A Pre-Indy Meta Breakdown

A week before a large event with significant support for Pioneer seems like a great time to break down the meta and try to answer the question of "what deck do I bring?" - or, at least, give an idea of what decks are likely to be on the other side of the table.

Indy is Coming

Star City Games’ SCG-CON Indianapolis 2022 is next weekend, and between a $25K team constructed event with Modern, Legacy, and Pioneer and a standalone Pioneer $5K, it’s shaping up to be the biggest Pioneer paper event since the format launched in late 2019. 

Between Reddit and the many Discord servers devoted to Pioneer, many have been asking:

Which deck do I bring?

A week before a large event with significant support for the format seems like a great time to break down the meta and try to answer that question – or, at least, give an idea of what decks are likely to be on the other side of the table. Let’s jump right in with one of the newcomers.

Rakdos Artifacts

This deck aims to abuse its main engine piece, Oni-Cult Anvil, to gain both card advantage and incremental value from the artifacts it plays, with the most notable ones being Experimental Synthesizer and Terrarion. It is an aggressively-slanted midrange deck that, while it can come fast and hard with Bloodtithe Harvester and Voldaren Epicure, can also out-grind most other decks in the format thanks to Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger and Oni-Cult Anvil. It is well-positioned to dominate most aggro decks into the ground due to the pile of removal this deck plays as well as the on-plan wipe that is The Meathook Massacre.

Every deck has its weak points, and this one is no exception. This deck will struggle most typically in the face of “Go Big” decks (with the most prevalent being Niv-to-Light) and against any deck playing Karn, The Great Creator due to his passive ability shutting off a majority of the permanents the deck puts out, including the blood tokens. The deck can also face the same roadblock that other midrange decks do in establishing a fast enough clock against the combo decks in the format like Lotus Field and 4-Color Ascendancy.

Pros:

  • Barring a few outliers, the deck has game against most of the format
  • Is a linear deck that is relatively easy to pick up on but has a high ceiling in learning proper sequencing.

Cons:

  • The engine is weak to Karn and other artifact hate, which many decks will be packing.
  • The deck will struggle to outrace the most popular combo decks in the format.
  • It is weak to exile-based removal like March of Otherworldly Light and Portable Hole

(Note: This deck has not really had the chance to see if it still has legs in the post-Lurrus world. The engine is powerful but has lost its late-game grind. Post-Lurrus, the deck may go bigger in the form of Bonecrusher Giant or goes Mardu for Hidden Stockpile and Rite of Oblivion.)

Lotus Field Combo

When it comes to boasting pedigree, few decks can be said to have been playable in Pioneer for as long as Lotus Field/Hidden Strings has. It has even earned a card on the early banned list in Underworld Breach. While not as powerful as in the Breach days, it is still a powerful force in the metagame.

The actual game plan is pretty simple on paper: get a Lotus Field or two in play by turn four or five, then use the likes of Hidden Strings, Vizier of Tumbling Sands and Pore Over the Pages to draw through the deck in order to cast Emergent Ultimatum, offering the opponent the choice between Peer into the Abyss, Pore over the Pages, and Omniscience. The “correct” choice for the opponent is to give Pore and Omniscience, as this gives the largest failure rate; however, not all players are aware of this. The other two options will more frequently result in a win, giving the Lotus player the ability to draw half of the deck for free while also getting access to some degree of mana. 

“When it comes to boasting pedigree, few decks can be said to have been playable in Pioneer for as long as Lotus Field/Hidden Strings has.”

From there, winning the game is usually just a matter of wishing for an Approach of the Second Sun out of the sideboard with Fae of Wishes and casting it twice. Between some complicated maindeck lines, needing to know how to utilize a wishboard properly, and figuring out how to play around the myriad hate pieces in the format, this deck isn’t one that we recommend picking up lightly, as those with the most experience with it will see the best results. 

Pros:

  • A linear plan is good for an open metagame.
  • Most decks aren’t prepared for Lotus in game one.
  • Favorable matchups against some of the most popular archetypes in the format such as Phoenix and Midrange piles.

Cons:

  • There’s a steep learning curve and the deck takes time to master. 
  • There is a gamble in whether or not opponents will come prepared with proper hate. 
  • Karn, The Great Creator’s popularity means more players have access to hate cards that they wouldn’t normally be playing.

Boros Feather

Feather is one of those archetypes that seems simple at first, and it could be described as “easy to learn, difficult to master”. The core game plan of the deck is to cast a cheap threat that wants to see you cast spells in some capacity, use the buff spells to turn it into a legitimate threat and keep it safe with the handful of protection spells. The deck plays similarly to the likes of Modern Infect and Burn, wherein anyone can pick up the deck and pick the low hanging fruit with it, but experience piloting the deck through the metagame will reward bonus points in the end, and having a deep understanding of how and when to protect a creature could be the difference between a win and a loss. 

