Too-Specific Top 10 - Historically Chaff

(Forgotten Cave | Art by Tony Szczudlo)

Drafting History

Welcome to Too-Specific Top 10, where if there isn’t a category to rank our pet card at the top of, we’ll just make one up! (Did you know that Slaughter the Strong is the only Historic-legal board wipe that cares about power?)

Diligent readers will know that I was a bit of a Brawl fanatic, to the point that before I was even writing articles I was making lists of Brawl Staples. If you'll note the past tense there, I'm not talking about Brawl as we know it today as a 1-v-1 Arena format, but rather as it was upon its original announcement in March of 2018: A quick, multi-player alternative to Commander.

You may have never actually experienced Brawl in a multiplayer environment. In fact, I would go so far as to say that probably the majority of players haven't, but I was lucky enough to have a local playgroup that fell in love with Brawl immediately.

Only, there was one thing that neither me or my playgroup liked about Brawl as time went on: The Rotation.

As Standard players are well aware, the format rotates to new cards periodically, making your decks moot and waiting to be deconstructed. We tried a few fixes for this as our favorite Brawl decks slowly became defunct, from allowing a specific Standard time period to just ignoring rotation entirely and continuing on. Eventually, however, this issue was the death of our Brawl playgroup, as disagreements about what exactly Brawl was became too prevalent. This was about the time that Arena released their version of Brawl, however, and with it came another version of Brawl that wasn't heavily advertised, but could still be played on the platform if you knew how:

Historic Brawl.

With no rotation, and access to most of the old cards that we'd come to love from the beginning of the format (RIP, Smuggler's Copter), it was the perfect solution to keep our playgroup together right as things were breaking apart. We now had a sanctioned version of our personal format, with rules to follow that everyone could agree on, and we continued to have a blast with our small little format that was easy to put decks together for and could be played over a BYE round at the local draft.

And then I went and did something stupid and moved away. No more Brawl to be had, in any multiplayer form.

So of course, I did what any determined small format lover would do: I made a whole bunch of "Precon" decks to force my format on the local populace!

One for each of the Magic 2019 Elder Dragons, they were built on a budget to introduce people to Historic Brawl in the multiplayer fashion that we always enjoyed it as: a draft chaff format where decks were simple and games were quick.

Buy this decklist from Card Kingdom
Buy this decklist from TCGplayer

Buy this decklist from Card Kingdom
Buy this decklist from TCGplayer

Which got me wondering: what are the most popular Commander cards you could play in Historic Brawl that you probably just have laying around in a never-unbuilt Prerelease deck somewhere?

Top 10 Draft Chaff Historic Staples (In Each Color)

It was tempting to go with a price tag limit here, as that's how I built the Brawl Box "Precons" ($40 limit, not counting the commander since Nicol Bolas, the Ravager is $30 at this point). However, price tags aren't what really make draft chaff. Sure, you can buy that copy of Unbreakable Formation for 50 cents, but that doesn't mean you just already have it sitting around in a box.

No, what's readily available, even for those who just play Prereleases, are commons and uncommons. So let's take a look at the best commons and uncommons from the last few (Historic) years!

Top 10 Common and Uncommon Historic Staples

  1. Command Tower
  2. Evolving Wilds
  3. Arcane Signet
  4. Reliquary Tower
  5. Terramorphic Expanse
  6. Cultivate
  7. Mind Stone
  8. Bojuka Bog
  9. Llanowar Elves
  10. Negate

Well, that was... uninteresting. Let's see if we can't do a bit better by going a bit more in-depth, shall we?

Criteria: Common and uncommon cards, that are legal in the Historic format, from each mono-color color identity. As is tradition, all results are ordered by EDHREC score.

Murmuring Mystic often gets ignored for cheaper effects like Saheeli, Sublime Artificer, and it costs the same as Talrand, Sky Summoner for smaller tokens. With that said, spellslinger decks are usually looking for multiples of this effect, as playing only instants and sorceries can lead to you getting quickly aggro'd to death by your opponents if you don't have blockers. While driving a completely different kind of strategy, Reassembling Skeleton is no less an engine in graveyard decks, and it can even go infinite in Historic Brawl with Teysa Karlov and Pitiless Plunderer (in addition to about a dozen other ways in EDH) if you'd like to push the envelope. Maybe the most powerful effects in our #10 slot, however, are the dual tutors of Fierce Empath and Goblin Matron. Sure, the latter is restricted to tribal decks, but it's an absolute game-winner in them. Fierce Empath is a bit clunkier, as you're unlikely to curve out with it, but can be played in every green deck and has a list of relevant creatures you can fetch a mile long.

