Explorer Meta Guide: December 9

rose-emoji breaks down the Explorer metagame going into Explorer Anthology 2, which promises to shake up the format more than we've ever seen.


Each week, we at PlayingExplorer take a deep dive into the available MTGA ranked ladder data from players in Platinum rank and above. We take what data we have and break down which decks sit where in the Explorer metagame. These tier lists include a rolling average to ensure decks don’t move too volatility on the tier list after one good week. If you’re looking for an example of that tier list, here is this week’s best-of-three and best-of-one tier lists.

This metagame breakdown article will accompany that tier list each Friday, and will go over the top decks, why they have seen increases, decreases, or stagnation in play, and cover what stands out as to why these decks are contenders in the metagame.


This week, we have our standard set of data from the ranked ladder from Platinum and up. Since Explorer data is not yet released by Wizards the way it is for Standard and Historic, we use a major tracker that we are affiliated with in combination with Explorer tournaments with more than 50 players.

The Pizza Box Open (79 Players)

Explorer Competitive Guides

The data above is broken down by our Explorer Competitive Guides – a group of players on the PlayingExplorer team (which includes the authors of this article) who have met certain metrics to qualify to be a Competitive Guide and maintained those metrics each month to remain on the competitive team. While leaning on the data as much as possible, the competitive team often shifts decks up and down based on their experience and feelings about expected matchups. The input from our competitive guides, combined with the data, makes up our weekly tier lists. 

Bo3 Metagame Breakdown

Still a week before Explorer Anthology 2, where the Explorer format will get some crucial missing links between it and Pioneer, the Explorer best-of-three metagame is already starting to look more and more like Pioneer proper, with 4c Keruga Fires and Gruul Vehicles entering the mix in a big way just a couple of weeks after the same shift happened in Pioneer.

It appears as though Explorer players are looking to Pioneer more and more recently, as the Explorer metagame shifted more drastically after the Pioneer Regional Championships than it has in a while. With the printing of cards like Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, Fiery Impulse, Brave the Elements, Mutavault, Rending Volley, Eidolon of the Great Revel and Wastes (just kidding), next week should bring us even closer to Pioneer, introducing innocent Explorer players to the deck known as Green Devotion. 

Until then, let’s get into what the meta looks like!

S Tier

Decks in this tier are the most heavily played and format dominant. These decks are the core that the rest of the meta revolves around. Players should be prepared to face these decks multiple times throughout a series of games on the ladder or in a single constructed event.

Rakdos Midrange

Rakdos Midrange hasn’t left S Tier since day one of the Explorer format. While last week, its playrate was beat out for the first time in Explorer’s history – by 4c Keruga Fires, nonetheless – it reclaimed its spot as the most-played deck in Explorer Bo3. Of course, it was never in any danger of losing its S Tier position – just being joined by Keruga Fires.

Rakdos continues to have a solid matchup against the entirety of the Explorer metagame, barring Keruga Fires and Enigmatic Incarnation. While we expect Green Devotion to join Rakdos in S Tier soon after the Explorer Anthology releases, we don’t expect Rakdos to lose its S Tier rank anytime soon – if Pioneer is any indicator of how the Explorer metagame will evolve.

A Tier

Decks in this tier are generally on the same power level as those above it, and consistently post top results at events. However, due to certain factors like deck population or weakness in a key matchup they are not as format dominant.

4C Keruga Fires

Briefly overtaking Rakdos Midrange in playrate last week, the current build of four-color Keruga Fires is new to Explorer, and about a month old in Pioneer. 

As Fires decks tend to do, Keruga Fires goes over the top of Rakdos Midrange in a way they can’t typically deal with. With maindeck copies of Bonecrusher Giant, Temporary Lockdown and Leyline Binding, the deck also fares well against all but the fastest aggro decks in the Explorer format.

In Pioneer, the deck ended up being sort of a flash in the pan, dropping to D Tier this week after spending some time in the upper tiers. With the Explorer Anthology giving Enigmatic Incarnation four playable cards next week, it is to be seen which Fires deck will win the day.

Abzan Greasefang

Still the strongest of the three Greasefang decks in Explorer, Abzan Greasefang is about to get the most important missing piece from its Pioneer counterpart in Satyr Wayfinder next week. If it weren’t for a major increase in the playrate of Karn, the Great Creator on the Explorer ladder expected to come at the same time, this likely would have pushed the deck over the top and into S Tier. 

Karn’s increased playrate will present a huge problem to Greasefang decks, as it has on the Pioneer side of things. Abzan Greasefang currently lives in C Tier on the Pioneer tier list, and with the Explorer Bo3 meta crawling toward parity, it’s possible we see the deck start to drop after the Explorer Anthology, even with Satyr Wayfinder coming in.

This week, though, Abzan Greasefang kept up its playrate and performance on the Bo3 Explorer ladder, keeping it firmly in A Tier.

Azorius Control

In both Pioneer and Explorer, Azorius Control has been a mainstay in the top tiers. While the Pioneer deck has moved back to a Yorion 80-card build, the Explorer version of the deck has moved to a 60-card version. PlayingPioneer’s DarthJacen has written briefly about the reasoning behind this in his Pioneer Azorius Control Deck Guide, and might get deeper into it at a later date in a separate article. I, for one, am not qualified to write about this, as someone who has only ever groaned about Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and have never cast one.

