Metagame Breakdown December 21st, 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 breakdown what decks sit where in the overall metagame of Pioneer. 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 tier list.

This metagame breakdown article will accompany that 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 in a few weeks.

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.

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!

Metagame Breakdown

(Publisher’s Note: For those asking why there isn’t an S+ Tier this week with such an apparent disparity between Rakdos and everything else, we felt as though it wasn’t warranted because Rakdos isn’t doing something that is unanswerable. Unlike when the deck held the rank previously, we feel as though there are enough viable answers available in the format that the deck doesn’t presently hold a legitimate stranglehold over the metagame. While its numbers may be approaching problematic, they aren’t beyond the realm of something reasonable happening in the coming week or weeks to throw them off balance. Rakdos provides a play experience that aligns with how the majority of players like to participate with competitive environments, and thus it appropriates a significant portion of the field. There are ways to beat the deck, many of which are provided on this very tier list. We will continue to examine the deck’s meta share as a whole, as well as its general positioning within the context of the broader meta, and if our stances change you will see that reflected in our list. As always, we thank everyone who consistently works to see us at our best.)


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.

Rakdos Midrange

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 continues dominating the field with thirteen qualifying finishes, leading the weekend once again. While the deck isn’t pacing the field as much as we’ve seen in past weeks, part of that seems tied to the lack of Regional Championships or large paper events to add more data to our weekly counts. As it sits though, Rakdos does seem like the deck to beat in Pioneer and we’re seeing it targeted by decks like Gruul Vehicles, Enigmatic Incarnation, and Selesnya Angels, while decks that traditionally struggle into Rakdos are down a bit this week, like Mono White Humans.

If we continue to see decks hard target Rakdos, it will be interesting to see if the deck can maintain its spot at the top. When we saw Green Devotion get hard targeted, we saw it start to falter and that’s a good sign for the format if the best deck can be targeted and brought back down to parity with the rest of the format. For now, we wait to see if that will happen or if Rakdos will continue dominating Pioneer.

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.

Green Devotion

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: Green Devotion has been suffering for the past few weeks. Thanks to the rise of Izzet Phoenix, Gruul Vehicles, Lotus Field and Rakdos figuring out how to attack the matchup, the deck isn’t doing great right now. With only four qualifying finishes, Devotion had one of its worst weeks since the banning of Winota, Joiner of Forces. The deck still had a few Top 32s that didn’t quite convert for qualifying finishes, so it isn’t as dead as the numbers might otherwise suggest here.

While we’ve gone from seeing twenty-plus percent Green Devotion, now we’re on the other end of the spectrum and the deck is trending down for the first time in ages.

Izzet Phoenix (Up)

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: Izzet Phoenix returns to A-tier this week thanks to a strong set of finishes in the Challenges and Preliminaries. With eight qualifying finishes, the deck finished third this week and had double the number of finishes of fourth place. While still a bit behind Gruul Vehicles and Rakdos Midrange, it’s clear that Phoenix will always be a solid choice for strong pilots and can take down any given challenge. While the Rakdos matchup remains the big question mark on if this deck can continue to find success, Lotus Field has started seeing a little less play and that helps Izzet avoid having two tough matchups in the top tables.

Gruul Vehicles (Up)

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: Since Rakdos has cemented itself as the deck to beat in Pioneer, Gruul Vehicles has been on a tear. With twelve qualifying finishes, it sits only one behind Rakdos for the strongest week and of those twelve finishes, eight come from the challenges. Thanks to the value of Esika’s Chariot, Skysovereign, Consul Flagship, and Werewolf Packleader, Gruul has a fantastic matchup into Rakdos and is one of the few decks able to consistently beat it without also losing to the lower to the ground aggressive decks.

If Rakdos remains at the top of the format, then Gruul Vehicles is a great countermeasure to keep that deck in check and the stock keeps rising.


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.

Mono White Humans (Down)

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: Mono White Humans was shockingly absent from the top tables this weekend and didn’t put up a single qualifying finish. This has happened a few times in the past where a top deck disappears for a weekend, but it’s capping a string of weaker showings for this deck, earning it a B-tier slot this week. While I have no doubt that this is still the best Aggro deck in Pioneer, Rakdos, Phoenix, and Gruul Vehicles are all prepared and have the tools to beat up on this deck.

With the lesser amount of Green Devotion, there’s a lack of good matchups for Mono White at the top tables right now and we’re seeing the chain reaction that happens when a top deck starts to struggle.

Lotus Field Combo (Down)

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: With three qualifying finishes including two in the challenges, the number of Lotus Field results has started to trend down. Often when Lotus Field is a powerhouse deck, it comes and goes as players start to respect it, and it becomes tougher for less experienced pilots to put up strong finishes. This is a good sign given that combo decks that stay at the top of Pioneer for extended periods tend to draw ire and ban discussion. As it sits now, Lotus Field is still a strong choice into the top decks, but as those decks respect Lotus more, the deck’s overall win rate will go down and you’ll see the same highly skilled pilots racking up wins while others sit in the 0-2 bracket wondering what happened to their weekend.

Azorius Control

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: Azorius Control put up an uninspiring weekend with two qualifying finishes, both in the Preliminary events. The deck continues to struggle against the top decks and if this trend continues, it will likely lead to a dropping back down towards C-tier for this deck. Where Azorius continues to gain some points is that decks like Selesnya Angels and Gruul Vehicles can have trouble closing out the game quickly enough and are picking up metagame shares. I suspect we’re more likely to see Azorius heading back down the tiers rather than climbing in the upcoming weeks.

