The Best MTG Arena Starter Decks That Won’t Break the Bank


by in Magic: The Gathering Arena | Nov, 16th 2019

I’ve been playing Magic: the Gathering since the early 90s. I’ve transitioned away from the physical release and into MTG Arena since the Closed Beta. But one of the questions that have never changed for me is “What’s a good starter deck”? That’s not always the easiest question to answer, but I’ve done some digging and experimenting. I’m going to offer up 3 MTG Arena starter decks for you to try (with decklists at the bottom of each section).

These decks will run as few rares/mythic rares as possible, but they will be there.

Ideally, these decks will have no more than two playsets of rares. I will also try to focus on decks that aren’t terribly difficult to learn how to play. As always, these are not lists that cannot be changed. Adjust them to your playstyle, cards you have access to, and what feels right for you.

MTG Arena Starter Decks: Mono-Red Aggro

MTG Arena Starter Decks Mono-Red Aggro

Mono-Red Aggro is quite possibly one of the easiest decks in MTG Arena. This particular version only runs one rare card: Torbran, Thane of Red Fell. He’s not the lynchpin, but he sure makes the deck go faster.

This new creature adds +2 damage to any red source of damage you control that hits your opponent. Shock goes from a 1-drop 2 damage spell to a 1-drop 4 damage spell as quick as you can snap your fingers.

This particular deck employs an army of one-drop creatures and spells and the powerful Cavalcade of Calamity. I run a very similar deck in my MTG Arena ranked adventures, but I opted for a few rare lands and a planeswalker (Chandra).

How Does It Work?

”MTG

Ideally, you want to go first and start hammering your opponent with your 1-drops. Tin-Street Dodger has haste, and you can tap 1 red mana to make it unblockable (Except by defenders). Even if your opponent has plenty of creatures, if you have Cavalcade of Calamity on the field, you have guaranteed 2 damage.

Cavalcade of Calamity is the singular card that makes this deck so powerful. It’s a 2-drop enchantment, so you can play it quickly with any luck. Anytime you declare an attack with a creature 1 or lower power, this enchantment deals 1 damage to the player or planeswalker targeted.

Combine that with Torbran and a Chandra’s Spitfire, and you can melt someone with one turn. Chandra’s Spitfire is a ⅓ flyer, that gains +2 damage whenever you deal direct damage to a player. So when you declare an attack, all attackers will trigger Cavalcade. That damage will go through first before blockers are declared.

Even if those 1/1 creatures die, they’ll still trigger Chandra’s buff. I’ve seen that one creature gains 12-20 damage in one turn. Her only major downside is no haste! How do we fix that? By playing Torch Courier. You can sacrifice Torch Courier to give a creature haste until end of turn. Do you have a pile of goblins on the field, and your opponent has no fliers? That means the game is over for them.

This deck even has card draw, with Light Up the Stage. This is a 3-drop normally, but it has the fun Trait “Spectacle”. If your enemy takes damage, you can opt to pay the Spectacle Cost (in this case, 1 red mana).

Light Up The Stage lets you reveal two cards, that you can play until the end of your next turn. This is a great way to get a spare land if needed. Sometimes this will backfire, and you’ll get stuff you can’t cast. These two cards are Exiled, though. That means if you don’t use them in time, they’re out of the game.

Shock has a variety of purposes. Need to kill a weak creature? No problem. It can also be dropped before creature damage is dealt to inflate your Chandra. It doesn’t do a lot of damage, but it’s all-purpose and it’s cheap.

Deck Weaknesses

This deck is fun, fast, and can absolutely dumpster damage without warning. However, it’s weak to huge creatures with trample and boardwipe. If your opponent drops Gates Ablaze, or some other cheap, annoying boardwipe spell, you are just about out of options.

Opponents who know you are running Mono-Red Aggro are bound to let you get a few creatures out, get aggressive, before turning the tables on you. This MTG Arena starter decks is fun, and it’s fast. But it’s not without weakness.

