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Getting into Pioneer

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Hey everyone!

I'm setting Modern aside until the format gets a jolt from either a Modern Horizons set or a change to the banned list. Four-Color Omnath, Izzet Murktide, and Living End are at the top of the food chain and there's relatively low innovation.

The format has so many powerful cards that it's tough to dethrone the top decks with minor changes. Even if a key card is banned from one of the tier 1 decks many of them can be replaced with the next best spell.

All hope is not lost because WOTC has reintroduced the Pro Tour in paper with focus on the Pioneer format. WOTC has gotten us to care about Standard in the past by making it the format of Pro Tours and their qualifiers. Many of us want to play for high stakes so it's enough to revitalize any format.

Pioneer has great bones to be a strong format because it's eternal, but isn't bogged down by shuffling from fetch lands. The cost to enter the format is increasing due to the competitive play support, but is still inexpensive compared to Modern and Legacy. Looking at MTGGoldfish the cost for a deck is about $500, but can be cheaper.

My FNM has both a Modern and Pioneer flight. There has been a gradual shift from Modern to Pioneer as many of the top players want to practice for upcoming qualifiers and 1Ks. Pioneer is currently the best avenue to play matches for high stakes which appeals to me.

An unintended consequence of the top players focusing on Pioneer over Modern is the variability in decks I face. I want to play smaller Magic tournaments to prepare for big events and that becomes harder when there's a larger percentage of casual decks in Modern. Even the top tier decks have rough matchups against tier 2 linear strategies, but it won't be as relevant in 1Ks or NRG/SCG tournaments.

There are a variety of decks to play and they have unique play styles. Today I'm going to go over some of the archetypes as I'm also looking for a deck to call my own.

Let's get to it!


This is the current boogieman of the format. When you hear about Pioneer there are hyperbolic statements made about the strength of Winota. The format may be described as two ships passing in the night.

In reality, this was just the metagame settling. Make no mistake, Winota is a great deck. It's hard to have too many top tier decks that can be described as two ships passing in the night because Winota is better than the rest. As a result, most of the other popular decks simply have to play defense. This is not a bad thing, but is a rule of engagement in the current Pioneer format.

As I was researching Pioneer decks to consider investing in, I was surprised to see the archetype diversity in Top 8s. Good players know they have to keep the battlefield clear with sweepers and not expose themselves to a Winota.

If you want to interact with Naya Winota here are some sideboard cards to consider:

Azorius Control: Settle the Wreckage

Izzet Piles: Anger of the Gods, Crush the Weak, Disdainful Stroke, Rending Volley, Redcap Melee

Mono Red: Redcap Melee, Goblin Chainwhirler, and Rampaging Ferocidon

Rakdos Midrange: Ray of Enfeeblement and Noxious Grasp

Naya Winota Mirror: Rending Volley

Pioneer has an abundance of color-hosing interaction and the most popular choices kill Winota at instant-speed for a small amount of mana.

Red is a very popular color in Pioneer because it has access to efficient creatures and cheap removal. A way to knock the Winota deck off balance is to attack their mana elves. Not only does this threaten their four mana needed to cast Winota, but they will have fewer non-humans to attack.

Sweepers are very strong against Winota because most of the non-human creatures have fewer than 3 toughness. Esika's Chariot is the other top-end threat to cast early and the cats are vulnerable as well. Voice of Resurgence won't get an Elemental if it's exiled by Anger of the Gods or Crush the Weak.

Grafdigger's Cage is another annoying sideboard card to consider. Winota is not able to put creatures onto the battlefield while Cage is in play. Boseiju and Skyclave Apparition are able to answer this pesky artifact.

I don't want you to get the wrong idea. Winota is a very good deck and has to be respected. It's the fastest way to reliably win in Pioneer. Local grinder, Ethan Dunn, has been able to Top 8 multiple 1Ks with Winota. Other top tier decks in the format are able to compete making the metagame not as warped as you might imagine.


The other strong aggro deck of the format. Mono-Red is able to take advantage of efficient creatures and removal the color offers. There's not an overwhelming amount of hate in the format for the Red deck as Winota is the primary focus. The prowess creatures can grow out of range of Red removal making the deck more resilient.

Not only are the spells strong, but the mana base contains four Den of the Bugbear, four Ramunap Ruins, and a Sokenzan. It's hard to go wrong with this deck and I would expect to face it in most Pioneer tournaments.

An interesting interaction in Pioneer is with Soul-Scar Mage and burn spells that exile. The Lava Coil in the sideboard will deal damage in the form of -1-1 counters and will go to the graveyard.

