The Cat is Dead
Lurrus of The Dream Den is banned in Pioneer, which means that permanents of three mana or greater are finally back on the menu! A couple of weeks ago, I put out an article in our Mailbag section talking about the idea of Pioneer being or becoming a “two ships passing in the night” style of format. I ultimately said I didn’t think that the format was there yet, but it would get there at some point if Lurrus sticks around. Well, the bad cat is gone and so are the days of dismissing seemingly powerful 3+ mana permanents by saying “But you can’t play Lurrus”. So what happens now? What cards deserve to have eyes on them? Well, let’s take a look at a few cards in each color, as well as some color combinations.
This entry for white might as well have been labeled “humans”. But these are some of the best three-drops the color has to offer, and they happen to all be humans. While we’ve seen Selesnya humans flip flop between playing Lurrus and not, Orzhov Humans has stayed the course of playing a super low-to-the-ground aggro plan while being accompanied by Lurrus and Anthem effects such as Rally The Ranks. Now that Lurrus is gone, the Orzhov variant might want to go a bit thicker around the middle, playing more interactive spells such as Brutal Cathar and Elite Spellbinder, as well as a great go-wide card in Adeline, Resplendent Cathar.
I truly believe that this forced change will result in Orzhov being a better deck than it was with Lurrus at the helm. We’ve already seen 5C Humans enter the fray thanks to Secluded Courtyard, and while that deck is powerful, its sideboard is going to be more focused on white cards due to the nature of the mana base, whereas Orzhov has access to more black cards like Thoughtseize, Go Blank, and Fatal Push. The cleaner mana base as well as a more consistent sideboard plan could represent the reason to play Orzhov over 5C.
Blue was a bit difficult due to the fact that Lurrus was rarely played in Blue decks. When it was, it was Dimir or Azorius and fit within very particular archetypes such as Ensoul and Rogues. Both of which were tier two decks for a long time. Only recently have we seen Ensoul decks arise again thanks to the power boost provided by Kamigawa Neon Dynasty, and Rogue decks continue to really just be a deck that randomly 5-0’s a league on occasion. Still, this is moreso an example of a domino effect of a banning rather than a direct impact. What I mean by that is that these are cards that could be featured in decks that are newer constructions rather than evolutions of previous Lurrus decks, as the banning allows for exploration of other deck possibilities with the potential of previous Lurrus builds seeing their meta share drop in some number.
Brazen Borrower can actually see play in Rogues thanks to its typing as well as its flexibility in acting as removal. Rogues often were split between low-to-the-ground tempo-style Lurrus builds and chunky midrange Rogues. Borrower slots in nicely in either build.
Poppet Stitcher is an idea of a new spell-slinging archetype similar to that of Rakdos Arcanist. As you’ll see in a moment, I like the idea of Sedgemoor Witch popping up in these types of decks, and I could also see the potential of a Dimir deck featuring both of these cards. During spoiler season, I remember hearing people mention the possibility of playing Poppet Stitcher – but ultimately saying it wasn’t good enough to edge out Lurrus as a companion. Now it has its chance to be truly tested.
Stormwing Entity is a card that functions in practice as a lower-to-the-ground card thanks to its cost-reduction ability. As stated earlier, this card serves as a change in deck construction philosophy rather than slotting into a deck that was previously built around Lurrus. Now that we’ll see decks slot in some three or four-drop creatures, that philosophy can carry over to deck construction in general – regardless of if it was a Lurrus deck in the past. Stormwing Entity feels like the best representation of that idea.
Black has always been my favorite color in Magic, which is really on theme for me, I know. So these particular cards I’ve chosen have been near and dear to my heart throughout my Magic career and especially during my playing of Pioneer.
Liliana, The Last Hope is an incredible planeswalker that can be justified in seeing play in a plethora of creature-based black decks. She has built in protection with her +1, creature recursion and mill in her -2, as well as an absolute bombshell of an ultimate. This card is honestly my number one pick for this entire article as cards that should see an uptick in play thanks to this banning. She has undoubtedly deserved her chance to be played in decks not named Delirium, and now’s her chance.
Speaking of Liliana, we have her Magic Origins version in Liliana, Heretical Healer. I have been personally testing this card for the better part of a year in various sacrifice decks and she has been pretty damn good. I would encourage everyone to try her out in Rakdos Sac, as she pairs incredibly well with that archetype as a whole. Though not a Lurrus deck, I’d say the same about Jund food as well. Her ability to flip on the turn she entered thanks to cards like Cauldron Familiar/Witch’s Oven, Deadly Dispute, and Village Rites make her far more consistent than you’d first think. I’d personally try a low to the ground Golgari food deck similar to what we’ve seen in Historic. We may not have Ravenous Squirrel (thank God) but we still have a ton of powerful synergies and payoffs to give the deck a real shot.
An old deck in the format that has seemingly lost favor in lieu of the Blood, Sac, and Midrange versions of Rakdos; Arcanist seems poised to make a comeback thanks to this ban. That statement may sound strange at its first read, but being able to play copies 5-8 of Young Pyromancer and possibly trimming down to three Dreadhorde Arcanist and three Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger allows for the deck to truly embrace an identity and pick a lane. There’s a reason I always opted to call this Rakdos Arcanist rather than Rakdos Pyromancer, because Arcanist had always been the star of the show. Throwing Sedgemoor Witch in allows the deck to lean into this go-wide spell slinging strategy and truly pinpoint its deck construction to take full advantage of that game plan. A card that is a good example of this would be Plumb the Forbidden. It pairs so incredibly well with the Witch and is exactly the type of deck construction you want to see a deck evolve into.
