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By: TheWolf, Shane Garvey
Apr 18 2018 12:00pm
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 When Wizards of the Coast announced the new Challenger Decks, I was excited. I am the perfect target for them: I only have a casual interest in Standard, and can't be bothered building a new deck all the time to take to FNM. This product would great for both myself and my kids as a way to get us back playing the format without having to do a ton of work.

This series of four articles will put all of the Challenger Decks through their paces in a friendly Standard league on Magic Online, the closest thing I can think of to what a normal FNM would be like. I'm going to play the decks as they are, before offering some budget-friendly upgrade ideas. I'll run you through how the matches play out and give my overall thoughts on the deck.

I have already covered the other three Challenger Decks and you can read about them here: Hazoret Aggro; Vehicle Rush; and Second Sun Control



This is a midrange deck that relies heavily on +1/+1 counters. Winding Constrictor seems to be the key - I think for this deck to be quite successful, you want to at least have it in your opening hand and ideally be casting it on turn 2. There is also an energy sub-theme that also plays well with the Constrictor, especially with Longtusk Cub. Let's see how it plays.

Match 1

My first opponent was playing white/black Vampires. I won the die roll and chose to play first, starting off with two Glint-Sleeve Siphoners, one of which my opponent killed, and a Longtusk Cub. My opponent started off with a Martyr of Dusk and a Radiant Destiny. I killed the Martyr but that left them with a lifelinker, which was further enhanced by a Legion Lieutenant. I used Hour of Glory to get rid of that, but the followed with another one and a second copy of Radiant Destiny. My Siphoner was doing good work and drawing me a bunch if cards, which let me get a Winding Constrictor down. The opponent attacked their Lieutenant into my untapped Constrictor; I blocked and played Blossoming Defense to kill it, then followed up with a Walk the Plank on their token. I now had an 8/8 Longtusk Cub and a Verdurous Gearhulk in hand, and easily won the game from there.

My opponent got mana screwed in game two and conceded early.

A perfect start for the deck even if my opponent did get a bit unlucky.

Match 2

I lost the die roll this time and start on the draw. My opponent was playing a deck I really dislike: white/blue Gift. They started with Islands and a Search for Azcanta, but didn't seem to be able to find any white mana. This gave me time to play a Longtusk Cub, Winding Constrictor and a Rishkar, and I was able to hit them down to 8 before they found a Plains, played God-Pharoah's Gift with Refurbish and returned a Minister of Inquiries to the battlefield. It was too little too late, though; I had removal and swung for the win next turn.

I bought in all copies of Duress from my sideboard, as well as the artifact removal, taking out Blossoming Defense and Dreamstealer. The artifact removal was going to be the most important thing in the next game or two.

My opponent started out in the same manner as game one, except they had access to white mana. They got a God-Pharoah's Gift into the graveyard early, but I was able to use Duress to get rid of the Refurbish in their hand. I played a Winding Constrictor and Glint-Sleeve Siphoner and started to get to work on attacking the opponent. I was able to get them down to 6 life before they played Fumigate. I followed up with another Winding Constrictor and a Longtusk Cub, but the board wipe had given them enough time to play Refurbish and return an Angel of Invention. I couldn't find any removal and couldn't race it, and they managed to win.

I chose to play in game three and kept a slightly risky hand that contained a Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, a Slice in Twain and five land. My opponent got off to a faster start than me, playing a Minister of Inquiries (and using it to get a Gift into the graveyard), and a Fairgrounds Warden to take care of my Siphoner. The followed up with two Champion of Wits while I took a risk and tapped out for a Gearhulk; luckily they didn't have the Refurbish that turn. I attacked, my opponent throwing all of their creatures except the Warden to block it, and I knew then that they would be returning them to the battlefield soon. I played a second Siphoner and left enough mana up for the Appetite for the Unnatural I had just drawn; this proved wise, as my opponent played Refurbish for the Gift. I killed it at the end of their main phase and suddenly my opponent was in trouble; they had a single creature to block my 8/8 trampler and 2/1 menace. I got them down to 3 life and they then played Ixalan's Binding on my Gearhulk, but I still had Slice in Twain in hand. I got my Gearhulk back and attacked for the win.

That now brings the deck to a 2-0 record and 4-1 in games. A good start!

Match 3

My opponent chose to play first and started with a Bomat Courier. I started with a Winding Constrictor and a Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, both of which died (to Abrade and Shock, respectively). My opponent then followed up with Captain Lannery Storm - I have seen this deck before, a blue/red aggro deck. Sure enough, my opponent played a Storm Fleet Sprinter and then a Siren Stormtamer: this was going to make it very difficult to deal with these creatures. The best I could do was play another Constrictor and a Scrapheap Scrounger, all the while being attacked and my life total getting dangerously low. My opponent then played another Courier and two Fanatical Firebrand; I couldn't keep up and feel soon after.

