Pioneer Headlines From SCG Indianapolis

Dimir Inverter didn’t drop a match to another deck in the Top 8 of SCG Indianapolis! Ari Lax has this and other front-page Pioneer news!

Narset, Parter of Veils, illustrated by Magali Villeneuve

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Dimir Inverter won #SCGINDY.

Dimir Inverter got second at #SCGINDY.

Dimir Inverter only lost in the Top 8 of #SCGINDY to Dimir Inverter.

But if you are interested in the details of Dimir Inverter and all the other things occuring in the Pioneer metagame, a lot more happened at #SCGINDY. Let’s get to the headlines.

Dimir Inverter Is Planeswalker Control

Inverter of Truth Narset, Parter of Veils

I’m upfront admitting I was wrong here. In last week’s What We'd Play, I had Omen of the Sea over Narset, Parter of Veils in my Dimir Inverter deck. That was wrong, and I should have listened to Ben Friedman that week or even the week before. Narset is what enables Dimir Inverter to claim the role of true combo-control from the previous somewhat disruptive combo deck it was before.

The number of times a Dimir Inverter player had multiple planeswalkers on the battlefield this weekend was really astounding. Against everything, they were stuck in a bind. If you try to race the base Inverter of Truth combo with creatures, Fatal Push is good at stopping that. If you try to cast hate cards, you would get pinned under planeswalkers. If you try to meet in the middle, Thoughtseize takes over as your redundancy falters in one direction or the other.

And all this is talking about matchups of people trying to play normal Magic. Narset, Parter of Veils was added to Dimir Inverter because it was so effective against the other degenerates playing Lotus Breach or Di’Mirror.

Not familiar with Di’Mirror? At a prior event, SCG Indianapolis champion Peter Ingram misheard of the archetype of one Seth Manfield as the mirror and was surprised by Disinformation Campaign. You know, Dimir, not The Mirror.

Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath

I feel really bad for everyone showing up with Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath this weekend thinking it wasn’t a clunky 6/6. How can you draw a second card in a turn? That just wouldn’t be fair to anyone.

Sultai Delirium’s Minor Upgrade

Despite talking down about it a few pixel rows up, I think Sultai Delirium is a fundamentally good deck. It has Thoughtseize and good threats, and it feels like every good deck in Pioneer should play Thoughtseize and good threats.

Grapple with the Past

As Edgar Magalhães stated in his deck tech, Grapple with the Past is a big upgrade to Grisly Salvage. You are less interested in depth of selection from your unreliable mix of nonsense singletons, and more interested in graveyard recursion that closer approximates a tutor. This slot is only a small part of the deck, appropriately because more expensive cantrips are literally costly, but it’s a nice upgrade to find.

Traverse the Ulvenwald

The thing that interests me more is starting to trim down on Traverse the Ulvenwald. While Traverse opens up some good late-game paths to wins, the second copy in a game is often a tapped land that puts a sorcery in your graveyard. I like where Gerry Thompson‘s head is exploring a list with zero copies of the card, as I remember hearing the accurate statement “Pioneer decks start like Standard decks; then they just cut the minor synergies and play more good cards” this week, but I think the utility of finding Ipnu Rivulet or other clean combo knockout cards against Dimir Inverter is more important these days. Two or three is probably the right number as long as that deck is the core of the Pioneer metagame.

Liliana, the Last Hope Tamiyo, Collector of Tales

I respect the removal of Liliana, the Last Hope. It is really bad in the majority of matchups. I’m unsure if Tamiyo, Collector of Tales has enough raw power to make it worth playing to have good types, the same way I’m still unsure Courser of Kruphix has enough raw power, but it certainly is in the range of reasonable.

Selfless Spirit Spell Queller

That said, removing Liliana from the list clears up a point of contention. I stated after the Players Tour that I thought Bant Spirits was a massive favorite against Sultai Delirium despite the matchup going the other way in the Top 8 of both Phoenix and Brussels.

