Ranking The Best and Worst Challenger Decks 2021

Apart from the annual Commander pre-constructed (Precon) decks, I most look forward to the Challenger ones, built for the Standard format. In sanctioned play, Standard is the easiest to manage for new players and these Challenger decks 2021 provide a budget entry point without breaking the bank.

Standard single cards can still be pretty expensive (The Great Henge is almost at US$50) and Wizards of the Coasts use these precon decks to offer reprints on some of these cards. Unfortunately, The Great Henge was not one of them, we’ll get into that shortly..

Just like in recent years, Wizards has opted to give us 4 Challenger decks for 2021, showcasing different colours and archetypes:

  • Blue-White Control
  • Blue-Black Rogues
  • Mono-Red Aggro
  • Mono-Green Stompy

Here are our rating guidelines!

Playability – How likely the deck is to hold its own against other non-precon decks in the format.

Value – How good is the deck in terms of financial value and inherent value of cards present.

Upgradability – How easily the deck upgraded and improved for minimal cost.

Beginner Friendliness, (How easy are the mechanics of the deck for a beginner to learn).

Each category will carry 5-star rating system, with an average score at the end to round it off.

Blue White Control Challenger Deck 2021

Azorius Blue White Control - MTG Challenger Deck 2021

Playability

On a day with nice clear skies and puffy clouds, this Azorius Control Challenger Deck can easily hold its own against any other deck in the format. The challenge(!) has always been drawing the right cards when you need them. It has sufficient protection against fast decks, with 3 board wipes (Shatter the Sky and Doomskar. You’d want to also have either Omen of the Seas or Birth of Meletis to play on turn 2, so that you can swiftly set yourself up for whatever the opponent is playing.

This deck’s mid to late game is particularly strong, as the 2 Archon of Sun’s Grace and 2 Dream Trawlers will keep your life total, draw more cards and create an even stronger foothold on the battlefield. The Ultimatums are growing in popularity now, and you counter spells such as Negate and Neutralize will play an important role in keeping them in check. If you can cast out that single Shark Typhoon, it’s pretty much game over.

Value:

This deck has pumped in cards of significant value, and we couldn’t be happier. Two Skyclave Apparitions ($8 each, in the Sideboard) are not cheap in the secondary market, mainly because it’s also used in other formats. Shark Typhoon is another particularly pricey card at $11.50.

You even get 3 Mystical Disputes ($1 each), which though an Uncommon, it’s highly sought after as a counter against other Blue decks. It’s a pity that Fabled Passage isn’t in here, as it would be push this Challenger Deck into the top spot easily. Friendly reminder: many of these cards begin to lose value once the Challenger Decks are in their full print run, as the market gets flooded with these reprints.

Upgradability:

While this deck is already pretty strong on its own, there are some quality upgrades that should be carried out. For example, Neutralize and Saw It Coming could be replaced by Negate and Disdainful Stroke. Even though they are more limited in countering scope, they are cheaper to cast. When playing Control, I feel it’s important to keep spells as lean as possible, so that you don’t need to hold up as much Mana available for the opponent’s turn. Besides, the deck has plenty of counters against Creatures and Planeswalkers such as Elspeth Conquers Death, Banishing Light and Skyclave Apparition.

For Lands, I’d replace the Tranquil Coves with Mistgate Pathway for the same reasons of keeping your Mana base open and accessible as much as often. Fabled Passages also work but those will cost more. You might always want to add in an additional Doomskar to provide better protection against aggressive decks.

Beginner Friendliness:

Unfortunately Control decks are not the easiest to play, as experience and a patient mind will understand how to curve out and cast spells only when needed. Chances are a beginner will be playing any spell that is readily available, and not anticipating the opponent’s next turn that might have a spell that needs countering.

Final Rating:

Despite having almost perfect scores for Playability and Value, it got pulled down by being difficult to pilot for beginners. But if you’ve got experience under your belt, this deck is perfect and the best overall to buy, as Shark Typhoon, Skyclave Apparition, and Mystical Disputes are easy fits into other formats and will see high re-playability.


Dimir Blue Black Rogues Challenger Deck 2021

Dimir Blue Black Challenger Deck 2021 - MTG

Playability:

Rogues came into prominence during the release of Zendikar Rising, mostly due to the introduction of Soaring Thought-Thief, which became a natural follow-up to the previously useless Thieves’ Guild Enforcer. Combined with Merfolk Windrobber and Vantress Gargoyle, this deck could be highly aggressive if it wanted, at the risk losing everything to a board wipe.

Your rogues could get overwhelmed at times against Mono-Red, especially if they’re burning off all your Creatures in play. But survive till the mid-game and you have a good chance of grinding down your opponent. Card draw from Into the Story will be particularly invaluable for replenishing your hand, and when the time’s right, flash in Zareth San, the Trickster to steal any permanent for your opponent’s Graveyard. Since you’ve been busy milling his/her Library, it wouldn’t be a surprise to even steal their Ugin, the Spirit Dragon for free.

