Metagame Breakdown Nov 16th, 2022

Join Darthjacen for a breakdown of this week’s top Pioneer decks and the meta shifts that were seen in recent events including some new faces

Overview

Each week, we here at Playing Pioneer take a deep dive into the Magic Online results for Pioneer. We take what data we do have and breakdown what decks sit where in the overall metagame of Pioneer. These tier lists include a rolling average to ensure decks don’t move too volatility on the tier list after one good week. If you’re looking for an example of that tier list, here is this week’s tier list.

This metagame breakdown article will accompany that tier list each Wednesday and will go over the top decks, why they have seen increases, decreases, or stagnation in play, and cover what stands out for why these decks are contenders in the metagame.

So, let’s break down the various events we are drawing data from this week!

Events

This week we have our standard set of data looking at the Magic Online Pioneer Challenge along with a Magic Online Championship Series Showcase Challenge, and various Preliminary events throughout the week. For the Challenges, we are looking at all decks that earned the same number of points as the player in 16th in each event and for the Preliminary events we are looking at all 4-0 and 3-1 decks.

Each of these finishes are called qualified finishes and are part of how we determine which decks have seen success over the past weekend. While the number of finishes doesn’t account for all the purposes of decks moving, it can serve as a backbone to various arguments for moving a deck up or down the rankings.

Now that we’ve covered our data set, let’s get into the decks that will show up at your upcoming events!

Metagame Breakdown

S-Tier

Decks in this tier are the most heavily played and format dominant. These decks are the core that the rest of the meta revolves around. Players should be prepared to face these decks multiple times throughout a given event.

Rakdos Midrange

Deck Overview: Rakdos Midrange is the premier midrange deck in Pioneer. It continually puts up top results through discard, removal, and difficult to answer threats.

Why it’s in this tier: Rakdos continues to sit atop Pioneer as one of the top three decks week in and week out. With twelve qualifying finishes, once again Rakdos Midrange sits behind Mono-Green Karn and Izzet Phoenix, while clearing fourth place easily. The combination of Thoughtseize, Dreadbore, and efficient threats like Bloodtithe Harvester remains potent at dealing with the majority of Pioneer. Rakdos is especially efficient at dealing with the Aggro and tempo decks of the format while keeping worst matchups close enough that skilled pilots can win them.

This past week though, we’ve seen some issues arise for this deck. The return of Lotus Field and the rise in popularity of Gruul Vehicles puts a few more bad matchups for Rakdos into the field. Even so, the deck put up three copies into the top 12 of the SCG Con $30K in Philadelphia but failed to close the finals against Gruul Vehicles. If you’re looking for a powerful and consistent deck that fights on a fair axis, Rakdos is king.

Mono-Green Karn

Deck Overview: A ramp deck that leverages powerful Planeswalkers and high toughness threats to control the board before comboing your opponent with Chain Veil, Pestilent Cauldron, and your suite of difficult to answer Planeswalkers.

Why it’s in this tier: With fourteen qualifying finishes, Mono-Green Karn remains in second place behind Izzet Phoenix. This deck puts up top finishes each week and alongside Rakdos sits as the most successful deck from the past few months. Thanks to the spike in popularity of Izzet Phoenix, Green does have a few tough matchups among top decks alongside Mono White Humans. But, we continue to see that Karn and friends manage to win despite these challenges and this week is no different.

This is the last week of data before The Brother’s War releases on Magic Online and there’s no deck seemingly getting more pieces in the new set than Mono-Green Karn. Much like Rakdos heading into Dominaria United, we’re seeing a top deck getting more pieces and likely getting even stronger.

A-Tier

Decks in this tier are on generally on the same power level as those above it, and consistently post top results at events. However, due to certain factors like deck population or weakness in a key matchup they are not as format dominant.

Izzet Phoenix

Deck Overview: Leveraging some of the best two-drop creatures in the format along with the best cantrips, delve spells, and removal, Izzet Phoenix leverages many decision trees to find close wins and rewards deck mastery.

