Brawl Hall Episode #2, the sequel to the first fan-curated Brawl Arena tournament launched last week. With that, it’s a great time to take stock of how Brawl is doing as a format. Join me today as we sit down with leading Brawl YouTuber Merchant, the creative force behind Brawl Hall, as we discuss all things Brawl.


Hey Merchant! How’s things? Did you have a good Christmas?

Hello! I’m very good thanks, slowly recovering from a very busy December. Christmas isn’t too much of a big deal for my partner & I, but we had fun none the less!

You got to have pigs-in-blankets, right? Easily the best part of Christmas, aside from getting Socks!

They are indeed the best part of Christmas, although we have a tradition of roasting Salmon instead of Turkey and we’ve got it down to a pretty fine art. I still insist on pigs-in-blankets, though.

Turkey’s overrated. Let’s get started, anyway. A lot of people will know you as a pretty big UK Magic YouTuber and streamer. For those that don’t, can you tell us a little about yourself?

Well, I’m a YouTuber and occasional streamer who plays Magic and Dungeons & Dragons primarily, although you’ll see me playing other stuff too. I approach MTG with a very laid back attitude; it’s a game I play purely for the love it, not really caring too much for attaining results. There’s a few games I am very competitive on, so Magic is kind of my “fun only” retreat from other games.

I know what you mean. I used to play the Pokemon TCG competitively—the grind was intense, and when I moved on, I vowed to enjoy Magic a lot more!

When did you start playing Magic? What did you do before Magic? Do you have a favorite Magic card?

I first played Magic in 2003 when I was 10, and played it whenever I encountered it from then onwards, but I really started playing regularly when I went to University. My first prerelease was Dark Ascension, which to this day remains one of my favourite sets.

Because I was playing so much and falling in love with the game at that time, my favourite card is Sublime Archangel, just because my BW Exalted Deck was very dear to me. A close second would be Gifts Ungiven, just because when my friend introduced me to Modern I loved playing Storm.

Before I pursued YouTube I actually worked in the games industry, on both a card game & an MMO at Jagex, creators of Runescape.

Ah, Jagex. I wonder if we have any mutual connections there? 

It’s possible—the UK Games Industry is pretty small. (Edit: We did! It really is a small world)

Happy Brawlidays

Wizards of the Coast announced last month that they would be bringing a new event to MTG Arena over the holidays. The “Brawlidays” event runs from December 12 to January 16, featuring always-open Brawl queues for the duration of the event. It costs 10,000 Gold or 2,000 Gems, and you earn a copy of Rhys the Redeemed after your first victory.

Considering that previous holiday events have either been free or required smaller entry fees—Momir’s Madness, for example, cost 50 Gems or 250 coins, and gave bonus cards and coins back for wins—this is a real curveball in Wizards’ approach to Arena.

Before we continue, I’d like to point out the lack of value in the offering. For the cost of the event, you could enter two Ranked drafts (at either 750 gems or 5,000 coins, respectively) or one traditional draft (2,000 gems). These events will not only offer you at least three booster packs worth of cards (six, if ranked!) but the chance to win prizes, as well. The average player will exit a ranked draft with just over half of the gems they invested, and 1-2 bonus booster packs.

A more established player can stand to make money on these events. Variance aside, you can leave these events with more than you entered. Sadly with Brawlidays this isn’t the case—you will always lose. To add insult to injury, the gems or coins you invested to get access to Rhys could have been saved as he can be crafted with a Wildcard anyway.

Let’s see what Merchant has to say:

Having to pay to play Brawl seems like a real mistake on Wizard’s part, right?

Lets talk about Brawlidays—ho boy! What a cynical, awful piece of game development that was. I’ve seen this kind of thing first hand and had to publicly smile while it’s going on, but I sincerely hope peoples reaction to this was taken seriously. One thing I think Wizards lacks in, severely, is public communication on the development of Arena. They have a fantastic influencer manager, but in terms of widespread public comms I see very little. I would like to think recent examples have shown the Valve approach is not a good one.

