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Breaking Ground and Digging Graves in Pioneer

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As soon as Pioneer was announced my excitement went through the roof and I can't put my finger why. Maybe it was because I was absent from Magic from Khans-block through Kaladesh. Or maybe because, in my heart-of-hearts, I'm a brewer who loves unexplored formats. Whatever the reason, I wasn't alone. Pioneer has struck a chord with the larger Magic community, and I wanted to get in on the ground floor by starting to brew my favorite archetypes.

My first deck list was a Mono-Blue Tempo deck. The concept was purely theory-crafting since I didn't know what the format would look like. In the end it was an exercise in futility - most counterspells in the format at bad and the points of interaction (turns one-three) slide underneath any kind of counter-everything-while-poking-you strategy. During the hunt for another place to start, I noticed that a lot of the traditional dredge cards are legal in Pioneer. Cards like Creeping Chill, Narcomoeba, and Stitcher Supplier as well as the infamous Prized Amalgam are all present and accounted for! I've always had a bit of a crush on Prized Amalgam so this seemed like a great place to start. I sleeved up some proxies of what I thought a deck should look like and played some practice games at my LGS.

The games were fun, but the deck was underwhelming. It was doing some cool things, but it felt clunky. For example, I was flooded out in a number of games, due to a high land count. I also noticed that cards like Creeping Chill and Narcomoeba felt mediocre. I took a small break from brewing to consume the decklists that were popping up. I'm so grateful for @PioneerDLs, they had a steady flow of decklists pumping into my Twitter feed. That's where I stumbled upon this beauty by @Torauoo.

Flashbacks of getting destroyed on Arena by Cat / Oven combo were swirling in my head. "Hey, this could work!" I thought to myself. I really love the interaction between Cauldron Familiar and Prized Amalgam so I took the shell and made some changes. I started by swapping the Desecrated Tombs for Oko, Thief of Crowns and changing up the mana-base. After getting some reps in at a few local tournaments, I came up with this list:


Addendum

In light of the recent banned and restricted announcement, I wanted to write a few words about how this deck is affected. Smuggler's Copter is now banned in Pioneer, and there are two copies in my decklist. I don't believe that this impacts the deck too much, but we do have to re-think some numbers. The easiest swap is to add the 4th Scrapheap Scrounger and one more Haunted Dead. Aside from this, there are some other interesting options to try. I'd would test with these cards; Lotleth Troll, Gather the Pack, Ashiok, Dream Render, and maybe Gurmag Angler.

I'd also really be interested in testing with Heart of Kiran. We have a playset of Oko so this is not too far of a stretch. Heart also turns, Scrapheap Scrounger into a blocker. Another key feature of using another vehicle is that it does not reduce the artifact count for Emry. That's something to be mindful of with your swaps. If you put in non-artifact cards, you may want to cut down on Emry. Anyways, I'm excited to see where the format goes from here, and I think this deck is well positioned. See you in the comments!

Stitcher's Supplier

The most explosive starts with the deck involve Stitcher Supplier. It's one of the reasons, that I tried Merfolk Secretkeeper in the deck for a bit. Imagine milling two Prized Amalgams and Cauldron Familiar on turn-one, then following up with a Witch's Oven! That puts 7 power on the board on turn two!

Satyr Wayfinder
Grisly Salvage

Both Satyr Wayfinder, and Grisly Salvage are solid role-players. They further our game plan by milling us and they also smooth out our mana. Even though the deck can operate on two to three mana, it really wants four mana so that you can make multiple plays in a turn cycle. You'll want to do things like play a Smuggler's Copter and have mana to bring back Scrapheap Scrounger. There are also some less obvious bonuses to finding lands with these cards. For example, finding your second Blue source for Elder Deep-Fiend, finding an Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth to make your Confluence less painful, or even giving you an extra card to pitch to Haunted Dead.

Haunted Dead
Smuggler's Copter

Speaking of Haunted Dead, I didn't understand the power of this card until I discarded two Prized Amalgam to its ability creating an instant Army at the end of my opponent's turn (technically at the end of their second main phase). This is not shocking for those who played Standard while these two cards were legal, but I missed that block so it took playing with the card for a while before realizing how necessary it is! Smuggler's Copter is another way to get Prized Amalgams from your hand into the graveyard. It's also a threat that furthers our game plan wile smashing planeswalkers and dodging wrath effects.

