So… What’s The Deck To Beat In Pioneer?

The recent Banned and Restricted Announcement left many wondering just what is the best deck in Pioneer? Our panel of experts make a case for their top picks!

Eidolon of the Great Revel
Eidolon of the Great Revel, illustrated by Cyril Van Der Haegen

Welcome to What We'd Play! With the recent banning of Inverter of Truth, Kethis, the Hidden Hand, Walking Ballista, and Underworld Breach, 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!

Dom Harvey — Five-Color Niv-Mizzet

After Wizards of the Coast removed any trace of combo from Pioneer, we are left with an aggro vs midrange slugfest that the player base was supposedly clamouring for. Five-Color Niv-Mizzet is probably the best and certainly the brightest midrange deck around, as shown by its domination of recent Magic Online events. As I explained in my article last week, this list aims to lean into the deck’s strengths while avoiding the cute or clunky cards that clutter up an otherwise promising shell. It’s an encouraging sign for Pioneer and for Niv-Mizzet Reborn fans that the mirror is now a serious concern

Practice your Niv-Mizzet rolls and try to hit a strike!

Ryan Overturf — Boros Winota

Pioneer is a little all over the place right now, so I haven’t been able to find a shell that I’ve liked for Grixis Control. In the meantime I’ve become quite enamored by the various Winota, Joiner of Forces strategies.

I like the idea of just playing something proactive and just getting the opponent dead. What I haven’t liked is drawing the card Angrath’s Marauders. In my experience, the best way to not draw the card is to not play it. I’ve found Benalish Marshal to fit the bill for a card that is good enough to turn an okay attack into a lethal attack when you hit it off Winota and it’s also just a strong card on curve. The strategy of playing a good beatdown deck that sometimes has explosive Winota turns instead of a Winota combo deck that sometimes doesn’t function has worked much better for me than the stock lists. 

I’ve messed around with a lot of the slots in this deck and I believe the most important thing is to have almost all of  your cheap creatures be non-Humans, but you also want them to be creatures that are worth playing. I would love it if Thraben Inspector were a non-Human to enable Winota, but ultimately it’s just the best white one-drop and I feel a little foolish for not playing it in this shell from the start.

Shaheen Soorani — Azorius Control

To the surprise of no one, the banning of Inverter of Truth has completely opened the metagame up.  While Dimir Inverter ran the streets, aggro decks had an issue closing the door in time, while control decks fell short of resources in the late-game to disrupt the combo.  With the best combo/control deck eliminated, a fair set of cards like Azorius Control is prime for a breakout performance.

LSV posted a successful maiden voyage on Magic Online with a trusty version of Azorius Control like this list.  He played a stock list and most of the cards are still very potent in this wide-open format.  I have added an additional copy of Teferi, Time Raveler, boosted the Narset, Parter of Veils count in the sideboard, and made sure that a third Elspeth Conquers Death is on call just in case. 

The changes I made were minor, but necessary to take on the incoming midrange and control wave that’s about to crash into Pioneer.  Luckily for control fans, Azorius cards are naturally great against aggro decks.  At this point in the evolution of Azorius Control, we are modifying numbers to best attack the metagame, since each spell has proven to be top notch when answering the various threats of the format. 

With Dig Through Time by my side, I feel heavily advantaged against the rest with Azorius Control.

Patrick Sullivan — Boros Burn (Lurrus)

I’ve been singing the praises of Boros Burn before and after both the rules change to companions and the recent wave of bannings, and it’s not going to stop now. I believe this deck has a great blend of metagame positioning and absolute power level such that I’d enthusiastically play it in a major event. The recent bannings were a sideways shot in the arms, decreasing both the power level of the format and the need for mopey anti-combo cards like Ash Zealot in the sideboard. That was the last element of the deck that needed work but now it’s twelve high-floor, high-ceiling bangers, a few Wears for random opponents plus Izzet Ensoul (somewhat on the rebound, at least in my experience) and of course your busted companion.

