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Metagame Mentor: 15 Pioneer Decks from 2023 Regional Championships

July 13, 2023
Frank Karsten

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. Today, we'll take a look at the top 15 Pioneer archetypes from the June-July 2023 cycle of Regional Championships and discuss their results This can be your go-to resource to acquaint yourself with Pioneer as you prepare for upcoming tournaments, such as the ongoing Regional Championship Qualifier season.

Regional Championship Cycle Overview

Regional Championships, held three times per year in each geographical region, are major focal points for competitive play. In the third cycle of Regional Championships for the 2022–23 season, over 3,400 players competed across the globe with their best Pioneer decks. Most of them qualified through Regional Championship Qualifiers (RCQs) arranged by each regional organizer through local game stores. This third cycle of Regional Championships awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars in prizes, 13 invitations to Magic World Championship XXIX, and 162 invitations to Pro Tour The Lord of the Rings (including the start-up bonus invitations that are awarded for the 2022–23 season only).

Congratulations to the Champions in Brazil and South America!

The weekend of July 1–2 featured the last two Regional Championships of the cycle. In Sao Paulo and Santiago, Rakdos Sacrifice absolutely crushed it. The Pioneer archetype centered around Mayhem Devil won both Regional Championships, grabbed five of the sixteen Top 8 slots, and had an excellent win rate overall.

In the Brazil Regional Championship, Marcelo Rodrigues Cavalcante won with his build of Rakdos Sacrifice. "I love the grinding style of the deck", he explained. In addition, he appreciated the "good matchup against the most prevalent deck,Rakdos Midrange." His best card of the weekend was Thoughtseize: "It helped me a lot to mess with my opponent's plans and punish their mulligans and helped me in many play decisions."

The Top 8 featured three Mono-Green Devotion decks, two Rakdos Sacrifice decks, as well as Rakdos Midrange, Azorius Control, and Lotus Field Combo. The Top 8 players earned a Pro Tour invite, and Marcelo Rodrigues Cavalcante earned an invitation to Magic World Championship XXIX.

In the South America Regional Championships, a group of experienced Argentinians dominated. Luis Salvatto, Matias Leveratto, and Martin Dominguez all made Top 8 with similar Rakdos Sacrifice decks. In the Top 8, they only lost to each other: Salvatto lost to Leveratto in the quarterfinals, then Leveratto lost Dominguez in the finals. After the dust settled, Martin Dominguez claimed the trophy and the World Championship slot.

The Top 4 also featured two spicy options. First, Agustín Colombo's Dimir Control deck with the combo of Chrome Host Seedshark and Dig Through Time in the main deck and the combo of Archfiend of the Dross and Metamorphic Alteration in the sideboard. Second, Freddy Paredes' Elementals deck with Voice of Resurgence and Lotus Cobra, which lowered the deck's mana curve to improve the early game. These innovative includes paid off, and all Top 4 players earned a Pro Tour invite.

The Pioneer Metagame from the Entire Cycle

With more than 3,400 Regional Championship competitors in total, tons of Snapcaster Mage promo cards were handed out and there's lot of Pioneer decklists are available to sink our teeth into. Let's crunch the numbers! Using the decklists and the round-by-round results, I determined the combined metagame share and the match win rates (non-mirror, non-bye, non-draw) of every archetype.

In this table, each archetype name hyperlinks to a well-performing decklist close to the aggregate of that archetype. The "Other" category included such deck archetypes as Grixis Transmogrify, Jund Transmogrify, Bant Spirits, Goblins, Storm Herald Combo, Izzet Drakes, Selesnya Auras, Waste Not, Archfiend Alteration, Selesnya Vehicles, Boros Prowess, Selesnya Company, Mardu Sacrifice, Esper Control, Transmogrify Fires, Jeskai Control, Keruga Fires, Esper Greasefang, Golgari Midrange, Jund Citadel, and more.

