Metagame Breakdown October 5th

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

·         MTGO Super Qualifier

·         MTGO Pioneer Challenge

·         MTGO Pioneer Premier Event

·         MTGO Preliminary

·         MTGO Preliminary

·         MTGO Preliminary

·         MTGO Preliminary

·         MTGO Preliminary

·         MTGO Preliminary

·         MTGO Preliminary

·         NRG 5K Trial

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

Commentary on S+ Tier

As linked here, this week’s tier list also came with a discussion on S+ Tier restated here:

“As you may have noticed, last week we made the decision to slot Rakdos Midrange into a new tier, S+. Our weekly tier list is designed with the intention to act as both a reflection of the previous week, and a recommendation moving into the following week. We analyze winner’s pool match data from as many competitive sources as possible (MTGO challenges, large paper events, etc), and derive our standings based against the opinions of our Competitive Guides – players who are in that field day in and day out experiencing the meta game firsthand.

We are moving Rakdos back down to S tier this week not reflexively, whether it be due to community reception of the movement last week or any other social factor, but proactively because that is what we feel is the best reflection of the meta game from the last week and how we feel the deck is positioned moving into this week.

S+ tier isn’t used lightly, and we did at the time see Rakdos as problematic due to the general lack of adaptation seen by the other decks in the format. Our weekly updates are prone to shifts like this and are largely data driven, so if a deck is showing itself to be problematic, we will label it as such. We may be removing S+ from the list so long as it remains empty, but we intend to keep the label in our back pocket for if and when similar situations arrive in the future.

Thank you all for your feedback on last week’s list, we’re always appreciative of those who want to see us at our best.”

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: With a staggering twenty-five finishes this week, just about double the second and third-place deck’s number of finishes, the additions of Liliana of the Veil and Sheoldred the Apocalypse continue to impress. Rakdos looks like it got the best new tools from Dominaria United and has dominated the early weeks of the format in bigger events. While the deck has some natural predators in the format, each new powerful addition helps to shore those up a bit and give Rakdos even more ability to fight through difficult matchups.

While we saw a dominating number of finishes for Rakdos Midrange, there was only one top-eight for Rakdos Midrange this weekend. Decks have been finding ways to beat Rakdos once we get close to the elimination rounds, but to put up such a dominating 21% of the Winner’s Metagame while in the sights of all competitors heading into these major events. While we saw the deck take some lumps in top 8, don’t be fooled into thinking this deck is going anywhere but into the top 16s of upcoming events.

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: While this deck didn’t pick up any new tools from Dominaria United, it still managed to put up thirteen qualified finishes. While a bit behind Rakdos and down a pair of finishes from last weekend, Karn put up a dominating showing with six top 8’s in the three large Magic Online events. While there is a diversity of decks in Pioneer, especially that can win events, it continues to seem like at the top tables, the format coalesces around Rakdos Midrange and Green Karn.

This deck can beat up on creature decks, control decks, and midrange decks, only losing heavily to decks that can consistently kill before you establish your board state or leverage the singular color of blockers in this deck, such as Heroic or Mono White Humans. Much like Rakdos, there are a handful of tough matchups for this deck, but the addition of Liliana of the Veil to Rakdos helped keep some of those decks in check, pulling up Karn alongside Rakdos in the metagame.

While a respectable 10% share of the Winner’s Metagame is nothing to laugh at, it still falls well short of Rakdos Midrange. We’ve seen some decks start to target Mono Green and Rakdos and both lost some ground this weekend, but are still generally outpacing most of the format, especially in the larger events.

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.

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: Decks at the top tables of Pioneer right now are often trying to extend the game with interaction and removal or accelerate into their combo. Abzan Greasefang works to try and punish decks that can’t hold up constant interaction from turn three on-wards and often will leverage cards like Can’t Stay Away to win through disruption. Abzan Greasefang is the best Greasefang deck at getting your pieces together as soon as possible and constantly threatening opponents with unenviable positions.