Unfortunately decks that make use of the Graveyard such as Kroxa will make things awkward, as you are merely fuelling their engine. Luckily you’ll have 3 copies of Cling to Dust in the Sideboard to deal with these threats.

Value:

The biggest draw here is Rankle, Master of Prank, a Mythic Rare from the power-packed Throne of Eldraine set. Its ability to make opponents sacrifice Creatures or Discard cards is invaluable in many decks, especially in this one that features rogues.

Unfortunately after Rankle, there’s nothing much to shout about. Four copies of Thieves’ Guild Enforcer are the next hit, but even as of this writing, its prices have been falling steadily, and will continue to do so once this Challenger Deck is released. The remaining Rares – Nighthawk Scavenger and Zareth San, the Trickster

The last saving grace for value comes from the 4 copies of Drown in the Loch, an Uncommon that rose in value because of its ability to counter a spell or destroy a Creature. Since the Rogues Challenger Deck is all around filling the opponent’s Graveyard, Drown becomes an especially potent card and is even used in some Commander decks. Just like Mystical Dispute, expect the price of these Uncommons to drop pretty soon.

Upgradability:

This Rogues variant is not of the Mill strategy, so I’d refrain from putting in Ruin Crabs, as enticing as it may be. Since this is more of a beatdown + tempo variant, we could swap in a couple more counter spells to replace a few lacklustre Rogues. There lots of flyers, such as Merfolk Windrobber, Soaring Thought-Thief and Vantress Gargoyle, I’d recommend taking out 2 Blackbloom Rogue for 2 Lofty Denials. The Denials essentially act as a 2-mana counter spell since there’s a high chance you’ll run some flyers.

If you’re willing to add in just another $10, replace the tapped Dismal Backwater Lands for couple of Clearwater Pathway or Fabled Passage so that you keep pace with the opponent to either Flash in your Rogues or counter their big spells.

Beginner Friendliness:

Playing a Tempo game could be harder for new players to grasp. Similar to playing Control, decision-making plays a significant role to successfully pilot this deck. On most turns, you’ll be faced with the decision to either cast a Creature or save Mana up for interaction on the opponent’s turn. Thankfully, the availability of 11 Creatures with Flash gives the beginner some flexibility

Final Rating:

While not the easiest to pilot, it can be fun playing a tempo game, and serving up steely poker faces to the opponent as you keep Flash cards and counter spells in hand. It can handle most other decks in Standard, so don’t be fooled by the high number of Uncommons in this deck.


Mono-Red Aggro Challenger Deck 2021

Mono Red Aggro Challenger Deck 2021 card list

Playability

One reason why Red is so well loved is that it is built for a singular purpose – attack with speed and kill the opponent swiftly. The more turns you leave the opponent alive, the harder it is for Red to win. In the Standard meta, knowing when to keep a hand or mulligan will play a bigger role especially in this deck. Mono-Red wants to start off like a rocket, establishing 2 Creatures on the board by turn two.

What’s great about this Challenger Deck is that the main deck is almost 100% complete, with key cards Anax, Hardened in the Forge, Torbran, Thane of Red Fell, and Embercleave all included. They’ve even included two copies of the newer Shatterskull Smashing Mythic rare from Zendikar Rising.

Winning one game might be snitch, but Red starts to suffer once the Sideboard comes into play. Against the mirror Red deck, Redcap Melee is very effective, but other burn spells such as Thundering Rebuke and Soul Sear don’t do much against Control decks with few or zero Creatures. What makes things worse for Red is that many of these bigger burn spells are not able to target the player. The current Standard doesn’t include Lightning Strike or Skewer the Critics and that’s hurting Red Aggro right now.

Value:

Mono-Red is well known to be a good budget option for players – no need for expensive dual-coloured Lands to build the deck. Burn spells are often cheap Commons and Uncommons, and Red Creatures usually don’t have a place anywhere else hence it keeps the price low.

This is pretty much true for this Red Challenger Deck in 2021 as well. Much like the deck in 2020, it’s filled with the same reprints of Fervent Champion, Bonecrusher Giant and Torbran, Thane of Red Fell. Its only saving grace is the Mythic Embercleave, hovering around US$10-15 right now. Since it was also reprinted in last year’s Challenger Deck, it’s hard to see this card rising much in value, and it might even see a dip.

The deck does add two more copies of the new Mythic Shatterskull Smashing, with the flexibility of spreading damage to Creatures or coming in as a Land. It’s versatile in gameplay, and is currently holding at US$8. The Three Mythic Rares present some decent value, but everything else can be easily obtained in the discount box.

Upgradability:

The Red Challenger Deck is probably the most complete for the 2021 series, as it closely follows the current meta. The only thing the deck really needs are more copies of Embercleave. One is too few as you’ll be relying on Embercleave a lot to deal the finishing blow. Try to have two to three copies to increase the chances of drawing it.