The overall metagame looks similar to the shape of the format before the start of the Regional Championship cycle. With a large diversity of competitively viable Pioneer archetypes to choose from, familiarity with your deck can often be the deciding factor. Any deck can do well in Pioneer, meaning it all comes down to the pilot's preference. A skilled player who is well-versed in their deck's interactions and matchup strategies, with a well-adapted sideboard for the metagame, can find success with almost everything.

The best win rates against the field were posted by Mono-Green Devotion, Azorius Spirits, and Rakdos Sacrifice. As indicated by the check marks in the table, it would be very unlikely (<2%) to see a result at least as good as theirs when the archetype's true win rate would be merely 50%, suggesting that their metagame positioning is above average in a significant sense. In particular, Rakdos Sacrifice was the breakout deck of the cycle—for black-red players, Mayhem Devil and Witch's Oven were doing far better than Sheoldred, the Apocalypse and Bonecrusher Giant.

The following table shows the top 20 most-played cards across all Regional Championships. Naturally, with Rakdos Midrange being the most popular archetype, its key cards rose to the top.

From March of the Machine and its Aftermath, the most-played new additions were Invasion of Gobakhan, Coppercoat Vanguard, Polukranos Reborn, Volcanic Spite, and Knight-Errant of Eos.

The Top 15 Pioneer Deck Archetypes

To take a closer look at the 15 most popular archetypes from the Regional Championships, in decreasing order of popularity, I've used a decklist aggregation algorithm that considers the popularity and performance of individual card choices.

Quick deck summary: Rakdos Midrange was the most popular archetype overall at the Regional Championships, comprising 19.0% of the metagame. The deck has the highest individual card quality in the format, featuring efficient discard, powerful removal, resilient threats, and flexible sideboard options. This gives Rakdos Midrange reasonable game against everything.

Regional Championship story: During the first weekend of Regional Championships, Rakdos Midrange was the most popular deck by far, taking up 21.1% of the field. While it remained ever popular in subsequent weeks, it posted a below-average win rate, and no one took the deck to a Regional Championship trophy. Rakdos Midrange's metagame share dropped steadily throughout the cycle, down to 14.7% in the last two events. Nevertheless, many Rakdos Midrange players made Regional Championship Top 8s across the globe, including Derek Pite, Daniel Lozinski, Yi Yang, Jesús Solano, Mark Lawrence Tubola, Richmond Tan, Toni Martos, Shang Feng Lee, Linden Koot, Yuichirou Obara, Leandro Martins Gomes.

Matchup spread: Based on the round-by-round results from Regional Championships, Rakdos Midrange is slightly favored against creature decks like Mono-White Humans or Azorius Spirits, where its removal suite shines, and it's strong against combo decks like Izzet Creativity or Rona Combo that are weak to interaction. However, Rakdos Midrange struggles against Rakdos Sacrifice, Enigmatic Fires, and Gruul Vehicles. Moreover, after many players shaved a Misery's Shadow or two, its matchup against Mono-Green Devotion had also become slightly unfavorable thanks to Old-Growth Troll.

When facing this deck: It's important to keep in mind that you should mulligan slightly less aggressively than might normally, as you'll need all the resources you can get. Thoughtseize and Dreadbore can disrupt your plans, and Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger can deprive you of further resources. Since you need raw card advantage, it's often better to keep a mediocre seven-card hand than a synergistic six-card hand against Rakdos Midrange.

Quick deck summary: Mono-Green Devotion, at 10.9% of the combined Regional Championship metagame, was the second-most popular archetype overall. It's the premier ramp deck in Pioneer, using mana elves and Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx to flood the battlefield with permanents early. The latest addition from March of the Machine is Polukranos Reborn, which adds devotion, deters aggro decks, and blocks fliers.

