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Metagame Mentor: The Highest Pioneer Win Rates at Pro Tour Phyrexia

February 23, 2023
Frank Karsten

"Pro Tour competitors, welcome back to the Pro Tour!"

As the announcement was made on Friday morning at Pro Tour Phyrexia, a thundering applause erupted among the 218 competitors. The electric atmosphere in the room was palpable, and you could feel everyone's hopes and dreams. With all eyes on the same trophy, it was great to watch the flicking of the cards, the thrill of high-level tabletop competition, and the high-fives to celebrate a key match win. The Pro Tour is back, and it returned with a bang.

While the Pro Tour rewards performance in both Limited and Pioneer, in this article we'll be taking a closer look at the win rates and standout decks from the Pioneer rounds. By removing the draft portion and looking beyond the Top 8, we'll get a better sense of the biggest Pioneer lessons from the event overall. Let's run the numbers!

Pioneer Win Rates

The most popular Pioneer deck archetypes in the Pro Tour metagame were Rakdos Midrange, Mono-Green Devotion, and Gruul Vehicles. Using data from Pioneer Swiss rounds only, I determined the non-mirror, non-draw, non-bye match record and win rate of every archetype at Pro Tour Phyrexia. The results are provided in the following table, where each archetype name hyperlinks to a representative decklist.

Archetype Number of Players Record and Win Rate
Abzan Greasefang 4 23-11 (67.6%)
Orzhov Auras 1 6-3 (66.7%)
Selesnya Auras 2 12-7 (63.2%)
Omnath to Light 4 19-12 (61.3%)
Abzan Auras 4 18-12 (60.0%)
Azorius Spirits 1 6-4 (60.0%)
Azorius Lotus Field 1 6-4 (60.0%)
Storm Herald Combo 1 6-4 (60.0%)
Mono-Black Midrange 1 3-2 (60.0%)
Esper Greasefang 1 3-2 (60.0%)
Rakdos Sacrifice 13 59-47 (55.7%)
Izzet Creativity 14 64-51 (55.7%)
Izzet Phoenix 11 45-36 (55.6%)
Azorius Control 14 62-50 (55.4%)
Selesnya Angels 7 25-21 (54.3%)
Dimir Control 2 9-8 (52.9%)
Lotus Field Combo 17 59-53 (52.7%)
Enigmatic Fires 3 12-11 (52.2%)
Jund Citadel 1 5-5 (50.0%)
Azorius Yorion 1 5-5 (50.0%)
Gruul Vehicles 21 73-81 (47.4%)
Mono-Green Devotion 30 83-95 (46.6%)
Rakdos Midrange 33 104-120 (46.4%)
Azorius Powerstones 1 4-6 (40.0%)
Temur Vehicles 1 4-6 (40.0%)
Golgari Elves 1 2-3 (40.0%)
Grixis Midrange 1 2-3 (40.0%)
Mono-Blue Spirits 1 2-3 (40.0%)
Bant Humans 1 2-3 (40.0%)
Grinning Ignus Combo 1 2-3 (40.0%)
Mono-White Humans 15 34-60 (36.2%)
Golgari Devotion 1 3-7 (30.0%)
Mardu Sacrifice 3 4-11 (26.7%)
Selesnya Company 1 2-7 (22.2%)
Esper Control 1 1-4 (20.0%)
Bant Auras 1 1-4 (20.0%)
Izzet Mindsplice 1 1-4 (20.0%)
Atarka Red 1 1-4 (20.0%)

The three most-played decks (Rakdos Midrange, Mono-Green Devotion, and Gruul Vehicles) all had subpar win rates of 47.4% or lower. In my experience, it's unusual that the most-played decks all perform poorly, but it speaks well to the health and dynamism of the Pioneer metagame. The format offers the tools to counter any strategy, and players came prepared with the right sideboard cards to beat the perceived top decks. Choosing the right deck to attack the metagame was also a key success factor, as Izzet Creativity crushed Gruul Vehicles, Selesnya Auras flattened Mono-Green Devotion, and Abzan Greasefang ran over Rakdos Midrange.

Of course, sample sizes were small. For example, the 95% confidence interval for Rakdos Midrange's win rate ranged from 39.8% to 53.2%, which means that it's hard to draw strong conclusions, even for the most-played decks. Except for Mono-White Humans: I can confidently state that it performed abysmally, even when considering the low sample size.

