Explorer Season Rewind: January 2023
Rose-emoji recaps the January season of Explorer Best-of-Three ranked play, just in time for All Will Be One to come shake it up (hopefully).
All The World Is Green
On December 13th, Explorer players were introduced to a deck that had been plaguing Explorer’s sister format, Pioneer, for some time already: Mono-Green Devotion.
In Pioneer, the title “Mono-Green Devotion” is a bit of a misnomer, as the deck uses Oath of Nissa to cast a few off-color planeswalkers – usually Teferi, Who Slows the Sunset and Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God – to speed up the deck’s built-in infinite combo based on Pestilent Cauldron/Restorative Burst. In Explorer, the deck truly is Mono-Green Devotion, and it all centers on the Explorer Anthology Two card Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx.
But that was last season. Why am I writing about it now? Well, beginning on January 4th and continuing through to today, Green Devotion has easily doubled the playrate of every other deck on the Bo3 Explorer ladder, and anecdotally dominates the Mythic ladder – reportedly representing 60% of some players’ matchups in the Mythic rank.
While the deck is missing The Chain Veil and Oath of Nissa – two very important cards for the combo finish the deck contains in Pioneer – it is also missing a few of its bad Pioneer matchups in Explorer; namely, Izzet Phoenix and Lotus Field Combo. Explorer, also missing Prairie Stream, is also behind on innovations being made to Azorius Control to include Lay Down Arms. Even Rakdos Midrange, one of the more “complete” decks in Explorer in relation to its Pioneer counterpart, is missing Dreadbore, the deck’s premier planeswalker removal card. While Mono-White Humans and Mono-Blue Spirits are natural predators to Green Devotion, both of these decks started struggling a bit toward the middle of this season and haven’t made their way back into the higher levels of play in Explorer.
With Green Devotion lacking its tougher matchups, it’s no wonder players looking to reliably rank up in Explorer are flocking to the deck. But what is everyone else to do?
Rakdos Midrange quickly went from being the Explorer boogeyman to having to adjust its 75 to work around the new one. Out of all of the decks in the top tiers of the Explorer metagame, Rakdos has an advantage of mainboarding four copies of Fatal Push. In game one, it is often the case that the Green Devotion player keeps a hand with one or two lands and one or two Elves, relying on the mana the Elves produce to cast anything else. Rakdos can punish this decision cleanly and easily.
Rakdos also has the advantage of mainboarding four copies of Thoughtseize, which can have the same effect as Fatal Pushing an elf when Rakdos is on the play or nab an Old Growth Troll or Cavalier at an opportune time. Misery’s Shadow was a strong addition from Brothers’ War, as it turns off Old Growth Troll’s death trigger that ramps the Green player (and continues to provide three devotion) and Cavalier’s death trigger that allows the Green player to bring any card back to the top of their library from their graveyard.
As far as how it has adapted this season to the exponential increase in Green Devotion’s playrate, many lists are running two sideboard copies of Extinction Event and one or two copies of Pithing Needle to turn off Karn or Kiora.
Rakdos’ continued playability despite Green Devotion’s dominance is a big part of what is keeping Mono-Blue Spirits and Mono-White Humans from beating back Green Devotion, and that is unlikely to stop going forward into the All Will Be One season, as (surprise!) Rakdos colors are getting a plethora of new toys to try out in the set.
Another deck that was activated by Explorer Anthology Two, Mono-White Humans fans were ready to Brave the Elements and directly counter the influx of Green Devotion. While that was looking to be the case for a bit, Humans has been slowly falling out of favor in recent weeks in both Explorer and Pioneer, while Selesnya and Mono-White Angels have been picking up the white-based tribal slack.
Humans players didn’t have to make any changes to counteract Green Devotion; rather, their flex slot and sideboard decisions look to be largely based around Rakdos Midrange, UW Control and the mirror, with cards like Wedding Announcement, Reidane, God of the Worthy, Lay Down Arms and Destroy Evil. Some lists are playing a copy or two of Damping Sphere, theoretically to shore up the Green Devotion matchup even further, but I think this is probably unnecessary.
