Metagame Breakdown October 12th
Join Darthjacen as he breaks down some of the meta shifts that took place before this week's uneventful banned and restricted announcement
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.
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!
This past Monday we had a Ban and Restricted announcement! The Pioneer format saw no changes, so this breakdown follows our normal procedure as unlike Standard and Modern, there were no bans to disrupt the data.
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 through discard, removal, and difficult to answer threats.
Why it’s in this tier: With twelve finishes this week we’ve seen Rakdos fall from the number one spot for the first time since the printing of Dominaria United. Rakdos looks like it got the best new tools from Dominaria United and has dominated the early weeks of the format in bigger events. While the deck has some natural predators in the format, each new powerful addition helps to shore those up a bit and give Rakdos even more ability to fight through difficult matchups.
Decks have been finding ways to beat Rakdos and we’re seeing the first evidence that the format is truly starting to account for Rakdos. It’s certainly still too early to say whether this deck will rebound in the weeks to come, but it is nice to see the data reflect the growing sentiment that the deck is beatable if you’re willing to attack it specifically.
While this was a down week for Rakdos, it remains a top tier deck delivering the most qualifying finishes in the challenges, showing it continues to outperform the field in larger MTGO events.
Deck Overview: A ramp deck that leverages powerful Planeswalkers and high toughness threats to control the board before comboing your opponent with Chain Veil, Pestilent Cauldron, and your suite of difficult to answer Planeswalkers.
Why it’s in this tier: While this deck didn’t pick up any new tools from Dominaria United, it still managed to put up thirteen qualified finishes. Mono Green pulled ahead of Rakdos for the first time since Dominaria United was printed but didn’t see any increase in qualified finishes. It seems like while there is a diversity of decks in Pioneer, especially that can win events, it continues to seem like at the top tables, the format coalesces around Rakdos Midrange and Green Karn, but others are closing that gap.
This deck can beat up on creature decks, control decks, and midrange decks, only losing heavily to decks that can consistently kill before you establish your board state or leverage the singular color of blockers in this deck, such as Heroic or Mono-White Humans. Much like Rakdos, there are a handful of tough matchups for this deck, but the addition of Liliana of the Veil to Rakdos helped keep some of those decks in check, pulling up Karn alongside Rakdos in the metagame.
Decks in this tier are on 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.
Deck Overview: This deck leverages the power of Greasefang, Okiba Boss and Parhelion II to speed out thirteen flying power and kill the opponent the following turn.
Why it’s in this tier: Decks at the top tables of Pioneer right now are often trying to extend the game with interaction and removal or accelerate into their combo. Abzan Greasefang works to try and punish decks that can’t hold up constant interaction from turn three on-wards and often will leverage cards like Can’t Stay Away to win through disruption. Abzan Greasefang is the best Greasefang deck at getting your pieces together as soon as possible and constantly threatening opponents with unenviable positions.
Abzan Greasefang put up eight qualifying finishes and its ability to constantly put opponents under pressure makes it a strong deck in the metagame. Though, thanks to this increase in Greasefang, we have started to see more Leyline of the Void, a card that can instantly neutralize much of this deck’s gameplan and could lead to the deck falling in the rankings moving forward.
We’ve seen the counterplay continue to develop with additional answers to Leyline in sideboards, which has helped bolster Greasefang back into a higher place in the metagame.
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.
Deck Overview: Leveraging the various spirit effects in Pioneer, this deck adds in Collected Company for better staying power and acceleration in the early game.
Why it’s in this tier: Spirits decks find a lot of success attacking the various control and combo decks of the format like Lotus Field or Green Karn. Once again, the issue with this deck in the metagame stems from the deck’s problems with Rakdos Midrange and various Izzet decks that can trade up in mana efficiency. Even so, Bant Spirits also managed to put up four qualifying finishes this weekend, two in the challenges, showing the power level of this deck. However, this is certainly a down week for the flying spirits and we will need to see if this continues in the weeks to come.
The deck’s ability to beat up Mono-Green while fighting through most other unfair decks with ease leaves the deck in a good position to challenge top decks. While the matchup into Rakdos is difficult, cards like Toski, Bearer of Secrets and Extraction Specialist help to make it a more tolerable matchup.
Deck Overview: Another Aggro deck trying to close the game out quickly through the various synergies of the humans cards in Pioneer alongside Brave the Elements as a lethal finisher.
Why it’s in this tier: Humans is a very powerful deck, but the issue remains that in a format where there are plenty of interactive decks, it can be hard to close out the game. Especially tough into Rakdos Midrange, Humans finds success through taking down Green Karn and other decks that don’t play a lot of interaction. Having a good and bad matchup among S-tier decks can often lead to high variance finishes depending on which matchup you found more often.
While the deck had a great showing this weekend with eleven qualifying finishes and six of those came from the challenges or Premier Magic Online Events. It continues to be a factor in the metagame and will likely stay as one of the top Aggro decks so long as Green Karn is a top deck. If Green ever finds itself out of the top of the metagame, expect this deck to stat to disappear a bit as well. With the shift in power firmly favoring Rakdos Midrange, this may have already started happening to a degree this week.
