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Metagame Mentor: The Top 15 Pioneer Decks from Regional Championships

January 05, 2023
Frank Karsten

(Editor's Note: The number of Pro Tour invitations awarded through Regional Championship events in China was corrected after publishing.)

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. Today, we'll take a look at the top 15 Pioneer archetypes from the first cycle of Regional Championships and discuss what happened in these events. This can be your go-to resource to acquaint yourself with Pioneer (or Explorer) as you prepare for upcoming tournaments.

The First Cycle of Regional Championships

The first cycle of Regional Championships for the 2022-23 season took place in November and December of last year, inviting the best players from each region to compete for hundreds of thousands of dollars in prizes, 13 invitations to Magic World Championship XXIX, and 162 invitations to the Pro Tour Phyrexia: All Is One. These Regional Championships, held three times per year in each geographical region, are the new focal points for competitive play and offer a chance for players to qualify for the Pro Tour.

Over 2,900 players, mostly qualified through Regional Championship Qualifiers (RCQs) arranged by each regional organizer through local game stores, entered the various Regional Championships across the globe. They experienced the excitement of returning to in-person tournaments and high-stakes competition.

To provide an overview of all events, I collected their MTG Melee pages, which yield decklists, results, and standings for the Swiss rounds. For each region, the listed number of Pro Tour invites include the start-up bonus invitations that Wizards of the Coast awards for the 2022-23 season only:

You can find Top 8 brackets, photos, and more in our event coverage archive. With more than 2,900 Regional Championship competitors in total, a lot of Teferi, Hero of Dominaria promo cards were handed out and a lot of Pioneer decklists are available to sink our teeth into. Let's crunch the numbers!

The Pioneer Metagame

Pioneer is a nonrotating format based on expansion sets and core sets from Return to Ravnica forward, and the most notable cards on the ban list are the fetch lands. Using data from the Pioneer decklists submitted to the first cycle of 2022-23 Regional Championships, I determined the metagame share and non-mirror win rate of every archetype. While this analysis heavily weighs the results of the U.S. Regional Championship, which had an attendance of over 900 players, it accounts for developments from all regions.

Archetype Percentage of Field Match Win Rate
1. Rakdos Midrange 17.1% 51.1%
2. Mono-Green Devotion 16.9% 47.9%
3. Izzet Phoenix 9.8% 49.5%
4. Mono-White Humans 7.6% 53.5%
5. Azorius Control 6.6% 51.5%
6. Gruul Vehicles 4.8% 53.9%
7. Abzan Greasefang 4.0% 47.6%
8. Keruga Fires 3.4% 46.6%
9. Lotus Field combo 2.9% 53.0%
10. Selesnya Angels 2.4% 52.4%
11. Bant Spirits 2.4% 45.9%
12. Mono-Blue Spirits 2.3% 51.0%
13. Rakdos Sacrifice 2.1% 54.3%
14. Enigmatic Fires 1.9% 55.0%
15. Mono-Red Aggro 1.1% 48.2%
16. Izzet Creativity 1.1% 50.0%
17. Esper Control 1.0% 46.5%
18. Niv to Light 0.8% 40.7%
19. Selesnya Auras 0.8% 51.1%
20. Atarka Red 0.8% 49.2%
21. Izzet Prowess 0.8% 46.2%
22. Dimir Control 0.7% 53.0%
23. Mono-Black Midrange 0.7% 52.1%
24. Boros Heroic 0.5% 48.9%
25. Jund Sacrifice 0.4% 52.2%
26. Other 7.1% 46.5%

In this table, each archetype name hyperlinks to a well-performing, representative decklist. The "Other" category included such deck archetypes as Bant Humans, Grinning Ignus combo, Azorius Spirits, Elves, Azorius Soldiers, Orzhov Humans, Selesnya Company, Affinity, Mardu Greasefang, Bant Company, Orzhov Midrange, Jund Midrange, Dimir Oracle, and more.

The most-played nonland cards across all main decks and sideboards were Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, Bonecrusher Giant, Thoughtseize, Fatal Push, Llanowar Elves, and Elvish Mystic. These cards are considered staples of the format and can be found in a variety of decks.

