Last updated on December 7, 2020

MTG Arena and Paper Best Starter Decks

Let’s face it, there’s nothing better than jumping right into a game of Magic. But with a card pool of over 20,000 unique cards to choose from, creating a playable deck can be a pretty difficult and lengthy process.

Enter starter decks, nifty pre-constructed products that forgo you having to run to the store on a dime to get your hands on new cards or worrying about tuning your deck. These products are designed for you and ready-to-play, right out of the gate!

The question, though, is this: which one of these decks is the best? This article seeks to answer that question for you!

We’ll start with the MTG Arena starter decks (or “structure decks,” as they might be referred to in other games). Which of these decks give you the best chance at winning? What are the notable rares? Can they be easily modified to actual competitive decks? All this, and more, will be revealed here.

Once we’ve covered everything Arena, we’ll head over to the paper Magic starter decks and show you all the products you can get your hands on in real life. Which ones are best suited for you? What are they aiming to provide? You’ll discover it all right here. As always, there’s a lot to talk about, so let’s get started!

Start Your Engines MTG card art by Darek Zabrocki

Start Your Engines | Illustration by Darek Zabrocki

Best MTG Arena Starter Decks

2021 rotation deck rankings authored by Nikki

When you first sign up for MTGA, you follow a tutorial that shows you the ropes a bit and previews the mono-colored starter decks that you’ll unlock before anything else. After that, you’ll complete “Color Challenges” to help teach you the ropes of Magic and improve your mono-colored starter decks before fully unlocking them and being released into the wilds of Arena to earn the dual-colored decks.

There’s a total of 10 dual-colored starter decks for you to collect. Best of all, they are totally free and give you a great deck selection and card pool to start your Arena adventures with.

The Pieces are Coming Together MTG card art by Ralph Horsley

The Pieces are Coming Together | Illustration by Ralph Horsley

Each of the MTG Arena starter decks offers a unique type of play associated with their colors. I’ll give a short description with each of the decks to give you a little taste of what they’re all about as well as its resident mythic rare(s).

Wizards announced in August that they’d be updating the dual-colored starter decks for the upcoming rotation, and we’re finally here with the details!

We grabbed numbers from Arena Tutor to officially rank these decks, but three of the decks don’t seem to have been used, and those that have are a fairly small sample size (about 250 matches on average). So, you know, not exactly a great reference point, but it’s something.

I’m also gonna walk you through my “upgrades” for each deck. I’d like to state for the record that I’m a jank player until death do us part, so take my upgrade suggestions with a grain of salt. Unless that’s what you’re going for, of course.

Let’s do this!

#10 – Golgari: Back for More

Back for More | Illustration by Daarken

Back for More | Illustration by Daarken

I want to bring your attention to Back for More, which this deck was named after in a stroke of creative genius. If you’re wondering what the Golgari starter is all about, you’ve pretty much got your answer in this card. Your graveyard is your best friend here, which isn’t surprising when you’ve got black and green working together. There’s also some sprinkling of self-mill, tokens, and just straight-up killing off your creatures.

This one got no love from our players, so it gets the short end of the stick. I’m leaving this one at dead last because, honestly, I’m just not super into this concept. Black is my baby, but I just don’t vibe with what’s going on in this deck. So it gets a big ol’ “meh” from me.

Polukranos, Unchained is this deck’s mythic, which isn’t bad and explains its penchant for grave-stealing.

If we’re gonna call this deck Back for More, though, I think we really need to lean into graveyard shenanigans way more heavily. Murderous Rider is great but we need graveyard fillers so we’ll skip it. Llanowar Visionary and Arasta of the Endless Web also don’t serve our purpose. Sudden Spinnerets feels more like a sideboard card with its reach counter, and while Dead Weight is a good card, it’s not what we’re going for right now. We’re gonna end up leaning much more heavily towards black, so I’d replace a couple forests with Witch’s Cottage for some extra graveyard retrieval.

To replace the rest, Fiend Artisan would be right at home in this deck if you’ve got it kicking around. Otherwise, you can fill those slots with an extra Nightmare Shepherd plus Gravebreaker Lamia, Underworld Sentinel, and Scavenging Ooze with some cheap canon-fodder thrown in. Grim Physician, Archfiend’s Vessel, and Sanitarium Skeleton would all do nicely. Can you tell that black is my color?

