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Pioneer Deck Guide: Mono White Humans

A fully updated version of this guide is now available at our sister site, Playing Pioneer:

What’s this? In a game filled with demons, shades, imps, homunculus, dragons, and more, we have a deck built around humans in the Pioneer format for you today. Well, certainly, I heard you ask, this must be one of those four or five-color humans decks that can tutor up silver bullets, right? Well, not today.

Today we are looking at the most aggressive and linear take on Pioneer Mono White Humans that has been putting up strong finishes of late and has surprising resilience in dealing with the various midrange and control decks of the format. While I do enjoy those other decks, with the Magic Online Showcase Challenge coming up this weekend, I want to focus on the deck that leverages speed, efficient spells, and a powerful game changing spell in Brave the Elements to take the opponent by surprise.

Join me as we break down the new hotness in humans technology and let’s look at this 5-0 deck list from friend bcs8995 that leverages a litany of powerful three drop creatures, eight creature lands, and avoids the pitfalls of from other builds that had mopey creatures that didn’t fit your overall gameplan.

Deck List

Deck Breakdown

One Drops

This version of Mono White Humans plays the fewest one drops out of many of the various deck lists. After playing several of the builds, I really like the idea of cutting Thraben Inspector and Kytheon, Hero of Akros as they both struggle to aid your stronger humans and are mediocre on both offense and defense. Ideally, I want all my creatures in this deck to snowball in some form and create an overwhelming advantage the opponent can’t resist. To help with that pursuit, we use Dauntless Bodyguard and Hopeful Initiate as aggressive one drops that both have additional abilities to help us in the mid-game.

While it starts at the same size as Inspector, Hopeful Initiate quickly grows and can get to a 3/4 reliably in this deck when paired with a two drop and then a three drop. With the additional benefit of containing problematic artifacts and enchantments, this is a much stronger one drop than was previously seeing play in these decks.

On the other hand, Dauntless Bodyguard can’t grow every turn, but it can help to protect your key creatures from removal or make blocks difficult to navigate for the opponent. A common line is to play Hopeful Initiate on turn 1, a two drop on turn 2, and another two drop plus Dauntless Bodyguard on turn 3 to ensure your key creatures can attack and maintain pressure through blockers.

While the one drop creatures are important, one of the defining benefits of Mono White Humans is the only non-creature spell in the main-deck in Brave the Elements. At first glance, many players may see this as a protection spell for one creature, but Brave the Elements is a much different card than say Gods Willing. Brave gives all your white creatures, in your mono white deck, protection from a color of your choice. This can blank removal, prevent blockers, or blow out your opponent’s attacks. Especially in a world where Rakdos Midrange, Izzet Phoenix, and Mono Green Devotion are top decks – protection, and the ability to force through damage is a key modal spell to the success of this Aggro deck.

Two Drops

If you’ve played much Mono White in the past few Standard formats or humans in other formats, you should recognize these two drop creatures quite well. Luminarch Aspirant is a powerhouse that can win on stalled out board-states and allows your creatures to outgrow opposing creatures.

Thalia's Lieutenant is both your best pump spell and threat, being able to hand out power with pseudo-haste as the counters come down the turn you play it and gaining counters for every subsequent human you play. If you’re like me and have fond memories of Modern Humans, you know just how ludicrous Thalia’s Lieutenant can become, especially in multiples.

The final two drop of the main-deck doubles as a great creature on offense and defense along with adding a slight tax effect into your gameplan. Many aggressive decks have played four Thalia, Guardian of Thraben to slow down your opponent’s key spells and removal and this deck is no exception. Early Thalia can lead to terribly off-tempo plays from your opponent and that helps accelerate your gameplan of keeping them off even footing and crashing through with your army of humans.

