Last updated on August 11, 2022
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!
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 rules the full rules in detail in just a bit, but that’s the format at first glance.
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.
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.
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.
The following cards are banned in 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.
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.
Esper Sentinel | Illustration by Eric Deschamps
Mikaeus, the Lunarch
Alseid of Life’s Bounty
Isamaru, Hound of Konda
Usher of the Fallen
Giada, Font of Hope
Shaile, Dean of Radiance
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Tomik, Distinguished Advokist
Lurrus of the Dream-Den
Reidane, God of the Worthy
Adeline, Resplendent Cathar
Ranger-Captain of Eos
Ranger of Eos
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.
Kolaghan’s Command | Illustration by Daarken
Valki, God of Lies
Viconia, Nightsinger’s Disciple
Nicol Bolas, the Ravager
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
The Scarab God
Commit /// Memory
Cling to Dust
Saw It Coming
Discover the Formula
Field of Ruin
Hall of Storm Giants
Hive of the Eye Tyrant
Otawara, Soaring City
Takenuma, Abandoned Mire
Temple of Deceit
Temple of Epiphany
Temple of Malice
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.
The Meathook Massacre | Illustration by Chris Seaman
Priest of Forgotten Gods
Valki, God of Lies
Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger
Rahilda, Wanted Cutthroat
Lurrus of the Dream-Den
Yahenni, Undying Partisan
Orcus, Prince of Undeath
Yawgmoth, Thran Physician
Anje, Maid of Dishonor
Raphael, Fiendish Savior
Claim // Fame
Inquisition of Kozilek
Claim the Firstborn
Call of the Death-Dweller
Den of the Bugbear
Hive of the Eye Tyrant
Sokenzan, Crucible of Defiance
Takenuma, Abandoned Mire
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 blog 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:
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!Follow Draftsim for awesome articles and set updates: