"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
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:
- Masahide Moriyama, 9-1, Selesnya Angels
- Reid Duke, 10-2, Izzet Creativity (Winner)
- Selesnya Auras, 10-2, Benton Madsen (Finalist)
- Joe Lossett, 8-2, Lotus Field Combo
- Cameron Sweetnam, 8-2, Abzan Greasefang
- Shogo Kondo, 8-2, Mono-Green Devotion
- Takumi Matsuura, 8-3, Mono-White Humans (Semifinalist)
- Gabriel Nassif, 8-3, Indomitable Creativity
- Tobia Daniele Nappi, 7-3, Azorius Control
- Greg Orange, 7-3, Azorius Control
- Lukas Honnay, 7-3, Omnath to Light
- Chris Carlile, 7-3, Mono Green Devotion
- Piotr Glogowski, 7-3, Rakdos Sacrifice
- Yuta Takahashi, 7-3, Azorius Control
- Eli Loveman, 7-3, Abzan Greasefang
- Alex Strange, 7-3, Azorius Control
- Malcolm Carr, 7-3, Mono-Green Devotion
- Derek Pite, 7-3, Rakdos Midrange
- Nick Schirillo, 7-3, Omnath to Light
- Miguel Castro, 7-3, Izzet Phoenix
- Marcio Carvalho, 7-3, Rakdos Sacrifice
- Mitchell Tamblyn, 7-3, Azorius Control
- Joao Moreira, 7-3, Izzet Phoenix
- Matias Leveratto, 7-3, Rakdos Sacrifice
- Javier Dominguez, 7-3, Rakdos Midrange
- Rodrigo Gallegos, 7-3, Rakdos Midrange
- Jean-Emmanuel Depraz, 7-3, Izzet Phoenix
- Nathan Steuer, 7-3, Lotus Field Combo
- Christian Trudel, 7-3, Mono-Green Devotion
- Matti Kuisma, 7-3, Abzan Auras
- Tristan Wylde-LaRue, 7-3, Lotus Field Combo
- Derrick Davis, 8-4, Enigmatic Fires (Semifinalist)
- Chris Ferber, 7-4, Lotus Field Combo
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
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
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
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
To make room for the mana dorks, Moriyama shaved a few copies of
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
Teammates Lukas Honnay, Jitse Goutbeek, Nick Schirillo, and Zhi Yimin all registered a five-color midrange deck that uses
The key card in their deck is
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
Congratulations to the winner of our very first Secret Lair Showdown Championship, Isara! pic.twitter.com/MwMYlWk6ng— Magic: The Gathering (@wizards_magic) February 20, 2023
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.