#9 – Izzet: Spellpower

Experimental Overload | Illustration by Lie Setiawan

Experimental Overload | Illustration by Lie Setiawan

The beautiful Experimental Overload leads the charge for this Izzet pile. Can you guess what we’re going for here? If you guessed “spellpower,” that’s cheating. Who told you that?

Brazen Borrower, in all its glory, is Spellpower’s mythic powerhouse.

This is a weird one, because I’m loath to take anything out since there just aren’t any Izzet spells to add in. Wizards has a grand total of two Izzet instants/sorceries since Throne of Eldraine: Channeled Force and the Overload, and I’m not adding Force to this deck. That being said, there are some other spells that aren’t horrible, so let’s just take a look at some quick-and-dirty swaps.

Mischievous Chimera takes a slot from Scorching Dragonfire and Sprite Dragon replaces both Vodalian Arcanists. I’m gonna put Rielle, the Everwise in Wavebreak Hippocamp’s spot, and I’m also tempted to take Brazen Borrower out (yes, I know) to make room for Loch Dragon.

#8 – Boros: Company of Knights

Inspiring Veteran | Illustration by Scott Murphy

Inspiring Veteran | Illustration by Scott Murphy

Inspiring Veteran is this deck’s art sake, and rightly so. It’s a great example of what you’re trying to do with this Boros pile, and the art’s pretty nice if I do say so myself. Which I do, just to be clear. Alongside the knight-focus of this deck, though, there’s a clear lean towards counters in Company of Knights. Everyone bolsters everyone else and their mother, with 22 out of 36 non-land cards sporting some kind of counter ability or effect (that’s just over 61%, if you were curious).

The last of our three decks to get no numbers, I actually enjoy this deck’s mojo so it stands out as my favorite. I don’t usually play Boros, but I would for these knights.

This deck’s mythic is the shiny Embercleave, mono red aggro’s favorite child.

Honestly, this deck is pretty solid. I like to lean all the way into our synergies, though, so there just aren’t enough knights or counters in here for me. Scorching Dragonfire, Grasping Giant, and Haktos the Unscarred have less than nothing to do with either, so they’ve got to go. While Basri’s Acolyte plays into the counter angle, we can do that with non-creatures so it gets the boot. And with Haktos, the Acolyte, and the Giant gone, Dub has just about no reason to be in the deck since all of our creatures are now already knights. Yes, I’m purposefully ignoring its other effects. Out it goes.

Replacing the tossed creatures is the final Inspiring Veteran, an extra Rimrock Knight, and some Brimstone Trebuchets. Some other right-at-home additions are a couple copies of Shining Armor and Joust.

I’m also soft for The Circle of Loyalty, but you’d need to add some more legendary cards to get the full effect. Embercleave is your best bet if you wanna go that route.

#7 – Rakdos: Line of Fire

Dire Fleet Warmonger | Illustration by Mathias Kollros

Dire Fleet Warmonger | Illustration by Mathias Kollros

Heading the charge here is Dire Fleet Warmonger. Are you ready to kill your charges? Well, you better get ready cause that’s what Line of Fire is all about.

Ooh, our first deck that’s got some numbers! Rakdos picks up the very end of the pack with a measly 40.88% win rate. Not great, guys.

The Rakdos deck mythic is Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger, which is honestly one of my favorite cards for so many reasons.

If we’re gonna sacrifice all our precious things, we’re gonna do it right. Tectonic Giant, Eat to Extinction, and Alchemist’s Gift just don’t get it, so they can go. Piper of the Swarm is on the fence in my mind, so I’m taking it out just to make room, but you could just as easily leave it in or even lean into the rat race with some copies of Typhoid Rat or Burglar Rat thrown in to keep it company.

Woe Strider is a great card with some built-in cannon fodder, so throw in an extra copy of that. I need some 1-drop sacrificial lambs, so Grim Physician and Goblin Arsonist are up to bat. I’m also not the biggest fan of Fire Prophecy despite its accolades, so I’m replacing one copy with Obosh, the Preypiercer for some extra spice.