The deck has some additional reach by taking advantage of the surprisingly powerful Reckless Rage. Having access to powerful main deck removal can frequently be enough to swing entire games by removing a key blocker. Feather, the Redeemed also makes an appearance in the absence of Lurrus, acting as a late game card advantage engine. 

The deck’s weaknesses are also apparent in its low threat density and are exacerbated by poor management of the protection spells. It can really punish a greedy mulligan decision as well.

Pros:

  • A fast clock that punishes the likes of combo decks and any deck that stumbles for even a turn.
  • Reckless Rage and large creatures capable of clearing out blockers. 
  • Feather, the Redeemed and Dreadhorde Arcanist provide the tools to keep pace in a grindy matchup reasonably well.

Cons:

  • Greedy mulligan decisions can be severely punished.
  • Decks with early interaction can be impossible to navigate due to low threat density.
  • A very high learning curve in comparison to other aggressive decks.

Naya Winota

Naya Winota has long been Pioneer’s premier creature-based “oops I win” deck. Boasting a swath of one-mana acceleration into some tremendous midrange style threats, while also maintaining the ability to dump insane amounts of value onto the board with one attack starting on turn three, Winota is certainly a force to be reckoned with. The deck is quite good at doing the thing it wants to do, which is dump bodies into play. However, it is also susceptible to all of the typical downfalls that creature-reliant decks face, such as a struggle to rebuild after heavy removal. 

For what it’s worth, the deck is extremely simple to pick up and play. It is a popular choice for “My First Tiered Deck” as there aren’t many intense lines to memorize, and the gameplan is rather straightforward.

Pros:

  • Simple, Linear aggro deck with explosive starts to punish opponents who’ve lowered their guard
  • Consistent gameplay thanks to basic deck construction
  • Strong pivot option via Esika’s Chariot should things go awry

Cons:

  • Difficult to rebuild boardstate after a wipe
  • Repetitive play lines make the deck feel the same every round
  • Minimal sideboard interaction that doesn’t detract from the combo element

Jund Sacrifice

Jund Sacrifice, another deck that has been floating around the pioneer metagame for ages, is a synergy-based midrange deck that looks to take advantage of the interactions with Food tokens present in Throne of Eldraine, alongside some powerful midrange threats such as Korvold, Fae-Cursed King and Karn the Great Creator to overwhelm opponents with generated value, and grind them slowly to nothingness. 

Current iterations of the deck are very well-positioned against most of the aggressive decks in the format, as well as the myriad of artifact-based decks thanks to the likes of Karn and Mayhem devil acting as tremendous removal spells. Cauldron Familiar and Witch’s Oven provide the stabilization required to take every game into the late stages, and Trail of Crumbs provides the card advantage to get ahead and stay ahead.

Pros:

  • Punishing the artifact-based decks with Karn the Great Creator
  • Invalidating most creature-based strategies via Cat/Oven and Mayhem Devil.
  • A strong and resilient late game plan in Korvold, Fae-Cursed King and Trail of Crumbs

Cons:

  • Struggling against the combo decks in the format due to a lack of interactive spells
  • Creature-based combo decks or decks with built-in protection such as Heroic and Ensoul can sometimes get around Fatal Push rather easily. 

Izzet Phoenix

Izzet Phoenix has been the de facto “best deck in the format” for many months. It is incredibly consistent with its huge pile of cantrips, and it attacks from multiple angles which makes its threat package very difficult to cleanly answer. Being at the top for so long comes at a price though, as a lot of players have Phoenix as their number one target when it comes to hate pieces. 

The deck tries to control the early game by wicking away early creatures with cheap burn spells while taking advantage of its cantrip suite to sculpt the perfect hand. It then moves in for the kill by way of either of its two main threats, while maintaining the ability to pivot on a dime between the two. The deck takes several repetitions to master, as it doesn’t play exactly the same as the modern versions that players new to the Pioneer format might be used to. 

Pros:

  • The most consistent archetype in the format.
  • Phoenix itself negates most removal while Thing in the Ice renders opposing threats meaningless. 
  • Versus small creature strategies, it can play a control-style game.

Cons:

  • Few methods of interaction leave non-creature matchups in a difficult position, as the deck doesn’t typically pack enough hate for the various combo decks of the format. 
  • Outside of Stern Dismissal in the sideboard, it will struggle against any big creature strategy or any Heroic/Auras player that has too much time.
  • With how graveyard-centric the current meta is, everyone will be packing some hate.

