Hello and welcome to another installment of Treasure Cruisin'! For this week, I decided to investigate Brawl, a format designed with easy access in mind. Given that everything is Standard legal, it is easy to both build a deck and find games. Furthermore, the singleton nature of the format means that players who find themselves at the draft tables often will have an easy time putting a deck together, and anyone who enjoys cracking packs has a home in Brawl.
For this deck, I chose to build something based off of my deck from Dominaria's prerelease, and it packs quite a punch. While the deck is not entirely rotation proof, any player who cracks packs on a regular basis will most likely have this deck lying around in their bulk, while the more expensive pieces can be replaced with many different options. In total, this deck costs $65 USD, but the deck is very modular and can easily be built out of leftovers from draft, prerelease pools, or Bundles. As a disclaimer, this deck was built with multiplayer in mind but was largely tested in one-on-one and before the recent changes to the format. If you haven't seen these already, I suggest reading this first. Now, it's time to grab your friends and get ready to brawl with Shalai, Voice of Plenty!
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Shalai, Voice of Plenty is the heart of our deck. The gameplan is to fill the board with tokens and overwhelm the table's defenses. Shalai makes this possible by providing much needed protection and gradually buffing our team. The fact that we can drop her from the command zone makes her absurd because we can always recast her if our opponents manage to remove her. She is a must-kill threat because, if left unchecked, she will take over the game. Shalai even stops Settle the Wreckage, one of the most played board wipes in the format, because we also have hexproof. As if this wasn't backbreaking enough, our planeswalkers also have hexproof, allowing them to dodge Cast Out, Vraska's Contempt, and other common forms of planeswalker removal. While Shalai herself does not have hexproof, she forces our opponents to remove her before targeting most of our permanents. Now that we've discussed the commander, we will now look into the different categories of cards in this deck, beginning with token generators.
Our token generators can be found at all spots on the curve. Early board presence means we can start activating Shalia on curve while having enough creatures to be threatening. At the very bottom of our curve, we have Legion's Landing. While it only makes one token, it is extremely easy to transform it into Adanto, the First Fort, giving us a consistent way to make tokens throughout the game. We also play Oviya Pashiri, Sage Lifecrafter. While she also only makes one token, in the lategame she makes giant creatures that should dominate combat. If we don't have much action in the early game, making a 1/1 is still growing our board if we otherwise would do nothing. Moving up to two mana, we have many different ways of generating tokens. The simplest is Servo Exhibition, which is just two mana for two 1/1s. While this may seem measly in a multiplayer game, keep in mind that we start small until we make enough creatures to outswarm our opponents answers. Also at two mana is Saproling Migration, which still makes two creature for two mana but can be kicked if we have the extra mana. The fact that Saproling Migration scales into later turns makes it excellent for recovering from an untimely boardwipe and works well with our swarming plan. Fungal Plots, while taking a little bit of work to make tokens, gives our dead creatures some use. The ability to sacrifice extra tokens for card draw and life is also a useful ability, but more often than not we're simply using this to get Saprolings. Our last two-mana token generator is Cogworker's Puzzleknot. While it is rather unimpressive, it is yet another Standard-legal card that makes tokens. Finding a critical density of these cards can be difficult, and while it may feel underwhelming, we can sacrifice it whenever we want to make another token. This makes replenishing our board that much easier.
At three mana, we have several permanents that make tokens, both for coming into play or for activating abilities. This gives us both early plays and lategame consistency while not comprimising either. Jungleborn Pioneer and Yavimaya Sapherd are both going to make tokens when they come into play. Pride Sovereign is going to give us two tokens on every other turn cycle. This is important to recognize because it is a very slow way of making tokens. It gets better as the game goes on and other players are eliminated, but keep in mind in the early game that you aren't untapping Sovereign for a while. While not technically making tokens, Sylvan Awakening turns all of our lands into creatures. This is great for finishing off a player or giving us necessary blockers. Use it carefully, however. A well-timed Settle the Wreckage, while allowing us to get basics, can end up setting us back several turns. Master Trinketeer turns excess mana into more tokens, which get pumped by him. Trinketeer's anthem effect is very relevant in our deck because we play several cards that make Servos, and being able to make piles of them at instant speed can put us firmly in the lead. Oketra's Monument not only makes our white creatures cheaper but also gives us a free token. This helps us go wide when we can't seem to find our noncreature spells, the main way of generating tokens in this deck.