#6 – Simic: Massive Menagerie

Thunderous Snapper | Illustration by Johann Bodin

Thunderous Snapper | Illustration by Johann Bodin

Thunderous Snapper is this deck’s featured art, and the card itself doesn’t disappoint. Massive Menagerie is, unsurprisingly, all about the all-natural BIG BOYS, no counters needed.

Ahead of Rakdos but only by a couple, this deck takes up technically second-to-last with a 42.08% win rate. So much for going big, I guess.

The big mythic for this deck is Elder Gargaroth, a sight to behold.

We’re gonna focus on ramping mana to get to our 5+ CMC baddies on the board. While the deck in and of itself does an OK job of that already, we’re gonna tweak some things. Ram Through and Fully Grown are OK with just two copies each, and I’m gonna go ahead and take Witching Well out entirely. Kogla, the Titan Ape isn’t bad, but I’m gonna slide him into the sideboard before I main deck him.

Ilysian Caryatid seems sorely missed in a deck where we’re trying to get big fast, so throw in two copies. It’s important to keep up your defenses while you’re ramping and also get some kind of deck control, so two copies of Wall of Runes it is. Taking Kogla’s place is Primal Empathy, which fits right in with our theme.

I’m partial to Ominous Seas, so I’m also gonna throw in two copies to give Serpent of Yawning Depths some familiar company. I’d probably take out one copy of Maraleaf Pixie and Wolfwillow Haven each, which admittedly isn’t really a great swap I just love that enchantment too much to resist.

#5 – Selesnya: To Adventure!

Wandermare | Illustration by Kari Christensen

Wandermare | Illustration by Kari Christensen

Wandermare is our Selesnya starter’s art sake, and quite majestic if I do say so myself. Adventures is the focal point in this deck, if you couldn’t already tell. So, let’s get going!

A bit faster on the uptake than the others, our adventure boys get away with 46.78% win rate. We’re moving up, but only just slightly.

The larger-than-life Realm-Cloaked Giant is To Adventure!’s resident mythic, reaching into the clouds with an epic adventure of its own.

Similar to our Mutation Station deck, To Adventure! is focused on a mechanic that’s specific to one set, which makes trying to stick to that theme… interesting. Thankfully, a lot of our adventures have a focus of their own: counters.

Primal Might is all right, but we can do better. Banishing Light, on its end, is a good card that unfortunately means none of our criteria so out they all go. Yes, all three copies. Fix up your lands and take out a couple Forests and Plains and then we can start to throw stuff back in.

Lovestruck Beast is phenomenal, so add in a couple extra copies. I also wanna add some mana fixing, so toss in a couple Rosethorn Acolytes and that does it for our adventure boys. On the counter support side of the things, we’re gonna add in some Silverflame Rituals and Invigorating Surge (how on earth does Hydra’s Growth cost the same as Surge??). I’d also suggest replacing one or two Plains with Idyllic Grange.

#4 – Dimir: Mutation Station

Pouncing Shoreshark | Illustration by Dan Scott

Pouncing Shoreshark | Illustration by Dan Scott

The beautiful Pouncing Shoreshark is our beautiful art sake here, though I’m sure you could figure out our theme based on the deck’s title alone: mutate.

Our first deck to hit above 50, the mutating boys get a 51.03% win rate. Only just minutely shy of getting into the top three. There’s always next time, right?

Unfortunately, our resident mythic doesn’t contribute much to the mutation aspect as Massacre Wurm. That’s fine, the only mutating mythics are tri-colored, which would pose a problem so we’ll skip them.

In the “biggies” category, we’re gonna start by throwing out Lochmere Serpent, Underworld Sentinel, and Atris, Oracle of Half-Truths. This is the mutation station, no room for any other shenanigans. For the small boys, I’m really not feeling Boot Nipper. Bye-bye.

Filling up our slots is the final copy of Pollywog Symbiote and an extra Sea-Dasher Octopus and Chittering Harvester. Non-Ikoria cards to add is a tough one, since mutate is, obviously, unique to that set. That being said, these are my picks for all-around-useful: Drown in the Loch, Riptide Turtle, and Heartless Act.

