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Metagame Mentor: Pioneer at the EMEA, US, and Brazilian Regional Championships

November 23, 2022
Frank Karsten

Last weekend featured the debut of the Regional Championships, the thrice-yearly step on the path to the Pro Tour. In Europe, U.S.A., and Brazil, over 1500 total players arrived with their best Pioneer decks to compete for a combined 92 Pro Tour slots, 5 World Championship invitations, and $255,000 in prizes. And this was only the start of this Regional Championship season, as eight other geographic regions will follow in the weeks to come.

I competed in Sofia, Bulgaria myself, and it genuinely felt like high-level paper Magic again, with all the big names playing at the top tables and the excitement of win-and-ins for Pro Tours. This sentiment was echoed by many players I talked to, some of whom gathered in testing houses a week before the event. The tournament was well-ran, we had video coverage all weekend, and there were big prizes on the line. Even though I didn't win a lot of matches, I had a great time.

In this article, I will analyze all of last weekend's Regional Championships in a combined way. The article is structed as follows: First, I will celebrate the champions, who received well-earned trophies. Second, I will provide the combined metagame breakdown and the match win rates for all major archetypes. Third, I will showcase the most-played cards from The Brothers' War, as this was the first weekend in which the new set was legal. Fourth, I will go over the top deck archetypes in Pioneer right now. Fifth, I will highlight the spiciest decklists that earned a Pro Tour qualification. Sixth, I will look ahead to next weekend's Regional Championships. Let's get started.

Congratulations to the three Regional Champions!

Miguel Castro won the Legacy European Championship (i.e., the Regional Championship for Europe / Middle East / Africa) with Izzet Phoenix, defeating Théau Méry, playing Azorius Control, in the finals. We will see both at the first Pro Tour in 2023, held during MagicCon: Philadelphia on February 17-19, as well as at next year's World Championship!

You can find the Top 8 bracket, photos, and links to final standings and decklists on the European Championship coverage page.

Matthew Saypoff won the Dreamhack Atlanta Magic Showdown (i.e., the Regional Championship for the U.S.) with Mono-White Humans, defeating Ken Takahama, playing Izzet Phoenix, in the finals. We will see both at the first Pro Tour and the World Championship in 2023!

You can find the Top 8 bracket, photos, and links to final standings and decklists on the U.S. Regional Championship coverage page.

Pedro Mocelin, winner of the City Class Showdown

Pedro Mocelin won the City Class Showdown (i.e., the Regional Championship for Brazil) with Rakdos Midrange. We will see him at the first Pro Tour and the World Championship in 2023!

You can find the Top 8 bracket, photos, and links to final standings and decklists on the Brazil Regional Championship coverage page.

The Metagame and Win Rates

Based on the decklists from all three Regional Championships, unweighted, I determined the combined metagame share of every archetype. I also calculated their non-mirror, non-bye match win rates. I used my own algorithms and definitions to assign archetype labels, thereby sidestepping any potential mislabeling on MTG Melee. Let's take a look!

Archetype Percentage of Field Match Win Rate
1. Mono-Green Devotion 20.7% 48.6%
2. Rakdos Midrange 14.0% 50.4%
3. Izzet Phoenix 11.3% 53.3%
4. Mono-White Humans 6.2% 51.9%
5. Azorius Control 5.8% 51.4%
6. Gruul Vehicles 4.4% 52.0%
7. Abzan Greasefang 4.3% 47.3%
8. Keruga Fires 4.3% 44.9%
9. Bant Spirits 3.1% 47.7%
10. Selesnya Angels 2.4% 54.0%
11. Mono-Blue Spirits 2.2% 48.1%
12. Rakdos Sacrifice 2.1% 53.4%
13. Lotus Field combo 1.8% 57.2%
14. Enigmatic Fires 1.6% 54.3%
15. Izzet Creativity 1.2% 52.2%
16. Izzet Prowess 1.2% 46.1%
17. Mono-Red Aggro 1.1% 48.3%
18. Atarka Red 1.0% 47.6%
19. Niv to Light 0.9% 43.4%
20. Dimir Control 0.9% 50.0%
21. Esper Control 0.7% 41.0%
22. Selesnya Auras 0.5% 54.7%
23. Mono-Black Midrange 0.5% 50.0%
24. Boros Heroic 0.5% 51.7%
25. Azorius Spirits 0.5% 54.7%
Other 7.0% 45.0%

