Metagame Breakdown December 14th, 2022
Join Darthjacen for a breakdown of this week’s top Pioneer decks and the meta shifts that were seen in recent events
Each week, we here at Playing Pioneer take a deep dive into the Magic Online results for Pioneer. We take what data we do have and break down which decks sit where in the overall metagame of Pioneer. These tier lists include a rolling average to ensure decks’ movement isn’t too volatile on the tier list after one good week. Here’s the Tier List from this week that we’ll be working with.
This metagame breakdown article will accompany our tier list each Wednesday and will go over the top decks, why they have seen increases, decreases, or stagnation in play, and cover what stands out for why these decks are contenders in the metagame.
As the metagame starts to solidify a bit, we’re focusing on the top decks (S-tier to B-tier) and decks that are seeing movement within the tiers. All decks within the top three tiers will get a full breakdown and decks that change tiers will get an explanation as to why, but decks that are situated comfortably for a few weeks may not get a full breakdown. If you don’t see the data on your favorite deck, feel free to ask us on Twitter or Reddit and we can provide the qualifying finishes for decks that haven’t moved, such as Bant and Mono Blue Spirits this week.
So, let’s break down the various events we are drawing data from this week!
This week we have our standard set of data looking at the Magic Online Pioneer Challenge along with a Magic Online Championship Series Showcase Challenge, and various Preliminary events throughout the week. For the Challenges, we are looking at all decks that earned the same number of points as the player in 16th in each event and for the Preliminary events we are looking at all 4-0 and 3-1 decks.
We also had the second Regional Championship for Canada along with an NRG $5K Trial in Louisville. These large-scale paper events also make the cut for data included in this week’s tier list.
- MTGO Pioneer Challenge
- MTGO Pioneer Challenge
- F2F Canadian Regional Championship
- NRG $5K Pioneer Trial
- MTGO Pioneer Preliminary
- MTGO Pioneer Preliminary
- MTGO Pioneer Preliminary
- MTGO Pioneer Preliminary
- MTGO Pioneer Preliminary
Each of these finishes are called qualified finishes and are part of how we determine which decks have seen success over the past weekend. While the number of finishes doesn’t account for all the purposes of decks moving, it can serve as a backbone to various arguments for moving a deck up or down the rankings.
Now that we’ve covered our data set, let’s get into the decks that will show up at your upcoming events!
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 given event.
Deck Overview: Rakdos Midrange is the premier midrange deck in Pioneer. It continually puts up top results thanks to a mix of proliferation and popularity within the player base and its inherent strength as a strategy due to its discard, removal, and difficult to answer threats.
Why it’s in this tier: Rakdos Midrange continues to sit atop the Pioneer Metagame with another strong week of finishes. With 23 qualifying finishes, Rakdos doubled the next highest contender for overall finishes, including an incredibly dominant Pioneer Challenge on Saturday. With 14 finishes within the Top 16 of the two challenges, that means this weekend Rakdos put up around 44% of the qualifying finishes from MTGO Challenges.
We’ve continually seen that since the printing of Misery’s Shadow, even the toughest matchups for Rakdos are winnable and the deck continues to convert more players each week. After the first batch of Regional Championships, it felt like Green Devotion was going to be the dominant deck of Pioneer, but since then we’ve seen Green become highly targeted and start to suffer. We will see if the format can adjust to deal with both Devotion and now also Rakdos, but the deck’s flexibility and versatility means it is difficult to target Rakdos while still fighting the rest of the format.
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.
Green Devotion (Down)
Deck Overview: Green Devotion is a ramp deck that leverages powerful Planeswalkers and high toughness threats to control the board before comboing the opponent with The Chain Veil and any mix of planeswalkers who untap Chain Veil on repeat while accruing additional value, finishing things off with either Pestilent Cauldron, The Stone Brain, or other such similar artifacts.
Why it’s in this tier: The first week of Regional Championships was the peak of Green’s perceived dominance in the format. From over 20% metagame share of the largest paper tournaments to getting less than half of the qualified finishes of Rakdos in under a month is a huge drop off. The deck is still incredibly powerful and can win nearly any game, as highlighted in the NRG event this past weekend, but the deck still has a big target on its back and enough bad matchups to warrant a change in tier.
With Rakdos gaining Misery’s Shadow, Lotus Field and other close matchups maxing out on Pithing Needles post board, and decks like Izzet Phoenix, Mono White Humans, and the various Spirits decks still running around, Devotion is in its worst metagame position since the last set of bans. Will we see the deck continue to suffer or will it find adjustments to remain near the top of the metagame? Only time will tell, but if people start to ease up on their hate cards, expect the deck to rebound quickly.
