“A NEW CHALLENGER APPROACHES!”
The journey of a new competitive player – or at least a player new to a particular format – is often hard in Magic compared to other games. Each incarnation of Standard has its own field of tier decks and leading cards to study up on, even if your grasp of the fundamentals is strong from playing Magic elsewhere.
But often, the most significant barrier is just putting a viable deck together. Unlike Modern or Commander, players can’t just cobble something legal together from their old rare binders to get a taste of the format; you’ll need cards from the current rotation. And if you weren’t already investing in new sets, it’s often very expensive to assemble your 75 from opening boosters or the secondary market.
That’s where the new 2022 Challenger Decks come in.
No doubt one of WotC’s smartest product lines of the last decade, these 75-card precons (deck plus sideboard) are designed to be playable out of the box at local Standard tournaments. Each one takes after a current high-tier Standard archetype and immediately puts you over halfway to having a fully optimal list at an accessible, fixed price. You’ll be sleeving up playsets of rare multicolor lands, premium interaction, bomb mythics and targeted sideboard bullets right away – enough to win your share of games and get a real taste of Standard gameplay.
If you’re looking for a low-commitment path to trying out Standard, a gift to get competitive-minded friends into Magic, or even a set of evenly-matched decks for pick-up-and-play situations, read on for our guide to these four new Challenger Decks: what’s in them, how they play, and how they can naturally upgrade into full-powered Standard contenders.
I’ve gone on record countless times about how much I enjoy interactive creature decks, the kind with a low curve and lots of sneaky tricks. So it was with a most sanguine delight that I first read over this bloodthirsty tribal decklist – which also incorporates artifact and sacrifice themes!
At the most basic level, this precon offers a healthy curve of aggressive Vampires, all with evasion or direct damage abilities to reliably enable Vampire Socialite and Florian, Voldaren Scion. Many of them also generate free Blood tokens, which smooth your draws and fuel powerful abilities on Voldaren Bloodcaster and Bloodtithe Harvester.
Blood tokens are also a bridge to the other half of the deck, which mainly draws on cards from the just-released Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty. If you’ve enjoyed the engine of Sokenzan Smelter and Oni-Cult Anvil in Draft, you can see them at their maximum, Blood-fueled power in this decklist! Along with resilient and evasive threats in Mukotai Soulripper and Immersturm Predator, you can keep up the pressure until opponents are completely drained.
One of the easiest ways to improve any of these Challenger Decks is to complete the set of rare lands. The base list does include A+ cards like Blightstep Pathway, Voldaren Estate and Den of the Bugbear, but to keep the price at accessible levels, you’ll also be starting with a playset of Bloodfell Caves. A low-curve multicolor aggro deck suffers by far the most for this downgrade, so this is where I would most recommend directing your dollars to the remaining copies of Blightstep Pathway and Haunted Ridge, and maybe some Hives of the Eye Tyrant.
The good news is that buying Vampires is much more cost-efficient; Falkenrath Pit Fighter, Vampire Socialite, Bloodvial Purveyor and Nullpriest of Oblivion are all bargains. If you have a few more dollars, you can go for an extra Henrika, or a few copies of Sorin the Mirthless and Nighthawk Scavenger. Bloodthirsty Adversary can be one of your strongest pickups if you’re happy to up your spell count to adjust for it – and why not abuse Vampires’ Vengeance while we’re here?
But what if you’re more excited by the Oni-Cult Anvil, artifact-and-sacrifice part of the deck? Well, you’re in luck – that sort of Rakdos control deck is currently a dominant Standard archetype! So long as you can afford one of the format’s steepest price tags in The Meathook Massacre, the rest should be easy to pull together.
Sometimes, the direct approach is best. That’s certainly what our Gruul Challenger Deck epitomizes, living up to the “Stompy” nickname with a wall of huge-statted creatures (and just a smattering of instants to see them through).