“Being at the top for so long comes at a price though, as a lot of players have Phoenix as their number one target when it comes to hate pieces”

UW Control

UW Control has long been a respectable Tier 2 option in the Pioneer format. Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and Shark Typhoon have proven to be fair finishers, but the archetype got a tremendous shot in the arm with the release of Kamigawa. March of Otherworldly Light rounds out the previously lackluster removal suite, while the Wandering Emperor provides a strong threat to close a game combined with even more removal options. Adding these two cards to the already powerful Supreme Verdict and counterspell suite makes UW control a real contender in today’s metagame. 

While the deck has certainly picked up a lot of premium tools recently, it is still a slow and grindy control deck with relatively few win conditions. The deck is susceptible as always to losing to the game clock, as well as any of the resilient creature aggro decks that are able to get under it in the early turns. The archetype is as rewarding as ever to players who have put in the time to learn the lines, but it’s also strong enough on its face to pick up and play blind at an event, as there are relatively few decks in the format that will absolutely punish a control player who may opt to counter the wrong spell or remove an incorrect creature.

Pros:

  • Flexibility such that the deck can be configured to dominate any known metagame.
  • The ability to answer any realistic threat in the format.
  • Significantly favored in the long game thanks to its planeswalker suite.

Cons:

  • Games take quite a while, and mental fatigue is real for inexperienced players. 
  • The deck can be slow to get off the ground and takes several turns to stabilize

Bant Spirits

Bant Spirits is one of the few decks in the format that can easily pivot between the aggro role and the control role and back again. Its strong and cohesive suite of disruptive creatures are a thorn in the side of any deck attempting their own spell-based synergy plan, and the flying on most of the creatures makes them extremely difficult to deal with by conventional means.

Being a tempo deck, Bant Spirits has some very traditional strengths and weaknesses. The various combo and control decks are a cakewalk for the likes of Mausoleum Wanderer and Spell Queller. Supreme Phantom and Empyrean Eagle create a dominating airborne army that leaves ground-based creatures in the dust. The deck is synergy-based, however, so any sort of opposing disruption that finds its way through will often result in a domino effect resulting in the crumbling of Spirits plan from the inside. This is partially prevented by the likes of Collected Company keeping the board full, but the deck can on occasion struggle to recover from a devastating early blow. 

Pros:

  • One of the few aggressive decks in the format that isn’t worried about a board wipe. 
  • The ability to fly over opposing creatures and prevent board stalls with unanswered opposing threats
  • Excellent at racing due to a high density of Lord effects

Cons:

  • Has very few ways to catch up if it falls behind
  • Struggles to answer opposing cards with mana value more than four

Mono-Red Burn

Current builds of Mono-Red Burn, post-Lurrus banning, look to get as low to the ground as possible and turn on the jets with cheap and efficient creatures being backed up by equally efficient burn spells. Some players are finding success with Obosh while others are taking a more artifact-based route with Reinforced Ronin and Shrapnel Blast. Either way, opponents should be ready for an absolute threshing in the early turns. 

Mono-Red in Pioneer at the moment takes the Sligh-oriented approach to deck building, taking advantage of creatures more than relying on spells to finish the job. This can lead to situations where the red deck can effectively get walled off by a large midrange threat, but also creates a situation where control decks are tasked with finding their interaction much more quickly than they might be anticipating. Burn is one of the quintessential archetypes in Pioneer because of its flexibility and ease of entry, so while it may not be the strongest option for the weekend it is certain to be expected fairly regularly. 

Pros

  • Quick out of the gate and capable of taking down an opponent before they get the opportunity to set up.
  • Punishing to any deck looking to assemble multiple permanents on the board at the same time.
  • Strong sideboard cards create a flexible deck that packs on theme hate for a variety of circumstances.

Cons

  • Easily runs out of gas if early aggression isn’t enough to get the job done. 
  • Low individual card quality creates situations that require expert navigation to get out of and the opportunity for an opponent to stall the burn deck out.

  • Publisher

    ServoToken has been playing competitive magic since 2011, spending a majority of that time living in the shoes of a player on a strict budget. After investing a lot of time learning how to make the best of a bad situation, his goals today are to spread those lessons to the often-ignored population of Magic players who can’t afford to drop a car payment on a new deck every couple of months. His mantra is that “You don’t need to play mono-red to do well on a budget”. These days, you can typically find him deep in the archives of Scryfall searching for new cards to brew around or making tweaks to the Pioneer Budget deck spreadsheet on his unending mission to bring his favorite format to the people on the cheap.

  • Distribution Manager

    Tyrant has been playing Magic in events since his first prerelease in Ixalan. Most of the time, he can be found in the various Pioneer Discord channels talking about anything Pioneer, from various meta decks to whatever new combo deck he has brewed up. When not playing Magic, he is getting cards in his collection signed by their artists or producing the occasional video for his YouTube channel.

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