Challenge Accepted – Evaluating the New Challenger Decks for Commander

New Challenger Decks dropped this week, and will be available in early April. The idea is 4 out-of-the-box playable decks for Standard. While they (probably) won’t win you any tournaments, the Challenger Decks should be a fun entry-level product for Standard hopefuls.

But not everyone who gets a Challenger Deck is interested in Standard. I personally have pretty minimal interest in Standard. But I’m interested in Challenger Decks, because as someone who doesn’t play much Standard, I don’t have tons of cards from recent sets.

The Challenger Decks could also be a huge flop for Standard. They’re not available until April. Drastic shifts in the metagame happen all the time, and they will at least need some upgrades to be the kind of tier 1 decks that will actually compete in Standard tournaments. Saffron Olive at MTGGoldfish broke them down that way nicely. Standard could shift in a way that only a few of these decks, or maybe even none, are playable. In which case, retailers might be motivated to move them at a lower price. None of the Challenger Decks resemble the deck that won the World Championship this month, if you think that matters.

Another reason I’m interested in these decks is that they will probably show up in the Commander Challenge prize pool. I’ve won Challenger Decks before, and while you can pick out a few gems, some aren’t really good for Commander at all. If you are someone who knows a place to get these at a reasonable price (no MSRP), or might get one as a gift/prize, or just want to know if there’s some cool commander cards in the decks, this post is for you!

Deck 1 – Allied Fires

Top Cards – Steam Vents, Kenrith the Returned King, Fires of Invention (x4!), 3 Temples (R/W, R/U, W/U)

Overall, this is pretty good pile of value. Naturally the big draw is Steam Vents. Kenrith is one of the all-time best 5 colour Commanders, and a great build-around. Having 4 Fires means you can stuff them in a variety of decks, or keep one and trade the rest to Standard players. I haven’t personally used Fires in Commander, but the same potential exists as in Standard, where 2 powerful spells, some nasty activations, and not bothering with instant speed responses can be a viable strategy. The Temples are fantastic all around, and will make the cut in many competitive builds, let alone casual ones. I hate to say the colours of them aren’t great.

Secondary Value – 6 War of the Spark Planeswalkers (Ugin, Sarkhan x4, Narset x4, Kasmina x3, Saheeli x4, Dovin), Time Wipe x3, Drawn from Dreams x2, Mass Manipulation, Dovin’s Veto

The Planeswalkers here are a mixed bunch. Ugin is undeniably useful as card draw, removal and ramp in the same card. Sarkhan, the Masterless is okay for dragons, but 4 is too many. Narset is a pain in the neck, and while powerful, draws plenty of hate. There is plenty of demand, and Narset can be traded or sold. Getting 4 is really cool. This deck will increase supply, so value should also drop. Narset’s art is a lot like that on Halimar Tidecaller. Just sayin.

Kasmina and Saheeli are both playable, but not so strong. The Time Wipes and Drawn From Dreamses are both okay, but better options exist in Commander. However, they might better fit your strategy than Supreme Verdict or Dig Through Time, or might be suitable compliments. You never know. I feel like these cards are less likely to see Commander play though. Mass Manipulation is in a similar boat, but it’s fairly unique in being able to steal multiple Planeswalkers and could be useful. Dovin’s Veto is a solid card, if unspectacular.

Hidden Value – Fae of Wishes x2, Deafening Clarion x2

These cards are either mostly useless in Commander (no side/wishboards), or really far below more powerful options. Trading the Fae might work well for you, and Clarion might be a role player in a winning Standard deck, and can be traded or sold in the right window. The Fae of Wishes have popped up in Pioneer decks, so they might have some longer-term value in non-rotating formats.

Overall – 6-10 playable cards, plus some extra copies and traders. Seems solid, but probably better evaluated after looking at the rest. The top cards are pretty strong, considering 4 are staple lands, and one is a fantastic Commander. Some solid commons and budget dual lands round out the list. I’d be happy to get this as a prize.

Deck 2 – Final Adventure

Top Cards – Vraska, Golgari Queen, Midnight Reaper x2, Murderous Rider x2, Castle Lochthwain x2, Fabled Passage, Temple of Malady x2, Massacre Girl x2

Wow, there’s a lot of very playable stuff here. The Reaper and Rider are strong in Zombie decks, but both just strong overall. The Castle is starting to prove its worth in basically any black deck. Fabled Passage goes in most decks. The Temples are not only good value, but Golgari has very few dual land options in general. Massacre Girl is one of the better black boardwipes, and offers some cool strategic advantages being a creature. That leaves Vraska, who can be decent enough in Commander, but also a powerful Standard option, so probably pretty tradeable.

