Before we get into the Magic part of this article, I want to take a moment to talk about The Gathering. I know things are hard right now during the prime impact of a pandemic, but please make sure you are all still taking care of each other. While many people are confined to their homes or hospitals, make sure to check in on your friends and family, hang out in streams, chat on social media, do something to stay connected to people. There's a lot of lonely folks right now, and it's important to keep in touch and be there for each other. We're an incredible community and it's important that we have each others' backs in this.
It's been a few weeks since we last checked into Pioneer, and part of that was Wizards' announcement of a ban announcement. Since the Banned & Restricted update held no changes for Pioneer, it looked like things would settle into Dimir Inverter vs Mono-White Devotion in a two-deck format, but instead we got an incredibly diverse metagame with ten unique archetypes across the weekend's two Top 8s. Check out the winners' metagame from the PTQ Top 16 and Challenge Top 32:
Even if you group together splash colors in major archetypes that's sixteen different archetypes, and the most-played deck is less than 20% of the metagame. Last time we checked in on the format Dimir Inverter was more than a quarter of the published 48 decklists. Mono-White Devotion still holds the same metagame share, but just as WotC said Dimir Inverter is having a lot less success than before. As it turns out, Pioneer is more than capable of defeating Splinter Twin™.
This is due in large part to the baffling dominance of Mono-White Devotion. On its face, Mono-White looks like a deck without aggression, interaction, or even an impressive solitaire kill. The threats are hard to interact with, but for the most part not really that threatening. Stasis Snare is a relatively limited and conditional removal spell. The combo of Heliod, Sun-Crowned and Walking Ballista takes a lot of mana.
Here's the thing: Pioneer isn't a format with a lot of aggression. The premier decks of the format have made traditional interactive answers awkward, and other than Lotus Breach none of the combo decks have a particularly fast kill. Much like Eldrazi Tron in Modern, Mono-White Devotion plays a very middling beatdown plan of value-centric threats that are simply difficult to interact with. The rest of the format shapes what interaction is allowed to be played, and these decks simply present threats that are a turn or two slower in exchange for being much more resilient.
Fatal Push and Thoughtseize are the core of Dimir Inverter's interaction package and these cards don't answer the threats of Mono-White Devotion profitably. Arcanist's Owl, Thraben Inspector and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar all leave something behind if removed, and even small pieces of pressure add up. Gideon's Intervention makes that particular matchup even harder for Dimir Inverter, and Mono-White Devotion has access to similarly powerful hate for other matchups in cards like Rest in Peace.
The rest of the format has reacted by taking advantage of Mono-White Devotion's inability to interact early or often. Mono-Green Ramp and Spirits are both archetypes with strong matchups against Mono-White Devotion, taking advantage of the lack of early pressure to build powerful board states with just a little disruption to take over the game.
Azorius Control also had a good weekend due to a good matchup against Dimir Inverter, Spirits, and I believe Mono-White Devotion as well. Render Silent is the most recent tech card against these decks, allowing Azorius Control to get through discard spells and maintain tight control of the tempo of the game to cement an advantage.
The final rising stars are the Stompy decks using Llanowar Elves and co. to ramp out gigantic three-drops instead of early planeswalkers. A lot of decks right now aren't prepared to face such a brutally fast clock, even if they do "bolt the bird" and take out the mana accelerants. Rotting Regisaur and Steel Leaf Champion thrive in the absence of cards like Supreme Verdict and Abrupt Decay. The Great Henge and Collected Company allow the deck to keep up on cards in the face of interaction, and VenerableLammasu took down the PTQ this weekend on a brilliant new Golgari Stompy list.
Going forward, decks are going to need to shift to interact with each other more and directly target Dimir Inverter a little less. I don't think this puts Dimir Inverter in any better of a position, because the metagame will still be fairly hostile to the deck, but there are a few decks poised to succeed in this weekend's events.
This is the "best deck" in Pioneer right now. It's a solid, boring, sturdy deck with a great track record and good mirror tech. It doesn't get as much press as Dimir Inverter because it's a lot less exciting, but it's frankly far better positioned in the format.
Mono-White Devotion just has a lot of value cards and planeswalkers and uses Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx to make up for some otherwise inefficient cards. I'm telling you, this is Eldrazi Tron for Pioneer. A good deck that gets underplayed because it looks "underpowered" and boring.
I don't know if this deck is legitimately good, especially as people adapt. However, Azorius Control is one of the most popular decks, and whenever it sees a small rise in success there's a group of players who will flock back to their favorite archetype.
Render Silent is legitimately good tech, and I expect to see it adopted widely. Seal Away isn't the most incredible removal spell, but with the uptick in Stompy decks it may be necessary to play a few copies.