Despite being the fifth-most popular archetype overall, Mono-White Humans had a win rate of a measly 36.2%. It struggled against Gruul Vehicles in particular. Nevertheless, specific card choices can have a large impact. Takumi Matsuura was the only one to include main deck Ossification in Mono-White Humans, and he also used Skrelv, Defector Mite from Phyrexia: All Will Be One. By exploiting these new cards, he went 7-2 in the Pioneer Swiss rounds and made it all the way to the semifinals.

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To provide another useful reference, here are all decks with at least seven Pioneer non-bye wins at Pro Tour Phyrexia, along with their combined non-bye, non-draw Swiss and Top 8 record, in descending order of their win rate:

Let's take a closer look at my picks for the five most notable decks from this group, all of which may rise in popularity in the coming weeks based on their great showing at the Pro Tour.

Five Standout Pioneer Decks from Pro Tour Phyrexia

It's hard not to start with the deck that clinched the trophy. It was piloted by Hall of Famer and team CFBUltimateGuard member Reid Duke, widely considered to be one of the most genuinely nice, humble, hard-working, and skilled competitors in the history of the game. Fourteen players registered Izzet Creativity in total, ten of which were on Duke's squad for the Pro Tour: Gabriel Nassif, Jakub Tóth, Brent Vos, Jim Davis, Martin Jůza, Luis Scott-Vargas, Seth Manfield, Eli Kassis, Mike Sigrist, and Reid Duke himself. Duke went 5-1 in his draft rounds and 10-2 in his non-bye Pioneer rounds, including the Top 8.

Their deck aims to cast Indomitable Creativity where X=2, put Worldspine Wurm and Xenagos, God of Revels onto the battlefield, and attack with a 30/30 creature with trample and haste.

Worldspine Wurm Xenagos, God of Revels

Before all that, in the early game, the deck's play style resembles Izzet Phoenix, with cheap interaction and efficient card selection. But as the game progresses, it has access to a combo that instantly wins the game rather than having to attack with three-power fliers.

The combined win rate of all Izzet Creativity players was a solid 55.7%, and it would be even higher if I would limit the analysis to Duke's team only. With its performance at Pro Tour Phyrexia and strong matchup against Gruul Vehicles, Izzet Creativity cemented itself as a formidable deck in the current Pioneer metagame.

Benton Madsen, in his first Pro Tour, took second place with Selesnya Auras, going 4-2 in his draft rounds and 10-2 in his non-bye Pioneer rounds, including the Top 8. His build of Selesnya Auras was one of the many decks at Pro Tour Phyrexia based around Light-Paws, Emperor's Voice that took advantage of Razorverge Thicket and/or Skrelv, Defector Mite from Phyrexia: All Will Be One. Adding up all the different color combinations, eight players settled on such decks.

Besides Madsen, the group of Auras players included Matti Kuisma (7-3 with Abzan Auras), Ben Lundquist (6-3 with Orzhov Auras), Simon Nielsen (6-4 with Abzan Auras), Jonny Guttmann (3-2 with Abzan Auras), Julian Welman (2-3 with Abzan Auras), Victor Kurz (4-6 with Selesnya Auras), and Justin Chin (1-4 with Bant Auras). Their combined win rate is the highest across any macro-archetype chosen by more than four players, which is a promising sign.

While Benton Madsen's Selesnya Auras deck is rightfully in the spotlight, don't forget that other Auras builds also had top-notch performances in Pioneer, and it's not entirely clear yet which version is best positioned for the evolving metagame. Indeed, Selesnya Auras with Gladecover Scout, Orzhov Auras with Hateful Eidolon, and Abzan Auras with Illuminator Virtuoso all play out a bit differently and have their own strengths and weaknesses. If you're interested in Abzan Auras, Simon Nielsen shared their sideboard plan here.

Due to a middling 2-4 record in draft, Masahide Moriyama missed the Top 8, despite going 9-1 with a unique take on Selesnya Angels. The standout cards in his build are Elvish Mystic and Llanowar Elves, which are used to cast key spells ahead of time. Even though Elves are not Angels, this innovation proved itself at the Pro Tour, as Moriyama was the only player to clinch 9 wins across the 10 Pioneer Swiss rounds.

