Our weekly Pioneer ban announcement brought with it a curious item:
Veil of Summer was the subject of a lot of complaints in discussion last week, but was not a particularly potent piece of any strategy this past week. Looking at the Top 32 for Sunday's Pioneer Challenge, we see a terrifying, green-dominated breakdown:
Five of those eight decks were even in the Top 8! What absurd dominance through a pair of bans! But if we look at Friday's PTQ the story looks quite a bit different:
Seven different archetypes in the Top 8, no more than four copies of the most dominant archetypes... this metagame actually looks pretty good. Taking the weekend as a whole we get the following breakdown across the combined Top 64 and we see the top contenders of the weekend:
This chart still shows the strength of the green-based big mana strategies, but also shows the strength of aggro decks in the format. Mono-Red Aggro, Simic Stompy, Mono-Black Aggro and Izzet Ensoul take up more metagame share the the big mana decks combined, and there are actually several other big players in the metagame. Mono-Green Devotion and Mono-Green Ramp may be big format players that restrict the options for going over the top, but they're definitely manageable.
The banning of Veil of Summer doesn't affect these decks' core strategy, but it does make them more attackable in post-board games. No longer can they lean on one sideboard option to fight both countermagic and discard while maintaining resources in the face of attrition-based disruption. This also notably hits the Wilderness Reclamation / Nexus of Fate decks pretty hard, as Dispel can still handle the countermagic but is much much weaker against discard. So what stands to gain from this ban?
Azorius Control is a fan favorite archetype that certainly stands to gain now that Dovin's Veto functions as intended and they can actually grind down these decks instead of dancing around Veil or accepting the two-for-one and playing through it. The other big archetype that stands to gain from this ban is the one that has basically disappeared in the last week: Sultai Midrange. Abrupt Decay and Thoughtseize are two of the most powerful cards in Pioneer, but they're also the two cards weakest to Veil of Summer, and without these spells properly resolving Sultai can struggle to actually grind their opponent out of the game. There are still other issues to solve for these decks, and the colors may change, but Thoughtseize and Abrupt Decay are liable to come back with the banning of their natural predator.
So where does this leave the metagame?
This is still the top of the Food Chain. If you aren't bolting peoples' birds (or Wild Slashing their Elvish Mystics) you need to be able to handle what comes next. This deck is still capable of playing turn-two Nissa, Who Shakes the World and going on to develop the board at an unreal pace. This deck is going to be weaker to disruption than before, but it's still one of the best shells to abuse Once Upon a Time for extreme consistency, and Vivien, Arkbow Ranger either makes the accelerants into real threats or goes and grabs them from the sideboard. There's no good excuse for not having a plan for this deck at this point.
This is the other green-based big mana archetype and it's no less terrifying. It may be a little slower, but it's much harder to interact with. There are no creature accelerants in this deck and that means it's largely left alone to ramp into Field of the Dead or Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. The weakness of these decks is that they don't play much to the board until that point, and without Ugin, Walking Ballista, or Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger they can't interact with the opposing board.
Some players have started splashing red for Dragonlord Atarka and Ruric Thar, the Unbowed. The former helps against aggressive decks by offering an additional way to interact, and the latter does a lot of work against the combo decks this deck is otherwise woefully unprepared to interact with.
This is one of the premier aggro decks in the format, but also a deceptively sturdy one. Where Ensoul Artifact decks work hard to make five-power attackers on turn two, this deck does so with ease. Four Once Upon a Time, ten one-mana accelerants and eleven giant three-drops means that this deck is going to have the same start an absurd amount of the time—and that's not even taking into account the turn-two Oko, Thief of Crowns this deck can pull off. Oko gives the deck a strong angle against more controlling decks while also being powerful in more aggressive matchups.
The deck's sole interaction is a playset of Stubborn Denial, whose ferocious mode will almost always be online. This allows the deck to cleanly smash through decks like Nexus of Fate and gives it interaction against combo decks from game one. This is the deck least likely to be happy about Abrupt Decay's return, but it will still be one of the strongest options in the metagame.
This is a deck many have been sleeping on but it would be unfair to leave it out of the decks to beat when it both won the PTQ and had good representation in the weekend's winner's metagame. The deck really isn't anything too fancy: four Fatal Push, four Thoughtseize, four Smuggler's Copter, aggressive black creatures. Fancy doesn't win games. Disruption backed up by a quick clock does.
This deck certainly doesn't get any worse in the absence of Veil of Summer, and it's more than capable of keeping pace with the green decks on rate. This is probably going to be the most successful of the decks to beat when taking into account total number in the field. I expect to see a lot of this at the top tables of both the SCG Invitational and Friday's PTQ.
I understand the draw to a classic control deck, but the lack of cheap interaction is damning. Having no interaction that costs less than two mana against decks playing accelerants and aggressive creatures is a huge downside. Supreme Verdict alongside a robust planeswalker suite can only be so bad, but this is not a deck I would recommend in Pioneer.
Veil of Summer being banned certainly helps this deck's issues after board, but I still think that it's going to be an uphill battle most games because this deck is a turn behind on much of its interaction. That said, people will still play this deck in relatively large numbers, so you should be prepared to play against it.