Abzan Greasefang put up nine qualifying finishes, four in the challenges, and its ability to constantly put opponents under pressure makes it a strong deck in the metagame. Though, thanks to this increase in Greasefang, we have started to see more Leyline of the Void, a card that can instantly neutralize much of this deck’s gameplan and could lead to the deck falling in the rankings moving forward.

We’ve seen the counterplay continue to develop with additional answers to Leyline in sideboards, which has helped bolster Greasefang back into a higher place in the metagame.

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: Spirits decks find a lot of success attacking the various control and combo decks of the format like Lotus Field or Green Karn. Once again, the issue with this deck in the metagame stems from the deck’s problems with Rakdos Midrange and various Izzet decks that can trade up in mana efficiency. Even so, Bant Spirits also managed to put up six qualifying finishes this weekend, five in the challenges, showing the power level of this deck.

The deck’s ability to beat up Mono Green while fighting through most other unfair decks with ease leaves the deck in a good position to challenge top decks. While the matchup into Rakdos is difficult, cards like Toski, Bearer of Secrets and Extraction Specialist help to make it a more tolerable matchup.

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.

Mono White Humans

Deck Overview: Another 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: Humans is a very powerful deck, but the issue remains that in a format where there are plenty of interactive decks, it can be hard to close out the game. Especially tough into Rakdos Midrange, Humans finds success through taking down Green Karn and other decks that don’t play a lot of interaction. Having a good and bad matchup among S-tier decks can often lead to high variance finishes depending on which matchup you found more often.

While the deck had a great showing this weekend with only thirteen qualifying finishes, only two of those coming from the challenges or Premier Magic Online Events. It continues to be a factor in the metagame and will likely stay as one of the top Aggro decks so long as Green Karn is a top deck. If Green ever finds itself out of the top of the metagame, expect this deck to stat to disappear a bit as well. With the shift in power firmly favoring Rakdos Midrange, this may have already started happening to a degree this week.

Skilled deck builders and pilots have been working to mitigate the Rakdos Matchup in the same way as Bant Spirits, with cards like Extraction Specialist and Wedding Announcement, but the deck’s primary path to victory still runs through uninteractive decks like Mono Green.

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: With four qualifying finishes, this deck struggled to put up strong results this weekend. The deck can struggle against both Rakdos and Green Karn at times, but as we continue to see the refinement of the sixty-card version, skilled pilots are able to steal some matches against those bad matchups.

Much like with Rakdos, decks are on a clock to end the game against Azorius Control, as Teferi, Hero of Dominaria remains an oppressive threat when left unchecked. This deck leverages cheap counterspells to keep the board from becoming too difficult to handle and you are especially favored against many decks game one, as you make much of their interaction dead. Leveraging a strong sideboard plan for difficult matchups allows you to make your way through games two and three and close out at least one of those games.

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: It is hard to ever write off this deck. It has been around for ages in Pioneer and through the continual additions of creatures like Ledger Shredder and more efficient removal, the deck continues to put up a strong fight against much of the metagame. The deck managed to put up nine qualifying finishes this week, leaving it in fourth place in number of results this week. With a strong matchup into Green Karn, the deck gets a lot of advantage in that deck being S-tier. Much like Mono White Humans though, the deck suffers versus Rakdos Midrange and the matchup lottery can leave you in some trouble.

Skilled pilots continue to find repeated success with this deck, we have seen it start to fall off a bit thanks to other decks being able to attack them with the increase of Leyline of the Voids shutting down this deck and Abzan Greasefang.

Jund Sacrifice / RB Sacrifice

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: This week, Rakdos Sacrifice finally found a foothold into the metagame with eight qualifying finishes, but with seven of those in the Magic Online Challenges and Premier Events, that number looks even stronger. Along with two more finishes for Jund Sacrifice in the Prelims, these decks had a standout weekend.

