I try to travel less these days but SCG CON is this weekend. It’s one of the few events I’ll try to hit each and every time and this one is no exception. Even if I didn’t want to play the main event due to Oko reasons, there would have been plenty of side events for me to enjoy. Slashing Standard for Pioneer easily got me excited for the main event, though.
Let’s Start With Pioneer
Even after a wave of bannings, Mono-Green Devotion looks to be quite good. It isn’t the busted “make four mana on Turn 2” kind of deck but now it’s in line with everything else that’s going on in the format. I like that it does some of the most powerful stuff in the format while also having a reasonable backup plan of beating down. Mono-Green Devotion also puts pressure on the opponent to answer what you’re doing early because of how quickly things can snowball. Being reactive isn’t something I want to do in this format.
There are several other appealing options. Simic Aggro did well in the last PTQ, Mono-Black Aggro has the disruption, removal, and clock necessary to be viable, and the ramp decks go way over the top of what anyone else is doing. If the Season Two Invitational field resembles that field, then Mono-Green Devotion is likely much worse.
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 1 Surrak, the Hunt Caller
- 1 Rhonas the Indomitable
- 4 Steel Leaf Champion
- 2 Gilded Goose
- 4 Lovestruck Beast
- 1 Questing Beast
- 2 Yorvo, Lord of Garenbrig
Mono-Red Aggro also looks quite strong, but that’s mostly because of the clock it can produce, which other decks can do better. Once the format settles down and staying power becomes more important, Mono-Red will do quite well with Hazoret the Fervent, Goblin Rabblemaster, and Smuggler’s Copter. Those cards are mostly irrelevant among the popular matchups, so if you want a blisteringly fast clock, you should either splash Atarka’s Command or play something with Ensoul Artifact and All That Glitters.
Kethis Combo could be broken, but we’ve seen Todd Anderson beat up on the archetype with just some Voracious Hydras and Walking Ballistas, so maybe not? With Todd adapting Scavenging Ooze into the maindeck, things get even tougher.
I’ve been having a ton of fun with the format, but I’m going to keep this section short because I’m probably playing Mono-Green Devotion in the tournament and Todd covered the deck better than I ever could.
Still, my list is a little different.
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Burning-Tree Emissary
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 2 Polukranos, World Eater
- 3 Sylvan Caryatid
- 3 Courser of Kruphix
- 3 Walking Ballista
- 4 Voracious Hydra
The only real technology present here are the Gather Courages in the sideboard. Not only do they save your mana accelerators from Wild Slash, they also steal back the play in the mirror when your opponent uses Walking Ballista or Voracious Hydra to kill your mana creature. Overall, they’re high-impact in the matchups that matter and tend to create huge tempo swings, which is exactly what I want out of a sideboard card.
My creature base is slightly different because I’m trying to respect aggro, so I’m happy with the increased toughness count in Sylvan Caryatid, Courser of Kruphix, and Polukranos, World Eater. I’ve liked Genesis Hydra in the Modern version, but I’m not sure it translates all that well here. If your top-end involves planeswalkers, Genesis Hydra is great, but I’m more concerned about having those early, explosive starts than what I get paid off with.
Is there a way to get an edge in this archetype that no one else has without splashing? No matter what you get to add from another color, it doesn’t seem worth the loss of Nissa’s efficacy. Maybe Aether Gust and/or Disdainful Stroke are the way to go, but you’d have to really get mileage from them.
Realistically, I know I could audible into anything. It’s Pioneer and I like too many of the various decks in the format to say with certainty that I know what I want to be doing. All it takes is a single Magic Online decklist catching my eye…
As for Modern?
My disdain for Modern seems to be back, but I could probably blame that on Pioneer’s existence. Pioneer is the culmination of the last six years of my life, which involved grinding the SCG Tour and making my first Pro Tour Top 8, and nearly every season I had a Standard deck I loved and was sad to lose due to bannings or rotations. Pioneer allows me to relive those days by playing some of my favorite cards and strategies while also trying to splice the pieces together to make something even better.
