When Pioneer began, green decks were at the top of the totem pole.
Llanowar Elves and Elvish Mystic defined the format with their unparalleled mana acceleration, and even had some people calling for their bans. The Green Devotion deck they enabled did lead to multiple rounds of bans for green cards—Oath of Nissa and Leyline of Abundance, followed by Veil of Summer, and then another in Once Upon a Time. Yet green decks still held the top spot with the help of Oko, Thief of Crowns, before its banning finally opened up the format to other colors.
By the time of the Players Tour, Llanowar Elves and Elvish Mystic were essentially a non-factor across all three events, making up a tiny portion of the metagame and putting no players into a Top 8.
Pioneer now looks as powerful and broken as ever, with Dimir Inverter making a case for a ban, and decks like Lotus Breach and Heliod Combo right behind. It would seem like green decks and their fair midrange creature and planeswalkers have little chance of success in this hostile environment, but last weekend a variety of green decks proved otherwise by putting up big results across multiple events.
A Golgari Aggro deck using Llanowar Elves to ramp into Rotting Regisaur and Ghalta, Primal Hunger Top 8ed the SCG Open in Indianapolis. The weekly Magic Online Pioneer Challenge was won by a Simic Aggro deck remodeled to support Thought-Knot Seer and Reality Smasher. An exciting new take on Green Devotion is surging in popularity online after social media hype last week translated to a Top 8 finish in a Challenge. These decks have sustained their success with high finishes in competitive Pioneer Preliminary events throughout the week, and together are rebuilding green decks as a pillar of the format.
The most successful Llanowar Elves deck leading into the Players Tour events was Golgari Aggro, which was putting up some solid finishes in online events. A handful of players brought it to the Players Tour, but none broke through to the Top 8. It has continued to have a small online following, but it found a biggest audience last weekend when it earned a high-profile finish in the Top 8 of the SCG Open in Indianapolis.
Splashing black for Rotting Regisaur offers the deck an enormous threat that has no comparison in green, and it's very synergistic with the deck's payoff cards. With the help of a mana creature on turn one, its 7 power enables Ghalta, Primal Hunger on turn three, for an almost combo-like finish. It works similarly with The Great Henge, where it single handedly reduces the cost as much as possible. Rotting Regisaur is also a high-impact hit for Collected Company. The entire goal of this deck is essentially to put a lot of power into play as fast as possible, and Rotting Regisaur accomplishes that in a way no other card can.
The inclusion of Collected Company also represents a step forward for the archetype. It didn't make much sense for previous versions with Oko, Thief of Crowns as a non-hit, but now the deck is dense with creatures to find. The card advantage angle of Collected Company is pushed further by The Great Henge, which some players run as a full playset. Again benefiting from the deck's very high creature count, it threatens to run away with the game if unanswered with its combination of card and battlefield advantage rolled into one.
The black splash really pays off in the sideboard, where it opens access to some of the best disruption in the format. Thoughtseize goes a long way toward beating this unfair metagame, and it has been a classic combination with aggressive green creatures for as long as it has been around. Black providing access to castable Leyline of the Void, the most powerful graveyard hoser in the format and a tool against both Dimir Inverter and Underworld Breach, is another major addition.
A pair of Golgari Charm stand out as a card I've not seen used in Pioneer, but this sometime Modern sideboard staple in decks like Jund looks promising. It's a versatile option with uses ranging from countering a Supreme Verdict to destroying Underworld Breach. I don't see its -1/-1 ability being particularly useful in this metagame, but overall it's a nice tool to have access to.
A radical evolution of the Oko-era Simic Aggro deck, now built around Eldrazi creatures, has broken out in a big away on Magic Online. It won Sunday's Pioneer Challenge with a perfect 10-0 record, followed by a 5-0 Preliminary run the next day.
In this deck Thought-Knot Seer and Reality Smasher replace more vanilla threats like Steel Leaf Champion and Yorvo, Lord of Garenbrig. While not quite as efficient in terms of mana cost to raw power, they are more functional in how they interact with the opponent. Thought-Knot Seer replicates the effect of the best card in Pioneer (Thoughtseize), and it's very well positioned in such a combo-dense metagame. A staple of Modern, Legacy and Vintage, it's still only beginning to be appreciated in Pioneer. Reality Smasher is similarly underutilized. It resists removal spells with its protection effect, and with both haste and trample offers tactical advantages other creatures lack.
This concept of more functional creatures is taken further by a set of Brazen Borrower, which don't hit quite as hard as green creatures of the same cost, but offer disruption that no green card can match. Now a proven staple of Modern and Legacy, it's another card that's still under appreciated in Pioneer, and this deck makes great use of it. It joins this deck's playset of Stubborn Denial, one of the major payoffs for blue, and the discard effect of Thought-Knot Seer, to create a very potent disruption package and a very well-rounded deck.
Completing the deck is Vivien, Arkbow Ranger, taken from the Green Devotion playbook and put to great use here. It's a versatile card advantage engine, whether it's bulking up creatures, fighting down opposing creatures, or reaching for the sideboard with its wish effect. Game one access to more disruption like Reclamation Sage, or more card advantage from Whisperwood Elemental, gives this strategy even more ability to play like a true midrange deck and not a single-minded stompy strategy.
The wish concept is taken to its extreme with the most exciting deck in Pioneer this week: Mono-Green Devotion with full playsets of both Vivien, Arkbow Ranger and Karn, the Great Creator —along with a sideboard of a full 15 one-of wish targets. I first took notice of this deck last week when people were discussing it on social media, but it really took off this week after reaching the Top 8 of the Pioneer Challenge in the hands of recent Players Tour Top 8 competitor Thomas "stainerson" Ashton.
The deck is mostly a run-of-the-mill Green Devotion deck from last year, except with the addition of Theros Beyond Death's Wolfwillow Haven as a functional new tool, especially with Voyaging Satyr in the deck. Vivien, Arkbow Ranger and a board with plenty of wish targets was always typical, but the addition of Karn, the Great Creator is a new approach that adds a powerful and versatile element to the deck. Its uses are many.
One go-to option is Darksteel Citadel, but it can push mana further with Nyx Lotus, which acts like a tutorable Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx. When mana is plentiful, it can sink that mana into powerful top-end plays like The Great Henge. Walking Ballista is good all of the time, and the hosers Tormod's Crypt, Pithing Needle and Damping Sphere deal with all sorts of problems. On curve, Verdurous Gearhulk offers a massive threat, and Skysovereign, Consul Flagship a great way to grind out more card advantage. Combined with the creatures Vivien, Arkbow Ranger can find, which top out with Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger and Emrakul, the Promised End, the deck has an option for nearly any situation it will find itself in.
Another benefit of the wishboard is that the deck never actually sideboards. No sideboarding necessary here, the only plan is to play good Magic.
While those are the three most successful green decks and the ones I'd recommend playing, there are a few other places where Llanowar Elves and Elvish Mystic can be found accelerating things into play, including the Possibility Storm combo deck and just pure Mono-Green Stompy.
One home that's still relatively unexplored in Pioneer is Elvish Tribal. Eric "floatius" Rill has been quietly grinding and winning with Golgari Elves ever since Pioneer began, and this recent 4-1 Preliminary run shows it's still viable.
The biggest downside of mana creatures is that they tend to become dead draws as the game progresses, but this deck gets around that in a variety of ways. For one, it has plenty of mana sinks like Temur Sabertooth and Elvish Clancaller, so it will never run out of things to do with its mana. It's also great at weaponizing the mana creatures with the aid of said Elvish Clancaller, or with the deck's big payoff Shaman of the Pack.