Feature Article from Adam Yurchick

Pioneer in 2020

Adam Yurchick

1/2/2020 11:02:00 AM

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The Pioneer metagame continues to evolve at an incredible pace. Magic Online's addition of Preliminary tournaments throughout the week has raised the stakes of the format, and provided a wealth of decklists on a daily basis. Instead of having to wait for the weekend to see the results of PTQs or Challenges to see what's happening, we can now peer at the metagame in almost real time throughout the week.

The banning of Oko, Thief of Crowns paved the way for the rise to prominence of Mono-Green Ramp decks, which overpowered the metagame to stand as the deck to beat. But like a lumbering mammoth, it has found itself prey to decks designed to beat it, like the fast and nimble red aggressive decks that found incredible success last week. Boros Burn won the Pioneer Challenge, put up huge results in subsequent Preliminary events, and now all variety of red decks are performing, ranging from the most aggressive burn decks to much more midrange decks similar to those in Standard last year.

Mono-Green Aggro

Of course the metagame hasn't just stopped there, and this most recent weekend of events has produced a wide variety of decks to attack this established metagame. Before Oko, Thief of Crowns was banned one of the top decks in the format was Simic Stompy, but in its absence we've seen a resurgence of the mono-green version. A new variation of the deck has now emerged, and had a breakout finish by making it all the way to the finals of the Pioneer Challenge.

This deck meshes the green aggro strategy with the devotion plan of Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx. It's a natural fit in a deck with Steel Leaf Champion and Yorvo, Lord of Garenbrig to support it. The addition of a set of Burning-Tree Emissary, which wasn't typically used in the previous aggro strategy, helps push devotion to its full potential while also increasing the deck's aggressive potential. It also helps fuel Ghalta, Primal Hunger, which is the big payoff for any Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx mana and the card around which the entire deck is built. To really push it to its limits the deck includes a set of Surrak, the Hunt Caller, which can give Ghalta haste to effectively end the game on the spot as a two-card combo. The inclusion of Aspect of Hydra as a combat trick or a potentially massive chunk of extra damage gives the deck added aggressive power and helps speed up its goldfish, with regular turn-four kills and turn-three kills in the realm of possibility.

The deck also packs a great sideboard, which is designed not so much to disrupt the opponent but to protect its own plan. A full set of Heroic Intervention stops any sort of removal spell, including sweepers like Supreme Verdict, so it's a real nightmare for Azorius Control. Shapers' Sanctuary does great work against opponents relying on targeted removal like red and black decks, so it has all of its bases covered and will be hard to contain through attrition, despite the deck mostly lacking any real card advantage.

Izzet Ensoul

Aggressive, proactive decks defined the Top 8, including some other off-the-radar decks from Pioneer's short history. The Izzet Ensoul Artifact deck, for example, is another aggressive strategy that can get under green decks, and as such has put up some strong results, including a Top 8 in the Challenge last weekend.

Bant Spirits

Also present in the Top 8 was Bant Spirits, which I went into great detail about in my last article. I was happy but not surprised to see that just a couple days after the article went up Spirits won yet another PTQ at MagicFest Portland, so it's looking better and better. It's quite aggressive in its own right, but wrapped together with a ton of disruption.

Izzet Phoenix

Izzet Phoenix has also continued to perform in this post-Oko metagame, with a Top 4 Challenge finish showing it's very much in the mix and that Treasure Cruise is one of the best cards in Pioneer. The deck is further evidence of the superiority of Young Pyromancer over Thing in the Ice // Awoken Horror in Pioneer, where it seems to be too slow without free spells.

Sultai Graveyard

As impressive as Arclight Phoenix is, the distinction of best graveyard creature in Pioneer has to go to the Legacy and Vintage-playable Prized Amalgam. In Modern Dredge it was one of the best decks in the format alongside Arclight Phoenix before Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis stole the show, and known Dredge aficionado Sodeq is now helping to bring it to glory in Pioneer. He brought it to a high-profile finish last weekend with a Top 4 in the Challenge, using the most advanced version yet.

The new tech here is Decimator of the Provinces, a game-ending haymaker that becomes castable when emerged by any of the sacrificial fodder in the deck, including Prized Amalgam. It's very strong with Haunted Dead, but best of all with Gurmag Angler, which eliminates all but the green mana in the cost. To support this steep triple-green requirement the deck is forced to use almost all land that produce green, but it's no issue for a deck that's green in its core, revolving around Satyr Wayfinder, Gather the Pack and Grisly Salvage as graveyard enablers.

With the new tech of a devastating finisher, and the support of one of the game's finest graveyard players behind it getting the attention of more players, this strategy is well on its way to establishing itself as a real factor in Pioneer.

