Sky Nomad vs. The World
On Tuesday, over two hundred and eighty players entered the Pioneer Super Qualifier on Magic Online, wherein the top two finishers earned invites to the upcoming Streets of New Capenna set Championship. Those spots went to Twitch streamer IslandGoSAMe on Mono Red Aggro and perennial Magic Online favorite Gul_Dukat on UR Phoenix. Despite not hitting the top-two finish, I still found myself taking part in nine rounds out of the hundreds being played that night.
Being the first Super PTQ I have played in quite some time; I was excited there would be a Pioneer event outside of work for us East Coast players and I set out to find the deck that could potentially take me into Top 8. I started looking at the top decks in the format as UW Control, UR Phoenix, and Lotus Field. With those decks as my front-runners, I looked through various lists, tested each in Magic Online leagues, and concluded that I wanted to take UW Control into this event.
In looking over the past few weeks of results, it was clear that there were two styles of UW Control doing well. A more traditional 60-card version and a newer Yorion, Sky Nomad version that had won the Showcase challenge. While adding companions to any deck seems like an instant upgrade, the biggest draw to playing the Yorion build was having a much better gameplan in the pseudo-mirror that was the 60-card version.
Below is the list I took into the Super PTQ, which was a copy of the first-place list from the Showcase mentioned above.
Teferi, Hero of Dominaria
The best Control finisher legal in Pioneer. Anyone who has played with or against Teferi since its printing in Dominaria knows the immediate pressure this card can place on opponents to answer it. If it goes unchecked for even one or two turns, it can be nearly impossible to overcome the card and mana advantage, let alone the back-breaking emblem.
The Wandering Emperor
A new tool from Kamigawa Neon Dynasty, the Wandering Emperor fits into UW control beautifully as a removal spell, an army in a can, and a way to force interaction on turn four before slamming Teferi on turn five. Having flash and being able to activate the turn it enters also pairs well with our plan of interacting at instant speed. You can also blink The Wandering Emperor with Yorion and activate it in your end step, a valuable ability to get an extra free activation out of your Planeswalker.
Narset, Parter of Veils
One of the most ubiquitous Planeswalkers in Magic, being able to stop your opponent from matching your card advantage is powerful enough, but also helping find specific answers can win matches by itself. Especially good into decks like Lotus Field and UR Phoenix.
Supreme Verdict and Farewell both play well with this deck. Being able to clean up multiple creatures and problematic permanents for one card is a hallmark of any control strategy in Magic. While Supreme Verdict is the stock standard wrath, the addition of Farewell helps this archetype, especially by exiling artifacts and graveyards. Farewell was backbreaking against Greasefang, Oni-cult Anvil, and UR Phoenix, especially in game one.
Be aware, Farewell resolves in order, so if you exile all artifacts, then creatures, you can exile Portable Holes and the creatures under them since they re-enter the battlefield immediately after Portable hole leaves the battlefield.
Absorb, Jwari Disruption, and Dovin’s Veto act as the maindeck counterspells. Jwari’s also acts as an additional land in matchups where missing land drops is a bigger concern than having an additional counterspell, such as in the Control Mirror. Absorb and Veto are the standard package for UW control and pair well into the format at large.
March of Otherworldly Light, Fateful Absence, and Portable Hole act as the targeted spot removal for the deck. March and Portable Hole have quickly become staples of the format and shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone playing with or against UW Control. Fateful Absence gives you better answers to opposing Planeswalkers and when paired with Narset, who reduces the downside.
Other worthwhile mentions
Given you have more slots in the maindeck thanks to Yorion, you get access to four Omen of the Sea to filter early and blink with Yorion for late game card advantage. Shark Typhoon allows you to threaten Planeswalkers or block small creatures and was frequently not making the cut as a four-of in the 60 card UW builds. Memory Deluge goes from a one or two of to a full four of as it allows you to maximize card selection in the mid to late game. With four copies, you easily find your relevant spells in long matchups like the control mirror and countering one half of the spell isn’t as enticing as countering other one-shot card draw spells.