Having 2 copies of Phoenix of Ashes in the Sideboard can also be a good way maintain your threat level in longer matches. It has Flying and the ability to Escape. It’s not much, as opponent can easily Exile it with the right cards, but it’s better than have that many burn spells that can’t target the opponent.

Beginner Friendliness:

I’m not ashamed to say Red decks are ultimate decks for beginners. Its strategy is simple, just go direct to the opponent’s face any way possible. And who doesn’t like fire?

There really aren’t any complex mechanics to follow in this deck. Haste and Flying and X Damage are the key terms here, and beginners shouldn’t have any problem learning the game with this deck.

Final Rating:

A solid 4 stars for an old-time favourite, don’t buy this for resale value but it’s the perfect gift for anyone looking to get into Magic: the Gathering in the most fun way possible.


Mono-Green Stompy Challenger Deck 2021

Playability:

An unfortunate label with Green is that you play big dumb Creatures and just overpower the opponent’s defenses. With this deck, it really isn’t that different. Yorvo, Lord of Garenbrig and Lovestruck Beast are going to give you beefy Creatures on the Battlefield quickly. And you don’t really have to worry about other Creature-heavy decks because 4 copies of Ram Through and 3 Primal Mights can easily take care of them.

Against Mono-Red, build up your blockers to stall their advance, and keep gaining life through Scavenging Ooze. This deck also provides good cover against annoying Artifacts and Enchantments with 3 Thrashing Brontodons and 2 Gemrazers.

Green’s biggest enemy are “board wipes,” sweeper spells that destroy all your Creatures at one go (the Azorius Control challenger deck has plenty of those), and this particular deck doesn’t provide any protection from that, not even in the Sideboard. You do get some insurance with 3 copies of Chainweb Arachnir, which can come back to the Battlefield bigger using the Escape mechanic.

Overall, this Green deck can hold its own against a good number of opponents, but will fail gloriously against certain archetypes.

Value:

It’s a real pity that this Challenger deck does not have The Great Henge, especially when Red has an Embercleave from the same Artifact cycle included in their own deck. No prizes for guessing Wizards of the Coast doesn’t want to put a US$50 card into a preconstructed deck that costs less, or to their defense to prevent stores from selling these at a high price.

Because of that decision, Mono-Green Stompy is left with Garruk, Unleashed and 2 copies of Turntimber Symbiosis as Mythics in this set, and they are a whimper in the value department. Turntimber is still holding decent value at US$8 a piece, but Garruk has sunk to a couple of dollars since it’s not a mainstay in the current meta.

Thankfully, you do get a couple of copies of Stonecoil Serpent, a Rare that can be sold around US$5 per copy. Other than that, this Challenger deck is really underwhelming and unattractive even to the most bullish of investors.

Upgradability:

Clearly, The Great Henge would be an excellent addition and would greatly increase your win rate with this deck. But since one copy is already so expensive, it’s not a viable option to have more than one. Instead, cram in 2 more copies of Garruk, Unleashed and that should help you last the long game. The Sideboard could also use 2 or 3 copies of Heroic Intervention to keep your Creatures alive and kicking.

Vivien, Monsters’ Advocate is another powerhouse upgrade, as it generates token Creatures on each of your turns. Currently it’s hovering around the US$10 mark and if you forgo The Great Henge, 2 or 3 copies of Vivien in your deck will vastly improve Mono-Green’s suvivability.

Beginner Friendliness:

Of all the Challenger decks of 2021, Mono-Green Stompy comes out the winner for beginner friendliness. It is essentially a homage to the old ways of playing Magic: attacking and winning with Creatures and Combat. Although Red comes close in this regard, there is a fine distinction in tempo and mind games when playing Red. With this particular Green deck, you just drop giant monster after giant monster. If opponent casts any blockers or Planeswalkers, blast them away with your removal spells and power through – it really is as simple as that.

Final Rating:

Although Mono-Green Stomp suffers from poor value in the included cards, it does hold its own on the Battlefield comfortably, especially after a few affordable upgrades. It’s not the meanest or baddest (even it has the biggest Creatures), but it’s an absolute winner for new players to pick up and learn the game while having a ton of fun.


End Step

Here’s the tough part, which to buy? In terms of overall rating, Mono Red Aggro (4 stars) just edges out the other three decks (3.5 stars), so in actuality they’re all pretty even. For monetary value in cards, Azorius Control is the way, but playing control might not be for you.

There is also a bundle package where you can get all 4 Challenger Decks at a slight discount. Having all four means you get some variety the more you play and improve your game. Since the current Standard format rotates in Oct 2021, some of these cards will no longer be eligible in Standard but you can continue using the same deck in the Pioneer format.

Overall, Challenger Decks provide amazing value and good playability for newer players to dip their toes into the mana pool. We recommend you get at least one!

Ted

After playing from Tempest to Urza's Saga block, Ted took a 20 year break from the game before returning to the classic Plane of Dominaria in 2018. His favourite formats are Commander, Draft, and, grudgingly, Standard.