The diverse metagame shows that there are many competitively viable options in Pioneer. In the hands of a skilled and experienced pilot, anything can win in Pioneer. Especially when all match win rates are close to 50-50, the pilot's familiarity with their deck and its play patterns can often be the deciding factor. As U.S. Regional Champion Matthew Saypoff pointed out, "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." South American Regional Champion Alejandro Sepúlveda echoed this sentiment, saying, "I think that experience can give me a greater edge than playing a better deck I don't know how to play."

The Top 15 Pioneer Deck Archetypes

To take a closer look at the 15 most popular archetypes from the Regional Championships, I've used a decklist aggregation algorithm that takes into account the popularity and performance of individual card choices. For each archetype, I've also included a matchup spread based on the Regional Championship round-by-round data, as well as tips for playing against the deck and a discussion of its viability in Explorer (the online true-to-tabletop format featuring all Pioneer-legal cards that appear on MTG Arena).

Quick deck summary: Rakdos Midrange was the most popular archetype overall at the Regional Championships, comprising 17.1% of the metagame. The deck features efficient discard, powerful removal, resilient threats, and flexible sideboard options, giving it game against everything. The most important Brothers' War addition to Pioneer—Misery's Shadow—is included as a two-mana threat that prevents opposing death triggers and graveyard recursion.

Regional Championship story: During the first weekend of Regional Championships, Rakdos Midrange was the second most popular deck, behind Mono-Green Devotion. However, as players discovered that Misery's Shadow evened the matchup against Mono-Green Devotion, Rakdos Midrange gained popularity and ended up winning as many as five Regional Championships! The victors were Pedro Mocelin in Brazil, Rei Hirayama in Japan, Anthony Lee in Australia, Jim Tim Lee in Taiwan, and Joseph Karani in Western Canada. Rakdos Midrange will likely be the top deck to beat as we move towards the Pro Tour.

Matchup spread: Rakdos Midrange has strong matchups against many decks, particularly those that are susceptible to removal, such as Boros Heroic and Bant Spirits. However, there are several archetypes that have a good matchup against Rakdos Midrange, including Gruul Vehicles, Keruga Fires, Rakdos Sacrifice, and Enigmatic Fires. These decks may see an increase in popularity in the coming weeks as players try to counter the dominance of Rakdos Midrange.

When facing this deck: It's important to keep in mind that you should mulligan slightly less aggressively than might normally, as you'll need all the resources you can get. Thoughtseize and Dreadbore can disrupt your plans, and Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger can deprive you of further resources. Since you need raw cardboard, it's often better to keep a mediocre seven-card hand than a synergistic six-card hand against Rakdos Midrange.

Viability in Explorer: On MTG Arena, Dreadbore and Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth are not available but they can be replaced by additional copies of Power Word Kill and a basic Swamp. As a result, Rakdos Midrange is also one of the most popular choices in Explorer.

Quick deck summary: Mono-Green Devotion, at 16.9% of the combined Regional Championship metagame, was the second-most popular archetype overall. The deck uses mana elves and Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx to potentially ramp into a turn-three Storm the Festival, which can even put Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God onto the battlefield. The inclusion of Karn, the Great Creator, along with The Stone Brain, Cityscape Leveler, and Haywire Mite from The Brothers' War, has made Mono-Green Devotion a formidable force.

Regional Championship story: Mono-Green Devotion started as the most popular deck in the first Regional Championship weekend, where it helped propel Adrien Houssard to a Top 8 in Europe and Eduardo Cesar to a Top 8 in Brazil. However, as its overall win rate dropped below 50% and other players tuned their lists against Mono-Green Devotion, its popularity decreased in subsequent weekends. Despite this, Mono-Green Devotion remains a popular and important part of the Pioneer metagame, with players such as Christian Trudel (winner of Eastern Canada Regionals), Michael van Vaals (Top 8 in Eastern Canada), Shuhei Nakamura (Top 8 in Japan), Dan Bretherton and Daniel Riley (both Top 8 in Australia), Chris Carlile, and Dan Snider (both Top 8 in Western Canada) finding success with the deck.

Matchup spread: Mono-Green Devotion has a close matchup against Rakdos Midrange and a good matchup against decks like Rakdos Sacrifice and Keruga Fires, where it can go over the top. However, it struggles against decks with disruptive aggression, such as Mono-White Humans and Mono-Blue Spirits, which exploit its lack of creature removal and reliance on expensive spells.