As usual, nobody agrees on a planeswalker suite, which leads me to believe that this archetype isn't being taken seriously and isn't likely to last if online tournaments start filling up with GP and SCG grinders who no longer have tabletop events to play in. Stock lists are the result of mass tuning, and this level of disagreement means there's a lot of work to be done.
Spirits has finally risen above mediocre, and once again Bant seems to be the premier version of the archetype. Collected Company is just such a powerful combination of card advantage and tempo. Lists are once again flirting with Curious Obsession because the archetype's biggest weak point remains the lack of card advantage.
I think Spirits is a fine place to be this weekend, even as the metagame adjusts. A solid matchup against Stompy and Mono-White Devotion and a close matchup against Dimir Inverter is a very solid position.
How the mighty have fallen. While rumors of Dimir Inverter's demise are exaggerated, I wouldn't be playing this deck this weekend. Mono-White Devotion remains a very popular bad matchup, and the target remains on Dimir Inverter after the no-ban announcement.
If you must play Inverter anyway, make sure you maindeck some way to remove opposing enchantments. Ashiok, Nightmare Muse, Brazen Borrower and Blink of an Eye are all great ways to make sure you don't get beat up by Gideon's Intervention.
I normally wouldn't even have this archetype in the tier list, but people keep playing it. They shouldn't.
Stompy is an archetype that was poorly positioned against decks like Lotus Breach, Azorius Control and Sultai Delirium. All of these decks have had a significant decline and left a lot of room for Rotting Regisaur and Steel Leaf Champion to run wild. A comically small portion of the metagame is prepared to remove a mana accelerant on turn one, and even fewer are ready to handle a 5/4 or larger on turn two.
VenerableLammasu in particular has an excellent list playing The Great Henge and Collected Company to break through board stalls and fight through what interaction opposing decks do have on later turns. Expect this to be the new stock list on MTGO.
I'd say this is the new kid on the block, but it's actually been around for a few weeks. Popping up shortly after my last Pioneer article as an AspiringSpike creation, this deck has had quite a bit of success. The game plan is largely to slam an early planeswalker, but Mono-Green Ramp is also capable of some truly absurd early sequences that produce an incredible amount of mana.
Karn, the Great Creator is surprisingly powerful here. While he's mostly tutoring up God-Pharaoh's Statue to put the opponent well behind curve, Karn is also capable of getting powerful bullets in game one. Damping Sphere, Aligned Hedron Network, Pithing Needle,and Tormod's Crypt are all very powerful cards to have consistent access to.
The big downside is you don't have a sideboard.
There's a lot of decks with a singular Damping Sphere in their sideboard, and it's not all Karn, the Great Creator decks. Mystical Dispute is the worst it's been in a long while. I think people are in for a rude awakening if Lotus Breach gets any significant metagame share. Slow clocks and minimal hate means this deck is poised to have a great weekend.
Look, I won't say I'm not biased. I love this deck. But there's a lot of decks on this list that are just here thriving on the lack of interaction, and Sultai Delirium has interaction in spades. One of the big changes I made in this list (which XFILE also Top 16'd with in the PTQ) was to play more answers and shift the threat package to be more immediate.
Emrakul and Walking Ballista and Brain Maggot and Frilled Mystic are all great Traverse the Ulvenwald targets, but they're simply too slow right now, and with the popularity of Mono-White Devotion I wanted a 75 that was more equipped to continue an attrition game plan in the face of graveyard hate.
The one slot I'm least sure of right now is the maindeck Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet. Ishkanah, Grafwidow was feeling ineffectual without many aggro decks or Spirits decks, and maybe with the rise of Spirits a return to Ishkanah is fine. Other cards I've been considering for that slot are Surrak, the Hunt Caller, Sidisi, Brood Tyrant and Vizier of Many Faces. Surrak combines well with Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath to pivot quickly into closing the game, Sidisi still helps go wide and play both offense and defense but is weak to graveyard hate, and Vizier of Many Faces is a very flexible card but can be dead pretty easily. For now I'd play Ishkanah, but I'm heavily considering Surrak.
Pioneer looks incredibly healthy right now, and that just makes it that much harder to pick your deck each week. Right now is a good time to get familiar with the whole format, either by playing one deck and learning all its matchups or by playing a bit of everything to learn what each deck can do. It's an excellent time to broaden your range and pick up more format experience, especially with so many of us finding ourselves with a lot more time to kill. Prelims and Challenges in the next few weeks are going to be a little more packed, and I'm looking forward to seeing what comes next in Pioneer.
Stay safe, stay sane, and take care of yourself. See you next week!