Three Drops

Now we reach the top of the curve. This build really maxes out on your three drops, and it is easy to see why, as all these cards are phenomenal. Let’s start off with Adeline, Resplendent Cathar. Adeline generates humans every time one of your creatures attack while she is on the battlefield. She gets out of hand quickly, gaining power for each creature you control. With vigilance as well, it can be difficult for opponents to block or attack if Adeline is present for battle.

Next up, we have the latest human take on removal on a three drop in Brutal Cathar. Both sides of this card are strong in this deck and whenever you can flip it back and forth to pick off the opponent’s board, you are likely to take the game.

Like Brutal Cathar, if you haven’t been living under a rock for the past few years, you will be well acquainted with the power of World Champion Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa’s championship card, Elite Spellbinder. This flyer can give you reach above the clogged battlefield as the deck’s only main-deck flyer and can help you construct a winning game-plan by seeing and disrupting the opponent’s hand. Especially against decks with wrath effects, the tax effect can lock them out of the game long enough to ensure you get enough damage in to win before they can cast the wrath.

Finally, we have the latest addition to this deck from Streets of New Capenna, Extraction Specialist. This is a classic two for one and with a pile of powerful cheap creatures that have strong abilities, being able to rebuy them is very powerful. One of my favorite lines with this deck is to attack in with a Thalia’s Lieutenant, have the opponent commit into blocks and then Extraction Specialist it right back onto the battlefield. The lifelink on this card can also help swing the race in the mirror and went from being a card I thought was reasonable to being one of the power players in this deck and a major reason you can contest decks like Rakdos Midrange and Izzet Phoenix.

Creature Lands

Long time Aggro players know that having access to Mutavault can very easily swing the control matchup as you have threats that survive wraths and can pincer your opponent in the mid to late game. Now add in the banned in Standard Faceless Haven and you have eight human creature lands that add to your threat density and give you a backup plan in case you start to flood. While they are colorless and that can hurt, the benefit they add by giving you eight spells worth of value in your land slots is worth the potential downside in a deck dependent on killing the opponent on the battlefield.

Matchups and Sideboard Guide

Rakdos Midrange

+3 Selfless Spirit-3 Brutal Cathar

Against Rakdos Midrange, in a matchup filled with removal spells and various two for ones, you can’t afford to play Brutal Cathar as Graveyard Trespasser and Bloodtithe Harvester are poor targets to take, and it is very likely Cathar dies. You want to leverage your evasive creatures, your tax effects, and a low curve to punish them early with Extraction Specialist being an all-star and bringing back your best creatures that previously died.

This is a tricky matchup and Rakdos is favored thanks to their efficient removal and ability to clog up the board, but you can leverage a board stall paired with Brave the Elements to end the game or a Selfless Spirit to make combat difficult.

Izzet Phoenix

+3 Selfless Spirit-4 Brutal Cathar
+4 Portable Hole-3 Extraction Specialist
+3 Deafening Silence-4 Hopeful Initiate
+3 Rest in Peace-2 Elite Spellbinder

This is the other very tricky matchup similar to Rakdos Midrange where you will face removal spells and creatures like Ledger Shredder and Thing In The Ice to block your creatures. You can still get under them with early aggression, hateful sideboard cards, and the ability to answer their threats at a mana advantage. This matchup therefore leverages most of your sideboard. Ideally you want to get onto the board early, slam a sideboard card, and disrupt their gameplan before they can establish a solid defense.

While Ledger Shredder is a pain, prioritize your Portable Holes for Thing in the Ice as the tempo loss if it flips can be incredibly hard to survive.

Azorius Control

+3 Selfless Spirit-3 Brutal Cathar

This is a solid matchup where you want to curve out quickly and have some of your taxing effects. Brutal Cathar and Extraction Specialist aren’t at their best here, but Cathar gets moved to the bench due to the utter lack of targets, whereas Specialist can revive something post Supreme Verdict.

This matchup will test your patience to play around various removal spells and The Wandering Emperor but leverage your eight creature lands and make it difficult to wrath between those and Selfless Spirits.