Azorius Control maintains a good Explorer matchup against the decks that keep trying to go over the top of Rakdos Midrange (like Enigmatic Incarnation and 4C Keruga Fires), and serves to keep certain decks (like Ensoul Artifact, Auras and go-wide aggro decks) out of the format entirely. With four copies of Portable Hole mainboard, a couple copies of March of Otherwordly Light and, of course, Supreme Verdict, Azorius holds its own even against some of the faster aggro decks in the format, and can even sneak out wins against Mono-Blue Spirits.

Mono-Blue Spirits

Mono-Blue Spirits is still somewhat slept on in Explorer, seeing its playrate drop significantly over time but maintaining a 67% winrate. The deck has a great matchup against the same over-the-top Fires decks that UW does, while still presenting enough of a clock to compete against other aggro decks and slower midrange decks.

With Green Devotion coming into the format next week, Mono-Blue Spirits will gain its best matchup in Pioneer. Depending on the playrate of Green Devotion in the first few weeks post-Anthology, Mono-Blue could skyrocket in winrate. Unfortunately for fans of the ghosts, Rending Volley is being printed into the format at the same time, which will severely hurt Spirits’ Mono-Red and Rakdos matchups.

If we’re to work off the theory that Explorer is rapidly approaching parity with the Pioneer metagame, Blue Spirits’ outlook is not great, landing in C Tier in Pioneer this week.

Special Notes

Gruul Vehicles

Like Four-Color Keruga Fires, Gruul Vehicles entered the Explorer zeitgeist about a month after it started seeing extensive play in Pioneer.

In Pioneer, the deck presents a strong matchup against Green Devotion, mostly centered around The Akroan War’s ability to steal big creatures, attack with them, and then crew a vehicle with them, tapping them before the third Akroan War trigger.

In Explorer, the deck is already seeing a high winrate, with most lists currently running a couple copies of The Akroan War. When Green Devotion enters the fold, the copies of War will likely need to increase. The only card played in Pioneer that is missing in Explorer is Mutavault, which, of course, Explorer Anthology 2 will fix.

Some lists in Pioneer are including combo kills using Fable of the Mirror-Breaker and Combat Celebrant (Fable Twin) to end games quickly and deterministically. This could be key in Explorer, as the Fable Twin Combo can overcome unfathomable life totals that Green Devotion could create before timing out on the Arena clock.

Bo1 Metagame Breakdown

The best-of-one metagame has changed very little since Explorer launched, basically serving as an eternal battleground between Mono-Red Cleave and Selesnya Angels – a battle we’ll have to keep an eye on when Eidolon of the Great Revel is thrown into the mix next week. The few changes that have happened below S Tier are significant, though, and I’ll highlight those here.

Azorius Control – Up to A Tier

Companions are completely free in best-of-one Magic, as there is no sideboard to compete with for card slots. Electing not to be an 80-card Yorion deck, Azorius Control in Explorer Bo1 has sought out Kaheera, the Orphanguard for companionship.

Kind of acting as a third-party to the battle between Mono-Red and Angels, Bo1 Azorius Control is teched more to take out Angels than it is Mono-Red, but certain opening hands can win that matchup, too.

While holding up a relatively low winrate at 58%, UW Control is the fourth most-played deck in Explorer behind the big two and Abzan Greasefang, moving it confidently into A Tier this week.

Ensoul Artifact – Up to B Tier

There are actually a few ways Explorer can get new legal cards:

  1. Through new Standard-legal sets like every other format.
  2. A card already available on Arena becomes Pioneer legal via a reprint.
  3. Explorer Anthologies directly injecting cards in.
  4. A card legal in Pioneer becomes available on Arena by other means.

In the Brothers’ War, we saw the fourth option happen, as Springleaf Drum entered MTG Arena via the special retro-border artifact cards that were printed alongside the Standard-legal Brothers’ War set. Always having been legal in Pioneer, the card immediately became legal in Explorer with very little fanfare.

There are few decks in Explorer that were prepared to take advantage of this quiet addition, but Ensoul Artifact was one of them – using Drum and the zero-mana Ornithopter to effectively create two mana on turn one. Drum allows the deck to go “Ornithopter, Darksteel Citadel, Drum, Gingerbrute”, which puts four artifacts on the board on turn one for a huge All That Glitters or Michiko’s Reign of Truth on turn two.

Unfortunately for fans of the scissors, Azorius Control dumpsters this deck, and, as mentioned above, Azorius Control is seeing more and more play every week.

Final Thoughts

Explorer is looking forward to a big shakeup next week with Explorer Anthology 2 – likely the biggest shake-up to best-of-three that we have ever seen, as several cards in the anthology are crucial for our eventual transition to Pioneer. Of course, we’re still missing the delve spells for Phoenix (one of the best and most-played decks in Pioneer), Dreadbore and several cards for Lotus Field Combo, so Explorer will continue to have its own meta for the time being. For insight into just how that meta shakes out, check out our meta guide next week!

Until then, thanks for reading and remember to crew your Chariot with your opponent’s creature before the Akroan War sacrifices itself!

  • rose-emoji

    Network Administrator/Publisher

    rose-emoji started playing Magic: The Gathering during Battle for Zendikar, then took a break from the game until Throne of Eldraine. Pioneer got him back into Magic full-force, and the launch of Arena on mobile hooked him in forever. Now that his favorite format is working its way onto Arena, he can be found grinding the format to death. Only ever Grixis colors, but sometimes he can have a little Jund as a treat.

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