It has barely been a week since the announcement of Pioneer as a format, and what a week it has been. The format is a haven for brews, but early on we’ve seen an emphasis on combo with various builds of Copy Cat, Jeskai Ascendency and Aetherworks Marvel cropping up to threaten Turn 4 kills. I prefer to play a more honest brand of Magic and I’d like to explore how you can be successful in Pioneer with aggression.
The first place I wanted to go to when it comes to aggressive strategies in Pioneer was an old Standard favorite, Vehicles. Having the flexibility to generate enough pressure to end the game on Turn 4 while presenting threats that are resilient to sweepers is a recipe that I suspect to have aged well. The deck has also gained some exciting new tools that have been released since Kaladesh Standard.
In a year that has been dominated by the best planeswalkers ever printed, The Royal Scions have been mostly flying under the radar. An absurd amount of starting loyalty to ensure your Heart of Kiran is always crewed, plus the ability to push through damage by granting first strike and trample, forms an appealing package. Even the second plus ability can be effectively utilized, with Scrapheap Scrounger generating value when discarded and the legendary permanents having the downside of redundant copies mitigated.
The second new addition needs no introduction, and that is Teferi, Time Raveler. Being another high-loyalty battery for Heart is solid, but that isn’t Teferi’s only synergy with Vehicles. His passive has been exceptional here, as forcing your opponent into sorcery-speed play leaves them with no window to remove your Heart or Smuggler’s Copter unless they have access to proper artifact removal.
I’d also like to highlight just how solid the mana for this four-color deck is. Having access to three relevant Kaladesh fastlands does wonders to providing consistent and painless mana. Spire of Industry is impressive with sixteen artifacts and fulfills the primary purpose of enabling Scrapheap Scrounger recursion while not sacrificing your ability to cast the more color-intensive planeswalkers.
So with that being said, here’s where I’m at with my current list. With how flexible your mana can be, the spells are subject to some change, but I think the overall shell is rock-solid.
In a format that is still in its infancy, it’s difficult to identify exactly what you need to target with your sideboard space. Therefore, I think it’s more helpful to break down what roles your sideboard cards can fill and identify particular options you’re able to turn to.
Card Advantage Engines:
The next most exciting card that’s drawing me towards aggro in Pioneer is current Standard all-star Embercleave. In a format that’s shaping up to be skewed more towards speed than interaction, maintaining a battlefield to discount Embercleave seems quite doable. So far, several different shells have appeared, and the first one up focuses on Goblins.
- 4 Goblin Piledriver
- 4 Legion Loyalist
- 4 Foundry Street Denizen
- 4 Goblin Rabblemaster
- 2 Reckless Bushwhacker
- 3 Fanatical Firebrand
- 4 Goblin Instigator
- 4 Legion Warboss
- 3 Torbran, Thane of Red Fell
Ari Lax broke down many of the tribes that can see Pioneer play on Monday, which did include Goblins, so I’ll be brief. My first inclination is that Goblins historically have been too small to make use of Embercleave. In practice though, that’s far from the case. Goblin Rabblemaster is the perfect card for this style of deck, generating extra bodies while also becoming a huge creature to enable a one-hit kill with the legendary Equipment.
Goblin Piledriver and Foundry Street Denizen also help to meet the large creature quota, and Piledriver is uniquely well-positioned in how it is able to dodge interaction from Teferi, Time Raveler and Oko, Thief of Crowns. To its credit, most of the deck profitably ignores those planeswalkers nicely, providing value immediately or by simply being too small to be worth turning into an Elk.
While it may be weird to see a Goblins list with no tribal pump effect, Torbran, Thane of Red Fell fits into that role perfectly. With all the cheap and expendable bodies that this deck can generate almost incidentally, Torbran frequently produces six to eight damage immediately. Converting these cheap Goblins into damage when they aren’t discounting the legendary artifact is great at ensuring that they are always worth the cardboard you spend to cast them.
Goblins isn’t the only shell that can cast a good Embercleave, though, and after Javier Dominguez won Mythic Championship V with Gruul Aggro, I’m not surprised to see the strategy make the jump across formats.
- 4 Burning-Tree Emissary
- 4 Experiment One
- 4 Ghor-Clan Rampager
- 4 Voltaic Brawler
- 4 Pelt Collector
- 4 Gruul Spellbreaker
- 4 Zhur-Taa Goblin
- 4 Bonecrusher Giant
What makes Gruul Aggro in Pioneer so appealing? Besides my obvious affinity for that color combination, we finally have a format to play aggro stars from the past. Experiment One is joined by Pelt Collector to form a core of hard-hitting one-drops, and they serve a critical role of getting you onto the battlefield early while scaling into the late-game.
Burning-Tree Emissary’s power is often forgotten, but it was once a key piece of some of the most explosive starts of past Standard formats. When it comes to free spells, a Grizzly Bear is one of the more modest effects, but even still, it gets absolutely absurd in multiples. Even if you only have a single copy, it serves to discount Embercleave, power up your one-drops, and be an extra body to get pumped by Domri, Anarch of Bolas.
Ghor-Clan Rampager gives the strategy a bit of a combo feel, punishing people who rely on blocking by itself and ending the game if bloodrushed onto an Embercleave-equipped creature. The 4/4 side of Rampager has not aged particularly well, but unlike other pump spells, simply having the option carries quite a bit of value. Rampager and Bonecrusher Giant give you spell-based effects to hit off your Domri Rade, and both can carry a sword nicely in a pinch.
These decks are just scratching the surface of what you can do with aggro in Pioneer. I’ve also been interested in the Humans/Knights hybrid deck featuring a wealth of new creatures, and Tom Ross will be doing a deep dive on that archetype this week as well. It’s exciting to have a format that has every class of deck available as a reasonable choice, and I doubt I’ll stop digging into Pioneer anytime soon.