Mono White Humans
Deck Overview: Humans is an aggressive tribal strategy which leverages the synergy between creatures of the type, creating huge threats with +1/+1 counters while disrupting the opponent’s strategy through a myriad of minor inconveniences. The Mono-White build focuses on the strength of Brave the Elements and its ability to work offensively or defensively against any deck in the format.
Why it’s in this tier: Humans put up another solid weekend with nine qualifying finishes. As the premier Aggro deck of the format, it manages to keep the midrange and control piles honest while outsizing most other Aggro decks thanks to Luminarch Aspirant and Thalia’s Lieutenant. With a selection of powerful sideboard cards that can help fight through the slog of removal from Izzet and Rakdos, Humans also does a good job of surviving what should be its worst matchups.
Since winning the Regional Championship in Atlanta, we have seen a steady stream of top finishes for the deck, but Human’s metagame representation hasn’t increased much overall. This strategy is consistently in the top 5 decks for qualifying finishes and that likely won’t change until the next set at the earliest.
Lotus Field Combo
Deck Overview: Lotus Field is a land-based combo deck that aims to untap its namesake as many times as possible to generate mana in order to fuel its storm-style gameplan. It uses this excess mana to cast huge game ending spells like Omniscience and Approach of the Second Sun
Why it’s in this tier: Lotus Field remains a strong deck, but like old Affinity or Dredge in Modern, it’s at its best when people forget about it. With six qualifying finishes, the deck is starting to dip in its number of finishes after a streak of strong weekends. That’s not unexpected as all-in combo decks like this one tend to explode in representation and then fade slowly back down once people begin to respect it again. The number of Damping Spheres and other hate pieces will naturally increase in sideboards when Lotus Field is good, and it’s a big reason the deck has trouble crossing the threshold into S-tier.
With players starting to adjust to the presence of Lotus Field at the top tables, I suspect we’ll see the numbers continue to trickle down, even with the deck’s great matchups into Izzet Phoenix and Rakdos Midrange. Lotus Field will remain a fantastic choice for skilled pilots who put in the effort to master this complex combo deck – especially for small field events – but will suffer in open events like Challenges and Regional Championships until it falls off people’s radar a bit.
Decks in this tier are proven performers with strong finishes that will reward good player skill/dedicated play. However, they generally lack a certain level of power/consistency to take them to the winner’s podium on a regular basis.
Izzet Phoenix (Down)
Deck Overview: Leveraging some of the best two-drop creatures in the format along with the best cantrips, draw spells, and removal, Izzet Phoenix looks to take control of the game from turn one and eventually turn a corner to finish with a huge, difficult to deal with threat.
Why it’s in this tier: Phoenix had a rough weekend. There’s not a lot of ways around it when a top deck only puts up four qualifying finishes. The continued rise of Rakdos Midrange and Lotus Field remain a major problem for this deck and if Green Devotion starts to see less play, Phoenix is likely to run into more bad matchups than good at the top tables.
While skilled pilots continue to demonstrate that this deck is incredibly powerful, the Rakdos matchup is the biggest thing holding it back – especially with the printing of Misery’s Shadow. While I never want to count this deck out, I suspect Phoenix might be hibernating for the rest of winter – at least until Rakdos’ numbers start to drop or we see Phyrexia: All will be One potentially shaking up the metagame.
Deck Overview: Taking advantage of some difficult to interact with threats in Skysovereign, Consul Flagship and Esika’s Chariot, Gruul Vehicles looks to offer that “big zoo” type gameplan of being the aggro deck that goes larger than the other aggro decks.
Why it’s in this tier: Gruul Vehicles was starting to disappear a bit over the past few weeks after having some breakout performances early in the season. This week, we saw the deck start to rebound with nine qualifying finishes, tying it for third place overall. I suspect the continued rise of Rakdos means that Gruul will continue to be a good choice for the upcoming weeks. While the deck can struggle against more controlling decks, the combination of two-for-one vehicles and The Akroan War help push the deck over the top of other Midrange and Aggro decks.
This deck is a strong choice moving forward and we saw some new innovations over the weekend including a main deck change to Werewolf Packleader, which helps crew vehicles more easily while keeping the pressure up thanks to its activated ability. There’s still more room for this archetype to grow and I’m excited to see how it ends up moving into All will be One.
Deck Overview: The format’s premier pure control deck, Azorius Control leverages counterspells, wrath effects, and powerful Planeswalkers to take over the game and keep opponents from realizing their gameplan.
