Challenger Deck Announcement and Reactions

Our team drops their first impressions of the NEW Pioneer Challenger decks

On Thursday, Wizards of the Coast revealed on stream a new product for the Pioneer format: the Challenger Decks. Following the success of last year’s edition, the second set in this series shares a similar goal of providing an accessible entry point into the pioneer format with a deck that can be easily upgraded along the way. The popularity of the first edition was clear at LGSs everywhere as mono red, orzhov auras, and lotus field combo flooded FNMs everywhere. While the selection of archetypes in this second edition is polarizing, they are sure to fill this same role for the coming year. Be sure to have a plan for the likes of Dimir Control, Orzhov Humans, Izzet Phoenix, and Gruul Stompy

Below are responses to the news from our team.

Ruckman

Wizards is once again showing us their commitment to the success of the format with another wave of Pioneer-focused challenger decks. Even though these products aren’t necessarily for me, I do recognize the importance of entry-level products for players wanting to get into the format. It’s also worth noting that even for a format as popular as Modern, it only received a single Event Deck in the life cycle of that product. So, once again, pat on the back to Wizards.

However, I do feel that there is a point where these decks stumble and that is of course the archetype selection. Eagle eyed readers will recognize that three out of the four selected archetypes are eerily similar to those in the last round of Standard Challenger decks, namely the Dimir Control, Gruul Stompy, and Mono-White Aggro (though this go-around it’s now Orzhov Humans). The Dimir and Gruul decks are so similar that there’s even clarifiers in the deck names so player’s don’t confuse them with their standard counterparts. Of course, I will hold major judgment till we see the full decklists, but these feel like they could end up being rather lackluster reprint-wise. Most reprint value in the Orzhov deck would need to come from the manabase (and the same goes for the Gruul deck for that matter), though there are a couple key reprints that could fit into either of these deck lists. I’m curious to know what our readers think of the selected archetypes. Are you happy with what we’ve been presented, or can you think of other archetypes that would better fit without entirely crashing the market?

Additionally , a release date of October 14th feels very late for this product. Of course, these could have been affected by the various production delays that are pushing back several product lines. However, with the new RCQ season starting this weekend now is a better time than ever to have released a more competitive focused product for players looking to get involved in the format. At this point, what’s one more product release on the pile?

Complaints aside, I’m very much looking forward to this product and am eagerly anticipating the full decklist. And just as with the last round of challenger decks, I’m sure I’ll be putting together another list of budget upgrades for players looking to take them to the next level.

Alex

Alright! New Challenger Decks! I have been a huge fan of this product line since the first time they were shown in standard and especially the first line of Pioneer decks was fantastic. Most of the decks were really well constructed, except for maybe the spirits deck that was like a 7/10, which is a great score for your worst constructed deck out of four options. So, while I don’t think the decks will be poorly constructed, I do think the choice of decks is not as good as it was last time around.

These are all strong decks and none of these decks are bad, but they are not the best choices. Now that Pioneer has more eyes on it and moves faster, it will be harder for WotC to pin down what the good decks are, make the Challenger Decks and get them to the shelves and it shows. The power of recent sets has not helped this either. Assuming these decklists were made at the end of last year, this would have been a pretty decent set of decks, but at this point they all feel a little dated. I especially struggle to recommend a control deck out of the box, since those decks are very meta dependent, but I assume that if the Gruul deck looks anything like the pile that always randomly Top 8s a challenge in the first week of every format that will be a great pickup for sure! I also wouldn’t hold out hope that the Phoenix deck has any Ledger Shredders in it, but Phoenix is still a good deck without it. If the Phoenix Deck still has Expressive Iterations in it, you just swap those out for a playset of strategic planning and you’re good to go. Orzhov Humans is just a solid beatdown deck that is basically never truly bad.

Overall, I think the lineup is pretty decent, though I am slightly less excited about these than I was about last year’s. The Gruul Deck and Orzhov Humans deck are probably the best out of the box ones (if you would make no changes) I’m assuming, but Phoenix can be very nice if the 75 is solid.

Bradcifer

My initial reaction to these new deck is a resounding “YAY FOR PIONEER”, as the last years’ run of these Challenger Decks were an incredible entry point for new players coming to the format and featured some really solid lists and EV. Unfortunately, that is where my excitement starts and immediately ends. Where the first batch of decks featured archetypes I could consider quintessential to Pioneer’s identity at some point within its young history, this batch doesn’t replicate that feeling.

