Challenger decks will be available on April 6th. To me, it looks like a fantastic product that will make Standard (the most widely sanctioned Constructed format) more accessible to new and returning players.

Previously, if such a player walked into a local game store and asked for a product that would allow them to attend that evening’s Standard Friday Night Magic, there was no good option for them. Indeed, a planeswalker deck, bundle, or deck builder’s toolkit wouldn’t immediately yield a competitive Standard deck, and the alternative of scouring through net decks and collecting each card individually is a daunting, expensive hurdle.

Now there is finally a product that is affordable, competitive, and playable right out of the box. You can purchase a 75-card deck ten minutes before the event starts, register, and put up a reasonable fight. Indeed, each Challenger deck is only a few cards away from “stock” builds of successful Standard archetypes.

There are four different Challenger decks, suitable for different play styles. In this article, I will go over each of them and offer suggestions for your first upgrades.

When talking about upgrades, I realize that “stock” builds with all rares and mythics may still be outside of the budget of a new player. Instead, I will take the perspective of a player who bought one of these Challenger decks, enjoyed the way it played, and wants to spend another $25 to improve it further (based on the ChannelFireball store on April 2). I tailored my suggestions to yield the biggest bang for your buck.

Hazoret Aggro

You can find “complete” deck lists for this archetype here.

Who should buy this deck?

This is a pure aggro deck with a simple game plan: Start off the game with small creatures, get your opponent to a low life total quickly, and finish the game with burn spells. Although it’s not easy to play optimally, the game plan is straightforward, which makes Hazoret Aggro a good choice for new players.

What’s more, out of all four Challenger decks, Hazoret Aggro is closest to a stock list and is the archetype that has had the most success in Standard. So it’s a good starting point for players whose main goal is to win matches.

Value after the Standard rotation?

With the release of the fall set in late September or early October, Kaladesh and Amonkhet block will rotate out of Standard. The only cards from the Hazoret Aggro Challenger deck that will stay Standard legal after the rotation are four Fanatical Firebrand, four Lightning Strike, and three Sentinel Totem.

But two Abrade, one Hazoret the Fervent, and one Chandra, Torch of Defiance all see some play in Modern. Due to their Modern demand, the two mythic rares in particular should retain some value after the rotation.

Are there any issues with the deck?

Overall the deck is well constructed, but I have two small issues. First, the mana curve is too low for a 24-land deck. There are few mana sinks, and the deck currently lacks ways to spend mana in the late game.

Second, six 1-mana burn spells is a tad too many, and the threat count is a tad too low. Overall, the average card in the deck is too low-impact. I believe the deck would already play slightly better if you swap the two main-deck Magma Sprays with the two sideboard Pia Nalaar. But you can do even better by adding new cards.

What are the best upgrades for approximately $25?

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The namesake card is expensive, so you can only add one. Still, you can solve the issues I mentioned by adding three Earthshaker Khenra. Although the card will lose its value after the rotation, it’s relatively inexpensive, is a perfect followup to Bomat Courier, and offers solid mana flood insurance.

Vehicle Rush

You can find “complete” deck lists for this archetype here.

Who should buy this deck?

If you like Affinity in Modern, then this synergy-driven aggro deck may be the deck for you. Where each card in Hazoret Aggro is individually powerful, most cards in Vehicle Rush need other cards to stand out. For example, Toolcraft Exemplar, Depala, Pilot Exemplar, and Unlicensed Disintegration get much better when you control Heart of Kiran. To me, these interactions make the deck more enjoyable, more challenging, and more powerful than Hazoret Aggro.

Value after the Standard rotation?

The only cards that will stay Standard-legal after the rotation are four Lightning Strike, three Unclaimed Territory, two Evolving Wilds, one Dragonskull Summit, and four Duress. It’s always nice to have rare dual lands like Dragonskull Summit. And there are a bunch of cards that see play in Modern: four Spire of Industry, three Unclaimed Territory, one Inspiring Vantage, and one Concealed Courtyard. So the mana base of the deck should retain some value after the rotation.

Are there any issues with the deck?

I’ve personally enjoyed playing Mardu Vehicles for the past 18 months, so I was happy to see four Toolcraft Exemplar and four Heart of Kiran among the Challenger decks. But my heart sank when I saw the mana base: only one Inspiring Vantage and one Concealed Courtyard. These lands are essential as they increase the number of black or red sources while helping to cast a turn-1 Toolcraft Exemplar. I feared that the deck couldn’t work properly without four copies of each.

But after further investigation, I found that my initial impression was wrong. Given that this list avoids double-white sideboard cards like Settle the Wreckage, Unclaimed Territory turns into an ideal mana fixer. Every white spell (apart from the singleton Cast Out in the sideboard) is a Dwarf, so Unclaimed Territory is a Plains that sometimes helps to fix your mana for Veteran Motorist or Pia Nalaar. The current mana base has 13 turn-1 white sources, along with 15 red sources and 13 black sources for its noncreature spells. Although these numbers over-optimistically count Aether Hub and Evolving Wilds as reliable 5-color lands and although the mana base can still be upgraded, it’s surprisingly acceptable right out of the box.

What are the best upgrades for approximately $25?