When facing this deck: It's important to be aware that the deck is capable of complex infinite loops. For example, Karn, the Great Creator can grab The Chain Veil and Pestilent Cauldron // Restorative Burst from the sideboard, allowing Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner to potentially untap Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx infinitely often. In tabletop events, it can be helpful to use pen and paper to track your opponent's mana pool, potential land drop for the turn, the number The Chain Veil activations, and the number of times Karn, the Great Creator and Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner have been activated, to help ensure that the game state remains clear and accurate.

Viability in Explorer: On MTG Arena, Mono-Green Devotion lacks consistency due to the unavailability of Oath of Nissa, Sylvan Caryatid, and The Chain Veil. However, since the addition of Nykthos to Explorer via Explorer Anthology 2, Mono-Green Devotion has become one of the most popular archetypes in the format.

Quick deck summary: Izzet Phoenix was the third most popular archetype at the Regional Championships, comprising 9.8% of the metagame. This deck aims to put multiple Arclight Phoenix into the graveyard, typically using Pieces of the Puzzle or Lightning Axe, and then recur them by chaining together three cheap spells in a single turn. Izzet Phoenix can also use Galvanic Iteration to copy Treasure Cruise or Temporal Trespass, which can be a game-winning play.

Regional Championship story: Izzet Phoenix peaked in the first Regional Championship weekend, where it won the European Championship in the hands of Miguel Castro and had players Ben Jones and Thierry Ramboa reach the Top 4. Ken Takahama also made it to the finals in the U.S., and Pedro Avena made Top in Brazil. However, as the metagame became more hostile to graveyard strategies and the popularity of Lotus Field combo increased, Izzet Phoenix's results and popularity declined significantly in later weekends. Andy Peters still made Top 8 in Eastern Canada, but performance dropped afterwards.

Matchup spread: Izzet Phoenix has strong matchups against Mono-Blue Spirits and Bant Spirits, but struggles against Lotus Field combo and Selesnya Angels. The matchups against Rakdos Midrange and Mono-Green Devotion are close to even and can be heavily influenced by specific card choices and player skill, although Rakdos Midrange may have a slight edge thanks to cards like Go Blank.

When facing this deck: When playing against Izzet Phoenix, try to avoid casting spells that can be countered by Spell Pierce if possible. It's usually only a two-of, but if your opponent is conspicuously holding a blue mana open, then consider casting a noncreature spell instead. Another thing to keep in mind is that Ledger Shredder makes double-spelling less appealing, so sequence in a way that avoids granting free connive triggers.

Viability in Explorer: On MTG Arena, Izzet Phoenix is missing key cards like Pieces of the Puzzle, Treasure Cruise, Temporal Trespass, and Thing in the Ice, which makes it difficult to build the deck in this delve-spell form.

Quick deck summary: Mono-White Humans is a popular aggro deck that made up 7.6% of the combined metagame at the Regional Championships. It focuses on curving out with powerful Humans on turns one, two, and three, using Thalia's Lieutenant to boost them all. One advantage of staying mono-color is that it allows you to easily fit Mutavault and Castle Ardenvale into your mana base, and you can also steal games with Brave the Elements.

Regional Championship story: Mono-White Humans had a strong showing at the Regional Championships, with players such as Matthew Saypoff (winner of the U.S. Regional Championship), Heng Chye Hwee (Top 8 in Southeast Asia), Dalia Morin (Top 8 in Eastern Canada), and Shu-Yu Hsueh and Josh Zhen (both Top 8 in Taiwan) finding success with the deck. Mono-White Humans has a good win rate against the current metagame as a whole.

Matchup spread: Mono-White Humans has a good matchup against Mono-Green Devotion, Azorius Control, and Lotus Field combo, but struggles against Gruul Vehicles, Selesnya Angels, and Rakdos Sacrifice. The matchup against Rakdos Midrange is close to even.

When facing this deck: Be aware of the possibility of surprise lethal via Brave the Elements. If possible, leave blockers of different colors untapped and attack with your multicolored creatures. Colorless creatures, such as Mutavault or tokens created by Sokenzan, Crucible of Defiance, will always be able to block as well.