It has to be better than limiting the queue to merely Wednesday nights, though?


Wednesday Night’s Alright for Fighting

It’s hard to see limiting Brawl to Wednesdays as anything but a barrier to entry. With interest waning in Standard, Wizards seems overly cautious not to shift too large a portion of their established player base over to another format, one that could pique the interest of a sizable portion of their more casual players.

Let’s not forget that it’s overwhelmingly casual players that spend the most money on Arena, and if they’re playing Singleton, they aren’t spending money on Drafts or playing Standard enough to need four copies of each card. Honestly, I can see things from this perspective to a certain extent, but I don’t think that the current solution is anywhere near optimal.

In response to the demand for 24/7 Brawl, Wizards has delivered a paid-for event, with virtually no reward aside from being able to play Brawl on days other than Wednesday. Even considering the need to monetize Arena, making people pay so much for a format that should have a free to play mode is questionable. If Wizards do seek to monetize Brawl, then there are probably better ways to do it, and If it needs to be an event, giving it actual prizes and rewards for wins seems obvious. Let people recoup their investment.

When it comes to Brawlidays, vote with your wallet, as Merchant covers below.

Thankfully, the Brawl community is rallying around the format. Despite current hurdles to enjoyment, they’re making strides to really keep things moving.

Enter the Brawl Hall

There’s two main movements in Brawl right now that are really lighting up the community. Let’s talk first about Brawl Hall. I recently got the chance to take part in the YouTube series you put together. Do you wanna give us a run down on what it’s about?

Brawl Hall is a name some will know for the Discord I started up in protest at no Brawl queue being available, but the name comes from a monthly tournament I run! I invite people from all over the Magic community to come and play in a Brawl tournament. We plan to have some qualifier spots in the future, for those that are interested.

It’s pretty low stakes, single elimination brackets to keep it fast paced, but the winner takes home a small cash prize and I make an equal donation to a charity of their choice. We take the videos of peoples games and stitch them up into a big show, and release it towards the end of the month. I work on it with a few friends of mine on commentary, Craig, Alias & Amyzonian!

You’re obviously a pretty big advocate of Brawl. I have to say, I had a lot of fun jamming practice games and getting into the format recently, and can’t wait to play more. Do you think part of the popularity gain recently has been due to waning interest in Standard or Limited on Arena? Or maybe that its just gaining traction as more take up the torch?

Honestly I believe a large part of its popularity gain is simply because Brawl is an incredibly fun format. The ability to represent yourself with a Commander and really infuse your personality into a deck is something that you’re lucky if you’re able to do in none Singleton formats. I believe MaRo recently said Commander is the most played format in Magic? I think Brawl is introducing a whole new generation of players from Arena to an easier to digest, easier to join EDH format (disclaimer: I love EDH). I strongly believe it should be a cornerstone of the future digital landscape of Magic.

I think one of the main barriers to entry right now is jumping into games effortlessly. The other thing to sweep the community by storm lately is Arenabrawl. How long do you think they’ll be relevant—how soon do you think before Wizards relinquishes pay-to-play for Brawl? Ever?

The people who did Arenabrawl are absolute heroes. They basically did what I did with my Discord but in a far better way! I dearly hope both of us are irrelevant as soon as possible, because Wizards see sense and fully support Brawl in the client. They seem to be very keen on data gathering at the moment, and I’d like to think the vast amount of direct challenge brawl games going on is turning their attention.

Although the addition of friends list features to Arena on 12/12 has provided much needed functionality; there remains the fact that finding an on-demand Brawl game that doesn’t cost money, outside of Wednesdays, is not possible with the current Arena set up. fixes this problem by giving you on-demand access to Brawl. By entering your player ID into‘s matchmaking service, you’ll be paired with another Brawl player. Simply enter their ID into the Direct Challenge menu in Arena, and you’ll have yourself a game.

