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Metagame Mentor: Pioneer at Regional Championships in Athens and Taipei

June 15, 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. As Pro Tour The Lord of the Rings approaches, we have plenty to cover! Today's article covers the two Regional Championships from last weekend, held in Athens and Taipei City.

After celebrating the champions, who earned their trophies by displaying their prowess in the Pioneer format, I'll provide the combined metagame breakdown and match win rates for all major archetypes, followed by an overview of the most notable Pioneer developments, including spicy lists that earned a Pro Tour qualification. Overall, it was a major victory for players who put in the work to master their very own decks.

Top players from these Regional Championships earned invitations to Pro Tour The Lord of the Rings, which will be held during MagicCon: Barcelona on July 28–30. This will be an exciting event, but you don't have to be qualified for the Pro Tour to enjoy it. There's something for everyone—awesome cosplay, incredible artists, fascinating panels, direct Pro Tour Qualifiers, the Secret Lair Showdown, and more. The event celebrates all things Magic: The Gathering, and tickets are on sale!

Congratulations to Two Regional Champions!

Federico Vuono won the Legacy European Championship (i.e., the Regional Championship for Europe/Middle East/Africa) with a Boros Convoke deck, defeating Przemyslaw Olszewski, playing Azorius Spirits, in the finals. Both finalists earned an invitation to World Championship XXIX, and the top 36 players who were not yet qualified for Pro Tour The Lord of the Rings earned an invitation to that event.

"I wanna make my opponent think more than me," Federico Vuono said about his deck choice. "Reckless Bushwhacker always put opponents in a bad spot."

With his victory, the newly crowned European Champion from Florence, Italy confirms Boros Convoke as a serious contender in Pioneer. The card choices and sideboard strategies of this relatively new archetype are getting more and more optimized. Vuono's choice to play Reckless Bushwhacker represents the development of the deck's strategy, and this showed in the results. The archetype had a far better win rate last weekend than in the preceding weekend, and versions with Resolute Reinforcements performed better than versions with Burning-Tree Emissary.

Sweepers like Temporary Lockdown and Hidetsugu Consumes All can still keep the deck in check, but given that Boros Convoke has proven it has a place in the format, make sure not to skimp on these cards when building your Pioneer sideboards.

Over in Taipei City, Hungyi Yu won the MIT Championship (i.e., the Regional Championship for Chinese Taipei) with an Azorius Lotus Field deck, earning an invitation to World Championship XXIX. In addition, the top 4 players earned an invite to Pro Tour The Lord of the Rings.

Hungyi Yu was inspired by Patrick Wu's second-place finish at Toronto's F2F Tour Championship last weekend. There, Patrick Wu unveiled his build of Azorius Lotus Field, called it Tier 0, and Hungyi Yu took note. He brought essentially the same list with very few changes and didn't lose a single match. In Barcelona, where top players from each region will gather to compete at the Pro Tour, Hungyi Yu may thank Patrick Wu in person.

Like last weekend, Azorius Lotus Field had one of the best win rates across the board, and this novel archetype seems poised to rise in popularity in the coming weeks. The deck's game plan revolves around combining Lotus Field with either Strict Proctor, Discontinuity, or Thespian's Stage for a quick mana boost. Afterwards, the world is your oyster, as the deck is filled with card draw, sweepers, and planeswalkers. 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 their key spell.

The Metagame and Win Rates

In total, 520 decklists were submitted across the two Regional Championships. Using these 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.

Archetype Percentage of Field Match Win Rate
1. Rakdos Midrange 16.7% ↓↓ 47.1%
2. Mono-Green Devotion 11.3% 48.2%
3. Mono-White Humans 7.1% 50.2%
4. Enigmatic Fires 7.1% ↑↑ 49.3%
5. Izzet Creativity 7.1% 48.2%
6. Azorius Control 6.5% 56.8% ✓✓
7. Rakdos Sacrifice 5.8% ↑↑ 54.1%
8. Azorius Spirits 4.8% 53.8%
9. Abzan Greasefang 4.4% 43.8%
10. Lotus Field Combo 4.0% 48.0%
11. Izzet Phoenix 3.7% ↑↑ 52.4%
12. Boros Convoke 3.3% 55.6%
13. Omnath to Light 2.7% 53.2%
14. Gruul Vehicles 2.3% 45.3%
15. Azorius Lotus Field 1.2% 56.4%
16. Dimir Rogues 1.2% 51.1%
17. Selesnya Angels 1.0% 51.1%
18. Dimir Control 1.0% 42.1%
19. Jund Transmogrify 0.8% 50.0%
20. Neoform Atraxa 0.8% 52.5%
21. Other 7.3% 48.7%