You have one creature that flies and it’s one you want to keep alive at all costs. With that in mind, I often find this deck going against Izzet (Red/Blue) and Azorius Mid-Range (White/Blue). Azorius is heavy on flying creature synergy right now. Everything in the deck flies and hits really damn hard.

Final Thoughts:

As you accrue Rare/Mythic Rare Wildcards, you may want to do some swapping around in this deck. Castle Embereth is a rare land that you can use to inflate your creatures. This is a great move to make after your opponent has declared blockers, and after Cavalcade triggers.

Chandra, Acolyte of Flame lets you create 1/1 haste elementals every turn, which you sacrifice at the end of your turn. This, with Cavalcade and Torbran, will steamroll the unaware. This is a fast, fun, satisfying deck. As far as MTG Arena starter decks go, this is one is satisfying. If you like bopping people in the face with damage out of nowhere, this is a great place to start.

Mono-Red Aggro Decklist

Don’t forget that you can import each of these MTG Arena starter decks directly into your game! Simply copy the cards below, open your game, choose the “deck” menu and select “import”. The game will automatically import the decklist in your clipboard as “Imported Deck”.

4 Tin Street Dodger (RNA) 120

21 Mountain (ANA) 64

4 Scorch Spitter (M20) 159

4 Shock (M20) 160

4 Cavalcade of Calamity (RNA) 95

3 Torbran, Thane of Red Fell (ELD) 147

4 Light Up the Stage (RNA) 107

4 Tibalt, Rakish Instigator (WAR) 146

4 Torch Courier (GRN) 119

4 Chandra’s Spitfire (M20) 132

4 Grim Initiate (WAR) 130

MTG Arena Starter Decks: White-Blue Mid-Range

MTG Arena Starter Decks White-Blue Mid range.png

With the right starting hand, you could probably argue this could be an aggro deck. More than likely, it will be a fun mid-range beat down. Most Azorius decks run nothing but flying creatures, but this one does a few things different that I really like.

This particular deck combines two of my favorite concepts in one easy-to-run package. High Alert, and lots of really annoying creatures. Before the Standard meta rotated, I ran a 3-color High Alert deck. This enchantment lets you creatures deal damage with their Toughness instead of Power. Combine that with lots of 1/5s, 2/3s, and 0/4s, you can just batter the early game aggro decks.

How Does It Work?

”MTG

Who cares if your opponent has 1/1s and 2/2s in the early game? They don’t mean a thing if your Merfolk Secretkeeper deals 4 damage instead of 0 and still has 4 Toughness to work with. High Alert is the glue that holds this deck together, but you can win even if you don’t draw it.

If you can keep Empyrean Eagle on the table with the Murmuring Mystic, blue spells will give you an army of Bird Illusions in no time. Huatli, the Sun’s Heart is a really underrated planeswalker, especially with an Uncommon rating. She does the same thing High Alert does. If you’re in a pinch, you can roll her down 3 to gain life equal to the highest toughness your creatures have.

If you’re worried about getting those two cards in your hand, don’t stress! You have several card draw options available to you. One of these is a rare, Faerie of Wishes. It has an Adventure cast, where you can go out of the game to put a non-creature card into your hand, and reveal it. That’s why the mainboard runs 3 High Alerts. I keep one in the sideboard, just in case.

Pair this with Lucky Clover, and you can get two cards at the minimum from the sideboard. Lucky Clover is a 2-drop artifact that lets you copy your Adventure instants and sorceries. I keep the sideboard filled with control options, and a spare High Alert, if things start getting bad.

Anticipate is a 2-drop instant you can play to look at the top 3 cards of your library. Put one in hand, and the others on the bottom of your library. It’s a great way to get what you’re after, as is Radical Idea. That one’s a simple “Draw a card”, but it has Jump-start. With Jump-start, you can cast it from your graveyard (then exile it), by paying its casting cost and discarding a card.