To make room for the mana dorks, Moriyama shaved a few copies of Youthful Valkyrie, Skyclave Apparition, and other inessential filler creatures. To make up for the fact that Elves could be weak hits for Collected Company and Kayla's Reconstruction, Moriyama has four copies of Emeria's Call as late-game mana sinks. Moriyama was the only player to run that modal double-faced card in the Pro Tour. This novel build of Selesnya Angels, where all pieces fit together, might be the right way forward for the archetype.

At Pro Tour Phyrexia, many sideboards skimped on graveyard hate, and Abzan Greasefang took advantage of that gap by claiming the highest win rate out of all archetypes. The whopping 67.6% win rate was driven not only by Cameron Sweetnam's 8-2 run with a stock version but also by the combined 15-9 performance of Eli Loveman, David Inglis, and Zachary Kiihne, who brought an innovative delirium build.

In their build, shown above, the unique element is three copies of Traverse the Ulvenwald, which acts as a one-mana tutor for Greasefang, Okiba Boss. To enable delirium, the deck uses Vessel of Nascency and Scrapwork Mutt. It's the first time I see this combination of cards in Abzan Greasefang, but I wouldn't be surprised if it becomes the new standard. In any case, considering the solid performance of Abzan Greasefang and Izzet Phoenix at the Pro Tour, it's time for Unlicensed Hearse, Rest in Peace, and Leyline of the Void to return.

Teammates Lukas Honnay, Jitse Goutbeek, Nick Schirillo, and Zhi Yimin all registered a five-color midrange deck that uses Omnath, Locus of Creation instead of Niv-Mizzet Reborn. This results in a superior mana base and better card quality, allowing the deck to run Chained to the Rocks and Fable of the Mirror-Breaker instead of a wacky collection of gold spells. With an impressive 61.3% win rate, they've proven that this is a force to be reckoned with.

The key card in their deck is Bring to Light. With a five-color mana base, it transforms into a tutor that can immediately cast the card it finds. One noteworthy tutor target is Valki, God of Lies, since the rules allow you to cast the seven-mana Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor with Bring to Light. Another tutor target, newly introduced in Phyrexia: All Will Be One, is Elesh Norn, Mother of Machines. She doubles the effectiveness of your Leyline Binding while reducing the potency of opposing Esika's Chariot or Cavalier of Thorns. Main deck Slaughter Games also looks valuable going forward, considering the multitude of combo decks in the Top 8.


Pro Tour Phyrexia showed that Pioneer offers a diverse range of powerful archetypes that can achieve competitive success. In the hands of an experienced pilot who is familiar with the deck's play patterns and sideboard strategies, anything can win in Pioneer, and the card pool provides the tools needed to counter any strategy. Expect to see more Izzet Creativity, Auras, Selesnya Angels, Abzan Greasefang, and Omnath to Light going forward as the metagame evolves.

The next Pro Tour, called Pro Tour March of the Machine, will be held at MagicCon: Minneapolis on May 5-7. It will be fed by the second cycle of Regional Championships, which take place from March 3 through April 9, depending on your region. In addition, several players qualified for this Pro Tour last weekend based on good performance at Pro Tour Phyrexia or based on a Top 4 finish at one of the fast-lane Pro Tour Qualifiers (PTQ) that were held at MagicCon: Philadelphia.

On Friday, the Top 4 of the 406-player PTQ featured former Pro Tour champion Allen Wu, along with Warren Woodward, Jake Browne, and Mark Donaldson. On Saturday, the Top 4 of the 379-player PTQ featured Aaren Beaty, Josh McClain, Fabian Klein, and Scott Smith. Finally, the Top 4 of Sunday's rebound PTQ for Pro Tour Phyrexia competitors featured Autumn Burchett, Thomas Mechin, Kazuki Yada, and Gregory Johnson. Congratulations!

As for myself, I had a blast attending MagicCon: Philadelphia—meeting old and new friends, seeing the Pro Tour and the main stage panels live, and participating in the Secret Lair Showdown. In that debuting tournament series, I made it to the Top 32 with Gruul Vehicles to earn an exclusive Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer, while Isara Thanakit went undefeated with Rakdos Midrange and won a unique Brainstorm. Currently, it's the only one of its kind in the world, making it a really cool and coveted prize.

Competitive tabletop Magic was back in full force at MagicCon: Philadelphia. Pioneer is in great shape, and it's a great time to jump in because all Constructed Regional Championship Qualifiers from April 22, 2023 through August 20, 2023 will be held using the Pioneer format. Throughout, I'll keep you up to speed on the latest Constructed developments every Thursday.

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