Secondary Value – Lovestruck Beast x4, Knight of the Ebon Legion x2

These cards are merely okay in Commander. They are better in Standard or Pioneer, and might be best as trade bait. Value will drop as a result of this release, sadly, and the beast has several versions of the card, most of which look better than this. While normally too small for Commander, the Knight is actually a great option for Edgar Markov as a deck that wants lots of cheap Vampires, so it might have some niche Commander potential going forward, or if Edgar becomes the rage again.

Hidden Value – Lucky Clover x4, Edgewall Innkeeper x4, Find//Finality x2, Thrashing Brontodon x2

The Clover and Innkeeper are unique uncommons, both in playset form. They can be shoved in a box and might be $2-5 in a few years when Wizards revisits the adventure mechanic. Find//Finality will probably never be valuable, but it’s somewhat playable in the right niche. If B/G CMC-matters becomes a thing, it’s an auto-include. Thrashing Brontodon is very playable, especially as dinosaurs get better as a tribe. It has been printed a lot, though.

Overall – 6 really solid staples, 5 of which are doubled. Plus a decent Planeswalker and some possible traders. This is maybe better split with someone else, although probably the best card here long term is the Fabled Passage, and there’s only one. Again, I’d be happy to get this as a prize.

Deck 3 – Cavalcade Charge

Top Cards – Embercleave, Torbran, Thane of Red Fell x4, Castle Embereth x3

Embercleave is awesome, but you can get one for less than the cost of this deck. Torbran is a red super-staple, and a fantastic Commander option, but 4 is probably too many for one person. They will be highly tradeable, and considering they’re so good, will probably hold a bit of value. The Castle isn’t the best Castle in a vacuum, but the go-wide red and boros decks that want it really want it. It’s tough to imagine a lot of Gruul-based concepts that pass on Avenger of Zendikar, and that alone makes it a powerful card.

Secondary Value – Chandra, Acolyte of Flame x3, Experimental Frenzy x3, Bonecrusher Giant x4, Light up the Stage x4

The Chandras are okay, and while they might never make a Standard impact, should have some Commander and collector demand eventually. It’s a must for ‘Chandra Tribal.’ Experimental Frenzy is an oddity. It’s unlikely to pop in value, but could be both fun to play, and broken by some other card in future.

The Giant is probably too small for Commander, but it’s a great card in other formats, and should be tradeable. References to the stage show ‘Stomp’ are tons of fun, but it seems like banging garbage can lids together is more baseball’s thing these days. Light up the Stage is excellent, and is totally Commander playable. It might be a valuable uncommon for years to come.

Hidden Value – Runaway Steam-Kin x4, Fervent Champion x4

These cards might be part of top tier deck some day, more likely in Standard than anywhere else. In that case, trading a playset might net you something nice in return. They are almost definitely too small for the Commander format, but you never know. Fervent Champion is terrific in Cubes and Battleboxes.

Overall – Only a couple of playables, and not much value anywhere. The best cards here can be had as singles. Ironically, this is probably one of the better decks for Standard play, as mono-red never gets too old. I would be excited to get the Embercleave, Torbrans and Castles, but the rest doesn’t inspire at all. Krenko players (either Krenko) will probably like this more than most. One kind of annoying thing for me is that both Experimental Frenzy and Runaway Steam Kin were playsets in a previous Challenger deck. I got that as a prize, and haven’t yet touched the cards.

Deck 4 – Flash of Ferocity

Top Cards – Brazen Borrower, Castle Vantress x2, Fabled Passage, Temple of Mystery x2, Thassa’s Intervention x2

I’ve never been a fan of Brazen Borrower. I know it sees play in basically every format, but I still feel like it’s overrated. The versatility of a bounce spell and a flash flying creature can be sweet in tempo and control builds, but I feel like the overall impact is too low for Commander unless you’re doing faeries or flyers or something else to push another angle of the card. I’m welcome to being proved wrong. Some cards simply suit other formats better, and like Snapcaster Mage, a ubiquitous, blue, cross-format all-star is maybe best as trade or sell bait for a bunch of cheap Commander staples.