Regional Championship story: Mono-Green Devotion had an excellent 52.7% win rate throughout the cycle. Considering the sample size, that's significantly above average. Two players claimed trophies with the deck: Weng Heng Soh won the South East Asia Championship, and Alexander von Stange won the Japan/Korea Regional Championship. In addition, Dominic Harvey, Jack Potter, Travis Benedict, Dustyn Nogueira, and Daniel Goresht made Top 8 in one of the Canadian Regional Championships, where Mono-Green Devotion is always popular, and Duy Vu, Mingyang Chen, Miguel Simões, Alex Lim, Renato Araujo, Thales Zaniti, and Israel Pontes clinched Top 8s in other regions.

Matchup spread: Based on Regional Championship data, Mono-Green Devotion is slightly favored against Rakdos Midrange, Izzet Creativity, Rakdos Sacrifice, and Enigmatic Fires. In these matchups, the ramp strategy can go over the top. However, Mono-Green Devotion struggles against decks with disruptive aggression, such as Mono-White Humans and Azorius Spirits, which exploit its lack of creature removal and reliance on expensive spells.

When facing this deck: Mono-Green Devotion is deceptively capable of complex infinite loops. For example, Karn, the Great Creator can grab The Chain Veil and Pestilent Cauldron // Restorative Burst from the sideboard, allowing Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner to potentially untap Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx infinitely often. In tabletop events, it can be helpful to use pen and paper to track your opponent's mana pool, potential land drop for the turn, the number The Chain Veil activations, and the number of times Karn, the Great Creator and Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner have been activated, to help ensure that the game state remains clear and accurate.

Quick deck summary: Featuring a lot of cheap interactive spells, Izzet Creativity can keep the opponent at bay in the early game before going for the win with Indomitable Creativity on a token. There are various possible win conditions. Among Izzet Creativity decks submitted for the Regional Championships, there were 117 decks with Torrential Gearhulk, 68 decks with Worldspine Wurm, and 53 decks with Atraxa, Grand Unifier. There was no statistically significant difference in their winrates, but versions featuring Torrential Gearhulk were most prominent. The inclusion of Stern Lesson was a new development for these builds, digging for key cards, creating a token, and ramping into a six-mana Torrential Gearhulk, which can cast Magma Opus from the graveyardfor the win.

Regional Championship story: Izzet Creativity was the third-most popular deck across the cycle, but it didn't perform well. Its 47.1% win rate was significantly below average, and other than Samuel Chang's Top 4 at the MIT Championship, the deck did not find much success. Due to middling performance, the deck's popularity dropped from 8.2% across the first five events to 4.4% in the last two.

Matchup spread: Izzet Creativity was favored against Abzan Greasefang, Gruul Vehicles, and Enigmatic Fires, but it struggled against Rakdos Midrange, Azorius Control, and Mono-Green Devotion.

When facing this deck: Pay attention to differences across the various builds to anticipate your opponent's plans. For example, Prismari Command means Creativity for X=1; Big Score means Creativity for X=2. In addition, it's important to recognize that this is a control deck first and a combo deck second. Between Fiery Impulse, Volcanic Spite, Make Disappear, and so on, they have a lot of early-game interaction and are not a single-minded combo deck.

Quick deck summary: Azorius Control, at 6.8% of the combined Regional Championship metagame, is the premier control deck in Pioneer. It features a solid suite of spot removal, countermagic, card draw, sweepers, and planeswalkers. However, there are different versions based on the companion used. Among Azorius Control decks submitted for the Regional Championships, there were 105 decks without a companion, 84 decks with Kaheera, the Orphanguard, 39 decks with Yorion, the Sky Nomad, and 3 decks with Zirda, the Dawnwaker.

Regional Championship story: Azorius Control had good results at the Regional Championships. Among Top 8 finishers, Chan Sze Hang finished second at the China Regional Championship with a Zirda build; Wei Wang, Cheng Yu Chang, and Mark Zhou found success without a companion; and Tin Mihael Capar and Rodrigo Pinheiro made Top 8 with a Kaheera build. However, the group of Azorius Control players with a Yorion build posted the highest win rate by far: Ian Mark Gutierrez and Rudi Asinas made Top 8 at the South East Asia Championship, and many other players made deep finishes with 80-card decks. As a result, my algorithm favored it for the aggregate decklist.