As we move into four mana, we start playing less token generators. We ideally don't need to cast these to start putting creatures into play, but Standard's limited pool forces us to play them to stay as consistent as possible. Memorial to Glory is an auto-include because it's a land but it is also very slow for its effect. Call the Cavalry and Spore Swarm are pretty straightforward. Spore Swarm being an instant gives us something to do on our opponents' turns but is still nothing to write home about. Sram's Expertise, however, is worth discussing. Being able to make three tokens is already great, but we then get to cast a spell for free. Casting a second token generator can yield as many as five tokens into play. If we have any anthems in play, we put ten power worth of creatures into play for four mana. Whatever we choose to cast with Sram's Expertise ignores normal timing restrictions, which can lead to some fun tricks with a few of our other cards. Additionally, the Servos come into play before we cast the next card, meaning they are affected by anything that cares about our creatures. Keep this in mind when casting it; it will make insane amounts of value for the mana cost. Oketra the True may be a bit expensive as way to develop our board, but she does the job if we otherwise would not use the mana. Plus, a 3/6 double striker with indestructible is scary to be on the receiving end of.
For the sake of the trees, I will keep watch.
At the higher mana, we start hitting our best token generators. Crested Herdcaller makes sizable creatures already, and the added trample makes pumping them up well worth it. Similarly, Sergeant-at-Arms, while not being anything particularly special, is also perfectly playable if we need tokens. While its pump effect is rather niche in our deck, Regal Caracal puts seven power worth of creatures into play for five mana, and that alone makes it playable. Tack on giving our other Cats lifelink, and it become apparent how powerful this cat is. Pride Sovereign can make additional Cats for when we need more lifegain or just an army of adorable cats to swarm with. However, we pack a few more high-end token generators with much more impact. Tendershoot Dryad is, without a doubt, our best way of putting an army on the board. Making a token every upkeep gets out of hand quickly in a multiplayer game, but the Dryad's ascend ability will win the game when it comes online. We already create loads of Saprolings without Drayd, but pumping them out every turn fuels ascend and gives us enough creatures to start swinging around blockers by the time our turn comes around again. In a similar vein, Verdant Force is a more expensive Dryad. While it doesn't bring an anthem to the table, it is just as good at being an army in a can.
While token producers make up the majority of our deck, we still pack plenty of ways to turn them into a major threat en masse. Charge is simply an instant-speed pump effect for turning combat math in our favor or dealing the final points of damage to an opponent. Throne of the God-Pharaoh is a pseudo-anthem that whittles away our opponents' life totals at the same time, leaving everyone under some pressure in combat. Shefet Dunes brings damage stapled on to a land, granting us both mana and lategame punching power. While requiring some time to actually make our creatures larger, Song of Freyalise turbocharges our mana production when combined with our horde of tokens. If it manages to stay in play for three turns, it gives us one turn to attack with impunity. The Immortal Sun does everything we want it to do: making our spells cheaper, drawing extra cards, shutting down planesalkers, and making our creatures larger. The last set of anthems is a bit of an odd package: Gideon's Resolve and Gideon, Martial Paragon. Resolve is an overcosted Glorious Anthem; for five mana, we aren't getting a whole lot. However, it does tutor Gideon, a second anthem or large beatstick when we need one. If we manage to reach his ultimate, Gideon guarantees that we take out at least one player, if not more. It is a nonbo with The Immortal Sun, but it does so much that we simply have to play it. While we only play a few anthems, keep in mind that Shalai is always in our command zone, and we will usually spend multiple turns in a row putting counters on our team and swinging through for damage.
We've already covered the bulk of our deck, which is cards that all accomplish the same job: creating creatures and making those creatures stronger. Our last cards fill a variety of roles so that we have answers to what our opponents are doing, consistently find lands, or synergize with our token gameplan.
For artifacts and enchantments, we run Forsake the Worldly, Broken Bond, and Manglehorn. Forsake is just a Disenchant that cycles. While this isn't flashy by any means, it does mean it is never a dead draw—if we don't need to destroy something with it, we can pitch it for a new card. Every once in a while, the fact that it exiles matters. Broken Bond is a sorcery, so while we do have to wait for our turn to cast it, it ramps our mana if we have a land in hand. Manglehorn is specifically for artifacts, but it shuts down Treasure tokens the turn they come into play, a variety of tap abilities, and enemy artifact creatures that would try to block the turn they enter play. While not just being useful for removing artifacts and enchantments, Cast Out gets rid of anything that isn't a land. This is our only way to remove particularly annoying planeswalkers outside of combat, so use this wisely.
If your compass weighs 15 pounds,
you're doing it wrong.
Because we have so many token generators, Anointer Priest is going to gain us life while also blocking smaller creatures. The additional resilience Priest brings with it because of embalm means we will gain life for a while. Another card that works excellently with tokens is Huatli, Radiant Champion. Her plus gives her an additional counter for each creature we control, which means we can easily put her over ten loyalty by the time we cast her. We want to ultimate her as soon as possible to turn all of our token producers into card draw spells. This makes each of them net card advantage by drawing more cards than what it took to put them into play. For example, Servo Exhibition is one card that makes two creatures, thus it would draw two cards. We can quickly refill our hand at this rate and take over the game, so go wild with tokens when you can!
