This week, the Pioneer Metagame has a special importance. Starting next Monday there will be the Last-Chance Qualifiers for the Magic Online Championship Series for every format. This is the last chance for players to qualify for the 32 player Magic Online Championship Format Finals before the winners of each final moves onto the Magic Online Championship proper. These events are difficult and have the best players in the world fighting for a very limited number of spots. You cannot expect to do well in these events without plenty of practice and a well-tuned deck to attack the meta.
That’s where I come in. Let’s dive right into the metagame and how best to attack it for this weekend and the LCQs!
What Gets Counted
For the metagame analysis, we are counting:
- Magic Online Pioneer Challenge Top 16 decks
- Magic Online Pioneer Showcase Challenge Top 16 decks
- Magic Online Preliminary Events 4-0 and 3-1 decklists
These are the top decks in the metagame and the ones putting up top results from the past weekend. These decks are well constructed and continue to do well consistently. If you aren’t playing one of these decks, you should certainly have a game-plan for them all.
Azorius Control has been showing up in larger tournaments lately with two different versions: 60 and 80 cards. There has long been a discussion about whether Yorion, Sky Nomad is a worthwhile inclusion in these decks or if you should be playing 60 cards to maximize your answers. Both versions show up in the top results and should be viewed as metagame choices depending on what decks you are aiming to beat.
The short version is that the 80-card version is better in the mirror and against other midrange decks, while the 60-card version more effectively attacks the combo and aggro decks of the format through maximizing the consistency of your key cards. There’s obviously more nuance to the distinction, but that is worthy of an entire article.
In terms of results, Azorius Control put up six top finishes in the Challenge and Showcase, though it performed better in the Challenge, showing players adjusted or were more prepared for the deck in the larger event. While that is worth considering, I still think Azorius Control is a deck primed to attack the slower metagame we have been seeing and has plenty of game versus the aggro decks of the format.
The only top decks I’m generally afraid to face with Azorius are Mono Green Devotion and Lotus Field Combo. Everything else is close enough to be tenable, even if decks like Spirits can give you problems if you don’t find Supreme Verdicts.
If you have been following Pioneer or Explorer for any extended period, you know about Rakdos Midrange. This deck works to contain the explosiveness of opposing decks through two-for-one value cards like Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, Bloodtithe Harvester, and Chandra, Torch of Defiance. Aggro decks loathe this deck, while control decks struggle against it post-board. The one glaring weakness of this deck is things that go well over top of it, like Mono Green Devotion.
With both Niv to Light and Mono Green Devotion are falling in the overall metagame, it is reasonable to say that of top tier decks, Rakdos is either favored or extremely close against all the top decks. Skilled pilots can customize their builds to target various decks and we’ve seen this through cards like Invoke Despair starting to make various main decks or Goblin Dark-Dwellers.
I liken this deck to the old Jund Midrange of Modern. You have an early aggressive plan, but you are primarily trying to keep the board and the opponent’s hand clear so your mid to late game two-for-one threats can outpace the opponent’s top decks. While this sometimes will fall short against other midrange or control decks, we’ve seen week in and week out that top players are putting up great results with this deck.
Another stalwart of the Pioneer metagame, Izzet Phoenix continues to show up at the top tables. It has been having some difficulties dealing with the increase of Azorius Control lately, but most other decks that have been picking up higher finishes at the top tables aren’t of much concern for Phoenix. Between a litany of cantrips and removal, most decks have a hard time dealing with the spells of Phoenix and that’s before Thing in the Ice, Ledger Shredder, and Arclight Phoenix take over.
With four top finishes in the challenge and showcase, Izzet Phoenix continues to put up consistent results, but we have seen those numbers dwindle slightly, indicating that there is a matchup or set of matchups giving this deck issues outside of just Azorius Control. Rakdos Midrange has been slowly improving the matchup and Rakdos Sacrifice has started finding more ground since focusing more on Ob Nixilis, the Adversary, and less on Oni-Cult Anvil and these Rakdos decks gaining ground on Phoenix does set up a tipping point where Phoenix might struggle to put up as many top 8’s in the coming weeks.
These decks can compete for top 8 slots with the best of the format and are decks you should understand how to play with and against if your goal is to make a deep run in Pioneer events. While it can be reasonable to pick one of these decks over a tier 1 deck dependent on the expected metagame, there is a marked difference in consistency between the tier 1 and tier 2 decks. Buyer beware if your goal is to win these difficult tournaments.
