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How to Upgrade the MTG Gruul Stompy Pioneer Challenger Deck

Available November 4, 2022, the Pioneer Challenger Decks 2022 are a perfect entry point for anyone looking to jump into competitive Magic on a budget. Pioneer is one of the most popular Constructed formats, and it’ll be featured at the upcoming Regional Championships and Pro Tour. Each Pioneer Challenger Deck includes a 60-card main deck and a 15-card sideboard, tournament playable right out of the box. There are four distinct archetypes: Izzet Phoenix, Orzhov Humans, Gruul Stompy and Dimir Control.

In this article, I’ll review one of the four: Gruul Stompy. I’ll propose budget-minded upgrades, inspired by competitively successful Gruul decks from recent weeks. Let’s take a closer look.

 

 

Pioneer Gruul Stompy Challenger Deck

 

To quote the announcement by Wizards of the Coast: “Subtlety isn’t your strong suit? Drop a mana creature early on and deploy massive threats ahead of schedule. The Dragons and Beasts will take it from there!”

This describes the game plan well. Any time you start with Llanowar Elves or Elvish Mystic on turn one and curve into Lovestruck Beast on turn two, you’ll outsize your opponent’s creatures and crush them with ease. A turn-three Questing Beast or turn-four Glorybringer is nothing to sneeze at either. In addition, the deck contains multiple mana-efficient interactive spells to destroy opposing creatures.

The game plan of ramping, attacking with hasty creatures and burning opposing blockers is easy to understand. Accordingly, Gruul Stompy is a good choice for a beginning or returning player. The card selection is solid and well-crafted right out of the box, save for the mana base.

 

The first $20 upgrades

All of the creatures and noncreature spells in the Gruul Stompy Challenger deck are reasonable. I have played all of these cards in some configuration in competitive events before. The mana curve is fine, and I see no major issues that require immediate fixing. Even if you get paired against a creatureless deck, the sideboard has seven proactive damage dealers so you can board out the seven main deck burn spells. 

The mana base, however, is subpar, and I recommend focusing your first upgrades on your lands.

I don’t mean to say that the mana base is unplayable. The Challenger Deck has 14 untapped green sources to cast a turn-one Elf, as well as 16 total red sources to cast Chandra, Torch of Defiance. These numbers are okay, as they allow you to cast your spells on curve around 90 percent of the time. However, it’s relatively easy to improve this consistency to 95 percent or so, at a very low cost.

Cragcrown Pathway // Timbercrown PathwayCragcrown Pathway // Timbercrown PathwayCragcrown Pathway // Timbercrown PathwayCragcrown Pathway // Timbercrown Pathway

Cragcrown Pathway is the most cost-effective way to improve your mana base. At the time of writing, the market price of Cragcrown Pathway on TCGPlayer.com is approximately $3.50. So a playset comes out to around $14. Add four of them, cut two Mountain and two Forest, and you’ll lose fewer games to colored mana problems. 

Lair of the HydraLair of the HydraLair of the HydraLair of the HydraSokenzan, Crucible of Defiance

Out of the box, Gruul Stompy has 33 mana sources, which is fairly high, especially when there’s little mana flood insurance. The Challenge Deck has no utility lands, and you will lose games by drawing too many mana sources that do nothing besides adding mana. This can be solved by adding a bunch of utility lands. Lair of the Hydra can turn into a massive creature in the late game, but it also synergizes nicely with Lovestruck Beast by turning into a 1/1 if the need arises.

Sokenzan has a market price of around $2.50, and a playset of Lair of the Hydra costs around $3.50. After spending $14 on four Cragcrown Pathway, this perfectly fills up the first $20 upgrade budget. Add these five lands, cut four Forest and one Mountain, and you’ll lose fewer games to mana flood.

 

The next $60 upgrades

After making the first $20 mana base upgrades, you can improve the mana base further with slightly more pricy lands.

Boseiju, Who EnduresStomping GroundStomping GroundStomping Ground

Boseiju adds additional utility, and Stomping Ground is superior to Rockfall Vale. For a deck that wants to curve out, the certainty to tap a land for mana on turn two outweighs the downside of paying two life. Together, based on market value on TCGPlayer.com at the time of writing, these four lands should set you back about $60. To fit them in the deck, I’d cut one Forest and three Rockfall Vale.

 

The next upgrades: Focusing on the spells

After these first upgrades, you’d have the following list.