#3 – Orzhov: Life Skills

Indulging Patrician | Illustration by Miranda Meeks

Indulging Patrician | Illustration by Miranda Meeks

I’m sure you know the drill by now. Indulging Patrician is this deck’s feature card and is no exception to the “this is what you can expect from the deck” rule. Specifically, three life gained on your turn.

I’m so happy to say that my favorite combo makes it to the top three. Only just barely, though, with a 51.26% win rate. Flying by the seed of their paints a bit, I’d say.

The beautiful Baneslayer Angel is Life Skill’s resident mythic, and oh boy what an angel.

Let’s jump right into leaning way too hard into triple life gain, shall we? Clackbridge Troll just really rubs me the wrong way for some reason. I get what’s it’s going for, I just don’t like it. Boot Nipper is just shy of being helpful without any help, so out it goes. Tavern Swindler is potentially great, but there’s a reason she’s called a swindler.

Filling up these spots is an extra Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose, because what’s a little life gain if you don’t hurt your opponent in the process? Next up in the “expensive” category are Grimdancer and Majestic Auricorn. For our final addition, we’re gonna stick with two copies of Angel of Vitality because she’s my fav.

#2 – Azorius: Starry-Eyed

Banishing Light | Illustration by Willian Murai

Banishing Light | Illustration by Willian Murai

My favorite title art so far, Banishing Light graces the cover of this Azorius deck. While the artwork itself and the card type hint at our goal here, let me give you a better hint: it’s enchantments.

Apparently, looking up at the stars and daydreaming isn’t such a bad thing. This constellation-focused deck takes second place with a 52.21% win rate. Not bad. Not bad at all.

Kiora Bests the Sea God is Starry-Eyed’s mythic, and what a powerhouse. I would honestly add more if you can. It synergizes with our constellation vibe while also just being a straight-up beast.

Wait, hold on a sec, is that… another mythic? By gods, it is! Luminous Broodmoth joins us as our second mythic. Well, all right then.

The split between artifacts and enchantments, while endearing, is giving me a headache, so out goes Banish into Fable, Arcanist’s Owl, Shambling Suit, and Midnight Clock. I’m also gonna push Luminous Broodmoth out because, great as its ability is, it’s a huge target without much protection and just isn’t quite full of stars like I’d hope.

White has some absolutely boss enchantments for us to sample, and combo-ing Sentinel’s Eyes with Solid Footing is one of my favorite things. Pacifism is also always useful. A couple copies of Staggering Insight wouldn’t hurt either. On the blue side of things, two Protean Thaumaturges and a Riddleform will fit right in.

#1 – Gruul: Stomp, Stomp

Rampart Smasher | Illustration by Emrah Elmasli

Rampart Smasher | Illustration by Emrah Elmasli

Ah, good ol’ Rampart Smasher. Just a big stompy boi. Beautiful. This Gruul deck is all about the big (non-human) boys-once again-and, more importantly, stomping all over your opponent with ‘em.

And, right at the top, we’ve got the good ol’ stompy bois. Very beautiful indeed, and they do pretty good for themselves with a 55% win rate. Nothing exceptional, but for a starter deck that’s passable.

The immaculate Terror of the Peaks is Stomp, Stomp’s mythic. It’s a dragon, which means it’s good in my book.

Warden of the Chained is a good card, and honestly right at home in this deck, but I’m gonna take out one copy for some breathing room. I’m also taking out one copy of Ilysian Caryatid, Rampart Smasher, and Leafkin Avenger each.

First thing we’re gonna add is two copies of Grumgully, the Generous to help boost all our buddies. Quartzwood Crasher goes big or goes home, which is what we’re all about so toss in a copy. Taking up those last two empty slots is two copies of Barge In, which not only compliments the Crasher if he’s on the board, it’s also just plain useful even if he’s not.

Turning Your Preconstructed Decks into Tier 1 and Tier 2

There you have it, the 15 MTG Arena starter decks from best to worst. It is of note to add that all the suggestions of the rare and mythic rare improvements should carefully be considered. You only have so many Wildcards and finding out what you want to invest them in is well worth the effort, as we’ve talked about before in our All About Wildcards article.

