How Many Combos Can Fit Into One Pioneer Magic Deck?

Samuele Estratti took a remarkable Pioneer MTG combo deck to a Top 8 finish last month. But Rona, Herald of Invasion with Retraction Helix and Mox Amber is only the start of the fun…

Retraction Helix
Retraction Helix, illustrated by Phill Simmer

Pioneer is on stage for yet another Regional Championship season, which means another chance for the most creative minds in Magic to flex their muscles. Each Pioneer cycle so far has unearthed some thoughtful developments to existing archetypes and intriguing uses for new cards.

This is something else entirely. As soon as I saw this deck, I knew I had to write about it – once I worked out what on earth was going on!

Magic Pro Tour champion Samuele Estratti is back on that stage after a dominant run that saw him finish first in the Swiss at the LET European Championship in Lille with a beautiful and bizarre mashup of several fringe strategies. 

Rona Plus Retraction

Rona, Herald of Invasion Retraction Helix Mox Amber

Rona, Herald of Invasion is a strong opening act for your Esper Legends deck in Standard, but in larger card pools, she can aim much higher. Retraction Helix lets Rona tap to bounce Mox Amber which, as a legendary spell, untaps Rona – who can then tap to bounce it again, repeating as many times as you like and tapping Amber each time for infinite mana. 

With all the pieces lined up, this is one of the fastest kills available to any realistic Pioneer deck. In the longer games that are more likely, Helix can shrug off on-battlefield hate cards like Karn, the Great Creator by bouncing them to start the combo, as long as you have another legendary spell to untap Rona.

This is a lot of moving parts, but each of them is relevant pre-combo. Retraction Helix rarely appears outside combo decks like this, but Rona is an all-star that can also be a formidable threat once transformed, and Mox Amber is an impressive card if your deck supports it.

Tyvar Joins the Brawl

Tyvar, Jubilant Brawler

Tyvar, Jubilant Brawler is the perfect match for Rona at every point. Rona into Tyvar yields at least three Rona activations on the Tyvar turn to loot towards the missing pieces. If the opponent kills Rona to stop your shenanigans, Tyvar brings her right back and lets her activate immediately. Their chemistry is so strong that Sultai is the default colour combination for a Rona deck, barring an equally compelling pitch from proven combo enablers like Jeskai Ascendancy.

Sultai Rona, Based in Black and Blue

There are several natural paths you can take from here. The first contender was a combo-centric list using the cheap black disruption and blue card selection alongside Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy and Dig Through Time (as well as the rarely seen Zirda, the Dawnwaker as a companion – a startling find in a Sultai deck like this!). 

Sultai Rona, Based in Green

Llanowar Elves Kinnan, Bonder Prodigy Wrenn and Realmbreaker

Meanwhile, Robert Graves booked his ticket to Barcelona with a green-based list that starts to resemble Estratti’s monster. The usual drove of Llanowar Elves and Elvish Mystics are turbocharged by Kinnan, Bonder Prodigy (which in turn is the legend Mox Amber always wanted) for explosive mana generation that can be harnessed by the planeswalkers and the abilities of Kinnan and Rona. Wrenn and Realmbreaker is another card you’re thrilled to cast off an Elf on Turn 2 so that it can churn through your deck in search of more pieces. 

The idea here is clever: I can threaten a fast combo with Rona or pivot into another type of threat that demands different answers, but those threats help to enable the Rona combo and Rona herself can manage the inconsistencies that come with this approach. Viewing Estratti’s list as a creative execution of this plan makes things much clearer. 

Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast

Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast Atraxa, Grand Unifier

Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast made its Pioneer debut in decks with almost no creatures (other than the Agent of Treachery or other heavyweight it was certain to turn your token into). Here, Estratti exploits the fact (encouraged by Tyvar) that your combo creatures all cost two mana to let Lukka work its magic. 

Atraxa, Grand Unifier has earned its role across formats as the default finisher to sneak onto the battlefield however you can. This deck has an odd spread of types, but the unique types belong to cards that are key to the Rona combo. Picking up a Mox Amber and a Retraction Helix here can let you combo out of nowhere even if Atraxa dies – or rather, if the first Atraxa dies. Unlike other Transmogrify effects, Lukka sticks around to try again – and, if you don’t have any creatures to target, Lukka’s +1 ability can go hunting for them.

Sylvan Caryatid Paradise Druid

Sylvan Caryatid and Paradise Druid join the bench as mana creatures that make red mana for Lukka (or white for Atraxa) and make ideal targets for Lukka thanks to hexproof.

The Atraxa Angle

Don’t imagine that Atraxa, Grand Unifier is a dead draw either – casting it on Turn 4 is scarily easy with this deck! Between your Elves, these two-drop mana creatures, Mox Amber, Tyvar untapping them, and Kinnan enhancing them, you have a lot of mana to throw at a good cause, and it’s hard to do better than Atraxa. In that sense, it’s analogous to Storm the Festival in Mono-Green Devotion or Emergent Ultimatum in Lotus Field Combo.

Atraxa also gives Kinnan a great jackpot to hit with its ability if you’re feeling lucky… 

Oath of Nissa Plaza of Heroes

This package makes Oath of Nissa work even harder – it finds Lukka and lets you ignore the double red in its mana cost. On top of its usual smoothing, it gives Yorion something to blink and can even function as a combo piece with Rona – as a legendary enchantment, it untaps Rona, so it can be bounced with it and recast over and over again with as much green mana as you have. 

Plaza of Heroes overperforms again here in a deck with legends across all five colours that already plays Mana Confluence to bridge that gap. 

Bringing Another Combo

We aren’t done yet! Estratti managed to splice yet another package into this shell. 

Bring to Light

It’s remarkable how few of the cards featured so far work with Bring to Light. Tyvar, Karn, and Lukka are all misses, and the relevant creatures all cost two or seven mana! Fae of Wishes gives indirect access to Mox Amber and you can find Retraction Helix, but five mana is a lot to pay for such a cheap combo piece. 

Valki, God of Lies Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor

Bring to Light for Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor is still one of the best ways to spend five mana in Pioneer – and, as with Atraxa, you can cast Tibalt quite easily if you happen to draw it. This looks quite different from Lukka into Atraxa but shares its job description: a great way to spend an early burst of mana that offers redundancy on the Rona combo later.

Coming Unmoored

Unmoored Ego Witch's Vengeance

If you’re adding one of the best toolbox cards in the format, why not make use of that? Unmoored Ego is game over against linear decks that didn’t have the foresight to battle three different endgames at once. Witch’s Vengeance is a smart choice of sweeper in a world of Humans and Spirits, but recent lists on Magic Online (MTGO) have adopted Extinction Event as a proven hammer against Mono-Green Devotion and the ideal answer to a flock of Arclight Phoenixes.

Yorion, Sky Nomad

You could run some or all of this anyway, but Yorion still rules the roost in Pioneer as a compelling incentive to play the full 80 cards. There’s shockingly little in the deck that ‘works with Yorion’ – other than Oath of Nissa (and the ultimate dream of blinking Atraxa), the closest thing is giving you a card to pitch to Rona – but this list is further proof that you don’t need to boost Yorion to make it worthwhile. 

Estratti’s list is a bizarre and impressive creation that gave him a well-deserved finish, but it is a proof of concept rather than the final form. Now that this shell is on the radar, I can’t wait to see what twists and turns it takes in the hands of other brilliant minds.