The first wave of Challenger Decks will prove to be wildly popular, especially with brick-and-mortar game stores. This is a product your LGS has been selling for years—decks for new players—but now they come pre-assembled and pre-designed. Time is one of the most valuable resources a store owner has, and the Challenger Decks save store employees tons of time and effort.
The $30 price point created an interesting puzzle for Wizards designer Gavin Verhey and his team to solve. To the delight of consumers, Verhey took a brute force approach to this aspect of the Challenger decks' design; on the day the decklists were revealed, the sum total of the market value of the cards in each deck easily eclipsed $30. Even at the time of writing this, Chandra, Torch of Defiance is the fourth most expensive card in Standard.
Unfortunately, the relatively low price point the Challenger Decks are aiming for does impose a hard cap. There aren't any The Scarab God decks in this batch, and it's unlikely we'll see any The Scarab God Challenger decks while it's legal. The Scarab God is so expensive that any Challenger deck that would feature it wouldn't really be able to play too many other rares. I can only imagine how horrendous the mana would be in that Challenger deck.
Without the obligation to craft a reasonable The Scarab God Challenger deck, Verhey built four decks. One of them starts a path to an optimal deck, and the other three… don't:
Today's piece is about the Winding Constrictor Challenger deck, Counter Surge:
My take on Winding Constrictor is that, while it's nice with Rishkar, Peema Renegade and Walking Ballista, it's never been correct to play it the entire time it's been legal. Full disclosure: I went 1-4 in the recorded games, but I promise—even if I'd gone 5-0, that doesn't change the fact that Winding Constrictor has some problems.
Kaladesh and its linear interactions really pushed the tempo of Standard decks these past couple years, and the Winding Constrictor decks are always these mopey midrange things that start off mediocre and only get worse from there if your opponent has Abrade, Fatal Push, Lightning Strike, Harnessed Lightning or any other extremely widely played removal spell capable of taking care of a Winding Constrictor on time.
The Hadana's Climb iteration is impressive, and likely yields the best Winding Constrictor deck of the card's lifespan, but I've still found it underwhelming and have generally been happy to play against it as a The Scarab God deck. Basically, if you curve Gonti, Lord of Luxury into The Scarab God, they have a tough time winning. If they Vraska's Contempt Gonti, they lose to The Scarab God. If they Vraska's Contempt The Scarab God, Gonti brickwalls their offense while you draw more cards than them, and if they have a Vraska's Contempt for both, congratulate them on their one-for-ones and take solace in the fact that if their draw had two Vraska's Contempt, it's probably lacking in the oomph necessary to beat you before you rebuild.
Lots of people – many of whom are pretty damn good at Magic – like the Winding Constrictor/Hadana's Climb better than I do. To be fair, the midrange deck that can turn on a dime and one-shot you out of nowhere is one of my favorite archetypes. It just so happens that the Hadana's Climb deck is just a very bad iteration of that deck. But that is still something to work towards, and likely where you should take the Counter Surge deck.
The "midrange deck with the combo kill" archetype doesn't come up often, but getting in lots of reps with the archetypes will teach you lots about playing to your outs and playing to win. The nice thing about such a deck is that you generally always have outs, even if you're miles behind, so playing with the deck reinforces the habit of not conceding prematurely. It sounds bonkers, but this is an important habit to develop!
The Challenger decks are not good decks, but they are excellent tools for learning the game in a way other than "get crushed a lot." They're awesome and I'm already excited for the next batch.