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Metagame Mentor: The Seven Newest Pioneer Decks for August 2023

August 10, 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. This month, I'll take you on a grand tour of Constructed formats: I'll cover Pioneer today, Modern next week, Vintage and Legacy the week after, and Standard in the final week of August.

In today's article, I'll review the biggest metagame changes in Pioneer over the past month, highlighting hot new decks including Boros Pia. Pioneer is the Constructed format for the ongoing cycle of Regional Championship Qualifiers (RCQs) and it will be the format for the upcoming cycle of Regional Championships, so it's of great importance to players who are aspiring to reach the Pro Tour.

Pioneer Metagame Update

Pioneer is the 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 allied fetch lands. With over 10,000 cards to choose from, Pioneer features a variety of powerful strategies. In a recent article, I provided an introduction to the format by covering all the top archetypes from Regional Championships in June and July. However, the metagame constantly evolves.

To grasp the latest Pioneer developments, I analyzed over 900 decklists from competitive events over the past month, based on three sources of data. First, I gathered all available Magic Online decklists from scheduled Pioneer events held between July 1 and August 7. Second, I used all MTG Melee decklists with positive net wins from the CCG SuperQualifier 5K Open, Classic Qualifier Bologna, $5K RCQ at SCG CON Cincinnati. Finally, I added the top decklists from smaller tabletop events like the RCQ at Fire & Dice, RCQ at TriCs Circle of Hobbies, RCQ at Gameforce, RCQ at Card Shop Santa Clara, RCQ at Super Hero Games, RCQ at MINT Yokohama, RCQ at Hareruya Tokyo, and RCQ at Hareruya Nagoya. To obtain a metric that combines popularity and performance, I awarded a number of points to each deck equal to its net wins (i.e., its number of match wins minus losses). Each archetype's share of total net wins can be interpreted as its share of the winner's metagame.

Archetype Winner's Metagame Share
1. Mono-Green Devotion 12.6%
2. Rakdos Sacrifice 11.6% ↑↑
3. Azorius Spirits 7.9% ↑↑
4. Mono-White Humans 7.3%
5. Rakdos Midrange 6.1% ↓↓
6. Lotus Field Combo 6.1%
7. Azorius Control 6.1%
8. Boros Pia 5.9% ↑↑
9. Izzet Creativity 4.9%
10. Abzan Greasefang 4.2%
11. Azorius Lotus Field 3.1%
12. Gruul Vehicles 2.8%
13. Izzet Phoenix 2.4%
14. Mono-Red Aggro 1.9%
15. Boros Convoke 1.9%
16. Izzet Drakes 1.3%
17. Dimir Control 1.1%
18. Enigmatic Fires 1.1% ↓↓
19. Waste Not 1.0%
20. Omnath to Light 0.9%
21. Goblins 0.9%
22. Atarka Red 0.8%
23. Rona Combo 0.8%
24. Neoform Atraxa 0.7%
25. Jund Transmogrify 0.7%
26. Rakdos Transmogrify 0.6%
27. Archfiend Alteration 0.5%
28. Bant Auras 0.5%
29. Other 4.4%

As indicated by the arrows in the table, the landscape has changed from the metagame right before the June–July Regional Championships and the metagame during that cycle of Regional Championships. After an incredible Regional Championship cycle, Rakdos Sacrifice displaced Rakdos Midrange as the premier home for Thoughtseize, Fatal Push, Bloodtithe Harvester, and Fable of the Mirror-Breaker. In addition, Azorius Spirits ticked up after posting excellent win rates at the Regional Championships, while Enigmatic Fires had middling results and fell in popularity. Finally, newcomer Boros Pia has become a major player, showing that there's room for innovation in Pioneer.

I've often said that anything can win in the hands of a capable pilot, and I believe this remains true. It's mostly a matter of finding a deck you enjoy and building familiarity with its play patterns. Stick to your heart, learn your favorite deck inside out, and tune your sideboard for the expected metagame. For example, given the recent uptick in Mayhem Devil decks, cards like Leyline of Combustion or Yasharn, Implacable Earth might help. However, players who are proficient at a wide variety of decks might want to consider Izzet Phoenix, Abzan Greasefang, and Enigmatic Fires, as these decks are well-positioned to beat Rakdos Sacrifice.

Seven Sweet Pioneer Decks

Are you looking for a spicy new Pioneer deck to dazzle at your next event? Or do you wonder what kind of niche decks have been performing well lately? Then I have you covered with a selection of seven sweet Pioneer decks for you to check out. These are not at the very top of the metagame, but they represent fun archetypes that have posted multiple solid finishes over the last month.