I bought the Die Youngs and Cartouches in out of the sideboard for game two. My first two creatures were killed before they could do anything, but I eventually had a Winding Constrictor stay alive. My opponent played a Fanatical Firebrand then countered my Gearhulk with Lookout's Dispersal. They followed up with Curious Obsession on their Firebrand; I played a two Cartouches on my Constrictor to kill it and start gaining a bunch of life. My opponent attempted to kill the Constrictor with Fateful Showdown but I was able to save it with Blossoming Defense. This was all that I needed as my opponent had no other answers and I won game two.

Game three was one of those games where everything I played got killed or countered. I literally could not keep anything on the battlefield and quickly lost the game.

So, now 2-1, and 5-3 in games.

Match 4

My opponent for this match was on a white/blue embalm/eternalize deck that used Anointed Procession. There wasn't much to talk about for game one; I kept a slightly risky hand that needed a single Swamp to be good. Alas I never drew it, and my opponent killed me with a bunch of Adorned Pouncer tokens thanks to Anointed Procession.

Game two started much better for me, with two Winding Constrictors and a Rishkar in my hand. My opponent started with a Pouncer and a Champion of Wits, while I curved out with the aforementioned cards. When I played a Verdurous Gearhulk on turn five with both Constrictors still in play, my opponent conceded.

With the first two games being very one sided, we moved to game three. My opponent started with two Pouncers, while I went with a Constrictor into a Glint-Sleeve Siphoner. My opponent played Ixalan's Binding on my snake, but I had an Appetite for the Unnatural in hand. I held off casting it though, instead using Duress to see my opponent's hand (and revealing an Angel of Sanctions), and played a second Siphoner and two Longtusk Cubs. I had Gonti in hand but held off - I didn't want it being taken by the Angel. Eventually my opponent used the Angel on one of my Cubs, so I cast Gonti - and managed to get a God-Pharoah's Gift. I also drew Hour of Glory to deal with the Angel, and a Fatal Push - I started attacking, my opponent blocking the Cubs with what he thought would kill them; I then pulled the trigger on using Appetite on the Ixalan's Binding to get back my snake, and then pumping the Cubs for more counters than my opponent was expecting. This was enough for my opponent and they conceded.

The record now stands at 3-1 and 7-4 in games.

Match 5

Last round! I played against an opponent on Sultai Control. In game one, I played out some early Siphoners but they died to Fatal Pushes from my opponent. My opponent played a Champion of Wits followed by The Scarab God. Thankfully, I had Hour of Glory in my hand to take care of that but, upon revealing my opponent's hand, I knew I was in big trouble - they had Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh and Vraska, Relic Seeker. I had enough power on board to deal with Bolas, but my opponent drew into removal and that was the beginning of my downfall.

This felt like a tough match up. I bought in the Duress out of the sideboard and hoped for the best. Game two didn't last long; my opponent killed my first play (a Scrapheap Scrounger), but I then played Rishkar into a Gearhulk. My opponent had no answers and they were dead two turns later.

I opened up with a Duress in game three, taking their Search for Azcanta and revealing lands and a Vraska's Contempt. I played a Rishkar followed by a freshly-drawn Siphoner; my opponent attempted to kill the Siphoner (twice) but I had Blossoming Defense in hand both times. I drew and played a Gonti, revealing Nicol Bolas. Thanks to Rishkar, I was able to cast it the following turn, and my opponent conceded.

Wow! That finishes the deck with a 4-1 result, 9-5 in games. 


There's a few cards I'd like to start by replacing for my budget upgrade. The first is Dreamstealer. I never found this card useful at all. Instead, I'd like to replace it with Jadelight Ranger, which benefits from Winding Constrictor. Same with Scrapheap Scrounger; while this is a good card, I think the deck would be better served with a fourth Jadelight Ranger and a second Fatal Push.

I would remove the two Walk the Plank and 2 Hour of Glory for four copies of Vraska's Contempt. Walk the Plank was awkward at two black mana, and often could not cast it until turn three or four anyway, so Vraska's Contempt works well.

Finally, the lands. The two Hashep Oasis can go, as can a Swamp and a Forest, for four copies of Blooming Marsh. That leaves us with this:



Well, that's all four decks done. I had fun with all of them, to be honest, and I think you can do decently well with them in the friendly leagues or at FNM. To recap, this was the records for each deck:

Second Sun Control: 4-1 (9-3)

Counter Surge: 4-1 (9-5)

Hazoret Aggro: 3-2 (8-4)

Vehicle Rush: 2-3 (4-8)

Overall, that gives the Challenger decks a 13-7 match win record (30-20 in games). This is very good for the price of these decks, so why not give them a shot?