Metagame Breakdown November 23rd, 2022

Join Darthjacen for a breakdown of this week's top Pioneer decks and the meta shifts that were seen in recent huge paper events

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.

We also had the first batch of Regional Championships this weekend including Dreamhack Atlanta for the United States, Sofia, Bulgaria for Europe, and City Class Games in Brazil. These Regional Championships feed into the largest events on the upcoming Organize Play calendar and of course will count towards our data for this week.

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: As the premier Midrange deck of Pioneer, it isn’t surprising to see Rakdos Midrange show up in force at the Regional Championships (including a mirror-match finals in Brazil). With plenty of ways to customize your builds, including Misery’s Shadow from The Brother’s War, there’s lots of ways to ensure you can target the other best decks. Rakdos also managed to win the Pioneer Showcase Challenge on Magic Online, showing that the deck’s continued success isn’t a fluke, even in a world where Mono-Green was over twenty percent of the Regional Championship metagames in Sofia and Atlanta.

Thanks to strong matchups into Izzet Phoenix and Aggro decks that look to exploit Mono-Green, it’s clear to see why Rakdos remains a top deck. While the Karn matchup is difficult, the addition of Shadow along with adding in more targeted sideboard cards like Extinction Event and Lifebane Zombie means that Rakdos remains able to fight back, even against its worst matchups.

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: The story of this weekend centered around Mono-Green Karn. While it struggled to put up the top 8s that were expected, we saw Mono-Green dominate in terms of copies in the rooms of each Regional Championship. With over twenty percent of the overall metagame in Atlanta and Sofia alongside over fifteen percent of City Class Games, Mono-Green was the most represented deck by a mile. When top players expect a deck to make up a large portion of the metagame, it isn’t shocking that some lesser-known decks arose like Selesnya Auras to punish the popularity of this deck.

Even with all the prep in the world, Mono-Green still managed to qualify many players for the upcoming pro tour and warped the metagame at every Regional Championship. While the results may be a step behind compared to the metagame representation, it’s clear that going into this weekend, many top players and teams thought Mono-Green was the best deck in Pioneer, and I certainly agreed.

Izzet Phoenix (Up)

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: With a string of strong performances over the past few weekends, its clear to see that Izzet Phoenix is back on the rise. With a second-place finish in Atlanta in the hands of Ken Takahama, a top four finish in Brazil, and two top fours alongside the overall winner in Sofia, Phoenix was the biggest winner of this past weekend. With strong matchups into Aggro decks and Mono-Green Karn, it’s no surprise that Phoenix has been picking up lots of wins. The biggest issues for Phoenix in the metagame are Lotus Field Combo and Rakdos Midrange. While Rakdos is a top deck in terms of representation, Lotus Field remains a deck that never sees as much play as it should.

Izzet Phoenix leverages plenty of removal and early tempo plays in Ledger Shredder and Thing in the Ice to start applying pressure before ending the game with powerful delve spells and recursive Arclight Phoenixes. This combination of early tempo and inevitable late game makes it difficult for most decks to find a window to beat the constant churn of card advantage and pressure that Phoenix can provide.

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.

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 took down Dreamhack Atlanta after dismantling a field littered with Mono-Green Karn. While the finals saw a demonstration of how the deck can survive against Izzet Phoenix, it’s clear that Mono-White is the best Aggro deck in Pioneer, especially in terms of besting Karn, the Great Creator. With plenty of post board tools to deal with Rakdos Midrange and Izzet Phoenix along with a powerful curve and Brave the Elements to finish off the game, there aren’t a lot of decks that can outright beat Mono-White Humans with ease.

That being said, if we continue to see Izzet Phoenix and Rakdos as top players in the metagame, it does become tougher for Mono-White to move higher in the tier list, though we saw the roadmap play out in the finals of Atlanta for how to survive and win those matchups. Don’t underestimate the power of Wedding Announcement as a tool to beat up the interactive decks as it continues to generate value and apply pressure without overcommitting resources into potential wraths.  

Gruul Vehicles

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: Gruul Vehicles manages to leverage some individually powerful cards and turn that into a cohesive deck. Skysovereign, Consul Flagship and The Akroan War are some of the hardest cards in the format for Rakdos Midrange and Mono-Green Karn to beat. Thanks to that, this deck manages to beat up two of the most popular decks in the format with relative ease and consistency. While the Green matchup is closer than the Rakdos Matchup, this is the deck I would take to any event where you are expecting a glut of Rakdos Mages to show up.

While the deck didn’t mirror the success of last week’s SCG Con win at the Regional Championships, it’s still a top contender and has the ability to beat most decks simply based on power level and consistency. Where the deck struggles are both with clunky draws and if opponents can weather the storm early and out scale the power of Skysovereign, since that’s realty the final top end of this deck.

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: Many top players picked up Greasefang for the Regional Championships given the deck’s ability to take over the game on turn three. Add in a hearty amount of discard and possible interaction out of the sideboard and it’s easy to see how this deck can succeed. With a top eight in Sofia, the Rat Pilot managed to outperform my expectations this weekend, including earning several players Pro Tour qualifications. With strong matchups into Rakdos Midrange and any non-interactive deck, Greasefang has the tools to win early or survive long enough to reassemble the Greasefang Parhelion combo.

Thanks to the rise of Izzet Phoenix, I worry that there will remain a glut of graveyard interaction that will hurt Greasefang, but thanks to cards like Tear Asunder and Witherbloom Command, it doesn’t seem like those concerns will keep this Rat Pilot from finding success in the coming weeks.

