Last weekend was an important occasion for Magic: The Gathering's newest format, Pioneer. We witnessed two Players Tours which saw Theros Beyond Death Draft and Pioneer on the menu in Brussels and Nagoya. With this, we saw plenty of innovation which confirms that Pioneer is creating its own identity outside the influences of Modern and Standard. Also, we are beginning to see the positive impact of Theros Beyond Death in Pioneer, with the combo of Thassa's Oracle and Inverter of Truth taking charge. Although Dimir Inverter is considered the new hotness of Pioneer, all it took was one Ken Yukuhiro to change that formula altogether, which proves success can come from anyone and anywhere.
If you're not aware who Ken Yukuhiro is, he is considered to be one of the most innovative deck builders in Magic. It's natural for Ken to bring something different to the table at a high stakes event. A recent example was at Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan, where we saw the break out of Rakdos Hollow One in the hands of Ken, who successfully achieved a Top 8 finish with Hollow One. As a result, it gave birth to a prominent strategy in Modern at the time. Also, Ken curated Mono-Blue Aggro which saw its first appearance at the World Championship in 2018. Over time, Mono-Blue Aggro became a dominant feature of the Standard landscape, winning the first Mythic Championships in the hands of Autumn Burchett while offering a competitive edge on a budget.
Keeping up with the motif, Ken has done it once again at Players Tour Nagoya, with his take on a white-based Aura strategy featuring Hateful Eidolon.
Unfortunately, Ken lost in the finals to Bant Spirits at the Players Tour. However, taking second place at such a high-profile tournament is no easy feat, and confirms that bringing something new to the table can provide success. It also proves that a deck's quality is not determined by its price, and that reading the metagame and playing well are more important.
Overall, the value of Ken's build comes to $170 which is easily achievable on a budget. However, the price of this list may fluctuate over the next few weeks as demand may influence the prices of older cards, which we are beginning to see with Sram, Senior Edificer as an example. The build is more resilient than you might expect—it's not all about equipping Auras and turning sideways. Hateful Eidolon provides card draw both when your enchanted creatures die, and when you remove your opponent's threats with enchantments like Dead Weight.
Going back to a point made earlier, Pioneer is becoming dominated by Dimir Inverter, which is a combo strategy that has been compared to Izzet Splinter Twin of old Modern. Along with this, we are seeing Lotus Breach come into its own, along with builds featuring the Heliod, Sun-Crowned and Walking Ballista combo. Pioneer is passing through an emphasis on combos, where being aggressive or disruptive is a great approach to counteract these strategies—which is a reason we saw so much Bant Spirits across the weekend. Orzhov Auras's game plan is to put the opponent on the back foot by being incredibly aggressive, adopting a similar approach to Modern Bogles and aiming to end the game before any combos can resolve. However, if the game does go long, Orzhov Auras has plenty of tools it can utilize to stay in the game.
The inclusion of Aphemia, the Cacophony allows your Auras to be recycled into Zombies for a constant stream of threats, not forgetting that the Harpy complements Auras with its evasiveness. I've been constantly impressed by the application of Alseid of Life's Bounty in these enchantment-based builds. It offers protection for your creatures and enchantments, and can make your creatures unblockable to push through damage. Even within the Orzhov Auras shell, it provides card draw even if you have to use its sacrifice ability.
Another element is that both Alseid of Life's Bounty and Hateful Eidolon already have lifelink, which means there is more room to fit Auras with other keywords. Modern strategies such as Bogles can struggle to replenish their hand, and have to lean on Kor Spiritdancer to draw more cards. Within this build, there are various ways to draw cards which makes any potential two-for-one a decent trade-off for you. Lastly, having access to black provides you with some premium removal and disruption in Thoughtseize and Fatal Push, which opens so many sideboard options for your local Pioneer metagame.
The inclusion of Gideon of the Trials may seem unusual given the highest mana cost of the build is two, but Gideon is a commanding answer to game-ending combos like Thassa's Oracle and Inverter of Truth. Admittedly, Gideon of the Trials may not be essential in your build of Orzhov Auras. However, if you expect to see a theme of combo strategies in your Pioneer metagame, I'd recommend picking a few up before they spike given the protection the planeswalker offers. If nothing else, it provides you with a lifeline until you can stabilize. Although Ken's list is already affordable, we can strip away a few of the expensive cards to create a budget alternative without compromising the core of the build.
Rounding up to $66, this budget take on Ken's build removes some of the expensive lands such as Godless Shrine and Mana Confluence for basics and a few Isolated Chapels. If you want to budget even further, you can cut the Concealed Courtyards for more basics, though I would avoid running Temple of Silence and a complete set of Isolated Chapels. Incorporating tap lands hinders the approach of curving out creatures into Auras, and these strategies care about momentum greatly.
Moving to the sideboard, we have replaced Thoughtseize with Duress, although, if you want a card which has a similar effect to Thoughtseize, Agonizing Remorse is a great substitute for the premium discard spell. However, Brain Maggot is excellent in this build as it triggers Sram's ability as well as Hateful Eidolon's ability, and we don't want to oversaturate on two-drops within this list. Curving out Duress into Brain Maggot is a proactive approach to manage against combo strategies, you can always protect the Brain Maggot with various Auras and Karametra's Blessing.
Lastly, thanks to the introduction of Theros Beyond Death, we can revise Mono-White Auras which I wrote about late last year. With Theros emphasizing enchantments, there are plenty of tools we can incorporate to offer more consistency and synergy.
At a similar price to before, Mono-White Auras approaches roughly $70 with the addition of Theros Beyond Death cards. We're adding more "enchantments matter" cards such as Alseid of Life's Bounty, Karametra's Blessing and Transcendent Envoy. Although the addition of Transcendent Envoy may seem a little odd—only All That Glitters can benefit from its cost reduction—the creature provides plenty of synergy. With the Envoy being an enchantment itself, it pumps up All That Glitters and Ethereal Armor as well as being an evasive threat. Ultimately, I can see Adanto Vanguard remaining in this lists but believe the Envoy has plenty of synergy and warrants the testing.
Lastly, I'm a fan of Shadowspear in these nongreen Aura aggro builds. One issue Mono-White Auras had was that it lacked inevitability; you could have huge threats which could be chumped blocked over various turns. Shadowspear provides trample and a method to break the mirror if you ever come across it. Besides, it offers soft support for All That Glitters and can deal with Heliod, Sun-Crowned in a pinch also.
Now with two premier Pioneer events in the books, the format looks to be as inventive and exciting as ever. Although we are hitting a combo phase with Dimir Inverter and Lotus Breach leading the charge, this doesn't mean the creativity is lost. Once again, Ken Yukuhiro proved that rogue decks can capitalize on an almost solved metagame, and don't have to come with a steep price tag either. Although in its infancy, Pioneer is starting to show its personality which encourages even more innovation, without the influence of Modern or Standard. With this, I believe Aura strategies will perform well in the upcoming months to counteract the combo aspect Pioneer is currently experiencing. It's time to put on some pants and play around Back to Nature!
Emma Partlow is a writer and Modern enthusiast based in Suffolk, England. She's been involved in Magic since Khans of Tarkir back in 2014, and loves helping players dive into Modern and Pioneer.
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