Last updated on September 18, 2023
Dueling Coach | Illustration by Caio Monteiro
The Starter Deck Duel is a fairly recent addition to Magic Arena’s new player experience. It’s one of the best events for players that are new to Magic, and above all for those playing on a shoestring budget.
Let’s cover what the Starter Deck Duel is, where to find it, how to skip it (if you wish), and the several reasons why to play it.
Rivals' Duel | Illustration by Zoltan Boros & Gabor Szikszai
The Starter Deck Duel is a Preconstructed event on Magic Arena in which you choose one from among ten starter decks and battle other players, also piloting one of those ten starter decks.
The event has no entry fee, you can play as much as you want, and you can switch decks as often as you like.
For brand-new accounts, Sparky (the talkative Wisp that guides you through the New Player Experience) unlocks the Starter Deck Duel once you’ve cleared the PvE tutorials:
If you’ve already unlocked all play modes (or your account already existed by the time the SDD was added to Magic Arena), you’ll find the SDD in MTGA’s Play Blade under Events, where you can also find every format that Magic Arena has to offer. If you have trouble finding the SDD, filter by “Constructed” and you should see it at the very top.
If your MTGA account is brand new, you kinda have to – Sparky’s a stern teacher and won’t let you proceed further until you get three wins and complete the SDD event. At that point, it’ll gift you 600 gems and unlock the next (and last) step of the new player experience: the Spark Rank.
You can skip the whole New Player Experience if you want to jump straight into the deep end of the pool – to do so, click “Adjust Options” (the gear icon on the top right), then “Account”, and then you’ll see an “Unlock Play Modes” button at the top (you still get the 600 gems, by the way!).
Either way, the SDD is always available for you to play in the future. Reasons why you may want to revisit the SDD include:
- For your first two wins, you’ll earn a couple of Individual Card Rewards (known as IRCs; that’s MTGA’s fancy term for “a random card added to your collection”), plus a nice cosmetic for your third win.
- If you’re new to Magic, the SDD is great for learning the game: although the SDD decks don’t cover every MTG mechanic, they’re an excellent introduction to many of the intricacies that make Magic such a great game.
- It’s an even playing field. You may bump into experienced players in this game mode, but they’ll be on an even footing when it comes to the decks they’re using. While in the SDD, you don’t have to worry about your budget deck being overrun by expensive, top-tier decks.
- If you’re playing on a strict budget (or entirely F2P) the SDD is a great way to grind Daily Quests, which is how you get Gold: the SDD provides you with decks of every color pair, so you’re guaranteed to have the deck you need.
And the cherry on top: all the SDD decks will get added to your collection!
If you have a brand-new account, you’ll earn every deck as soon as you win with it, and Sparky will also gift you all the decks you don’t already have once you complete the Spark Rank. If you skip things and unlock all the Play Modes, you get all the decks right away.
Once a deck is added to your collection, the cards are fully yours: you can use them in any deck you want and for any Constructed format that the cards are legal for.
The only drawbacks are that:
- It doesn’t increase your MTG Arena Ranks – while great for grinding Gold, you won’t progress your ranking in this mode; and
- Opponents in SDD games can sometimes play very slowly – which is to be expected, of course, considering that the SDD is aimed at starting players that see the cards for the first time. We’ve all been there, after all! =)
These are the ten SDD decks, in alphabetic order.
Third Path Iconoclast x2
Electrostatic Infantry x2
Ghitu Amplifier x2
Chrome Host Seedshark
Baral and Kari Zev
Meldweb Curator x2
Najal, the Storm Runner
Gandalf the Grey
Tolarian Terror x2
The Izzet starter deck () is one of the best SDD decks with efficient removal and lots of card draw.
Viashino Branchrider x3
Feldon, Ronom Excavator
Sprouting Goblin x2
Ilysian Caryatid x3
Kolaghan Warmonger x2
Migloz, Maze Crusher
Samut, Vizier of Naktamun
Dragon Whelp x2
Furnace Strider x2
Ravenous Sailback x2
Volcanic Dragon x2
Surrak and Goreclaw
Shivan Branch-Burner x2
The Gruul deck () is fairly aggressive and has lots of haste creatures, but overall it’s a bit on the weak side. While it can overrun foes when having a good hand, it tends to run out of steam quickly.
