Niv-Mizzet Reborn or any planeswalker (planeswalkers get a free chance to use their ability before they get Swiftly Ended). This downside of Rienne’s is only relevant if he is destroyed straightaway, but you can expect this to happen often. After all, this is Brawl mode where removal is considered to be prime deck material… because it is!
Last but not least, let’s look at the colors Naya represents: white, red, and green. There are drawbacks to playing these colors. Currently white and red are arguably the weakest colors in Standard (explaining why would be the topic for a whole other article). Green is incredibly powerful right now, but that power is mostly to be found in its mono-colored cards.
Putting raw strength of the colors aside, the Naya shard of green-red-white represents the most “honest” cards, without the deceit of blue or the powerful removal of black. With the exception of a few exile removal cards like Conclave Tribunal and Prison Realm, your removal is mostly limited to creature damage or burn damage. Creature and burn damage, used as creature removal, both suffer from the drawback of being useless unless you can them up to your opponent’s creature toughness all in the same turn. Our deck of the week below is light on removal in order to capitalize on Rienne’s reincarnation engine… because it’s more fun that way!
Ring in the Win with Rienne
Winning with Rienne is a beautiful sight. We recommend using a deck that focuses on dropping large, threatening multicolored creatures into play early and often! Rienne occupies a narrow but interesting place: He’s designed to keep the value flowing after the opponent runs out of gas, but he (and his colors) are generally not designed for controlling the late game.
So, don’t sweat it if your opponent has early removal, just keep smashing away! While board sweeps won’t ruin your day completely, they can still provide your opponent with a tempo advantage, forcing you to recast every single creature right after Kaya calms down from her wrath.
Rienne, Angel of Rebirth Brawl Deck (Decklist)
This deck is all about getting big, muscly creatures with fun effects onto the board. You have creatures that fight (Ravager Wurm and Tolsimir, Friend to Wolves), creatures that grow (Frenzied Arynx and Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice, Fireborn Knight), anthems (Heraldic Banner, Trostani Discordant), and a few cards that are specifically designed for decks full of multi-colored cards (Hero of Precinct One, Glass of the Guildpact, Rampaging Monument just for fun).
Note that the Feather, the Redeemed is a bit of a misdirect – you only have a single instant spell that can target your own creatures. But those of us who have been playing Arena for a while have been destroyed by Feather too many times to leave him alone. Playing this deck, I’ve had opponents zap him before he shakes off his summoning sickness! Even if he doesn’t catch a removal spell, Feather is still a decent 3/4 flying body for 3 mana.
You have a couple of draw engine cards, namely Guardian Project and Great Henge. Every time Rienne returns a creature to your hand, you’re able to draw a card when you recast it, providing you with an unlimited supply of brutes to overpower your opponent. Don’t worry too much about running out of cards, your opponent should be gone long before that happens!
There’s a touch of removal in the deck, but only a touch, so save your Conclave Tribunal and Prison Realm for their biggest and baddest threats. Ugin, the Ineffable makes a cameo for some extra card draw and a way to punish your opponent for not filling their decks with multi-colored cards.
This Rienne deck in particular has a decent amount of evasion and trample to punch through any kind of chump blocking your opponent may attempt, as with tokens or the dreaded Cauldron Cat / Witch’s Oven combo.
Going wide with Rhys
Rhys, the Redeemed has one purpose in life: swarming your opponent with scores of tokens. We’re not talking about Santa’s Workshop elves here, these elves are out for blood!
Keep in mind, though, that while Rhys can make elf tokens by himself, the doubling effect is not limited to elf tokens. You can double your 4/4 Serra Angel tokens from Divine Visitation, or surprise your opponent with your Oketra zombie horde (who expects a zombie horde from a Selesnya green-white deck?)
What Rhys does well
Naturally, Rhys plays well in the established Selesnya (green-white) Tokens type of deck. Make tokens, lots of them, some of them big already (see above), and drop an anthem so that even the not-so-big tokens become big! Simple enough, right?
Well, if the Selesnya token strategy is so simple, why aren’t we seeing it in Standard? Answer: board sweepers. A single Deafening Clarion, Cry of the Carnarium, Kaya’s Wrath, or Flame Sweep can absolutely ruin your game. But we’re talking about Rhys’ strengths in this section, right? Well there are several pieces of good news:
- The singleton nature of Brawl reduces the number of board sweepers your opponent can play by 75%.
- You’re going to see the multi-colored board sweeps far less often. The restrictive nature of color identity means that only very few Commanders allow you to play Deafening Clarion or Kaya’s Wrath. That said, if you see Niv-Mizzet Reborn then the opponent probably has a deck full of sweepers. Run!
- Your 4/4 tokens are strong against most of the -X/-X sweepers or sweepers that rely on damage rather than full-on “destroy” effects.
- Even with destroy effects, you have two instant-speed defenses: Make a Stand and Unbreakable Formation. They both make all your creatures indestructible until end of turn.
- Settle the Wreckage specifically will give you quite a bit of card advantage if your opponent dares to play it against your token deck. Every token they exile grants you a land!
