Last updated on August 25, 2023

Carnage Gladiator - Illustration by Ryan Barger

Carnage Gladiator | Illustration by Ryan Barger

Every now and then Magic players look for different decks to enjoy their favorite game. And more often than not they come up with brilliant ideas for new ways to play it.

You could imagine that this is hard to accomplish on MTGA. But there’s an option where you can set your own rules for playing the game, and clever players quickly realized how to exploit this to create their own format.

WotC decided to implement it into Arena thanks to its popularity, and now we have a brand-new format at our doors! While it may be just as an event for now, it opens the door to a format that could come to stay.

I’m talking about Gladiator, and today it’s time to uncover all its secrets. Let the battle begin!

What Is Gladiator?

Blizzard Brawl - Illustration by Manuel Castañón

Blizzard Brawl | Illustration by Manuel Castañón

Gladiator is a format that’s very similar to Brawl or Historic Brawl in that you get to play with 100 Singleton cards, with the exception that you’re not tied to a commander. You play BO3 matches with no sideboard, meaning that cards outside the game and companions can’t be part of your deck.

I’ll go over the full rules in detail in just a bit, but that’s the format at first glance.

Who Is Gladiator for?

Gladiator’s main appeal is that it’s an eternal Arena format, which means that every card introduced is playable except for the ones that are banned. Some of the other reasons you might want to try the format are:

  • Maybe you just want to play with the rares/mythics you got from drafts or opening boosters without spending tons of wildcards to build a deck with full playsets.
  • Sometimes you want to brew and play with cards that aren’t “nerfed” or “rebalanced” on Arena while still using Alchemy cards.
  • Maybe you don’t mind spending a couple wildcards here and there if it’s all you’re missing to make a decent deck into a great one.

Those are just some examples, but if you ask me, playing with non-rebalanced cards is a massive appeal to me. Why?

Remember when they nerfed The Meathook Massacre, which was critical for your Rakdos () sacrifice Brawl deck? It sucked, right? Well, you don’t have to worry about that here! And the way I see it you should be able to play with the cards you’re used to, especially if you come from the paper scene.

Gladiator-Legal Sets

Every set on Arena is playable in Gladiator. This means the Arena base set, Alchemy cards, Anthologies cards (both Historic and Explorer), and every other card on the digital platform is at your disposal to build your deck. Aside from the handful of banned cards, of course.

Gladiator Rules

Cyclops Gladiator - Illustration by Kev Walker

Cyclops Gladiator | Illustration by Kev Walker

Every format has its rules, and Gladiator is no exception. I already covered most of them but let me expand more:

  • Gladiator is a Singleton format like Commander or Brawl. Cards that specify a deck can have more than one/any number of them, like Rat Colony, are the only exceptions.
  • Matches are BO3.
  • Your starting life total is 20 life.
  • Matches run under the timer set by Arena.
  • Your deck must contain a minimum of 100 cards.
  • There is no sideboard, and cards that look for cards outside of the game can be used but no cards will be retrieved.
  • Companions are not allowed since there’s no sideboard.
  • The legal card pool is every card that has been released on MTGA.
  • Alchemy cards are legal.
  • Rebalanced cards are not legal.

Gladiator Banlist

The following cards are banned in Gladiator:

Where to Play Gladiator

Gladiator is an Arena-only format, and it can only be played on the digital client. Matches are scheduled via Discord where games are played daily based on demand, and tournaments are organized every couple of weeks.

Gladiator Decks

With such a wide variety of cards and little to no banned ones, the format isn’t settled and there’s no clear best deck out there. Still, I’ll mention the ones I found that caught my interest as well as a brew of mine you might be interested in trying out.

Mono White Aggro

Esper Sentinel - Illustration by Eric Deschamps

Esper Sentinel | Illustration by Eric Deschamps

Deck Guide

If you’re looking for a straightforward aggressive deck, Discord user PladCladNinja has you covered. This deck starts adding pressure on turn 1 and doesn’t let your opponent catch a breath.

