Magic but Cheaper: Humans

This week, Servotoken takes a dive into his favorite tribe as he breaks down some of the new tools the deck has picked up this year. Between Extraction Specialist, Brutal Cathar and Thalia, Humans has received a tremendous shot in the arm. Human tribal is alive and well in pioneer, let’s take a look at how to play it on a budget!

Magic’s creature types have long been a connection point to the game for many players. Whether it’s as a basis for deck construction or a collection, people have always enjoyed the idea of keeping like creature types together. Over the years, these tribal decks have seen an increase in play and a tremendous amount of support, being one of the most popular methods of constructing any sort of deck from Commander to standard, even all the way back to Legacy. Today, we’re gonna take a look at my favorite tribe for competitive play: Humans.

The Deck

Mono White Humans is an aggressive creature deck that looks to utilize the inherent synergy between the creatures to bolster the play patterns by creating a beatdown machine that’s greater than the sum of its parts. While the typical Humans plan is to back up some cheap and aggressive creatures with just enough disruption to ensure the opponent stumbles, this list is more focused on creating a plan into the longer game by taking advantage of the newest hotness Extraction Specialist. The deck tries to swarm the field in the early turns, creating problematic threats early and often in an attempt to overwhelm the opposition’s development while offering enough utility along the way to not succumb to the typical pitfalls that Aggro decks run into.

Who’s the Beatdown?

While many of the creatures in this list are able to provide some decent utility, the core of the deck is an ever-growing beatdown strategy. Cards like Thalia’s Lieutenant, Luminarch Aspirant, and Intrepid Adversary ensure a constant stream of creatures that can quickly outsize the threats that an opponent is presenting. Adeline, Resplendent Cathar is an excellent late game beater that provides an effective army-in-a-can and can rebuild forces after a board wipe while attacking in for tremendous damage if left unchecked. Abzan Falconer looks to take advantage of all of the +1/+1 counters flying around in the deck by making all of the creatures with those counters, well, fly around. All of this is backed up by a luxury typically not afforded by budget lists, a full suite of creature lands in Mutavault. As a fellow human, Mutavault can take advantage of all of the synergies listed above without being vulnerable to that sorcery speed interaction, which is a tremendous boon for the aggro player.

The Utility

The other half of this coin is the deck’s built in utility that can help push it through an opponent who’s decided to put up more resistance than that of a goldfish. Extraction Specialist is definitely the key player in this aspect, enabling tremendous card advantage on top of a decent sized body with a relevant keyword. The entire one and two drop suite has been configured to maximize the power that the Specialist can provide, even though that card isn’t allowed to participate in combat. Dauntless Bodyguard is typically used as just a first turn play, but can be clutch in the later turns to help increase mana efficiency by protecting a key threat that absolutely needs to sit in play like Luminarch Aspirant. Thraben inspector, likewise, can continue to add gas to the hand to help smooth out any of the hand disruption that the deck might face. Charming Prince is really the jelly to the Specialist’s peanut butter, as it can bounce the Specialist to free up the first card it brought back to attack while also heading back to the graveyard to pick up more friends. On top of the Prince’s other abilities, this can lead to some huge plays in the later turns. We all already know the power of Brutal Cathar and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, but I’d be remiss if they weren’t at least mentioned as additional layers of disruptive utility that an opponent needs to consider. Capping it off is the reason to play Mono White as opposed to any of the other color combinations that Humans have access to, Brave the Elements, which can act as a protection spell or aggressive spell to push through a wall of mono colored blockers. This card is severely underrated in the format, and certainly demands a home in any white aggressive deck. All in all, this deck takes advantage of all of these cards to maintain a presence into the long game, which is a strategy that many other decks who might think they’re ready for aggro are completely underprepared for.

How does it Play? 

Mono white humans, first and foremost, is a beatdown deck. In the current meta, those are generally the types of deck that perform fine to good, but not well enough to take a dominant slot unless they’re doing some serious cheating on mana as we saw with Winota. However, the core of the deck is extremely tight and there are enough redundant powerful pieces that provide enough level of consistency for me to confidently say that the deck won’t let you down. At present, I am 5-4 in competitive matches with it as I am still in the process of learning what all it’s capable of and how it reacts to certain metagame factors such as Karen and Bonecrusher Giant. Honestly, the deck feels like it has enough of a base to reward right play in the hands of an experienced pilot, and can be swift enough to secure some free wins against opponents who choose to not draw the correct cards in the correct order. All that said, it is still just a creature aggro deck, with all of the pros and cons that come with that. Sometimes attacking is enough, sometimes it isn’t. The deck certainly has enough room to grow upward though that slight modifications could be all it needs to become a pervasive threat to the metagame.


There are many paths to choose when deciding to stick with Humans in Pioneer. The archetype is one of the most adaptable in the format and the deck can be built to match or best any meta game. From 5-color using Mantis Rider to take advantage of decks that want to clog up the ground and Collected Company to overwhelm the control decks, to Bant to go toe-to-toe with the midrange piles with the likes of Reflector Mage, or Black White to stave off a combo menace via Kitesail Freebooter and Kambal Consul of Allocation, Humans can adapt to any circumstance and be able to come out on top. Just as in the real world, the ingenuity that Humans are capable of is near limitless, and with enough perseverance they’re capable of ruling the roost in short order. The “correct” way to build the deck will always be changing, and it’s up to you as a pilot to address the meta game that you’ll be expecting, looking at the tools you have available to fight it, and selecting the correct one. The complicated part of piloting a Humans deck happens before you’re even registered for the tournament, which could explain why the archetype isn’t nearly as popular as it should be. 

That’s all for this one. I’ve been putting in a tremendous amount of hours into configuring and tinkering with Humans lists recently, and I thought I’d share some of the fruits of that work here. The deck is constantly picking up new pieces and things to keep an eye out for, so I’m sure that the future of this archetype is even brighter than it’s present. This is certainly the deck to pick up for any aggressive player who likes to tinker and bring a personal spin into attacking a meta game. 

Let me know what you think of the article and series as well! We’re always looking for your feedback here at Playing Pioneer; we want to give you the things that you want to see. Hit us up on Reddit, our Patreon member discord, or on Twitter to let us know what you want out of us next. But until next time, stay safe, play smart, and thanks for reading!

  • Darren "ServoToken"


    ServoToken has been playing competitive magic since 2011, spending a majority of that time living in the shoes of a player on a strict budget. After investing a lot of time learning how to make the best of a bad situation, his goals today are to spread those lessons to the often-ignored population of Magic players who can’t afford to drop a car payment on a new deck every couple of months. His mantra is that “You don’t need to play mono-red to do well on a budget”. These days, you can typically find him deep in the archives of Scryfall searching for new cards to brew around or making tweaks to the Pioneer Budget deck spreadsheet on his unending mission to bring his favorite format to the people on the cheap.

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