Boros Pia exploded onto the scene near the end of the Regional Championship cycle. This deck can generate early pressure with Monastery Swiftspear and Soul-Scar Mage, rewarding you for casting spot removal or card draw spells. However, it's not an all-in aggro deck. Due to its sheer amount of synergistic card draw spells, the way it plays out is reminiscent of a combo deck.

The heart and soul of the deck is Pia Nalaar, Consul of Revival, introduced in March of the Machine: The Aftermath. Whenever you play cards from exile, such as with Reckless Impulse, Wrenn's Resolve, or Showdown of the Skalds, Pia will rapidly create an army of hasty Thopters. Showdown of the Skalds in particular ensures you won't run out of steam, beating one-for-one interaction and building the biggest battlefield. Although 20 lands is not a lot to support a four-mana card, Wrenn's Resolve and Reckless Impulse help you hit your land drops. And, once you start playing cards from Showdown of the Skalds while triggering Pia Nalaar, Consul of Revival, it will be easy to emerge victorious.

The stock build of the deck, which looks very similar to the typical version from a month ago, can also trigger Pia by casting Bonecrusher Giant from exile. However, many players are replacing Bonecrusher Giant with Runaway Steam-Kin, which is amazing against decks that don't interact with you. Runaway Steam-Kin allows you to chain one impulse-draw spell into another, reinforcing the combo feel of the deck.

With a fast clock and solid removal options, Boros Pia lines up well against Mono-Green Devotion. Moreover, unlike other aggro decks, its card draw allows it to overcome the one-for-one interaction from Rakdos decks. As more and more players are latching on, Boros Pia has surged to 5.9% of the winner's metagame over the last month, and it's the hottest new Pioneer deck that you have to be aware of. When playing against it, kill Pia Nalaar, Consul of Revival on sight and try to win quickly. Due to its plethora of card draw spells, Boros Pia has long-game inevitability in many matchups.

As mentioned, Azorius Spirits had excellent win rates during the Regional Championships, and it has risen to a 7.9% share of the winner's metagame over the past month. Invasion of Gobakhan in the main deck has become the norm, but the rest of the main deck is similar to the lists that put up the best results during the Regional Championships. Yet some spice remains, especially in the sideboard.

On July 30, Key05232 finished 14th in a Pioneer Challenge on Magic Online with Jegantha, the Wellspring as the companion! I had to do a double-take to convince myself there really was a red-green companion in a white-blue deck, but my eyes did not deceive me. Showing Jegantha in Game 1 can throw opponents off with their mulligan decisions, as it suggests you're running a different deck than the one you are. Moreover, Jegantha is theoretically castable via Secluded Courtyard. Whether this is worth the sideboard slot is debatable, but it's a clever piece of technology.

Forcing opponents to discard their best cards before they get to play them is one of the most powerful, merciless abilities that black mages have access to. It only gets better when Waste Not rewards them with extra creatures, extra mana, or extra cards. Decks centered around Waste Not have been on the fringes of Pioneer for months, posting reasonable finishes in May and in June, but they have been putting up more and more results lately.

To trigger the eponymous enchantment, the deck uses Thoughtseize, Duress, Go Blank, and Liliana of the Veil. Once the opponent's hand is empty, Geier Reach Sanitarium can keep triggering Waste Not. The land also synergizes nicely with Sheoldred, the Apocalypse—the deck's main win condition. Featuring both power and synergy, this Waste Not deck is a sweet option for players who enjoy resource denial strategies.

After Dominaria United introduced Rundvelt Hordemaster, Goblins has been on the fringes of Pioneer in various color combinations. For example, this year I've seen Mono-Red Goblins, Rakdos Goblins, and Gruul Goblins. While these decks share a core of two-drops (Conspicuous Snoop, Battle Cry Goblin, and Rundvelt Hordemaster) their exact card choices diverge. Last month, various versions of Goblins have posted solid results, but a new white build stood out.

This Boros Goblins deck retains the aggressive Goblin draws but gains the ability to kill out of nowhere with Rally the Ancestors. After sacrificing your Goblins to Skirk Prospector, you can return them to the battlefield, sacrifice them again, and leverage their death triggers once more. In the meantime, Rundvelt Hordemaster sifts through your deck, Exuberant Fuseling grows into an enormous size, and Cacophony Scamp can go face. Additionally, Battle Cry Goblin can give your Goblins haste to set up a lethal attack right after resolving Rally the Ancestors for X=2. I do fear that this strategy may struggle against Mayhem Devil and against Karn, the Great Creator grabbing Tormod's Crypt, but I appreciate its spiciness.