Though not much is coming for the archetype in All Will Be One, Mono-White Humans is likely to be a strong pick for the first few weeks of the new season, as Rakdos players spend some time experimenting with the new cards. If Phyrexian Obliterator starts seeing a fair amount of play, though, there are going to be some scary game ones for Humans players.
Azorius Control continues to struggle, theoretically, against every Explorer deck in the top tiers of the metagame. It gets its hand ripped apart by Rakdos Midrange, it gets outvalued by Green Devotion and Keruga Fires, and it gets beaten down quickly by Mono-White Humans and the occasional Abzan Greasefang.
Why, then, is it consistently the third most-played deck in the format and how does it maintain a 60% winrate at the same time? Practice, practice and more practice.
Azorius Control won the first ever Pro Tour. People have been playing the archetype since before I was eating solid foods, probably. You have to imagine that many of the players queuing into the Explorer Bo3 ladder with Azorius Control have been playing the deck for longer than Explorer has existed – or, at the very least, since the very day Explorer was released. This deck knowledge, format knowledge and general Magic: The Gathering prowess is likely what continues to put Azorius Control in the upper tiers of play. Well, that, and the excellent Angels matchup that becomes more relevant by the week.
From Pioneer, Azorius Control is missing Detention Sphere in Explorer, which is a recent include in the mainboard of many top-performing Pioneer versions of the deck.
When it comes to making changes to the lists to battle the Explorer metagame, Explorer UW Control tried a few things this season, including permanently sticking Starnheim Unleashed in the sideboard for the Rakdos matchup, twisting up the manabase to accommodate Lay Down Arms for the aggro matchups and Green Devotion, and running Regal Caracal and Kaheera, the Orphanguard in the sideboard for the Mono-White Humans matchup.
Temporary Lockdown has been a major boon for the deck in Explorer, as it is a dead draw in few matchups and outright game-winning in others. It is good early into Green Devotion, backbreaking against Mono-White Humans, fairly good into Angels and not even completely dead in the mirror.
When it comes to Phyrexia: All Will Be One, UW Control players are looking intently at Ossification, another card (like Lay Down Arms) that requires some amount of mana gymnastics to accommodate.
Whether it’s Mono-White or Selesnya Collected Company, Angels in Explorer is a lifegain deck at heart with Explorer roots in best-of-one, where it is the clear strongest deck in the format. In Pioneer, the deck started rising to prominence after SCG Philly, where several copies of the deck were registered and over-performed.
With the Selesnya version essentially running eight copies of Collected Company (four copies of Kayla’s Reconstruction), the deck is very good at filling the board with Angels that gain the pilot life on entry, eventually buffing all angels on the battlefield via Righteous Valkyrie.
Because of Collected Company, the deck has a better Rakdos matchup than Mono-White Humans. It also runs two or three Shapers’ Sanctuary in the sideboard largely for the Rakdos match. Heroic Intervention and Reidane, God of the Worthy come in for the horrid Azorius Control matchup, and up to three copies of Pithing Needle keep Green Devotion from doing its planeswalker things.
Angels is the deck that can force Green Devotion to try to win via combo (rather than the primary stompy plan), which is very difficult to assemble in Explorer and clock-intensive to carry out on Arena. With up to four copies of Skyclave Apparition in the mainboard, and sometimes Brutal Cathar sideboard, the deck can present instant-speed answers to opposing threats off of Collected Company, swallowing a Kiora, a Karn, a Troll, an end-step Wandering Emperor, or a Sheoldred, the Apocalypse.
Ossification coming with All Will Be One will be a double-edged sword for Angels players, as the sideboard tool could be very strong for them, but the Azorius Control decks that run it will likely be mainboarding Ossification and Lay Down Arms, along with Supreme Verdict.
Wrapping Up The Wrap-Up
This has been a season of Explorer that could perhaps be summed up as “one big step closer to Pioneer on Arena”. With Explorer Anthology Two nearly completing several decks (including Enigmatic Incarnation and Gruul Vehicles, not mentioned above), it is becoming more and more fruitful to consult our Pioneer tier list for Explorer Bo3 decks and metagame tips. Because we have access to so much more data (and more frequent data) for Pioneer than we do Explorer, this is usually a good bet whenever possible and will keep you ahead of the curve when it comes to weekly micro-adjustments in the top lists.
See you next season, and good luck on your climb!