Grixis Control

Kolaghan's Command - Illustration by Daarken

Kolaghan's Command | Illustration by Daarken

Planeswalker (5)

Narset, Parter of Veils
Tasha, Unholy Archmage
Sorin the Mirthless
Jace, Unraveler of Secrets
Ashiok, Nightmare Muse

Creature (12)

Ledger Shredder
Valki, God of Lies
Viconia, Nightsinger's Disciple
Brazen Borrower
Murderous Rider
Nighthawk Scavenger
God-Eternal Kefnet
Nicol Bolas, the Ravager
Citystalker Connoisseur
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
The Scarab God
Torrential Gearhulk

Instant (28)

Commit /// Memory
Erebos's Intervention
Cling to Dust
Fatal Push
Thassa's Intervention
Jwari Disruption
Memory Lapse
Doom Blade
Supreme Will
Absorb Energy
Saw It Coming
Sinister Sabotage
Prismari Command
Soul Shatter
Kolaghan's Command
Kindred Denial
Memory Deluge
Baleful Mastery
Silumgar's Command
Discover the Formula
Sublime Epiphany

Sorcery (11)

Bloodchief's Thirst
Inquisition of Kozilek
Thought Erasure
Expressive Iteration
Demonic Tutor
Feed the Swarm
Cry of the Carnarium
Extinction Event
Enter the God-Eternals

Enchantment (4)

The Meathook Massacre
Search for Azcanta
Fable of the Mirror-Breaker
Shark Typhoon

Artifact (3)

Coldsteel Heart
Mazemind Tome
Mind Stone

Land (37)

Blightstep Pathway
Blood Crypt
Canyon Slough
Castle Locthwain
Castle Vantress
Clearwater Pathway
Drowned Catacomb
Fabled Passage
Fetid Pools
Field of Ruin
Forsaken Crossroads
Hall of Storm Giants
Haunted Ridge
Hive of the Eye Tyrant
Island x3
Ketria Triome
Otawara, Soaring City
Raffine's Tower
Raugrin Triome
Riverglide Pathway
Shipwreck Marsh
Steam Vents
Stormcarved Coast
Swamp x3
Takenuma, Abandoned Mire
Temple of Deceit
Temple of Epiphany
Temple of Malice
Waterfront District
Watery Grave
Xander's Lounge
Zagoth Triome


For more controlling players like myself, I found this list from one of the most recent tournaments held by the Gladiator community. Its creator, Marius Badea, knew what they were doing when combining powerful spells to create a fantastic deck that genuinely represents what Grixis () is known for: dominating your opponents.

Rakdos Sacrifice

The Meathook Massacre - Illustration by Chris Seaman

The Meathook Massacre | Illustration by Chris Seaman

Planeswalker (3)

Ob Nixilis, the Adversary
Lolth, Spider Queen
Liliana, Dreadhorde General

Creature (32)

Cauldron Familiar
Cursebound Witch
Dockside Chef
Shambling Ghast
Unwilling Ingredient
Goblin Trapfinder
Unlucky Witness
Blood Artist
Priest of Forgotten Gods
Seekers' Squire
Skyclave Shade
Tenacious Underdog
Valki, God of Lies
Dreadhorde Butcher
Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger
Riveteers Provocateur
Bloodthirsty Adversary
Rahilda, Wanted Cutthroat
Young Pyromancer
Lurrus of the Dream-Den
Fell Stinger
Skullport Merchant
Woe Strider
Yahenni, Undying Partisan
Mayhem Devil
Bonecrusher Giant
Seasoned Pyromancer
Orcus, Prince of Undeath
Yawgmoth, Thran Physician
Anje, Maid of Dishonor
Prosper, Tome-Bound
Raphael, Fiendish Savior

Instant (8)

Fatal Push
Village Rites
Lightning Bolt
Unholy Heat
Deadly Dispute
Painful Bond
Kolaghan's Command

Sorcery (12)

Claim // Fame
Bloodchief's Thirst
Bone Shards
Inquisition of Kozilek
Spark Harvest
Claim the Firstborn
Shatterskull Smashing
Demonic Tutor
Molten Impact
Agadeem's Awakening
Call of the Death-Dweller

