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Upgrading Pioneer Challenge Decks: Orzhov Auras and Mono-Red Burn


We're back to talk about some more Pioneer Challenger Decks - and more specifically ways to upgrade them to a playable deck! Last week I covered the first two in Lotus Field Combo and Azorius Spirits. This week we're going to be talking about two more decks - albeit somewhat more straightforward ones. These are the Orzhov Auras and Mono-Red Burn precons!

Both decks follow a more streamlined aggressive strategy. It is a little funny that three of these decks largely follow this more aggressive feel with the other one being Azorius Spirits. That said, Azorius Spirits can play a little more like a tempo deck in certain ways - much more so in specific version of the archetype. Other Challenger Decks we've seen in the past have had much more archetypal diversity, though I think here a large part of that was how costly many decks get once you start factoring in the land base of, say, three color decks. Those aren't uncommon when you start looking at lists like Control, Jeskai Ascendancy, or heaven forbid Niv to Light.

In the future, I do hope we see more variety, especially since it sounds like Wizards wants to do this again. Here, though, it's down to basics with some simple strategies so that's what we're going to work with today. First, let's dive into the Orzhov Auras precon!

This deck is about as straightforward as they come, to the point that I'd argue it's simpler to play than the Mono-Red deck. Everyone knows how annoying Bogles decks are in other formats. The play is always the same and it's hard to interact with them. This list is basically Pioneer's version of Bogles, though with less hexproof available in the format, it relies more on creatures like Sram, Senior Edificer and Hateful Eidolon to give you a value engine. By using these, you can keep drawing tons of cards to keep your plan going and beat down your opponents' life totals.

Karametra's Blessing
Ethereal Armor
Sram, Senior Edificer

Alongside the cheap creatures and value engines, the goal is to suit them up with as much cheap auras as possible. With the help of cards like Ethereal Armor and All That Glitters, as well as many of your creatures being enchantments themselves, your board states can go from 0 to 11 at lightning speed. This means your opponents get presented with a simple option: answer your threats or lose. And even then, you can always be holding up a Karametra's Blessing for defense or get back your cards easily thanks to Lurrus of the Dream-Den being your companion.

As it turns out, this deck actually isn't all that far off from what you might find in an actual tournament-ready list. Let's have a look at one from a few weeks ago:

By and large, the list is the exact same at the core! The main deck is basically the same as the precon, with the only difference being two Selfless Saviors and a Sentinel's Eyes being swapped for three copies of Apostle of Purifying Light. This is largely a meta call and doesn't always show up, so you could still happily run the same core deck just fine as you try learning the deck. The big things that need help are, as you might guess, the land base and the sideboard.

In truth, neither is that big of an issue. Sure, four copies of Godless Shrine and three Thoughtseize (in addition to the precon's one) will run you a decent chunk of change, but substantially less than your average Standard deck still. What's more, you have the majority of a core that still works, and most of the other sideboard cards are affordable enough that you can make it work within your budget. What I'd do to start here is buy a single Thoughtseize and make the rest of your sideboard match with two more copies of Duress replacing the missing Thoughtseizes. I'd still recommend seeing if there's a better substitute for some of the Durresses depending on your meta, but this is a solid and reasonably affordable start.

From there, you can use winnings you get from events and slowly pick up your other two Thoughtseizes and some lands. If you have the budget, four copies of Brightclimb Pathway // Grimclimb Pathway is very affordable. Grabbing a playset of them can run you a meager $20-25 and go a long way in making your deck function more cohesively. The only thing you'd really need from there is the Godless Shrines. Ultimately, you can upgrade this list with ease, and it'll likely only cost you around $125 - comparable to the price you might pay on average for a booster box. Not bad all things considered!

Let's move on to the Mono-Red Burn precon!

Mono-Red Burn is exactly what you think of. If there's a format, there's no doubt that it has a Burn deck in it. This is because it's not hard to simply jam the most aggressive Red cards the format has to offer into a single list and go nuts with it. Modern, Legacy, Pauper, and - a bit less frequently and more format depending - Standard. All of these have them and then some. I even talked in the past about how Pauper Burn was a great ramp up to Modern and Legacy Burn well before Pioneer was a format, but the same remains true here!

Monastery Swiftspear
Ramunap Ruins
Lightning Strike

The premise is simple: throw down as many quick aggressive creatures as you can and throw bolt spells at your opponent's face. Truth be told, there's not much else to really say in that regard. You play cards and turn them sideways. There is a little more nuance than the general straight-forwardness of the Orzhov Auras deck, but only insofar as to know when to sacrifice your Bomat Courier or when to send bolt spells at creatures rather than players. It's important counterplay, though, and is a valuable tool to learn. That's why Burn is one of those decks that frequently comes up as a deck that's easy to pick up but difficult to master.