One Castle Vantress and Castle Ardenvale give you access to flood protection and can help close out late games. Field of Ruin acts as an answer to opposing Castles and creature lands. Eiganjo and Otawara are your channel lands to interact with resolved larger threats and attacking creatures out of smaller decks. Finally, Hall of Storm Giants gives you access to a way to close out the game quickly to avoid timing out while also threatening opposing Planeswalkers.
Specifically for Lotus Field and potentially for UR Phoenix and Jeskai Ascendancy Combo, but less effective against those two.
In spell-based matchups, having access to the full suite of Veto’s is essential.
Best against discard and delve spells. This is one of your only answers against the rising popularity of Thought Distortion. Can also be used to win a counter fight against Dovin’s Veto if your opponent has zero or one mana left after the veto.
Rest in Peace
Plenty of graveyard-centric decks in Pioneer and Rest in Peace is your best answer against them.
Best against decks like Mono Red or RB Anvil where you can regularly get two modes of the card. If you manage to get all three modes, the value on this card is absurd.
Don’t leave your house without this card in Pioneer if you’re playing blue.
Helps you win the mirror and good against decks that go late like RB Oni and can answer your Planeswalkers through amassing a non-permanent focused board.
Yorion, Sky Nomad
Allows you to blink a key few permanents for extra value and helps you craft your main deck to beat up the 60 card UW control deck.
The PTQ Report
Now that we’ve looked at the deck’s specifics, let’s get to the events of the Super PTQ.
Editor’s note: you can watch all of DarthJacen’s matches over on his Twitch Channel.
I played against UR Control, a version of which can be found here. Game one, I managed to strand several pieces of removal in the opponent’s hand thanks to not playing any creatures. After answering Narset and Niv-Mizzet, I was able to run the opponent out of threats and they conceded game one. In game two we went back and forth, battling for position before my opponent resolved a Day’s Undoing with Narset out. While they suddenly had a huge advantage, I had them dead to Hall of Storm Giants after they tapped too while low trying to avoid losing to timing out. While it was a close game, having a glut of Planeswalkers and a few Dovin’s Veto’s helped to power through round one.
The first of several 95-card mirrors. This game was a long affair (and I say game because the match ended in game one). We battled back and forth, both using Field of Ruin and March of Otherworldly Light to answer all land threats. Then, we each answered all the Planeswalkers except for the final Teferi for us both. With no more threats left in either of our decks and decking impossible thanks to Teferi’s -3, our opponent conceded the game with no time left on their clock and just Teferi in their deck. After both players going through all 80 cards in their deck and still not being able to determine a winner, it seemed like these mirrors would be quite the exercise in playing quickly.
I played against Jaberwocki on RB Oni-Cult Anvil. After winning game one on the back of Farewell answering graveyards and artifacts, I felt good heading into game two. I brought in too many cards, over-evaluating the importance of the graveyard for the Oni-Cult decks. After stabilizing the board in game two, I died to a Sokenzan, Cruicible of Defiance off the top along with a Ramunap Ruins activation. In game three, the sideboard decisions came back to haunt me as I died to on-board 3/2s with a hand of two Dovin’s Veto and a spare Rest in Peace that couldn’t answer the board. Seeing how the games played out post-board, I prepared to change my strategy if I played against the deck again.
Next up, I played against another deck that looked like RB but ended up discarding a late Parhelion II in game one to let me know that it was in fact Mardu Greasefang. I was able to control the board and keep the graveyard clear of Parhelions thanks to a Farewell. In game two, I fell behind by being on the draw and the opponent was able to discard a Parhelion to a Blood Token and cast a Greasefang while I was tapped out. Game three I was able to answer early creatures, land a Rest in Peace, and then Supreme Verdict their board. I resolved an end-step Memory Deluge and my opponent conceded to the Teferi coming down.