Matchup spread: As an interactive deck, Azorius Control has game against everything. Based on Regional Championship data from all variants, it has a slightly favorable matchup against Izzet Creativity and Enigmatic Fires, but it has a slightly unfavorable matchup against Mono-White Humans and Rakdos Sacrifice.

When facing this deck: You always have to be wary of sweepers and countermagic. Try not to overextend your threats into Supreme Verdict or Temporary LockdownIn addition, consider playing a cheaper spell or a creature spell to play around Make Disappear or Dovin's Veto.

Quick deck summary: Mono-White Humans, at 6.4% of the combined Regional Championship metagame, is the premier aggro deck in Pioneer. It focuses on curving out with powerful Humans on turns one, two, and three, using Thalia's Lieutenant to boost them all. By staying mono-white, the deck can exploit Mutavault, Castle Ardenvale, and Ossification. Coppercoat Vanguard from March of the Machine: The Aftermath has also bolstered the archetype, granting a layer of protection to Brutal Cathar, doubling the power of Adeline, Resplendent Cathar's tokens, and adding more immediate power to the battlefield than Luminarch Aspirant, which it replaced.

Regional Championship story: Mono-White Humans had a decent showing at the Regional Championships in terms of its overall win rate, and it excelled at the Australia/New Zealand Regional Championship: Ben Kemp won the trophy, defeating Willow Moon in a mirror match in the finals. In addition, Kelvin Hoon finished second at the South East Asia Championship with Mono-White Humans.

Matchup spread: Mono-White Humans has a good matchup against Mono-Green Devotion, Azorius Spirits, Azorius Control, and Lotus Field Combo. However, it struggles against Gruul Vehicles and Boros Convoke, and it has a really difficult time against Rakdos Sacrifice, whose powerful Mayhem Devil is hard to match.

When facing this deck: Be aware of the possibility of surprise lethal through Brave the Elements. If possible, leave blockers of different colors untapped. Colorless creatures, such as Mutavault or tokens created by Sokenzan, Crucible of Defiance, will always be able to block as well.

Quick deck summary: Abzan Greasefang is a combo deck with a midrange backup plan. The dream is to put Parhelion II into the graveyard on turn two and to crew it with Greasefang, Okiba Boss on turn three. The rest of the deck is built to fill the graveyard and support this combo. The deck's ability to play a midrange game with Esika's Chariot means that anti-graveyard cards are not lights out, but they are effective, so Abzan Greasefang players are happy that Leyline of the Void is not a popular sideboard card in Pioneer right now.

Regional Championship story: The deck had several decent finishes at the Regional Championships. Josue Escalante finished second at the Regional Championship for Mexico/Central America/Caribbean. Moreover, at the Japan/Korea Regional Championship, Noriyuki Mori and Takeshi Miyawaki made Top 8.

Matchup spread: Abzan Greasefang is favored against Rakdos Sacrifice and Lotus Field Combo, but it struggles against Izzet Creativity and has a really hard time against Azorius Spirits. Its matchups against Rakdos Midrange and Mono-Green Devotion are close to even.

When facing this deck: Remember that the best time to kill Greasefang depends on the situation. If the opponent has lots of spare creatures, it's best to kill Greasefang in their main phase before it can trigger. If they have no other pilots, then it's best to kill it with the trigger on the stack so that Parhelion II returns to their hand. Also, remember that if you control Karn, the Great Creator, he'll shut off Parhelion II's crew ability. Furthermore, if you control Unlicensed Hearse after sideboarding, then consider leaving a 2-power crew member untapped to counter Witherbloom Command's destroy mode.