In the inverse of some of the other decks above, this deck manages to attack Rakdos Midrange well through repeated value generation and an over-the-top threat that can refill their hand, even in response to removal. Korvold is a KO against Rakdos, so protect it accordingly and leverage your knowledge of Rakdos adding in Liliana of the Veil as a clean answer to a solo Korvold. This deck is on the rise and will be something I keep my eyes on moving forward into next week.

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.

Enigmatic Fires

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: With the addition of Leyline Binding, this deck has found a lot more steam –especially thanks to its strong matchup into Rakdos Midrange. If your opponent is trying to reach the mid to late game, then Enigmatic likely goes over the top and the engines in this deck will take over the game when left untouched. We saw Enigmatic put up three qualifying finishes this weekend, with all those finishes coming from the Challenges and Premier events.

The biggest issue with this deck is the set-up time. Unlike many decks, you don’t even start making progress towards your gameplan in a meaningful way until turn three or four. That’s just too slow versus the Aggro decks in the format or Green Karn that can get set up to combo before you’ve even gotten your engines online and means that sometimes, even against your better matchups, you’ll fail to get off the ground in time and fall too far behind in the early game. The power level is there but finding a way to speed up the process will be key to this deck’s long-term success.

Mono White Midrange

Deck Overview:  This deck leverages the power of white creature and removal in the early game before pivoting to Karn the Great Creator and other various midrange threats to take over the game.

Why it’s in this tier: This deck has existed in various forms in the past but showed up in force this week. With six qualifying results, this deck certainly has legs. We’ve seen mono white versions, white versions splashing Reflector Mage, white versions splashing Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, and white versions splashing both.

There’s plenty of room for this deck to continue to attack the metagame through grindy value resources that can deal with Rakdos and Karn to stop Green from comboing. One of the other elements of this deck is that it can easily deal with opposing Aggro decks by clogging up the board and using removal to deal with larger threats. While the deck does struggle against decks like Mono Blue Spirits, it still does a great job acting as another form of midrange for the format.

Atarka Red / Gruul Aggro

Deck Overview: An all-out Aggro deck that leverages some of the best threats in red along with Atarka’s Command to close out the game.

Why it’s in this tier: This deck has started showing up in the past few weeks thanks in part to IslandGoSame’s Twitch and Youtube along with a second-place finish in last week’s challenge. This week, the various Gruul decks led by Willy Edel changed up their builds and managed to overall get four qualifying finishes. While we won’t know quite yet if Atarka Red or Gruul Aggro will end up holding this spot in the long-term, for now, we are seeing these newer Aggro decks working to take down Mono Green while fighting through Rakdos’ glut of removal.

These decks have my attention and putting up some strong results in the hands of strong pilots certainly garners attention and we will have to see if Rakdos will adjust to these new decks or if these Aggro decks will continue to find more success.

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.

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: The deck continues the theme of having a strong matchup into Green Karn and other various over-the-top decks but struggles against removal heavy decks like Rakdos. With the increase in Rending Volley in many sideboards to attack Greasefang, Mono Blue spirits catches a stray shot and loses some power in the metagame. Even so, we still saw Mono Blue Spirits put up a pair qualifying finishes, continuing its downward trend as Bant Spirits continues to eat up the deck’s winner’s metagame share.

If we see Green Karn or various control and combo decks start to push out Rakdos, Spirits immediately launches into the higher tiers, but for now, there’s just too much cheap removal around and that’s evident in the drop-off this deck has suffered in terms of results over the past few weeks.

Lotus Field Combo

Deck Overview: Using Lotus Field, Thespian's 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: This deck beats two styles of deck in particular: midrange and control. If you can’t close the game out quickly, Lotus Field is very favored to take over the game. Unfortunately, there are plenty of Aggro decks and decks like Green Karn that can end the game effectively on turn four, leaving you without enough time to find consistent results.

This week, Lotus managed to prey upon some of the top decks a little more with four top finishes, including only one in the challenges or premier events, but that one finish was a win in the Super Regional Championship Qualifier Sunday giving the deck a nice sign of life going into this upcoming weekend.

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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