Worlds was an absolutely wild tournament, and a huge congratulations to Paulo for being an absolute monster and checking off yet another bingo square with a World Championship title. Azorius Control's victory in his hands is the only time the archetype will be mentioned in this article.
Let's pretend Crokeyz said this about Pioneer.
I apologise for earlier stating that UW Control is "unplayable/overrated garbage". That was too kind. I would like to revise my statement to "UW Control is one of the most overrated decks I have ever seen". Thank you for your patience.— crokeyz (@crokeyz) February 3, 2020
For those of us not invited to Hawaii, this weekend was Pioneer as usual, with two MTGO tournaments shaping the metagame going into SCG Indianapolis.
Both events had three copies of Dimir Inverter in their otherwise diverse Top 8s. The real shock is the rise of Mono-White Devotion, an otherwise very weak deck. Some of the strength of Mono-White is its ability to play and consistently find hate cards like Rest in Peace, Gideon of the Trials and Damping Sphere, but I'll admit I don't understand why the strategy was quite so popular despite poor showings at all three Players Tours.
Bant Spirits and Mono-Black Aggro continued to show up in medium numbers, Sultai Delirium had lower representation than expected, and only seeing three copies of Lotus Breach across the PTQ Top 16 and the Challenge Top 32 is shocking. While Damping Sphere was in the sideboard of over half the metagame, most of the time it was merely a two-of.
Sultai Inverter and Orzhov Auras seem to both be flashes in the pan, but Auras took down the Challenge and remains a niche but powerful tier 2 deck in the format. I wouldn't recommend it, but I do think it's a better choice than most decks in the "Decks People Will Play, but Shouldn't" category. Sultai Inverter on the other hand looks like messing with the best deck in the format and making it worse.
Let's dig into the hot takes, shall we?
This is the best deck in the format. Period. It has different matchup spreads depending on how it's built, but there is no denying the strength of this archetype as a whole. It had a strong performance at all three Players Tours and has been dominating Magic Online.
Dig Through Time is a messed up card. It has been fairly innocuous so far in Pioneer because there aren't many good delve enablers in either combo or control decks. Azorius Control has found room for a few copies, but often can't afford the time to cast them because the deck's removal is so clunky. Dimir and Sultai midrange and control lists have played Dig Through Time before, but they suffered from not being able to end the game.
Dimir Inverter doesn't have that problem. As I said last week, this is an attrition deck that's capable of actually ending the game. The cheap interaction that falls off in topdeck wars fuels Dig Through Time which either finds more interaction and copies of Dig Through Time or finds the pieces you need to end the game. Until someone finds this deck's true nemesis, this is public enemy number one.
It's very fun getting to use my own list as the highest finishing/cleanest list example.
Sultai Delirium is here to stay as the deck that crushes aggro decks without getting beat up too hard by Dimir Inverter. While I crushed Dimir Inverter twice in the Challenge, I don't think that is reflective of the true matchup between two strong players. The data suggests that the matchup is slightly in Dimir Inverter's favor, and theoretically I think that's where I think it should land.
Lotus Breach is still a matchup to be wary of, even if it died off a bit this week. Pack your Damping Spheres and your Unmoored Egos and play to close the game quickly. The rest of the format isn't very threatening, though the Spirits matchup can be very taxing to play correctly.
While Sultai Delirium isn't quite as good as Dimir Inverter, I do think it has the tools to stick around. I expect Sultai Delirium to be one of the most played archetypes and to perform well.
This deck put up numbers this weekend and I'm still trying to dissect why. I don't think the Dimir Inverter matchup is incredible, but that would be the most logical reason for players to pick up the deck. If I've missed some big streamer talking about how good this deck is, please let me know, but the lists aren't even all that close.
There were versions with maindeck Rest in Peace or even Leyline of Sanctity. A Collected Company build took 11th in the PTQ. Elspeth Conquers Death found its way into some maindecks. It seems like playing a white midrange deck is a reasonable place to be in this format, but I can't quite place why that is.
Despite my confusion, it's very apparent that people are playing this deck and it should be listed in Decks to Beat. Remember, this tier isn't just about what's good, it's about what has metagame share you need to respect. It may not be difficult to achieve, but you want a good matchup against this archetype.
This deck is the closest to breaking out of the "Shouldn't Play" category, and is the only deck I'd say is better than Sram Auras. Bant Spirits is Fine™. It's close to tier 1 but a few percentage points away in too many matchups. The deck currently lacks a good way to mitigate drawing the wrong mix of lands and spells. If you still want to play Bant Spirits for some reason, include some non-blue planeswalkers as part of your plan against Inverter decks.
Just under Bant Spirits is not where you want to be in terms of deck strength. People will still play this deck, but the Dimir Inverter matchup, the Sultai Delirium matchup and the Temur Breach matchup are still all bad. I'm not even sure the Mono-White Devotion matchup is good. Mono-Black Aggro may yet cycle back into a position of strength in the metagame, but I cannot recommend this deck this week.
People are respecting Mono-Red again, Lotus Breach got mostly snuffed out, and Mono-White Devotion spiked hard. The matchup spread against the metagame is not pretty. Stay away.
