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Level Up Your Challenger Decks

If anyone has ever said to you that a preconstructed deck is “bad” or “weak”, you just need to point at this year’s Challenger Decks as proof that that isn’t the case. Collecting the Standard format’s most popular archetypes over the last year, the 2021 Challenger decks balance power and value to make something great for both newcomer and advanced players.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement, though, and so here are not only the decks as they’re sold, but also the best ways you can take them that little bit further.

Azorius Control

This blue and white deck is all about two things: controlling the table while drawing lots and lots of cards. Its lower number of creatures may seem intimidating at first, but thanks to its counterspells and ‘bounce’ spells (cards that return things to their owners’ hands), you’re unlikely to be facing down an opponent with lots to block against.

Decklist:
2 Skyclave Cleric
2 Dream Trawler
2 Archon of Sun’s Grace
1 Emeria’s Call
2 Shatter the Sky
1 Doomskar
3 Neutralize
1 Saw It Coming
1 Negate
3 Thirst for Meaning
2 Behold the Multiverse
2 Glass Casket
1 Shark Typhoon
3 Elspeth Conquers Death
4 The Birth of Meletis
4 Omen of the Sea
2 Banishing Light
4 Temple of Enlightenment
8 Plains
8 Island
4 Tranquil Cove

Sideboard (15)
1 Archon of Sun’s Grace
2 Banishing Light
2 Glass Casket
2 Skyclave Apparition
3 Confounding Conundrum
3 Mystical Dispute
2 Essence Scatter


How to Upgrade It:

Honestly, Skyclave Cleric isn’t doing a whole lot for us here, so I would swap it out with Skyclave Apparition instead. It’s quick and easy removal while also putting another creature on the board for blocks. In the same way, I would also include Brazen Borrower and Stolen by the Fae.
I’d also heavily recommend swapping out one of the Elspeth Conquers Deaths for a Niko Aris. The reason for this is Niko’s shards count as enchantments, meaning your Archon of Sun’s Grace will pump out a lot of Pegasus tokens when they enter the battlefield and give you a sizeable aerial presence.
Finally, our land base could be improved with Hengegate Pathway//Mistgate Pathway double-faced cards. They let you pick which colour of mana you need when playing them, making them a really great inclusion in any multi-coloured deck!


Dimir Rogue

As one of the most popular deck archetypes at the moment, it’s no surprise Dimir (blue and black) Rogues are getting their own Challenger deck. Combining the ever-popular mill strategy with combat tricks, high evasiveness and lots of removal, Dimir Rogues forces your opponent to keep on their toes while gradually dumping all their cards into their graveyard.

Decklist:
2 Blackbloom Rogue
1 Rankle, Master of Pranks
4 Thieves’ Guild Enforcer
3 Vantress Gargoyle
3 Nighthawk Scavenger
3 Zareth San, the Trickster
4 Merfolk Windrobber
4 Soaring Thought-Thief
2 Bloodchief’s Thirst
1 Malakir Rebirth
4 Drown in the Loch
2 Eliminate
2 Heartless Act
4 Temple of Deceit
8 Island
9 Swamp
4 Dismal Backwater

Sideboard (15)
1 Bloodchief’s Thirst
2 Negate
2 Into the Story
2 Pestilent Haze
2 Agonizing Remorse
3 Cling to Dust
3 Duress


How to Upgrade It:

This is already a fantastic deck, but if you want to up your milling, maybe throw in a few Ruin Crabs. They’re not rogues, but they drive a lot of current mill decks with every land you play.
Speaking of lands, Clearwater Pathway//Murkwater Pathway is must. Any tribal deck with black also benefits from Agadeem’s Awakening – either play it as a land in the early game, or use it to bring back lots of your rogues from the graveyard later on!
The one area where this Challenger Deck is somewhat lacking is in its removal. Eliminate feels a bit weak compared to the other options already in the deck, and so I’d take it out entirely and replace it with a few more Heartless Acts or Bloodchief’s Thirsts.