Castle Vantress and Fabled Passage will have no problems finding homes in Commander decks. Temple of Mystery is added value as an enemy-colour dual land in favourable colours. I feel like Thassa’s Intervention is immediately one of the best counterspells in all of Commander. Why? It does something else, and that thing is better than being a counterspell. Sometimes you need a counterspell, and sometimes you need to draw/dig, and if you’re holding up mana, having those options on the same card is pretty boss.

Secondary Value – Nightpack Ambusher x4, Wavebreak Hippocamp, Shifting Ceratops x3, Mystical Dispute x2

Nightpack Ambusher maybe should be in the Top Cards pile. It’s not that cheap, might be part of a serious Standard strategy, and is a great lord for wolves and werewolves. Those tribes are kinda weak right now, but one Commander precon could fix all that real fast. Getting rid of these at the wrong time could be regretful, but they might be at their peak now or soon. I’m glad I don’t speculate for a living. This being the promised year of Commander makes me think stashing random tribal lords in a box and waiting is a good thing to do. If you want more recent ones like this, look at Ixalan and Modern Horizons. Tribal ages extremely well, and tends to pop a lot when a new, hot member of the tribe sees print.

Wavebreak Hippocamp is okay, I guess. I feel like if you’re able to cast something on every opponent’s turn, you’re probably doing okay already. Plus it’s a pretty fragile body. If silver-bordered cards get legal in any way, Ponies will be a thing, and this is one of the better Ponies. Shifting Ceratops is a pretty good dinosaur, although without enrage for thematic completionists. Commander doesn’t do a lot of metagaming, and there isn’t a ton of blue targeted removal that’s worth playing, but protection is strong stuff. Reach, trample and haste all give this guy extra dimensions of utility. The current dinosaur pool is pretty shallow, and a legend that resparks interest could make this a high-demand card.

Mystical Dispute is getting maindecked in Standard and such. Demand is really high. I’d look to trade these while they’re hot. I’m not sure these play in older formats, but they might be good in sideboards, and be worthy trade chips for a long time.

Hidden Value – Frilled Mystic x4, Spectral Sailor x4, Wildborn Preserver x4

Frilled Mystic is part of a small number of ETB creatures that are basically counterspells. While this is a valuable niche in the Commander world, these guys might get printed a lot in things like precons, core sets and conspiracy/battlebond sets. Elf Lizard Wizard notwithstanding. What they are is useful if not expensive.

Spectral Sailor is an interesting card. While it’s sized all wrong for Commander, the types are good, the abilities are good, and when in doubt, getting a lot of utility for one mana is worth a look. This might fit a surprising amount of concepts. It does happen to be one of the best pirates. Wildborn Preserver is something I’d try out in a Battlebox or Cube. It needs a lot of work to make it good. I feel like it has an uphill battle for Commander, and really only gets a mention because it is a ‘rare.’ I might feel differently if it had trample.

Overall – With 4 great staples, one big-ticket trade chip, some intriguing extras and some wide-ranging tribal synergy, this is solid. I would be happy to get it as a prize, though I feel like most of it would go into boxes rather than decks. If the right trade partner came along, and the Brazen Borrower (and maybe Mystical Disputes) netted me some cool stuff, this could be the best deck of the bunch.


It’s a toss up between Allied Fires and Final Adventure as to what has the best cards and value for Commander. I am leaning toward Final Adventure because Murderous Rider, Fabled Passage and Castle Lochthwain are all super-staples. Steam Vents is a big deal, and Kenrith edges out Vraska, but I’d take the B/G Temple over all of the others. I probably have a lot of bias based on my collection and what I tend to play, but I don’t think there’s a wrong way to go between AF and FA. These decks are both high up on my Commander Challenge prize priority list. If you’re a Commander player and can get your hands on these easily/cheaply, there are a lot of great reasons to do so.

Flash of Ferocity is a big step below the top two, but it’s still a solid pile of cards. The good cards are still good, but the dropoff is pretty steep once you get past them. I would still grab this as a solid prize. You may rate Brazen Borrower higher than I do, or want it for another format, or know someone who does with good traders. If so, this could be as good for you as the top 2.

Cavalcade Charge is a big step below Flash of Ferocity. Knowing an Embercleave and some Torbrans are in there make it worth grabbing over a few random packs, but this deck is not suited for Commander.

What do you think? There’s a poll below. I hope you get a chance to open one or more of these decks, and I hope it’s because you got them for great value. Producing a product that’s a meta call for a format that will probably have changed a lot by the time the product goes to print is an odd choice. But Wizards made it, and we can make the best of it! Thanks for reading!

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