Rakdos Sacrifice had one of the top weekends of any deck in the challenge and showcase outside of Azorius Control. Since ditching Oni-Cult Anvil and instead leaning on the power of Unlucky Witness and Ob Nixilis, the Adversary. However, the top finishing list from the Showcase, which we have here, went back to the older version leveraging Oni-Cult Anvil, but pairing it with Shrapnel Blast to close out games faster. This version has surfaced a few times and while I think it is a little weaker overall, it does shore up the one issue Rakdos Sacrifice has with closing the game quickly against decks that can combo you out if the game goes late enough.
Seeing several versions of a deck succeed is always interesting and like with Azorius Control, the finer details could fill an entire article, but it shows that there is more fine tuning to do with this archetype and we could still see it continue to rise tiers.
Humans continues to impress as people refine it. While we continue to see everything from Esper, Bant, 4-color, and 5-color humans, Mono White continues to serve as the lowest to the ground version that can apply the most pressure. Add in Brave the Elements to blank removal or kill through congested board states, and the deck has plenty of staying power.
We saw an interesting addition of Wedding Announcement to the main deck of the showcase’s top finishing list. Wedding Announcement proved incredibly powerful in Standard and performed well for me in various Orzhov Tokens decks, but to see it here makes a lot of sense. The Announcement makes humans, draws cards, and the anthem mode can help you easily outsize opposing aggro decks and mirrors. Much like in old Modern Humans, the person with the most Thalia’s Lieutenants generally wins combat, this gives you additional anthems that don’t have a timing restriction and should help break serve in the mirror.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a huge fan of Greasefang, Okiba Boss. My Twitch.tv chat even has a meme that Greasefang could win both challenges in a weekend and would still be mid-tier. However, since playing and writing about Abzan Greasefang, the deck put up an impressive 2nd place finish in the Showcase Challenge and has impressed me more than Esper or Mardu Greasefang have in Pioneer.
Through the addition of Witherbloom Command and a more linear focus, this version of Greasefang can turbo out the combo with Parhelion II while being resilient to traditional hate pieces. Though this version does feel weaker to instant speed removal as your entire gameplan revolves around reanimation versus having a value plan, it does make it easier to win when undisrupted. I still think Greasefang may be a little too volatile for this style of events, but when the deck is working, it is incredibly powerful.
While not the top deck in Pioneer as it appeared immediately after the Winota, Joiner of Forces ban, Mono Green Devotion bounced back from being heavily targeted and now sits as a reasonable deck in the metagame. While you still struggle against some of the aggro decks in the format such as the various spirits decks, Boros Heroic, and Izzet Phoenix, if you can find the Azorius Control and Rakdos Midrange decks, you are in for a good tournament.
Mono Green Devotion is a deck that maximizes power level and has a high level of consistency, but there isn’t much room to pivot if players decide to show up and beat you. While that was a great strategy when Mono Green was everywhere, now the deck is more likely to slip through the cracks. It can potentially act like Affinity or Dredge styled decks in old Modern, wherein once people cut their cards against you, the decks show up as top decks for a week or two.
If you run well in the matchup lottery, there are few better choices in Pioneer than Mono Green Devotion. On the flip side, if you lose the matchup lottery, you will struggle to put together any meaningful runs in the Last-Chance Qualifiers or in your local RCQ’s.
Mono Red has started to creep back into the metagame thanks to the prevalence of more controlling decks like Azorius Control and people slowing down their decks to fight in the midrange deck arms race created by Izzet Phoenix and Rakdos Midrange. While some versions have moved over to Embercleave centric builds to push through the more midrange decks, other versions like this are staying closer to the more traditional build to punish card choices more so than matchups.
I still think Mono Red is a risky choice in a world where Rakdos Midrange and Rakdos Sacrifice are seeing solid play but having a strong matchup against many of the other creature decks in the format along with the slower, more controlling decks has led to some strong finishes for this deck in the past week.
There you have it, a breakdown of the top decks in Pioneer and what I would play this weekend in the upcoming challenges and Pioneer Last-Chance Qualifiers. I look forward to seeing you all out on the Magic Online streets battling for your spots among the best in the world at the Magic Online Championship!
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading and stay safe out there!