Quick deck summary: Rakdos Sacrifice was one of the best-performing archetypes at last year's Regional Championships and Pro Tour Phyrexia, and after the adoption of Thoughtseize in the main deck, it became by far the best performing Pioneer archetype at the most recent cycle of Regional Championships. The deck is centered around Mayhem Devil, Cauldron Familiar, and Witch's Oven, which create a once-per-turn loop that drains your opponent, deals two damage, and allows you to block for free. Rakdos Sacrifice has many cards in common with Rakdos Midrange, especially now that it runs main deck Thoughtseize, but it is driven more heavily by synergy. For example, Claim the Firstborn and Deadly Dispute combine into a value-generating removal spell. However, the resulting sequencing puzzles and Mayhem Devil math can get complicated, so it's not an easy deck to pick up and play well.

Regional Championship story: Rakdos Sacrifice surged in popularity during the cycle. It started at only 2.9% of the field across the first five Regional Championships, but after Matt Foreman finished second at the U.S. Regional Championship, while Donald Sheldon, Kyle Gellert, and Liam Kane made Top 8 in that first weekend as well, an increasing group of players took note. For example, Lorenzo Terlizzi, Christoffer Larsen, and Edgar Magalhaes made Regional Championship Top 8s in subsequent weekends. In the last two Regional Championships, Rakdos Sacrifice had grown to a whopping 12.5% of the metagame. Martin Dominguez, Matias Leveratto, Marcelo Rodrigues Cavalcante, and Adriano Melo posted top finishes in Chile and Brazil with the deck. In total, three players qualified for the World Championship with Rakdos Sacrifice, which is an incredible result for a deck that was only a small part of the metagame.

Matchup spread: Rakdos Sacrifice is well-positioned in the current metagame, with an impressive 57.4% win rate. It has good matchups against Rakdos Midrange, Mono-White Humans, Azorius Control, Boros Convoke, and Gruul Vehicles. However, it does not go unchecked—the deck struggles against Izzet Phoenix, Abzan Greasefang, and Enigmatic Fires, and these decks will become better-positioned as Rakdos Sacrifice continues to rise.

When facing this deck: Destroy Mayhem Devil on sight and be wary of Claim the Firstborn. If you leave a single large three-mana creature untapped, then that's not a safe proposition. In a racing situation where the opponent may have Claim the Firstborn, it can be better to leave behind a tiny chump blocker or a large four-drop.

Quick deck summary: Enigmatic Fires is a toolbox deck that aims to cast Leyline Binding on turn two or turn three, followed by Enigmatic Incarnation on turn four. This allows you to turn your six-mana enchantment into a seven-drop of your choice, which will rule the battlefield on turn four. Using Enigmatic Incarnation to turn Fable of the Mirror-Breaker into Heliod, the Radiant Dawn—a new addition from March of the Machine that unlocked the full potential of the deck—is also a sweet line of play. The finishing touch is Fires of Invention, which enables particularly powerful turns with the deck's companion.

Regional Championship story: While versions with Yorion were more popular before the Regional Championships, this didn't last long. Across the cycle, there were 44 versions with Yorion, Sky Nomad and 105 versions with Keruga, the Macrosage. Even though the best individual finish was with a Yorion build—Tomoaki Ogasawara finished second at the Japan/Korea Regional Championship—the Keruga versions had a slightly higher winrate as a group. The more consistent 60-card build, which uses Bonecrusher Giant and Leyline Binding as turn-two interaction, became the more prominent option after Elliot Raff finished in the Top 8 of the U.S. Regional Championship and Justin Chin finished in the Top 8 of the South East Asia Championship.

Matchup spread: As an enchantment-based deck, Enigmatic Fires preys on Rakdos Midrange and Rakdos Sacrifice because effects like Back to Nature or Erase are not available in red or black. However, it struggles against Izzet Creativity and Azorius Control.