As a rule, lands are always a safe bet along with spells that are prominent in multiple decks, so keep a lookout for those. Maybe the most important reason not to invest too much in these pre-con decks is the fact that you can easily transform some of them into valid tier 1 and tier 2 decks. If you can’t find a good deck or decide what to stick with, we’ve got you covered.

Once you’ve collected all the starter decks, it’s simple to move to an actual competitive Standard deck with just a little investment. This is a smart thing to do if you’re wanting to move up the MTG Arena ladder, as you’ll need a deck that can hang with the best of them. Here are our Standard meta deck picks that you can easily move into:

If you want to find your own deck to build or transform a pre-con into, MTG Arena Pro and MTGgoldfish are going to be your best friends. And be sure to read our article about which packs to buy if you need help there.

Pir, Imaginative Rascal MTG card art by Zoltan Boros

Pir, Imaginative Rascal | Illustration by Zoltan Boros

Best Paper Magic Starter Decks

With the immense popularity of MTG Arena and WotC’s heavy promotion of their online platform, paper Magic has been going through a bit of a rough spot. Which is a sad thing, because there are plenty of exciting paper products out there that are well worth the investment.

But paper Magic has lasted over 27 years, has millions of players, and is a force to be reckoned with, so it’s definitely here to stay.

There are definitely some great paper pre-cons out there that a beginning player would be very happy to own. That’s why we’ve put together a list with all the products out there right now and a short description of what they’re all about!

Our Market Research Shows That Players Like Really Long... Elemental MTG card art by Greg Hildebrandt

Our Market Research Shows That Players Like Really Long Card Names So We Made this Card to Have the Absolute Longest Card Name Ever Elemental | Illustration by Greg Hildebrandt

Beginner Deck Products

Planeswalker Decks

Throne of Eldraine

MTG Throne of Eldraine Planeswalker Decks

With the release of Throne of Eldraine in 2019, two new Planeswalker Decks were released to accompany the set. They’re aimed at beginning players wanting to get more familiar with the game. Each deck contains a pre-constructed 60 card deck, two ELD boosters, a strategy guide, and one MTG Arena code.

Theros: Beyond Death

MTG Theros: Beyond Death Planeswalker Decks

Theros: Beyond Death was released a little while ago and with it, a couple of new paper products have hit the shelves! The first of these are the THB Planeswalker Decks. These decks include exclusive cards made specifically for them as well as two Theros booster packs and an MTG Arena digital deck code. These are aimed at beginning players just like the other planeswalker decks.

Starter Kits

Deck Builder’s Toolkit

MTG Theros: Beyond Death Deckbuilder's Toolkit

The second product that’s been released together with Theros: Beyond Death is a new THB Deck Builder’s Toolkit. The toolkit 125 fixed cards, 100 lands, four booster packs, a deck builder’s guide, a “learn to play” guide, and a full-art card storage box. The product is aimed at beginning players who want to start creating their own decks as well as improving the Theros planeswalker decks.

Starter Kit

The gift of giving continues for new players with the Core 2021 Starter Kit. This is a great product for really new players who are just starting after Zendikar Rising‘s rotation. It’s basically a rebranding of the Spellslinger kit for M20, with two ready-to-play decks that each contain five rares and a foil creature. The kit also includes an MTGA code for both decks if you wanna take it digital.

Decks for Non-Standard Formats

Challenger Decks

MTG 2019 Challenger Decks

If you want to try your hand at more competitive play that also includes sideboarding, the 2020 Challenger decks are perfect for you. There are four individual decks that each come with a pre-constructed 60-card main deck and a 15-card sideboard. They’re aimed at Friday Night Magic players that are already familiar with the game. Each deck is designed to be competitive at a local level and geared towards being playable right off the bat. One important note: these decks are no longer Standard legal, as the cards used are from sets that are now out of rotation.

2020 Commander Decks

MTG 2019 Commander Decks

The 2020 Commander Decks have also hit the shelf, and again they’ve got some great new decks to offer. Each of the four decks contains 100 cards, the 10 tokens represented in it, an oversized Commander card, and a deck-box to keep it all in. These decks are aimed at more experienced players who are already familiar with the game. The previous year’s offering also has some decks that might be better for beginners.