It's probably a shock to see this deck here. It handles accelerants well, it has cheap interaction and Treasure Cruise. Thing in the Ice // Awoken Horror and Arclight Phoenix are the tempo duo that this deck thrives on. Everything is great, right? This is a fine, reasonable deck in Pioneer but not one I would currently put in the upper tier of the metagame. I simply don't think these decks are capable of keeping up with the way people should be playing.
Simic Stompy sounds like a nightmare matchup: Oko, multiple gigantic threats, Stubborn Denial. Mono-Black and Mono-Red Aggro sound incredibly scary as they're both capable of answering Thing in the Ice // Awoken Horror and have quick clocks that aren't particularly worried about Arclight Phoenix. The midrange opponents this deck wants to exploit mostly don't exist. It will maintain a good matchup against control and likely against combo, but I don't believe that's enough of the metagame to succeed. Regardless, this weekend is the SCG Invitational and it would be foolish to expect many of the SCG Tour regulars to put down their birds, so look forward to plenty of recurring Phoenixes on camera.
This deck had a pretty good run lately but I don't expect the new crop of aggro decks to leave Wilderness Reclamation strategies in a good spot. Losing Veil of Summer is also a particularly big blow to this deck. Veil protected it from Thoughtseize and Duress while netting a card, allowing them to fight through attempts to restrict their resources. On top of that Mono-Red is on the rise, and low-to-the-ground decks with lots of reach have always been a nightmare matchup for these decks.
Nexus will certainly adapt, though. There are definitely die-hards who will play this archetype come hell or high water and there are still options to play through countermagic. This deck will remain a presence in the metagame, and you will want to account for it in your deck construction this week.
At the beginning of the format everyone was playing sideboard cards for these decks. The archetype quietly underperformed week after week and sideboard life gain has continued to dip, opening up a hole for them. Current versions of this deck are much leaner than their predecessors, playing 19 land, a playset of Smuggler's Copter as an aggressive consistency tool, and a very standardized burn suite.
This deck frankly hasn't earned full respect, but it will do well as people continue to ignore it in favor of tackling the top decks. Lean, low, and mean to anything slow, these decks are also capable of holding their own against most other aggro decks (Simic Stompy being the exception). You don't need to go overboard, but I do recommend respecting these decks in your 75.
I don't have a particular 75 I want to highlight here, but there's a lot going on just under the surface in Pioneer right now in terms of combo kills. Possibility Storm, Jeskai Ascendancy, Kethis, the Hidden Hand, Soulflayer. These are the major players I'm talking about, and while all of them suffer to some degree from losing Veil of Summer (Jeskai Ascendancy in particular), they're all not being shown any real respect. One of them will break out and kill it this weekend.
There's not a ton you can do to combat all of these at once, but the overlapping weaknesses of these decks are countermagic and discard. Jeskai Ascendancy and Possibility Storm both need time to go off and often lean on accelerants, and Kethis and Soulflayer both rely on the graveyard. I would recommend having at least one way to interact with each of these, but wouldn't recommend any hate too narrow to be useful elsewhere.
This deck looked incredibly mopey at first glance. Thraben Inspector, Smuggler's Copter, and a metric ton of three-mana spells? Tempo cards and twenty five lands? It looked almost laughable in this format to me. However, these decks hit a lot of the right notes in terms of how they interact in the format and have a curve that's just low enough to not get buried. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar is the glue that holds this deck together, giving it both card advantage and a quick clock that it's otherwise largely incapable of applying.
Slamming the door is so incredibly important with so many temporary answers to opposing cards. Eventually they will dig out, but this deck isn't worried about eventually. This timing window I think actually lines up well against the format currently, and I would not be surprised to see this deck succeed this weekend. There's not really anything you should do in deck construction about this deck, but if you haven't played against it yet I recommend getting some practice in so you don't walk into their favorable play patterns.
I'm honestly sitting here on Monday night trying to figure out what I want to pack to take with me to SCG CON. If I had more time I'd want to take a look at Jeskai Ascendancy because I think it's one of the most consistent combo decks in the format and is pretty hard to stop once it's going—but without Veil of Summer, Abrupt Decay and discard spells get a lot more scary.
Right now Mono-Black Aggro looks incredibly appealing as a proactive strategy that hits all the right notes. Thoughtseize, Fatal Push, Smuggler's Copter and Mutavault are an incredible core that leaves very little outside your range. There are certainly some unexciting cards in these decks, but I think they all serve their purpose, and black has access to some excellent sideboard options. Veil of Summer being banned is just icing on the cake for this archetype.
Overall I think this ban has some impact on the metagame but not enough to undo everyone's testing for this week. This is a very light ban that mostly affects sideboards, and metagame positioning but doesn't really add or remove any decks to or from the metagame. Pioneer is in a pretty solid place with a structured but diverse metagame, and this week it all comes down to positioning and tuning within that structure. There's a small chance that someone breaks one of the combo decks and has a great run, but right now I would settle on one of the top-tier proactive decks if your goal is to win the event.
I'll be at SCG CON this weekend if folks want to introduce themselves to me! Come say hi, let me know what I've gotten right or wrong in Pioneer so far, and someone please draft Mystery Boosters with me! I will have one final stream tonight before SCG CON, streaming final Pioneer prep over at twitch.tv/yoman5 before heading out to the event. See you there!
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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