- In Brawl, you’re far more likely to go up against decks with a lot of creatures. Brawl players are less likely to include board sweepers because they don’t want to kill their own creatures along with yours!
What Brawl lacks in board sweeps, it makes up in spot removal, effects that destroy a single permanent. Thankfully, Selesnya Tokens is designed to counteract spot removal, because much like a mama spider you’re not terribly concerned about any single creature, you’re more about making sure enough of them survive to make an impact.
Rhys is weak to spot removal, even a Shock spell, but he’s literally the cheapest Commander in all of Magic – the only one with a 1-cost (I checked!) So it shouldn’t be too much trouble to cast him the second or third time. Just be judicious about it.
We’ve already mentioned the fact that Rhys can double your burly 4/4 tokens, which only get bigger with anthem cards like The Immortal Sun. Well, those same cards will double the strength of all of your tiny 1/1 elves, assisting them in their neverending quest to slam into your opponent while also helping them to dodge the dreaded Goblin Chainwhirler.
Once your board is established (wide with tokens and big from anthems), Charge! As long as you’re able to get through with some damage and you lose half your tokens or less, you’re making progress. Double up your tokens next turn for another round of relentless assaults, sending home the message that elves are not to be trifled with!
Gripes about Rhys
The first and worst problem with Rhys, as with Selesnya tokens decks, is that you have to cross your fingers and hope that your opponent doesn’t draw more board sweepers than you have board defenses… and even then, you have to have the mana open to cast them the instant they’re needed. The classic Selesnya tokens downfall – you have no counterspells, you can’t pull tokens out of the graveyard, and your tokens have summoning sickness. If you’re really afraid of Ritual of Soot and Flood of Tears, you could try main-boarding a Veil of Summer, but that’s going to be a dead card in many of your games.
Another bummer is that you can’t use Rhys’s abilities the turn he comes into play due to summoning sickness, so you have to cross your fingers again and hope the opponent lets you untap with him. You could put a Crashing Drawbridge in your deck to haste the Rhys, but the commander tax would likely get in the way of your ability to use his doubling ability on the same turn.
Third, you’re going to experience games where the right pieces just don’t come together. This isn’t a combo deck per se, but it’s well known that 1/1 tokens without evasion (flying, unblockable, etc) are pretty crummy without any kind of anthem effect. There will be times when you wait the whole game in vain for a way to increase the power of your dudes. There will also be times when you draw one anthem all game such as Circle of Loyalty, only to see it smashed by an enemy Brontodon.
In summary, the fact of the matter is that Rhys is very specialized. He does one thing, and does it well: Doubling your tokens. He can’t do much damage, he’s got a narrow elf butt (that is to say, his toughness is as low as it gets), and just about any kind of removal under the sun will hit him… even that Goblin Chainwhirler!
Matchups, Naughty and Nice
What kinds of decks is Rhys well-suited against, and which ones will blow him up? Let’s make a list and check it twice:
We’ve mentioned Niv-Mizzet Reborn. Frankly, this matchup is so bad you may just want to scoop instantly. These five-color go-big decks are likely going to be teeming with removal. Another bad matchup would be Nicol Bolas, Dragon God and other control decks that include the color black, because black has so many options to sweep small tokens off the board!
If you see a Yarok, the Desecrated deck, give it a try! These decks often have smaller creatures for your tokens to tangle with, and they usually favor spot removal over sweeps. Just watch out for Agent of Treachery stealing your anthem cards.
Your good matchups are going to be against creature decks that aren’t terribly fast and don’t have too much trample. I would think that our Rienne deck above would be favored against this Rhys deck below… if you have the time and the cards, try going head-to-head against a friend and tell us how it goes!
Rhys, the Redeemed Friendly Brawl Deck (Decklist 1) (Decklist 2)
Tokens, tokens, tokens: This deck is all about ’em! This description is for my Rhys deck (Decklist 2). If you like, you can instead try my colleague Terence’s take on Rhys in Decklist 1. Or try them both!
Ya got your lifelink tokens (Legion’s Landing and Emmara, Soul of the Accord), elf tokens (Rhys, Imperious Perfect, Thorn Lieutenant), Knight tokens (History of Benalia), angel tokens (Resplendent Angel, Divine Visitation), cat tokens (Ajani, Strength of the Pride), wolf tokens (Nightpack Ambusher), soldier tokens (Finale of Glory, March of the Multitudes), and even ooze tokens (Biogenic Ooze). Rhys doesn’t care what kind of token it is, he’ll double it all the same. Even zombie tokens, which you would imagine a Selesnya-aligned guy would have an issue with!
Anthem your tokens with multiple effects like those I’ve mentioned above as well as Benalish Marshal and Trostani Discordant. Make a Stand with an Unbreakable Formation to keep them alive…
And then obliterate your opponent with a surprise Endraze Forerunners!
Let’s Wrap This Up
Thank you for joining us for another Weekly Brawl article. Join our Discord server if you have any questions or need any help, or if you’d like debate going wide versus going tall in Brawl! We also have a Theros Beyond Death Preorder Bundle Giveaway going at the moment, so be sure to check that out also!
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.