Brewing a Gladiator Deck in Seven Steps

Building a 100-card singleton deck might be challenging, especially for the first time. I still remember Hi there! Building a 100-card singleton deck might be challenging, especially for the first time. I still remember my first Gladiator deck; it featured some bad cards combined with far too many taplands and went 1-4 in the Gladiator League. Once you know a bit about how to build a deck, it feels like being an artist, tinkering with every detail like it was a piece of a drawing or a song. The art of creating a deck revolves around taking into account both its efficacy and your Magic taste. While “de gustibus non disputandum est”*, there’s much to discuss about making your deck better and that’s what I’ll do in this article.

*Taste shouldn’t be discussed

1. Refer to your experience

For those of you who have played other Magic formats, it might be easier to understand deck building in Gladiator by highlighting the main differences.

60-card constructed formats (Standard, Historic, etc.)

1.   It’s impossible to achieve the same consistency of many synergies in a 100-card singleton format with a limited card pool. It’s not a good idea to build decks around parasitic mechanics – the ones that work as intended only in the context of itself or a very restricted environment, e.g. Adventure, Mutate, Venture into the Dungeon. The payoffs for using those mechanics are printed in only one set available via Arena and there are very few of them. There’s only a small chance that you will draw a good creature with Adventure and a payoff like Edgewall Innkeeper or Lucky Clover at the same time in a 100-card deck. Most of the time your Innkeeper will be a vanilla 1/1 and your Clover will be mana spent for no effect. To be clear – I’m not telling you to avoid all Adventure creatures, because some are powerful on their own. It’s much easier to build decks around themes that we see in multiple sets, like Blink (“enters the battlefield” triggers), Aristocrats (“sacrifice” and “when X dies” triggers), or Tribal (having payoffs for playing creatures of one type, like Elves). You’re also likely to play multiple cards which play a similar role in the deck – you can’t have four Paradise Druids, but if you want to have some 2-drop creatures that produce mana, you can play Ilysian Caryatid, Incubation Druid, Drover of the Mighty, and Paradise Druid. This is also what makes the Gladiator experience so unique and variable.

2. The singleton nature of Gladiator means that cards like Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath, Winota, Joiner of Forces or Fires of Invention haven’t broken the format apart and are more challenging to abuse. Playing a few powerful cards does not guarantee that your deck will win, so you will need to find another 50-60 cards that create a proper shell.

3.   There are no sideboards, so narrow hate cards like Grafdigger’s Cage find no use here and universal answers like Baleful Mastery are more valued. During play you can expect to face everything with your 100-card main deck – a fast Aggro deck, a Control deck filled with countermagic and mass removal, a greedy Midrange deck, or a combo such as Tainted Pact and Thassa’s Oracle.

4.   The land bases in Gladiator are far worse than in 60-card constructed formats and it’s difficult to maintain balance between having enough mana sources of all your colors and lands that consistently enter the battlefield untapped. You will need to strike a balance between casting speed and consistency. For example, see this Gruul Aggro list, which uses only one 3-drop with double pips. Gladiator mana bases may improve slowly as new lands are introduced to Arena, but for now we need to accept some imperfections. I will write more about it in the Mana Base section.

Commander

In Gladiator you have only 20 starting life as compared to 40 and fast Aggro decks aren’t just a monster under your bed, they are popular in the meta and can run over you. If you want to win against them, you need to have enough early plays. You also can’t count on an infinitely-castable commander, but the good news is that you’re no longer restricted to any color identity, so tiny splashes are possible, like adding Wilderness Reclamation to a non-green control, having a few black sources to revive Scrapheap Scrounger in a non-black aggro, or hybrid mana cards in mono-colored decks like Blade Historian in Mono Red.

2. Choose a Deck and Archetype

What’s your favorite archetype — Aggro, Midrange, Control, Combo, Tempo, Tribal, Aristocrats, Blitz, Ramp or maybe something else? What colors do you like? Gladiator is about fun and preferences, but it also allows you to compete with others in leagues or tournaments, so consider your expectations. Do you want to prioritize winning, or are you okay with running a fun-to-pilot sophisticated Combo deck with a win rate of 30%? Or maybe you’d like something in between? If you want to be competitive, then you might also check out how the meta is developing and what archetypes are successful. For example, you can check out #deck-lists tab on Discord, league results or meta analysis by Tyreworm here on the blog.

3. Focus on Your Archetype and Colors

After you’ve got an idea what to play, you need to focus, Young Padawan. Use the Force…

When people submit their deck lists on Discord to ask for help, a common mistake is trying to have too many themes in their deck. If you play some cards with Magecraft, then without enough instants and sorceries in the deck, you’ll have little profit from it. A deck with 25 creatures won’t benefit from The Great Henge as much as a deck with 50 creatures. An aggressive deck wants to have a low curve to kill the opponent fast and playing more than a few 5 or higher drops will hinder that main plan. A value-oriented Midrange or a Control deck doesn’t want 1-mana 2/1 creatures that the Aggro decks play. To be precise — I’m not saying that having some small synergies or sub-themes in the deck is bad, as long as the majority of your cards are focused around a specific game plan.