Mono-Red Aggro

If you like not thinking and just turning cards sideways, mono-red aggro is for you. That might sound disparaging, but I actually love this style of deck and is my go-to for the Standard format! It prioritises quick and fast damage over clever tricks, making it perfect for both new players and those who want to turn their brain off and throw down some cards

Decklist:
4 Fervent Champion
4 Kargan Intimidator
4 Bonecrusher Giant
3 Torbran, Thane of Red Fell
4 Akoum Hellhound
4 Rimrock Knight
4 Anax, Hardened in the Forge
2 Shatterskull Smashing
4 Roil Eruption
4 Spikefield Hazard
4 Shock
1 Embercleave
2 Castle Embereth
16 Mountain

Sideboard (15)
2 Relic Robber
2 Roiling Vortex
2 Soul-Guide Lantern
4 Redcap Melee
3 Thundering Rebuke
2 Soul Sear


How to Upgrade It:

First thing’s first, swap out all your Mountains for Snow-covered Mountains, as they let you include the excellent Frostbite and Tundra Fumarole.
It’s surprising this deck doesn’t have any Robber of the Rich, seeing as it’s one of the archetype’s most popular cards. It has haste, exiles your opponent’s cards, and is super cheap to cast! I also really like Brash Taunter, as it’s an indestructible creature who can force your opponent into some bad situations.
Finally, Fiery Emancipation is a must. It may cost a bit, but it triples your damage, closing out games quickly. My favourite combo is to have fiery emancipation out and then cast Frostbite on my own Brash Taunter; the Frostbite’s three damage is tripled to nine, and then Brash Taunter’s ability combined with Fiery Emancipation turns that nine damage into a whopping 27 damage to your opponent’s face!


Mono-Green Stompy

Another really fun deck, mono-green is essentially the opposite of Azorius Control. You want big creatures, and you want a lot of them. Cards like Yorvo and Wildborn Preserver add lots of +1/+1 counters, while Thrashing Brontodon can completely demolish your opponent in a single hit.

Decklist:
1 Garruk, Unleashed
3 Kazandu Mammoth
2 Stonecoil Serpent
3 Swarm Shambler
2 Scavenging Ooze
2 Wildborn Preserver
2 Yorvo, Lord of Garenbrig
4 Lovestruck Beast
2 Gemrazer
4 Wildwood Tracker
2 Syr Faren, the Hengehammer
3 Thrashing Brontodon
2 Turntimber Symbiosis
3 Primal Might
4 Ram Through
2 Snakeskin Veil
19 Forest

Sideboard (15)
1 Thrashing Brontodon
2 Snakeskin Veil
2 Khalni Ambush
3 Chainweb Aracnir
2 Return to Nature
3 Oakhame Adversary
2 Run Afoul

How to Upgrade It:

Mono-green stompy is all about running your opponent over with Magic’s equivalent of a bulldozer, and Garruk’s Uprising does that flawlessly. It gives your big creatures trample and draws you cards at the same time!
This deck needs ramp, and it needs it badly. With only 19 lands in the deck and no way to pull them out, you’re going to struggle getting your big creatures out quickly enough. Lotus Cobra is great for early-game advantage, and Cultivate is a classic ramp, but there’s also more expensive creatures like Ashaya, Soul of the Wild and Nyxbloom Ancient who can open up some big plays. The Great Henge is also essential giving you lifegain, counters, mana and card draw in just one artifact.
If you’re feeling fancy, why not add a Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider? It has haste and trample, but it also doubles all your counters, letting you get bigger creatures and play Garruk’s ultimate ability much quicker!

All four of these deck styles have dominated the Standard format recently, and so having preconstructed ways to play with them quickly and easily is really exciting. Personally I think I’m going to pick up the Mono-red Aggro, but any of the four offer fantastic value. Don’t forget you can buy the upgrades you need through Magic Madhouse as well!

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