Pioneering Through a New Format

A quick glance at Pioneer

Pioneer’s announcement was followed by an explosion of hype. If you still haven’t heard, Magic’s newest format is the most recent non-rotating format for us to explore. It features all Standard legal sets going all the way back to Return to Ravnica and ends up feeling somewhere in between Modern and Standard. After starting with a minimal ban list we’ve already had a few shakeups and today I’d like to share some of the decks I’m keeping my eyes on going forward.

4 Thing in the Ice/Awoken Horror
4 Arclight Phoenix
2 Crackling Drake
4 Lightning Axe
4 Wild Slash
4 Opt
4 Chart a Course
4 Izzet Charm
3 Strategic Planning
3 Fiery Temper
4 Treasure Cruise
4 Shivan Reef
4 Spirebluff Canal
4 Steam Vents
2 Sulfur Falls
4 Island
2 Mountain
4 Mystical Dispute
3 Abrade
3 Narset, Parter of Veils
2 Chandra, Torch of Defiance
2 Sweltering Suns
1 Brazen Borrower/Petty Theft

First on the list is my good friend Izzet Phoenix. I’m definitely biased, but after having a ton of fun with this deck in Modern, I’m happy to once again put some birds into play. The deck’s main plan is to put an early Thing in the Ice into play or get one or more Arclight Phoenix into your graveyard. Then it’s as simple as casting your cheap spells and going to town with your 7/8 horror that just bounced all of your opponent’s creatures and/or a flock of electric birds.

Part of what makes this deck strong is the fact that all of your cards have incidental synergy. This means you can focus on interacting with your opponent as needed and you’ll still be working away at transforming your Thing in the Ice or stocking your graveyard to fuel a Treasure Cruise.

Of course the sideboard offers a lot of strong options as well. This list, for example, has extra interaction in the form of counterspells and more removal and there are also several planeswalkers if you need to take things a bit slower and grind out some value.

What really makes this deck stand out to me is that we’ve seen strategies like this excel in the past and I believe Izzet Phoenix has the tools to continue doing well in Pioneer. Even if this deck never breaks the format in half, it will always at least be a solid choice. Of course, Treasure Cruise is a card that could potentially be too strong and I think this deck is currently the best positioned to take advantage of it.

4 Burning-Tree Emissary
4 Elvish Mystic
4 Jadelight Ranger
4 Llanowar Elves
3 Scavenging Ooze
4 Voracious Hydra
4 Walking Ballista
4 Vivien, Arkbow Ranger
4 Nissa, Who Shakes the World
4 Once Upon a Time
2 Castle Garenbrig
4 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
15 Forest
2 Lifecrafter's Bestiary
3 Nylea's Disciple
2 Questing Beast
2 Reclamation Sage
1 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
2 Unravel the AEther

*This sample was the list MTGO player adrianretamosa used to win the Pioneer challenge on 11/10/19. Their sideboard also included three copies of Veil of Summer, but as the card was banned the following day I decided to exclude it here as to not confuse anyone that would like to try out these lists. I would recommend just adding a couple extra copies to some of the other sideboard cards as a starting point if you would like to use this list yourself.

Next on the list is Mono Green. This ramp/devotion strategy has already proven to be very successful and already contributed to two cards (Leyline of Abundance and Veil of Summer) getting banned. After doing very well in the first two Pioneer challenges on MTGO it looks like this deck is going to continue being a very powerful part of the format.

Mono Green has a very strong mana acceleration core starting with two playsets of mana dorks in Elvish Mystic and Llanowar Elves. After that we have some very strong cards in Nissa, Who Shakes the World, Castle Garenbrig, and Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx. All of these are solid on their own, but once we mix them all together we get something truly powerful. Untapping with a Nissa already gives you access to a ton of mana and once you’re able to untap Nykthos with Nissa’s +1 ability you’ll have more mana than you know what to do with.

The rest of the deck is filled to the brim with cards that give you all kinds of value, and incidentally have plenty of green mana pips to help out your mana generation from Nykthos. Cards like Voracious Hydra, Vivien, Arkbow Ranger, and Walking Ballista give you the ability to interact with opposing creatures or beat your opponent in the face when the coast is clear. To tie it all together, Once Upon a Time is the glue that holds everything together. Helping you find your early creatures and land drops, or making sure you find that big creature to close out the game fast, in a deck like this it basically does it all.