If you focus your deck, then you can unlock the full potential of cards and see really exciting plays. I remember the joy of playing Mardu Aristocrats, when I dealt over 20 damage to my opponent on a single turn, only by sacrificing my own creatures, without even attacking. I wouldn’t have done this without devoting my whole deck to the Aristocrats theme.

Also, pay attention to what archetypes pair with what colors. If you want to make a control deck, I’d advise you to play blue. You can try Mardu control, but it probably won’t be as successful as Izzet, Grixis or Azorious. If you want to make a self-mill deck, you will find most synergies in Sultai colors.

4. Consider Your Collection

Sometimes your deck choice revolves around not what you want to play, but what you can play. Some people have small collections, while others Revel in Riches. I would advise against using too many wildcards at once if you have a small collection. Sometimes it’s better to play a bit at first and see if you really like a deck before you invest in it. There are also a few starter decks that include mostly cards available to you on a new Arena account.

5. Choose Cards

You can approach this in two main ways:

1.   Find similar decks. There are many lists already available if you ask people on Gladiator Discord or search the league / tournament results. Sometimes you’ll find lists of the same archetype and colors and other times you’ll find ones that differ a bit from your target, but they still can inspire you. I’ve wanted to make a competitive black-white Aggro list lately, but haven’t seen a successful Aggro in those colors in leagues or tournaments, so I took a mono-black Aggro list, a mono-white Aggro list, jammed together their best cards, then added a few more and voila!

2.   Search for the best cards in your archetype, put them all into one deck, then make the cuts to 100 cards, based on: the strength of particular cards; curve you want to achieve; mana requirements; the numbers of some effects or cards types that’s needed to fuel your theme. I recommend Scryfall with its filters for searching.

Don’t forget that at any point you can ask others on Discord for help and advice — there are dedicated channels for different archetypes and a #brewers-corner. There are some dedicated pilots of particular decks that have already tested different builds and cards and can help you based on their experience.

6. Build a Mana Base

Dysfunctional mana bases are also a common issue when people ask for deck help. There are two important questions:

How many lands should I play?

The simplest way is to make comparisons from 60-card constructed formats. If you’re not sure how many lands you should play in a 60-card deck and why, I’d suggest this article*, or at least looking at the table at the end of it. Then you can just check what’s the equivalent of a particular land count by multiplying the number by 5/3, but I made that already for you in the table below:

Average CMC of Deck Lands in 60-Card DeckLands in 100-Card Deck
0.48 to 0.801830
0.80 to 1.121931.7
1.12 to 1.442033.3
1.44 to 1.762135
1.76 to 2.082236.7
2.08 to 2.402338.3
2.40 to 2.722440
2.72 to 3.042541.7
3.04 to 3.362643.3
Lands needed in 60-card and 100-card decks based on the average converted mana cost of a deck

This should give you a general idea about how many lands you need, but of course the matter is more nuanced and it depends on the amount of creatures that generate mana, spells that allow you to play additional lands or draw cards you have.

How many sources of a particular color do I need?

There’s also an article* by Frank Karsten about it. This time there are also values for 99-card decks in a table at the beginning. Those numbers are pretty idealistic considering the limited land pool and the singleton nature of Gladiator — trying to achieve them in 2+ colored decks usually results in having too many tap-lands. In the end, having about 80% instead of 90+% consistency of playing a card on-curve isn’t the end of the world, but you can’t go down on those requirements too much, because a 50% consistency is pretty bad. You should think carefully about double- and triple-pip spells you include in your deck. Remember that there’s no need to make your mana bases symmetrical and you can prioritize colors — I have a 3-color deck, where there’s a main, a secondary and a splash color with 26, 22 and 18 mana sources respectively. I have some double pips in the main color, only two in the secondary color and none of them in the splash color.

*Both of Karsten’s articles have been written before the introduction of the London mulligan rule, which could change the percentages a little bit, but I wouldn’t worry about it too much.

7. Play and Refine

After playing a few matches, you’ll probably want to revise your initial deckbuilding decisions and make changes to your deck. I suggest making notes during or between games and asking yourself these questions:

  1. What cards under/over- performed? Why was it so?
  2. Why did I lose that game? How could I prevent it? What pieces did I lack to win the game?
  3. What match-ups do I want to improve? Do I want to focus on winning particular match-ups at the cost of others?

Don’t make haste in changes – sometimes a card under/over- performs in a particular scenario or match-up, but it’s okay in most other cases. Don’t change your land count due to getting mana screwed a few times, because some variance is inevitable. It’s better to construct mana bases based on long-term observations and statistics. Deck Building sites, like Moxfield, might also be helpful to check your deck’s statistics or view change history.

There’s also one unique experience Gladiator gives you – it’s when new cards are added to Arena and you’re so enthusiastic to test them, you play 15 matches and then realize that you drew your shiny new card… only once. But that’s just the life of a Gladiator.

I hope that this article was helpful and will allow you to build better decks. See you on the Discord or Arena! GL HF!