It lacks efficient 2-drops (which is a sin and a crime for an aggressive deck!), and its good creatures tend to be too expensive. It also lacks removal for catching up when falling behind. Spells like Epic Confrontation require you to have a creature on board, and smart opponents save their instant-speed removal to blow you out in this instance.
Fallaji Archaeologist x2
Vohar, Vodalian Desecrator x2
Reezug, the Bonecobbler
Academy Wall x3
Trawler Drake x2
Meldweb Curator x2
Rona, Sheoldred's Faithful x2
Halo-Charged Skaab x3
Hidetsugu and Kairi
In particular, Grave Secrets includes an alternate win condition: you can mill your foes (that’s to say, run them out of cards). Several of your cards (like Halo-Charged Skaab, Unseal the Necropolis, and above all Breach the Multiverse) can mill players. But through Rusko, Clockmaker you can conjure a Midnight Clock, which shuffles your graveyard back into your deck and thus prevent you from milling yourself.
Benalish Knight-Counselor x2
Enduring Bondwarden x2
Dusk Legion Duelist
Juniper Order Rootweaver x3
Ruins Recluse x2
Botanical Brawler x2
Fairgrounds Trumpeter x3
Kami of Whispered Hopes x2
The Selesnya () starter deck is one of the green SDD decks making profuse use of +1/+1 counters (the other being Sylvan Wisdom): nearly all its synergies are about buffing your creatures.
With a good selection of cheap creatures, this is perhaps the strongest SDD deck when it draws the nuts: Benalish Knight-Counselor into Quirion Beastcaller into Botanical Brawler or Kami of Whispered Hopes is just game over.
On the other hand, the deck is marred by a lack of good removal, which makes it difficult to catch up if you fall behind. Your creatures are also weak if the synergies are disrupted.
Recruitment Officer x2
Survivor of Korlis x3
Ambush Paratrooper x3
Resolute Reinforcements x2
Harbin, Vanguard Aviator
Zephyr Sentinel x2
Patchplate Resolute x2
Scrapwork Cohort x2
Myrel, Shield of Argive
Yotian Tactician x2
Aeronaut Cavalry x2
The Azorius () starter deck is one of the most aggressive, and it’s also among the strongest. It has one of the best early curves, with lots of good, cheap creatures. And it has a few good lords (creatures with a global effect that buffs creatures of a specific type; in this case, soldiers) and board-wide buffs, so it can grow a scary army very fast.
It also has several flash creatures, which you can play at instant speed to surprise your opponent.
Its removal is among the worst among SDD decks, and much of it can only be played at sorcery speed. Still, it’s among the best decks for this event.
Ichor Drinker x2
Benalish Sleeper x3
Norn's Inquisitor x2
Phyrexian Missionary x2
Seedpod Caretaker x2
Gix, Yawgmoth Praetor
Infected Defector x3
Essence of Orthodoxy
Alabaster Host Intercessor x3
The black-white starter deck (the Orzhov color pair) focuses on the incubate mechanic: each time you trigger incubate, you create an Incubator token, which you can then turn into a creature for two mana.
One of the best SDD decks, with good removal, straightforward synergies, and lots of staying power.
Probably the strongest of them all, the Boros starter deck () focuses on equipment and the for Mirrodin! mechanic, which creates a 2/2 red Rebel creature token and automatically attaches the equipment to the rebel.
The deck has a very good early curve, efficient removal, and a couple of artifacts that provide flying to evade blockers when your opponent’s units outgrow yours. If you need to earn some quick wins to get your dailies done, this is probably the deck to choose.
Cult Conscript x2
Blanchwood Prowler x3
Wary Thespian x3
Diminished Returner x2
Burrowing Razormaw x2
Ravenous Gigamole x3
Terror of Towashi
Skyfisher Spider x2
Sauron, the Necromancer
Phyrexian Gargantua x2
With a grim Golgari sense of humor, the black-green starter deck focuses on burying your foe alive in a never-ending stream of threats coming from your graveyard.
It has some points of contact with Grave Secrets (the Dimir deck), but Savage Scavenger has a simpler, yet very effective, approach: creatures that provide value by drawing cards, putting cards into play, destroying foes, or just refusing to stay dead.