In the sideboard we have plenty of answers to specific problems, and then an assortment of additional threats and value cards for when things are going to go a bit long. In terms of replacing Veil of Summer in the sideboard, I’m not entirely sure what will be best yet. We’ll probably have to continue to see how things shape up. If you still want that slot to help against the midrange and control decks then you could swap in a card like Tireless Tracker for some value, or if you prefer to solve things with a sledgehammer then things like Carnage Tyrant and Shifting Ceratops are always fun. If all else fails you can always just add a few extra copies of the cards already in the sideboard for the time being.

All in all, the Veil of Summer ban does hurt this deck, but I definitely think we’ll continue to see this deck do well. Even if the lists have to adapt there are plenty of strong options for these strategies. Especially if the format continues to trend towards more fair and midrange style decks as things get banned, then being able to have some of the strongest top end around will always be valuable.

3 Archangel Avacyn/Avacyn, the Purifier
4 Brazen Borrower/Petty Theft
4 Reflector Mage
3 Selfless Spirit
4 Spell Queller
4 Thraben Inspector
4 Teferi, Time Raveler
4 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
4 Smuggler's Copter
2 Castle Ardenvale
4 Glacial Fortress
4 Hallowed Fountain
2 Irrigated Farmland
3 Port Town
4 Island
7 Plains
2 Deputy of Detention
2 Disdainful Stroke
2 Mystical Dispute
3 Rest in Peace
3 Supreme Verdict
3 Surge of Righteousness

The last deck I’d like to talk about is Azorius Tempo. For anyone that knows me and my affinity for Reflector Mage, this will come as no surprise. While this deck isn’t doing anything inherently broken, it is chock full of very strong cards and some that were even banned in their Standard format.

Much like the Izzet Phoenix deck, this is a deck that allows you to interact with your opponent while still developing your own game plan. Some of these tools include cards like Reflector Mage, Spell Queller, and Brazen Borrower // Petty Theft which are great at applying pressure to your opponent even after they’ve done their job as disruption.

Alongside the mentioned cards you have a suite of other creatures that give you some value while also putting another body on the board. This allows the deck to take full advantage of Smuggler’s Copter which is easily the most powerful vehicle we’ve seen so far. Turning a Thraben Inspector into three damage in the air or helping dig for the right card is nothing to scoff at.

To round it all out the deck also includes Teferi, Time Raveler and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. Each of these cards have been power houses in their respective formats and that doesn’t seem to be stopping in Pioneer. Teferi is great at helping the disruptive part of the deck’s gameplan. By bouncing problematic permanents and messing with your opponent’s abilities to cast spells, Teferi lines up great with a lot of what you’ll be trying to do. Not only that, but you can even bounce your own creatures to get another use out of their effects, or in my favorite case you can bounce your own Spell Queller, and because of Teferi’s static ability, your opponent won’t even get their spell back. Gideon is no slouch either. Even though his abilities seem a bit more one dimensional, he is amazing at applying pressure to the board and making sure you’ll always have the upper hand in creature based matchups as well as being a very quick way to end the game against more controlling opponents.

There isn’t much specifically to say about the sideboard. White and blue offer a lot of strong options for answers and this allows you to adjust your deck to make sure your disruption lines up just right against your opponent. Supreme Verdict is amazing against opponents trying to be even more aggressive than you and Mystical Dispute is a godsend when trying to resolve a Teferi, Time Raveler against control or making sure a Nexus of Fate never resolves against you.

So where do we go from here?

It’s good to keep in mind that the format is still very new. Even though it feels like a ton has already happened with two banlist updates and handful of MTGO results, there is still a lot of room for things to change. There are a ton of other decks to explore and a lot we’ve still yet to see. I don’t think these decks I’ve talked about are necessarily the best or will be the absolute top dogs going forward, but I think they’re very solid entry points into the format and will give a good taste of the action. Things are bound to change. These types of archetypes have proven strong in the past and it looks like they’re going to hold up in Pioneer as well. Who knows, maybe in a couple weeks we’ll all be wishing that Reflector Mage will get banned again. For now though I would recommend finding what looks fun and jumping right in.

Tomasz Sobkowicz

Tomasz is a regular LGS competitor with a Boar's Hat Gaming Season 1 Modern Champion title to defend. With a love for all things Grixis (and Reflector Mage) no one else at FNM can tell you more about sloths.
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