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Challenger Decks 2022 Review, Upgrades and Rankings

Wizards of the Coast just announced a product release for the Challenger 2022 decks. These come live on April 1 and provide an easy access point for competitive Standard. You can read all about them here. 

Today, I’ll discuss each of the decks, how they match up against one another, and some easy ways to improve them if your goal is to level up your game. But before we get into the strategy, here are a few miscellaneous points of interest.

“Mono-White Aggro” features three copies of Faceless Haven, which is a banned card for Standard play. There’s a special rule for these Challenger decks that if you play them in a Standard tournament exactly as they come, with no changes to either the main deck or the sideboard, they’re totally legal in spite of the fact that Faceless Haven is banned under all other circumstances. If you change even one card, then you’ll have to replace your Faceless Havens to legally enter a Standard tournament. 

There are a handful of rares and mythics in these decks which are valuable to one degree or another. A few to pay particular attention to are:

Thanks to Emma Partlow for the budget tips.

 

 

 

Header - The Matchups

Mono-White Aggro is very aggressive. Dimir Control is very controlling. And I would describe Gruul Stompy and Rakdos Vampires as aggressively-slanted midrange decks. 

This means that Gruul and Rakdos should take a defensive posture when facing White Aggro. Block, kill creatures and survive long enough for your more powerful cards to take over. They should take an offensive posture against Dimir Control. Present resilient threats, unload damage and get the game over with so that Dimir has less time to draw cards and find answers.

Dimir Control, naturally, should take a defensive posture against everything. 

The single most important cards are the board sweepers of Dimir Control: three Crippling Fear and three Blood on the Snow. Dimir will need those to survive against the most aggressive draws from the other decks. 

Crippling FearBlood on the Snow

To play around Crippling Fear, you can try to get key creatures up to four toughness, or hold creatures back in your hand if you already have sufficient pressure (for example, if you have three or more creatures on the battlefield and your opponent is already at a low life total). There’s little you can do against Blood on the Snow, unless you’re playing Rakdos Vampires and have Immersturm Predator, which can become indestructible.

In practice, your best way of navigating around a sweeper might be trying to blitz the opponent and win the game before they reach six mana. Unfortunately, this can mean getting utterly destroyed by Crippling Fear, but there are only three copies, and sometimes you’ll just have to take your medicine. 

The scariest creatures, across all decks, are Luminarch Aspirant, Iymrith, Desert Doom, Hullbreaker Horror, Magda, Brazen Outlaw, Goldspan Dragon and Henrika Domnathi. When possible, save your removal spells for these cards and kill them on sight. 

Luminarch AspirantIymrith, Desert DoomHullbreaker HorrorMagda, Brazen OutlawGoldspan DragonHenrika Domnathi // Henrika, Infernal Seer

 

Header - Mono-White Aggro

Challenger Deck 2022 (Mono White Aggro)

2 Reidane, God of the Worthy/Valkmira, Protector's Shield
4 Monk of the Open Hand
4 Usher of the Fallen
4 Codespell Cleric
4 Clarion Spirit
4 Luminarch Aspirant
1 Intrepid Adversary
2 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
2 Skyclave Apparition
3 Elite Spellbinder
2 Kabira Takedown/Kabira Plateau
2 Fateful Absence
3 Paladin Class
3 Faceless Haven
20 Snow-Covered Plains (276)

Sideboard
2 Loyal Warhound
3 Cathar Commando
2 Portable Hole
2 Maul of the Skyclaves
2 Selfless Samurai
2 Sungold Sentinel
2 Imperial Recovery Unit

 

The white deck is fast and brutal. Luminarch Aspirant, the most powerful card, allows you to dump tons of power and toughness onto the battlefield. Use your counters strategically. Based on the matchup and situation, you might want to grow your attackers bigger than your opponent’s blockers, get a key creature out of range of burn spells or Crippling Fear or diversify your threats against spot removal spells.

Meanwhile, you’ll use Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Elite Spellbinder and Reidane, God of the Worthy to off-balance the opponent, providing a window (you’ll only need a small one) to close the game.