That said, this deck needs a decent amount more work than the Auras list, so let's check out another list before talking about what updates are needed:

Boy, where to start? Well, I suppose I should mention the obvious. Burn is a deck defined by finding the most efficient spells and abilities to deal the most damage as quickly as possible while simultaneously finding ways to maximize value. Generally, this happens by simply finding spells that do the most damage for the lowest cost, but it can go further than that as well.

Wild Slash was a key card in Burn lists for a while for being a strictly better Shock, but damage prevention wasn't something that necessarily came up a ton. It was nice to have in the event it was relevant. As such, when Play with Fire dropped in Midnight Hunt, the scry was generally determined to be much more worthwhile, as it actually did something a lot of the time by finding playable cards. Bonecrusher Giant is another solid example as it gives you both a burn spell AND a creature.

Play with Fire
Eidolon of the Great Revel
Den of the Bugbear

As a result, several cards were outclassed in the list from the start, either by cards printed since or by cards that just weren't in the list. You might notice, for example, this list runs 4 Chandras in the main deck. It also runs four extra lands to compensate the higher mana cost, but it does so utilizing the utility of Den of the Bugbear to make up for it, acting like a spell as well as a land in this sense. Goblin Chainwhirler also shows up more in the main deck, as do a full playset of Eidolon of the Great Revel - an essential Burn card that is shockingly absent from the precon.

If I were to look into upgrading anything, the first thing I'd grab would be the Eidolons. They're the most expensive part of the deck, but they're very much a critical component of any Burn list - and I do mean any! If you're playing a Burn list in Pioneer, Modern, or Legacy, then you're playing a playset of Eidolons, meaning your investment can go much, much farther in the long run than simply upgrading a Pioneer precon. It also gives you time to determine what kind of Burn list you want to be. While this kind of list is a Mono-Red one to match the precon, the Burn list that actually sees the most play is a Boros one!

Being Boros allows for a few interesting additions to the list. The big one is Boros Charm, being a direct four points of damage that can be even more if you pump up a prowess creature with enough spells thanks to the double strike side. The other one is Lurrus of the Dream-Den. As it happens, all of the creatures Burn traditionally runs are small enough that you can warrant running Lurrus for the easy extra bonus value. It does mean cutting cards like Bonecrusher Giant, Goblin Chainwhirler, and Chandra, Torch of Defiance, but there's so much value to be gained here that it ends up being worth it.

It's interesting since as such, we see a lot of the cards here that otherwise end up getting removed from the precon for the Mono-Red list. This is good, though, as it allows you to kind of pick your path. The Boros version is more expensive, but the bulk of the price is still Eidolon, and from there the lands. As such, it might not be the worst idea to start with the worse Mono-Red list as a lead-up until you can start to go in on the Boros version.

If you do go for the Boros list, my recommendation would be to forgo the Sacred Foundries for the time being and pick up the dirt-cheap Battlefield Forges and your set of Inspiring Vantages. You'll want Sacred Foundries eventually, but you can survive without them. Alternatively, if you have copies of Needleverge Pathway // Pillarverge Pathway on hand, they can make for solid temporary inclusions. Unfortunately, you'll more often be playing them for the Mountain side, so they're not really as easy and clean of a replacement, but they work if you have them. I just wouldn't go out of my way to get them if you don't already own them.

Once you get a Boros list, you're not that far away from owning a Modern list!

Modern Burn costs about twice what the Pioneer version does, but you'll already have a lot of the most expensive pieces between Eidolon, Inspiring Vantage, and Sacred Foundries. You'll obviously need to work toward fetch lands for proper optimization, but the rest of the upgrades you'll need (Goblin Guides, Path to Exiles, Lava Spikes, etc.) can be picked up for probably around $50-60 in total. That means you can utilize what you've already got and get the fetches and Sunbaked Canyons at your own pace, while having a relatively functional list you can play with people to get a feel for the Modern format.

And that's a wrap on the Pioneer Challenger decks! This was an interesting offering because it feels a bit on the cheap end but also works as a good way to get people kickstarted into the format as local game stores start hosting events once more. I myself am looking forward to picking these up and playing with them in person soon, especially after seeing how close they are to their competitive counterparts while writing these pieces. I look forward to seeing the format continue to grow and to hopefully see these releases continue into next year and onwards.

Pioneer is great. Pick one of these four decks out and give it a shot.

Kendra Smith

Twitter: @TheMaverickGal

Twitch: twitch.tv/themaverickgirl

YouTube: Kendra Smith

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