If you want a nice solid loop of card draw, that’s what Dovin’s Acuity is for. This enchantment costs 3-mana and gives you 2 life and a card to draw when you cast it. When you cast an instant during your main phase, you can return Dovin’s Acuity to your hand. Luckily, most of your instants are cheap.

Going back to Lucky Clover, this card can be incredibly important. Most of your creatures have an Adventure option, which lets you kill creatures, tap creatures, and mill cards. In many cases, it’s better to cast them as an Adventure first, which lets you cast the creature version of the card later.

The idea behind the deck is you want to get as much card draw as possible and get one of your two key cards on the board. The faster, the better. If you start with one of them in hand, that’s incredible. If you can get a Lucky Clover on the table too, you can start really dominating the board.

You won’t win on turn 3, but when your creatures hit for 4-6 instead of 0-1, you can make people want to give up. Don’t be scared to use Fairy of Wishes to reach for a board-wipe spell and clear the field if you’re outnumbered.

Deck Weaknesses

A white-blue deck without counterspells? That’s right, it’s happening! This deck can move at a brisk pace. More often than not for me, it was a little slow. Ultra-fast aggro decks can put you on the back-foot before you can even get started.

Spot removal is your big fear though. There are plenty of ways to get rid of High Alert and Huatli. They can be bounced to your hand, destroyed outright, and in Huatli’s case, attacked until dead. While you can win without them as I said, it’s going to be an uphill battle. White-Blue birds are easier because you just play creatures, instants, and swing every turn. This deck is a little more nuanced. It relies on you getting the cards you want reasonably early and then overwhelming your opponent with plenty of damage.

Izzet decks (Red-Blue) are the bane of this deck too, thanks to the mountain of counterspells and direct damage. Combine that with the annoying flood of Phoenixes and Drakes, they may take to the skies before you can ever get off the ground.

Sacrifice decks can be a bear, but as long as you’re churning out damage, and Bird Illusions, there’s nothing to fear from them. Getting those bird tokens means you have sacrifice fodder.

Final Thoughts

Like the other MTG Arena starter decks, these are not decks I would dive deep into ranked with. I wouldn’t expect to hit Mythic with it. That said, it could be a great entry into MTG Arena if you want to try and throw people for a loop. I don’t see many people running this style of Blue-White deck. Once you have the wildcards, I would consider shifting it into a pure Blue-White flyer deck.

Unlike the other deck, this one has a Sideboard, because it’s necessary for one of your cards. Those are just suggestions, mind. Fill the sideboard with whatever cards you think you’re going to need in a pinch, because that’s what they’re there for. As long as you have turn 1 or 2 options, potential card draw, or even High Alert right out of the gate, this can be a lot of fun.

My only regret is that Arcades, Grand Strategist is not in the deck. If you were running three-color deck in Historic format, I would 100% put him in the mainboard (or sideboard, perhaps). He would be yet a third option to make your deck pop off. This particular deck requires a bit more thought and planning compared to Mono-Red Aggro.

White-Blue Mid-Range Decklist

Don’t forget that you can import each of these MTG Arena starter decks directly into your game! Simply copy the cards below, open your game, choose the “deck” menu and select “import”. The game will automatically import the decklist in your clipboard as “Imported Deck”.