On the flip side, we have Modern, which is a huge card pool, but one that’s ultimately made much smaller by the existence of certain cards or strategies. You can’t realistically sleeve up Elder Deep-Fiend in Modern because the competition at four mana is too fierce. The interaction is so good that synergy-based decks get picked apart. I prefer the gameplay of a format closer to Pioneer, so Modern pales in comparison.
There was a period where I enjoyed Modern, but that seems to have passed. You would think that a format defined by two midrange decks would make me happy, but the specter of big mana is always looming. I had a great time working on the various Stoneforge Mystic shells and I look forward to a metagame shift where that strategy is viable again.
Modern seems to be all about Simic Urza, Grixis Death’s Shadow, and Amulet Titan. The format is as narrow as it’s been in years, so there has to be some way to exploit that. Preying on midrange is the smart choice and playing big mana would have been the obvious foil. However, the midrange decks are getting stronger and both of the best decks are blue, so they’re packing hate, counterspells, and a clock.
I considered playing Neobrand with four maindeck Veil of Summers, mostly because it seems sweet rather than good. Inspired by the pre-ban Pioneer shells, Bryan Gottlieb and I were working on Mono-Green Devotion shells as well, which will probably gain some traction leading up to the event. Devoted Druid piqued my interest, but it’s a very bad deck if you don’t cast the namesake card on Turn 2.
Despite it all, I found a deck I actually like and think is quite good! Maybe this weekend will have me loving Modern again.
Sam’s deck is great but seemed like it could be vastly improved upon by utilizing that engine alongside a clock. I have another version of the deck that uses Brazen Borrower and some delve threats instead of Death’s Shadow, but a one-mana 5/5 is too efficient. I love the synergy between Thought Scour, Drown in the Loch, and Into the Story. I could take or leave the Cryptic Command / Mystic Sanctuary stuff, but it’s basically this version’s Temur Battle Rage.
This is not your normal Death’s Shadow deck. A long time ago, I was experimenting with a “bigger” Death’s Shadow deck with Painful Truths, Cryptic Command, and Jace, the Mind Sculptor and zero copies of Street Wraith. My logic was that you didn’t have to jam Death’s Shadow on Turn 2 in order to be successful. That logic proved true in testing so far.
You could attempt to beat midrange and big mana by using all your resources and tempo-ing them out, but it doesn’t always work. This version gets to play a longer game and has more resiliency because its cards have broader applications. If you miss on an Inquisition of Kozilek or have a Stubborn Denial when your opponent casts Tarmogoyf, you probably lose on the spot. Drown in the Loch solves nearly every problem in the format at the cost of being a little slower.
Into the Story and the Cryptic Command engine help as well. If you don’t have the correct answer immediately, you can probably find it. Obviously, there are downsides to being slower, especially in a format as punishing as Modern, but you are still packing a lot of cheap interaction. A deck with three-mana planeswalkers and Cryptic Command might not be viable, but Cryptic Command and one-mana cards form a perfectly fine plan.
Dismember is the best removal spell in the format at the moment. Being able to kill nearly anything for one mana is incredible and cards like Urza, Lord High Artificer; Emry, Lurker of the Loch; and Gurmag Angler demand it. Fatal Push can help with some of the threats in the format, except you don’t always have a fetchland. For anything else, there’s Drown in the Loch.
My cantrip suite is weird. I started with one copy of Serum Visions and kept increasing the number. Opt is the most efficient for your “draw, go” plan, but the greater selection is important for actually getting to four mana. I’m not sure where I’ll end up, but a split seems like a fine compromise.
Although this version of Death’s Shadow isn’t as weak to something like Leyline of the Void, it will struggle against an opposing Rest in Peace. Relic of Progenitus can be similarly backbreaking. Oddly enough, an opponent that attacks their own graveyard is scary!
Dispel in the sideboard is a nod to Veil of Summer and Mystical Dispute, two cards that are showing up en masse. The rest of my sideboard is a good mix of cards for Burn, big mana, and pseudo-mirrors, but I feel like it could still be optimized. I just haven’t figured out what that entails yet.
Two decks and zero Okos? Am I blowing my chances at winning the tournament?
Who knows. It will be a great time either way. It will also be a great learning experience for upcoming Pioneer events, which is what I’m looking forward to the most in the coming months.