Selesnya Angels (Up)

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: We’ve seen how effective this flying-focused deck can be in a Rakdos world thanks to Collected Company and Kayla’s Reconstruction. While the deck can still struggle if it doesn’t assemble its key threats, we’ve seen the deck continue the trend started from the Regional Championships with this deck putting up a solid four qualifying finishes. However, most of those finishes are in the Preliminary events and we’re still waiting to see how Angels can handle the new metagame with less Green and more Gruul Vehicles kicking around the top tables.


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.

Enigmatic Fires (Up)

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 four qualifying finishes including an even split between the challenges and the preliminary events, Enigmatic Fires is on the way up thanks to having an excellent Rakdos matchup. If the metagame continues to lean towards Rakdos and Gruul Vehicles with Green and Phoenix losing some numbers, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Fires slowly creep even higher as this is one of the best decks in the format at besting Rakdos Midrange.

Abzan Greasefang (Down)

Deck Overview: Greasefang decks look to use their namesake to reanimate Parhelion II or other vehicles, and attack in for massive damage. The Abzan variant is considered the “turbo” version, looking to assemble both halves of the combo as quickly as possible through self-mill effects, while leaning away from the more midrange-y backup plan. 

Why it’s in this tier: Abzan Greasefang continues to earn a few qualifying finishes each week, this time with one in the challenges and one in the preliminary events. While it isn’t the most impressive deck, when it comes to decks that can win any game, Greasefang will always top the list. A turn three Parhelion is exceptionally hard to beat and the deck’s Rakdos matchup helps it stay relevant. However, the inherent variance and graveyard hate from players attacking Izzet Phoenix continue to keep this deck in the middle of our tier list.


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.

Izzet Drakes (Up)

Deck Overview: With similar construction to the Phoenix archetype, Drakes is looking to eschew the graveyard for a “safer” plan of attack using Crackling Drake, while simultaneously gaining access to some more value oriented cards like Fable of the Mirror-Breaker

Why it’s in this tier: While the deck rarely has explosive showings, when Arclight Phoenixis near the top of the metagame, using those same tools without a reliance on the graveyard means you can dodge hate and still close out games easily. I like this deck a lot and think it has the potential to do better into Rakdos Midrange since your main threats don’t care about the graveyard, can close a game by themselves, and replace themselves on entry so it is harder to trade one-for-one this deck. We’ve seen Drakes take down challenges before and I suspect we will see the deck perform well in the coming weeks if the metagame stabilizes around Rakdos and Gruul.

Selesnya Toolbox (Up)

Deck Overview: Packing all sorts of hate cards against everything the field has to offer, this Collected Company-powered Yorion pile is looking to grind out a longer game in the classic Death and Taxes fashion. Highly customizable and adaptable, this deck isn’t messing around when it comes to value creatures. 

Why it’s in this tier: This deck has been championed by a few MTGO grinders, including Tulio Jaudy who finished second place in the Pioneer Challenge last week with this deck. This week, he managed a Top 32 and a Top 16 and having played against the deck, I can say it’s a lot stronger than it looks on paper. I suspect we will see this take the place of other GW based midrange decks that have previously shown up over the last few months, though only time will tell if this is a case of a strong player carrying a mediocre deck or a strong player identifying a strong deck earlier than their peers.

Keruga Fires (Up)

Deck Overview: This deck looks to cheat on mana costs through various means while picking up additional value in the later game thanks to its companion. Akin to similar style decks in modern, Keruga Fires uses adventure creatures, Leyline Binding, and Fires of Invention to get the most out of its mana every turn while offering some of the strongest interaction in the format. 

Why it’s in this tier: With a pair of qualifying finishes in the Challenges, it’s clear that a few players have gravitated towards the big Hippo over playing the more traditional Enigmatic Incarnation. This build better closes out the game around turn five or six and can generate tons of value thanks to Keruga drawing extra cards. While this deck continues to have on-again, off-again weeks in terms of results, it’s clearly a strong deck that does well into Rakdos Midrange and other slower decks in the metagame.

Mono Red Aggro (Up)

Deck Overview: The classic, decades old aggressive strategy, Mono Red looks to combine quick creatures with cheap and efficient burn to sneak in under opponents who expect the game to last until at least turn five. Most versions also have a pivot package with cards such as Chandra, Dressed to Kill, Hazoret, the Fervent, or Experimental Frenzy to keep up in the interactive matchups, though going fast is usually the motto. 

Why it’s in this tier: Mono Red is never truly dead. While the deck has gone through plenty of inerations, it continues to show up in small numbers as a way to attack the slower decks like Enigmatic Fires. While the deck has some natural predators in Rakdos Midrange, Gruul Vehicles, and Selesnya Angels, it can stand its own against Izzet Phoenix, Green Devotion’s slower starts, and many other top decks. I don’t think we’ll see this deck climb too high right now, but I’m always keeping an eye out for when players stop respecting a well-built red deck.

Wrapping Up

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!

  • DarthJacen

    Pioneer Competitive Guide

    Darthjacen has been playing Magic since Dark Ascension and plays Standard, Modern, Pioneer, and Limited. With a Grand Prix win in 2015 and an SCG Team Top 4 in 2019, he continues to pursue competitive Magic at every turn.

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