After last Monday's triple ban, the weekend gave us three full tournaments of data alongside a "no-ban" announcement this Monday. This means we can once again start to dive into a more stable metagame and pick apart these events for some good data. Here are the Top 8s for the Friday PTQ, the Saturday PTQ and the Sunday Challenge, all of which took place on MTGO:
Azorius Control and both versions of Simic had a great weekend, with a smattering of archetypes behind them in Top 8. Taking all three Top 32s we can compile a winner's metagame of nearly a hundred decks:
That's a pretty diverse metagame once you get past the Simic decks, but it pretty clearly shows their dominance. Both are significantly more represented than the next most common archetype and combined make up nearly a third of the metagame. Nothing comes close and 15% representation for Simic Food, an archetype that debuted on Friday, is a shocking display of dominance right out of the gates.
That said, there's basically something for everyone in Pioneer. There are aggro, control and midrange strategies all represented strongly at the top of the metagame, and there are a few flavors of combo and graveyard archetypes with Top 32 representation. We're nearing the end of the ban-heavy "beta" season for Pioneer, and honestly things are shaping up pretty well.
But you aren't here for game design, you're here for a metagame analysis aren't you? Well I'm happy to inform you that with a stable metagame and so many results to pull from, we once again return to the Hot Take Tier List. Let's break it down.
This my pick for #1 in the format after this weekend. Gerry Thompson debuted this list in an article on Friday, landing two copies in the Top 32 that day and putting three copies into the Top 8 of both Saturday and Sunday. This looks like a Standard deck from a month ago with some Llanowar Elves added in. That's incredibly strong now that Pioneer is much closer to "Standard Plus" than "Modern Lite."
Turn-two Oko, Thief of Crowns and turn-three Nissa, Who Shakes the World are the bread and butter of this deck, and these planeswalkers are no less powerful in Pioneer. Very few cards answer both of these planeswalkers, let alone answer them profitably. Simic Food is a pile of above-rate cards that pressures the opponent while generating card advantage along the way, and is difficult to beat with aggression.
Oko and Wicked Wolf do an incredible job of locking up the board while Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx and Nissa generate incredible amounts of mana to sink into Hydroid Krasis and Walking Ballista. This deck is the hybridization of Mono-Green Devotion and Simic Stompy, and will continue to dominate Pioneer events until someone can break this core or until Wizards bans Oko.
The other turn-two Oko deck, Simic Stompy continues to be incredibly strong. It uses the same ten mana dorks as Simic Food and curves into Oko, Thief of Crowns, Lovestruck Beast and Steel Leaf Champion. Steel Leaf Champion in particular remains an incredibly potent threat in Pioneer, dodging Fatal Push and pushing past most would-be blockers to apply a brutally fast clock and enable Stubborn Denial.
Supreme Verdict is on the rise, and a big reason for the shift to a more Food-heavy version of Simic, but the Stompy build has instead adapted Questing Beast and Rhonas the Indomitable alongside Oko as ways to push through damage after sweepers. Stubborn Denial can stop a lot, but Supreme Verdict's "can't be countered" clause means that you need to adjust your plan.
While I think Simic Food is the future of Simic in Pioneer, I don't think that Simic Stompy is far behind. Large bodies ahead of curve will continue to punish rising decks like Mono-Red, and the strength of Simic Stompy is part of the reason that Simic Food is so strong. Both decks cover angles the other does not, making it incredibly hard to target Simic as a whole. Those who are able to successfully target both will have a good weekend, but I'd rather join them than try to beat them.
Azorius Control? In decks to beat? Absolutely. Control players rejoice, this deck finally escapes the dreaded "Decks People Will Play, but Shouldn't" category with the banning of Field of the Dead and (especially) Smuggler's Copter.
No more does this deck need to worry about engines it can't interact with, or a slew of recursive creatures backed up by Thoughtseize and Smuggler's Copter. Supreme Verdict is much, much stronger than it used to be, and a lack of one-mana interaction is no longer the death knell it once was. Elspeth and Teferi are now solid ways to go over the top of opponents without worrying about Zombie Tokens and Ormendahl, Profane Prince.
Azorius Control builds have also gotten much leaner, no longer playing a full playset of Sphinx's Revelation, and a few Dig Through Time, and Torrential Gearhulk. This weekend's lists have far more disciplined curves and much more respect for opposing engines. These lists will only continue to get better as people learn which decks they need to respect most, and Azorius is likely here to stay as the default control deck of the format.
With Smuggler's Copter banned, Clyde_the_glyde_drexler's version of Mono-Black finally rises to prominence. Thoughtseize, Fatal Push, Mutavault and Castle Locthwain were never going anywhere, and this is their new home. Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord and Champion of Dusk replace Smuggler's Copter in terms of staying power, and this deck plays much more like an aggressive midrange deck than a grindy aggro deck.
There are some people still splashing white for Blood Baron of Vizkopa, but that's no longer a reasonable metagame call. There aren't enough Murderous Rider decks to warrant that type of splash, and protection from white means nothing in the face of Supreme Verdict.