When facing this deck: Be aware of the differences among Enigmatic Fires builds. Yorion generally implies Omen of the Sea and Chained to the Rocks, whereas Keruga usually means that you should expect Bonecrusher Giant and Touch the Spirit Realm. The channel ability of Touch the Spirit Realm can counter Indomitable Creativity, make an opposing Curious Obsession fall off, or blink Atraxa, Grand Unifier for value. Keeping this in mind will help you better plan for what their deck is capable of.

Quick deck summary: Azorius Spirits uses several cheap, evasive creatures to fly over the opposition. Mausoleum Wanderer, Rattlechains, Supreme Phantom, and Shacklegeist all get better when combined, so they form the core of the deck. Since the release of Seachrome Coast, a splash for Spell Queller and white sideboard cards has become the norm. A new standout sideboard card is Invasion of Gobakhan, which is easily defeated by the fliers. Yet the real power of the deck lies in Curious Obsession. After protecting the enchanted creature with permission spells, you can soar to victory on the back of card advantage.

Regional Championship story: Despite only being a small portion of the metagame, Azorius Spirits put up great results, with an excellent 55.1% match win rate throughout. Two players used the deck to claim World Championship invites: Théo Jacques-Griffin won the East Canada Regional Championship and Przemyslaw Olszewski finished second at the European Championship. In addition, Philip Mahr made Top 8 at the U.S. Regional Championship, and Robert Smith finished second at the West Canada Regional Championship.

Matchup spread: Azorius Spirits has a good matchup against Abzan Greasefang, Mono-Green Devotion, and Enigmatic Fires. However, it struggles against Mono-White Humans and Izzet Phoenix.

When facing this deck: Remember that their most-played piece of interaction is Geistlight Snare. So, if they have mana open (which could be a single mana if they control a Spirit and a Curious Obsession), then make sure to play a land before casting your spells, as it may help you pay three additional mana.

Quick deck summary: The game plan of this combo deck is to find Lotus Field, make another copy via Thespian's Stage, and untap those lands with Hidden Strings and Pore Over the Pages. This allows you to generate a lot of mana in one turn. Emergent Ultimatum provides access to Lier, Disciple of the Drowned, Omniscience, and additional tutors, which will usually lead to victory. Before March of the Machine, players usually won by wishing for Approach of the Second Sun, but the latest builds adopted Chandra, Hope's Beacon as the win condition. If you control both Omniscience and Chandra and have found all three Bala Ged Recovery, then you can enter an infinite loop in which you continually recur Chandra and use her minus ability to envelop your opponent in a fiery blaze.

Regional Championship story: Lotus Field Combo had average results throughout the cycle, with several players using the deck to make Top 8. Qiaocen Zhou and Jialun Zhang made Top 8 at the China Regional Championship; Brennan Crawford made Top 8 at the Australia/New Zealand Regional Championship; and Matheus Ponciano made Top 8 at the Brazil Regional Championship.

Matchup spread: Lotus Field Combo crushes Enigmatic Fires and Izzet Phoenix, but it's weak to Rakdos Midrange and Mono-White Humans.

When facing this deck: A useful way to interact with this combo deck is by destroying their Thespian's Stage with Boseiju, Who Endures. But be sure to choose the right moment—don't let them copy the hexproof Lotus Field in response. In tabletop events, it can be helpful to use pen and paper to track your opponent's mana, land drops, and other important spells they've cast.

Quick deck summary: Boros Convoke combines Gleeful Demolition and Venerated Loxodon to potentially put 14 power worth of creatures onto the battlefield as early as turn two. The deck emerged after March of the Machine introduced Knight-Errant of Eos as an additional convoke creature. After building up a big board, Knight-Errant of Eos can find Reckless Bushwhacker to set up a massive attack.

