Welcome to a brand new era of Magic! While the current pandemic obviously precludes any paper events, we now have an ever-increasing number of high-level tournaments online.
MTG Melee has sprouted up as a way for tournament organizers and players to coordinate events online, ChannelFireball has set up online MagicFests, and MTGO has a brand new tier of event: Super Qualifiers. Don't worry, my weekly metagame breakdowns aren't going anywhere. This week I'm breaking down Pioneer, but for those who want to catch up on the Standard metagame, I highly recommend following Fireshoes on Twitter. He's been cataloging the archetypes and decklists from each MagicFest Online flight.
Super Qualifiers are absolutely massive. I played in Saturday's Super Qualifier, and there were just shy of 400 players. We only get the Top 32 decklists from each super qualifier, but that makes these decklists even more valuable. For Saturday these 32 decks contain 10 players at 7-3 and the remaining 22 players went 8-2 or better. With two Super Qualifiers and the usual Challenge, we get an extensive look at the current Pioneer metagame.
These are the decks that are winning, and most are no big surprise. Dimir Inverter adapted to the new metagame, Mono-White Devotion is just as strong as last week, and Bant Spirits still has a good edge against other creature decks and a reasonable matchup against Dimir Inverter. Lotus Breach is the big breakout deck of the weekend, because as I mentioned last week, everyone has been cheating on their Damping Sphere count to improve their matchups elsewhere. I'm no less guilty of this than anyone else—my Sultai Delirium build with Surrak, the Hunt Caller was built to have a good matchup against Dimir Inverter and Mono-White Devotion, but the only sideboard slot for Lotus Breach is a lone Unmoored Ego.
Dimir Inverter, Mono-White Devotion, Bant Spirits and Lotus Breach make up the current tier 1 of the metagame. These four are the most popular and powerful decks in the format, and you should not play a deck that is unprepared for any of them. That said, there's a host of decks just under the surface that you cannot disrespect either.
Mono-Green Ramp had a pretty solid breakout week and has been less successful since, but it's well prepared to fight Lotus Breach and Mono-White Devotion. Simic Ramp hasn't gotten much press, but has been quietly more and more successful each week. Izzet Ensoul and Orzhov Auras are both popping back up as aggressive options to take on people trying to go bigger and slower than Mono-White Devotion. Speaking of going big and slow, Five-Color Niv is still around.
Pioneer is looking a lot like Modern used to, with a few top decks that make up about half the metagame and a large number of decks splitting the other fifty percent. This means that it's more important than ever to be playing a Good Deck. The metagame is too wide, and it's nearly impossible to have a good matchup against all four of the top decks right now. The tier 1 decks are simply too different in the threats and answers they present. If your goal is to win events, you should be playing a powerful, proactive deck. There's a reason Azorius Control has disappeared.
Twin ain't dead yet. This deck still does the same things it's been doing since its inception: interact, invert, win.
The big innovation recently was Ashiok, Nightmare Muse as a way to interact with Mono-White Devotion that also develops a battlefield, fighting Mono-White Devotion on both key axes of the matchup.
Narset, Parter of Veils is once again somewhat stock to fight the increase in mirrors, and Mystical Dispute is no longer dead against a large swath of the field. The main change I expect to see this week is an uptick in Damping Sphere.
Mono-White Devotion has split into two main lists. The classic list with Gideons, and this more recent list featuring Karn, the Great Creator. I expect these lists to start actually playing Damping Sphere now that Lotus Breach is back—it's no wonder that Lotus Breach had a good weekend when even Karn decks are skipping on Sphere.
There is also a new aggro variant I wanted to touch on:
This is basically the standard deck with a few upgrades, and I imagine it's quite strong in mirrors and against decks like Lotus Breach with very limited interaction. I'm not sure if this archetype has staying power, but it's great to see new variants of established decks doing well.
Bant Spirits is still a solid deck, and subbing out two Nebelgast Herald for two Curious Obsession has become stock as a way to pull ahead on cards. This particular list aggressively prepared for Mono-White Devotion with a full playset of Annul to deny Walking Ballista, Arcanist's Owl, and every piece of commonly played removal.
This list also plays all four Mystical Dispute, and I can't blame it. I would too in this metagame.
Lotus Breach was never dead, just waiting. The Damping Spheres went away, so Lotus Breach was allowed to kill people on turn four again. The lists themselves are largely unchanged except for a single copy of Tamiyo, Collector of Tales in this list. I don't expect major variation in this deck, as its success thus far has been predicated mostly on the amount of hate present in the format.