7 Plains (ELD) 253

3 Tranquil Cove (M20) 259

3 Azorius Guildgate (RNA) 243

7 Island (XLN) 267

3 High Alert (RNA) 182

3 Huatli, the Sun’s Heart (WAR) 230

1 Murmuring Mystic (GRN) 45

3 Empyrean Eagle (M20) 208

3 Depose // Deploy (RNA) 225

3 Fae of Wishes (ELD) 44

3 Merfolk Secretkeeper (ELD) 53

3 Dovin’s Acuity (RNA) 168

2 Trapped in the Tower (ELD) 33

3 Ardenvale Tactician (ELD) 5

1 Quasiduplicate (GRN) 51

2 Anticipate (M19) 44

2 Radical Idea (GRN) 52

1 Witching Well (ELD) 74

2 Giant Killer (ELD) 14

3 Lucky Clover (ELD) 226

2 Animating Faerie (ELD) 38

2 Time Wipe (WAR) 223

3 Negate (RIX) 44

1 Planar Cleansing (M20) 33

2 Frogify (ELD) 47

1 Dovin, Hand of Control (WAR) 229

1 Dovin, Grand Arbiter (RNA) 167

1 High Alert (RNA) 182

3 Sorcerous Spyglass (XLN) 248

MTG Arena Starter Decks: White-Black Lifegain

MTG Arena Starter Decks White Black Lifesteal

During this current meta, this is a style of deck I’ve seen several versions of. It all amounts to the same thing: Use a bunch of black and white cards to stack ridiculous amounts of life. You pair it with vampires and other cards that synergize well together. With the right board state, cards like Bloodthirsty Aerialist can come online as 5/5 flyers instead of 2/2.

If your opponent has a slow or unfortunate start, I’ve seen this deck win just by attacking with Knight of the Ebon Legion. I’m only running two, though. They’re nice to have around, but I prefer to stack 4 only in a deck focused on knights. That deck however, takes way more rares than I wanted to invest. This deck has the higher count: 6 rares and 2 mythic rares.

How Does It Work?

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Honestly, this deck has a lot of moving parts, but almost any of them can get you the win. Virtually every creature in this deck either gives life, or synergizes with life gain. After all, in MTG Arena, the most important asset is your life. This deck can punish people for attacking you, or simply for having another turn come around.

So what are your most important creatures? Well, it depends! Your biggest damage dealers are Ajani’s Pridemate, Bloodthirsty Aerialist, and Knight of the Ebon Legion. The first two gain +1/+1 anytime you gain life. The major difference is in casting cost, and flight. The Bloodthirsty Aerialist is a ⅔ with flight.

Ajani’s Pridemate is only a 2-drop, and a 2/2. The Aerialist is a 3-drop, requiring at least 2 black mana. Getting a Healer’s Hawk turn 1, then Impassioned Orator turn 2 can make your monster grow in no time. That means you won’t drop a turn 2 Pridemate, but you’ll be setting him up for far more lifegain.

So let’s talk about this lifegain. For those creatures, each individual instance of life gain gives a separate +1/+1. So if Healer’s Hawk (which has lifelink) gives you 1 point of life, Impassioned Orator gives a point of life for playing a creature, and playing Scoured Barrens gives 1 point of life, your Pridemate goes from a 2/2 to a 5/5 in one turn!

Don’t be afraid to use creatures like Child of Night to block and die if you have either of your lifegain creatures on the board. Even if they die, you’ll buff those awesome creatures. Downside to both of them? They will be a target for any creature removal, guaranteed.

Don’t forget about your Savage Gorger either. On your end step, it gains +1/+1 if your opponent lost life. How can you guarantee loss of life? Cue Ill-Gotten Inheritance! This enchantment is a 4-drop, which is steep. It does deal 1 damage to your opponents, and give you 1 life at the beginning of your upkeep. All those awesome creatures you can get on the board? They just keep on growing.

This MTG Arena Starter deck is all about having answers to problems. Creature or enchantment getting you down? Zap it with Mortify. Did a creature of yours get killed? Bring it back with Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord!

If you want to save some mana, use Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord to play one of those Vampires without paying the mana cost. If your opponent is running annoying tokens, put a copy or two of Revenge of Ravens into play! 2 or 3 damage per attacking creature can slow someone down.

Having one or two of those 1 drops in your opening hand, and Ajani can make people with slow starts surrender. This isn’t an invincible deck by any means, but I tell you, it can be really annoying to be on the receiving end of!