Possibility Storm

Ultimately winning the Challenge was a red-green Possibility Storm deck, which abuses the enchantment's synergy with Adventure creatures that fulfill the spell requirement without getting in the way of it finding into the deck's sole sorcery to hit: Enter the Infinite, which puts Borborygmos Enraged on top of the deck to be found with Possibility Storm. Now holding nearly the entire deck and its lands in hand, it ends the game immediately.

The Possibility Storm strategy has been in the second tier of the metagame for weeks, but it finally broke through after the Oko, Thief of Crowns ban. It's putting up some good finishes in Preliminary events, and now a Challenge win has put it in the spotlight, so it's sure to grow bigger this week. It's success is no accident, because it looks perfectly suited for this metagame. With a combo kill it's not at risk of being overpowered by anything, including Mono-Green Ramp, while its robust creatures combined with some removal in Bonecrusher Giant and the life gain of Scavenging Ooze help it contain aggressive decks.

Possibility Storm owes much of its success to its base of mana creatures: Llanowar Elves and Elvish Mystic, which have formed the foundation of the most successful decks in Pioneer's history, from the Mono-Green Devotion decks that defined the first weeks of the format and its bans, all the way to the banning of Oko, Thief of Crowns. They continue to define the format and likely always will, because there will always be strong cards to accelerate into. The finalist green aggressive deck shows that simply putting big creatures into play gets the job done, and the Possibility Storm deck employs a similar philosophy. It really isn't that different from the Gruul variants of that deck, but simply with an alternate Possibility Storm kill instead of more creatures, and as such it wins a large percentage of its game through beatdown.

It's this fact that makes it so potent, because it attacks from two angles. An opponent that over-prepares for Possibility Storm with reactive cards like enchantment removal or countermagic is at risk of just dying to creature aggression. The deck capitalizes on this fact by giving itself the option to get more aggressive after sideboard, even potentially doing away with the combo entirely in favor of threats like Goblin Rabblemaster, a perfect card to put into play on turn two with the help of green acceleration.

Aetherworks Marvel

If Possibility Storm isn't powerful enough, one can go even deeper down the one-card combo rabbit hole with Aetherworks Marvel, which does its dirty work faster—for at least two less mana overall. The card received a ton of attention when Pioneer was announced, as one of its handful of cards formerly banned in Standard, but it fell completely flat in the face of better decks. While it doesn't lack for power, the deck does lack consistency, and so far that has kept it from any real success.

A new innovation of Golos, Tireless Pilgrim helps solve that problem. It offers a secondary way to sneak into play the deck's big payoffs (Ugin, the Spirit Dragon and Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger) with both Aether Hub and Servant of the Conduit helping hit all five colors. Its ramping effect also makes casting these naturally a much more realistic possibility because of Golos's ability to find Shrine of the Forsaken Gods, so it supports them in two ways and really helps tie the deck together.

Jund Sacrifice

Current Standard has its own broken artifact in Witch's Oven. At least, it feels broken when combined with Cauldron Familiar and Trail of Crumbs, and this interaction has been quietly making a name for itself in Pioneer.

Pioneer offers its own ways to further abuse these cards, like Grim Haruspex to bring even more value to the table, but the deck is surprisingly mostly comprised of Standard cards. Previous versions typically would splash blue for Oko, Thief of Crowns, but now the most popular version dips into red for Korvold, Fae-Cursed King and Mayhem Devil. Supported by Fatal Push and Thoughtseize, the deck has tools to disrupt other decks while presenting its own powerful strategy. The success of a deck with so much Food and the potential to gain life makes sense in a metagame heavy with red decks, while its ability to grind will be a problem for control decks.

Abzan

One of my favorite Standard decks from years past was Abzan Aggro. Siege Rhino was widely forecasted to be a Pioneer staple, but so far the strategy has not really appeared. The presence of a card like Oko, Thief of Crowns almost demanding that green decks play blue did not incentive playing the Abzan wedge, but now there's really nothing holding it back. This 5-0 list by Andrew “Gainsay” Cuneo shows it's definitely on the radar of pros testing for the upcoming Pioneer Mythic Championship.

The biggest concern is the three-color mana base, because so far the most successful Pioneer decks have been two or even one color, but if it can overcome that challenge then slamming Siege Rhinos seems like a great place to be in a metagame of Eidolon of the Great Revel.

Lotus Ramp

Another deck to have on your radar is a new take on the Lotus Field combo deck, which keeps things very straightforward by loading up on reusable untap effects.

Using reusable permanent-based untap effects instead of spells means the deck can play a more traditional game plan, ramping into planeswalkers and spells and winning through its mana advantage, which is supercharged by Lotus Field. It uses cards like Hydroid Krasis to convert this extra mana into value, and can eventually close out the game with the help of Walking Ballista. Whether or not it's better than the other versions remains to be seen, but it's a promising direction.


Adam Yurchick

Adam Yurchick is a competitive Magic player and writer. He writes about Modern and Eternal formats and keeps a weather eye on shifts in the metagame.

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