Don’t underestimate Faceless Haven – it’s banned in Standard play for a reason! You can use this to recover after a board sweeper. If you already have a reasonable board presence, it can definitely be worth investing mana in a Faceless Haven attack rather than casting more creatures. 

Along those lines, I recommend not changing this deck. Remember, adding even one card will force you to cut your Faceless Havens for competitive play, which is a poor tradeoff. If there was one card on my wish list, it would be Valorous Stance, which is good against opposing dragons and Hullbreaker Horrors, and can help you to beat Blood on the Snow.

 

Header - Dimir Control

Challenger Deck 2022 (Dimir Control)

3 Graveyard Trespasser/Graveyard Glutton
2 Iymrith, Desert Doom
1 Hullbreaker Horror
3 Crippling Fear
3 Blood on the Snow
2 Jwari Disruption/Jwari Ruins
3 Power Word Kill
2 Baleful Mastery
2 Thirst for Discovery
2 Parasitic Grasp
2 Hero's Downfall
4 Memory Deluge
1 Infernal Grasp
2 Field of Ruin
4 Ice Tunnel
2 Hall of Storm Giants
2 Evolving Wilds
4 Shipwreck Marsh
7 Snow-Covered Swamp (280)
5 Snow-Covered Island (278)
1 March of Wretched Sorrow

Sideboard
1 Saw It Coming
2 Mischievous Catgeist/Catlike Curiosity
2 Duress
2 Siphon Insight
2 Negate
2 Ray of Enfeeblement
2 Bloodvial Purveyor
2 Bloodchief's Thirst

 

As mentioned, key cards include Crippling Fear and Blood on the Snow. Iymrith, Desert Doom is also extremely powerful. It represents a big blocker that the opponent can’t remove, and can also offer you a massive advantage if you’re able to start connecting with it in combat. 

You don’t need to fully control the game. The easiest route to victory will be to kill opposing creatures, cast one card drawing spell, and buy enough time to win with Iymrith or Hullbreaker Horror

Don’t be afraid to play Jwari Ruins as a land, because you really need to make your land drops. Don’t be afraid to tap out of permission mana if you need to. Saw It Coming isn’t one of your best cards in the creature matchups, and you can get value out of it on a later turn; it doesn’t need to counter something on turn three. 

I think this deck is quite good, and any changes would primarily be minor improvements rather than structural changes. For example, Clearwater Pathway would improve the mana base. I think a singleton copy of The Celestus would be quite good. Behold the Unspeakable is one of the sweetest cards you could add from Neon Dynasty.

Clearwater Pathway // Murkwater PathwayThe CelestusBehold the Unspeakable // Vision of the Unspeakable

 

Header - Gruul Stompy

Challenger Deck 2022 (Gruul Stompy)

3 Ulvenwald Oddity/Ulvenwald Behemoth
2 Tovolar's Huntmaster/Tovolar's Packleader
2 Halana and Alena, Partners
1 Goldspan Dragon
4 Jaspera Sentinel
4 Magda, Brazen Outlaw
4 Briarbridge Tracker
1 Light Up the Night
1 Thundering Rebuke
4 Abrade
4 Snakeskin Veil
4 Ranger Class
4 Rockfall Vale
10 Forest (292)
2 Lair of the Hydra
8 Mountain (300)
2 Twinshot Sniper

Sideboard
2 Twinshot Sniper
3 Thundering Rebuke
2 Tovolar, Dire Overlord/Tovolar, the Midnight Scourge
3 Burning Hands
2 Kappa Tech-Wrecker
2 Lantern of the Lost
1 Froghemoth

 

The Gruul deck has great individual card quality, with threats that hit hard and ways to accrue value through Briarbridge Tracker and Ranger Class

The best openings you can get involve Jaspera Sentinel into Magda, Brazen Outlaw. This allows you to accelerate your mana, and repeatedly generate Treasures without risking Magda in combat. 

Another important card is Snakeskin Veil, which you can use to save your creatures from spot removal, or win a key exchange in combat. 

