Hello and welcome back to Metagame Mentor, your weekly guide to the top decks and latest Constructed developments on the path to the Pro Tour. As we count down the days until MagicCon: Philadelphia and the first tabletop Pro Tour in years, today's article takes a closer look at the Pioneer format that is featured in the event.
As the first cycle of Regional Championships saw the awarding of most of the Pro Tour invitations, the decks that found success last November and December provide a good indication of what to expect at Pro Tour Phyrexia. In the first week of January, I already broke down the Top 15 Pioneer deck archetypes from the Regional Championships and provided an in-depth analysis of their game plans, matchups, and more.
Today, after an update on January's metagame developments, I'm taking a further look at the ten spiciest Pioneer decks that also qualified for the Pro Tour. I wouldn't be surprised to see several archetype experts using their proficiency with their qualifying deck to crush the Pro Tour with an off-meta brew. Along the way, I'll also be highlighting key additions that Phyrexia: All Will Be One may bring to the format.
The Pioneer Metagame in January 2023
Pioneer is a non-rotating format based on expansion sets and core sets from Return to Ravnica onward, with the most notable cards on the ban list being the fetch lands. With nearly 10,000 legal cards, Pioneer enables a variety of powerful strategies. If you'd like a deeper introduction to the format, I again recommend my primer on the top fifteen archetypes from Regional Championships.
However, the metagame is ever evolving. To keep up with the latest Pioneer developments, I analyzed 572 decklists from competitive events held in January. This included all available Magic Online decklists from scheduled Pioneer events that month, as well as the Top 8 decklists from the Champions Cup Store Qualifiers in Kichijoji, Tokyo, and Yokohama, the Store Qualifier at MTG Oasis Chile, and the RCQ at Gamers Paradise.
To provide a metagame snapshot that combines popularity and performance, I assigned an archetype label to each deck and awarded points equal to the deck's net wins—that, its number of match wins minus losses.
For example, a deck that went 5–1 in the Swiss followed by a loss in the quarterfinals was assigned three points. When the points for each archetype are added up, they yield the record-weighted metagame share, which represents the archetype's share of total net wins. This can be thought of as the "winner's metagame," as it reflects what you're likely to encounter at the top tables.
|Archetype||Record-Weighted Metagame Share|
|1. Mono-Green Devotion||12.3% ↓↓|
|2. Lotus Field combo||11.6% ↑↑|
|3. Rakdos Midrange||10.8% ↓↓|
|4. Azorius Control||9.2%|
|5. Selesnya Angels||9.2% ↑↑|
|6. Gruul Vehicles||7.0%|
|7. Mono-White Humans||5.8%|
|8. Rakdos Sacrifice||5.0% ↑↑|
|9. Izzet Phoenix||3.9% ↓↓|
|10. Abzan Greasefang||3.5%|
|11. Enigmatic Fires||2.6%|
|12. Dimir Control||2.3%|
|13. Azorius Spirits||2.1%|
|14. Mono-Black Midrange||1.9%|
|15. Izzet Creativity||1.9%|
|16. Mono-Red Aggro||1.5%|
|17. Keruga Fires||1.2%|
|18. Boros Heroic||0.9%|
|19. Mono-Blue Spirits||0.9%|
|20. Bant Spirits||0.7%|
|21. Niv to Light||0.5%|
|22. Golgari Vehicles||0.5%|
|23. Jund Citadel||0.5%|
|24. Izzet Prowess||0.4%|
In this table, each archetype name hyperlinks to a well-performing, representative decklist, and the arrows represent the biggest changes compared to my early-January primer based on the Regional Championships. The "Other" category, continuing the descending order, includes Dimir Oracle, Jund Sacrifice, Grinning Ignus combo, Selesnya Auras, Boros Aggro, Four-Color Humans, Mono-Black Aggro, Goblins, Atarka Red, Elves, Esper Greasefang, Zombies, Selesnya Company, and more. The number of competitive Pioneer decks remains enormous, and with a diverse set of aggro, midrange, control, ramp, and combo decks all being viable, the Pioneer format offers a wide range of options to suit any type of playstyle.
The most-played nonland cards across all main decks and sideboards were
Compared to the Regional Championships from November and December, the biggest metagame developments are:
- An uptick of Selesnya Angels. Selesnya Angels has been on the rise ever since The Brothers’ War added
Kayla's Reconstruction, with lists becoming increasingly refined and the most successful versions cutting main deck Portable Holein favor of additional copies of Inspiring Overseer.
- An uptick of Rakdos Sacrifice. Rakdos Sacrifice, which posted excellent match win rates throughout the Regional Championships, has also seen an increase in play due to its favorable matchups against Rakdos Midrange, Mono-White Humans, and Gruul Vehicles. Many of the top Rakdos Sacrifice decks have been adopting
Eaten Aliveinstead of Village Ritesin their main decks.
- An uptick of Lotus Field combo. Lotus Field combo preys on the rise of Selesnya Angels and Rakdos Sacrifice, two decks that are relatively slow and lack interaction against the combo.
To speed up the deck, many Lotus Field players have been incorporating
- A downtick of Izzet Phoenix. With bad matchups against Lotus Field combo and Selesnya Angels, Izzet Phoenix is on the decline in the present metagame. However, the power of
Treasure Cruiseand Arclight Phoenixcannot be denied; if Pioneer players start to skimp on graveyard hate or if the metagame changes, then Izzet Phoenix could be poised for a comeback.
