Entering a new non-rotating format can be intimidating, regardless of how young or old the format is. Pioneer is no exception. There are so many options and strategies available it can be difficult to find an affordable starting point. However, with Pioneer using cards from Return to Ravnica onward and adopting Standard-only sets, we can start by revisiting old Standard strategies and tweaking them for Pioneer.
This week, we are continuing on the theme of budget Pioneer decks by highlighting aggressive archetypes. If you are new or unfamiliar with Pioneer, going down an offensive route is a great way to get to grips with the format without playing a deeply intricate strategy. Also, if you are entering an unknown Pioneer metagame, playing an aggressive archetype may let you surprise and overwhelm slower strategies in the format.
The lists I provide this week were once successful in Standard, and are unlikely to be banned in the upcoming months.
One deck I am eager to play in the format is Boros Feather. Feather, the Redeemed has seen play in Standard in various Boros and Naya shells, but always felt a little off the mark in terms of spell availability. With the broadness of Pioneer, there are plenty of spells which can benefit from Feather's ability.
Feather has favored matchups against other creature decks, as you have efficient removal such as Reckless Rage that you can play over and over again. In a format where Llanowar Elves and Elvish Mystic are so ubiquitous, Feather looks to be in a decent position as long as Pioneer remains creature-focused. However, Boros Feather can struggle against strategies which interact with your creatures, or strategies which have no creatures of their own. Still, it's a semi-competitive deck at an affordable rate.
This list achieved a Top 8 finish at a local SCG Invitational Qualifier and totals up to $140 in value. You can reduce the cost further by omitting Sacred Foundry for two Plains and Mountains, which cuts the cost down to just over $100. I would not recommend adding more Clifftop Retreat instead, as you are not running enough Plains or Mountains to reap the benefits. Besides, Boros Feather cares about momentum, and having tap lands in the early turns greatly hinders this approach.
Favored Hoplite creates awkward blocks for your opponent and mitigates the drawback of Reckless Rage. The synergy between Dreadhorde Arcanist and Feather is excellent, as you can trigger Arcanist's ability, cast the spell in your graveyard, then use Feather's ability to put the spell in your hand at the end of your turn. Titan's Strength also becomes like a one-mana cantrip with Arcanist on the field, as you can cast Titan's Strength before combat and cast any three-mana-or-less instant or sorcery in your graveyard for free. There are many routes to cheat on cheap spells, allowing you to either burn out your opponent or pile on damage through with your creatures.
Another positive from this strategy is that Boros Feather doesn't lean completely on the namesake card. There will be games you win from powering up a Monastery Swiftspear or Favored Hoplite with Titan's Strengths and Boros Charms. Lastly, many of the cards in Boros Feather are also useful for Modern Boros Burn, as we have Monastery Swiftspear, Boros Charm, Sacred Foundry and Inspiring Vantage. It's worth noting that with Theros: Beyond Death on the horizon, I am expecting more cheap and powerful spells that offer synergy with the Heroic mechanic and Feather herself, which means the strategy can become even better when the set releases.
If you want a different approach to being aggressive, Mono-Blue Devotion may be for you. During its lifetime in Standard, Mono-Blue Devotion saw amazing success and even won Pro Tour Theros in the hands of Jeremy Dezani. Although it reads as more tempo than traditional aggression, it can beat down quick.
Similar to Mono-Blue Aggro in recent Standard, Mono-Blue Devotion packs plenty of evasiveness and disruption as well as a fast clock. Now that Pioneer is slowing down and becoming less combo-focused, I like where Mono-Blue Devotion is positioned, and I predict it will see success in the coming months.
My list offers an excellent entry into Mono-Blue Devotion and comes to $100 overall. Mono-Blue Devotion does an excellent job of preying on red-based aggressive decks, as Master of Waves and Tidebinder Mage are tough to remove. However, one of the trickier aspects of playing Mono-Blue Devotion is acknowledging when to be aggressive, as you have so many lines and tools to consider. Do not be discouraged by this. Even though the learning curve can be steep, it offers a long-term reward for sticking with the strategy.
In terms of upgrades, I'd recommend picking up Mutavaults first as these synergize well with Master of Waves and offer late-game staying power. Brazen Borrower is another card to consider. It looks to be one of the best tempo cards in Pioneer thus far; however, it comes with a hefty price tag due to its prevalence in Standard currently. Brazen Borrower is the perfect card for Mono-Blue Devotion as it's two spells in one, offering disruption as well as an evasive clock.
Extending outside of Pioneer, Mono-Blue Devotion creates an excellent foundation for Modern Merfolk given we are running a handful of Merfolk already in Merfolk Trickster, Master of Waves, Tidebinder Mage and Harbinger of Tides. These are all mainstays in Modern Merfolk and could be an approach to take in the future, making your investment go further.
Lastly, we have a stalwart of Kaladesh Standard, Gruul Pummeler. Gruul Pummeler is an energy-aggro strategy which uses pump spells to one-shot the opponent with a big Electrostatic Pummeler.This strategy adopts plenty of characteristics from Modern archetypes such as Kiln Fiend and Infect, as you are planning to kill your opponent in one single attack. However, you can win fairly without the namesake card, as you can use your pump spells on a hexproof Bristling Hydra or the like, so there are many lines outside of charging up a Pummeler. Another redeeming feature of the strategy is that it's incredibly affordable and competitive. We have seen glimmers of Gruul Pummeler coming into Pioneer recently, mainly through 5-0's in the Pioneer Leagues.
The list above comes to $40 and provides a competitive and fun entry into Pioneer. Admittedly, the list hasn't changed much since its viability back in old Standard. However, we have new pump spells in Temur Battle Rage and Ghor-Clan Rampager, which offer more inevitability for that one-shot kill.
I would consider other outs, as you can't always beat down with the namesake card. Cards such as Fling offer an additional win condition by throwing a pumped Pummeler at your opponent at instant-speed. I would not run Fling mainboard, but I would consider running a handful in the sideboard to offer insurance against reactive decks.
You can choose to run Stomping Grounds removing a few basics if you wish, but this is not essential. Electrostatic Pummeler fits with an energy subtheme, which means you can use Aether Hub and other energy cards to get whatever mana colors you need. Servant of the Conduit also contributes to this cause, so there isn't much in the way of upgrades for this list unless you want to expand into Temur for The Royal Scions and Slip Through Space. This is something you can consider down the line once you have settled on the archetype and feel comfortable adjusting the build. I believe Pummeler to be one of the most solid budget options for Pioneer as not only can it be powerful, it's insanely affordable and offers a play style which can port into other formats such as Modern. if you find that Pioneer isn't for you, you have not invested much into the format and the loss is minimal.
Although I have focused on old Standard strategies for this article, the brewing in Pioneer is almost endless. Starting from Return to Ravnica allows the cards to be more accessible, which will help keep the barrier to entry low. Standard drives the demand of cards, but this a short window compared to the landscape of Pioneer. I believe Pioneer to be the format that Modern wants to be in terms of affordability and creates an excellent gateway to other non-rotating formats. I'm excited to see where Pioneer goes, and how Theros: Beyond Death influences the format going forward.
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 the game's most diverse format.
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