Why it’s in this tier: For a few weeks now, Izzet Phoenix has been the deck with the most qualifying finishes. This week again we see eighteen qualifying finishes, clearing second place by four finishes. Izzet Phoenix has consistently been the deck of choice for many top players and we’re seeing the deck find renewed success right before the Regional Championships.

With a strong matchup into Mono Green and a skill matchup into Rakdos Midrange, it’s no wonder this deck continues to put up strong results. You have a glut of removal and interaction to beat up the Aggro and tempo decks, meaning that there aren’t too many terrible matchups across the board for Phoenix. However, the rise in Phoenix has led to a rebirth of Lotus Field, which is one of the worst matchups Phoenix has in Pioneer. While the deck continues to rise, watch to see if more answers start to follow suite to keep the deck in check heading into The Brother’s War.

Mono-White Humans

Deck Overview: An Aggro deck trying to close the game out quickly through the various synergies of the humans cards in Pioneer alongside Brave the Elements as a lethal finisher.

Why it’s in this tier: Mono-White Humans continues to sit atop Pioneer as the best Aggro deck of the format. With six qualifying finishes, it’s clear that this deck can still hang with the changing metagame. However, since we’ve been seeing more Izzet Phoenix each week, there’s been a clear downturn in this deck’s success. While still a top deck, I can’t help but wonder if this deck might fall off in coming weeks if the removal heavy decks continue to see high play.

Even so, cards like Adaline, Resplendent Cathar, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, and Extraction Specialist give this deck the means to fight back. Along with a strong matchup into Mono Green Karn, I can’t see this deck dipping too far on the tier list unless Mono Green Karn started to wane in popularity.

Gruul Vehicles (Up)

Deck Overview: A more midrange Gruul Aggro deck leveraging the power of Esika’s Chariot and Skysovereign, Consul Flagship to help finish out games against midrange and controlling opponents.

Why it’s in this tier: After a strong few weeks, enough so to declare this the premier Gruul deck in the format, Gruul Vehicles went on to win the SCG Con $30K, demonstrating a great Rakdos Matchup along the way. While there aren’t many decks that can consistently beat up Rakdos, this deck gives you the tools to fight the other Midrange decks, while still having the size and speed to fight off control or Aggro.

While I’m still concerned about the Mono-Green Karn matchup, this weekend showed this deck is a real contender. With five qualifying finishes, it feels more like people haven’t adopted this deck with the same fervor as some others on this list, but the quality finishes are adding up and clearly there’s something great going on here.

B-Tier

Decks in this tier are proven performers with strong finishes that will reward good player skill/dedicated play. However, they generally lack a certain level of power/consistency to take them to the winner’s podium on a regular basis.

Abzan Greasefang

Deck Overview: This deck leverages the power of Greasefang, Okiba Boss and Parhelion II to speed out thirteen flying power and kill the opponent the following turn.

Why it’s in this tier: Abzan Greasefang is a bit of an anomaly among the top decks of Pioneer. It put up a solid showing again this weekend with a top 4 finish in the SCG Con $30K along with seven total qualifying finishes. The odd part, is that there were no copies in the challenge top 16s. It seems that the deck has the legs to fight amongst the top decks, especially in the preliminaries and even at the SCG Con events, but it’s odd to see no challenge finishes for this deck.

The power level of Greasefang, Okiba Boss paired with the various vehicles of Pioneer is off the charts and thanks to cards like Satyr Wayfinder and Grisly Salvage, the deck is very consistent as well. It can struggle against instant speed removal like Rending Volley and graveyard hate, which does come up often now that Phoenix is a top deck again. I suspect that Greasefang may be victim to some splash damage thanks to Phoenix and while it is still a top deck, it isn’t looking like it’ll move up any time soon.

Bant Spirits

Deck Overview: Leveraging the various spirit effects in Pioneer, this deck adds in Collected company for better staying power and acceleration in the early game.