Skilled deck builders and pilots have been working to mitigate the Rakdos Matchup in the same way as Bant Spirits, with cards like Extraction Specialist and Wedding Announcement, but the deck’s primary path to victory still runs through uninteractive decks like Mono-Green. This is the second week in a row for Humans with ten plus qualifying finishes and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it continue to rise in the weeks to come.
Deck Overview: The 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 three qualifying finishes, this deck struggled to put up strong results this weekend. The deck can struggle against both Rakdos and Green Karn at times, but as we continue to see the refinement of the sixty-card version, skilled pilots are able to steal some matches against those bad matchups.
Much like with Rakdos, decks are on a clock to end the game against Azorius Control, as Teferi, Hero of Dominaria remains an oppressive threat when left unchecked. This deck leverages cheap counterspells to keep the board from becoming too difficult to handle and you are especially favored against many decks game one, as you make much of their interaction dead. Leveraging a strong sideboard plan for difficult matchups allows you to make your way through games two and three and close out at least one of those games.
Deck Overview: Leveraging some of the best two-drop creatures in the format along with the best cantrips, delve spells, and removal, Izzet Phoenix leverages many decision trees to find close wins and rewards deck mastery.
Why it’s in this tier: It is hard to ever write off this deck. It has been around for ages in Pioneer and through the continual additions of creatures like Ledger Shredder and more efficient removal, the deck continues to put up a strong fight against much of the metagame. The deck managed to put up seven qualifying finishes this week, leaving it in fifth place in number of results this week. It did also win the Magic Online Championship Series event this weekend, granted it was a small field event, that small field were all incredible players. With a strong matchup into Green Karn, the deck gets a lot of advantage in that deck being S-tier. Much like Mono-White Humans though, the deck suffers versus Rakdos Midrange and the matchup lottery can leave you in some trouble.
Skilled pilots continue to find repeated success with this deck, we have seen it start to fall off a bit thanks to other decks being able to attack them with the increase of Leyline of the Voids shutting down this deck and Abzan Greasefang.
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.
Deck Overview: A true late-game engine deck, this enchantment-based deck manages to take over from turns four onward and beat up fair decks like Rakdos Midrange.
Why it’s in this tier: With the addition of Leyline Binding, this deck has found a lot more steam –especially thanks to its strong matchup into Rakdos Midrange. If your opponent is trying to reach the mid to late game, then Enigmatic likely goes over the top and the engines in this deck will take over the game when left untouched. We saw Enigmatic put up four qualifying finishes this weekend, which was a slight downtrend from last week.
The biggest issue with this deck is the set-up time. Unlike many decks, you don’t even start making progress towards your gameplan in a meaningful way until turn three or four. That’s just too slow versus the Aggro decks in the format or Green Karn that can get set up to combo before you’ve even gotten your engines online and means that sometimes, even against your better matchups, you’ll fail to get off the ground in time and fall too far behind in the early game. The power level is there but finding a way to speed up the process will be key to this deck’s long-term success.
Jund Sacrifice / RB Sacrifice
Deck Overview: This deck takes the pieces of Rakdos Sacrifice and adds green for Korvold, Fae-Cursed King. A powerful addition that allows you to go way over the top much faster than old Sacrifice could.
Why it’s in this tier: Last week, Rakdos Sacrifice finally found a foothold into the metagame with eight qualifying finishes, but this week it is back down to two finishes, both in the challenges. Along with one more finishes for Jund Sacrifice in the challenge, these decks suffered from being in the spotlight after last week, even with some individually strong finishes.
In the inverse of some of the other decks above, this deck manages to attack Rakdos Midrange well through repeated value generation and an over-the-top threat that can refill their hand, even in response to removal. Korvold is a KO against Rakdos, so protect it accordingly and leverage your knowledge of Rakdos adding in Liliana of the Veil as a clean answer to a solo Korvold. This deck is on the rise and will be something I keep my eyes on moving forward into next week.
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.
Deck Overview: This deck leverages the power of white creature and removal in the early game before pivoting to Karn the Great Creator and other various midrange threats to take over the game.
Why it’s in this tier: This deck has existed in various forms in the past but showed up in force last week. With six qualifying results last week, the deck looked strong, but this week we see that people have adjusted and the deck struggled to show up, putting up only a single result. We’ve seen mono white versions, white versions splashing Reflector Mage, white versions splashing Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, and white versions splashing both.
There’s plenty of room for this deck to continue to attack the metagame through grindy value resources that can deal with Rakdos and Karn to stop Green from comboing. One of the other elements of this deck is that it can easily deal with opposing Aggro decks by clogging up the board and using removal to deal with larger threats. While the deck does struggle against decks like Mono Blue Spirits, it still does a great job acting as another form of midrange for the format.
Atarka Red / Gruul Aggro/ Gruul Vehicles
Deck Overview: An all-out Aggro deck that leverages some of the best threats in red along with Atarka’s Command to close out the game.