After watching some more games, I understand why people have differing opinions. So much cascades one way or the other based on whether Sultai Delirium draws one of the ping effects – Walking Ballista or Liliana, the Last Hope – and then also whether it draws a removal spell to line up with each Supreme Phantom or Empyrean Eagle that Bant Spirits drew. With only one Walking Ballista, and the fact that card just folds to Spell Queller and is more limited in scope than Liliana, the Last Hope, I would file the matchup as basically unwinnable with these lists. We saw on camera how even a fairly clean battlefield meant Bant Spirits was still chipping away at Sultai Delirium’s life total with random fliers, forcing them to find Ishkanah, Grafwidow to stem the bleeding. That wasn’t even the games where a pump effect goes uncontested and even Uro can’t win the race.

Maybe consider a copy or two of Liliana in the sideboard, or maybe just leave that problem for the Inverter players. Or, you know, maybe just play Inverter.

Sultai Charm

Sultai Charm still makes no sense to me. It isn’t efficient, or even really good. Just play an Assassin’s Trophy that kills planeswalkers if you want an incidental way to kill Leyline of the Void. Or, you know, play real Magic cards and ignore it.

Jace VS Pack Rat

Pack Rat Jace, Vryn's Prodigy

The big sideboard update to Dimir Inverter this weekend was balancing the low-drop alternate threats. Other alternate threats like Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet paled in comparison to the cards that can impact an Inverter mirror match

I’m going to lead off by saying I still love some Pack Rat action. Its best attribute was already pressuring opposing planeswalkers, and that has only become more important with Narset, Parter of Veils being a regular presence.

But Narset can also make Pack Rat a liability. The ability to dig deeper to find a Legion’s End or having an earlier card that negates the disadvantage of drawing Legion’s End without a Pack Rat to target makes building your post-sideboard deck to beat opposing Pack Rats easier. Narset also digs you to Hero’s Downfall and shuts off the cascading advantage of an unopposed Jace, Wielder of Mysteries, making it less necessary to play something that battles down your opponent’s planeswalkers without providing value on the card advantage-into-combo axis.

Jace, Telepath Unbound

And really, if you are overloading on Hero’s Downfall and digging deep to find it, is Jace’s -3 that much less of a threat to a planeswalker? The loot ability isn’t even hampered by Narset’s anti-card draw static as long as you use it on their turn.

While I was previously on the heavy Pack Rat, light Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy side of things, I’m now close to even on the split I would register tomorrow.

Everything Else Is Gideon

It seems like Gideon of the Trials was the main somewhat successful plan against Dimir Inverter. Emphasis on the “somewhat,” since all the Mono-White Devotion and Azorius Control decks in the Top 8 lost to Dimir Inverter in the end.

It makes sense why that card would be a potent weapon against Dimir Inverter. Even if it dies to Hero’s Downfall, each ability covers a different way that deck can win the game. The +1 prevent damage covers Inverter of Truth in combat pressuring the planeswalker, the +0 battle with Gideon pressures the planeswalker card advantage engine end-game, and the +0 emblem obviously covers the combo.

Thoughtseize Hero's Downfall Mystical Dispute

But in the end there are just too many ways for the Dimir Inverter deck to pick apart a mere planeswalker. Thoughtseize, Hero’s Downfall … I was even a fan of Mystical Dispute against the slow sorcery-speed planeswalker gameplan even if Gideon is decidedly white. If your opponent knows what they are doing, you will get torn to shreds regardless of which white strategy you field against Dimir Inverter.

This shouldn’t be news to anyone. Can you really name a time where white bricks were a routinely successful strategy against Dimir Thoughtseize? It has been a decade since I was picking apart Spectral Procession with Bitterblossom; if you haven’t figured it out by now, you missed a few key messages along the way.

Gideon, Ally of Zendikar

I do think it is possible to not understand your role in a matchup against Gideons and lose as a result. Remember, they will be really applying pressure. Even if just a 4/4 Gideon isn’t enough, four-mana Gideon, Ally of Zendikar makes any small-ball attempts to stabilize irrelevant. Get under them, and then go over them with an Inverter combo.

Golgari Aggro Beats Everything, if by Everything You Mean the Good Decks

Llanowar Elves Rotting Regisaur

I’ve been on the receiving side of the Golgari beatdowns. This deck is really, really good at bashing people who don’t stop it. Lotus Breach is almost a turn faster than Dimir Inverter and has about the same amount of stopping equity with Arboreal Grazer chump blocks, and I wasn’t even remotely close to being in my games against a variant of this deck.