The "Other" category included such decks as Bant Humans, Orzhov Humans, Grinning Ignus combo, Azorius Soldiers, Dimir Midrange, Jund Sacrifice, Selesnya Company, Boros Midrange, Boros Artifacts, Mardu Greasefang, Bant Company, Elves, Orzhov Midrange, Vannifar Humans, Gruul Celebrant, Golgari Citadel, Boros Obosh, Mono-Black Aggro, Azorius Humans, Mono-White Devotion, Vampires, Jund Citadel, Four-Color Humans, Rakdos Creativity, Orzhov Greasefang, Izzet Spirits, Azorius Lotus Field, Dimir Improvise, Storm Herald combo, Mono-Red Creativity, Gruul Company, Blue Devotion, Gruul Ramp, Izzet Ensoul, Dimir Rogues, Acererak combo, Selesnya Humans, Golgari Delirium, Bant TurboFog, Esper Humans, Esper Greasefang, Golgari Stompy, Jund Midrange, Fight Rigging, Jeskai Hinata, Golgari Midrange, and Jodah Humans.

The metagame across the three Regional Championships was largely many players expected. The most-popular archetype was Mono-Green Devotion, but it had a clear target on its head and scored a below-average win rate as a result. Players were ready for it, and no deck in Pioneer is unbeatable.

Lotus Field combo and Izzet Phoenix had an excellent performance; they were superb choices for the weekend, and I would expect to see them rise in popularity in the coming weeks. By contrast, Keruga Fires did poorly, largely as a result of a bad matchup against Mono-Green Devotion.

To me, the format looks diverse and balanced. The Top 8 of the U.S. Regional Championship had eight different deck archetypes, every color is represented, and the winrates of the most-played archetypes are close to 50-50. When this is the case, skill and expertise at piloting your deck and knowledge of your matchups and interactions is often the crucial factor.

As U.S. Regional Champion Matthew Saypoff said in his winner interview: "Any deck can do well in Pioneer … So it's really a matter of picking a deck you like the play pattern of and can get really good at."

The Most-Played Cards from The Brothers' War

In last weekend's Regional Championships, the most-played cards overall, summing copies in both main decks and sideboards other than basic lands, were Llanowar Elves, Elvish Mystic, Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, Bonecrusher Giant, Thoughtseize, and Fatal Push. These are the real format staples of Pioneer that fit into multiple archetypes, but that shouldn't come as a surprise.

What's more interesting is the impact of The Brothers' War on Pioneer, as this was the first weekend where the new set was legal. The following table has the 25 most-played new-to-Pioneer cards in decklists submitted to last weekend's Regional Championships.

Card Name Total Copies Main Deck Sideboard
Misery's Shadow 430 425 5
Obliterating Bolt 366 286 80
The Stone Brain 344 3 341
Cityscape Leveler 307 0 307
Recruitment Officer 296 296 0
Brotherhood's End 285 6 279
Haywire Mite 278 0 278
Brushland 178 178 0
Woodcaller Automaton 167 3 164
The Mightstone and Weakstone 123 15 108
Third Path Iconoclast 113 55 58
Kayla's Reconstruction 75 75 0
Diabolic Intent 61 60 1
Bitter Reunion 46 46 0
Soul Partition 37 7 30
Portal to Phyrexia 37 0 37
Audacity 34 34 0
Phyrexian Fleshgorger 30 27 3
Lay Down Arms 26 20 6
Fortified Beachhead 24 24 0
Loran of the Third Path 21 3 18
Gix, Yawgmoth Praetor 21 19 2
Demolition Field 21 21 0
Calamity's Wake 19 0 19
Rootwire Amalgam 19 17 2

To show where some of these new cards found home, let's go over the top-tier decks in the metagame right now.

The 8 Decks to Beat in Pioneer

The eight decks I will highlight in this section include the four most popular archetypes—Mono-Green Devotion, Rakdos Midrange, Izzet Phoenix, and Mono-White Humans, all of which gained new cards from The Brothers' War—plus four promising archetypes that had a great performance last weekend. If you're unfamiliar with Pioneer, then I recommend reading my format primer from last week first.

All of the decklists I will show were played by players who placed highly enough to earn a Pro Tour invitation, so we'll see all of them at the Pro Tour held during MagicCon: Philadelphia on February 17-19, 2023. In selecting specific decklists to highlight, I favored the ones with innovations from The Brothers' War.

Mono-Green Devotion was the most popular deck archetype at 20.7% of the field, but it merely had a 48.6% non-mirror match win rate. According to the data, it was great against Rakdos Sacrifice and Keruga Fires but weak to Selesnya Auras, Boros Heroic, and Mono-Blue Spirits.

The deck did gain a lot of new cards from The Brothers' War to bolster Karn, the Great Creator, most notably The Stone Brain, Cityscape Leveler, and Haywire Mite. Many players included The Mightstone and Weakstone and Woodcaller Automaton as well.

