Despite the surprise of no bans in Pioneer with the recent Banned & Restricted update, there is plenty of creativity and innovation to be found. Although there is a strong case that Dig Through Time should be banned in the format, there have been indications the format can adapt around it.
A recent example of this is the downtick of Lotus Breach, which at one point, was considered one of the most successful strategies in the format. One of the reasons Lotus Breach was so popular was players didn't fully understanding how to combat the combination and didn't have the correct tools to disrupt it. As a result, it became an excellent choice at Players Tour Phoenix. Now, with some clever deck building and deeper knowledge, Lotus Breach has become a solved strategy, though it remains a viable option.
With the metagame still churning, we are seeing various brews and different approaches to archetypes find success. We are going to highlight a few this week. The bonus is that these brews offer an affordable gateway into the format.
Let's begin with an exciting take on Mono-Red, which isn't medium or "chonky." This take on Mono-Red utilizes a discard subtheme to capitalize on the effects of Hollow One and Ox of Agonas. Mono-Red Hollow One finished in the Top 32 of the Magic Online Pioneer Challenge earlier this month, piloted by Tiemuuu.
Totaling to $60, this build adopts similar characteristics to the once-popular Rakdos Hollow One in Modern. Although the Modern counterpart has fallen out of favor since the banning of Faithless Looting, this Pioneer iteration looks to revitalize the archetype. Despite Pioneer not having access to potent discard outlets in Goblin Lore or Burning Inquiry, there are various routes to promote discard to discount Hollow Ones like Cathartic Reunion and The Flame of Keld.
Bloodrage Brawler offers dual application—not only does it promote discard, but it also triggers ferocious on Flamewake Phoenix. Bomat Courier has been featured in various mono-red lists in Standard and Modern since it's introduction in Kaladesh, and Pioneer is no different. Bomat Courier is everything a red strategy wants: it's cheap, it has haste and you can cash the Courier in for card draw if the Construct becomes redundant.
Deploying Bloodrage Brawlers and Flameblade Adepts may be enough given their potential board presence. The addition of Ash Zealot to the sideboard is fantastic tech against strategies that attempt to leverage the graveyard in their favor, especially strategies that involve Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath. Although, be careful as Ash Zealot can bolt you if you choose to escape an Ox of Agonas.
To make this more affordable, you can swap out the Leyline of the Voids for Tormod's Crypt which lowers the list to roughly $45. Otherwise, the build is good to go and does not require any other upgrades to get you started. Once again, Red demonstrates that it's one of the most versatile and affordable colors within Pioneer.
Extending this theory, you can play Arclight Phoenix instead by trading creatures for spell density—an approach that mfm0ller used to 5-0 a recent Pioneer League.
With Mono-Red Phoenix, the goal is to cast lots of cheap spells in a single turn. By doing this, you can recur Arclight Phoenix from the graveyard once you have chained three spells. Arclight Phoenix may not seem exciting in a vacuum, as it reads as similarly to Snare Thopter in most cases. However, when you couple Arclight Phoenix with powerful spells such as Thrill of Possibility and Finale of Promise, you can recur multiple Phoenixes at once. Plus, Mono-Red Phoenix adopts a prowess subtheme with Soul-Scar Mage and Monastery Swiftspear, which deal incredible amounts of damage in the early turns.
Similar to Mono-Red Hollow One, you can swap out the Leyline of the Voids and Chandra, Torch of Defiance for Tormod's Crypt and Chandra, Fire Artisan to preserve the budget approach. If you feel like changing things up, Bedlam Reveler is a fantastic upgrade on Ox of Agonas if you can acquire them. Both of these cards achieve a similar effect, however, Bedlam Reveler rewards spell density which suits Mono-Red Phoenix more than Ox of Agonas. Both of these cards are excellent choices within the build, but I would not run both within the same list.
If you enjoy this strategy in Pioneer, Izzet Phoenix (which incorporates blue for card draw and countermagic) may be another route to go. Overall, Izzet Phoenix totals to around the same price as Mono-Red Phoenix, however, the build changes greatly which means few of your cards transfer over. Lastly, Mono-Red Phoenix is a great base to begin playing aggressive and spell-dense strategies in Modern, in particular, Mono-Red Prowess, which is currently a tier 1 strategy in the format. If you are interested in porting this strategy into Modern, I covered building Mono-Red Prowess on a budget earlier this month.
If playing red isn't your style, then we have a Mono-Blue Control offering which incorporates the Narset, Parter of Veils and Day's Undoing combo. This list achieved a 5-0 in a Magic Online Pioneer League, in the hands of facematt.
The list above comes to $60 overall. Even though it's a Prison strategy at heart, this is a great foundation to play control without over-committing on staple control cards. One of the issues of playing control strategies in any format is that the mana fixing and multicolored spells they often use are typically pricey. This build ignores this issue completely, allowing you to dip your toes into the archetype before committing financially.
As mentioned above, this list incorporates a powerful combination that features Narset, Parter of Veils and Day's Undoing. If you successfully resolve Day's Undoing with Narset in play, your opponent will only draw one card while you get a new seven. The same also applies if Memory (of Commit // Memory) resolves too. You can leverage this combo more by bouncing permanents back to your opponent's hand before casting Day's Undoing. One of the best methods to remove a threat or tricky permanent is to tuck it into your opponent's deck, and this list is built to pull that off.
If you want to improve on this further, I recommend adding a couple of Brazen Borrower, replacing Blink of an Eye, as this list is light on threats outside of Torrential Gearhulk and Mu Yanling, Sky Dancer. Brazen Borrower is the perfect card for this style of strategy as it enables tempo as well as offering an evasive threat. In extension, I would add a couple of Mystic Sanctuary over a few Islands as it will give your spells additional mileage. Given that this list runs plenty of Islands already, Mystic Sanctuary will likely come in untapped and allow you to replay countermagic or sweepers until you can combo off.
Although it may be discouraging to see Pioneer show heavy emphasis on combos with Dimir Inverter and Heliod strategies remaining popular, there are still approaches to enjoy the format on a budget. Pioneer is an ever-evolving and creative format, and we are still at the tip of the iceberg of what brews can come from the format. I'm excited to see what Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths brings to Pioneer and if it gives birth to new and exciting strategies!
If you want to dip your toes into Pioneer but aren't sure where to start, I created a guide on how to upgrade the 2020 Challenger Decks for Pioneer. Due to be released in a few weeks, the Challenger Decks offer a great starting point for Standard and Pioneer—check it out!