After a full week of Pioneer PTQs, eight total events and a LOT of data on the first stable format, it's now clear that while Field of the Dead is the most format-warping archetype, Mono-Black Aggro is the most dominant. Going forward, Mono-Black Aggro is the clear target for the forma—
Well then. While I could go over the 256 decks from the eight publications of Top 32 decks per PTQ, I don't think I will. These are format-defining bans removing format-warping cards. Mono-Black Aggro loses a key engine and threat. Field of the Dead is banned and with it entire archetypes are removed from Pioneer. Even Once Upon a Time was banned, taking the entire color green down a peg. This is a huge set of bans after almost a month of free reign on the format, and there's a lot to digest.
Because the ban has only just happened and the entire format is going to shift, I want to lay this analysis out in terms of wins, losses and opportunities.
Let's start with the Ls.
Hour of Promise decks lose out hard, as the most powerful land in the format leaves with nothing even coming close to replacement level. Field of the Dead is gone and ramp decks can no longer skimp on payoffs. Not only that, but Once Upon a Time leaving means what remains of these decks needs to get more disciplined about manabases and curves. Every one of these decks from three-color Bant builds to Mono-Green Ramp was using Once to cheat on mana requirements and early deployment to the board. Four Arboreal Grazer and nine untapped green sources is not going to cut it anymore.
Mono-Black Aggro as we know it is dead. Period. The aggro builds relied on Smuggler's Copter as a way to profitably get into combat with their recursive threats and benefit from their recursion to both net cards and crew the copter. The devotion-based builds heavily leaned on Copter to help with their incredibly top-heavy curve. Fatal Push, Thoughtseize and Castle Locthwain are going nowhere, but these decks need to be rebuilt.
Gruul Aggro is the other aggro deck hit pretty hard by these bans. Once Upon a Time let them play a three-mana Goblin on turn two pretty consistently, and Smuggler's Copter allowed them to filter through their deck to find their closing cards without flooding out. These decks lose a LOT of consistency as a result, and while they're still going to be present, they also lose some of their premier prey they were designed to beat: Mono-Black Aggro and Field of the Dead.
Simic Stompy, the other one-to-three deck, was also hit similarly hard by these bans but doesn't suffer the same manabase woes. By virtue of being an enemy color pair, Simic gets access to pain lands and fast lands, and just by deck construction Simic Stompy doesn't use very much blue. Simic Stompy still takes a small hit, but can relatively easily make small concessions to stick around. However, it also suffers from losing one of its better matchups in Field of the Dead.
So the two biggest decks take an arrow to the knee and Llanowar Elves decks take minor hits. Who profits from these bans?
Nexus of Fate is the clear winner here. Absolutely untouched by these bans, this deck escapes entirely intact and probably becomes one of the more consistent decks in the format. Dig Through Time and Wilderness Reclamation are still some of the more potent and resilient engines in the format, and Nexus of Fate itself is nearly impossible to interact with outside of hate cards like Lost Legacy and Unmoored Ego. While the Field of the Dead ban does open up more space for interactive decks, most interactive decks are incredibly weak to Nexus of Fate in the absence of a quick, cheap clock.
Another winner is potentially a deck like Jeskai Ascendancy. While Abrupt Decay may return and significantly weaken this decks resiliency, it's a difficult-to-interact-with archetype that has a faster kill than Wilderness Reclamation and is set up well in the matchup. Kethis Combo could have taken this spot but caught a lot of collateral damage in the Once Upon a Time ban, much like it did when Oath of Nissa was banned. The inconsistency of a four-color creature combo without Oath or Once is just far too great.
The final winner is Mono-Red Aggro. While this archetype played Smuggler's Copter in most builds, it can survive without it and there are many acceptable options to replace that two-drop slot. Aaron Barich even made Top 16 of the most recent MTGO PTQ with a zero-Copter build that is likely to be the starting point going forward:
So those are the major winners and losers from existing decks in the format, but where can we go from here? This is where the brewers step back up.
The obvious first step is to find the new home for Fatal Push and Thoughtseize. It needs to have a clock, interaction for combo and big mana, or both. Golgari Field and Mono-Black previously were the best homes for black interaction but both have been gutted by these bans. Find the holes that need patching up, find the new clock or engine, and run people over fair and square again.
The next step is to find new opportunities that couldn't exist in the previous format. Are there reactive decks that could even beat combo but were mercilessly ground to dust by Field of the Dead? Is Supreme Verdict good again in the absence of Smuggler's Copter? While I think truly fair decks are likely a pipe dream, they're a lot more realistic with Field of the Dead gone. Emrakul, the Promised End is still legal though, so beware fair decks KOing each other with flying spaghetti monsters.
The last form of fair deck is potentially Collected Company. Collected Company was held back in the format because Once Upon a Time demanded four non-creature slots in basically every green creature deck and Smuggler's Copter demanded four slots in basically every creature deck. It's possible that Collected Company can once again play that disruptive midrange deck now that it's not largely outmoded by Mono-Black Aggro. Teferi, Time Raveler and Spell Queller are still a very potent duo poised to fight fair decks well while also checking decks like Nexus of Fate.
What if you don't want to play fair? Well, there are still ways to try and play big mana besides Nexus of Fate. Without Field of the Dead, green-based ramp decks can start playing more sensible manabases again and Gilded Goose is a fine secondary accelerant to complement Arboreal Grazer. Hour of Promise can now fetch up two Shrine of the Forsaken Gods or Shrine plus Sanctum of Ugin to beat up anyone playing fair by drowning them in Eldrazi and Walking Ballistas. Ugin is still incredibly powerful, and splashing a color is now far more doable. You have to start over with this archetype, but the pieces are there.
Lastly, Traverse the Ulvenwald decks do lose Once Upon a Time as a quick delirium enabler but gain consistency relative to the format. Instead of working hard for little gain compared to just playing four Once Upon a Time, these decks are now getting something real for their sacrifice. Additionally Emrakul, the Promised End and Ishkanah Grafwidow are no longer completely embarrassed by a horde of Zombie Tokens. This is one potential home for Fatal Push and Thoughtseize, though I won't hold my breath.
Pioneer continues to be an intricate and evolving puzzle. I've really enjoyed getting to analyze a new format every few weeks, digging in over and over with my only issue being I don't have the time to play every deck that catches my interest in each new cycle. Remember, we're still in a period of quick bans and uncharted territory, and that still means you should be aiming for one thing: get your deck banned.
I'll leave you with the deck I've got queued up for my own testing: Abzan Vehicles.
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 the Standard metagame and the art of deckbuilding.
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