We play a couple of cards that work wonders with our lands. Thaumatic Compass will ensure that we will always make our land drops. We need to hit six mana as fast as possible to activate Shalai, our main path to victory. If played early, activating Compass will most likely use up our entire turn, so be sure we can afford taking a turn off to set up our mana for the coming turns. Once we hit seven lands, it transforms into Spires of Orazca, a Maze of Ith for our opponents' creatures that also taps for colorless mana. Use this to lockdown the best creature attacking us, but remember that we have to get through three combat phases and only get one shot with it. We must choose when to use Spires correctly, or else we may end up taking a lot more damage than we could have.
Many of our lands have sacrifice abilities, and Ramunap Excavator is here to recur them again and again. Cards like Shefet Dunes, Memorial to Glory, and Cradle of the Accursed have abilities that we want to use as many times as we can; Excavator allows us to do that without losing mana sources. Additionally, it allows us to cycle our Deserts and then play them, guaranteeing we make land drops.
Finally, we sometimes need a clean board to stop someone else from winning the game. Fumigate fulfills that role while also gaining us a sizable amount of life. While it may seem counterintuitive to play a boardwipe in a tokens deck, keep in mind that we also have three opponents. It is entirely possible that we cannot swing through anyone's board without dying on the backswing. Fumigate not only gives us a fresh start but also gains us enough life to keep us in the game.
Out of all the sections of this deck, the manabase is the easiest to tinker. It does not need all of the duals I have included, and missing lands are easily replaced with basics and a few ramp effects. The easiest dual to acquire is Tranquil Expanse, which I would not leave home without because of how cheap it is. Our other duals see Standard play, and thus may not be within one's price range. If you have them, great! Put them in. If not, they are only a few dollars should you want them. These are Sunpetal Grove and Scattered Groves. Sunpetal Grove will almost always come into play untapped with our high density of basic lands, and Scattered Groves, while coming into play tapped, does cycle if we already have plenty of lands. While not being a true dual, Evolving Wilds gets both of our colors, and that flexibility is critical for casting our spells on curve.
It's hard not to get pumped about this land.
Our selection of utility lands will help us run smoothly. In addition to Scattered Groves, we play both Desert of the True and Desert of the Indomitable to smooth out our draws or make early land drops. Because we do not play many one or two drops, we can afford to have our first few lands come into play tapped without losing tempo. The aforementioned Shefet Dunes is an excellent land that we can sacrifice for an anthem when we need the extra damage. To make tokens, we run Memorial to Glory and Cradle of the Accursed. Memorial, as we already discussed, makes two tokens late in the game. Cradle is a bit more niche because it doesn't tap for either of our colors and it makes a token at sorcery speed. However, it is yet another way to make a token, and we need as many token producers as we can get. Keep in mind that all of our lands that wind up in the graveyard can be returned with Ramunap Excavator, which allows us to make tokens on each of our turns, cycle our lands and put them into play, or consistently pump our team. This type of value engine can be crushing with fewer players at the table, and as the game grinds down to the last two players it becomes difficult to catch up with. Be careful when spending land drops on recurring these type of lands, however, because we will never gain lands if we sacrifice them every turn; we maintain parity instead. If we're grinding to our most expensive cards, it may be better to hold off on activating them and accumulate mana for our larger spells.
Our lone mana dork, Llanowar Elves, will speed us up but is also a body to grow with Shalai.
We round out our manabase with eight Forests and five Plains. While our total number of mana symbols in the casting costs of our cards is evenly split between green and white, we lean more heavily on Forests in order to reliably cast Llanowar Elves on turn one should we have it in our opening hand and also to activate Shalia is often as possible.
Upgrades and Adjustments
This deck is fully functional as it is presented here. However, there are a few adjustments one could make if they have the cash or cards already. Gideon of the Trials is awesome for locking down the largest threat or forcing our opponents to remove him before killing us. If you find the deck too light on removal, Ixalan's Binding, Seal Away, Settle the Wreckage, and numerous others can fit into the deck. If our current suite of anthems is lacking, Benalish Marshal and Angel of Invention fit into the deck nicely, but the former may require a shift in the deck's manabase in order to cast it on curve. If you are having trouble keeping up with your opponents, mana ramp spells such as Grow from the Ashes, Beneath the Sands, and Shefet Monitor will get us up to speed. If you have trouble winning the long game, Approach of the Second Sun guarantees you'll win, albeit at an incredibly slow pace. There are many potential builds for token decks in Brawl's current state, so experiment and tinker with the deck until you find a version you like.
That conclude this edition of Treasure Cruisin'! Brawl is more fun than I initially thought it would be, and I've had an absolute blast so far. What do you think of Shalai tokens as an archetype? Her abilities are far too powerful to ignore, and I think she may be one of the most powerful commanders in the format right now. Feel free to ask questions in the comments, PM them to me, or on Twitter @CavalryWolfPack. That's it for me, and as always, keep on cruisin'.