Above, each archetype name hyperlinks to a well-performing decklist close to the aggregate of that archetype. The "other" category, continuing the descending order, includes less represented decks such as Mono-Red Aggro, Mono-Black Midrange, Atarka Red, Elves, Mono-Blue Spirits, Grixis Transmogrify, Orzhov Humans, Rona Combo, Selesnya Auras, Esper Control, Five-Color Transmogrify, Izzet Control, Selesnya Company, Grinning Ignus Combo, Waste Not, Esper Greasefang, Golgari Midrange, Boros Humans, Dimir Flash, Mono-Blue Mill, Niv to Light, Elementals, Jund Citadel, Jeskai Ascendancy Combo, Storm Herald Combo, Grixis Midrange, Soulflayer, and more.

The overall distribution of decks was similar to the preceding weekend, although there was a downtick in Rakdos Midrange and a notable rise in Enigmatic Fires, Rakdos Sacrifice, and Izzet Phoenix. In particular, Rakdos Sacrifice retained its excellent win rate that it previously demonstrated at the U.S. Regional Championship, and the archetype carried Christoffer Larsen and Lorenzo Terlizzi into the Top 8 of the European Championship. On Magic Online, Logan Nettles followed up his 38th-place finish at the U.S. Regional Championship with a first-place and second-place finish in the weekend Challenges, leveraging his experience with Rakdos Sacrifice. All in all, Mayhem Devil and Witch's Oven were doing better than Sheoldred, the Apocalypse and Bonecrusher Giant at the U.S. Regional Championship, and that trend continued last weekend.

For almost all archetypes, their win rates against the field were close to 50% last weekend, which is the sign of a balanced metagame. Due to the relatively small sample size, the differences between the observed win rates could very well be due to natural variation, and no strong conclusions can be drawn. The only exception is Azorius Control. The archetype went 159-121 in its matchups, and it would be unlikely (<2%) to see a result at least as good as this when the archetype's true win rate would be merely 50%. Teferi, Hero of Dominaria looks to be well-positioned in the current Pioneer metagame, as least in the hands of capable control pilots.

Now that I have given proper praise to Boros Convoke, Azorius Lotus Field, Rakdos Sacrifice, and Azorius Control, let take a look at other big deck-related innovations, lessons, and developments to come out of this second Regional Championship weekend of the cycle.

New Versions of Izzet Spells with Demilich or Crackling Drake

The blue-red core of Consider, Opt, Fiery Impulse, and Treasure Cruise remains one of the most powerful shells in Pioneer. After all, Treasure Cruise is banned in Modern and Legacy!

For a long time, decks with Arclight Phoenix and Ledger Shredder were the prominent way to exploit these powerful instant and sorcery spells. At the first cycle of Regional Championships, in November and December of 2022, Izzet Phoenix was the third most popular archetype overall. Although its popularity declined after the format got more hostile to graveyard strategies and Lotus Field Combo emerged, the players who stuck with Izzet Phoenix still posted a good win rate at Pro Tour Phyrexia in February. However, following Reid Duke's victory with Izzet Creativity, many Fiery Impulse fanatics flocked to that deck instead, leaving their copies of Consider, Opt, and Treasure Cruise behind.

And some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. Historically impactful delve spells became legendary Creativity targets. Legends became mythical Gearhulks. And for two and a half uneventful months, the power of Treasure Cruise passed out of all knowledge. Until, when chance came, a phoenix rose from the ashes. A phoenix and a drake, actually.

Nils Gutiérrez von Porat is a man who knows his birds. In his Top 8 profile for the European Championship, he wrote "I'm the creator of Izzet Phoenix" and he has a reasonable claim to that. He already built a Phoenix deck during the Guilds of Ravnica preview season, won a Pro Tour Qualifier with the deck two weeks after the set was legal, and then played the archetype at Pro Tours Guilds of Ravnica in 2018 and at Mythic Championship II in 2019—the first Pro Tour-level Modern event since the release of Arclight Phoenix. Undoubtedly, he's a Phoenix expert.