Transmogrify decks have also been a fringe part of Pioneer metagame for a while, but they had a breakout finish last weekend, as Rakdos Transmogrify won a Magic Online Challenge! In a way, you can view the strategy as an alternative to Izzet Creativity. When Atraxa, Grand Unifier is the payoff, Indomitable Creativity for larger values of X is not as appealing, and Transmogrify is easier on the mana base, enabling three-color builds or two-color builds with Warping Wail. Warping Wail is a hot new piece of technology: it doubles as an enabler for Transmogrify and an interactive spell, and 12 colorless lands make it possible to cast it consistently.

The winning list shown above also features Sire of Insanity in the sideboard, which can crush Lotus Field Combo when it triggers on turn four. Yet this Rakdos build is just one of the many takes on Transmogrify in Pioneer, as the sorcery is also used in various other color combinations. Jund versions using Esika's Chariot as an enabler are slightly more prominent and have posted decent results in March, April, May, June, and July. But the exciting take-away is that Pioneer offers many ways to cheat massive creatures onto the battlefield, many of which have not been fully explored yet.

Neoform provides another way to cheat out Atraxa, Grand Unifier. The main plan with this archetype, which has been hovering at around 1% of the Pioneer metagame, is to delve out a six-cost creature, sacrifice it to Neoform, and put Atraxa, Grand Unifier onto the battlefield as early as turn three. However, the most successful builds over the past month have shaved Tasigur, the Golden Fang and Hooting Mandrills. Instead, they focus more heavily on Soulflayer.

When you delve away Atraxa, Grand Unifier; Striped Riverwinder; Zetalpa, Primal Dawn; and Samut, Voice of Dissent, you create a 4/4 with flying, vigilance, double strike, lifelink, trample, deathtouch, hexproof, and indestructible. For most decks, that's nearly impossible to beat. Urborg Scavengers from March of the Machine: The Aftermath provides redundancy to the game plan. It needs a couple of attacks to get there, but it does a good Soulflayer impression. Perhaps this is the new way forward for Neoform Atraxa?

If you control Archfiend of the Dross, then you can play Metamorphic Alteration to turn one of your opponent's creatures into a copy of the Phyrexian Demon. However, their creature won't come with the four oil counters. So, you pass the turn, and on your opponent's upkeep their creature triggers. Since it doesn't have any oil counters, they instantly lose the game.

The combo was unveiled by Rei Zhang at the U.S. Regional Championship, who wrapped it into a Grixis Midrange shell. The more recent version shown above, piloted to a Challenge Top 8 on Magic Online by Katuo079595, slots it into a Dimir Control build. There are various possible homes for the combo, and I'm excited to see what the best one might turn out to be.

Looking Ahead

It took nearly two months after the release of March of the Machine: The Aftermath for Boros Pia to catch on, so there may be plenty of undiscovered gems lurking beneath the surface. As the Pioneer RCQ season is drawing to a close and we look forward to the corresponding Regional Championships, the Pioneer format is brimming with potential. However, other Constructed formats will get their place in the spotlight too. The following infographic provides a visual overview of all Regional Championships and their qualifying seasons in the 2023–24 season.

If your dream is to qualify for the Pro Tour in the 2023–24 season, here is a quick overview of the Regional Championship qualification paths.

Cycle 1 (Pioneer): The ongoing Regional Championship Qualifiers run through August 20 in the Pioneer format. Due to format matching, they award invitations to a Regional Championship in the Pioneer format. Details are not available for all these Regional Championships yet, but they include the Legacy European Championship in France starting on September 30, the Champions Cup Final in Japan on November 25–26, and the Dreamhack Magic Showdown in the United States on December 16–17. Top players from these Regional Championships qualify for the Pro Tour that will be held at MagicCon: Chicago in February. More details regarding this event, including the Pro Tour formats, will be announced at a later time. Pro Tour formats are not necessarily the same as the formats of their corresponding Regional Championships.

Cycle 2 (Modern): The next cycle of Regional Championship Qualifiers runs from September 9 through December 17 in the Modern format. Due to format matching, they award invitations to a Regional Championship in the Modern format. These Regional Championships will take place between January 19 and March 24 in 2024 and will qualify players for a Pro Tour in the second quarter of 2024. More details concerning its location and formats will be announced at a later time.

Cycle 3 (Standard): The third cycle of Regional Championship Qualifiers runs from January 2024 through March 2024 in the Standard format. Due to format matching, they award invitations to a Regional Championship later that year in the Standard format. Pro Tour details will be announced at a later time.

Join me again next week for a look at Modern, where we'll investigate the impact of unbanning Preordain. And while the 2023–24 season is getting started, make sure to mark the pinnacle of the 2022–23 season in your calendar: Magic World Championship XXIX, the most prestigious event of the year, will take place live at MagicCon: Las Vegas on September 22-24, 2023, featuring brand new Standard and draft formats with Wilds of Eldraine!

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