Explorer Meta Guide June Season

Things Have Been Bad

Explorer has been in a tough spot for a couple of months. The meta has been stale and full of 300% your daily value of Fable of the Mirror-Breaker and Sheoldred, the Apocalypse. Even I, a Pioneer-and-Explorer-only player and Arena ladder grinder, fully stopped playing Explorer through the months of May and much of June – instead, opting to play Arena’s…other formats. Oh and chess!

Anyway, enough about me though. Just objectively, the Explorer meta has been very stale for two months. Every week, we at PlayingMTG.com use Arena ranked data from Platinum and up to craft our weekly Explorer Tier List update. Recently, though, it has been less of an update and more of a check-in, as nothing has moved. 

But Not That Bad

May and June did bring some innovation to the format, as Boros Convoke and Archfiend Combo have made their way onto the Arena ladder in this time. Given the timing, the appearance of these decks on the Explorer ladder is a clear indication that Explorer players are paying attention to Pioneer to some extent – which I always like to note, as competitive Explorer players can look to the Pioneer meta as a predictor of what’s to come in upcoming Explorer events.

The breakout of these two decks, though, didn’t do much to shake up the Explorer format. Plus, both decks are missing key cards from their Pioneer counterparts (Reckless Bushwhacker and Dig Through Time respectively), so their impact on Explorer was lessened further.

Two new deck archetypes over three set releases is not great, but sometimes enablers to existing, off-meta archetypes can be just as good as meta impacts go, and Explorer did get that in the comeback of Dimir Rogues. Largely credited to PlayingMTG.com’s very own KarnageKardsENT, Faerie Mastermind and Darkslick Shores. It did a lot to put the old Standard menace back on the map, and it burst onto the Explorer scene with the same impact it did in Pioneer – the difference is that that impact lasted longer in Explorer, and continues to today.

And It’s Getting Better

The last two weeks of June have seen a stronger Explorer meta-shift than we have seen in awhile. Although the bar was low, the change was welcome, as Rakdos Sacrifice, Mono-White Humans and Dimir Rogues quickly climbed the PlayingMTG Explorer tier list, diminishing Rakdos Midrange’s hold of the top. While Rakdos Sacrifice’s ascent largely mirrored the tier list movements of Pioneer’s – Rakdos Sacrifice, Rogues, Keruga Fires, Creativity and Humans climbing to B Tier, B Tier, A Tier and A Tier, respectively, (and Azorius Spirits’ descent) represents a break from the Pioneer metagame – and one that makes a good deal of sense.

Explorer is still missing quite a few Pioneer cards, and those that forget that and think about Explorer as Pioneer will be punished by an unexpected metagame. Explorer is also played in an entirely different way than Pioneer is. The Pioneer metagame is formed by results from MTGO Challenges, Leagues, Regional Championships and the Pro Tour, while Explorer’s metagame is formed by decks that climb the ladder efficiently and, in some cases, decks that provide the most fun or agency to the player. The recent meta shifts in Explorer seem to represent a clear acknowledgement of this difference. 

Mono-White Humans, for example, is sitting at the top of the Explorer tier list right now, while it fades away to C Tier on the Pioneer tier list. This is happening while Rakdos Sacrifice is climbing and Rakdos Midrange remains a top-played deck. Why is this? Because when you are grinding a ladder, you can afford to lose almost half your games while still making progress. When you are playing in any of the events that dictate the Pioneer metagame, you can’t just drop half your games. Ladder play (Explorer) rewards speed and a matchup spread with a lot of “very favored” matchups with little regard to the amount of “very unfavored matchups”, where event play (Pioneer) rewards consistency and matchup spreads with very few blowouts

Side note: this is largely why Tibalt’s Trickery had to be banned in Explorer and it’s fine in Pioneer. 

All of that to say: Explorer is still its own format, and the metagame is starting to reflect that a bit  more than it has in the past. Here’s a breakdown of the June season!

A Tier

Keruga Enigmatic Fires

A bit of a surprise to many – especially Pioneer players – Enigmatic Fires spent the June season climbing to the top of the tier list, ending the season as the top-played deck in the format by a wide margin.

Perhaps strictly to counter the extremely Rakdos-heavy metagame that has been the reality of the Explorer format since its inception, Enigmatic’s rise feels like a hard break from the Pioneer metagame, and likely has a fair amount to do with Rakdos’ fall. Enigmatic is very difficult for Rakdos Midrange to deal with, while also having a strong game against the wider aggro decks of the format. 

Spirits is a difficult matchup for the Keruga deck, and it’s very possible that we see a spike in Spirits players on the Explorer ladder when people start growing tired of losing to a turn-four Atraxa or Titan of Industry

Mono-White Humans

Explorer Humans got a big boost from the printing of Brave the Elementsin Explorer Anthology II, and the ladder was full of Thalias and her Lieutenants for quite awhile following that anthology. After a bit of a drop-off, Coppercoat Vanguard’s printing in Aftermath brought the archetype roaring back, representing the third most-played deck in the June season and maintaining a 58% average win-rate throughout. 