The reason this deck has "Honorary" in the title is because it's not truly a deck to beat. It's the best Thoughtseize + Fatal Push deck we have, but it doesn't actually fall into either of the two later categories. It's a perfectly acceptable deck choice, and it's getting respect from the format. It's not the best deck, but it is a good deck.
I don't think this deck is really that bad, but I do think it's largely outmoded by Simic Food. Oko is incredibly strong, and the cost is low when you're already priced into playing Gilded Goose. Voracious Hydra is fine, but Wicked Wolf and Hydroid Krasis are better positioned.
The big selling point of this deck is Vivien, Arkbow Ranger, and even then people are already starting to slot into Simic Food as extra power against Azorius Control and opposing Simic decks. Blue is an upgrade.
The Scarab God is a lot less embarrassing these days, but it's still not actually that good against much. Thoughtseize and Fatal Push are great, Abrupt Decay is one of the better answers to these Simic decks, but I really don't think this is the shell.
Trying to combine proactive Oko draws with one-to-one interaction is something we saw fall flat early in the format and is likely to now for the same reasons. There's simply not enough card advantage built into this deck to profit from that exchange of resources, and while The Scarab God and Tireless Tracker help, they're far too easy to outclass with cards like Elspeth, Dig Through Time, Nissa and Hydroid Krasis.
This deck tries to play all the best cards but falls victim to them not working well enough together to form a cohesive game plan. There may be a better build of this archetype with a more stable metagame to target, but the current builds aren't going to cut it.
Mono-White Aggro, "Dredge," Azorius Spirits, Mono-Black Aggro, Mono-Blue Devotion. Almost all of these can't interact with turn-one accelerants and none of them handle a turn-two Oko well. Mono-Black Aggro is the only one of these that feels like it has a chance against the top decks, and even then it's a remnant of pre-ban decks. Stop just replacing Smuggler's Copter and rebuild your decks.
These decks as a category just don't interact on the right axis to compete with the top decks of Pioneer. The limited card pool leaves them with too few tools and too slow a clock to really go under or around Simic and Azorius Control. We might get more bans, or more tools in Theros: Beyond Death, but until then I'm not a fan.
How the mighty have fallen. From the only top deck to not have a card banned, to woefully mismatched against the top decks. There's too much countermagic and not enough Veil of Summer for these decks to survive in the new metagame. There's nothing good to Prey Upon in the top tier. I do not recommend this deck this weekend.
Mono-Red may have lost Smuggler's Copter, but there were already versions without it, and unlike Simic Nexus these decks actually thrive in the new metagame. Experimental Frenzy has never been better as we get into a fairer metagame, and Shock, Wild Slash and Searing Blood are all incredibly well positioned.
Runaway Steam-Kin is thriving in the relative absence of Fatal Push. Simic Food, Simic Stompy, Azorius Control: none of these decks can answer a turn-two Steam-Kin. Outside of Oko and Absorb, there's not a ton of life gain either. Red mages are going to have a good time until this changes.
Speaking of fair metagames and a good time to be playing red interactive decks, it may finally be Arclight Phoenix's time to shine. Oko may still be a pain to deal with, but this deck is very capable of answering early dorks and flying over board stalls to pressure planeswalkers.
While cards like Narset, Parter of Veils from Azorius Control can be frustrating, few copies are being played right now, and Cast Out and Detention Sphere are the only permanent answers Azorius Control currently has to Arclight Phoenix. While I don't think it's the top deck for the week, I no longer think it's actively inadvisable.
This is definitely a rough sketch, but I love the concept behind this new build of Gruul. Gilded Goose isn't something you can really support without Oko, but turn-two Goblin Rabblemaster is still really strong and Embercleave is always an incredibly threatening card.
Collected Company has traditionally been used in more midrangey, value-centric builds as a way to find pieces and accrue card advantage. Here it's used as a way to dodge Supreme Verdict and go wider than Simic can handle. Putting in a pair of huge threats on your opponent's end step and then attacking with Embercleave is going to catch a lot of people off guard and end some games incredibly quickly.
This specific build has Heart of Kiran and powers it with Domri, Anarch of Bolas, but I think we can lean into a fourth Collected Company and play a few more creatures for consistency. This is an archetype I'd test in my downtime this week to see if it's possible to spike the PTQ with something people aren't ready for.
This deck is incredibly strong, and I love Emma's quick changes to the deck. I messed around with Sylvan Advocate and Brazen Borrower in the slots for Heart of Kiran and Scavenging Ooze, but Lovestruck Beast hits a lot of the same notes while being both a better offensive and defensive tool.Going forward I would like to try and fit in a few copies of Vivien, Arkbow Ranger. It gives the deck a bit more pressure through board stalls where both players have Oko, and can push damage vs. Azorius Control without overextending into Supreme Verdict.
I believe this is the correct deck for the weekend and will be streaming it in tonight's MTGO Preliminary event (come watch me!) and every Pioneer event I can manage this weekend. It's simply proactive, powerful and difficult to exploit, and until something drastically shifts I believe this is the best deck in the format.
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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