Core 2021 Standard Set Review with Ali Aintrazi
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Mono-White Sram Auras And Other Pioneer Brews


Thank god for Pioneer.

It's been a pretty disastrous period for Magic. Standard saw yet another card banned, with the resulting "Oko, Thief of Crowns all day every day" format looking even worse than the Field of the Dead format. Wizards of the Coast refuses to allow anyone to play anything but Standard or Throne of Eldraine draft with braindead bots on MTG Arena, despite Brawl being hugely popular and players clamoring for Historic to be a bridge to eventual Pioneer on MTG Arena. It feels like the only thing keeping everyone sane (or at least as sane as a 3/3 elk can be) is good ole Magic Online, the only place you can play the brand new Pioneer format.

We can be mad about Pioneer not being on MTG Arena or we can just start brewing and enjoy the new format, so let's do the latter!

The Ground Rules

My initial thoughts on Pioneer after playing it for about a week are such:

Thoughtseize Is One Of The Best Cards In The Format


This is a format with no Force of Will. No Force of Negation. No Daze. No Remand. No Inquisition of Kozilek. No Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. No Chalice of the Void. No Blood Moon. No Surgical Extraction. No Cryptic Command.

... Should I continue?

Put simply, there aren't a ton of great ways to disrupt your opponent. Thoughtseize is a great card in every single format it's legal in, making it phenomenal in a format where there really isn't much competition. The lack of fetchland into shockland mana bases make the life loss not as bad either.

The Removal Kinda Sucks

Even in Modern we are spoiled.

Lightning Bolt
Path to Exile
Fatal Push

The three major removal colors all have a tier one, top notch removal spell in Modern, but not so in Pioneer.

"But wait Jim, Fatal Push is in Pioneer!"

Yes, Fatal Push is legal and it is still good, but it's nowhere near the card it is in other formats. Without fetchlands, Fatal Push is often going to feel more like a Shock or a Smother than a one mana Terminate. And without Tarmogoyf and other great cheap one and two-mana threats, you're going to find yourself staring down the barrel of 3- and 4-drops often and desperately searching for some clever way to trigger revolt.

There are a lot of glorified Shocks floating around Pioneer and the removal does not line up well with the quality of threats.

As Such, Being Linear Is Pretty Good

Were still in the early stages while people figure out how to build fair decks and find the right mixes of removal and interaction, but for now it feels like just trying to do your thing is a great plan. Whether that thing is Saheeli Combo, making a million mana with Nyxthos, Shrine to Nyx, or any of the many various other plans, at this stage in the game it is better to be asking questions then trying to have the right answers.

So on to the brews!

Mono White Sram Auras Aggro

This is an updated version of a deck I played on stream this week and was astounded with how much we were crushing people. I built the deck basically for fun because I like Sram, Senior Edificer and Helm of the Gods so much and almost didn't play it because I thought it would be bad. Instead we just ran people over to a 4-1 finish, which with a little more luck could have easily been a 5-0.

So what the hell is happening here?

This is a synergy based aggro deck in a similar vein to Affinity or Bogles. We're trying to take advantage of the lack of good removal in the format and of the fact that most playable removal is Red. Damage-based removal isn't killing a creature with Ethereal Armor on it anytime soon and if your opponent isn't playing Black for Fatal Push you're usually in pretty good shape.

Helm of the Gods
Ethereal Armor
All That Glitters

We're essentially playing twelve copies of Cranial Plating, but it also boosts our creature's toughness as well as power. This is our bread and butter and how we're able to present lethal damage so quickly. Putting your opponent into The Abyss as early as turn three is great, but occasionally we'll need a little help from Gryff's Boon to put us over the top. Regardless, this is where most of the power of the deck lies.

Hopeful Eidolon
Nyxborn Shieldmate
Adanto Vanguard

If Helm of the Gods is our Cranial Plating, Hopeful Eidolon and Nyxborn Shieldmate are our Orinthopter and Memnite. Both creatures are enchantments themselves, further powering up our key cards and fueling our synergies, and the lifelink on Hopeful Eidolon makes it a perfect target to make into a 13/13. But it doesn't end there. While bestow feels more like a Limited mechanic, the truth is that it's actually quite powerful. Being able to top off a creature with a Hopeful Eidolon bestow is quite nice, and the rate on Nyxborn Shieldmate is reasonable given that you still get a creature if they kill the target in response.

Of course, sometimes our opponent will have removal, which brings Adanto Vanguard and Lagonna-Band Trailblazer to the party. We do have Brave the Elements to try and protect our more vulnerable creatures, but there is very little in the format that can kill Adanto Vanguard making him the perfect vessel for your enchantments.

However, if this was all the deck was it would be a fun all-in meme deck but would lack any sort of real staying power against resistance.

Sram, Senior Edificer

Enter the deck's namesake, Sram, Senior Edificer. If Sram lives, you're probably going to win the game. Adding "draw a card" to almost every spell in the deck, including Helm of the Gods and the bestow abilities, provides you with almost unlimited fuel. Just imagine if there was a 2/2 creature for two mana that said "draw a card whenever you play an instant" or "draw a card whenever you play a creature." Either card would be broken beyond belief, and while auras and equipment aren't nearly as powerful as instants and creatures they're certainly powerful enough here.

Toss in a Banishing Light here and some great sideboard cards there and you've got an awesome Pioneer deck. And the best part?

Even if you somehow don't have any of these old commons and uncommons lying around, the deck only ends up being around $50 total either in paper or online - with most of that cost being tied up in sideboard cards! It wasn't meant to be a budget deck, but it sure is beautiful when things come together!

While Sram Auras is the deck I've been most excited about for Pioneer, it's certainly only one of many brews I've been working on. We don't have the time or space today to get into each one in depth, but I wanted to share a few of the lists along with some quick thoughts:

The idea for this deck is actually based off a viewer's Deck Tech submission on my stream from Drolheim, and after giving my advice on the deck I really liked the main idea of being able to play the very powerful Hardened Scales but not to try and play Steel Overseer in a format full of Wild Slashes. Almost every card in the deck can stand on its own and you've got a nice fat top end with tons of mana sinks for Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx. I'm excited to try this one.

This just in, Smuggler's Copter is still really good and abusing the graveyard is always a great way to go. With so many creatures that recur and so many incidental ways to return Prized Amalgam we get to be very aggressive while also having a strong and resilient late game. And we get to play four Thoughtseize? Sign me up!

Another deck based off a core idea from stream viewer TurtleTear; TurtleTear had built a Selesnya Aggro deck that played three copies of Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner and a copy of The Great Henge. I really liked the interaction between the two, and between the 7 power of Rotting Regisaur making The Great Henge cost only two mana and the draw power and ramp that Kiora provides we've got something nice here. We get to lay some monster beats with Steel Leaf Champion, Heart of Kiran, and Ghalta, The Primal Hunger, while also playing with some Eldrazi friends too and having a great draw engine.

Our last deck for the day is a throwback to one of my favorite Standard decks ever, Four-Color Emerge. The deck was known for being far above the power level of Standard but had shaky mana and was obscenely difficult to play. Well now we have great mana and a few nice additions from the Pioneer card pool, making this one to watch. This is going to be a tough one to nail down but there's a lot of power here.

The Brews Go Ever On And On

I've been having a blast brewing in Pioneer so far and I haven't even gotten to playing the decks that are doing well in the first few MTGO leagues! And it gets even better!

It looks like SCGCON is going to be the first major Pioneer tournament and I'll be there!

The Pioneer hype train is full speed ahead.

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