Gladiator Staples: Part I

Greetings Gladiators! In this article I will be going over some of the most iconic cards in each color available in Gladiator. This list is by no means exhaustive however, so many powerful cards will go unmentioned. I also chose to focus on cards that see play in a multitude of decks and archetypes. With that said, let’s see what cards are the power players in the format!

White Staples

Swords to Plowshares

This is the most popular white card in the format. Whether you are playing Aggro, Control, or Midrange, it is the most efficient removal spell available in any color. In addition to its low mana value, it is also an instant that exiles the target creature. This stops the powerful death triggers of cards like Rekindling Phoenix and prevents recursive threats like Scrapheap Scrounger from returning to the battlefield.

Wrath of God

This card is the namesake of board wipes for a reason. Though it is effectively the same as Day of Judgment in our format, both wraths are able to wipe the board before most Aggro decks can threaten lethal. Control decks utilizing Wrath of God are granted both a card advantage and a tempo advantage when casting it, and by timing it right it can end the game.

Skyclave Apparition

Though its body is unassuming, its enter the battlefield trigger (ETB) is anything but. By exiling any nonland permanent, it grants great utility in removing either threatening creatures,  pesky planeswalkers, or even utility artifacts and enchantments. Additionally by exiling cards with mana value four or less, Skyclave Apparition can even grant you a mana advantage because it has a mana value of three. One other thing to note is that if the Skyclave Apparition is flickered in response to the ETB trigger, since the creation of the Illusion is a separate ability, your opponent will not get an Illusion and the nonland permanent will still be exiled. Last, most decks running this card run spells to protect it such as Fight as One and Dauntless Bodyguard, so in many cases your opponent never gets access to the Illusion token. And even when they do, it is usually a small vanilla creature with little relevance.

Luminarch Aspirant

Upon being spoiled this card was called the white Tarmogoyf, and for good reason. An early Luminarch Aspirant can quickly spiral out of control, especially if it follows a one-drop creature that can make use of the counter straightaway. It finds a home in Mono White Aggro, white Midrange decks, and white Counters decks alike, because even without any synergy the card is a house all on its own. The fact that it can buff other creatures, not just itself, means that even if the opponent answers the Aspirant it continues to affect the board, especially if those creatures had keywords like flying or lifelink.

Reidane, God of the Worthy

While this card is not as obviously powerful as the others listed so far, it’s still making waves in our format. It is the only card that provides a disadvantage to opponents running snow lands, which means that most decks are still willing to run snow basics and will suffer when you cast Reidane. Additionally, it has two relevant keywords and an above rate body, making it a relevant threat for both Aggro and Midrange decks. Furthermore it has only one white pip in its mana cost, making it easy to cast in multicolor decks. And the most important upside of the card is its taxing of expensive noncreature spells, since this keeps opponents from casting wraths and planeswalkers. While you may be wondering why I never mentioned Valkmira, Protector’s Shield, it is because 99% of the time the right play is to cast Reidane.

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Blue Staples

Counterspell

Like my list for white, I am leading off with the most efficient answer available in the color, and this one is the namesake of all countermagic. Counterspell answers almost anything, and will nearly always grant you a mana advantage while doing so. Unlike other two mana counterspells in the format, it is unconditional. For example, other two mana counterspells like Censor and Memory Lapse either have a way around them or only temporarily delay the threat. The only advantage they have over Counterspell is a less restrictive cost than {UU}, but this usually doesn’t matter much even in multicolored decks because Control decks are designed to have access to {UU} pipped cards. The rest of the unconditional counterspells in the format cost at least three mana, demonstrating the strength of Counterspell. It sees play in both Control and Tempo decks, which encompasses almost every blue deck in the format. 

Search for Azcanta

This enchantment enables Control players to make an early proactive play that sets them up for both smoother draws and late game card advantage. By filling the graveyard it synergizes with other Control staples like Chemister’s Insight and Torrential Gearhulk and also finds a home in Reanimator strategies. The activated ability of Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin digs through the library quickly, especially when paired with Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and Wilderness Reclamation and other cards that untap lands. Search for Azcanta thus finds a home in Control decks that need to dig for answers and Combo decks that need to find a specific spell like Time Warp.

Time Warp

Speaking of Time Warp, it is also on my most powerful blue cards list. Taking extra turns is one of the most powerful things one can do in Magic, and Time Warp does it best because it does not exile itself on resolution. Because of this upside it sees play in a lot of different shells and is a quintessential piece of a powerful infinite turns combo. Bant Blink, Grixis Turns, and Simic Turns among other decks all utilize it to end the game. For example, Bant Blink recurs it with cards like Scholar of the Ages and Grixis Turns abuses it with Mizzix’s Mastery. Simic Turns has an even more interesting line using Kefnet the Mindful’s activated ability to bounce Mystic Sanctuary to hand. The only other extra turn spell that does not exile itself on resolution is Nexus of Fate, but that card is on the banlist so Time Warp is the king of the castle. 