- A downtick of Rakdos Midrange. After its dominance at the Regional Championships, Rakdos Midrange has seen a downturn in popularity as bad matchups such as Gruul Vehicles, Rakdos Sacrifice, and Enigmatic Fires are on the rise. Examining successful Rakdos Sacrifice decklists, we can see that
Unlicensed Hearseis being swapped out for Pithing Needlein the sideboard, likely in response to the decreased prevalence of Arclight Phoenixand the increased prevalence of Thespian's Stage.
- The emergence of Azorius Spirits. Unlike Bant Spirits and Mono-Blue Spirits, Azorius Spirits does not have access to
Collected Companyor Ascendant Spirit. However, it combines the best of both worlds, having access to both Spell Quellerand Curious Obsession. As players are having newfound success with this build, and Seachrome Coastwill soon be added to Pioneer, Azorius has become the most popular Spirits color combination over the past month.
Although Mono-Green Devotion, Lotus Field combo, Rakdos Midrange, Azorius Control, and Selesnya Angels are likely to be popular choices at Pro Tour Phyrexia, they also have a target on their heads. Indeed, this January 2023 metagame is not a Nash equilibrium. If this were the starting metagame at the Pro Tour, then simulations of the tournament based on the matchup matrix from the Regional Championships suggest that the top tables may be dominated by increased numbers of Rakdos Sacrifice and Mono-White Humans, while Selesnya Angels and Rakdos Midrange would falter.
Furthermore, the new cards from Phyrexia: All Will Be One could drastically alter the format, and the Regional Championships have already shown that a few under-the-radar decks have the potential to succeed as well. It will be interesting to see how the Pro Tour plays out and which strategies will come out on top.
The Ten Spiciest Pioneer Decks That Qualified for the Pro Tour
The top tables of the Regional Championships featured several largely unexpected decks. It's always exciting to witness brewers doing well with their own creations, and if they bring the same decks or new brews to the Pro Tour, they'll be ones to watch. To recognize the innovativeness of these players, let's check out the ten most unique decks that have earned a Pro Tour invite!
To be included in my selection, a deck archetype needed to fall outside the top fifteen most popular ones from the Regional Championships, as these were already discussed in my aforementioned earlier article. Of the remaining off-meta deck archetypes, including those that snuck into the top fifteen in the January 2023 metagame, I chose those based on their spiciness, their performance in tournaments last month, and their potential gains from Phyrexia: All Will Be One.
Dimitar Erinin proved the strength of
Evaluating Phyrexia: All Will Be One, I expect that the allied fast lands will make the largest impact to the format in general, and
Scott Polsky, who recently earned a Pro Tour invite thanks to his beloved Elves archetype, has been playing it in every format from Pauper to Pioneer and Modern. Elves can quickly ramp ahead with
Phyrexia: All Will Be One introduces Tyvar, Jubilant Brawler, an interesting new option for this strategy. By untapping mana Elves and granting them haste, Tyvar can produce a quick mana boost, while his -2 ability often returns an Elf lord.
Selesnya Auras, which exploits
But this could all change with the introduction of Phyrexia: All Will Be One.
While traditional builds of Dimir Control have also found success, such as the one used by Álvaro Almeida, I'm more intrigued by versions that incorporate
If this deck shows up at the Pro Tour, then we may get to witness a feature match of epic proportions. The Dimir Control player could bounce their opponent's creature with
Mono-Black Midrange is similar to Rakdos Midrange, yet featuring
From Phyrexia: All Will Be One,
Izzet Creativity has been performing well lately, and it has two distinct versions. The most prominent one, which Alessandro Parisi took to a 13th-place finish at the European Championship, is built around casting
An intriguing alternative from Phyrexia: All Will Be One is Atraxa, Grand Unifier. While she doesn't win the game immediately, she's able to outrace
Pro Tour Amonkhet Top 8 competitor Marc Tobiasch, renowned for brewing the spiciest decks, shocked the competition by finishing 21st at the European Championship with a never-before-seen-deck. This deck's gameplan revolves around
From Phyrexia: All Will Be One, Nahiri, the Unforgiving is an interesting option. Although a different mana base and build would be required, Nahiri can discard an Aura if you drew it, or copy
At the European Championship, Jund Citadel piloted by Samuel Eberhard finished a respectable 19th. With the help of
As I already mentioned, I expect that the allied fast lands will make a big impact on Pioneer. Although these lands are most beneficial to fast two-color decks, Jund Citadel could also benefit from the inclusion of several
Raja Sulaiman earned his Pro Tour invitation with a unique Orzhov Midrange deck. The deck exploits
Sulaiman is making a name for himself; he won the 2022 NRG Series Championship last month and was subsequently interviewed by Corbin Hosler in The Week That Was. Although he switched to Rakdos Midrange for the Pioneer portion of that tournament, he crushed the Modern portion with a fascinating Bant Control brew. I'm eager to see what he'll bring to Pro Tour Phyrexia.
The goal of any Greasefang deck is to put
For more aggressive versions of Esper Greasefang,
Will these spicy archetypes or new cards from Phyrexia: All Will Be One be the key to victory at Pro Tour Phyrexia? Could even more innovative and daring brews take home the grand prize? Find out on February 17–19, when approximately 250 of the world's best will compete for $500,000 in prizes, several World Championship invites, and the prestigious first-place trophy. The formats are Phyrexia: All Will Be One Booster Draft in the morning of Friday and Saturday, followed by Pioneer for five rounds afterward each of those days. Pioneer is also the Top 8 format on Sunday.
For other competitive players looking for an opportunity to show their skills, MagicCon: Philadelphia will also feature two Pro Tour Qualifiers in the Phyrexia: All Will Be One Limited format, each of which qualify the four top finishers directly for the next Pro Tour, and four Secret Lair Showdowns in the Pioneer format, where players compete for coveted Secret Lair prizes. Grab your badge today and join the action!