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Challenger Deck Upgrades: Counter Surge

Normally, you'd be checking out the latest Instant Deck Tech right about now, but we are doing something a bit different this week. Don't worry, Instant Deck Techs will be back next week, but today we're kicking off a series on upgrading the Challenger Decks, which were released on Friday. If you're not familiar with the Challenger Decks, they're a four-deck series with an MSRP of $30, designed to give players a Standard deck that's playable right out of the box! Most have pretty good value for their price, but each can be improved with some upgrades.

So, our plan today is simple. First, we'll have a brief overview of the deck. Then, we'll have a $20 upgrade deck, with the goal being to make the most competitive deck possible by adding just 20 extra dollars to the $30 Challenger Deck. Finally, since each Challenger Deck is modeled after a tier deck in Standard, we'll talk about what you need to do to turn your Challenger Deck into a top-tier, competitive Standard deck! First, we upgraded Hazoret Aggro, followed by Second Sun Control and then Vehicle Rush, which means today we wrap up our Challenger Deck upgrade series with Counter Surge, which is basically the Challenger Deck version of GB Snek / Winding Constrictor

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The Deck

  • Counter Surge is basically the midrange creature deck from the Challenger Deck series. If you love making huge threats with the help of +1/+1 counters, this is likely the Challenger Deck for you!
  • The strength of Counter Surge is that it deals with +1+1 counters, which is an extremely powerful theme. It also has some really powerful individual cards, including Winding Constrictor and Verdurous Gearhulk
  • On the other hand, Counter Surge has some weaknesses as well. Actually, it's my pick for the worst Challenger Deck right out of the box for two big reasons. First, the mana is pretty clunky. Second, and more importantly, Counter Surge feels like the worst designed of any of the Challenger Decks, with some really odd card choices that don't really fit with the counters theme, including Gonti, Lord of Luxury, Dreamstealer, and Scrapheap Scrounger. The end result is that the deck feels less focused than the other Challenger Decks, which is weird, since most of the others are very well designed. 

$20 Upgrades

  • The $20 upgrade build of the deck is pretty simple: we drop the cards without any synergy like Gonti, Lord of Luxury (which is probably fine in the sideboard), Dreamstealer, and Scrapheap Scrounger and replace them with Bristling Hydra and Servant of the Conduit.We spend the rest of out budget on more dual lands to improve the mana. The end result is a really solid-looking GB Energy deck. 
  • While Counter Surge is my least favorite Challenger Deck out of the box, it might be my favorite Challenger Deck with $20 of upgrades. If you decide that Counter Surge is the Challenger Deck for you, plan on tossing in the extra $20 to upgrade as soon as possible; the deck will function (and be a lot more fun) as a result. 

  • The other problem with Counter Surge is that it's basically impossible to use it to upgrade to the tier build of the deck: Sultai Energy. Sultai Energy is the most expensive deck in Standard, and the $30 Challenger Deck simply doesn't do enough to start you down the road. You'd still have to put out several hundred dollars on The Scarab God, Carnage Tyrant, Walking Ballista, Vraska's Contempt, and more dual lands along with a bunch of still somewhat expensive cards like Jadelight Ranger and Liliana, Death's Majesty. If you want to play Sultai Energy, that's great—it's one of the best decks in all of Standard—just skip the Challenger deck altogether and buy the singles you need for Sultai Energy proper. Otherwise, just plan on turning Counter Surge into the sweet and powerful-looking $20 upgrade GB Energy deck and forget about putting significantly more money into it. 
  • If you want a middle ground, even some of the additions from the non-budget build would be helpful, like Fatal Push and Vraska's Contempt over the lesser removal spells, and maybe a couple of Carnage Tyrants on the top end. 


Anyway, that's all for today! Have you tried the Counter Surge Challenger Deck? How did it go? What other upgrade options are out there? Let me know in the comments! As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at

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