Yet the version he brought to the European Championship, where he finished first after the Swiss, was something unique. Instead of Ledger Shredder or Thing in the Ice, he used four copies of Demilich as his secondary win condition, supported by Izzet Charm and Otherworldy Gaze to fill the graveyard. Demilich was impressive during the games I watched on the livestream, and given the speed with which he was churning through his deck, there's a real possibility to cast multiple copies for zero mana in a single turn. Demilich dominates the battlefield, and its attack trigger provides a second use for the various burn spells.

The downside of Demilich is that it's more vulnerable to graveyard hate, especially when compared to more traditional choices like Ledger Shredder or Thing in the Ice. However, many Pioneer sideboards right now only have two anti-graveyard cards at best, and you can also transform into a Young Pyromancer deck after sideboard. Nils Gutiérrez von Porat absolutely crushed it with his take on the archetype, and even though he fell in the semifinals, he showed that Arclight Phoenix and the blue card draw suite remain formidable.

Izzet Phoenix builds without Demilich were still fairly popular, putting up good results in Europe as well. For example, Ben Jones, who took Izzet Phoenix to a Top 4 finish at last year's Pioneer European Championship in the Pioneer format, piloted the same archetype to a 32nd place finish at last weekend's edition, earning a Pro Tour invite. His results show that experience with a deck is a big driver of success in Pioneer, and that's a theme I'll return to in this article.

The other Treasure Cruise deck that made an impact last weekend did not use Arclight Phoenix at all, nor did it even come from a Regional Championship. Instead, it was a midrange build with Fable of the Mirror-Breaker and Crackling Drake that dominated Magic Online events out of nowhere. Isaac Bullwinkle ran the deck to Top 8 at a Super Qualifier—a huge tournament with four Regional Championship invites on the line—while Leviathan102 finished second in that event with the same list. On the next day, Bullwinkle Top 8'd a Pioneer Challenge on Magic Online, proving that the deck is the real deal.

Several cards stand out in Bullwinkle's build. Notably, there are four copies of Spell Pierce in the main deck, providing mana-efficient interaction against most of the metagame that can be tossed to Ledger Shredder or Fable of the Mirror-Breaker when they're useless. In addition, Blitz of the Thunder-Raptor is an awesome answer to Mono-Green Devotion's Old-Growth Troll or Cavalier of Thorns, exiling them for two mana. The creature base of Ledger Shredder, Crackling Drake, and Fable of the Mirror-Breaker isn't worried about graveyard hate, which is potentially a big plus depending on how the metagame may develop, and copying Crackling Drake with Reflection of Kiki-Jiki is the stuff of dreams.

Even though there is no consensus among Izzet players on the creature base or exact card choices, last weekend's results highlight the formidable power of the blue-red spell core. When you start a Pioneer deck with Consider, Opt, Fiery Impulse, and Treasure Cruise, then there are many paths to victory, and I'm excited to see if Demilich or Crackling Drake builds will catch on.

Keruga Fires is on the Rise

Enigmatic Fires rose to 7.1% of the metagame last weekend, and Matthieu Avignon took the deck to a 29th-place finish at the European Championship, earning a Pro Tour invite. His list has a few quirks (such as the use of Fabled Passage and basic lands instead of a combination of Sunpetal Grove, Savai Triome, and Breeding Pool, as well as the lack of Titan of Industry or Sheoldred, the Apocalypse as tutor targets) but otherwise it's is a representative version of the archetype.

Decks based around Enigmatic Incarnation have been around for a while, usually with Yorion, Sky Nomad as the companion. The ability to sacrificing Leyline Binding and fetch Atraxa, Grand Unifier or Koma, Cosmos Serpent remains a powerful line of play. Since the strategy is based around enchantments, it has a particularly strong matchup against Rakdos Midrange, the most popular deck in the metagame at the moment.

The new development is the rise of builds with Keruga, the Macrosage as the companion, which happened over the past month. This requires you to give up Omen of the Sea and Chained to the Rocks, but Bonecrusher Giant picks up some of the slack, and the resulting 60-card deck is more consistent. Heliod, the Radiant Dawn "really unlocked the full potential of this build" according to NJAMTG, who won a Pioneer Challenge with such a list early in May.