If you like consistent aggro decks then Mono Red is for you.


The Pioneer metagame has already become fairly efficient. Winota is the best goldfish deck, Red beats down better than anything else, and Rakdos midranges the hardest. If you like to play powerful standalone cards Rakdos will give you the best chance for success.

We've seen the efficient Red removal, but Black offers Thoughtseize and Fatal Push. Most of the top Pioneer decks play creatures making Fatal Push a key spell.

Fable of the Mirror-Breaker // Reflection of Kiki-Jiki is a top threat in Pioneer. Winota decks are able to cycle to their namesake card and Rakdos is able to discard excess lands at chapter two. The 2/2 treasure-making token is a threat to respect as well as the Reflection of Kiki-Jiki.

Graveyard Trespasser // Graveyard Glutton and Kalitas are able to exile Arclight Phoenix which is a key way to win in Izzet decks.

Kroxa isn't easy to enable without some effort, but Rakdos Midrange is the ideal shell. Escaping Kroxa can be fueled again by Fable of the Mirror-Breaker.

Planeswalkers aren't prevalent in Pioneer, but Dreadbore is there to respect Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, Narset, Parter of Veils, and The Wandering Emperor out of Azorius Control. Chandra, Dressed to Kill out of Mono Red can also be a serious threat.

While Rakdos Midrange is full of removal and hand disruption there are also plenty of threats along the curve making it possible to become an aggressive deck against tough matchups.


Azorius Control is the control deck of choice. Earlier in the Pioneer format there was a division among sixty and eighty cards, but the mirror needs to be considered and the extra win condition is key.

Narset, Parter of Veils plays an important role against the Izzet decks as they are fueled by Opt, Consider, and Treasure Cruise. It can be correct to not use Narset's activated ability to keep it in play longer. The single loyalty on Narset can enable her to be reset by Yorion.

The Wandering Emperor and Absorb provide maindeck life gain against Mono-Red.

White has less efficient removal compared to Red and Black, but is still able to take advantage of March of Otherworldly Light and Portable Hole. Fateful Absence has a steep cost of giving the opponent a clue, but is able to kill Winota before the attack step and can also target planeswalkers.


Izzet Phoenix is a staple of Pioneer. Blue and Red combine to cycle through your deck leaving enough cards in the graveyard to fuel powerful delve spells and Arclight Phoenix.

Each Izzet deck is characterized by the flex removal. Lightning Axe combos with Arclight Phoenix. Since Axe is an old card it doesn't hit planeswalkers, but can kill Winota before the attack phase.

Phoenix decks can grind better than most Izzet decks because Pieces of the Puzzle generates so much value, but comes at the expense of playing to the board.

We saw exiling small creatures being relevant against Winota because of Voice of Resurgence. Flame-Blessed Bolt can also exile Arclight Phoenix.

Temporal Trespass is the delve payoff alongside Treasure Cruise. It enables a combo kill with Galvanic Iteration when you need to close the game quickly. Playing fewer than four Treasure Cruise is a powerful statement.

Phoenix decks get more powerful after sideboard because they are already encouraged to play cheap spells. Pioneer's maindeck interaction is relatively weak, but the color-hosing interaction is strong. This particular deck picks up Aether Gust, Disdainful Stroke, Spell Pierce, Rending Volley, Mystical Dispute, and Redcap Melee.

Tablet of the Guilds in the sideboard is how Izzet decks typically fight Mono-Red. You're able to cycle through the deck gaining at least one life each time.

Anger of the Gods is a powerful sweeper, but beware it can exile your own Arclight Phoenix.


Prowess is the other popular way to build Izzet decks. Ledger Shredder, Sprite Dragon, Monastery Swiftspear, and Soul-Scar Mage all benefit from casting cheap spells.

Again, this Izzet deck is characterized by the flex removal to interact with larger creatures. Reckless Rage is able to kill Winota before the combat step without killing any of your sixteen creatures in the process.

Jegantha, the Wellspring is a relatively free addition, but doesn't shine in every game. It's possible to add to your hand and connive with Ledger Shredder.

A consideration with Izzet Prowess is that you want to slow down after sideboard against creature decks, making your Reckless Rage more unwieldy. You will be faced with fewer targets on your side of the battlefield and the opponent boarding in Redcap Melee and/or Rending Volley.

Conclusion

Pioneer has many different types of decks that have risen to top tier status. Each can appeal to a different type of pilot. The decks aren't as expensive as Modern and can serve as a competitive outlet. I recommend giving it a try as it's the path of least resistance to playing high level Magic.

Thanks for reading!

-Kyle


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