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. While the best players in the world were focused on Pro Tour March of the Machine earlier this month, the current cycle of Regional Championship Qualifiers (RCQs) kept going. So today, I will provide a Pioneer metagame snapshot, and I will take a look at the biggest Pioneer innovations since the release of March of the Machine.
The main innovations that I will highlight are
The Pioneer Metagame
Pioneer is a nonrotating format based on expansion sets and core sets from Return to Ravnica forward, with the most notable cards on the ban list being the fetch lands. Through August 20, due to the new format matching policy, in-store RCQs are required to be either Pioneer or Limited, and they will qualify for a Pioneer Regional Championship later in the year. If you aspire to make it to the Pro Tour, then now is the perfect time to dive into the format.
To grasp the latest Pioneer developments, I analyzed over 750 successful decklists from competitive events over the past month. Specifically, I used all published Magic Online decklists from scheduled Pioneer events held from April 19 through May 16, as well as Top 8 decklists from the RCQ at The Rogue Games, RCQ at Gamers Paradise, RCQ at Lvl 1 Gaming, RCQ at Chuck's Field of Dreams, Super Pioneer event at Arcanis Infinity, RCQ at Tabletop Gaming Center, RCQ at MeH Games, RCQ at Il Labirintho, RCQ at Dungeons & Javas, RCQ at Playtime Merate, RCQ at 95 Game Center, RCQ at El Nucli, RCQ at Nerdz Cards, RCQ at Three for One, RCQ at Level Up Games, F2F Tour Halifax, F2F Tour Montreal, RCQ at Hareruya Hiroshima, RCQ at Hareruya Tokyo, RCQ at Hareruya Osaka, RCQ at Card Box Seimado Yako, RCQ at Batloco Takadanobaba, RCQ at TCG Shop 193 Osu, RCQ at Yellowsubmarine Hyperarena, and Pioneer event at the Dutch Open Series. This is only a selection of all RCQs whose decklists were published or linked by their organizers on their website or social media pages. Yet many Regional Championship invites were awarded at these tournaments, and they provide a good barometer for the Pioneer metagame.
In addition to in-store RCQs, it's always great to see the start of new tournament series with end-of-year championships. Such larger destination events, which enable a thriving competitive scene, may provide Regional Championship slots as part of their tournament offerings in different Constructed formats. In the U.S., a well-known example is the NRG Series. In the Netherlands, we recently saw the revival of the Dutch Open Series.
Over 200 players gathered at the @DutchOpenSeries today. The two-day event features Pioneer, Modern, Legacy, and Sealed RCQs, and everyone's having a blast. pic.twitter.com/Gp1Znr7lC4— Frank Karsten (@karsten_frank) April 29, 2023
Tristan won the Pioneer tournament, winning his invite to RC Lille.— Dutch Open Series (@DutchOpenSeries) May 1, 2023
Congrats to Terrence on his second place, winning him an invite to the DOS player championship. pic.twitter.com/wdvrKkssxf
But which Pioneer decks came out on top? To provide a metagame snapshot that combines popularity and performance, I assigned an archetype label to each deck and awarded a number of points equal to the deck's net wins, i.e., 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. The sum of these numbers for every archetype yields its record-weighted metagame share, which represents its share of total net wins. It may be interpreted as a winner's metagame that you can expect to see at the top tables.