Viability in Explorer: On MTG Arena, Mono-White Humans is missing Kytheon, Hero of Akros and Thalia, Heretic Cathar, but these one-ofs can be easily replaced, making Mono-White Humans a one of the most popular choices in the format.

Quick deck summary: Azorius Control, at 6.4% of the combined Regional Championship metagame, is the premier control deck in Pioneer. It includes a range of standard control elements such as spot removal, countermagic, card draw, sweepers, and planeswalkers. While 80-card builds featuring Yorion, Sky Nomad also exist, as do builds involving Lotus Field and Strict Proctor, the more traditional and consistent 60-card builds are more popular.

Regional Championship story: Azorius Control had several strong finishes at the Regional Championships, with players such as Théau Méry (second place in Europe), Derrick Davis (Top 8 in the U.S.), Pedro Perrini (Top 8 in Brazil), Michael Martin Go (winner in Southeast Asia), Kazuya Kiyofuji (Top 8 in Japan), and Mario Flores (Top 8 in Mexico) finding success with the deck.

Matchup spread: Azorius Control has a good matchup against Selesnya Angels, Keruga Fires, and Enigmatic Fires, but struggles against the more popular Mono-White Humans. The matchups against Rakdos Midrange and Mono-Green Devotion are close to even.

When facing this deck: When playing against this deck, you always have to be wary of sweepers and countermagic. Try not to overextend your threats into Supreme Verdict or Temporary Lockdown, and consider playing a cheaper but worse spell to play around Censor or Make Disappear.

Viability in Explorer: In Explorer, Azorius Control is fully legal and is one of the most popular choices in the format.

Quick deck summary: Gruul Vehicles is a midrange deck that uses Llanowar Elves or Elvish Mystic to ramp into Reckless Stormseeker on turn two. The Werewolf can grant haste to Esika's Chariot or Skysovereign, Consul Flagship, allowing Gruul Vehicles to dominate the battlefield quickly. The vehicles also allow you to tap a stolen creature in response to the third chapter of The Akroan War.

Regional Championship story: The archetype did particularly well in Canada, as Noe Offman made Top 8 in Toronto and Violet Davies made Top 8 in Calgary. Violet Davies played a non-Jegantha version featuring Werewolf Pack Leader, which can be a viable alternative in metagames where speed is of the essence. Regardless of the specific build, Gruul Vehicles had a strong win rate throughout the Regional Championships.

Matchup spread: Gruul Vehicles is well-positioned in the current metagame, with good matchups against Rakdos Midrange and Mono-White Humans. It struggles against Enigmatic Fires, Rakdos Sacrifice, and Selesnya Angels, which are not seeing much play. The matchup against Mono-Green Devotion is close to even.

When facing this deck: Keep a close eye on their companion. If they don't reveal Jegantha, the Wellspring anymore in Game 2 or 3, then that generally means that they boarded in Embercleave. If Jegantha was not revealed in Game 1, then the opponent may be playing the Werewolf Pack Leader version, which is slightly more aggressive.

Viability in Explorer: In Explorer, Gruul Vehicles is fully legal and is one of the most popular archetype choices.

Quick deck summary: Abzan Greasefang is a combo deck with a decent midrange backup plan. Its goal is to put Parhelion II into the graveyard on turn two and to crew it with Greasefang, Okiba Boss on turn three.

Regional Championship story: While the deck has had some decent finishes in Regional Championships, such as Eren Kacmaz making it to the Top 8 in Europe and Cameron Sweetnam making it to the Top 8 in Western Canada, it never excelled.

Matchup spread: Abzan Greasefang has good matchups against Lotus Field combo and Keruga Fires, but it struggles enormously against Mono-Blue Spirits and Bant Spirits. The matchups against Rakdos Midrange and Mono-Green Devotion are close to even, even with Karn, the Great Creator's ability to annul Parhelion II's crew ability.

When facing this deck: To best play against this deck, it's important to remember that the best time to kill Greasefang depends on the situation. If the opponent has lots of spare creatures, it's best to kill Greasefang in their main phase before it can trigger. If they have no other pilots, then it's best to kill it with the trigger on the stack so that Parhelion II returns to their hand. Also, if you control Unlicensed Hearse after sideboard, then consider leaving a 2-power crew member untapped to counter Witherbloom Command's destroy mode.