Brent Vos, who finished 9th at the European Championship, went even further by running three total copies of Woodcaller Automaton: Two in the main deck and one in the sideboard. The main deck copies replaced flex slots customarily taken by Sylvan Caryatid, Lovestruck Beast, and/or Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God. The reason why Woodcaller Automaton fits so well is that it adds two devotion to green while untapping Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx. This makes it easier to generate absurd amounts of mana and combo off.

His list also goes against the mold by running 22 lands, which I believe to be the correct number. Little tweaks can go a long way.

Rakdos Midrange was solid all around, with a 14.0% metagame share and a 50.4% match win rate. It was soft to Enigmatic Fires and Gruul Vehicles, but it performed well against Bant Spirits and Abzan Greasefang.

The most-played card overall from The Brothers' War was Misery's Shadow. Eli Loveman, who finished in the Top 8 of the U.S. Regional Championship, ran three copies in his Rakdos Midrange deck. Like Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, it prevents the death triggers on Old-Growth Troll and Cavalier of Thorns, and it's a solid mana sink in the late game. Yet Misery's Shadow adds more pressure in the early game, which matters a lot in matchups where you have to be the aggressor.

Izzet Phoenix had an excellent weekend, with a 11.3% metagame share and a 53.3% match win rate. (To give an indication of significance based on the sample size: the 95% Clopper-Pearson confidence interval for Izzet Phoenix's win rate ranged from 50.5% to 56.2%.) In terms of matchups, Izzet Phoenix was particularly strong against Mono-Blue Spirits, Bant Spirits, and all decks lumped in the "Other" category, yet it had a terrible time against Lotus Field combo.

A popular sideboard inclusion from the new set was Brotherhood's End. Miguel Castro, who won the European Championship, had two copies in his sideboard. It not only sweeps creatures and planeswalkers but also gives an out to Unlicensed Hearse. But this tweak was only a small part of his success—Miguel Castro had played Arclight Phoenix in Standard and Modern in the past, and he leaned on his extensive multi-format experience with the card to navigate the matches and claim the trophy.

Mono-White Humans was 6.2% of the field and posted a solid 51.9% match win rate. According to the data, it had a favorable matchup against Mono-Green Devotion, but it did terribly against Selesnya Angels, Rakdos Sacrifice, and Gruul Vehicles.

The Brothers' War introduced Recruitment Officer, which has replaced Soldier of the Pantheon in most lists. Matthew Saypoff, who won the U.S. Regional Championship, had the full four copies in his main deck. The abilities on Soldier of the Pantheon rarely mattered, whereas Recruitment Officer offers a good mana sink to ensure you won't run out of steam in the late game. You're about 96% to hit at least one creature in your top 4 cards.

Gruul Vehicles was 4.4% of the field and posted a solid 52.0% match win rate. According to the data, it performed particularly well against Rakdos Midrange and Mono-White Humans.

The Brothers' War introduced Obliterating Bolt as an upgrade over Lava Coil. Lino Torretta, who finished 23rd at the European Championship, had the full four copies in his main deck. The ability to damage planeswalkers can make quite the difference against Mono-Green Devotion, although exiling Old-Growth Troll is still the main purpose of the card.

Selesnya Angels was 2.4% of the field and posted an impressive 54.0% match win rate. According to the data, it crushed Mono-White Humans decisively.

The Brothers' War introduced Brushland as a mana base upgrade over Sunpetal Grove and Kayla's Reconstruction as an additional Collected Company effect. In the list of Socrates Rozakeas, who finished 31st at the European Championship, Collected Company puts 1.86 creatures with total mana value 4.8 on the battlefield in expectation, and Kayla's Reconstruction for X=2 provides 1.92 creatures with total mana value 5.1 in expectation. So it's card advantage and mana advantage all in one.

Lotus Field combo was 1.8% of the field and posted an enormous 57.2% match win rate, which is the highest out all major archetypes. So it can be called the breakout deck of the weekend, and that's largely due to its amazing matchup against Izzet Phoenix.

The list of John Tatian, who finished in the Top 4 at the U.S. Regional Championship, did not contain any new cards from The Brothers' War, but he made sure he had Fae of Wishes to diversify his win conditions against opposing The Stone Brain.

Selesnya Auras was merely 0.5% of the field, which may seem low until you realize that it basically didn't exist in the competitive landscape before The Brothers' War. Yet it posted a very promising 54.7% match win rate. According to the data, it decisively crushed Mono-Green Devotion in particular.