In the first Regional Championship weekend, 70 players (out of nearly 2000 in total) registered a deck with Enigmatic Incarnation and Fires of Invention. Out of those, 49 used Keruga, the Macrosage as their companion, and 21 used Yorion, the Sky Nomad. For simplicity, I set the archetype labels of all of those decks to Enigmatic Fires. In addition, there were four players who ran Fires of Invention and Keruga in a list without Enigmatic Incarnation—I labeled those as Keruga Fires, consistent with previous events.

Last weekend, 37 players (out of 520 in total) registered a deck with Enigmatic Incarnation and Fires of Invention. Out of those, after seeing Elliot Raff's Top 8 with Keruga at the U.S. Regional Championship, a whopping 35 used Keruga and only 2 used Yorion. Although I've stuck with my original archetype naming logic, I am aware that many players refer to this new version of the deck as Keruga Fires, and I may follow suit in the future. In any case, if your opponent reveals Keruga as their companion, then expect to see Enigmatic Incarnation. And if you're playing Rakdos Midrange, shudder.

Archetype Experts Found Success

I've said before that deck familiarity is a significant success factor in Pioneer. Mastering your preferred deck and learning all its matchups inside-out is usually better long-term than changing decks every week. At the European Championships, two players proved that with a Top 16 finish.

At last year's Pioneer European Championship, Marc Tobiasch shocked the competition by finishing 21st with a never-before-seen Storm Herald deck, qualifying him for Pro Tour Phyrexia. He then took the same deck to a 9-7 finish at Pro Tour Phyrexia, qualifying him for Pro Tour March of the Machine. As Storm Herald isn't legal in Standard, he didn't fare well there. But last weekend, he brought his trusty Storm Herald deck to Athens and led the standings overnight as the sole undefeated player. Although he wasn't able to convert to a Top 8, he still finished high enough to qualify for Pro Tour The Lord of the Rings. So by now, Storm Herald has qualified Marc Tobiasch for three Pro Tours in a row!

The deck's gameplan is to return Colossification and Burning Anger from the graveyard, then use Burning Anger's ability in response to Colossification's tap trigger. This deals over 20 damage to the opponent, winning the game on the spot. Since Storm Herald's enters-the-battlefield trigger doesn't target, you may attach the Auras to any creature upon resolution, which helps dodge the opponent's spot removal spells. A new addition is Scrapwork Mutt, which discards Auras, digs for Storm Herald, and supports delirium for Traverse the Ulvenwald. In the hands of Marc Tobiasch, Storm Herald Combo is the real deal.

At Pro Tour Phyrexia, Lukas Honnay was one of the players to unveil a new take on Bring to Light. With a five-color mana base, Bring to Light is a tutor that can immediately cast the card it finds. If you find Valki, God of Lies, the rules of the game allow you to cast the seven-mana Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor for free. Likewise, the back side of Selfless Glyphweaver provides a one-sided sweeper. The novelty back then was using Bring to Light in a list with Omnath, Locus of Creation rather than Niv-Mizzet Reborn, resulting in a superior mana base and better card quality.

Since then, Omnath to Light has turned into a substantial part of the Pioneer metagame, good for 2.7% last weekend. Chrome Host Seedshark, which creates a 6/6 token with Leyline Binding, was a recent addition. Yet Honnay had an edge over everyone else: experience. He had likely spent more time on the deck than anyone else, and this showed in his 14th-place finish.

The corresponding Pro Tour qualification was particularly important for him because Honnay had not yet qualified for Pro Tour The Lord of the Rings, despite having scored 36 adjusted match points over the past two Pro Tours. This system, which rewards players with consistently high finishes over the previous three rolling Pro Tours, means that Honnay will clinch an automatic invite for the first Pro Tour of the 2023-24 season if he merely goes 4-4 in Barcelona, and a solid finish in Barcelona would also put him in a prime position to earn a leaderboard qualification for World Championship XXIX. If Honnay becomes a mainstay at Pro Tours and/or World Championships, then be on the lookout for his signature Omnath to Light deck, then that was partly driven by his success in Athens, carried by his signature Omnath to Light deck.

Looking Ahead

Overall, last weekend was a big win for archetype experts who invested the time in mastering their deck. Like in Modern, a skilled Pioneer player who is well-versed in their deck's interactions and matchup strategies can win with almost everything.

The schedule for the remaining Regional Championships in this third cycle is as follows:

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