Is Pioneer About To Get Chonky Again?

Is it time to break out the big creatures in Pioneer? Todd Anderson and four more SCG creators say what they’d play.

Glorybringer, illustrated by Sam Burley

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!

Patrick Sullivan — Boros Wizards (Lurrus)

Some Zenkidar Rising updates. A surprising depth of heaters, given that the deck was flawless before.

  • 1 Wayward Guide-Beast. Replacing the one copy of Zurgo Bellstriker, it’s much worse as a thing to just cast on the first turn and much, much better in every other spot. It regularly makes mana since the deck plays so few lands and is busted at attacking planeswalkers. The “first turn” thing is a real deal and I’m not 100% sold on the replacement, but early returns have been promising.
  • 1 Needleverge Pathway. The deck is a tad light on white sources. This isn’t as good as the two-color lands that make both colors since the deck needs so many individual sources of red mana to curve efficiently, but Lurrus isn’t the easiest card to enable and extra white sources are nice. This would easily be a four-of were it not for Chained to the Rocks; if you cut that from your sideboard I’d immediately play four copies of this card.
  • 4 Roiling Vortex. This replaces Skullcrack, since Roiling Vortex is busted and Skullcrack kind of sucks but lines up well against certain people. Getting to curve with this is nice; it’s so much better on overall rate, much less laborious to leave up the mana to interact with a lifegain card, and can be returned with Lurrus in protracted games

This represents several significant upgrades to a deck that, as I mentioned previously, was already perfect. Nothing moving me off this thing yet.

Ryan Overturf — Izzet Phoenix

I posted a 5-0 on my first run with the Izzet Phoenix list that I submitted last week, and in going over the 5-0 League results I see that I wasn’t the only one. My 5-0 run included a win over Todd Anderson on his Gruul deck which has been somewhat popular in the queues, as well as a win over Caleb Scherer on Lotus Field Combo where the sideboard Alpine Moons proved their worth. 

It still feels a little weird to me to look at two Lightning Axe, two Strategic planning, and zero Treasure Cruise, but this deck has just kind of been working for me and Magmatic Channeler has been overperforming. It doesn’t take much to make Channelers into 4/4s with so many one-mana spells, and discarding both Arclight Phoenix and Fiery Temper has been excellent. Not to mention that discarding excess lands to look for more spells is a perfectly reasonable application of the card as well. 

The big update this week is the four Soul-Guide Lanterns in the sideboard. There’s a Blaustrade Spy combo deck going around that mills its entire deck thanks to playing all modal double-faced cards (DFCs) and no actual lands and then kills you with Creeping Chills, Prized Amalgams, and Silversmote Ghouls. If you’re able to leave a Soul-Guide Lantern up you can just exile all of those cards before any of their triggers resolve and move on with your life. These decks will be sideboarding answers to graveyard hate, but having it is going to be better than not given that their combo comes online before Izzet Phoenix is realistically capable of closing the game. 

Dom Harvey — Four-Color Ramp

Omnath, Locus of Creation’s long march through the institutions continues. While Magic’s newest supervillain has already brought a previous Standard menace in Four-Colour Reclamation into the Pioneer spotlight, that’s just the beginning — the Four-Colour Ramp shell that’s somehow even more dominant in Zendikar Rising Standard right now gains a lot in Pioneer. This is the youngest format where Teferi, Time Raveler is still legal and that particular hate figure is the perfect way to shield your expensive payoffs from interaction against the other blue decks turbo-charged by Omnath as well as being the best disruptive card against Four-Colour Reclamation.

Arboreal Grazer helps an otherwise clunky ramp deck keep up with aggro or get ahead in mirrors and works with Growth Spiral to make successive landfall triggers on Omnath much easier. The effect is powerful enough that it may be worth reworking this shell to support the full four copies — perhaps mirroring the Historic iteration of the deck that I recommended not long ago. There’s also a wider selection of payoffs — this seems like a natural home for Nissa, Who Shakes the World, for example — so there’s still a lot of work to be done refining this deck.

The format has already shifted to fight these multicoloured monstrosities. Rest in Peace and Anger of the Gods provide useful coverage against the Balustrade Spy / Undercity Informer combo deck as well as Rakdos Pyromancer (Lurrus) and Mono-Black Aggro — perhaps the most popular archetype at the moment. Barrier Breach is a nod to the Selesnya and Orzhov Auras decks that have dominated recent Pioneer Challenges on Magic Online.  

Shaheen Soorani — Dimir Control

Control, in its full reactive form, is usually not for me.  I enjoy a good planeswalker or two, making Dimir Control not my first choice in Pioneer.  Luckily, this version utilizes the combination of Torrential Gearhulk and Dig Through Time, delivering that giant swing of advantage that a continued use of a planeswalker would typically provide.

Fatal Push is the best removal spell control has access to in Pioneer and Eliminate is no slouch either.  These two work together to keep the fastest aggro decks at bay, while a pile of mediocre counterspells holds back the ramp decks of the format. I say “mediocre” here with love, but we all know the reality that the best we are getting in Pioneer and Standard is a fancy Cancel and Negate. However, we will make it work (like we always have) and lean heavily on the hyper-powerful removal and card draw.  I’m excited to give this deck a try and branch out from the Azorius Control rut I have been in for the last few months.

Todd Anderson — Chonky Gruul

My article from earlier this week focused on three different forms of Gruul Aggro. Chonky Gruul was my favorite for obvious reasons, but I do think it’s quite strong. Ramping into Glorybringer is easy, and turns out Glorybringer is actually quite good right now. A focus on Glorybringer seems to be just what the doctor ordered in the current Pioneer format.

Domri, Anarch of Bolas is a heavy hitter, pumping all the tokens from Legion Warboss and Goblin Rabblemaster, making it nearly impossible to contain outside of removing the big Goblin itself. Domri, Anarch of Bolas making mana also turns Wild Slash or an extra Llanowar Elves into a tempo play rather than a liability. It can also do some fighting to help you win some early-game battlefield stalls.

Chandra, Torch of Defiance combines well with Domri, Anarch of Bolas to give you some threats that don’t die to conventional removal. Ramping into either is also quite strong, but the real kicker is that both of these threats can continue to ramp!

Some of the more interesting upgrades are the lands. Both Turntimber Symbosis and Shatterskull Smashing are a bit dangerous to the life total, yet allow for some busted turns if you get a little flooded. This deck has some problems getting flooded on occasion, thanks to having eight Llanowar Elves, but that can be solved relatively easy by giving the deck efficient mana sinks. Both of these new lands do exactly that.

The new Pioneer metagame is starting to take shape. It looks fairly wide open at the moment and fairly creature-dense. As a result, something with Bonecrusher Giant and Glorybringer seems pretty damn good. This deck utilizes both of those cards about as well as any deck in Pioneer possibly could.