This is all largely due to the addition of Brushland. In a deck that wants to cast Gladecover Scout on turn one followed by Ethereal Armor and Sentinel's Eyes on turn two, you need every untapped dual land you can get. Brushland is a massive consistency boost.

In addition, Audacity is reminiscent of Rancor and is perfect for a deck that wants to boost its creatures with Auras while drawing cards with Sram, Senior Edificer and fetching one-ofs with Light-Paws, Emperor's Voice. Michael Letsch crafted a superb list and made the Top 4 at the U.S. Regional Championship.

Spice Corner

It's always exciting to see brewers do well with their own creations, and the top tables of the Regional Championships featured plenty of decks that no one or almost no one had on their radar. To support this, I'll highlight the three spiciest decks from the Regional Championships to earn a Pro Tour qualification. I am already looking forward to seeing what these players might bring to the Pro Tour in February, as the depth of Pioneer remains underexplored.

Pro Tour Amonkhet Top 8 competitor Marc Tobiasch always brews the spiciest decks, and he didn't disappoint at the European Championship. He finished 21st with a deck that no one saw coming.

The game plan of this deck is to put Colossification and Burning Anger into the graveyard and to return them to the battlefield with Storm Herald. This allows you to immediately ping your opponent for upwards of 20 damage. The deck has numerous self-mill cards and discard enablers to put the Auras into the graveyard, while Gather the Pack and Traverse the Ulvenwald can find Storm Herald.

At first glance, this combo might seem inferior to Greasefang, Okiba Boss plus Parhelion II, which needs only one card in the graveyard rather than two. Why go through extra steps? The answer is that Storm Herald combo plays much better against removal. When Storm Herald's enters-the-battlefield trigger resolves, you may attach your Auras to any creature you control. It doesn't target. So if you have another untapped creature, say a Satyr Wayfinder, then a single spot removal spell won't break up your combo. That's a big benefit over Abzan Greasefang.

Another benefit is that Storm Herald doesn't target the Auras in your graveyard, so you can run Silent Gravestone in your sideboard to stop your opponent's Graveyard Trespasser and Unlicensed Hearse. Genius!

Dimitar Erinin, who finished 17th at the European Championship, showed that Grinning Ignus combo is the real deal. After winning the Warsaw Classic Qualifier—a large RCQ—last month, he took the deck to win the Last Chance Qualifier on Friday in Sofia, and then he promptly went 9-0 on Day 1! Overnght, he found himself on top of the standings as the sole undefeated player in the European Championship. On Day 2, he won enough matches to clinch a Pro Tour invite. If he sticks with the same deck, then he's definitely a player to watch.

So what does the deck actually do? The game plan is to continually cast Grinning Ignus while controlling Birgi, God of Storytelling, Hazoret's Monument, or Runaway Steam-Kin. This generates infinite enters-the-battlefield triggers, which then turns into infinite cards with Risen Reef, infinite life with Prosperous Innkeeper, or infinite damage with Defiler of Instinct. Fauna Shaman from The Brothers' War added a small consistency boost.

Grand Prix Sao Paulo 2014 champion Tulio Jaudy is another renowned deck builder, and he made the Top 8 of the Brazil Regional Championship with a spicy brew.

As he explained, "I wanted to play a deck that could play well against all matchups, with aggressive and controlling capabilities, and some toolboxing to help some situations and adapt. Also, it has access to a combo-ish finish, which can outpace the combo decks." Indeed, being able to loop Charming Prince and Yorion, Sky Nomad can overpower anyone, and chaining Chord of Calling into Fierce Empath into Decimator of the Provinces is another sweet combo-esque way to win the game.

Yet the defining feature of his deck are the various disruptive creatures or "hatebears". Phyrexian Revoker stops planeswalkers, Scavenging Ooze eats graveyards, and Voice of Resurgence stops interaction on your turn. Anointed Peacekeeper, which Jaudy mentioned as the best card of his weekend, fills a similar role. "Should've played four copies of it."

Looking Ahead

The schedule for the remaining Regional Championships in this first round is as follows:

To follow along this coming weekend, bookmark the MTG Melee pages of the Regional Championship in Japan/Korea, the Regional Championship in Australia/New Zealand, the Regional Championships in East Canada, and the Regional Championship in Southeast Asia.

For live streaming coverage, check out the Good Games Twitch channel for video coverage of the Regional Championship in Sydney, Australia! The tournament starts on Saturday at 10:00 am local time, and the Top 8 starts on Sunday at noon local time. Sydney is 10 hours ahead of Central Europe Time, 16 hours ahead of Eastern Time, and 19 hours ahead of Pacific Time. This means that the tournament starts on Friday 6 p.m. ET / 3 p.m. PT.

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