Welcome to What We’d Play! With the arrival of Strixhaven, 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.
Ari Lax — Selesnya Company
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 2 Scavenging Ooze
- 3 Voice of Resurgence
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 4 Lovestruck Beast
- 4 Skyclave Apparition
- 4 Archon of Emeria
- 4 Kazandu Mammoth
- 4 Elite Spellbinder
If you enjoyed Historic before the Strixhaven Mystical Archive mess, let me sell you on some Pioneer. Christian Calcano won the recent Insight Esports Historic Open with the Historic equivalent of this deck, and I’m here for that with some extra copies of Voice of Resurgence and Elvish Mystic. Just some good, honest green and white creatures, battling against some dishonest Witch’s Oven and Lotus Field nonsense and coming out on top.
Elite Spellbinder is also the card I want to play most in this format. Everything I said about the card in my Pioneer Strixhaven First Impressions before ranking it as my slam-dunk first place in the set remains true. Half or more of Pioneer is based on some big, swingy Turn 4 or Turn 5 play, and Elite Spellbinder just wrecks any plans your opponents had to do that. If you want to dive deeper into the format, just keep trying new shells with that card until you find a better one or fall right back to Selesnya Company.
Todd Anderson — Chonky Red
- 4 Eidolon of the Great Revel
- 3 Kari Zev, Skyship Raider
- 4 Soul-Scar Mage
- 4 Rampaging Ferocidon
- 4 Goblin Chainwhirler
- 4 Bonecrusher Giant
- 3 Torbran, Thane of Red Fell
Chonky Red has long been a favorite of mine in Pioneer. There’s something about Stomp into Bonecrusher Giant that just makes you feel alive! Chonky Red used to be built a little bigger, with Glorybringer in the maindeck. That was because we needed to go a little bigger in order get one over on the smaller creature decks. Having those bigger cards meant we were dominating when it came to the fourth or fifth turn. Unfortunately, both Bring to Light and Niv-Mizzet Reborn dunk on all midrange strategies, so we have to get a little smaller.
Eidolon of the Great Revel is often a liability when the format is lower to the ground. If everyone is being aggressive, we don’t need to be as aggressive. Eidolon of the Great Revel shines in formats that are interactive and a little slower than normal. It’s a powerful two-drop that gives us a bunch of burst damage against matchups where we might be far behind. A single Eidolon of the Great Revel can crush Lotus Field or other decks that spin their wheels.
Torbran, Thane of Red Fell has become the X-factor that Embercleave is in the other formats. We aren’t all about spraying the battlefield, so Embercleave isn’t quite right for the job. Torbran is a quintessential red card that strengthens everything around it, turning mediocre Wild Slash and Stomp into heaps of damage that an unsuspecting opponent might not be able to deal with. It dodges a lot of removal and offers a way to close the game so quickly it’ll make your head spin. Combine it with Eidolon of the Great Revel or Rampaging Ferocidon for some truly punishing interactions.
There’s a different build of mono-red for every format. Sometimes you go big, and sometimes you go small. Right now, I think toeing the line is the smart move. It’s important to be flexible when your opponents’ decks can vary so widely in how they attack or defend. We’re playing some of the most dominant red creatures ever printed in their respective formats, and all of them seem to work harmoniously in this shell. It’s a good time to be a red mage!
Ross Merriam — Jund Sacrifice (Jegantha)
For a format that doesn’t get much press, Pioneer has seen considerable metagame evolution over the last few weeks. After underperforming expectations for months, Izzet Phoenix has finally found a foothold in the metagame. The Selesnya Company deck that we’ve seen in Historic has been ported over to some success. And Orzhov Humans has received a boost from some Silverquill cards from Strixhaven.
The common denominator among these decks is creatures. And when it comes to playing against creatures, you can’t do much better than Mayhem Devil. Jund Sacrifice has been feasting on creature decks in multiple formats for months now on the strength of that card and its ability to flood the battlefield with creatures and grind out games in combat. The only question is which version to play, but at this point the Food lists just seem better to me. It’s the list that provides the most consistent card advantage engine since it’s difficult to interact with, and Korvold, Fae-Cursed King is the most reliable haymaker, though you still want access to Bolas’s Citadel in the sideboard for matchups where you need to go over the top.
I like playing two copies of Binding the Old Gods in the maindeck because the Food lists are mana-hungry and I want more ways to remove opposing Korvolds and other powerful permanents. I trim down on maindeck Thoughtseizes, which are a liability against aggressive decks, and also lean the manabase away from non-Overgrown Tomb shocklands and towards more Pathways, which are great fixing for a deck that doesn’t have heavy color requirements.
We know what this deck can do from its dominance in Historic. It’s powerful enough to stand up to the Pioneer metagame, so don’t overthink your list. Just play your core cards and flexible interaction. Adjust the sideboard as your metagame changes. But if you’re making the leap from Arena to Magic Online (MTGO), it offers a smooth transition.
Shaheen Soorani — Lotus Field Combo
Lotus Field Combo emerged as a top deck over a year ago when live play was still occurring. It was a different deck then, utilizing Underworld Breach, and now it fills its resources with pure card advantage. Emergent Ultimatum enters the mix now, adding a one-spell reload to the strongest combo deck of the format. Even through disruption, Lotus Field Combo can weather the storm, land a few strong card draw spells, and go off.
When Dimir Inverter was running the Pioneer streets, Lotus Field Combo was not able to break through. Since its exit, Lotus Field Combo has become one of the best competitive options. I enjoy the Azorius Control decks of the format; however, Lotus Field Combo checks all the boxes for deck traits that pry me away from my favorite archetype. Spinning your wheels, producing a bunch of mana and cards, and then killing the opponent through a convoluted series of events is exactly where I want to be in any given tournament.
If you enjoy combo decks like this and constantly winning through disruption, Lotus Field Combo is the clear choice.
Dom Harvey — Orzhov Humans (Lurrus)
- 4 Soldier of the Pantheon
- 4 Bloodsoaked Champion
- 1 Kytheon, Hero of Akros
- 4 Thraben Inspector
- 4 Thalia's Lieutenant
- 1 Kitesail Freebooter
- 4 Dauntless Bodyguard
- 1 Giant Killer
- 4 Luminarch Aspirant
When you have to stay on top of five or more formats at once, something has to give. Grinding out matches with Five-Colour Niv-Mizzet or Izzet Phoenix loses its luster when the hot new Standard deck or the Modern nonsense of the week is impatiently waiting in line. I picked up Orzhov Humans (Lurrus) knowing I could put it down quickly after speedrunning some Leagues on Magic Online but I was impressed enough to stick with it.
This deck was an under-the-radar addition to Pioneer from Kaldheim, as Rally the Ranks gives you a crucial mass pump effect that lets you keep Lurrus of the Dream-Den. These Anthems are important enough that there’s a strong case for giving up Lurrus just to gain General Kudro of Drannith. The rest of the deck was already appealing. You get on the battlefield incredibly quickly and can shrug off spot removal, you have the excellent enemy-colour fixing available in Pioneer, and you enjoy interaction like Thoughtseize and Fatal Push that appeal to every black deck as well as a unique removal spell in Dire Tactics. Most aggro decks in Pioneer don’t get to play Mutavault but this one does and makes great use of it.
Current metagame trends aren’t ideal for Orzhov Humans. There’s a good reason people with time to kill are playing Niv-Mizzet Reborn or Arclight Phoenix, both strong against you. Still, this is a fundamentally strong deck that’s fun to play and punishes anyone who isn’t prepared.