Regional Championship story: Boros Convoke basically came out of nowhere in the weeks before the Regional Championships and attracted a lot of attention. Although comparisons to Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis proved overblown, the deck did become the new hotness, with multiple different versions. Roughly two-thirds of Boros Convoke players at the Regional Championships used Burning-Tree Emissary and Forbidden Friendship, but builds with Clarion Spirit and Resolute Reinforcements were, ultimately, more successful. Those builds had a superior win rate, and Federico Vuono used it won the European Championship. In addition, Rei Sato finished in the Top 8 of the Japan/Korea Regional Championship and Jim Luo made Top 8 at the Australia/New Zealand Regional Championship with Boros Convoke, establishing it as a powerful Pioneer archetype.

Matchup spread: Based on Regional Championship data, Boros Convoke is slightly favored against Rakdos Midrange and Mono-White Humans, but it struggles against Azorius Control and Rakdos Sacrifice.

When facing this deck: Use removal spells like Fatal Push to destroy their early creatures. It may feel like a waste to spend a premium removal spell on a Resolute Reinforcements token or a Voldaren Epicure, but delaying their convoke creature makes it worth it. If you think of their creatures as Llanowar Elves, then you'll see the value in destroying their 1/1s.

Quick deck summary: Gruul Vehicles is a midrange deck that uses Llanowar Elves or Elvish Mystic to ramp into Reckless Stormseeker on turn two. The Werewolf can grant haste to Esika's Chariot, allowing Gruul Vehicles to dominate the battlefield quickly. The Vehicles also allow you to tap a stolen creature in response to the third chapter of The Akroan War. An important new addition from March of the Machine was Voldaren Thrillseeker. When you control a lonely Lovestruck Beast, Voldaren Thrillseeker turns it into a 7/7, allows Lovestruck Beast to attack, and grants the ability to sacrifice it post-combat. That's 14 total damage out of nowhere! Moreover, Voldaren Thrillseeker helps sacrifice a creature stolen by The Akroan War.

Regional Championship story: In the first weekend, Bradley Schlesinger and Archi Peralta won their Regional Championships in the United States and Mexico, so the archetype had exceptional success at first. However, it faltered in later weeks, with only Kazuya Murakami taking it to a Regional Championship Top 8 in Japan. One explanation is that good matchups like Rakdos Midrange declined while bad matchups like Rakdos Sacrifice rose.

Matchup spread: Gruul Vehicles is favored against Rakdos Midrange and Mono-White Humans, but it struggles against Mono-Green Devotion, Izzet Creativity, and Rakdos Sacrifice.

When facing this deck: Keep a close eye on their companion. If Jegantha, the Wellspring was not revealed in Game 1, then the opponent may be playing the Werewolf Pack Leader version, which is slightly more aggressive. (Nevertheless, it's less popular and had worse results at the Regional Championships.) If they revealed Jegantha in Game 1 and then don't show it anymore for Game 2 or 3, then that generally means that they boarded in Embercleave.

Quick deck summary: Omnath to Light is a five-color midrange deck that uses Omnath, Locus of Creation as a midrange value card and Bring to Light as a tutor that can immediately cast the card it finds. It does not use Niv-Mizzet Reborn, resulting in a smoother mana base and better card quality.

Regional Championship story: Omnath to Light was merely 2.0% of the combined Regional Championship metagame. Although several players earned a Pro Tour qualification with the deck in Europe and the United States, none had a breakthrough Top 8 finish.

Matchup spread: Omnath to Light is fairly even against the field. Based on Regional Championship data, there were no particularly strong or weak matchups that stood out.

When facing this deck: Be aware that their most powerful plays involve Bring to Light searching for modal double-faced cards, allowing the deck to cheat on mana costs. The tutor can search for Valki, God of Lies, which can then be cast for free as the powerful planeswalker Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor. Likewise, searching for Selfless Glyphweaver provides access to the one-sided sweeper on its back side.

Quick deck summary: Izzet Phoenix aims to put multiple Arclight Phoenix into the graveyard, typically using Pieces of the Puzzle or Lightning Axe, and then recur them by chaining together three cheap spells in a single turn. It's also capable of copying Treasure Cruise or Temporal Trespass with Galvanic Iteration, which is often a game-winning play.