Enchantment (8)

Weaponize the Monsters
The Meathook Massacre
Makeshift Munitions
Bastion of Remembrance
Phyrexian Arena
Sanguine Brushstroke
Bank Job
Fable of the Mirror-Breaker

Artifact (3)

Witch's Oven
Witch's Cauldron
Bolas's Citadel

Land (34)

Blightstep Pathway
Blood Crypt
Canyon Slough
Den of the Bugbear
Dragonskull Summit
Haunted Ridge
Hive of the Eye Tyrant
Hostile Hostel
Mountain x9
Phyrexian Tower
Savai Triome
Sokenzan, Crucible of Defiance
Swamp x10
Takenuma, Abandoned Mire
Tramway Station
Xander's Lounge
Ziatora's Proving Ground

This deck may not be as aggressive as mono white and it doesn’t have the same card quality as Grixis control, but it can snowball your opponents with relative ease.

Your creatures dying is usually a bad thing, but in this deck’s case ’it’s the opposite. Every creature has graveyard synergies that can be exploited with the multiple sac outlets you have to finish your opponents off.

This deck is fun, and you should definitely try it if you can afford it.

Getting Started with Gladiator

Arena Athlete - Illustration by Jason Chan

Arena Athlete | Illustration by Jason Chan

So, where do you start now that I’ve hopefully caught your attention? There are a lot of places.

But first, here are some tips you can follow to make your build process more straightforward.

Choose a Strategy

This might be intuitive for some, but it’s worth adding a fresh reminder since not all decks play the same way. And more importantly, not all of them suit your playstyle.

If you like control decks, for example, you should focus on blue since it’s the primary color in these kinds of decks. But you’d be better off with a mono-colored or potentially 2-color deck if you like aggressive strategies. And if you’re interested in midrange decks, you’ll likely play three colors or more.

Just keep in mind that the more colors you run the more wildcards you’ll likely need to spend on lands instead of other cards for the deck.

Look at Your Collection

Once you’ve figured out which strategy you want to play, start looking at what you have available in your collection. Unless you’re an expert drafter, chances are you won’t have enough wildcards to craft the most popular decks.

Commons and uncommons shouldn’t be a problem, but rares and mythics might be trickier to get. I suggest looking at what you have because you might have a bunch of cards that follow the same strategy or have at least the same color pair among your rares and mythics.

From there you can see what cards are missing and then craft the ones with lower rarity.

Look for Replacements

If you’re already set on a deck or strategy, the next step is to look at your wildcard balance. Maybe there’s a rare removal that could be replaced for an uncommon one, or maybe a land that enters the battlefield tapped but fixes your mana as if it were a Triome.

Changes like this could be made in an effort to reduce the amount of rare and mythic wildcards you use per deck.

Invest in Lands

As someone who suffered from the “I want to build all the decks” syndrome when I played IRL events, I can tell you that the best way to spend your resources is by getting the lands first.

Lands are the base of every deck. While you probably won’t be playing the same mythic dragon in every deck you build, chances are that you will end up playing the same rare land in every deck that shares its color.

Gladiator Communities

Gladiator is a well-structured format with tons of resources and players dedicated to it. The matches are currently handled via Discord, where you can look for games on the server and send a direct challenge to your opponent to complete games.

The community also has its own site where rules, tournament results, guides, and any Gladiator-related news gets posted. It’s a site you can’t miss if you want to dig a bit more into the format.

Here’s the complete list of community resources for Gladiator:

Wrap Up

Undead Gladiator - Illustration by Slawomir Maniak

Undead Gladiator | Illustration by Slawomir Maniak

As you may have noticed, Gladiator is a format I’m very excited about. It has everything I like from Brawl while allowing me to play with cards in their original state and not their rebalanced form. I’ll be brewing a lot during the official Arena event as the format has the potential to be fun!

What do you think? Are there decks you’d like to build? Please let me know in the comments below or over on the Draftsim Discord. And if you’re looking for a way to track your decks during the event and beyond, Arena Tutor is a must-have.

That’s all I got for now. Take care, and have a fantastic week everyone!

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