It’s one of the most consistent decks, thanks in large part to Blanchwood Prowler and Wary Thespian ensuring you draw lands and threats in time. It also has one of the best sets of removal at instant speed, making Savage Scavengers one of the best SDD decks.
Ashnod, Flesh Mechanist
Sanitarium Skeleton x3
Gixian Infiltrator x3
Vraan, Executioner Thane
Phyrexian Dragon Engine
Etched Familiar x3
Stormclaw Rager x2
Testament Bearer x3
Mishra, Claimed by Gix
Sengir Connoisseur x2
Rankle and Torbran
The Rakdos deck () has one of the strongest cards in this event: Urabrask's Forge, which generates a growing threat every turn. If played on curve, few other decks can remove the Forge, and none can withstand it for long.
Sadly, a single bomb doesn’t a good deck make, and this is perhaps the runt of the SDD litter. Scrapyard Sacrifice is overall pretty clunky, trying to be too smart for its own good with its sacrifice synergies. It can pack a punch with a great opening hand, but without Urabrask's Forge it’s often too inconsistent in the early game and too weak later on.
Nimrodel Watcher x3
Lothlórien Lookout x2
Arwen Undómiel x2
Grey Havens Navigator x3
Chance-Met Elves x3
Glorfindel, Dauntless Rescuer
Nissa, Resurgent Animist
Celeborn the Wise x2
Galadhrim Guide x2
Elrond, Master of Healing
Ezuri, Stalker of Spheres
The Simic deck () has some points in common with the Selesnya deck, with a lot of focus on +1/+1 tokens. It’s much weaker, though, since most buffs are payoffs for scrying, and the deck doesn’t have too many scry cards.
The other problem is a severe lack of good removal. Your creatures can get quite big if you get the perfect hand, but most often than not they get removed or outgrown. I would rate Sylvan Wisdom as the second worst, only above the Rakdos deck.
You can find all the starter decks you’ve already unlocked in the “Starter Decks” tab of your “Decks” menu.
You can’t modify decks in the “Starter Decks” category, so if you want to tweak one of your Starter Decks, you’ll have to clone it to “My Decks”:
The Spark Rank is a Constructed queue in Magic Arena specifically tailored for new accounts. You unlock the Spark Rank after completing the Starter Deck Duel (by getting to three wins).
Once you climb the four rungs of the Spark Rank, you’re placed in the Bronze category of the “real” Constructed ranked, and all the Arena game modes are unlocked. At this point, the Spark Rank vanishes, and you can’t replay it with the same account.
Like the Starter Deck Duel, the Spark Rank was introduced to MTGA in patch 2023.24.40.
As described in said patch notes, “To help players begin their ranked journey, Spark Rank gives new players a place to play against other players with similar skills and decks. In Spark Rank, players will progress more quickly if they win consistently or bring a strong deck.”
In my experience, from a couple of new accounts I created recently, the “similar decks” part isn’t too accurate – while piloting an unmodificed starter deck in the Spark Rank, I’ve bumped into fully-kitted, top-tier decks that just ran me over.
Always in my opinion, you’re better off just skipping the Spark Rank by unlocking all Play Modes, as described at the start of this article:
- You’ll find yourself at the Bronze rank of the real Constructed ladder, where you’ll face much fairer competition,
- You get all the rewards from the new player experience,
- You can revisit the Starter Deck Duel any time you want (only the Spark Rank vanishes; the SDD is forever available),
- If you’re interested in Limited formats, you get to play them right away, rather than having to slog through a Constructed queue.
You get all the single-color decks after completing the very first tutorial and each dual-color deck after you win with it in the Starter Deck duel.
Alternatively, you can get all starter decks right away by skipping the new player experience and unlocking all Play Modes.
Elspeth Resplendent | Illustration by Anna Steinbauer
Well, time to finish what we started!
The Starter Deck Duel is one of the best ways for learning how to play Magic while facing an even field, and when you’re starting out it’s also one of the best ways to grind Daily Quests.
Have you played the Starter Deck Duel event? If you haven’t, I hope you’ve found this useful. If you have any doubts or need specific tips for each Starter deck, feel free to ping me on the Draftsim Discord!
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