Izzet Phoenix is a clear tier one deck and that is amazing, but the other three decks in Dimir Control, Gruul Stompy, and Orzhov Humans all aren’t quite as prominent and their 15 minutes of fame within the top of the format were quite literally 15 minutes. Dimir over Azorius is a clear indicator of shying away from the difficulty of giving us pricey staples such as Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and The Wandering Emperor. Orzhov Humans over literally any of the green Humans variants is just not wanting to give us Collected Company. Then, Gruul Stompy is just a really weird choice all around. Strange choices aside, the other concern is, “how in the world will they give us quality decklists again for each archetype?” Phoenix is the namesake card of the deck, and anything under a playset of the card would be a travesty and a half, but Wizards has loved to simply give us only one to two copies of important mythics in decks. Then there’s the mana base we got last time, featuring zero Shocklands across all of the challenger decks. Izzet, in particular, boasts a pretty expensive mana base as each of the respective land types are either the most expensive or second to most expensive of their cycles. Essentially, my worries boil down to this, Izzet has practically a zero percent chance of being a decent value based on the mana base required and the idea we need four copies of Phoenix for the deck to work; and overall the other deck choices are really lacking of either any Tier One decks to coincide Phoenix, or unique decks to garner interest of new players. The other three are just really, really boring choices out the gate and aren’t any of the top decks of their respective archetypes; let alone the Pioneer meta.

Darren “Servotoken”

I’m very underwhelmed by these new decks. The archetype selection is lackluster, as most of these archetypes don’t see serious play, nor can they be upgraded particularly well. What’s worse for me, though, is that three of these decks are currently offered as Standard-legal Challenger Decks. The product feels less like it’s intended to help bolster the format and more to just keep raking in the cash. I’m expecting relatively little out of these decks aside from Phoenix, which – given a good manabase or full playsets of the key cards – could see significant sales. 

All in all, I’m glad that the product exists, but this specific iteration seems less than worth the time. If I were to pick decks for a series of this product, at the moment it would probably have been Jund Food, UW Control, Niv to Light, and Boros Heroic. This type of product sells better when it isn’t already available on the market, and, unfortunately, 3/4 of these decks are already for sale. Pioneer players also crave a strange mix of innovation and reliability. 3/4 of these decks are definitely the wrong combination of unreliable and bland. So as to not completely wash the product, I think that these will serve fairly at their intended purpose, which is to give players interested an access point to the format. The Phoenix deck will certainly sell out, especially if it has nonbasic lands in it at all, which is at least one thing that both wotc and players can look forward to here. 

Darthjacen

I’m very happy that there will be more Challenger decks, as they have been a great boon for Pioneer, especially with the last set of decks. However, I am not thrilled with the archetype selections made here.

Izzet Phoenix is great. White-Black humans are interesting and a lot of the pieces can translate into Bant Humans or 4/5-color humans, so it is reasonable, but not as exciting as something like Heroic. Dimir Control is alright, but likely the choice over Azorius Control due to the price of The Wandering Emperor and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. I’m not in love with this being the default control Challenger Deck.

Now, I know that there were leaked images of a possible Winota, Joiner of Forces Challenger Deck, which would make a lot of sense, but given the recent bans, they needed to fill some gaps. I just don’t understand the benefit of Gruul Stompy, a deck that basically doesn’t show up much in Pioneer and leverages some cards that are in other, more powerful decks, like Rakdos Midrange.

We don’t have full decklists (and won’t for a bit), but if they keep up their tradition of printing most of the important cards, I can see these being a great boon prior to the Pioneer Regional Qualifier Season. That being said, these are a slight disappointment when compared to how good the last set of challenger decks were, but I’m still happy that we’re getting more Challenger Decks, especially in Pioneer.

  • Author

    Alex has been playing the Pioneer format since its inception and his love for the format has only grown since. After pulling two copies of Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh at his second prerelease in 2017, Grixis Control has been his deck of choice in every format. It’s rare for Alex not to include at least one Bolas in his decks, though he also doesn’t shy away from a good tribal deck. Alex has been part of the Pioneer Perspective since the first episode back in August 2020.

  • Author/Video Editor

    With a love for Ancient Egypt as a child, Brad’s card game of choice was always Yu-Gi-Oh! until the release of Amonkhet sparked interest in Magic. Ever since then he hasn’t looked back. Pioneer naturally became his favorite format of choice seeing that his starting point with Magic was Amonkhet. Rakdos is his favorite color combination but Kethis Combo will always have that special place in his heart as his favorite deck.

  • Editor-In-Chief

    Having started playing Magic shortly before the release of Return to Ravnica, Ruckman’s Magic lifespan covers the breadth of the Pioneer format. Despite not being a stranger to the Top 8 tables of the old IQ and PTQ systems, most of his competitive experience comes from the other side of the event space, where he served more than five years as a level-two judge, only hanging up the black shirt for good at the beginning of 2022. Currently, you can find him making Pioneer content for Crew3 on your favorite podcasting platform or on Twitch/YouTube.

  • 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.

  • Competitive Guide

    Darthjacen has been playing Magic since Dark Ascension and plays Standard, Modern, Pioneer, and Limited. With a Grand Prix win in 2015 and an SCG Team Top 4 in 2019, he continues to pursue competitive Magic at every turn.

  • 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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One comment

  1. I get Izzet Phoenix, but I would have like to see more “unique to pioneer” decks, even if they weren’t necessarily top-tier. Mardu or Esper Greasefang, Niv to Light, or Jund Food.

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