Prized Amalgam
Scrapheap Scrounger
Cauldron Familiar

One of the things that I love about this deck is it's resiliency! Even though many of your threats die to the format's premier removal spell, Fatal Push, they don't stay dead. All of the creatures above can comeback from the graveyard for very little mana cost. Prized Amalgam is particularly strong since it's essentially a free 3/3, that not only attacks well, but can block with the best of them. Especially, when paired up with this guy.

Oko, Thief of Crowns

At first glance, Oko might feel like that super powerful card that I added to my deck strictly because of his power level. While I think it's perfectly reasonable to do that, in this case Oko brings a lot of synergy to the deck. As I started to say above, he resizes any of your opponent's threats so that they trade with your free Prized Amalgams. This feature alone is enough to justify a spot in the deck, but Oko also makes food, which allows you to bring back Cauldron Familiar from the graveyard. And if all that wasn't enough, he also has a good habit of elking hate cards like Grafdigger's Cage or Pithing Needle on your Witch's Oven. Speaking of the Witch's Oven, I have to say that it's one of the most underrated cards of the year!

Witch's Oven
Cauldron Familiar

You know this card is good when you try to bait out your opponent's Counterspell/ Abrupt Decay with Smuggler's Copter before revealing your Oven. The Witch's Oven / Cauldron Familiar combo is one of the things that gives this deck reach. It also allows you to grind out games by blocking with Cat and then sacrificing it with the Witch's Oven, only to bring it back before their turn ends. The Oven also has hidden talents like, triggering Revolt (for those sideboarded Fatal Pushes) and saving key creatures from exile spells like Anger of the Gods, Declaration in Stone, or Legion's End. Witch's Oven offers the deck so much that I wanted to maximize on finding it; enter Emry, Lurker of the Loch.

Why is Emry in the deck?

Emry, Lurker of the Loch

For starters, it mills four card for one-mana and since this is a graveyard deck, I'm in the market for that. I admit, that on first glance it may look like it's hard to reduce Emry's cost, but it's actually much easier than it seems. With a Witch's Oven, you can sacrifice any creature to make a food, and Emry will cost one mana. Even on a slower curve if you do something like cast Scrapheap Scrounger on turn two into Oko on turn three. That lets you open up with a one-mana Emry on turn four. Beyond the efficient milling ability, Emry also gives us access to Copters and Ovens that ended up in the graveyard. You'll also notice a few artifacts in the sideboard which Emry can buy back for use, included the spicy addition of a Tormod's Crypt.

Elder Deep-Fiend

Before I switch gears away from the main-deck, I think I should mention this Eldrazi Octopus. I tried a lot of cards in this slot, mainly removal spells like Murderous Rider, but none of them had the impact that I was hoping for. I was constantly trying to find the best opening for casting them. There was a real tension between removing something and progressing my own board. Elder Deep-Fiend does both, it lets me add to my board while also breaking through stalls. It can also be used to Time Walk your opponent by tapping their lands during key turns. I've added two of these to the deck and have not looked back.

Sacred Cows

As you can see from the list, I decided not to include Creeping Chill and Narcomoeba. Deck slots are at a premium and I want those slots to be occupied by cards that I'm both happy to mill, and draw. It feels bad to start with a Creeping Chill in your opening hand, and even worse to draw another one during the game. Maybe I'm giving too much weight to this drawback, but I also believe that Creeping Chill is pretty low-impact in the context of the format. Much of the work that Creeping Chill will do is easily negated by the incidental life gain that's kicking around- see cards like Murderous Rider, Scavenging Ooze, Siege Rhino, and Oko, Thief of Crowns.

In the case of Narcomoeba, Cauldron Familiar just plays this role better. You never feel bad about milling it, or casting it. Once you get a Witch's Oven on the board it gets exponentially better. Witches Oven grants you reusability and greater control over timing, when triggering your Prized Amalgams. Also, I should not undersell Cauldron Familiar's ability to drain your opponent. I know that may seem ironic considering I just talked about how Creeping Chill falls short, but the difference is that Cat / Oven is a persistent engine. Draining them for three once, is a lot different than draining them for two or three every turn.