Land-upgraded Gruul Stompy

Pioneer Gruul Stompy (Mana Base Upgraded) by Frank Karsten

 

If you have money left over after fixing the mana base, then you can start to upgrade the spells. But there are many paths forward. In recent weeks, I saw as many as four different Gruul decks that did well in large Pioneer tournaments. All of them bear a strong similarity to the Gruul Stompy Challenger Deck, yet all have different game plans. 

To summarize the four different variants and their positioning:

  • If you mostly enjoy the ability to burn opposing creatures and/or expect to face many fast aggro decks, then you should move towards the midrange build. 
  • If you mostly enjoy the ability to attack your opponent with hasty creatures and/or expect to face a lot of slow control decks, then you should move towards the aggro build. 
  • If you mostly enjoy two-for-ones and/or expect to face a lot of midrange decks, then you should move towards the Vehicle build.
  • If you like to go infinite and/or expect to face little interaction, then you should move towards the combo build.

All four builds have already shown that competitive merit, and it’s not clear what the best one is. My main recommendation, especially if you’re on a budget, is to await the results of the first Regional Championships, held in Europe and the U.S. on the weekend of November 19-20, and to check what the best-performing Gruul deck is in those events.

Regardless of which Gruul variant emerges as the best, you’ll be happy to upgrade the mana base first. The Gruul variants have different spells, but all of them include the lands I suggested (some don’t run the full four copies of Lair of the Hydra, but they are the cheapest out of all the land upgrades.) 

Upgrades towards a midrange build

Pioneer Gruul Stompy by Ladon

 

If you would want to move from the land-upgraded Gruul Challenger Deck toward the midrange list shown above, then you would need to add one Questing Beast, four Shatterskull Smashing, and four Fable of the Mirror-Breaker for the main deck, plus two Domri’s Ambush, one Weathered Runestone, two Chandra’s Defeat, three Fry and two Unlicensed Hearse for the sideboard.

Fable of the Mirror-Breaker // Reflection of Kiki-Jiki

Out of these, the four copies of Fable of the Mirror-Breaker are the most important. A playset may cost approximately $70 at the time of writing, but Fable of the Mirror-Breaker is a multiformat staple. It’s one of the most-played cards in Standard, Pioneer and Modern, and it’s the perfect inclusion in a midrange deck that can cast it on turn two and put the card advantage to good use. Copying Glorybringer is a pretty sweet prospect as well.

If you want to start from the land-upgraded Gruul Challenger Deck and just add four Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, which would result in a solid deck list, then I would cut one Mountain (because after the addition of extra dual lands, we can attain the same or better colored mana consistency with fewer lands in total) and then shave one Scavenging Ooze, one Mizzium Mortars and one Abrade. You could collect Fable of the Mirror-Breaker one by one and make the swaps in this order.

Upgrades towards an aggro build

Pioneer Gruul Stompy by Edel

 

More creatures, and Embercleave for the win!

If you would want to move from the land-upgraded Gruul Challenger Deck toward the aggro list shown above, then you would need to add two Kazandu Mammoth, four Reckless Stormseeker, two Rhonas the Indomitable, four Werewolf Pack Leader, four Embercleave, two Skysovereign, Consul Flagship for the main deck, plus four Collected Company, three Outland Liberator, two Xenagos, the Reveler, two Domri Rade and one Rending Volley for the sideboard.

EmbercleaveWerewolf Pack LeaderReckless Stormseeker // Storm-Charged Slasher

Out of these, the playsets of Embercleave, Werewolf Pack Leader and Reckless Stormseeker are the most important. Together, they may cost approximately $60 at the time of writing, but you pretty much have to make the changes in one go. If you just add four Embercleave to the land-upgraded Gruul Challenger Deck, then you don’t have enough cheap creatures to consistently cast the legendary Equipment for a reduced cost. And if you add a bunch of two-drop and three-drop creatures without Embercleave to leverage their power, then you also wouldn’t end up with a coherent game plan. So don’t make piecemeal upgrades here – it’s all or nothing.

If you want to start from the land-upgraded Gruul Challenger Deck and just add four Embercleave, four Werewolf Pack Leader and four Reckless Stormseeker, which would result in a solid deck list, then I would cut one Mountain (because after the addition of extra dual lands, we can attain the same or better colored mana consistency with fewer lands in total) and then shave two Chandra, Torch of Defiance, two Glorybringer, four Mizzium Mortars and three Abrade. In an Embercleave deck, you can’t afford many noncreature spells or expensive creatures.

