Is Pioneer As Wide Open Of A Format As It Seems?

Pioneer appears to be one of Magic’s most diverse formats and our experts give their top picks!

Yorion, Sky Nomad, illustrated by Steven Belledin

Welcome to What We’d Play! With the recent introduction of Zendikar Rising, many are unsure what they’d play in Pioneer. That’s where we come in and let you know what we’d play and why we’d play it. Hopefully this advice aids in your decision making for your next Pioneer event! Be sure to vote for what deck you would play at the end!

Ross Merriam — Orzhov Humans

I’ve been working on Orzhov Humans for the past week and think I’ve advanced the archetype in a couple ways. First is the addition of Luminarch Aspirant over Benalish Marshal. Lowering the curve here is very important because this deck is not trying to play a long game, and having an anthem effect that leaves counters around even when it dies is helpful against heavy removal strategies.

Second is the addition of creatures that have utility outside of combat. Giant Killer offers some removal that you otherwise don’t have space for because this deck needs a high creature count. Legion’s Landing, while not producing a Human, is a powerful card in a deck that plays so many cheap creatures. The extra mana when you transform it can be the difference between finishing the game and your opponent stabilizing, while Adanto, the First Fort lets you win games in the face of heavy disruption.

While this is an aggro deck, always keep in mind that you frequently don’t deal a lot of damage early. The goal here is to create a battlefield of large creatures that dominate combat, so if your creatures are too small to rumble early, don’t fret. There are enough anthem effects here to make your 2/1s and 1/2s into formidable attackers. And with Brave the Elements you can one-shot your opponent from a double-digit life total. If you want more insight into specific matchups, be sure to read my article for today where I go over the deck in more detail.

Shaheen Soorani — Four-Color Ramp

After a bit of Pioneer testing, Dimir Control was average at best against the rest of the metagame.  The results were not grim enough to abandon control completely; however, I will not suggest playing it if we have access to Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath and Omnath, Locus of Creation.  These two monsters create an immediate ramp shell that stifles any creature-based opponent, making it the correct choice moving forward.

Having the aggro and midrange matchups heavily skewed in your favor is reason enough to choose to play Four-Color Ramp.  Combo and control decks can be tricky to beat, but Teferi, Time Raveler is a strong start in those efforts.  I like Dom’s list here, as a more streamlined take on ramp that utilizes the broken spells that were recently removed from Standard, with very few niche cards I have seen in other versions.  This consistent version of Four-Color Ramp is a favorite to being the best deck in Pioneer, for as long as Uro and Omnath remain legal.

Corey Baumeister — Four-Color Fires (Yorion)

I was so torn between playing an Omnath list or my usual Jeskai Lukka decklist so I decided to just jam them both together, put a Yorion bow on top, and call it good! The thing I wanted to get away from with Jeskai Lukka is the vulnerability of the combo (either killing the creature I target with Lukka or Grafdiggers Cage being on the battlefield). From the Omnath side, I didn’t want to be weak to quick starts from aggro decks and counterspells for my big spells. So I decided to take the best of both decks and remove the weaknesses.

The final product is a very powerful midrange deck that really has game against anything, that’s sacrificing some of its power but not all of it. This deck can still do some absolutely disgusting things with Omnath and Fires of Invention; two cards don’t seem like they’re a combo but really are. The mana you get from Omnath allows you to grab Yorion from exile, cast it and something else for free then you have six mana leftover to cast other spells. It really reminds me of Yorion pre companion rules change.

If you would like to see some gameplay with this deck, check back here on Wednesday to check out my Droppin’ Baums on Four-Color Fires!

Todd Anderson — Five-Color Niv-Mizzet

The Pioneer format is currently full of fair decks that attack the format in normal ways. When that is the case, midrange decks tend to come out on top pretty often. Right now, with almost no combo running around, Five-Color Niv-Mizzet is a great choice for this weekend’s tournaments because it wins the grindy matchups quite easily. If everyone has removal spells and creatures, having few creatures and a bunch of card advantage is pretty damn good.

At times, I would not recommend Five-Color Niv-Mizzet because the disruption at your disposal is slow, or relatively weak in comparison to what the opponent is doing. In the pre-ban Pioneer format, anything outside of an absurd clock and massive cheap disruption was not enough to beat the combo decks that ran rampant, but that time is gone.

The addition of Omnath, Locus of Creation has put the deck into hyper-drive. While it might only be one copy, there are some turns that involve Bring to Light into Omnath, Fabled Passage, and then cast Niv-Mizzet, Reborn or another Bring to Light. The draws are easily enabled by the strong mana, and traditional interaction is rather poor because most of your spells replace themselves. Sometimes a single addition to a deck with tutor effects is enough to completely change the dynamic in some matchups. The ability to explode onto the battlefield with Bring to Light into Omnath leads to some games that are impossible for your opponent to get back into.

Most Magic formats seem to be mostly stable at the moment. Pioneer is no different. A lot of creature-based strategies are starting to pop up, including a bunch of different builds of Gruul Aggro. Five-Color Niv-Mizzet excels at defeating midrange creature decks because the line of Bring to Light into sweeper is not very hard and is relatively consistent thanks to having more virtual copies. Early drops like Sylvan Caryatid can provide a nice life buffer against them as well. Five-Color Niv-Mizzet has always been one of the top contenders in Pioneer, even when the format is hostile toward midrange. That is not happening right now, which means Five-Color Niv-Mizzet is going to flourish.