Brainstorm

Brainstorm is easily the best cantrip in the format. Being only one mana, an instant, and digging into the library three cards deep are a powerful combination. Brainstorm can be further abused with shuffle effects like Fabled Passage and Field of Ruin to shuffle away the two cards placed atop one’s library. It can also be used to protect important cards from hand attack spells like Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek. There is basically nothing Brainstorm can’t do, so if you are in blue consider slotting it into your deck.

Brazen Borrower

To wrap up this list we’ll talk about one of the best threats in blue. Brazen Borrower is both an above-rate flyer and a removal spell. Because it has flash it is great in both Tempo and Control decks that can hold it up alongside answers like Counterspell and cantrips like Brainstorm. The best Adventure creatures from Throne of Eldraine are all impactful in Gladiator, and Brazen Borrower is arguably the best of the bunch.

Black Staples

Thoughtseize

Yet again I begin my list with the strongest piece of interaction available. Thoughtseize answers even more cards than Counterspell, and for half the mana cost. Although it does give you a slight mana disadvantage and loss of life, the information of every card in your opponent’s hand is well worth it. This can help Aggro decks plan around their opponent’s answers, Combo decks strip away disruption of their combo, and Control decks plan to use their answers most efficiently. I don’t know of any black deck in the format that isn’t running Thoughtseize, making this the most prevalent card I’ll discuss today. Something to note is that Inquisition of Kozilek is also in our format and is nearly as strong, so if you are running Thoughtseize consider running this card alongside it. Many players like to include Duress alongside these as “The Holy Trinity” of hand disruption, but it certainly isn’t as much of an auto-include.

Demonic Tutor

Nevermind, Brainstorm is not the best cantrip in the format, Demonic Tutor is. The ability to find exactly the card you need at any time for the low cost of two mana is absurdly powerful. Need a wrath to stabilize against Aggro? Need one more combo piece to win the game? Just need to hit your next land drop? Demonic Tutor does all those things and more. Only incredibly fast black decks will pass up the opportunity to run this card, and even then cutting it is difficult.

Rotting Regisaur

This is the largest three mana creature in the format, and it comes with upside. Wait a minute, discarding a card is upside? For many decks, it is! Pairing this with cards like Skyclave Shade and the new Madness cards coming in Jumpstart: Historic Horizons can either completely negate the downside or turn it into a powerful synergy enabler. Also when you draw this and already have no hand, there is no downside at all. Now go out and curve your Rotting Regisaur into an Embercleave or The Great Henge!

Heartless Act

Dies to Doom Blade may be the saying, but from analysis by Tyreworm it has been proven that Heartless Act is the better removal spell. This kills over 80% of creatures in the entire format, and like Counterspell will nearly always grant you a mana advantage while doing so. With Aggro as the most prevalent archetype in Gladiator, cheap removal spells are at a premium, and thus Heartless Act sees play in nearly all black decks no matter the archetype.

Languish

Like the previously discussed Wrath of God, Languish answers the early and mid game board states of all creature based strategies, By giving -4/-4 it also gets around indestructible creatures like Seasoned Hallowblade and Adanto Vanguard. Black has far fewer wraths than white, so Languish is even more important despite being weaker overall. The other two most powerful wraths available are Extinction Event and Crux of Fate. When you cast Extinction Event choosing even after using spot removal on your opponent’s odd mana value creatures, it can be like an unconditional wrath with the upside of exiling your opponent’s creatures. Sometimes you can’t afford to miss any creatures or you don’t want to use your spot removal pre-wrath though, however this does hit creatures with more than four toughness. Crux of Fate also does that, but costs an additional mana which is sometimes to slow. It also feels really bad when your opponent has a Glorybringer or another Dragon which became more relevant with the release of Adventures in the Forgotten Realms.

Red Staples

Lightning Bolt

Lightning Bolt is the most efficient red removal spell and can also kill your opponent, making it the most played nonland card in the format for good reason. Most red decks are aggressive, and will primarily use this to kill an opposing blocker or to deal damage directly to the opponent. However, many Control decks also utilize this spell because it answers creatures so efficiently. As such, Lightning Bolt goes in every red deck.