Mono Green Devotion

+4 Portable Hole-3 Extraction Specialist
+2 Containment Priest-3 Elite Spellbinder

You cut six 3-drops for additional cheap removal and add a backdoor out to Storm the Festival hitting large creatures. You must stay lean and low to the ground. Do not give them any time to breathe and if you do end up in a board stall, make sure you have enough early chip damage to make a Brave the Elements lethal.

If you are on the play and keep them off their early plays, you will easily run them over. The hardest games are on the draw when they lead on a Sylvan Caryatid or have a Voracious Hydra to interact with your board.

Boros Heroic

+4 Portable Hole-4 Elite Spellbinder

This matchup is a push and pull where you both play early creatures that grow and want to get into combat. Prioritize Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and Brutal Cathar to try and keep them off-balance. Be careful of Favored Hoplite as the damage fog on heroic can blow out your blocks, especially if you are using a Thalia’s first strike to try and win combat. You also need to watch out for Reckless Rage.

Try to leverage your early creatures to force through trades and then use your removal to out grind until you have an overwhelming board position.


+4 Portable Hole-4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
+3 Selfless Spirit-3 Elite Spellbinder

Like most Aggro mirrors, this one will usually go long. Brave the Elements is a huge swing card, and you want to maximize early interaction alongside making combat difficult. Your only goal in this matchup is to play powerful threats, ideally Thalia’s Lieutenant, Brutal Cathar, and Extraction Specialist.

Hold your Portable Hole for their Lieutenants or other large creatures that can win combat and play with the understanding that if you get into a board stall, Brave the Elements will almost always be lethal for either side.

If you are versus one of the many humans shells with Collected Company, bring in Containment Priest as well.

Tips and Tricks

  • Be careful to use Brave the Elements after attacks and before blocks if you need to get a 1/1 from Adeline, Resplendent Cathar through or to get the +1/+1 counter from Luminarch Aspirant.
  • You can remove counters from any creature to use Hopeful Initiate’s ability, this can set up situations where opponents block assuming your Initiate will become smaller to eat an artifact, but another creature shrinks instead.
  • You can tap Mutavault to activate itself with a Thalia’s Lieutenant on the stack to ensure your land gets a counter for later.
  • In the late game, hold a spell if it won’t change the parity of the board to potentially flip back Brutal Cathar and eat additional creatures. This is especially powerful in the mirror once you’re established on the ground and waiting for a Brave the Elements.
  • If you have a Thalia’s Lieutenant out and cast a second one, the first Lieutenant gains two counters, one from the new creature’s trigger and one for a human entering the battlefield.
  • Adeline, Resplendent Cathar makes humans, so if you attack with an Adeline and a Thalia’s Lieutenant on the battlefield, the trigger from Adeline also puts and additional counter on Lieutenant. Use this as a +2/+2 to your Lieutenants to throw off your opponent’s calculations when needed.
  • You can’t choose not to get a 1/1 when Adeline is on the battlefield and you attack, so be cautions when playing her into decks that have creatures with lifelink. A Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet can eat the 1/1 and mitigate a 3/3’s worth of damage for free.
  • If it is night, Brutal Cathar will not enter as a human, doesn’t get counters from nor gives counters to Thalia’s Lieutenant and has a color indicator of red, so Brave the Elements won’t give it protection. Keep that in mind when using this card later into the game.

Wrapping Up

There you have it, your guide to one of the hottest decks in Pioneer. While we have seen a diversity of human decks in the past few weeks with Mono White, Orzhov, Esper, Bant, 4-Color, 5-Color, some with Pyre of Heroes (Pyre Humans) and some without, I expect Mono White to deliver the best results as a lean and powerful Aggro deck that has surprising staying power. Keep an eye out on what decks start to move around in the metagame and make changes within this deck and to other Humans decks to best suite what you expect to face online or at your local events.

Thanks for Reading and be sure to stay safe out there!

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