Viability in Explorer: On MTG Arena, Abzan Greasefang is viable, although it's worth noting that Eldritch Evolution and Abrupt Decay are not available. Instead, you could use Liliana of the Veil and Tear Asunder. This archetype was the most-played in the Explorer portion of the Magic World Championship XXVIII several months ago.

Quick deck summary: The goal of Keruga Fires is to survive long enough to play Fires of Invention and then dominate the battlefield with five-mana creatures. With Fires of Invention, you can cast Kenrith, Returned King and your companion Keruga, the Macrosage in one turn, leaving mana available for Kenrith activations.

Regional Championship story: Keruga Fires had a rough time in the first Regional Championship weekend, largely due to its poor matchup against Mono-Green Devotion. However, after Rakdos Midrange soared ahead, the deck saw more success. Eton Delmoro piloted it to the Top 8 in Southeast Asia, and Brandon Ortiz won with it in Mexico in the penultimate weekend.

Matchup spread: Keruga Fires has a bad matchup against Mono-Green Devotion and Azorius Control, but it has a strong advantage against Rakdos Midrange. On the whole, its win rate against the field was poor, and Enigmatic Fires may be a better choice for a Fires of Invention deck.

When facing this deck: When playing against this deck, keep in mind that the opponent's options for doing something for less than three mana are limited to Bonecrusher Giant's adventure, Mystical Dispute from the sideboard, and Leyline Binding. Pay attention to their domain count, as it determines the cost of Leyline Binding.

Viability in Explorer: In Explorer, this deck is fully legal.

Quick deck summary: The game plan of this combo deck is to find Lotus Field, get another copy via Thespian's Stage, and untap those lands with Hidden Strings and Pore Over the Pages, allowing you to generate a lot of mana in one turn. Through a combination of Emergent Ultimatums, wishes, and tutors, you generally put Omniscience into play, grab Approach of the Second Sun from your sideboard, and cast it twice to win the game.

Regional Championship story: Lotus Field was a fringe deck in the first Regional Championship weekend, but John Tatian had a breakout Top 8 finish in the U.S. With an amazing matchup against Izzet Phoenix, it gained popularity. It brought Top 8 finishes for Brennan Crawford in Australia and Matthew Tonary in Eastern Canada, but its success waned as Damping Sphere and other anti-combo sideboard cards became more common in the Pioneer metagame. In later weekends, the deck did not perform as well.

Matchup spread: Lotus Field combo has a great matchup against Izzet Phoenix, but it struggles against Mono-White Humans. The matchups against Rakdos Midrange and Mono-Green Devotion are close to even.

When facing this deck: A useful way to interact with this combo deck is by destroying their Thespian's Stage with Boseiju, Who Endures, but be sure to choose the right moment—don't let them copy the hexproof Lotus Field in response. In tabletop events, it can be helpful to use pen and paper to track your opponent's mana pool and potential land drop for the turn to keep the game state clear and accurate.

Viability in Explorer: On MTG Arena, this archetype is missing Thespian's Stage, Hidden Strings, Pore Over the Pages, Sylvan Scrying, Dark Petition, and Behold the Beyond. As a result, it's not a viable strategy.

Quick deck summary: There are many powerful Angels in Pioneer, and Selesnya Angels makes use of several of them. Giada, Font of Hope and Youthful Valkyrie are excellent two-mana Angels, and Bishop of Wings is another strong way to start the curve. Bishop of Wings boosts your life total, which is beneficial for Righteous Valkyrie and Resplendent Angel. With Collected Company and Kayla's Reconstruction, you'll consistently assemble these synergies and fly to victory.

Regional Championship story: Selesnya Angels has been on the rise ever since The Brothers' War added Brushland and Kayla's Reconstruction. In Southeast Asia, Dmitry Medvedev and Alexey Shashov made the Top 8 of their Regional Championships.

Matchup spread: Selesnya Angels has a good matchup against Izzet Phoenix, Mono-White Humans and Gruul Vehicles , but it doesn't fare well against Azorius Control.