Yet another UW Yorion Control match. This time I was able to find my Wandering Emperors and counterspells while they drew their wraths and removal. After taking game one, we played a back-and-forth game where I was able to resolve a Wandering Emperor, get an on-board advantage and then counter their spells until pulling ahead with a Yorion to get several cards ahead of my nearly hell-bent opponent. By getting ahead on board, I was able to force their hand when I had timing advantages and take the match.
This round I played against Misplaced Ginger on RB Oni-Cult. In a similar fashion to the first match against Oni Cult, I managed to clear the board with Farewell and take over with Planeswalkers. Having learned my lesson from the first match, I sideboarded fewer cards. While I lost game two to early Cat Oven, in game three we went incredibly deep into the game, with both of us trading resources until I was at a very low life total and they had no cards in hand. I scried and found a Hullbreaker Horror on top. After casting it, I was able to repeatedly bounce their top decked Mayhem Devil and take control of the board until I threatened lethal with Yorion and Horror. It was an incredibly tight and nerve-wracking match that makes me think the matchup is exceptionally close as both matches came down to late game top-decks in at least one game.
With only three rounds to go, I ran into the third 95-card mirror. This time I was the one who found only answers to creatures while my opponent found Planeswalkers and counterspells. After a drawn-out game two where I felt like I had finally wrestled control and had counterspells to back up my plays, my opponent cast a Hullbreaker Horror on the end step, and I was suddenly locked out of the game. Unfortunately, I couldn’t 3-0 the mirror and my run for Top 8 ended.
In the Penultimate round, I played against UR Phoenix. While game one went exactly how I planned with the Wandering Emperor exiling Phoenixes and Portable Hole dealing with Thing in the Ice, while counterspells answered delve threats, the post-board games were very different. My opponent had a very good plan for the post-board games. Game two, I kept a strong hand on the back of Rest in Peace and my opponent slammed turn two Young Pyromancer. I had nearly no answers left in my deck for the pesky two-drop and was quickly run over. Game three I boarded for this adjusted strategy and didn’t find a Rest in Peace. Instead of Young Pyro, my opponent leveraged Eternal Scourge and a recurred Phoenix to kill my Teferi and choke me out of the game. While I found a Rest in Peace, the damage was done, and I couldn’t deal with the multiple creatures in time.
Well, by now you will probably expect that in the final round I would find myself battling for a potential Top 32. What would I face? The mirror of course! Thus ending the Super PTQ with another 95-card mirror that essentially finished in one game. After endless back and forth, I realized that I couldn’t kill my opponent and I would deck, as I had lost all four of my Teferi. They, however, also couldn’t kill me. I managed to get to a point where I could kill with a Hall of Storm Giants, but they had two Otawara to bounce my creature land and deck me. Unfortunately, they had about three minutes left on the clock to win another game. I managed to win game two by slamming a turn four Wandering Emperor and killing them with damage. With 10 seconds left by the start of game three, they conceded the match and I finished 6-3.
My breakers held and I snuck into exactly 32nd! So, what were some major takeaways from the event and the deck?
- Playing this deck on Magic Online requires a fast pace of play immediately upon seeing Yorion in your opponent’s command zone.
- If the game goes past a certain point in the mirror, you are likely going to expend all your time in game one.
- I went 7-2 in game ones – with the two losses being the mirror. This deck is a monster in game one and, if you can adequately sideboard and plan for the decks like to show up, this is an exceptionally good deck to play.
- The deck felt fantastic, and I would run it again in a heartbeat – though I would add in one extra Hullbreaker Horror to try and capitalize on the likelihood of the mirror.
- Farewell was a major over-performer given the number of decks using artifacts, creatures, and graveyards as main sources of offense in the format.
While I couldn’t find the success in the final three rounds that I needed to Top 8, I was ultimately happy with a Top 32 and finding a solid deck to play in the meantime. While Pioneer is continuing to find more popularity, seeing nearly three-hundred player Magic Online PTQs builds hope that was confirmed by the organized play announcement: Pioneer is here to stay and bound to grow.