Is Oops All Spells Pioneer’s Deck To Beat?

Does the combo power of Oops All Spells make it Pioneer’s deck to beat? Hall of Famer Patrick Chapin and three more SCG creators say what they’d play.

Balustrade Spy, illustrated by Jaime Jones

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!

Shaheen Soorani — Oops All Spells

It started as a joke, but quickly became the reality of the older formats.  DFCs broke the balance of Pioneer, allowing a deck like this one to cruise to a Magic Online Championship.  Having the option to play zero actual lands in a deck is bound to have a repercussions on format health; however, it’s not time to sound the ban alarm just yet.

Oops All Spells in Pioneer, like the version floating around in Modern, has a deep dependency on the graveyard.  Now that this is a better-known strategy, players can adjust with an effective plan in the sideboard, as well as natural defenses in their maindeck.  Even though Oops All Spells packs Thoughtseize in the maindeck to cleanly handle answers, it’s not a given that black mana will be readily available until Turn 3 when their mana-producing creatures are online.  Outside of that, there are only eleven black sources to get the job done.

The metagame will quickly adjust to defeat Oops All Spells, but I’m not convinced that the mission will be successful.  Even with the hate packed in, combo decks that consistently win on Turn 3 (or provide a battlefield state that is unbeatable) are already strong without considering the seven maindeck hand disruption spells for defense.  To make matters even worse, the existence of Leyline of Sanctity in the format can cancel out black-based disruption to counter. 

I’ll be playing Oops All Spells until I see evidence that the metagame can defeat it.

Todd Anderson — Mono-Black Aggro

Mono-Black Aggro is the current deck to beat in the Pioneer metagame. Traditional removal falters in the face of recursive creatures, and the clock is fast enough to race anyone trying to ignore your gameplan. I’ve been a huge fan since the days of Smuggler’s Copter in the archetype but the Mono-Black beatdowns continue even in its absence.

Pioneer recently went through huge shifts, including bannings and an era of companions. After the banning of three major combo decks, it only makes sense that the format would revert in some ways to earlier this year before the printing of Theros Beyond Death, a set that fundamentally changed Pioneer for the worse. While Mono-Black Aggro might be tough to beat, it isn’t impossible. You just don’t have time to mess around against them.

Mutavault has been a key factor for me in the strength of monocolored aggro decks. Being able to use your mana every single turn is key, and Mutavault gives you that breath of fresh air every turn where you might normally stumble. It’s incredible, and one of the reasons why Mono-Black Aggro continues to put up solid numbers.

Rankle, Master of Pranks is also a heater right now, strangling any opponent who tries to put up defenses with creatures or cards in hand. Taking away both of those resources simultaneously while sacrificing a Scrapheap Scrounger or similar gives this deck the top-end it needs to compete. Rankle is on par with the likes of Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath as far as importance to the archetype is concerned. It’s incredible, and that fact can’t be overstated.

Ryan Overturf — Boros Winota

Pioneer is in a really interesting place right now. When I look over 5-0 League results, I see a lot of extremes that can’t seem to buy a win against each other. I like the red decks but can’t imagine consistently beating an Uro with them. There are some cool new combo decks, but how do they beat Spirits? Perhaps the average Pioneer player has resigned themselves to existing in a world of Rock, Paper, Scissors, but I can’t escape the headspace that we should be trying to find the Pioneer decks that can embarrass the field. 

After a stint with Arclight Phoenix, I found myself feeling like the Izzet decks didn’t have the right mix of power and interaction — often feeling lacking in both departments. In looking over my deck files I came across my Winota, Joiner of Forces list and decided to give Needleverge Pathway a shot.

I played a League with my old Goblin Rabblemaster list that resulted in a 4-1, though it didn’t feel like any of my opponents were vulnerable whatsoever to the Rabblemasters. My takeaway was that the Benalish Marshal / Winota shell feels very powerful right now, but that a healthy mix of interaction is important to beat the other decks that are trying to race. Maxing out on Bonecrusher Giants and sleeving up a couple of Skyclave Apparitions brings the maindeck where I want it for today’s metagame. 

It might look a little silly to have maindeck Apparitions and sideboard Banisher Priests, but there’s a method to my madness here. My maindeck is geared heavily around triggering Winota and generally goldfishing. Skyclave Apparition is preferred in this role as it can hit more than just creatures and it triggers Winota. The Banisher Priests come in for matchups where the opponent is heavy on creatures and light on interaction. These matches are generally races and it’s preferable to be able to find Banisher Priests off Winota triggers when in a damage race because you’ll want to be able to cast your Winotas as soon as possible and to attack as often as possible. 

My sideboard is really heavy on graveyard hate because I just don’t want to get punked by Balustrade Spy. The 75 has a good amount of removal as is, and I like the graveyard hate over that sort of thing. I don’t have anything for Azorius Control in my sideboard because I believe that the matchup is close to a bye if you play around their cards correctly (you don’t need cards that beat Settle the Wreckage if you just make attacks that don’t lose to it). The one thing I could be talked in to making room for would be additional Alpine Moons, as Lotus Field Combo is another deck that does a pretty good job of racing you and generally ignores your cards, but for whatever reason I’ve had a positive record against that deck to this point. 

Patrick Chapin — Four-Color Ramp

I’m playing Four-Color Ramp. The biggest reason is that it’s legal. Beyond that, Growth Spiral; Teferi, Time Raveler; Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath; and Escape to the Wilds are all legal, and that’s to say nothing of Lotus Cobra. The main thing I do differently is play as many copies of Rest in Peace and Anger of the Gods as I can. Oops All Spells is pretty busted and completely warps the format. If you don’t stop them, they’ll just flip their deck on Turn 4, draining you for twelve and filling their battlefield with threats.

Even though this deck gets to use more overpowered cards; I also think the zero-land deck is an excellent choice. While they often play Yorion, it’s not unusual at all for them to play 80 (or even 77!) without it, since they really do want a much bigger deck, since they’re basically “drawing” their whole deck when they cast either of their key cards and a bigger deck means they get to put more threats onto the battlefield. Omnath and company are so strong, however, that I’d rather stick with them and just tune my list to be the broken combo deck.