I think the maindeck is perfect, but if you were concerned about the uptick in Mono-Green Devotion I could see moving a few copies of Shock into the deck, but this comes at the expense of the Azorious Control matchup so I’d tread lightly here. The major vulnerability of this deck is getting outsized in Game 1 but that constitutes almost none of the metagame, and as long as it keeps being other small creature decks and control I think it’s very unlikely I move off of this deck in the foreseeable future.

Autumn Burchett — Temur Reclamation

After Wilderness Reclamation was removed from both Standard and Historic due to being the best thing to do in both of those formats, and with the card being a part of some of the best strategies in Modern too, it’s hard to believe that Temur Reclamation wouldn’t just be great in Pioneer. I’d probably be inclined to play a Reclamation deck of some sort in Pioneer right now regardless as I have a lot of love for the card, but the fact that Temur Reclamation was the deck that won last weekend’s Pioneer Challenge only cements the matter.

There’s some really nice upgrades available compared to the former Standard versions of Temur Reclamation that we’d become so familiar with. Most notably Censor pulls a ton of weight ensuring you have Turn 2 interaction almost regardless of what exactly your opponent is up to, whilst its cycling ability helps fuel Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath or to grab cards you’ve scried to the top with Castle Vantress in the late-game. One of the only problems Temur Reclamation had in Standard was that sometimes you’d draw the wrong interaction for the match-up in Game 1 and Censor goes a long way to fixing this. Also with four copies of Mystical Dispute and four of Censor you have eight cards in your maindeck that can tackle a Turn 3 Teferi, Time Raveler even when you’re on the draw, which is huge considering both how scary that card is and what a core part of Pioneer he is too.

Todd Anderson — Mono-Green Devotion

Mono-Green Devotion is back with a vengeance. The banning of multiple combo pieces helped open up a lot of creature-based strategies, giving new life into a format dominated by combo. While we’re not technically an aggro deck, this creature-based ramp archetype gives you the flexibility and power you need to succeed in an open Pioneer metagame. At the moment, combo is almost nowhere to be found, which means we can focus on building a maindeck and sideboard that’s actively good against the majority of the field. No need for Damping Sphere around these parts!

Because of Karn, the Great Creator and Vivien, Arkbow Ranger, we have access to a toolbox for any situation. Fifteen sideboard cards dedicated to tutor-style effects also means we don’t have to think about sideboarding. I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to not have to worry about that. It’s like playing the game on easy mode!

If you like mana dorks and ramping into Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger well before you should be able to, this might just be the deck for you. They’ve banned plenty of toys, but they seem to be fine leaving me with Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx for the foreseeable future. Because of that, I think we should try to exploit it as much as possible. Thanks to the unbanning of Oath of Nissa, we have the capability to be consistent and powerful, something that is not usually attainable. Usually having one requires sacrificing the other.

Mono-Green Devotion is some of the most fun I’ve ever had playing Magic. I’ve played it across multiple formats for years, fully powered and watered down. Right now, it feels pretty busted, so I’d recommend taking full advantage of that before anything else gets banned!

Corey Baumeister — Jeskai Lukka (Yorion)

Jeskai Lukka has been a deck that was so dominant that it forced multiple cards to be banned from multiple formats. It’s a deck that takes advantage of aggressive and midrange decks by controlling the battlefield early with Supreme Verdict and Chained to the Rocks then goes way over the top with the powerful combination of Fires of Invention, Yorion, Sky Nomad, and Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast. This strategy does not line up too well with combo decks because you’re unable to interact on your opponents turn with Fires on the battlefield and the payoff of stealing permanents doesn’t matter too much if your opponent just combos off the next turn. Luckily for Jeskai Lukka fans, combo has been more or less banned from Pioneer making this a perfect metagame for this powerful strategy.

If you want to see some gameplay of this deck tune in tomorrow for Droppin' Baums and watch me walk the walk instead of just talking the talk!