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 show up in the hands of a few skilled players on route to strong finishes. With a 25th place finish in Atlanta after a pair of top 8s at the SCG Con $5K in Philadelphia, it’s time to start respecting the Hippo. Keruga Fires is a powerful deck that desperately wants to be on the play, even more so than most decks in Pioneer. Due to the nature of only playing three-drops and higher, other than cards like Leyline Binding and Stomp that can cheat that clause, you need to get onto the board first or you risk being run over.

With the continued rise of Mono-White Humans, there are some potential problem matchups at the top tables for Fires, but decks that can’t close the game quickly are going to fall behind to the value of this deck. With strong matchups into Green Karn, Rakdos, and Gruul Vehicles, there’s a lot to like about this deck moving into the second week of Regional Championships. Expect this deck to continue showing up and even picking up steam in the coming weeks.

Lotus Field Combo (Up)

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: Lotus Field Combo is finally getting the resect it deserves with a strong top four performance in Atlanta along with several strong online finishes in the past few weeks. Thanks to the deck’s good matchups into Izzet Phoenix and Rakdos Midrange, there’s a lot to like about this combo deck. While the deck will always struggle into linear Aggro decks like Mono-White Humans, it has the tools to try and survive until turn five where it easily wins the game.

The biggest draw to this deck though, along with the strong Phoenix Matchup, is that you’re able to beat most draws out of Mono-Green that don’t involve several hate pieces from Karn, the Great Creator. We saw skilled pilots navigate this matchup over the weekend and even with the printing of The Stone Brain, Lotus found its way to the top of the standings. While it is hard for Lotus to ever break into the S-tier discussion as it dies to targeted aggression, if players aren’t respecting this deck, expect it to continue to show up in elimination rounds.

Selesnya Angels (Up)

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: With the printing of Kayla’s Reconstruction, Selesnya Angels now has access to seven Collected Companies and that’s a huge upgrade for this deck. Given the lifegain aspect of Angels, you’re very likely to reach the mid to late game and having access to additional haymakers that can get you several value cards means decks like Izzet Phoenix and Rakdos will have a hard time dealing with you. Angels has broken onto the scene again in the past few weeks and continues to put up strong results.

The deck put up a 9-0 overnight in Atlanta and earned a top 8 spot in the Pioneer Showcase Challenge this past weekend. With sold matchups into most of the top decks in the field, including Mono-Green Karn, it’s unsurprising to see this deck continue to rise in popularity. The lifegain and flying threats give you good matchups into the various Aggro decks in the format and really only leave you looking to dodge control as that’s your worst matchup in the format. While we still have a long way to go in terms of Angels catching up in play percentage to some other top decks, this deck’s stock continues to rise each week and that should carry over to this weekend’s Regional Championships.

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.

Bant Spirits (Down)

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: Bant Spirits continues to lose metagame share thanks to the rise of Izzet Phoenix. For a long time, the various spirits decks were the answer to Mono-Green Karn, but lately we’ve seen other decks start to take that mantel. With lots of removal and interaction at the top of the tier list, unfortunately, Bant Spirits takes a hit.

Among the top two tiers, there’s only one good matchup for Bant Spirits and that means there’s not a ton of reason to play this deck in the upcoming weeks. However, with over twenty percent of the field at the Regional Championships being Mono-Green, there’s still hope for the ghosts if they can manage to make the Phoenix matchup a little more bearable.

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: Azorius Control had a strong showing this past weekend, including three copies earning Pro Tour Invites with one top 8 at Dreamhack Atlanta, one copy making top 8 of City Class Games in Brazil,  and a second place finish in Sofia. These events proved very conducive to strong control players making deep runs into the event thanks to open decklists allowing control players additional information not normally offered to them, and a somewhat predictable overall meta share. The deck continues to gain traction thanks to the deck’s solid Izzet Phoenix matchup and ability to stave off some of the non-Rakdos midrange decks like Selesnya Angels and Gruul Vehicles. 

Where the deck continues to struggle is against Mono-Green Karn, Rakdos Midrange, Mono-White Humans, and Lotus Field Combo. With Pioneer having a wide swath of playable decks, especially some new decks that appeared over the weekend, it can be hard for control to tailor its tools to best attack the week-to-week meta-game. With that being said, I suspect we will continue to see control put up solid finishes as it contains Izzet Phoenix and Angels, but the continued metagame dominance of Mono-Green along with strong showings from Rakdos and Lotus Field give me pause when recommending this deck higher than C-tier.

Mono-Blue Spirits

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: Honestly? Because Mono-Green put up twenty plus percent of the metagame in several Regional Championships. This deck is able to destroy green and does a good job of containing the rising control decks alongside Lotus Field. Outside of those matchups, though, there’s not a ton going for Mono-Blue right now. With bad matchups into Rakdos and Izzet Phoenix, expect this deck to remain a viable option, but not a top contender. I expect players to adjust based on the results of this past weekend and see less Mono-Green at the upcoming Regional Championships, meaning that Mono-Blue might lose one of its best reasons for even being this high up the tier list. But, for as long as Mono-Green remains a heavily played deck, Mono-Blue always has a means to steal games and events.

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.

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: 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. Enigmatic managed to put up a top 8 performance in Atlanta, surprising many, but the deck does still have the tools to put up strong finishes, especially if you hit a sting of midrange matchups like Rakdos or Angels.

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

Much like a few weeks ago when we brought your attention to Selesnya Angels after winning the NRG, but not having enough results to earn a tier list slot, there were plenty of decks that had great performances this weekend that don’t have enough data to warrant a spot quite yet. Be sure to keep an eye on Dimir Thassa’s Oracle, which won a small Magic Online Challenge, Selesnya Auras, which top 8’d Atlanta, and Selesnya Company, which top 8’d in Brazil. These decks may have been one-offs, but with the freshness of The Brother’s War, it’s interesting to see so many new takes on the format start to find success. 

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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