Zendikar Rising Commander Decks

Another new Commander product was gifted to use with the release of Zendikar Rising. We’ve got two unique decks, each headed by their own unique commander with a different strategy. Obuun, Mul Daya Ancestor heads the Land’s Wrath deck while Sneak Attack is led by Anowon, the Ruin Thief. Each deck comes with 100 cards, 10 double-sided tokens, one life tracker, and a deck box.

Brawl Decks

MTG Throne of Eldraine Brawl Decks

Last but certainly not least are the Throne of Eldraine Brawl Decks. The Brawl format is a Commander variant that only uses Standard legal cards—check out our All About Brawl article for all the details. Each of the four decks contain cards from the Guilds of Ravnica to Throne of Eldraine sets. Unlike Commander, the Brawl format uses just 60 cards in their decks. The Throne of Eldraine Brawl decks each have planeswalkers specifically designed for this product as well as 20 unique cards that aren’t found in the ELD boosters. A life wheel is also included. This is a great product for experienced players that are already familiar with MTG and its different formats.

The End of Starter Decks (The Article, We Mean)

With that, we’ve come to the end of the line. We’ve covered everything from the MTG Arena starter decks ranked to all the fantastic paper products available to you. To sum it all up for you:

Have any suggestions for products we missed? Let us know if the comments! And if you’re a new MTG Arena player, you absolutely need to try out our tracker and draft assistant, Arena Tutor. See you again soon, but above all, enjoy playing Magic!

Battlefield Promotion MTG card art by Scott Murphy

Battlefield Promotion | Illustration by Scott Murphy

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13 Comments

  • Avatar
    redacted May 6, 2020 11:46 am

    Just wanted to say thank you so much for this article. I’m a new player and probably would have floundered around with the sub par decks instead of winning with Gruul Clans (don’t have orzhov or boros yet). This gave me the confidence to modify and strengthen Gruul Clans and even build my first deck from scratch.

    • Avatar
      Dan Troha May 6, 2020 12:25 pm

      Awesome, so glad it helped you!

    • Niels
      Niels May 7, 2020 1:39 am

      Very happy to hear the article helped you get the confidence you needed! MTG is definitely one of those games where the more time you invest in understanding the game and its intricacies, the more you’ll be able to take away from it. Above all, enjoy playing and have fun with it!

  • Avatar
    Myk August 5, 2020 8:41 am

    The idiot in me edited the initial 5 decks as soon as I got packs not honking of how to put them back. But now I can’t. Some require crafting and I just cant redo out for blood as meteor golem is not on my list. Any tips?

  • Avatar
    Fred October 1, 2020 1:05 pm

    Hi there! could you adjust the starting decks and improvement tips? m20 is out now and i just started :/ Awesome guide anyway! 🙂 thx

    • Avatar
      Dan Troha October 2, 2020 12:29 pm

      Paper decks have been updated!

  • Avatar
    Shade October 23, 2020 3:04 pm

    What about the mono black starter deck Cold Blooded Killers. This is my personal favorite. I’ve kind of tweaked it to my liking. I’m new to Arena…about 2 weeks or so.

  • Avatar
    sw December 5, 2020 10:00 pm

    My Stomp, Stomp doesn’t have Escape to the Wilds card in it.

  • Avatar
    sw December 5, 2020 10:06 pm

    Looks like it has Radha, Heart of Keld instead.

    • Avatar
      Dan Troha December 7, 2020 9:56 am

      Totally makes sense since that card was banned. They’ll replace it with another rare. I’ll update the article, thanks.

  • Avatar
    DK December 30, 2020 9:13 pm

    I must be missing something , i keep ending up with 61 cards for the Stomp, Stomp

    • Avatar
      Dat Nub Doe January 10, 2021 8:21 pm

      He took out 4 cards and put in 5.. Hopefully he catches that and makes a tweak. 😉

      • Avatar
        Dan Troha January 11, 2021 10:43 am

        Not exactly sure what you guys are talking about. 26 + 8 + 1 + 1 +24 = 60.

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