Why it’s in this tier: These various Gruul decks have started showing up in various forms, each week a newer take standing out as the deck putting up the best results. This week, the various Gruul decks managed to get two qualifying finishes. While we won’t know quite yet if Atarka Red, Gruul Vehicles, or Gruul Aggro will end up holding this spot in the long-term, for now, we are seeing these newer Aggro decks working to take down Mono Green while fighting through Rakdos’ glut of removal.
These decks have my attention and putting up some strong results in the hands of strong pilots certainly garners attention and we will have to see if Rakdos will adjust to these new decks or if these Aggro decks will continue to find more success.
Deck Overview: Instead of Collected Company, Mono Blue Spirits leverages counterspells and cheap interaction to keep midrange and control decks off their gameplan.
Why it’s in this tier: The deck continues the theme of having a strong matchup into Green Karn and other various over-the-top decks but struggles against removal heavy decks like Rakdos. With the increase in Rending Volley in many sideboards to attack Greasefang, Mono-Blue Spirits catches a stray shot and loses some power in the metagame. We didn’t see Mono-Blue Spirits put up any qualifying finishes this week, continuing its downward trend as Bant Spirits continues to eat up the deck’s winner’s metagame share.
If we see Green Karn or various control and combo decks start to push out Rakdos, Spirits immediately launches into the higher tiers, but for now, there’s just too much cheap removal around and that’s evident in the drop-off this deck has suffered in terms of results over the past few weeks.
Lotus Field Combo
Deck Overview: Using Lotus Field, Thespian Stage, and untap effects, this deck combos out anywhere from turn three to five and manages to beat up on control and midrange decks.
Why it’s in this tier: This deck beats two styles of deck in particular: midrange and control. If you can’t close the game out quickly, Lotus Field is very favored to take over the game. Unfortunately, there are plenty of Aggro decks and decks like Green Karn that can end the game effectively on turn four, leaving you without enough time to find consistent results.
This week, Lotus managed to prey upon some of the top decks a little more with three top finishes, including only one in the challenges or premier events. The deck continues to show up, but the increase in Mono-White Humans certainly hurts this deck.
Deck Overview: Piling up counters and growing your creatures until they can run through opponents, Boros Heroic looks to kill any deck that doesn’t have a glut of interaction early and often.
Why it’s in this tier: Rakdos Midrange has a good time dealing with this deck, especially with the printing of a 4/5 that can’t die to Reckless Rage and Liliana of the Veil killing through protection effects. While the deck can have some high-end finishes, I would suspect this deck is on limited time now if Rakdos Remains a huge portion of the metagame. The two qualifying finishes for Heroic all coming from challenges shows the deck just can find a path towards the top tables that doesn’t run directly through Rakdos.
Players will continue to try and make the matchup more palatable but having a bad matchup into the highest presence deck by qualifying finishes is a real tough place to be in Pioneer.
Deck Overview: Using Indomitable Creativity to set up a one-turn kill, this combo control deck keeps the board clear while drawing tons of cards and leveraging treasures to pull ahead in the mid game.
Why it’s in this tier: The deck has been putting up strong results in leagues lately and even in the past few weeks, have been putting up some results in the challenges. This week, the deck managed four qualifying finishes. The deck has plenty of potential and depending on the metagame and could be a strong contender moving forward.
Deck Overview: Small creatures pairing up with burn spells and direct damage to kill the opponent before they can get any footing into the game.
Why it’s in this tier: Mono-Red had been absent for a few weeks thanks to the rise of Rakdos Midrange and Green Karn, but through constant iteration between the Embercleave version and now the Obosh version, this deck has gained a lot more staying power in the metagame. While the printing of Sheoldred, The Apocalypse is a nightmare for this deck, adding in copies of Roast can help you mitigate the card’s effectiveness.
We mentioned several decks above this trying to extend the game through interaction, Mono-Red looks to close the game out as fast as possible and leverages haste threats and burn to punish decks that can’t close them out fast enough. While also putting up five qualifying finishes, the deck mostly found success in the challenges and at the SCG $5K, which is a more interesting development compared to the absence of the deck in prelim results.
Deck Overview: Using the same tools as Mono-White Humans, this deck adds in Green and Blue for various Humans with additional enter-the-battlefield abilities and Collected Company to help fight through removal and large roadblocks.
Why it’s in this tier: Bant Humans hasn’t been showing up much lately with the rise of Mono-White Humans, but the deck does still do a good job of getting ahead early and closing out games. Especially with Reflector Mage and Collected Company, there are plenty of places where this deck can steal wins. With three qualifying finishes, one in the challenges, prelims, and the SCG, it’s nice to see this deck show up again after being mostly absent.
I wouldn’t expect this deck to do too much more in the metagame than put up the rare few finishes, but it is still a powerful deck that can spike an event. Even though it is tough being the worse deck in an archetype, hopefully bant can continue to hang around the fringes until the meta shifts to a place where it could be the better humans deck.
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!