But, as we saw in the Top 8, there’s a real cost to Golgari Aggro. The same things that drove it right out of the pre-Theros Beyond Death metagame still run it out of the building these days. I would not want to be on Golgari side of matches against Azorius Control, Niv-Mizzet nonsense, or even Mono-Black Aggro.

If I were playing a micro-size high-stakes event against good players, like a Players’ Championship, I would sleeve up Golgari Aggro in a heartbeat. At an open event like, well, a Pioneer Open, I would have the deck strongly in consideration but know it’s a big risk to take.

Scavenging Ooze Ghalta, Primal Hunger

That all said, I have some small comments on Shaun’s list. I love just maxing out on Scavenging Ooze, which serves as a reasonable hoop for both Dimir Inverter and Lotus Breach to jump through.

I hate playing three Ghalta, Primal Hunger and two The Great Henge and two Rhonas the Indomitable and three Rishkar, Peema Renegage. Play some cards that might do things if your creatures get destroyed, like more good threats. Please, don’t make it easy on the people who should beat you. Even if you play Collected Company, you have to be able to do better than this.

Decks Not Appearing in This Open

Lotus Breach is still a broken deck, and Underworld Breach is still a card with no redeeming qualities, but it did not perform this weekend.

Damping Sphere

Part of that is all the Dimir Inverter players figured out how to sideboard and build for the matchup. On top of everyone having Damping Sphere, they all had Narset, Parter of Veils. While that card isn’t a clean wrap, it makes any game where Thoughtseize is also involved sketchy to pull out of. The number of good topdecks in the Lotus Breach deck falls really low, and the plan against hand disruption was always “topdeck a good one.”

It is also worth noting the Players Tour had open decklists, and Lotus Breach players could sideboard and play appropriately to beat Damping Sphere, Leyline of the Void, or just nothing. In an unknown list field, it’s really easy to compromise your deck hedging against potential hate cards.

Knight of the Ebon Legion Monastery Swiftspear

The monocolored aggro side of the Dimir Inverter matchup keeps getting worse and worse. It was bad when they just combo killed you; it’s even worse now that they are a solid control deck that can legitimately ignore Infinite Obliteration and not pseudo-ignore it by hoping you don’t draw it.

Sram, Senior Edificer

Don’t play Orzhov Auras as long as the Dimir Inverter decks are loading up on sideboard removal. Do play Helm of the Gods if you ignore this advice, since stacked scaling pump effects are how you win games.

Spell Queller Collected Company Mystical Dispute

It feels like Spirits, Bant or Azorius, is the most reasonable aggro deck in the format. In the absence of aggro mirrors at the top tables I really like Zan’s decision to move to Mystical Dispute as the spell of choice over Collected Company.

Collected Company is in the deck to overwhelm light interaction and creature combat. Mystical Dispute is in the deck to reliably break up combo matchups. You lose equity against Mono-Black Aggro, but even in Spirits mirrors Mattia Rizzi was trimming Collected Company since it so often trades for Mausoleum Wanderer.

I don’t know if Zan made Spirits good enough to make it worth playing over Dimir Inverter, but at least he tried.

Port Town Mutavault

It is worth noting your mana doesn’t actually get better by cutting the third color. Even if I stand up for Choked Estuary in the context of casting Opt and Thoughtseize Turn 1, you can only add so many Port Towns and Mutavaults to your deck before you have to admit you have a problem.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Inverter of Truth

The easy way out is playing Inverter of Truth. The deck is broken on a lot of levels, even if I disagree with the play patterns being miserable and not weird and unique.

Ipnu Rivulet Collective Defiance

But I think there’s a ton of room for the format to grow into exploiting those weird and unique play patterns.

When Modern was faced with Grixis Death’s Shadow in the summer of 2017, people called for bans. Honestly, I was among them. But that deck walked a similar exploitable razor’s edge, and with Ixalan the new scourge of Humans drove the deck out of the metagame.

Pioneer is a much less explored format, and people now know to find the weird hate. Dimir Inverter is really interesting to watch wind its way to a combo win, and especially in mirrors we saw multiple “combo kills” turn into “combo fails” with the right interaction.

At the least, I’m willing to wait this out until we see whatever nonsense Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths has to bring. It’s a set printed after February of 2019, so you know at least one card is going to be utterly egregious the instant you set eyes on it.

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