Why it’s in this tier: With eight qualifying finishes, it’s certainly time to start rewriting the narrative that control is no longer well positioned in Pioneer. While the deck continues to show up in solid numbers, we haven’t seen Azorius quite solve the equation on how to consistently beat strong Rakdos players. If strong Control pilots can figure out the Rakdos matchup, then the falling stock of Devotion means Azorius is primed to make a run back towards the top of the metagame.
While we’ve seen some rumblings about Dimir Control, including from myself, it’s clear that the default Control deck of Pioneer is currently Azorius, and the results show that isn’t going to change any time soon.
Decks in this tier are on an average power level for the format or are heavily underrepresented. Like our B-tier these decks can reward dedication to the archetype, but they will require a more concerted effort. Players should be aware of these decks, but not over-tune for these matchups.
Selesnya Angels (Down)
Deck Overview: Selesnya Angels is a life-gain centric aggressive deck that aims to fuel its arsenal of cheap flying threats with the power of Collected Company to go over the top of other creature strategies.
Why it’s in this tier: With the continued decline of Green Devotion – a close but favorable matchup for Angels post board – and the further Rakdos boom, it’s easy to see why this deck is struggling. Kayla’s Reconstruction was a big boon for this archetype and against decks that can’t interact with the creatures very reliably, it’s quite easy to overwhelm the board and fly over for the win. However the deck is still a creature deck at heart, and will typically fall prey to those midrange strategies that pack enough removal to make it not matter.
Unfortunately, with Rakdos being the top deck, there’s a lot of cheap interaction to keep this deck from finding much footing. In fact, this week we saw the deck only put up two qualifying finishes, a low point since the printing of The Brother’s War. This deck will likely continue to be a meta-call option for those that are weak to either of its primary game plans, being flying creatures or life gain, though at the same time when one or both of those plans fail the deck struggles to maintain its hold.
Decks in this tier will find the current meta hostile to their overall game plan. These decks can find success in the right environment, but the winner’s podium will be few and far between.
Enigmatic Fires (Down)
Deck Overview: Enigmatic Fires is the format’s premier toolbox strategy, utilizing a value plan of turning enchantments into creatures that can answer any situation. The deck is slow, but extremely rewarding for anyone looking to put in the hours to master it.
Why it’s in this tier: With only two qualifying finishes, despite this deck’s great Rakdos matchup, it doesn’t seem like players are gravitating towards this deck as an answer to the Red Black menace. Perhaps thanks to the deck’s toolbox nature, it benefits from long-time pilots who know what to fetch against each deck but that requires a bit of a learning curve to master and can punish those that are looking to pivot to it without putting in the practice. While the deck is strong and continues to look well positioned in a Rakdos metagame, the results just aren’t there to back up this deck staying above D-tier.
Izzet Creativity (Down)
Deck Overview: The classic control deck with a combo finish, Creativity looks to dominate the board state in the early turns while it sets the stage to end the game by cheating in a finisher for a one-turn-kill.
Why it’s in this tier: Much like Enigmatic Fires, Izzet Creativity has long had a great matchup into Devotion and Rakdos. However, the deck has a tough time getting through Mono White Humans, Izzet Phoenix, and Azorius Control, meaning it’s met with a glut of difficult matchups at the top tables. With only one qualifying finish this week, it’s clear that you need more than one good matchup to find consistent success in Pioneer right now.
Esper Greasefang (Up)
Deck Overview: A more midrange oriented version of the Greasefang combo, Esper Greasefang is a deck that looks to slow the game down and interact with the board while finding the combo eventually rather than turbo towards the finish line. It uses a myriad of “Draw-two-Discard-one” effects to dig through its deck and set up its plays both early and late game.
Why it’s in this tier: We’ve started seeing this deck pick up attention after a few strong finishes in Pioneer Challenges and leagues, mostly in the hands of our own KarnageKardsENT. Now, we’re starting to see other pilots find success with the deck, and that’s always a good first step for decks looking to break onto the Tier List with any consistency.
Though the deck only had one qualifying finish this weekend, it’s starting to have at least one finish each weekend and I suspect players will start testing the waters to see if the additions from The Brother’s War make this the better Greasefang variant over Abzan.
There you have it, our weekly breakdown of all the top contenders in Pioneer and why they fall into their distinctive places in the overall metagame. While these tiers can change somewhat frequently, be sure to also check out our monthly overview of how decks performed on a month-to-month basis found here.
Best of luck at your upcoming events and be sure to stay safe out there!