Upgrades towards a Vehicle build

Pioneer Gruul Stompy by Marcoshadow

Multiple players did very well with this exact list in large tournaments large weekend. The Skysovereigns in particular can singlehandedly defeat Rakdos Midrange, one of the most popular archetypes in Pioneer right now. Their stock lists don’t have an answer and will succumb quickly. Perhaps they’ll adjust, but this is the new hotness in Pioneer right now.

If you would want to move from the land-upgraded Gruul Challenger Deck toward this Vehicle list, then you would need to add four Esika’s Chariot, four Skysovereign, Consul Flagship, four Reckless Stormseeker, four Strangle and four Mutavault for the main deck, plus four Nissa’s Defeat, four The Akroan War, one Jegantha, the Wellspring and two Xenagos, the Reveler for the sideboard.

MutavaultSkysovereign, Consul FlagshipJegantha, the Wellspring

You don’t need to copy the entire sideboard, and Strangle versus Abrade or Mizzium Mortars is a metagame call. But if you go for this build, then I strongly suggest to copy the entire main deck in one go. This will cost about $85 at current market prices. 

Don’t do piecemeal upgrades. Due to the companion restriction on Jegantha, you can’t use it unless you have replaced the double-green and double-red spells with alternative four-drops and five-drops. Yet these Vehicles may not be worth without also gaining Jegantha and Mutavault (which only fits the mana base if you have all single-pip spells) as a payoff. And when adding several Vehicles, you need enough creatures that both crew them and give them haste, which is why you have to cut some removal spells for Reckless Stormseeker. Hence, you need to basically switch to this entire main deck in one go.

Upgrades towards a combo build

Pioneer Gruul Stompy by Marcoshadow

 

Reflection of Kiki-Jiki, the back side of Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, can go infinite with Combat Celebrant: at the beginning of combat, tap Llanowar Elves to activate Reflection of Kiki-Jiki, make a copy of Combat Celebrant, attack and exert and loop this as often as you want. The end result is an infinite number of attacking 4/1s.

If you like this combo and would want to move from the land-upgraded Gruul Challenger Deck toward the combo list shown above, then you would need to add four Combat Celebrant, four Reckless Stormseeker, four Strangle, four Esika’s Chariot, one Skysovereign, four Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, two Den of the Bugbear and two Mutavault for the main deck, plus two Alpine Moon, two Klothys, God of Destiny, one Roast, two Unlicensed Hearse, one Jegantha, the Wellspring, one Rending Volley and three The Akroan War for the sideboard.

Combat CelebrantFable of the Mirror-Breaker // Reflection of Kiki-Jiki

Out of these, the combo pieces are of course the most important. A playset of Fable of the Mirror-Breaker and Combat Celebrant is the most important. I already covered Fable of the Mirror-Breaker for the midrange version. You could view Combat Celebrant as an optional add-on; four copies cost approximately $70, based on the current TCGPlayer.com market price. This can get pricy and I wouldn’t recommend it as a start, but it’s a sweet option to keep in mind.

If you want to start from the land-upgraded Gruul Challenger Deck and have already added four Fable of the Mirror-Breaker with the cuts I described for the midrange version, then I would cut four Lovestruck Beast to add four Combat Celebrant. I swap three-drops for mana curve reasons.

 

Conclusion

The Gruul Stompy Challenger Deck is playable right out of the box and a good entry point into the Pioneer format for a new or returning player. The first upgrades to make should be to the mana base, and afterwards you can choose to upgrade towards a four different Gruul versions, all of which come with a different style of play.

The cards required for these versions have a lot of overlap as well, which means that if you pick Gruul as your go-to color in Pioneer and expand your collection, then you’ll soon be able to effortlessly change between midrange, aggro, Vehicles and combo. If your local store has a Pioneer tournament every week or every month, then you could continually switch to a different style of Magic, which will yield different playing experiences every time. If that sounds good, then start with Gruul Stompy!

 

1 thought on “How to Upgrade the MTG Gruul Stompy Pioneer Challenger Deck”

  1. I love articles like this even though I have been playing long enough to have a lot of staples. Helps new players build into a format. Helps veteran players how to leverage staples (and nearly staples) instead of deck-hopping

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