Embercleave

Embercleave is the strongest finisher for red aggressive strategies. By granting double strike and trample at instant speed to any creature, this spell makes combat nightmarish for the opponent by either granting you a favorable trade, killing their creature for free, or more often killing the opponent outright. If by some miracle your opponent survives that combat, you can continue to use the powerful buff by re-equipping it. However, despite all these powerful effects Embercleave would be unplayable if it cost the full six mana. The ability to reduce the spell’s mana cost for each attacking creature is the most powerful part of the card, especially since all decks running it already want to attack with many creatures.

Bonecrusher Giant

Like the previously discussed Brazen Borrower, Bonecrusher Giant is arguably the best Adventure creature in the format. By being an efficient removal spell with an additional upside of negating Fog effects as well as an above-rate threat that punishes the opponent for answering it, Bonecrusher Giant does more than any creature should be able to do. In almost every game this will serve as a two-for-one that deals at least four damage to your opponent, making it a powerful choice for any deck whether it be Aggro, Midrange, or Control.

Chandra, Torch of Defiance

Chandra does an incredible amount of things for any deck fortunate enough to run her. Her first +1 ability either grants direct damage or card advantage, whichever is convenient for you at the time. Her second +1 ability ramps you, allowing Control decks to more easily represent countermagic while double spelling and Aggro decks to cast multiple threats. Her -3 kills most creatures in the format, and if you are ever able to reach her -7 ultimate it’s lights-out for your opponent. The strength of this card doesn’t come from the power of any individual ability, but from the versatility of having access to all of them at once.

Glorybringer

Glorybringer is a powerful top end threat for both Aggro and Midrange decks. By having both flying and haste, it almost always gets in for a large amount of damage the turn it enters play. Additionally using Exert makes it almost impossible to block for the opponent since they will likely lose their best blocker. Even some Control decks are making use of the Dragon as a repeatable removal spell that doubles as a win condition.

Green Staples

Llanowar Elves

Since green has no one powerful answer like the other colors, I’ll stick to what green is best at: creatures and ramp. Llanowar Elves is the best accelerant in the format, allowing Aggro decks to play threats like Steel Leaf Champion early and Ramp decks to cast turn two Cultivate. Dorks have proven to be powerful in every Magic format, and Llanowar Elves is the cheapest one available. Gilded Goose is also a powerful one mana dork, however it cannot continuously produce mana every turn without another form of Food generation.

The Great Henge

While nine mana might seem like a lot, this card usually only costs between three and five mana. Once on the board this legendary artifact is ramp, card draw, an anthem, and lifegain all at once. It is basically a combination of two Llanowar Elves, a Prosperous Innkeeper, a Guardian Project, and a Boreal Outrider all stapled together. Any of these effects on their own would be good, but together they provide an insane amount of value which proves unsurmountable if left unchecked for even a few turns. Nearly all green creature decks run this card as a way to gain the upperhand in the late game.

Nissa, Who Shakes the World

Once on the Gladiator Banned List, Nissa has returned to reclaim her throne as one of the most powerful planeswalkers available. She turns your lands into powerful threats that also protect her with vigilance. She simultaneously ramps you by doubling the mana produced by all your Forests, not even just basic lands. The lands even have haste so they can start pressuring your opponent immediately, and also work well with cards that care about +1/+1 counters. And if your opponent lives long enough to see her -8 ultimate, those lands become nearly impossible to remove and you never run out of mana or gas.

Questing Beast

Deciphering this walking textbox of a Beast is a daunting task, but once you have you’ll realize that there isn’t anything this creature can’t do. An on-rate body with three powerful keywords and built-in evasion would be enough to push this to the top of the list of powerful creatures in the format. However, Wizards of the Coast also gave it two more lines of text, letting it answer planeswalkers without stopping the pressure on the opponent and allowing you to ignore Protection and Fog effects. You’ll memorize the text of this card eventually since losing to it is a regular occurrence for any seasoned Gladiator player. I’m still shocked it doesn’t have secret reach.

Elder Gargaroth

This creature is the boogeyman of the format. Despite doing nothing the turn it enters the battlefield, it proves to be a powerful top end threat with a suite of amazing abilities. On top of its three keywords which allow it to play both offense and defense, it also can create tokens, draw cards, and gain life. The tokens can apply pressure or stay on defense, while the cards can gain you more advantage without committing to the board. Even the lifegain is powerful since it helps stabilize against opposing Aggro decks. Which Beast do you like better? Most green players can’t decide and run both.


That’s All For Now

That’s all the cards I have time to talk about today. Tune in again later this week for part two of this article where I will go through multi-colored and colorless cards including lands. In the meantime, if you have questions about what I included or left off of the list, shoot me a message on Discord at #Wreckdeck4901 or leave a comment on this article.