This weekend, players around the world took their shot at qualifying for the Pro Tour and the World Championship. Pioneer was put to the test at a previous round of Regional Championships and the Pro Tour they led to, but a format this deep always has some surprises in store.
My choice wasn’t one of them. I dabbled in some interesting fringe decks, but when the rubber hit the road, I was hopelessly devoted to green like so many others.
I’m back on the Pro Tour and I couldn’t be more excited! After a heartbreaking final-round loss to not requalify at the last Pro Tour, I was torn between redoubling my efforts for this Regional Championship and dialing back my engagement with that branch of competitive Magic. This is the invitation that I craved. Modern is my favourite format, and Barcelona is my favourite city in the world. It thrills me that I get a shot at redemption after my poor performance last time.
(Mono-Green) Devotion Rewarded
Mono-Green Devotion rewarded its disciples with a lot of wins this weekend, and this was actually a little surprising. It was also one of the decks to beat last time, and mostly underperformed. At Pro Tour Phyrexia, the best in the game showed that it was possible to target the deck and squeeze it out of the format.
Some nice options to fill those few flex slots have appeared since then – Polukranos Reborn makes you much better against Abzan Greasefang and any aggro deck while having the right pips for Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx and stats for Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner – but this wouldn’t rescue Mono-Green by itself.
The big picture here is that as the format has become wider it’s harder to target any one particular deck, and you can talk yourself into ignoring Mono-Green if it’s only 12% of the field rather than 20%. Some new contenders line up well against most opponents but struggle against Mono-Green – Izzet Creativity was the third-most-popular deck at several Regional Championships and boasts a lot of good matchups, but Mono-Green isn’t one of them for most variants. When anything goes, you want a deck that is proactive and powerful, and Mono-Green Devotion fits that description better than anything else.
Breakout Tier 2 Decks
Some second-tier decks had a breakout weekend.
Azorius Spirits performed very well, winning the first Canadian Regional Championship and putting up a high win rate across the board. Rakdos Midrange is a spooky matchup for Spirits, but it almost broke even against it in the last few weeks of results, and its good matchups are excellent – any slow combo or control deck counts Spirits as one of its worst matchups.
When Patrick Wu put Azorius Lotus Field on the map in Toronto this weekend, he destroyed everything in his path except for two losses to Spirits, including a heartbreaking loss in the finals. Generic anti-aggro tools, including the sweepers aimed at the rapidly deflating Boros Convoke menace, do very little against Spirits, and it took advantage of an unprepared format in convincing fashion.
The other mainstream deck that punched above its weight was Rakdos Sacrifice. The received wisdom was that Rakdos Sacrifice beat its midrange cousin, but had an unacceptably poor matchup against the other pillar of Pioneer in Mono-Green Devotion. The results this weekend tell a different story – Mayhem Devil and friends fought Mono-Green to a draw but still kept their inherent strength against creature decks of every stripe and put up solid numbers across the board, in large part thanks to a shockingly obvious innovation:
Thoughtseize always had a spot in the Rakdos Sacrifice sideboard as an unenthusiastic gesture towards the matchups that aren’t covered by Claim the Firstborn and Fatal Push. You were probably still going to lose the match to Lotus Field or something, but why not give yourself a chance? You weren’t doing anything else with those slots anyway…
The big realization here is that Thoughtseize is an important maindeck card even though, as a deck trying to assemble with an engine with many moving parts, you have less interest than the midrange decks in one-for-one trades. There are diminishing returns on additional removal spells and cards that sacrifice things or want to be sacrificed, as well as an ever-wider range of decks demanding generic solutions.
Indomitable Creativity was all the rage a few weeks ago; a new breed of Enigmatic Incarnation deck accompanied by Keruga, the Macrosage was a big winner last weekend. Thoughtseize is your best card against the decks that you struggle most against, and you want access to it in all of your games if possible.
That would be worth it already, but Thoughtseize also excels against the creature decks that are popular currently. There’s no traditional red aggro deck that directly threatens your life total – these decks are trying to build a battlefield by using specific cards together, and Thoughtseize breaks that up while giving you the information needed to navigate the rest of the game.
How about some more offbeat options?
Azorius Lotus Field
Classic Azorius Control put up an amazingly poor showing at the Legacy Masters Series in Valencia last weekend, the final bellwether for the format before this round of Regional Championships. Lotus Field Combo is a dangerous, mysterious threat that always looms over the format, ready to punish players who have become complacent and cut their hate. This concoction is a beautiful, messy mashup of the two that almost resembles a ramp deck more than anything else.