|Archetype||Record-Weighted Metagame Share|
|1. Rakdos Midrange||22.4% ↑↑|
|2. Mono-Green Devotion||14.0% ↑↑|
|3. Izzet Creativity||7.7%|
|4. Azorius Control||7.1% ↓↓|
|5. Abzan Greasefang||5.1% ↓↓|
|6. Mono-White Humans||3.9%|
|7. Dimir Rogues||3.6% ↑↑|
|8. Lotus Field Combo||3.1%|
|9. Gruul Vehicles||2.8%|
|10. Rakdos Sacrifice||2.4%|
|11. Azorius Spirits||2.4%|
|12. Mono-Red Aggro||2.3%|
|13. Neoform Atraxa||1.8%|
|14. Omnath to Light||1.8%|
|15. Grixis Transmogrify||1.5%|
|16. Atarka Red||1.5%|
|17. Selesnya Angels||1.4%|
|18. Selesnya Company||1.4%|
|19. Dimir Control||1.0%|
|20. Orzhov Humans||0.9%|
|21. Rona Combo||0.9%|
|22. Enigmatic Fires||0.9% ↓↓|
|23. Mono-Black Midrange||0.9%|
|24. Bant Auras||0.9%|
|25. Mono-Blue Spirits||0.5% ↓↓|
|26. Izzet Phoenix||0.4% ↓↓|
In this table, each archetype name hyperlinks to a well-performing decklist close to the aggregate of that archetype, and the arrows represent the biggest changes compared to my Pioneer metagame snapshot from early April. That article provides a more in-depth introduction to all of the top archetypes and their game plans, and I recommend reading it first if you're new to the Pioneer format.
The "Other" category in the table includes Jeskai Creativity, Niv to Light, Keruga Fires, Goblins, Transmogrify Fires, Izzet Lutri, Jeskai Transmogrify, Five-Color Transmogrify, Esper Control, Bant Spirits, Boros Heroic, Elves, Grixis Midrange, Orzhov Blink, Azorius Blink, Esper Legends, and more. With over 10,000 cards to choose from, Pioneer features a variety of powerful strategies.
As this metagame breakdown reveals, Rakdos Midrange and Mono-Green Devotion are two top-tier "Decks To Beat" right now. There hasn't been much innovation in Rakdos Midrange since the introduction of March of the Machine, but it remains dominant. Fortunately, Pioneer offers the tools to counter any strategy. Based on last year's Regional Championships and Pro Tour Phyrexia, there are several archetypes that had a good matchup against Rakdos Midrange, including Gruul Vehicles, Rakdos Sacrifice, and Enigmatic Fires. If I would be trying to beat Rakdos Midrange, then I would start by looking at these decks, as they could be well-positioned in the present metagame.
Next, let's take a closer look at March of the Machine and how Pioneer has evolved over the past month.
Polukranos Reborn Bolstered Mono-Green Devotion
In my data set of over 750 successful Pioneer decks over the past month,
Many Mono-Green Devotion decks have also adopted
Faerie Mastermind Revived Dimir Rogues
For years, Dimir Rogues has been a fringe deck in Pioneer, occasionally posting a decent result but never being a big part of the metagame. March of the Machine changed that: the introduction of
New Builds for Indomitable Creativity and Transmogrify
Following Reid Duke's victory at Pro Tour Phyrexia,
While some Izzet Creativity players adopted
An even spicier option is to abandon
" @carlmerin97 consigue alzarse con la victoria en nuestro 2do RCQ, consiguiendo la plaza para el RC de Lille.— Metropolis Center (@MetropolisCnter) May 14, 2023
Enhorabuena y nos vemos en nuestro siguiente RCQ.@LegacyEUTour @PTQs_Spain pic.twitter.com/VGnF8e2NAZ
Rona Unlocked a New Infinite Combo
There are various ways to build around Rona. The most common one, as shown above, uses planeswalkers to find combo pieces more consistently. But there are other approaches as well. For example, a version using
Saiba Cryptomancer Enabled Bant Auras
At Pro Tour Phyrexia, Auras decks had an excellent performance, headlined by Benton Madsen's second-place finish. Nevertheless, the archetype never really caught on, and Bant Auras currently sits at merely 0.9% of the winner's metagame. I hope that
Aftermath Introduces Coppercoat Vanguard and More
March of the Machine: The Aftermath (a non-draftable micro-set that is legal in all formats) released last week, and it contains several cards that can make an impact on Pioneer. As I considered decklists from April 19 through May 16 for this article, only a fraction of my data set involves tournaments with March of the Machine: The Aftermath cards, but I can provide early indications. For context, here are all new-to-Pioneer cards from March of the Machine or Aftermath with at least 22 total copies across my data set.