General Sideboarding Advice

In this section I want to talk a little bit about the sideboard cards and options. If you decide to take a version of this deck out to battle, you may have a different sideboard configuration but this should give you an idea of what each card is for. I'll also take this opportunity to level with you and tell you I'm not someone who grinds hundreds of games, so my confidence level in writing a correct and thorough sideboard guide is pretty low. The good news is that in these colors we get our pick of some of the best sideboard options in the format.

Fatal Push - This is one of the best removal spells available. It's particularly good at killing pesky Scavenging Oozes, and nuking creatures is "X" in their casting cost. I've also scraped a Smuggler's Copter or two with this.

Thoughtseize - Another format shaping card. I like to bring this in against decks that mostly play on the stack. Control decks, Combo decks, and even things like Field of the Dead, to snag their key ramp spells and planeswalkers.

Pithing Needle - You'd be hard pressed to find a deck that doesn't have a relevant card for Pithing Needle. I don't bring it in for every match, but if there's a key threat that I can nullify with Pithing Needle, I'll bring it in. Worse-case scenario, I may just turn it into an Elk and beatdown with it.

Tormod's Crypt - This singleton is in my sideboard, because I have dreams of locking out a Phoenix Player with Emry. Those dreams are mostly miss-placed since they have a lot of spells that kill Emry, but I'm not ready to give up on the dream.

Scavenging Ooze - This is graveyard hate that I can find with Grisly Salvage. This can help against the mirror, Phoenix decks, or Delirium decks.

Assassin's Trophy - I'll bring this in against slower decks with Planeswalkers, or when I expect that I might see Leyline of the Void.

Abrupt Decay - This is great at killing three-mana planeswalkers, as well as most hate cards that are being sided in against you (think Gravedigger's Cage, Scavenging Ooze, or Rest in Peace). I like the flexibility this brings because it can also do work against aggressive decks.

Next I want to talk about a few cards that could be in the sideboard. This is not a definitive list but it's stiff that I've considered before.

Reclamation Sage - This is great against most sideboard hate. You can also find it with Grisly Salvage. Having this effect on a creature brings a lot of play to the slot, allowing you to attack, block, or fodder for the Oven.

Unmoored Ego - This card was previously punished by the presence of Veil of Summer, but now it can be a viable sideboard option. It is particularly good against Nexus of Fate and Combo decks (like Possibility Storm).

Legion's End - In most matchups this does a similar job as Fatal Push, but in the Field of the Dead matchup it clears out a legion of zombies.

Blightbeetle - This card is emerging as a foil to decks like Hardened Scales and Mono-Green decks. Both these decks heavily rely on counter creatures, like Stonecoil Serpent, and Walking Ballista and this little Beetle slams the door on these cards, while also blocking Green creatures like a champ.

There are plenty of other cards that we can talk about here, but I think this is a good place to wrap things up. Typically, I like to close my articles with a shout-out section. For this article, I'm going to combine the shout-out with a bonus decklist.

Another Take

My hope is that this article will inspire you to try out a graveyard strategy in Pioneer. I gave my own take and opinions on the archetype, but there are many ways to build this style of deck. I'll leave you with this sweet list from Dredge specialist Sodeq. He's very skilled with the archetype in multiple formats, and he's logged some 5-0 finishes on MTGO with "Sultai Grave" in Pioneer.


There's a lot to digest here and I won't analyze the deck card by card but I do want to point out a couple of things. I really like the use of Driven // Despair to break board stalls and to pressure your opponent's hand. I'm also a big fan of the Gurmag Angler approach, this is something that I also considered but haven't had a chance to try. If you're looking for a more classic "dredge" approach, this is a great place to start. This list is also a bit more affordable by excluding the playset of Oko, Thief of Crowns.

That's all I have for this week. If you'd like to connect with me feel free to follow me on twitter @Medina_MTG. Thank you for reading.

-JM

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