Is The Pioneer Metagame As Wide Open As It Appears?

Pioneer seems like a wide-open format, but is a future best deck hiding in plain sight? Five SCG creators say what they’d play.

Fires of Invention, illustrated by Stanton Feng

Welcome to What We’d Play! With the consistent shifts in the metagame, 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 and be sure to vote for what deck you’d play at the end!

Corey Baumeister — Four-Color Fires (Yorion)

I keep wanting to try other decks in Pioneer but I just keep winning with Four-Color Fires (Yorion)!

The new additions of Esika’s Chariot and Mythos of Illuna really give the deck game outside of the main win condition of putting Agent of Treachery onto the battlefield as quickly as possible. This small change really alters the dynamic of sideboarded games. You get to look at Unmoored Ego and Grafdigger’s Cage on the stack and just shrug instead of collapsing in your seat with frustration!

The metagame is still heavily weighted toward Five-Color Niv-Mizzet, Mono-Black Aggro, and Rakdos Arcanist. If this trend continues, Four-Color Fires will continue to dominate. The combination of Chained to the Rocks and Anger of the Gods is enough to gobble up all of these aggro decks and the sheer power of Agent of Treachery will take over a game against Five-Color Niv-Mizzet despite Anger of the Gods and Chained to the Rocks being dead cards against them. The one thing that’s starting to scare me, though, is Dimir Control and Orzhov Auras (Lurrus) starting to rise in popularity. If this continues, I will for sure dedicate more slots in the sideboard for those matchups.

Ari Lax — Orzhov Auras (Lurrus)

I wrote about Orzhov Auras this week because I believe the deck is really solid, and I haven’t seen anything that would change that opinion. I don’t think it’s a dominant deck to crush the format, just a really good deck I’ll gladly take my shot with. It’s just the right mix of overwhelming against other battlefield-centric decks, resilient and efficient against removal, and fast against less interactive combo.

I don’t believe the deck is infallible, and a quick shift in the metagame could easily make me look for another option. Here’s my current list of things that would scare me off it as a top choice: a huge uptick in Enigmatic Incarnation decks featuring piles of hate creatures and Trial of Ambition, a huge drop in mono-color aggro and Mono-Green Devotion, or a return of Thing in the Ice. I think if any of those events happens, it points towards Boros Wizards (Lurrus) as the replacement deck I would pick up, but for now I’m bashing people with white creatures and spells instead of red ones.

Cedric Phillips — Naya Winota

Winota, Joiner of Forces is a very powerful card — there’s no denying that. The trickiest part about the card is, of course, finding the right mix of non-Humans to attack with and Humans to hit with Winota’s trigger. Fortunately, I think Stainerson has found the perfect balance to maximize Winota, something I think most people have failed at previously.

Let’s talk relevant additions that, admittedly, may look a bit strange:

  • Bonecrusher Giant. A non-Human that has a relevant secondary effect in Stomp given the aggressive nature of Pioneer, Bonecrusher is a unique effect worth getting excited about.
  • Thopter Engineer. A Human to hit off of Winota that also generates a non-Human to make the big Winota turn an even better one. It’s worth noting that Thopter Engineer also gives Esika’s Chariot haste.
  • Esika’s Chariot. Speaking of the coolest card from Kaldheim, Esika’s Chariot has a ton of power baked into it just given its text. Toss in that Thopter Engineer gives it haste, it’s a lot of non-Humans for Winota, and it gives you some sweeper protection, and there’s a lot to love here.
  • Kazandu Mammoth. It’s a land. It’s a spell. It’s a non-Human for Winota. Easy four-of.

One thing that shouldn’t be strange to look at is a very solid manabase. Branchloft and Cragcrown Pathway have made this deck’s mana appreciably better and when you consider that you also have access to fast lands (Inspiring Vantage) and shocklands (Stomping Ground, Temple Garden, and Sacred Foundry), casting whatever sideboard cards you want across the Naya shard should be easy enough.

Spin the Winota wheel. You’ll be glad you did!

Ross Merriam — Golgari Elves

Elves hasn’t made much of an impact in Pioneer as of yet, but I suspect that will change soon. Realmwalker, Elvish Warmaster, and Jaspera Sentinel represent a significant increase in the deck’s power level to the point where it can compete with the various aggressive strategies that already exist in the metagame. If you want a detailed treatment of my card choices, you can reference my article from earlier this week, but suffice it to say that this deck is a threat.

What I like about it is that Shaman of the Pack and Collected Company serve double duty in a way that makes the deck hard to defend. On the surface, this variant of Elves is trying to play like a classic go-wide aggro deck, with the tribal synergies allowing you to generate dominating battlefields with Elvish Clancaller and Elvish Warmaster’s activated ability. These kinds of decks often struggle against heavy disruption, since their synergies are difficult to piece together, forcing them to try to cobble together wins with individually underpowered cards.

But Shaman of the Pack, which is itself a great payoff in games where your synergies do come together, offers great reach to win those scrappy games. With Collected Company to dig for it, your opponent now has to be more wary of their life total than they usually are, which makes defending your first plan all the more difficult. It’s a small, innocuous wrinkle, but it’s an important one. And now that the rest of the deck is at a competitive power level, it’s ready to show out.

Shaheen Soorani — Dimir Control

I flip-flop between Azorius and Dimir Control in Pioneer constantly.  Azorius Control is my first love, but when Azorius Charm is not getting the job done, the deck can be very frustrating.  With so many aggro decks freed from the bannings, the creatures have done significant damage by the time they return to the top of the library.  Often these creatures have protection, enters-the-battlefield triggers, or too much density for a small amount of targeted removal to handle on their own.

With this more aggressive Pioneer, Dimir Control is the way to go.  The removal is better, the sweepers exile, and the win conditions enter at instant speed.  The power level of Dimir Control may be weaker than its Azorius brethren; however, the spells best line up against what we will face in today’s Pioneer.  With all that considered, it’s tough to go wrong when playing Torrential Gearhulk with Dig Through Time.  Regardless of what the naysayers spout, that combination is deadly against any deck you’re facing. 

I really like this list and plan on running it for any upcoming Pioneer battle I find myself in this weekend.