The key to Azorius Lotus Field’s success is that the cards that enable Lotus Field are also surprisingly versatile and appealing by themselves.
This deck breaks the symmetry of Strict Proctor in every way possible. You can choose not to pay the two mana so that your Lotus Field’s trigger is countered, negating its drawback and putting you far ahead on mana going into the mid-game. This sequence even dodges removal if you cast Proctor and immediately follow with Lotus Field, since playing a land is an action that doesn’t use the stack – by the time they can aim that Fatal Push, the Proctor’s trigger is already coming for your Lotus Field’s trigger.
Proctor isn’t just an enabler for your own plan – it’s often an impressive hate card against the opponent’s. Once you start looking for triggered abilities that Proctor taxes, you see them everywhere. Azorius Spirits and Mono-White Humans depend on their creature synergies, which often involve creatures seeing each other enter the battlefield. The payoff for Boros Convoke involves a big swing with Reckless Bushwhacker or triggering a Venerated Loxodon or Knight-Errant of Eos. Once they have to play a slower game with weaker creatures, a 1/3 flyer is a surprisingly relevant blocker too!
How about the other extreme of the format? The more colourful combo or control decks may contain Omnath, Locus of Creation; Niv-Mizzet Reborn; or Atraxa, Grand Unifier, but they all contain Leyline Binding. Hobbling Cavalier of Thorns and Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner can stop Mono-Green Devotion from going berserk – they will generate enough mana to work through Proctor eventually, but it buys you the time to set up your own engine with Lotus Field and establish control.
Time Stop won my heart almost twenty years ago as I was getting into Magic, so Discontinuity was a rush of nostalgia for me, but the cost reduction on your turn opens up a whole new world of possibilities. It earns a spot here as another way to ignore Lotus Field’s sacrifice trigger, but that extra text proves useful elsewhere.
Control mirrors in Pioneer often come down to the opponent presenting a threat on your end step that you can’t justify committing too much mana to fighting because that leaves your shields down against sorcery-speed threats like Teferi, Hero of Dominaria after they untap. The Discontinuity discount on your turn makes it a cheap and clean answer – it hits the cycling and the token creation from Shark Typhoon and exiles Memory Deluge to stop that same issue coming back in a few turns.
Discontinuity is also the perfect response to the popular forms of dedicated control hate. Hullbreaker Horror is a control mirror-breaker and the threat of choice for all variants of Izzet Creativity against control, while Lotus Field Combo can take its pick of uncounterable hammers from Thought Distortion to Dragonlord Dromoka and Sphinx of the Final Word, but Discontinuity doesn’t care if you can’t be countered!
This approach performs well against Mono-Green Devotion, but may also be the key to beating Rakdos Midrange. Rakdos has the tools to punish you for playing a reactive game, but Azorius Lotus Field is more akin to a ramp deck than a control deck here, and that’s a much better place to be in the matchup. Once your mana engine is in place and you’re chaining one Memory Deluge into another or presenting massive threats every turn, you can overpower the cards that you’d have to trade with individually otherwise.
This wasn’t the Lotus Field deck people expected to dominate this weekend, but it’s a very intriguing development that I expect to stick around.
If you want a wildcard combo deck instead, this weekend offered up several options across the colour pie, all based around the same package! Streamer Gabriel Maxson (aka spiderspace) punched his ticket to Barcelona with a Sultai version of the Rona deck developed by combo expert Matt Nass, who tore through a Pioneer Challenge on Magic Online with his list last week.
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 3 Elvish Mystic
- 1 Tasigur, the Golden Fang
- 4 Jace, Vryn's Prodigy
- 1 Fae of Wishes
- 2 Kinnan, Bonder Prodigy
- 4 Rona, Herald of Invasion
Robert Graves also won an invitation with his take on the combo that shares the same colours but looks very different. Here the eight(ish) Elf package that powers green decks in Pioneer ramps into planeswalkers like Tyvar, Jubilant Brawler; Wrenn and Realmbreaker; and Karn, the Great Creator, all exceptional value cards that also tie the combo together in their own ways.
Brian Boss just missed the Top 8 with a Jeskai deck that blends the Rona combo with several others. Jeskai Ascendancy powers the Rona combo in its own right but also opens up other loops with Emry, Lurker of the Loch alongside Tormod’s Crypt or multiple Mox Ambers and makes it easy to find the missing pieces to pair with it in a deck that expects to cast multiple noncreature spells per turn.
Another batch of Pioneer tournaments means another round of complaints about the format. It’s easy to have a high opinion of a format when you just did well in a tournament, but looking at the churn near the top of the metagame and the innovation happening on the outskirts makes me optimistic.