You can also crank out creatures in the mid-game, as long as you have mana. Dawn of Hope offers card draw on life gain, and 1/1 creatures with lifelink (for 4 mana). That means you can make creatures on your opponent’s turn.

What’s It Weak To?

A slow start might be this deck’s biggest foe. Don’t be afraid to mulligan a few times to get decent cards. As a fair amount of this deck has a high casting cost, you need at least one of your 1 drops. Spot removal is also pretty dangerous.

Most of your creatures start off very weak, and the majority stay that way. As soon as Aerialist, Gorger, or Pridemate hit the mat, you can be sure they will be targets. Creatures with deathtouch are also dangerous. You don’t have access to first strike to prevent this.

Questing Beast and other creatures with deathtouch won’t hesitate to block your Ajani’s Pridemate, just to prevent it from growing stronger.

Overwhelming numbers and creatures with Trample are also pretty damn dangerous. I worry about any creature that prevents low-power creatures from blocking. Realm-Cloaked Giant’s Adventure ability (Cast Off) can also spell doom. It destroys all non-Giant creatures.

I think my least favorite deck to deal with right now is Risen Reef Elementals, or any Artifact Affinity deck. Those decks get out of hand way too fast. Plus Chandra, Awakened Inferno can deal 3 damage to all non-Elementals. That means you can kiss your early game advantage goodbye. She might be a 6-drop, but in Elementals, you can have that in half the time. It’s a deck that’s all about mana ramp and overwhelming force. I should cover that one soon.

Final Thoughts

This deck is one I enjoy playing with in casual settings with friends. Even if it makes them a little grumpy with me, if it gets going, it’s incredibly hard to stop. Let’s be honest: It’s also tremendously satisfying to hammer opponents for 8-10 damage with one creature. Don’t swing too recklessly though; without a source of lifegain, you can’t pump your creatures, and won’t survive the winter. This one’s pretty easy to play after a few tries experimenting with it, and thankfully has several options for a game-winning creature.

Decks built around just one creature aren’t all wise, in my opinion. Fun, but not wise. There are some other potentially fun cards you can add to this deck. Bolas’ Citadel’s a great example. If you have Impassioned Orator on the board and a nice life lead, you can just flood the board with creatures from the top of your deck.

Get 10 permanents in play, sacrifice them, deal 10 damage to your opponent. It can be a nice “Out of nowhere” moment. I would also consider removing the 2x Pitiless Pontiff for 2 more Vampire of the Dark Moon. That would give even more turn one potential, without the need to sacrifice for the Pontiffs ability. I would also consider adding any of the Ajani planeswalkers to this deck. They’re all mint. Finally, Unbreakable Formation should be considered for a slot in this deck. Giving all of your creatures indestructible? No question.

White-Black Lifegain Decklist

Don’t forget that you can import each of these MTG Arena starter decks directly into your game! Simply copy the cards below, open your game, choose the “deck” menu and select “import”. The game will automatically import the decklist in your clipboard as “Imported Deck”.

2 Dawn of Hope (GRN) 8

3 Healer’s Hawk (GRN) 14

2 Child of Night (GRN) 65

2 Impassioned Orator (RNA) 12

3 Ill-Gotten Inheritance (RNA) 77

2 Orzhov Enforcer (RNA) 79

3 Mortify (RNA) 192

2 Pitiless Pontiff (RNA) 194

3 Ajani’s Pridemate (WAR) 4

2 Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord (WAR) 217

3 Interplanar Beacon (WAR) 247

5 Plains (BFZ) 250

3 Bloodthirsty Aerialist (M20) 91

2 Disfigure (M20) 95

2 Knight of the Ebon Legion (M20) 105

2 Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord (M20) 115

2 Vampire of the Dire Moon (M20) 120

4 Scoured Barrens (M20) 251

2 Savage Gorger (M20) 291

2 Witch’s Cottage (ELD) 249

6 Swamp (BFZ) 260

3 Revenge of Ravens (ELD) 104

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