Okay okay, I know I’ve been limiting it to only three cards per color thus far, but c’mon. There are so many options in red it isn’t even funny. Bedlam Reveler is a great tool for these Rakdos Blood, Arcanist, and Aggro decks to make use of all of the cheap spells in the deck and refuel their hands mid to late game. I could even see an argument for this card showing up in Feather decks as well.
Experimental Frenzy and Torbran, Thane of Red Fell are both cards that are featured for the same reason, presenting powerful curve-toppers in aggro decks – something we haven’t seen in the format since Lurrus has been around – to act as late-game threats to help close games that end up stalling a bit. Torbran is exceptionally good at this thanks to its damage increase for red cards, while Experimental Frenzy could legitimately be considered a four-of in red decks that look to “storm off” and flood the board with threats and ETB damage output.
Embercleave is a card that Lurrus decks would have loved to have played because it’s essentially a two-mana card most of the time when it’s cast anyway. Plus, I still stand by my statement that Embercleave is the most powerful artifact from that cycle.
Another great card for Aggro decks is Anax, Hardened in the Forge, who acts as sweeper protection which is always a key component of the game plan of aggro decks in some variety. Another Eldraine card that’s proven to be powerful is Bonecrusher Giant. Honestly there’s not much to say about the card, he’s removal, he’s burn, he makes it so damage can’t be prevented, AND it all comes attached to a 4/3 body that can’t be Thoughtseized after going on an adventure and deals two damage when targeted by spells. Okay, I guess I lied: there is a lot to say about this card.
Prior to Ikoria, an extremely common card to see come out of the sideboards of red decks was Goblin Rabblemaster or Legion Warboss. A threatening clock whichever way you opt to go that goes wide with goblins and grows either the individual card in Rabblemaster, or your goblin army in Warboss. So as you can see, red is going to be just fine without Lurrus.
Seriously though, the only green decks in the format are Walkers, Stompy, Devotion, and sometimes Auras. The only one of these decks that would even consider playing Lurrus is Auras. Don’t even try telling me in the comments “But Brad! There’s Humans, Spirits, and Angels too!” Yeah, playing green solely for CoCo doesn’t count. Also, none of these are even Lurrus decks; so ha!
In multicolored cards, we have a few solid options. You’ll notice that they’re only in Orzhov and Boros, but that’s due to the fact that these were two of the most-played color pairings for Lurrus. That, and there aren’t really any Rakdos cards that previous Lurrus decks would really want to run. Sure there’s Mayhem Devil that will most likely slot right into the Rakdos Sac/Blood decks, but that card is already a mainstay in Sac decks to begin with, so it felt uninspired to include it in the official list. I also considered Immurstum Predator as a sweet option for Sac decks as well, filling in that top-end Korvold, Fae-Cursed King Slot for the Rakdos variants. It just missed the cut, but hey, I am still mentioning it so there’s that.
General Kudro is a no-brainer for Orzhov Humans as it’s arguably the best Human Lord ever printed. It’s grave hate and removal on a stick, while being an anthem effect for the board.
Feather, The Redeemed used to be the obvious inclusion of Feather decks, but they opted to become “Featherless Feather” thanks to Lurrus. I would expect that to change now that the cat is gone, though I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s deemed that the lower-to-the-ground version without Feather proves to be the superior version even without Lurrus.
Kaya, Orzhov Usurper doesn’t have a super obvious home at first glance, as it’s for the most part a sideboard card. Brought in for it’s grindy graveyard hate, ability to snipe pesky one drops, and boasting a surprisingly easy-to-get-to ultimate. I could see this being a nice tool for Orzhov Humans as it’s flexible enough to be brought in versus various grave decks as well as the mirror. Speaking of Kaya, Oath of Kaya makes an appearance as well. Incredibly efficient removal that can gain life in a pinch. The real power is when you’re able to return it to hand or blink it as well. But the fact that it’s just super solid and flexible gives it enough traction to see play again.
Finally we have Showdown of the Skalds, and you can probably expect what I’m going to say about this card: curve topper. A card that seems perfectly poised to sit at the top end of Boros Burn or Feather to allow for refueling the hand of decks that run out of steam more often than not. I was high on this card when it was spoiled, and I still am now. Now it finally gets its chance to shine or burn out. We are looking at cards for consideration, after all.
Pioneer is entering a new age of deck construction that hasn’t been seen since Smuggler’s Copter was banned. But rather than free up four slots for Aggro decks to explore, we have an entire plethora of higher-mana cost cards seemingly at our disposal. It’s funny to say, to be honest, as if these cards have been banned for two years and Wizards just went ballistic in their unbanning recently to unleash thousands of cards onto the format all at once. While that’s obviously not the case, it’s really not that far off. Lurrus’ existance effectively pseudo-banned more than half of the card pool available to Pioneer. The phrase “but you can’t play Lurrus” is finally dead and I can say whole heartedly; thank f***ing God.