|Card Name||Total Copies||Main Deck||Sideboard|
|Invasion of Ixalan||63||63||0|
|Invasion of Gobakhan||62||45||17|
|Change the Equation||62||35||27|
|Knight-Errant of Eos||31||31||0|
|Rona, Herald of Invasion||30||30||0|
The first March of the Machine: The Aftermath card to show up (in low numbers because there's only one weekend of data) is Coppercoat Vanguard, so it's the early standout. Before showing its natural home, let me quickly highlight the most-played new March of the Machine cards that I haven't already covered in this article:
- Invasion of Gobakhan has been adopted as an interactive spell in a few Mono-White Humans decks and in several Azorius Spirits decks. I particularly like it in Spirits, where the fliers can easily defeat the battle.
- Change the Equation has been included in various blue decks, most notably in Azorius Control. Sure, it cannot counter popular cards like Sheoldred, the Apocalypse; Skysovereign, Consul Flagship; or Karn, the Great Creator. Nevertheless, it is an efficient answer to staples like Fable of the Mirror-Breaker or Cavalier of Thorns. Given the current metagame, Change the Equation is viable both as a main deck card and as a sideboard card.
- Knight-Errant of Eos has found a home in various Mono-White Humans decks to provide a steady flow of creatures in the mid-game, which helps grind against Rakdos Midrange. This looks like a strong addition when Rakdos Midrange is dominant.
- Ancient Imperiosaur has found a home in various builds of Gruul Vehicles, where Reckless Stormseeker allows it to attack for enormous amounts of damage right away. Although it's nice to have this new option, it's worth noting that the most successful Gruul Vehicles decks relied on Werewolf Pack Leader and Embercleave instead, and I personally believe in the 'Cleave.
- Sheoldred is regularly seen as in the sideboard of Dimir Rogues, where it is easy to transform after various Rogues have milled the opponent.
Alright, let's return to Aftermath and Coppercoat Vanguard.
Coppercoat Vanguard is a natural fit for Mono-White Humans, where it boosts the power of all creatures on its side of the battlefield. But Coppercoat Vanguard may be even better in Orzhov Humans, where it grants ward to protect
This list shown above cut
Besides Coppercoat Vanguard and Jirina, Dauntless General, Aftermath provides many other promising cards, some of which have already appeared in last weekend's decklists. For example, Ob Nixilis, Captive Kingpin in Rakdos Sacrifice and Sigarda, Font of Blessings in Selesnya Angels. In the coming weeks, I'm looking forward to seeing more innovations.
March of the Machine has brought new tools for Pioneer archetypes both old and new, and Aftermath may do the same. The current RCQ cycle qualifies for a Pioneer Regional Championship later in the fall, but before that we have another cycle of Pioneer Regional Championships that starts in two weeks. This cycle kicks off on June 3-4 with Regional Championships in the U.S., South East Asia, Mexico, China, and East Canada. The results from these tournaments will surely shake up the format, so June will be an exciting month for Pioneer players.
Before that, however, there are two big events with live coverage this Saturday and the following:
- Pioneer: The $10K Showdown at the NRG Series Trial Weekend in Minneapolis might unveil the full power of the various Aftermath cards in Pioneer. Coverage of this event will be broadcast on Twitch.
- Modern: The first Magic Online Champions Showcase of the 2023 season features eight skilled players battling for their share of $70,000 in cash prizes and two Magic World Championship invitations. It will be streamed live May 20 beginning at 10 a.m. PT, and Nathan Steuer, the reigning World Champion and Pro Tour Champion, is one of the casters. For more information, see the Viewer's Guide.
- Standard: Standard returns with Arena Championship 3, filled with many of Magic's top competitors (including Nathan Steuer who can go four-for-four on premier event Top 8s) battling for $200,000 in prizes and Magic World Championship XXIX invitations. Live coverage begins at 9 a.m. PT, May 27 and 28—check out the Viewers Guide for more details.
I'm looking forward to an awesome day of Magic this Saturday, competing in the Arena Open and watching live coverage of these events!