Is Five-Color Niv-Mizzet The Deck To Beat In Pioneer?

Is Five-Color Niv-Mizzet the new leading deck of Pioneer… or not even the best five-color deck in the format? Five SCG creators weigh in.

Niv-Mizzet Reborn, illustrated by Raymond Swanland

Welcome to What We’d Play! With the arrival of Kaldheim and the banning of so many cards in Pioneer this month, 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!

Ari Lax — Five-Color Niv-Mizzet (Jegantha)

If you look at the Top 8 of Saturday’s Challenge you would see a ton of aggro decks. If you look at the next four decks down that barely missed, it’s all Omnath, Locus of Creation decks, most of which contain Niv-Mizzet Reborn. And that’s also what won Sunday’s Challenge.

It looks like the established high tiers of Pioneer are only diverse in the sense that there’s a diverse range of creature-centric, usually mono-color decks to choose from, and then the Omnath decks trying to dominate them. I know which side I’m taking, at least until people show up with Lotus Field, and I prefer the Niv-Mizzet lists to the ones with dead cards like Genesis Ultimatum against aggro. 

The Yorion, Sky Nomad list that won the Sunday Challenge looks spicy, but it feels like Growth Spiral and Sylvan Caryatid are so much better than your other cards that cutting down on those and going up to 80 cards is a quick way to lose games. Yorion is a messed-up card so I’m willing to to be wrong, but Growth Spiral was banned in Standard and Yorion hasn’t been yet. Maximizing the card they didn’t allow you to play sounds like a good start to me.

I do want another copy of Valki, God of Lies, both to ensure I don’t draw it before I Bring to Light for it and because stealing an Omnath or Niv-Mizzet in the mirror seems crushing. Given the removal density, that might just be a sideboard plan, but I’ll start high on the card and see if I’m wrong later.

Dom Harvey — Five-Colour Enigmatic Incarnation (Yorion)

This week, I wrote an extensive guide to the early post-ban Pioneer results featuring over a dozen competitive and interesting decks. Naturally, I’ve chosen something else entirely. Sam Black’s article about Enigmatic Incarnation in every possible format piqued my interest and Pioneer expert and Niv-Mizzet mastermind claudioh’s 11-1 run on stream with his own list hooked me in.

A deck this sweet is great at motivating you to come up with excuses for playing it, so here they are:

  • Fires of Invention is the last truly broken card in Pioneer after the recent round of bans and its former home in Jeskai Lukka was fatally wounded by the loss of Teferi, Time Raveler.
  • Between Fires and Enigmatic Incarnation, you have eight four-drops that threaten to take over the game in the hardest card type to answer.
  • The infrastructure needed to support Incarnation makes you a great Yorion deck, which in turn makes you a better Fires deck. Incarnation gives you an incentive to diversify your expensive cards in a way that means you don’t get stranded with redundant copies of a dead five-drop but do have tremendous versatility in longer games where you see more of the deck even without the Incarnation toolbox.

This deck may be the hardest shell to optimize in all of Pioneer; on top of the usual manabase headaches and wealth of options in five colours, you have to enable Enigmatic Incarnation consistently while staying able to shed the dead toolbox cards for any matchup. If there’s one lesson from my article this week, it’s that you have to respect the aggro decks at all stages of the game. These choices are made with that in mind – every singleton toolbox card has some application against proactive decks and I’ve tried to keep the cute high-cost cards to a minimum.

Shaheen Soorani — Dimir Control

In Pioneer, I regularly flip between Dimir and Azorius Control.  Depending on the metagame in a particular week, a reactionary deck with stronger spot removal may be needed over a more powerful deck that tends to tap out occasionally.  Dimir Control does not have the flashy planeswalkers or win conditions like its Azorius Control brethren.  It wins the game through the power of its blue card draw while using the black spells for constant one-for-one trades.

Torrential Gearhulk and Dig Through Time are together in all my control decks in Pioneer, but many Azorius Control players forgo this relationship made in heaven.  In this Dimir Control list, the advantage produced by this pair is the late-game finisher, with everything occurring prior having drained both players of their resources.

Dimir Control is best suited for a slower format, which Pioneer is turning into.  Tons of Five-Color Niv-Mizzet decks are floating around, with black-based aggro representing the early-game pressure of Pioneer.  Even though black-based aggro has access to some strong one-drops, it falls hard to Extinction Event, as their power is derived from returning to the battlefield from the graveyard.  White isn’t the best at handling this type of aggro deck, or the most common midrange/control decks out there, so I look to Dimir Control for my Pioneer needs for now.

Cedric Phillips — Mono-Black Aggro

Bolov0 never loses. Or at least it sure does seem that way, right?

Last week, I suggested Boros Wizards (Lurrus) with the idea that people would not adjust quickly enough to the deck and that there was a one-weekend window to take advantage of that. Given last weekend’s results, it’s clear I underestimated how seriously people would take the burn-based strategy, as it did not perform particularly well. However, if you’re still interested in attacking, there are plenty of options available, with Mono-Black Aggro being the most resilient of the bunch.

The question that needs to be answered is if being resilient right now is a good thing. I’d like to say yes, but that’s solely because Bolov0 keeps winning with this deck and has been through all of Pioneer’s ebbs and flows. Also, there’s a pretty high floor on any aggressive deck that has good mana, Mutavault, and Thoughtseize.

I get it. There’s nothing particularly sexy about Mono-Black Aggro at this point. But wins are wins and you don’t get extra match win points for doing cool stuff with goofball enchantments like Enigmatic Incarnation (sorry Dom and Sam!). This is a boring pick, I know, but if it’s good enough for Bolov0, it’s good enough for me and you.

Ross Merriam — Jund Citadel

Jund Citadel isn’t new to Pioneer. In fact, there was a time when it looked to be among the best decks in the metagame. But the power of Uro and two key weaknesses led to it being relegated to the fringe.

First, the deck was too vulnerable to Grafdigger’s Cage. It shuts down both your key payoff cards in Collected Company and Bolas’s Citadel and the rest of the deck wasn’t powerful enough to overcome the Cage’s near-universal adoption in sideboards. But right now, that card isn’t anywhere to be seen, and it’s not a great hate card against the most successful deck from last weekend, Rakdos Arcanist, because they have maindeck copies of Kolaghan’s Command.

If you want to insulate yourself against a return of Cages you could add a similar card to your sideboard, but I think the combination of Korvold, Fae-Cursed King and Tireless Tracker as card advantage sources that don’t use the graveyard and quality removal so you can win a normal game without your payoffs is a better plan. Sideboarding in a way where you can ignore the hate card is even better than answering it.

The second weakness this deck had was its manabase, which, while effective at casting your spells, required a ton of shocklands — a huge liability in a format with plenty of aggro decks. The Pathways offer similar levels of fixing for a deck whose only color-intensive card is Bolas’s Citadel while conserving those previous life points.

I don’t think there’s a more powerful thing to be doing in this format than Bolas’s Citadel, and with its weaknesses covered, I expect this deck to be a lasting part of the metagame. Get on board early.