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As with any 3-color decks, the mana base remains the sore point. The fastlands should improve the deck. Even though they rotate out of Standard in the fall, they see some Modern play and will therefore retain some value.

Counter Surge

You can find “complete” deck lists for this archetype here.

Who should buy this deck?

This is a deck for players who like to have the biggest creature on the battlefield. It’s also ideal for players who enjoy midrange strategies that fluidly take a control role against aggro decks and an aggro role against control decks.

The deck is built around Winding Constrictor. The Snake will double the energy counters gained by Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, double the counters dished out by Rishkar, Peema Renegade, and put an extra counter on every creature targeted by Verdurous Gearhulk.

Value after the Standard rotation?

The only cards that will stay Standard legal after the rotation are two Walk the Plank, four Foul Orchard, four Duress, and one Slice in Twain. Nothing of value, basically. But four Blossoming Defense, one Fatal Push, and one Walking Ballista all see some play in Modern. The last two in particular should retain substantial value after the rotation.

Are there any issues with the deck?

This list is far removed from G/B Constrictor builds that are currently doing well in Standard. I don’t mind Hour of Glory as a budget Vraska’s Contempt or Foul Orchard as a budget Blooming Marsh, but the creature base has some issues. First, without four copies of Walking Ballista, the value of Winding Constrictor, Rishkar, and Verdurous Gearhulk is lower. Second, without Attune with Aether, Bristling Hydra, or Servant of the Conduit, Longtusk Cub is relatively weak. Third, I’d rather have potential blockers in Jadelight Ranger and Merfolk Branchwalker than single-minded attackers in Dreamstealer and Scrapheap Scrounger.

But solving the second and third issues requires a lot of changes, and you have to make them all at the same time. An in-between stage of a half-explore, half-aggro deck would be horribly unfocused. And the aggro plan is not all bad, since the presence of Longtusk Cub makes Rishkar, Peema Renegade and Blossoming Defense much better.

What are the best upgrades for approximately $25?

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It’s slightly over budget, but Walking Ballista is the most important missing piece. Also, it sees a bunch of play in Modern, so it’s a fine investment.

Second Sun Control

You can find “complete” deck lists for this archetype here.

Who should buy this deck?

This is a deck for players who like to feel in control. The plan is to neutralize every single threat, stall out the game, and eventually resolve Approach of the Second Sun twice. Along the way, you’ll have to make a lot of decisions on what to counter, what to let resolve, and what to target with your removal spells. Sideboarding is also tricky: When opponents board out their seemingly dead creature removal for game 2, you can surprise them with a transformational creature plan. Given these intricacies, I wouldn’t recommend this deck to a player who is still really new at the game.

Value after the Standard rotation?

The only cards that will stay Standard-legal after the rotation are four Opt, one Settle the Wreckage, two Field of Ruin, four Negate, two Spell Pierce. It’s nice to have a relevant rare in Settle the Wreckage—it even sees some play in Modern. Besides, four Opt, two Field of Ruin are also popular Modern cards. But on the whole, relatively little value is retained.

Are there any issues with the deck?

The mana base lacks Glacial Fortress, but colored mana consistency issues are mostly sidestepped by excluding archetype staple Disallow. Still, with 2WW spells in the deck, at least half of the lands should produce white, which is currently not the case. An easy fix would be to shave an Island and add a Plains.

Kefnet the Mindful is an unexciting mythic rare, especially when it still gives a good target for your opponent’s Vraska’s Contempt and Cast Out. I guess you can pick up Irrigated Farmland in response, but it’ll often still be worse than Torrential Gearhulk.

Aether Meltdown is a poor answer to commonly played creatures like Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, Jadelight Ranger, or Bomat Courier. Even Baffling End is better against some of them, but I believe Essence Scatter is the best replacement.

What are the best upgrades for approximately $25?

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Search for Azcanta is an engine in itself, and Settle the Wreckage is necessary in a world of The Scarab God and Rekindling Phoenix. Also, both cards see Modern play, so they’re fine long-term buys.

Concluding Thoughts

This was a great move by Wizards. Each Challenger deck is only a few cards away from competitive stock builds of successful archetypes, so they’re an excellent on-ramp to Standard.

Even though I personally own the Hazoret Aggro and Vehicle Rush decks, I don’t feel bad about my cards dropping in value. Standard cards always depreciate in value as rotation edges closer, and if Challenger decks make that happen faster, then that’s a small price to pay to make Standard more accessible.

I don’t expect that Challenger decks will disturb the secondary market too much in the long term. Despite containing full playsets of chase rares or even mythics, they are largely comprised of cards from Kaladesh and Amonkhet block. Since these two blocks will rotate out of Standard with the release of the fall set in late September or early October, the usability of the Challenger decks is limited to six months. And although all Challenger decks retain some value after the rotation, they don’t contain so many Modern playables that people are incentivized to immediately break the decks apart. Counter Surge, for example, only has one Walking Ballista and one Fatal Push—a good balancing act.

In terms of deck strength, monetary value, and suitability for new players, Hazoret Aggro seems to be the best of the bunch, so I expect that it will have the highest demand. But ultimately, all four decks are competitive. Wizards did a good job in constructing them, and if you’re interested in an access point to Standard, you should just pick a deck that best suits your play style and your idea of fun. Good luck!