I had the chance to speak to the entrepreneur behind the tech, Arthmael. According to their statistics, averaged 45 players in matchmaking in their Beta launch around a month ago, with players logging in from around the world.

This has quickly risen to highs of 400 active players since the site gained traction this week, rarely dipping below 120. Given their relatively recent launch, this is impressive, and should continue to grow as word spreads. I know Merchant & I will be interested to see how this progresses, and if you’d like to keep tabs, check out the site’s twitter account for updates.

The State of Brawl

What do you think are the biggest challenges Brawl has going forward?

As far as I’m aware there’s no real “handler” for the format. I’m sure there is internally but I have no clue. Oko, Thief of Crowns got banned in the carpet-banning phase and Sorcerer’s Spyglass was taken out from the start of its digital life. If we go back in time, Baral, Chief of Compliance was banned too, because of the incredibly unfun playstyle he pushed. I was actually playing Paper Brawl at that time (on Hapatra, Vizier of Poisons super fun deck) but there wasn’t much update afterwards. 

Brawl as a format is very young, and doesn’t have some of the consistent answers needed to answer some threats from Standard. Field of the Dead & Golos are a good example. I’m taking it upon myself to ban Field, and I debated over Golos from future Brawl Halls. The hyper consistency of potential Commanders can loom heavily over the format, we need more evergreen Brawl-only cards to target such things. 

Do you think the format’s in a healthy place? Anything on the watch list for a ban? I ask this as I think, for many, you’ve assumed a similar role to the CAG, alongside some of your contemporaries like Dayv (@sunyveil), so if anyone had a good handle on the format I think it’d be you!

Ha, thanks! I think the format is overall in a good place. Golos & Field throw up some questions, but where doesn’t Field of the Dead make people worry. The idea of being seen as any sort of authority on cards is pretty funny, I’ve done enough card design & balancing in my day.

If there was any format I would want to be involved in it probably would be Brawl though. Sunyveil is a great Brawl deck builder & can testify to how scary certain things are right now. I do enforce some house bans for Brawl Hall, and actually imposed an Oko ban before they announced it.

What’s your favoured Brawl Commander at the moment? Anything you think is really underrated?

At the moment i really love playing Nikya of the Old Ways. She is pretty underrated and an absolute monster fairly consistently. Gruul has all sorts of ways to dump excess mana right now and she does it in a big way. Otherwise I think people haven’t really hit on to how incredibly strong Nicol Bolas, Dragon God can be. It’s a tough deck to build but the mana base is actually kinda there, and Grixis can bully so much out of the game.

Personally, I think an early Casualties of War seems to be the place to be. 

You were definitely unlucky—but spoilers! 

Ha! You’re right. People should check out the tournament. Thanks for taking the time to chat today—it’s been a pleasure. Where can people find you, and when is the next episode of Brawl Hall looking to be scheduled?

Well our most recent episode for December went live recently! The next will come out around the end of January, no certain date yet. People can find me @Merchant_MTG on Twitter or my YouTube! Thanks for inviting me to ramble about Brawl!

And so concludes our time with Merchant. Brawl is emerging as a popular and fun format. If you’re wanting to get involved, check out the Arena Brawl website to find a game, or hit up Merchant on Twitter for an invite to the Discord server.

If it wasn’t clear to you already, Wizards puts a lot of stock in revenue generation in their decision making process. It’s unlikely they will back down from charging for Brawl as long as people are willing to pay to play it, so if you believe it should be free—vote with your wallet.

If you’d like to check out my decklist from Brawl Hall Episode #2, you can find it here.

Kristen is a lover of both Limited and Commander, and can most often be found championing the Boros Legion when called upon to sit down and shuffle up. Based in the UK, she works as a software developer, and her love for the Legion is second only to her appreciation for Lord of the Rings and Mass Effect.

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