Why it’s in this tier: As the premier tempo deck in the format, Bant Spirits managed a solid five qualifying finishes this week. We’ve seen the deck continue to slide down a bit in terms of finishes thanks to the rise of Izzet Phoenix, one of the deck’s worst matchups. Even though Bant leverages more grindy tools like Extraction Specialist and Collected Company, it can still feel impossible to grind through Phoenix’s card draw and removal.

So, if Phoenix is on the rise, why is Spirits still in the B-tier? Well, alongside Phoenix we also have the return of Lotus Field and the continued dominance of Mono-Green, two decks that Spirits eats alive. This deck has some polarizing matchups in the field, but we continue to see top players putting up top 8s and showing that you can maneuver your way around the tougher matchups until you find a nice Mono-Green opponent to beat up.

Keruga Fires

Deck Overview: Adventure creatures pair up with Fires of Invention to power out big plays for cheap. Leveraging the power of Keruga, the Macrosage this deck dominates the mid game and pulls ahead starting on turn three.

Why it’s in this tier: This deck continues to impress with a pair of strong finishes in the SCG Con $5K, it’s clear that there’s more room to grow in terms of this deck’s strength. Playing on one of the strongest axis in Magic, free spells, Fires of Invention helps fuel this deck to sprint ahead in the midgame. While the companion text on Keruga is concerning in a world where Mono-White Humans is strong, we’ve seen the rise in more midrange and late game decks and that’s exactly where Keruga can shine.

Once you clear up the battlefield with either Temporary Lockdown or Supreme Verdict, you’re set to dominate the game with Kenrith, the Returned King and Cavalier of Flames – two cards that are impossibly strong with Fires of Invention. Add in Leyline Binding and Bonecrusher Giant and the deck has no issues with power level. I’d like to see the deck continue to evolve heading into The Brother’s War and if it does, it will likely continue to rise up the tier list.

C-Tier

Decks in this tier are on an average power level for the format or are heavily underrepresented. Like our B-tier these decks can reward dedication to the archetype, but they will require a more concerted effort. Players should be aware of these decks, but not over-tune for these matchups.

Azorius Control

Deck Overview: The premier pure control deck, Azorius Control leverages counterspells, wrath effects, and powerful Planeswalkers to take over the game and keep opponents from realizing their gameplan.

Why it’s in this tier: It’s been a long time since I could say that control was putting up strong numbers, but these past few weeks are doing their part to change that. With eight qualifying finishes this weekend, Azorius Control secured a spot tied for fourth place overall. While the deck can struggle against Rakdos and Mono-Green Karn, it does a great job of fighting Izzet Phoenix along with some of the rising decks like Gruul Vehicles.

Expect this deck to show up at your Regional Championships and continue to look strong into the less streamlined decks of the format. Farewell remains an incredibly powerful tool that can steal games and with the decline of Mono-White Humans, control is looking stronger, even with Lotus Field looming as an additional bad matchup. If this change in metagame continues, expect this deck to continue rising up the tiers.

Lotus Field Combo

Deck Overview: Using Lotus Field, Thespian Stage, and untap effects, this deck combos out anywhere from turn three to five and manages to beat up on control and midrange decks.

Why it’s in this tier: Along with Azorius Control, Lotus Field managed to put up eight qualifying finishes including four challenge top 8 finishes this weekend. With the rise of control two weeks ago and the continued ascent of Izzet Phoenix, Lotus Field’s good matchups are abound heading into the Regional Championship. While Mono-Green Karn is a very close matchup, having strong matchups into Phoenix, Rakdos, and Azorius is enough to warrant some attention paid to this combo deck.

While it is tough for Lotus Field to ever get too high in the rankings thanks to the power of the sideboard cards in the format that can beat up Lotus Field, right now there’s a gap in people’s sideboards and Lotus Field can exploit that. Add in the changing tides of less Aggro and more midrange decks and you’ll see that Lotus Field is a great pick for the upcoming weekend and continues to put up stronger results each week heading into The Brother’s War.