One subtle aspect of these precon decklists is how they’re intentionally rotation-proofed, mostly avoiding cards from sets that will be out of Standard by the end of this year. So instead of building this deck in the style of current Mono-Green, which is dominated by cards from Kaldheim and Zendikar Rising, WotC has looked to the future and delivered a Gruul list that can serve as a Standard foundation well into 2023.
In terms of gameplay, Jaspera Sentinel and Magda, Brazen Outlaw aim to leapfrog you up the curve to start dropping bombs as soon as possible. The solid value of Briarbridge Tracker and Twinshot Sniper bridge you into Halana and Alena, Goldspan Dragon, and finally, the devastating Tovolar’s Huntmaster.
When your draws don’t line up quite so neatly, you can fall back on excellent mana sinks in Ranger Class, Lair of the Hydra and Ulvenwald Oddity – no untap or combat steps wasted. Your small arsenal of efficient interaction is perfectly poised to blow up any opponent who bets against you on an early turn; if Snakeskin Veil beats a removal spell or Abrade beats a multi-block, you’ll rarely lose.
In keeping with the intent of this list, I’m looking for upgrades which emphasize a RG build focused on cards from Midnight Hunt and beyond. Halana and Alena, Partners is the strongest Gruul gold card in the format, and with direct support from the “modified” themes in Neon Dynasty, it looks to be where the color pair will be headed for the rest of 2022 as well. I’d go up to the full playset of our legendary Partners and then add cards which upgrade their power.
Avabruck Caretaker is incredible at the top end, if you can outbid Commander players for it. Jugan Defends the Temple addresses every step of our game plan and keeps the door open for an enchantment subtheme with the excellent Kami of Transience. On the red side of things, Thundering Raiju and Goro-Goro, Disciple of Ryusei make scary additions to the arsenal.
Alternatively, you can lean into a “Humans and Werewolves” path, bringing Tovolar into the main deck and beefing up the early game with Ascendant Packleader, Packsong Pup, Kessig Naturalist and Hamlet Vanguard. If you’re not really worried about having cards rotate on you this spring, there are strong options to build around Bard Class or landfall synergies as well – and not just from the outgoing sets either!
MONO WHITE AGGRO
Aggressive, disruptive white aggro decks have been one of the true poles of Magic since the beginning, a familiar touchpoint no matter which format or incarnation you find yourself with. That’s especially true for this precon deck, as the most iconic face of white aggro makes her triumphant return to Standard: Thalia, Guardian of Thraben.
Where the Vampire deck forces through direct damage and the Gruul precon simply aims to have the biggest bodies at every point on the curve, the plan here is instead to cripple opposing plays preemptively with taxing effects like Elite Spellbinder, Paladin Class and Reidane, God of the Worthy.
Your other creatures are great at snowballing any tempo advantage created by this disruption, generating extra bodies or +1/+1 counters for every turn they stay alive. A few select pieces of removal or team-wide pump effects ensures your finishing blow will crash through whatever last-ditch defense opponents can muster.
NOTE: The base decklist for this precon includes three copies of Faceless Haven, which was recently banned in Standard. Knowing this, WotC has made a special ruling that it is still legal to play with Faceless Haven as part of this Challenger Deck – but ONLY if you are playing the EXACT 75-card decklist included in the box. As soon as you change or upgrade any of these cards – even to add more copies of a card already there – you will be playing an illegal decklist.
So your first upgrade will probably be swapping out the Havens for something that’s actually legal: try Cave of the Frost Dragon and/or Crawling Barrens. And since the precon doesn’t include any other Snow synergies, we may as well swap all of the Snow Plains back to normal Plains, just to avoid pointless suffering against opposing Reidanes.
This rules-mandated change being made, we can get to upgrading our creatures! My biggest recommendations would be to max out on Intrepid Adversary and grab 2-3 copies of Adeline, Resplendent Cathar. The ban on Faceless Haven slowed mono-white down a little, and these two cards are your most valuable when the game goes past turn four or five. You can also upgrade the rather meager Codespell Cleric into Hopeful Initiate for a dollar or two per copy.