When facing this deck: Keep in mind that their creatures are weak individually but powerful when combined. It's a good idea to destroy their Angels and put pressure on their life total to prevent Giada, Font of Hope, or Righteous Valkyrie from dominating the game. Also, be prepared for a Collected Company into Skyclave Apparition when they pass the turn with four untapped mana, as it can disrupt your combat plans.

Viability in Explorer: In Explorer, this deck is fully legal and a popular archetype.

Quick deck summary: Bant Spirits is a popular home for Mausoleum Wanderer, Rattlechains, Shacklegeist, and Supreme Phantom, and it dips into white and green to hit Spell Queller with Collected Company.

Regional Championship story: Bant Spirits saw some play, but it had a relatively poor win rate against the overall field and did not have impressive performances.

Matchup spread: Bant Spirits has a good matchup against Abzan Greasefang, but it struggles against Rakdos Midrange and Izzet Phoenix.

When facing this deck: Be cautious of Spell Queller when they have at least three untapped mana. Think twice before playing your best spell on turn three or four into open mana. Also, remember that Rattlechains can counter your spot removal spells and can grant flash to Supreme Phantom.

Viability in Explorer: In Explorer, neither Spell Queller nor Selfless Spirit is available, making Mono-Blue Spirits the dominant approach by far. Almost no one plays Bant Spirits in Explorer.

Quick deck summary: Mono-Blue Spirits has many cards in common with Bant Spirits, but it doesn't rely on Collected Company, allowing for more space for noncreature spells, most notably Curious Obsession. If you can stick a Curious Obsession early and protect it with Geistlight Snare or Slip Out the Back, you'll have a significant advantage.

The Regional Championship story: Mono-Blue Spirits was about as popular as Bant Spirits, but it had better results. Daniel Kristoff made it to the Top 8 of the U.S. Regional Championship, and Steven Hitchcock made it to the Top 8 in Australia.

Matchup spread: Mono-Blue Spirits has a good matchup against Abzan Greasefang and Mono-Green Devotion, but it struggles against Izzet Phoenix. Compared to Bant Spirits, its results against Rakdos Midrange and Mono-Green Devotion were slightly better overall.

When facing this deck: Remember that their most-played piece of interaction is Geistlight Snare. Before deciding which spell to cast, check to see if they control a Spirit and an enchantment. If they might be able to play Geistlight Snare, consider sequencing your most important spells around a Mana Leak effect.

Viability in Explorer: In Explorer, this deck is fully legal. Mono-Blue Spirits was the third-most played archetype in the Explorer portion of Magic World Championship XXVIII several months ago.

Quick deck summary: Rakdos Sacrifice is centered around Mayhem Devil, Cauldron Familiar, and Witch's Oven, which create a once-per-turn loop that drains your opponent, deals two damage, and allows you to block for free.

Regional Championship story: While only a small portion of the metagame, Rakdos Sacrifice put many players in Regional Championship Top 8s—André Santos in Europe, Eduardo Vieira in Brazil, Matias Leveratto in South America, and Ricardo Landeta in Mexico. While many players used Jegantha, the Wellspring, non-Jegantha versions with Kari Zev's Expertise put up the best results. Regardless of the specific build, Rakdos Sacrifice had a strong match win rate throughout the regional championships.

Matchup spread: Rakdos Sacrifice is well-positioned in the current metagame. It has good matchups against Rakdos Midrange, Mono-White Humans, and Gruul Vehicles, and bad matchups like Izzet Phoenix are on the decline.

When facing this deck: Pay close attention to their companion. If they revealed Jegantha, the Wellspring in Game 1 but don't show it in Games 2 or 3, that usually means they've boarded in Kari Zev's Expertise. If they didn't show Jegantha in Game 1, they're probably using the build with main deck Kari Zev's Expertise, so be prepared for your creatures or vehicles to be stolen and sacrificed. If they didn't show Jegantha in Game 1 but only show it after sideboarding when on the play, they're genuine masters of deck construction and sideboard swaps.

Viability in Explorer: In the Explorer format, this archetype is missing Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth and Dreadbore, none of which are essential. Rakdos Sacrifice was the second-most played archetype in the Explorer portion of Magic World Championship XXVIII several months ago.