I thought we were past this, but we clearly aren't. The solution people seem to be coming to is to play both Unmoored Ego and Slaughter Games maindeck. I don't think that really cuts it. There's two more Slaughter Games in the sideboard? Maybe that cuts it. I just think if you're trying to be this hateful, there's decks with better matchups against Dimir Inverter to start with. Wait—another Unmoored Ego in the sideboard? Okay, we get it.
People are likely to try this deck again if they think they can get away with it, so expect to see a few copies this weekend.
It feels wrong to put Lotus Breach in this category again after only one week of "Decks to Beat" status, but people are going to look at this weekend's results and see that the metagame share has dropped off. If you skimp on your Damping Spheres and disruption, prepare to lose.
Lotus Breach is still very powerful and can even play through some hate. Make sure that if you play Lotus Breach this weekend you're still respecting the aggro decks. They may be poorly positioned, but they're still very much present. Play your Anger of the Gods and Supreme Verdict. I've seen a list going around with Hour of Devastation, and waiting until five mana to sweep the board is just nonsense.
Izzet Ensoul continues to stick around and I think it's starting to slip from peoples' radar. Most of the decks playing Disenchant effects are playing them to remove hate pieces, and there's a lot less Legion's End and Infernal Reckoning. Don't think that Izzet Ensoul is the hot deck for the week or anything, but it'll put up a bit better results than it has the past few weeks.
Shocker, I know. I probably should be playing Dimir Inverter, and that's honestly what I recommend other people play, but I'm headed to SCG Indianapolis this weekend and sleeving up the same archetype I Top 4'd the Challenge with. The matchup against Dimir Inverter felt reasonable, the matchups against aggressive decks felt very strong, and I think I have a better list than a lot of people.
One of the things I wanted to do was fit in a second Swamp to fetch up, as I wanted to do that often, but as I tinkered with the manabase I realized there was no good way to do so in an Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath deck. Instead I added another black source in Opulent Palace over the Botanical Sanctum to make it less necessary to search up a Swamp if I already have one in play.
I don't think you need a second Nissa, Who Shakes the World or a second Murderous Rider, and have instead elected to use that space for another Tireless Tracker to have access to three total copies in the 75, though a single Atris, Oracle of Half-Truths is an option I've considered. The singleton Brain Maggot that has become stock is an excellent Traverse the Ulvenwald enabler and target.
My sideboard is largely stock, but there's a few key things I want to touch on. I play two Damping Sphere and two Leyline of the Void as respect for Lotus Breach split to help in mirrors and against Dimir Inverter. I play Witch's Vengeance over Languish and co. to play better against Spirits and have a stronger tool in that slot against Mono-Red because I've trimmed on other sideboard slots. Unravel the Aether is much better than Reclamation Sage. It's cheaper, it's instant speed, and it can answer Heliod, Sun-Crowned. Being a target for Traverse the Ulvenwald is a lot less relevant postboard because your graveyard is often under fire anyway.
I don't have a sideboard guide, partly because right now a lot of the top decks have multiple builds and you need to adjust on the fly to their plans and the individual cards you see from your opponent. I can still leave you with some general sideboarding tips, though.
When facing an opponent who will be bringing in graveyard hate you can trim down on Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath. Same goes for Grisly Salvage, but it can also come out in general in postboard games if you need space. If your opponent doesn't have anything worth blocking, Ishkanah, Grafwidow is not something you need. If you're going to be under pressure from multiple early attackers, you generally won't want Nissa, Who Shakes the World. Trim on Brain Maggot if your opponent can easily remove it, you have better disruption postboard against things like Inverter.
Bring in Unravel the Aether if you think your opponent will be bringing in Leyline of the Void or Rest in Peace. You can fight through without it, but it's not easy or pleasant. Witch's Vengeance isn't just for tribal decks, Mono-Red has a lot of humans. Do not bring in Unmoored Ego in mirrors. Leyline of the Void is good in mirrors because it makes their cards bad. Unmoored Ego just puts you down a card to take away, what, Uro? Tireless Tracker? It's really not worth it, there's simply too much redundancy and Sultai Delirium doesn't need any one card to win.
Above all, remember to have a plan for each matchup and play to it. Against Dimir Inverter and Lotus Breach you want to be able to close the game; they can outgrind you. Against things like Mono-Red, sequence to escape your Uro as fast as possible, everything else is secondary. Sultai Delirium is a "good cards" deck, but Pioneer is a powerful format and you aren't the scariest endgame by a long shot. Pick your battles and play to those lines.
I'm very excited to play my first real big paper Pioneer event after months of MTGO grinding. If you, dear readers, are also headed to SCG Indianapolis, please say hi! I'm easy to spot with my Yoman5 branded T-Shirt and I can talk Magic all day. It will be interesting to see what rises to the top in the SCG metagame for their first Pioneer Open. Hopefully it's me, but regardless of how I do we'll have a ton of data to pull from this weekend.
I personally expect to see a Top 8 with multiple copies of Dimir Inverter, a Mono-Black Aggro because people can't help themselves, 1-2 copies of Sultai Delirium, a Lotus Breach, and then a smattering of other decks. This is the big weekend to see if Dimir Inverter can be unseated. Can the metagame adapt? Let's find out.
Adam "yoman5" Hernandez is a streamer, brewer and competitive player with a keen sense for what makes a deck tick. He writes about changes in Standard and Pioneer and the art of deckbuilding.
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