Propaganda and Ghostly Prison get all the hype, but Baird, Steward of Argive is no slouch as a Propaganda on a stick or in the command zone, not to mention that he actually stops your planeswalkers from being attacked, unlike some of his various inspirations. What's much more underplayed in my opinion, however, is Phyrexian Reclamation. Too many folks are obsessed with Reanimating creatures from the graveyard to the battlefield, with not enough of them seeing the potential of returning creatures to your hand repeatedly at a usually much cheaper cost. Ask any playgroup that's had to deal with several Shriekmaws or Burglar Rats a turn for more than a couple turns, and they can tell you that the good-old Gravedigger treatment gets less and less funny the longer it goes on. Finally, By Force is often ignored for the might of Vandalblast, but it not only works as a second copy of the effect, but it's also extremely good with cost-reducers like Goblin Electromancer or Ruby Medallion to take out multiple targets for a single red pip, not to mention it's fifty cents as opposed to five bucks.

Our #8 slot is absolutely packed to the gills, with every card in it being its own little localized powerhouse. Trophy Mage and its whole ilk of tutors can fetch all sorts of relevant trinkets, Skirk Prospector gets just about any Goblin build a Storm count, and Explore is the quintessential green cantrip. That said, the rest of the list is where I get really interested. All That Glitters is a fairly new toy that's giving Enchantress decks the world over a real win condition, and it does more of the same for Artifact decks, which also allows it to be an ace in the hole for Voltron and Aura/Equipment builds. Aside from the aforementioned infinite combo with Pitiless Plunderer (of which there are many, many more), Pitiless Plunderer is just a regular old engine that keeps you going in both Aristocrats and Artifact decks. It turns out, just going a lot is a lot easier than going infinite, and can be just as lethal. Speaking of which, you won't find any infinites with Bontu's Monument in Historic Brawl, but that doesn't mean that you can't eat up some large chunks of life total with "return to hand" effects like Phyrexian Reclamation and a cheap-as-free creature.

Unlike the engines of our #8 slot, the #7 slot is all about eating your vegetables. Putting Crush Contraband to the side for a moment, Unwind, Abrade, and Return to Nature are all some of the most efficient removal spells you can get in any format. Unwind, specifically, is a pet card of mine; Negate is such a popular option, but I find that Unwind is actually often the better effect for decks that want to cast more spells or just have a mana sink available. Similarly, Abrade often gets shoved to the side for more complete artifact removal or burn spells that can target players and planeswalkers, which is just a bit greedy if you ask me. As for Return to Nature, what can you say but it's better Disenchant, because of course it is, it's green. The four-mana options are no slouches here either, though! Crush Contraband is often seen as the best "get rid of two artifacts/enchantments" effect these days (if you don't count the better green version), and Ravenous Chupacabra is the #1 card to get recurred out of the graveyard repeatedly to make everyone's day a headache.

Many people are thinking that I forgot about Jhoira's Familiar just now, but let me assure that I didn't forget everyone's favorite bird that makes the artifact decks start playing all of their Darkwater Egg for free. They just put it in the deck second, after Foundry Inspector. That said, as abused as free artifacts might be, they still don't hold a candle to the type of Throne of Eldraine power that Syr Konrad, the Grim enjoys. Essentially reading "anytime a creature card moves from one pile to another, ping your opponents", Konrad is not only a mighty commander in his own right, but was also an instant staple in basically every black deck. Young Pyromancer doesn't quite have that kind of cred, but is still the cheapest token-maker for spellslinger decks who, as previously stated, need the defense those creatures provide.

Say what you will about Return to Nature, if you don't have access to green you're still going to want to destroy artifacts and enchantments, and Disenchant does that on the cheap at instant speed. For myself, I'm usually playing at the speed that I'd rather be running Crush Contraband, but there's no disputing that two mana is less than four! If you're looking for some more expensive-yet-flexible removal, however, then might I suggest Meteor Golem? Sure, it's probably only still good enough in red and black decks, but that's two of the five colors, both of which can recur an artifact creature straight out of the graveyard to the battlefield repeatedly without even breaking a sweat. If you'd rather be playing around with things on the battlefield, however, then Evolution Sage can pull a full Xhibit and stack things on your things multiple times a turn. Which, in Historic Brawl, can easily include your commander, as all planeswalkers are legal commanders! And you thought it was gonna be hard to consistently get counters on your Domri, Anarch of Bolas while having your utility creatures get through for damage!

You know what, guys? It's time. It is time for us to stop scoffing at the Aura and Equipment decks. Sure, they've been the only reasonable option in white now for a decade, but that doesn't mean they're not fun, or that they're not good. Danitha Capashen, Paragon is just sitting over here in the corner wanting to be loved for her full-on efficient keyword soup stapled to a relevant cost-reducer, and we should do just that. I mean, have you seen the list of Equipment she makes absolutely free? It's ridiculous!

I'm not even gonna go over the other cards on this list. Sure, Plaguecrafter's a better Fleshbag. Woop-di-doo. Let's stop wondering about how many Cathartic Reunions we can fit into our spells build and take another look at how good strapping things to creatures can be!