Regional Championship story: Like a true phoenix from the ashes, Izzet Phoenix made a triumphant return after falling out of favor earlier in the year. Nils Gutiérrez von Porat made Top 8 at the European Championship with a fancy Demilich build, and then Robert Anderson won the West Canada Regional Championship and Michael Russell made Top 8 at the Australia/New Zealand Regional Championship with Ledger Shredder their secondary threat. These results put the archetype back on the map.

Matchup spread: Izzet Phoenix is favored against Rakdos Sacrifice and Azorius Spirits—two decks that are on the rise—but it struggles against Lotus Field Combo and graveyard hate from sideboards.

When facing this deck: When playing against Izzet Phoenix, try to avoid casting spells that can be countered by Spell Pierce if possible. It's usually only a two-of, but if your opponent is conspicuously holding a blue mana open, then consider casting a noncreature spell instead. Another thing to keep in mind is that Ledger Shredder makes double-spelling less appealing, so sequence in a way that avoids granting free connive triggers.

Quick deck summary: Azorius Lotus Field is a control deck combines Lotus Field with Strict Proctor, Discontinuity, or Thespian's Stage for a quick mana boost. This allows you to ramp into a set of sweepers, planeswalkers, and card draw spells. Discontinuity is an incredibly versatile card, as it can end the turn in response to your own Lotus Field trigger, during your opponent's upkeep, or in response to a key spell of theirs.

Regional Championship story: Azorius Lotus Field was a fringe deck before Patrick Wu showed its power with his second-place finish at the East Canada Regional Championship. Inspired by that result, Hungyi Yu picked up the deck and promptly won the MIT Championship. Overall, Azorius Lotus Field was 1.3% of the combined Regional Championship metagame, and it had an impressive 55.0% win rate against the field.

Matchup spread: Azorius Lotus Field can go over the top of Mono-Green Devotion and Enigmatic Fires—these are favorable matchups. However, Mono-White Humans and Abzan Greasefang can often be too fast to handle.

When facing this deck: Remember that Strict Proctor affects all enters-the-battlefield abilities. This means that it limits the effectiveness of Esika's Chariot, Bloodtithe Harvester, Cavalier of Thorns, and so on.


The number of competitively viable Pioneer archetypes remains enormous—there are far more than 15 decks that can win any given tournament. For example, Jianwei Liang won the China Regional Championship with Atarka Red, and in recent weeks a novel Boros Prowess deck with Pia Nalaar, Consul of Revival has done well online. With the Regional Championship cycle now behind us, Pioneer is now more open than ever.

As I described in this article, every deck has good and bad matchups; so, there's an answer to everything in Pioneer. This means that no deck can dominate unchecked. For players who are proficient at a wide variety of decks, they can leverage their metagame knowledge by picking the best-positioned deck every weekend. For example, Rakdos Sacrifice was a solid choice for this Regional Championship cycle, as its bad matchups like Izzet Phoenix, Abzan Greasefang, and Enigmatic Fires were not particularly popular. At the same time, many of the most successful Rakdos Sacrifice players had been playing the deck for a long time.

Throughout the Regional Championship season, numerous players who are considered to be masters of their Pioneer archetype earned a Pro Tour qualification, reinforcing the notion that deck familiarity matters a lot. If you're competing in the current cycle of Regional Championship Qualifiers, which continues in the Pioneer format, then sticking to your heart and learning your favorite deck inside out is generally a great approach.

The Regional Championships awarded 162 invitations to Pro Tour The Lord of the Rings, which will be held during MagicCon: Barcelona on July 28–30. There, the top finishers from the Regional Championships will be able to test their mettle against other talented competitors, including Pro Tour winners, Hall of Famers, and online champions. The format will be Modern, making it the first Modern Pro Tour in years. I'm eagerly looking forward to the event, and I'll be back the next weeks with a close look at the Modern metagame and the impact of The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth™.

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