Mono-Blue Spirits (Up)

Deck Overview: Instead of Collected Company, Mono-Blue Spirits leverages counterspells and cheap interaction to keep midrange and control decks off their gameplan.

Why it’s in this tier: Mono-Blue Spirits has been having a rough time lately and last week we saw the deck start to find some better footing. This week, we saw that footing break a bit. The rise of Izzet Phoenix continues to put these ghosts back to rest. While the deck does gain some good matchups with the rise of control and Lotus Field, it seems like the bad matchups are plentiful enough to stop the deck from putting up any qualifying finishes this weekend. I’d expect this deck to put up some level of reasonable results given Mono-Green’s popularity, but it’s become clear once again that Bant Spirits is the best of these decks and Mono Blue is likely headed back down the tier list if that doesn’t change.

Selesnya Angels (New)

Deck Overview: Leveraging the power of two and three-drop angel creatures, this lifegain deck keeps Aggro decks at bay while having enough staying power with Collected Company to fight off Midrange decks.

Why it’s in this tier: Angels has been a surprise deck the past few weeks, putting up strong finishes in the NRG events and now in the SCG Con events and online. While the paper results are leading the online results for now, I suspect that will start to correct itself once people pick this deck back up. Even with the rise of Izzet Phoenix, the deck still put up five qualifying finishes this weekend and looked strong doing it. With positive matchups into most creature decks and a strong ability to grind with Collected Company, Realmwalker, and Serra Paragon, there’s a lot to like about these new Angel lists.

While I still want to see a little more success for this deck in the coming weeks, the deck certainly has done enough to warrant consideration for the upcoming Regional Championships and easily makes the tier list this week. While we have seen this deck beaten up before thanks to Rakdos and Control being popular, right now there’s less Rakdos at the top tables and control is still trending up, but not nearly as prevalent as before. Expect Angels to find more success until people start to respect the deck, that’s where it can all fall apart.

D-Tier

Decks in this tier will find the current meta hostile to their overall game plan. These decks can find success in the right environment, but the winner’s podium will be few and far between.

Jund Sacrifice / RB Sacrifice (Down)

Deck Overview: This deck takes the pieces of Rakdos Sacrifice and adds green for Korvold, Fae-Cursed King. A powerful addition that allows you to go way over the top much faster than old Sacrifice could.

Why it’s in this tier: We’ve seen Rakdos Sacrifice alongside Jund Sacrifice fail to live up to expectations due to its trouble with Mono-Green Karn. While the deck does have a strong Rakdos Midrange matchup, Rakdos isn’t as dominating as it once was, meaning you will struggle to find it as often at the top tables. With only one qualifying finish for Jund and Rakdos each and both in only preliminaries, that’s a bad week for a deck that once was as high as A tier.

Enigmatic Fires (Down)

Deck Overview: A true late-game engine deck, this enchantment-based deck manages to take over from turns four onward and beat up fair decks like Rakdos Midrange.

Why it’s in this tier: Much like Mono-Blue Spirits, Enigmatic is no longer the preferred Fires deck, and as people pick other decks in a similar vein over this one, results will continue to dry up. With only three qualifying finishes, the deck still has solid results, but not enough to stay in C tier. While the deck has plenty of great tools, it still feels like it is a little too slow for the metagame at large, especially against Mono-Green Karn and Izzet Phoenix. The power level is there, but I suspect Keruga will continue to pick up this deck’s metagame share until it falls a bit to the wayside.

Wrapping Up

There you have it, our weekly breakdown of all the top contenders in Pioneer and why they fall into their distinctive places in the overall metagame. While these tiers can change somewhat frequently, be sure to also check out our monthly overview of how decks performed on a month-to-month basis found here.

Best of luck at your upcoming events and be sure to stay safe out there!

  • 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.

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