The deck is fast, somewhat resilient and has good matchups against the greedier decks that Explorer is slowly becoming home to. Plus, some of the Explorer metagame is dictated by decks that people enjoy playing, and people love creature typal decks and a lot of people enjoy playing decks that they feel like “punish greed”. It’s impossible to know how much that is playing into the deck’s recent rise on the Explorer ladder and in the few Explorer tournaments that happen, but it also doesn’t matter – either way, you can expect to face down a few Brutal Cathars on your way up to Mythic and beyond.

Rakdos Sacrifice

Explorer’s Rakdos Sacrifice deck is moving up the tier list in a way that mirrors its Pioneer counterpart. It started the June season in D Tier, and ended the season yesterday alongside the top three decks in the format. 

Rakdos Sacrifice is well-positioned to stay there, too, as it has good matchups all over the tier list and is a deck that enough people enjoy to keep its playrate high enough to hit our metrics for tier list consideration. 

Sacrifice is favored into Humans, Rakdos Midrange, Rogues, Archfiend Combo, Convoke, Elves and Spirits and has an even matchup into quite a few other tiered Explorer decks. As is the case in Pioneer, there is no reason for it to start slipping while the meta looks the way it does today.

B Tier

Rakdos Midrange

In the last week of the June season, Rakdos Midrange finally fell to B Tier, which is wild considering it started the season in S Tier.

It still has even or better matchups with most of the Explorer tier list, though, and has the consistency to steal wins even from the decks it is unfavored into, and boasts an average 58% win-rate amongst pilots in Platinum and above. Plus, it just keeps getting cards. The thing about Midrange Good-Card piles is that every good card printed in those colors just goes straight in it, and Black and Red have been getting at least one good to busted card per set release. While we won’t see another Explorer set until September (outside of the Anthology), Wizards would have to make an active effort to keep Rakdos Midrange from getting even better tech – not likely in a set based in Eldraine.

In short, don’t expect Rakdos Midrange to go anywhere anytime soon, and prepare to face it on the ladder and any Explorer tournaments you might find yourself in.

Dimir Rogues

Rogues made a big splash in Pioneer shortly after the printing of Faerie Mastermind, but that splash was somewhat short-lived. Here in Explorer, Rogues are still going strong, boasting a 54% average win-rate throughout the June season, with some pilots maintaining win-rates up to 82% over the course of 26 games. 

Rogues has the tempo game to attack less-interactive decks, the hand hate and countermagic to attack greedier decks and control decks, and the midrange backup plan to attack aggressive decks. The archetype can be teched to do it all, really, and in my opinion, it’s only one or two cards away from being the best deck in the format. Luckily for rogue fans, Eldraine is coming, and is likely to bring Explorer some faeries that may or may not double as rogues.

Mono-Green Devotion

Devotion was a top deck in Explorer for quite awhile immediately following the printing of Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx in the second Explorer Anthology. While it is still the top-played deck on the Explorer ladder, its win-rate is relatively low at a 53% average amongst pilots Platinum and above. The deck is also underrepresented in the few Explorer tournaments that exist, which weigh rather strongly in our tier list rankings.

Still, the deck is very prominent on the ladder, representing almost 11% of tracked matches in the June season, but while it isn’t easy to tech a deck with a bad matchup into it to be better into it, there are several decks that frequent the ladder that have great matchups into it, including Spirits, Mono-White Humans, Creativity, Archfiend Combo and Convoke. 

Azorius Control

Control has been having a rough go at it on the Pioneer side lately, as Green Devotion and Rakdos Midrange are by far the top-played decks in the format, and both are tough matchups for Control. Add to that the rise of Spirits and aggressive decks like Boros Pia and Convoke, and the situation gets even worse. 

In Explorer, it’s not quite as bad. More people are playing Humans and Angels in Explorer than in Pioneer, and certain builds of Azorius Control can clean up those matchups rather easily. In Explorer, Control holds an average 56% win-rate in the hands of all tracked pilots in Platinum and above and is well-represented in tournaments. 

If you ever want to know the state of a format’s metagame, it’s usually a good idea to look at the top-performing Azorius Control deck. In Explorer, the deck has more mainboard Temporary Lockdown than in Pioneer, and as many as five more single-target removal spells than its sister format.


Sitting at C Tier, I think it’s very possible that Archfiend Combo makes more headway in Explorer than it has in Pioneer. This is kind of already the case, and I expect that to continue as Explorer players find the best configuration of the deck through continuous ladder play faster than Pioneer players will through Leagues, Challenges and paper events.

Boros Pia Nalaar Thopters (more elegant deck name incoming, surely) is just starting to gain traction in Pioneer, and it seems likely if not inevitable that it makes its way to Explorer soon. Watching to see where it lands on the tier list after the dust settles will be interesting.

Azorius Spirits might seem like a strange deck to call an “up-and-comer”, as it’s kind of a staple of Explorer and Pioneer (and is doing quite well in Pioneer right now) but I do think it’s underrepresented in Explorer, especially considering the meteoric rise of Enigmatic Incarnation and the current Wedding Announcement sideboard plan that can easily win games against Rakdos Midrange. 

  • 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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  1. This is exactly the article I have been looking for for months. I wish I had a social media presence so I could spread it around for you. Thank you so much!

  2. I should be more specific:

    “Explorer is also played in an entirely different way than Pioneer is. ”

    The differences between the explorer and pioneer metagame and WHY.

    The explanation of the place of the decks in the meta was great, and I’m reading it multiple times.

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