That said, I wouldn't play Lotus Breach this week. Everyone should be prepared to beat it, and that makes for a bad time. Damping Spheres should be a two or three-of in most lists this week. Stay away.
I love this deck, I really do. It's three-color midrange soup with all the threats and answers you could want. You get a graveyard package that also allows you to tutor for creatures. The caveat is that with all this flexibility you still need to pick your battles in deck construction, and the format is too wide for that.
You will always leave a weakness somewhere, and this deck does not have the same power to win games by brute force that the Decks to Beat do. You are not fast enough to steal wins like Bant Spirits can, and do not have the combo kill potential of the other three. These decks are best when you can pick a narrow range of target decks and build to beat those. Wait for a time in Pioneer when that is once again the case.
Orzhov Auras is actually quite powerful in a vacuum, but the context of the current metagame is such that I do not recommend the deck. It's a little too slow and uninteractive against Lotus Breach, and the deck has an unfortunate weakness to opposing white decks. Alseid of Life's Bounty is much worse when you have to choose protection from white.
This deck is just big and slow and greedy. I cannot recommend it right now. Niv-Mizzet Reborn has gone the way of Glorybringer and is simply playing on the wrong axis to succeed in Pioneer.
Llanowar Elves powering out early planeswalkers is still a really strong spot to be in. Dimir Inverter has started packing Noxious Grasp and that helps, but there's still not a lot of planeswalker removal in the format as a whole.
Karn, the Great Creator is an excellent toolbox card that acts as another mana sink and provides some much needed interaction. While this deck may not be one of the top four, it's not far behind and should definitely be listed in your sideboard guides.
Simic Ramp is both the other Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath deck in the format and the other ramp deck. It's been quietly successful as the new over-the-top archetype in the format, as Ugin, the Spirit Dragon tends to solve a lot of problems and is incredibly hard to answer. Ipnu Rivulet gives the deck a lot more game against Dimir Inverter than it otherwise would have, but if you want to play this archetype going forward I would absolutely be playing a lot of Damping Sphere because the Lotus Breach matchup is not very good. I really like the Hornet Queen tech for things like Bant Spirits and Izzet Ensoul.
Speaking of Izzet Ensoul, this deck had a great weekend for how little it was on peoples' radars. MOXSQUIRREL took down Monday's Super Qualifier, and it put up several good finishes across the weekend.
The Steel Overseer build has become the stock version of the deck, looking to leverage Ornithopter and cheap artifacts in as many ways as possible. Gone are the Shocks and Stubborn Denials—instead, players are going all-in on redundancy.
I think this is a good way to approach the format when you can't plan for what will be on the other side of the table, especially in a deck as proactive as this one. No frills, just make sure you do your thing as consistently as possible.
When the format is this wide I want access to a powerful, opponent-agnostic kill. The reason Dimir Inverter has risen is because of a wide metagame, not in spite of it. The archetype suffered most when the field narrowed down and the major decks were all very prepared for each other.
I've largely used Phizzle's 5th place list and moved a Narset, Parter of Veils to the main to make room in the sideboard for a Damping Sphere, and before I play an event I'll probably have cut another sideboard card for a second copy. Languish, Noxious Grasp and Ashiok, Nightmare Muse are all cards I want access to right now, and Legion's End is a powerful card if Izzet Ensoul returns in larger numbers. That said, the second copy of Legion's End may be unnecessary, and that's where I would look to trim for an extra Damping Sphere.
Pioneer has a very wide metagame right now, but I expect that to tighten up over the next two weeks. Since the no-ban announcement a few weeks ago, Pioneer's metagame churn has been largely based around the widening and shrinking of the top tier. As people target down Lotus Breach and as Dimir Inverter returns to public-enemy-number-one status, the lower tier decks will be shoved out, and you'll see a rise in Mono-White Devotion and other decks with a strong matchup against Dimir Inverter. Once that happens, I imagine that the cycle will repeat itself as the lower-tier decks return to beat up the decks preying on Dimir Inverter.
With the advent of MagicFest Online, I will likely return to Standard next week to break down the first full week of qualifiers and the first Weekend Finals. We've been getting a LOT of decklists, and I can't wait to dig in.
I do miss paper Magic, but we've never had access to more events and more data than now, and I'm looking forward to getting a deeper understanding of each format. Big kudos to WotC for making such incredible formats. Standard, Pioneer and even Modern are all really good right now, and I'm playing more than ever now that I'm stranded at home.
I'll see you next week! Make sure you stay safe, stay sane, and wash your darn hands.