Quick deck summary: Enigmatic Fires is a toolbox deck that aims to cast Leyline Binding on turn two or turn three, followed by Enigmatic Incarnation on turn four. This allows you to turn your six-mana enchantment into Titan of Industry on turn four. The deck is also capable of powerful turns involving Fires of Invention and the companion Yorion, Sky Nomad. However, every build is different, as there is no consensus on the perfect collection of creatures or lands. Some versions even omit black in favor of better colored mana consistency.

Regional Championship story: Despite only being a small portion of the metagame, Enigmatic Fires put a lot of players in Regional Championship Top 8s—Chris Ferber in the U.S., Norbie Mendoza in Southeast Asia, Joaquin Maletti in South America, and Alonso Mijares in Mexico. Enigmatic Fires had an excellent match win rate throughout the Regional Championships.

Matchup spread: Enigmatic Fires is well-positioned in the current metagame. It preys on Rakdos Midrange because effects like Back to Nature or Erase are not available in red or black. Additionally, it has a good matchup against Gruul Vehicles. However, it struggles against Azorius Control.

When facing this deck: Be aware that their most common play is to turn a two-mana enchantment into a three-mana creature with an enters-the-battlefield ability. This could be Skyclave Apparition to exile your best threat, Knight of Autumn to gain life, Callous Bloodmage to exile your graveyard, or Moon-Blessed Cleric to search for Leyline Binding. Keeping this in mind will help you better plan for what their deck is capable of.

Viability in Explorer: On MTG Arena, Chained to the Rocks is not available, and you'll also need to find replacements for Radiant Flames and Dragonlord Atarka in the sideboard. Nevertheless, Enigmatic Incarnation is playable in Explorer.

Quick deck summary: Mono-Red Aggro is a fast, aggressive deck with several different versions. Some focus on creatures, using cards like Burning-Tree Emissary, Anax, Hardened in the Forge, and Embercleave, while others use damage-oriented cards like Eidolon of the Great Revel, Light Up the Stage, and Lightning Strike. There are also hybrid versions that combine multiple aspects. The goal of all these versions is to take your opponent down to zero life as quickly as possible.

Regional Championship story: Alejandro Sepúlveda won the South America Regional Championship with a Mono-Red Aggro build that I would describe as a hybrid version.

Matchup spread: Most versions of Mono-Red Aggro have a good matchup against Mono-Green Devotion, but struggle against Gruul Vehicles. However, this depends on the specific build.

When facing this deck: When your opponent casts Kumano Faces Kakkazan on turn one, be aware that there are many different builds, each with its own strategies. Some may require you to play around Embercleave, while others may require you to protect your life total at all costs.

Viability in Explorer: In the Explorer format, Roast is not available, but it can be replaced with Obliterating Bolt. This could even be an improvement if Old-Growth Troll is more popular than Sheoldred. Mono-Red Aggro is a popular choice in Explorer.

Looking Ahead

The Pioneer format offers a range of powerful archetypes, rewards players for their experience, and provides the tools needed to counter any strategy. The best deck choice for the metagame can vary from week to week. In the future, we may see a decline of Rakdos Midrange and an increase in the popularity of Mono-White Humans and Gruul Vehicles. Rakdos Sacrifice and Enigmatic Fires may also become more popular as they try to take advantage of this changing metagame. This could lead to a decrease in popularity for Mono-White Humans and Gruul Vehicles, and Mono-Green Devotion may make a comeback.

The release of the new set, Phyrexia: All Will Be One, is likely to shake things up in February as players prepare for the Pro Tour. The event, which will feature both Pioneer and Phyrexia: All Will Be One draft, will take place at MagicCon: Philadelphia on February 17-19. High-level tabletop Magic is back, and I'm excited to see it blossom in 2023 with the return the Pro Tour.

If you're eager to start your competitive Magic journey, store-level RCQs are a great place to start. You can find tournaments on the Store & Event Locator or your regional organizer's website. While qualifiers for the second cycle of Regional Championships have ended, current RCQs through April 3, 2023 will feed into the third cycle of Regional Championships.

The second cycle of Regional Championships, held in the Standard format, will take place in March or April (depending on your region) and will feed into the Pro Tour at MagicCon: Minneapolis on May 5-7. The third cycle of Regional Championships will be held in May, June, or July in the Pioneer format, and it will feed the Pro Tour at MagicCon: Europe in July.

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