A New Challenger Emerges

Life is a funny old thing isn’t it. You can spend the entirety of it making plans and trying to organise your day to day routine, only for things to change at the last moment. Sometimes these are bad, but sometimes they can be a nice surprise. Take last Friday for example – I was all set to head to my LGS for some FNM action, with the goal of putting a new Standard deck through its paces. I was hoping to get some real-world experience with the deck before I wrote an article on it, and maybe earn some prizes too. Then at about 14:45, I received the following photo message from Abbie.

That’s right. Wizards of the Coast had sent us two of the new challenger decks, and we quickly made plans to crack them open for some games. I guess FNM glory will have to be put on the back burner for a while, but I’m a patient man. Instead, we would have our own kitchen table FNM (which is better in some ways as I could have a cup of tea). We were joined by fellow Master Samuel and his friend Keiran, who had also come long for some cardboard action. While they were busy having a game of Modern, Abbie and I  cracked into the decks. Abbie took the Hazoret Aggro deck while I took the Second Sun Control. Yes, before any of you say anything mono-Red is usually my jam but since I had been playing a similar deck for over a year now, we decided to change things up. Besides, I might actually enjoy playing a hard control deck and become a convert to the ways of the Blue mage (but I doubt it).

After a few minutes of play to get used to the decks, we squared off against one another for the most epic of confrontations. Aggro vs Control. Rather than playing out a single match, we decided to play a few un-sideboarded games to really get a feel for the decks, then we would take the sideboards out for a spin. It was apparent right from the start that the Hazoret Aggro deck was almost as fast as its constructed counterpart, as Abbie got some serious beats in. I often forget how fast aggressive decks can be, but when you aren’t piloting them yourself and instead have to face them down you can see why people shake their heads when you sit opposite them. Abbie also had the luckiest of hands, and on multiple occasions had both Hazoret and Chandra turn up and say ‘hi’. And by ‘hi’, I actually mean melt my face off. 

However, Second Sun Control was no slouch and could definitely hold its own in a scrap. Been able to play a classic draw-go strategy was a nice change of pace for me, and I was able to do some game winning plays in Abbie’s end step. My favourite had to be casting my Approach of the Second Sun, then the following turn mill myself with Ipnu Rivulet before casting Supreme Will to find my Approach again. In the end Abbie come out as the winner (winning about two thirds of the games we played) but we aggred both decks were strong. If you want to see some of those games for yourself, we will be uploading some of our gameplay to our YouTube channel (hopefully today) so check out the link here

Well, that was a lot of fun. While Abbie did emerge the victor (this time) the games were very close and either deck felt like it could pull out the win. After our games, we had a chat about what we thought of the decks and whether there was room for improvements for both the decklists and the product line in general.

Firstly, the decks felt like real Magic decks, and I mean that as a compliment. In the past Wizards have released Standard preconstructed decks that have fallen short of the mark. This was mainly due to the fact that the decks lacked any real power and were only really aimed at new players. They would give you a decent rare, like when they put a Hangarback Walker into the Battle for Zendikar Event Deck, but one would rarely be enough to give the deck any level of constancy. There seemed to be this belief that rare cards should not only be hard to come across in Limited, but also in pre-built decks. Thankfully, they seem to be moving away from this way of thinking, giving these Challenger decks a real chance to be competitive.

That brings me to my second point: they are customisable. While they are full of great value playsets, there are some cards, notably Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Hazoret the Fervent, that are only one-ofs. This is to allow building on what Wizards have started, giving players a chance to make the decks their own by adding and removing the cards they don’t want to run. For example, when I was playing my mono-Red deck at a recent PPTQ, I decided not to run a full playset of Hazorets or a mass of mainboard Chandras. I had only three Hazorets with no mainboard Chandras, instead choosing to run out four Glorybringers. While this might not be the way most players would run the deck I found  success, ending the day in fourth place. After a bit of tweaking, Abbie and I came up with the following upgrade to the mainboard of the Hazoret Aggro that we would make.

Creatures (24)
4 Bomat Courier
4 Fanatical Firebrand
3 Kari Zev, Skyship Raider
4 Earthshaker Khenra (add 4)
4 Ahn-Crop Crasher
3 Hazoret the Fervent (add 2)
2 Rekindling Phoenix (add 2)
Non-Creature Spells (12)
4 Shock
4 Lightning Strike
2 Abrade
2 Magma Spray
Lands (24)
20 Mountain
3 Sunscorched Desert
1 Scavenger Grounds (add 1)

Removing
3 Soul-Scar Mage
3 Harsh Mentor
1 Chandra, Torch of Defiance
1 Glorybringer
1 Sunscorched Desert

However, there was one thing that both of us agreed was missing on the part of Wizards – tokens. Now don’t get me wrong, this is a very small issue when it comes to an otherwise great product, but when you have mainboard cards like Kari Zev, Skyship Raider and no token to attack with, it kind of takes you out of the moment while you quickly try and proxy it. If Wizards had included all the tokens you needed (maybe a double-sided one with Ragavan/Chandra’s Emblem) it would have made the decks feel more complete. Again, I’m clutching at straws here, but I have to come up with at least one piece of criticism.

And there you have it, our first crack at the new Challenger decks. Overall, we were very impressed with the products themselves, and plan on testing them out some more in the coming weeks. The Second Sun Control deck has even made me enjoy playing control (something I never thought I would ever say), so if Wizards can build a precon that shift me away from aggro you know it has to be good. But what do you all think? Are you planning on picking one of the Challenger decks for yourself? Were you on the fence, and if so have we helped you make up your mind? Why not let us know in the comments below, and while you are there why not subscribe to the site to keep up to date with all the latest from us here at Master of Magics. Lastly a huge shout out to Wizards of the Coast for sending these decks out early so we could put them through their paces. Until next time remember, Good Luck and Have Fun.

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