Ranger Class is great when games shape up to go longer. You can accumulate +1/+1 counters every turn, and reaching level three is a great plan for grinding out Dimir and Rakdos. 

Twinshot Sniper

Twinshot Sniper is a great one from Neon Dynasty that’s particularly important against the White Aggro deck.

The Gruul deck, while starting from a good place, has significant room for improvement. Den of the Bugbear or Cragcrown Pathway would improve the mana base, and I think the deck would be better off with a 25th land right off the bat. The best nonland card to add would be Esika’s Chariot, which is not only a great standalone card, but also combos well with Magda for the same reasons as Jaspera Sentinel

Esika's Chariot

To add cards, I’d start by trimming on Tovolar’s Huntmaster and the fourth copy of Snakeskin Veil.  

 

Header - Rakdos Vampires

Challenger Deck 2022 (Rakdos Vampires)
4 Voldaren Bloodcaster/Bloodbat Summoner
1 Henrika Domnathi/Henrika, Infernal Seer
4 Voldaren Epicure
4 Bloodtithe Harvester
2 Vampire Socialite
2 Florian, Voldaren Scion
2 Dominating Vampire
4 Immersturm Predator
2 Infernal Grasp
1 Village Rites
2 Blightstep Pathway/Searstep Pathway
3 Voldaren Estate
2 Den of the Bugbear
4 Bloodfell Caves
7 Swamp (288)
6 Mountain (290)
2 Mukotai Soulripper
2 Sokenzan Smelter
2 Oni-Cult Anvil
4 Voltage Surge

Sideboard
1 Infernal Grasp
3 Duress
3 Falkenrath Forebear
4 Abrade
2 Callous Bloodmage
2 Anje, Maid of Dishonor

 

The Vampires deck has a lot going on, with tribal synergies and a Blood theme that spills over into Kamigawa’s artifacts-matter cards. 

Where it lacks the speed of White Aggro and the muscle of Gruul Stompy, Vampires is better at playing the long game, and bleeding the opponent out over the course of several turns. 

My honest assessment is that most of the deck looks pretty weak, but that Immersturm Predator will win a lot of games single-handedly.

Immersturm Predator

Immersturm Predator can grow to massive size, and in a deck with so many disposable creatures, is effectively indestructible at all times. The other decks are simply ill-equipped to deal with Predator. 

The other easy route to victory involves Voldaren Bloodcaster. This deck has an easy time getting to five Blood Tokens, and a transformed Bloodbat Summoner can easily dominate a game.

To improve the Vampire deck, you could look to Haunted Ridge, Hive of the Eye Tyrant and a 25th land in general. More hard removal spells would be helpful for dealing with opposing Dragons, Werewolves and Hullbreaker Horrors. That’s an easy change, since the deck comes with a third Infernal Grasp that can be moved easily from the sideboard to the main deck. 

Infernal Grasp

I think the most flexible slots are the Voldaren Epicures, which are okay, but generally have a pretty low impact. 

 

I’m reasonably impressed by all of the decks. They have strengths and weaknesses relative to one another and are all capable of winning games.

  1. Rakdos Vampires. As mentioned, I’m not super impressed by the core of the deck, so it needs Voldaren Bloodcaster and Immersturm Predator to do a lot of heavy lifting. Granted, they definitely can.

  1. Mono White Aggro. A powerful deck, but a little bit of a one-trick pony. If you win the die roll and the opponent doesn’t have removal at the right time, it’s a bloodbath in your favor. But if you fall behind, there aren’t a lot of ways to get back into the game. The Faceless Haven dynamic also makes it more difficult for this deck to improve.

  1. Dimir Control. This looks like a good, well-constructed deck. The core game plan works, and Iymrith, Desert Doom can also provide some easy wins. My only real complaint is that this deck will have a hard time dealing with Immersturm Predator or a fully-leveled Ranger Class.

  1. Gruul Stompy. Powerful individual threats, and an easy way to run away with games when Magda, Brazen Outlaw goes unanswered. Gruul also has the most room to improve, as getting your hands on Esika’s Chariot will take it from good to great very quickly. 

Which deck is your favorite?

 

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