Another great value pickup would be a playset of Legion Angels. Putting the first one in main and 2-3 sideboard gives you another strong late game draw at very little opportunity cost. Brutal Cathar and Guardian of Faith may be slightly pricier sideboard upgrades, but are definitely worth the coin – as are the remaining copies of Skyclave Apparition.
The most expensive card missing here from the current meta list is The Wandering Emperor. She’s an incredible planeswalker to top your curve, but with Monk of the Open Hand already in the list, we can at least consider Grand Master of Flowers as a budget replacement.
So, that’s three very different creature decks featured so far. But what if you don’t like having creatures? What if you don’t really like anybody having creatures? Well, for you, then, this final Challenger Deck for 2022 is excellent news: a classic draw-go control list with 22 instants that casts an average of two creatures per game – usually right at the end.
As the “draw-go” tag implies, you’ll mostly be playing your cards on your opponent’s turn, reacting to their plays either on the stack with Saw It Coming or on the battlefield with your raft of powerful spot removal. The pace of some aggro decks might make it hard to keep up on a card-for-card basis, but they’re playing right into Crippling Fear, and then you can heal back up with Graveyard Trespasser and Parasitic Grasp.
If an opponent doesn’t make a play worth interacting on, you instead can leap ahead with Memory Deluge or Thirst for Discovery on their end step, which easily digs you to your monster threats or situational blowouts like Blood on the Snow. Either way, you’re going to close things out down the stretch.
This is a great shell to start upgrading for Standard control. Since best-in-class interaction is usually printed at uncommon, this precon gets to use its rare slots on evergreen pillars like Memory Deluge, Hullbreaker Horror, Hall of Storm Giants and Shipwreck Marsh. The one big missing piece is again The Meathook Massacre: a card which will be a big financial hurdle for any black deck in the format, but which at least looks like a strong investment for the future.
Other than that pricey enchantment, I think you can safely grab a few copies of March of Wretched Sorrow, which is incredibly flexible and powerful when defending your life total. Lier, Disciple of the Drowned is in many ways an upgrade to Iymrith, Desert Doom – he grants immediate access to far more cards than the Dragon would ever draw, and he has terrific synergy with Blood on the Snow. You can definitely add an extra draw engine down the curve; both The Celestus and the new Reckoner Bankbuster will do the job cheaply and effectively.
The more cost-intensive option for those chasing maximum power is to expand the land base into Esper colors. This unlocks a token-heavy, grindy midrange plan built around The Meathook Massacre, token-producing planeswalkers, Malevolent Hermit and Wedding Announcement – all backed up by some premium Orzhov removal. It will set you back a few hundred dollars to pick up all those lands and mythics, but in the end, you’ll have a true Standard contender for the rest of the season.
PRE-CON STANDS FOR “PRETTY CONVINCING DECK”
People are occasionally disappointed when these Challenger decklists are published, but it’s hard to imagine what you’d criticize from this latest crop. It’s not realistic to sell last week’s tournament-winning 75 complete in box for around $40, but these still provide unmatched value AND a ready-made game plan to immediately launch a new Standard career.
With the chosen archetypes poised to grow in power over the rest of 2022 and some nice branching build options within each deck, I can confidently recommend these Challenger Decks as long-term deck building foundations, as well as for their pick-up-and-play potential.
Tom’s fate was sealed in 7th grade when his friend lent him a pile of commons to play Magic. He quickly picked up Boros and Orzhov decks in Ravnica block and has remained a staunch white magician ever since. A fan of all Constructed formats, he enjoys studying the history of the tournament meta. He specializes in midrange decks, especially Death & Taxes and Martyr Proc. One day, he swears he will win an MCQ with Evershrike. Ask him how at @AWanderingBard, or watch him stream Magic at twitch.tv/TheWanderingBard.