You know how I said earlier that Ravenous Chupacabra was the #1 creature to get repeatedly recurred out of the graveyard to make your life difficult? Well, that's only because Gray Merchant of Asphodel doesn't make life difficult, it just wins the game. Gary may need a bit of a board state to set things up, but even with just a smattering of Devotion he makes for a massive life swing, and then he gets to block or sacrifice himself to come back later and do it all again. In similar fashion, Mystic Sanctuary is another card that probably should have never been printed with its current wording that makes the graveyard a "must remove" for your opponents. I mean, being able to get cards out of the graveyard just for playing a land? What were they thinking? Thankfully, Guttersnipe is a much fairer card that you can play in your spells decks, being easily removable as a 2/2 creature, rather than a land that can come into play untapped and be easily and repeatedly bounced to your hand with any number of existing blue effects and common lands. I mean seriously, how on earth did this thing ever see print?

The launcher of a thousand "Am I the Jerk Here?" posts, Narset, Parter of Veils should just have "Yes, yes you are" added on as a flavor text. Sure, Hullbreacher is probably the bigger culprit these days, but both effects are still great at the tables where this kind of effect is welcomed. Naturally, this makes me wonder why we keep seeing them at tables where they aren't? But before my blood starts boiling and makes for poor ink, let's talk Blood Artist. It's not the only two-mana Blood Artist effect available in Historic Brawl, but it is the only one you can play in mono-black, and it's probably still the best, given that it allows you to count your opponents' creatures dying in addition to your own. Sure, that Cruel Celebrant will hit every opponent, but when push comes to shove, people are still probably putting their favorite vampiric artist on the decklist first. Lastly, Mind Stone continues to shine no matter the format. That said, ramp and card draw are the cornerstones of Brawl in the same way that they are in EDH, and Mind Stone provides both at a can't-be-beaten cost of two mana. Arcane Signet might be the better option for the color-starved, but in all likelihood most decks are just going to play both, and they won't be incorrect for doing so.

Several of you probably noticed me ignoring the Cycling lands all throughout this list, but let me assure you that I was just saving the best for last. Tectonic Reformation may be able to make all of your lands into Forgotten Caves, but Forgotten Cave does it all by its lonesome in a color that has always badly needed card draw. That said, there's a reason that all five of the colors have their one-mana Cycling lands represented here, and it's because mana flood is a real thing. The tradeoff between having a slower start with a land that comes into play tapped is real, but for all too many decks it is completely worth having access to more relevant cards than a land in the late game. Perhaps an even more relevant tapland, however, is Bojuka Bog. A lot of brewers are tending more toward the instant speed of Scavenger Grounds these days, but if you're in black it's hard to hate on a free graveyard exile for just playing a land, even if it is slowing you down. Finally, the biggest surprise on this list for me was Aven Mindcensor. Not that it's not a great card that acts as a badly needed equalizer for white decks, but coming in at #1? That's a lot of tutor hate!

Honorable Mentions

First off, many of you were probably lamenting the lack of multicolor cards in this list. Well, fear not!

Top 10 Multicolored, Nonland, Common and Uncommon Historic Cards

  1. Dovin's Veto
  2. Rhythm of the Wild
  3. Mortify
  4. Growth Spiral
  5. Tatyova, Benthic Druid
  6. Despark
  7. Ashiok, Dream Render
  8. Cruel Celebrant
  9. Deathsprout
  10. Goblin Electromancer

I don't entirely know why this has become the poster child for me, but as a hipster player, there's nothing that quite gets my hackles raised like seeing Dovin's Veto at the top of top ten lists. There are just so many more interesting alternatives that do the exact same thing, but worse!

Finally, for anyone that was interested in the full cycle of my Brawl Box "Precons", all the decklists are up on my Archidekt! I've included them here, because I'm excited about them and I can do that.

Buy this decklist from Card Kingdom
Buy this decklist from TCGplayer

Buy this decklist from Card Kingdom
Buy this decklist from TCGplayer

Buy this decklist from Card Kingdom
Buy this decklist from TCGplayer

Nuts and Bolts

There always seems to be a bit of interest in how these lists are made (this seems like a good time to stress once again that they are based on EDHREC score, NOT my personal opinion), and people are often surprised that I’m not using any special data or .json from EDHREC, but rather just muddling my way through with some Scryfall knowledge! For your enjoyment/research, here is this week’s Scryfall search.

What Do You Think?

And finally, what's your favorite experience with draft chaff? Have you put together Commander or Brawl decks with it? Do you have anything unique you do with your old commons and uncommons after limited events?

Let us know in the comments, and we'll see you at the brewing table, taking decks apart to put other decks together!

Doug has been an avid Magic player since Fallen Empires, when his older brother traded him some epic blue Homarids for all of his Islands. As for Commander, he's been playing since 2010, when he started off by making a two-player oriented G/R Land Destruction deck. Nailed it. In his spare time when he's not playing Magic, writing about Magic or doing his day job, he runs a YouTube channel or two, keeps up a College Football Computer Poll, and is attempting to gif every scene of the Star Wars prequels.

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