Metagame Breakdown October 26th, 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.
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.
This week, we had a delay in the data being released by WOTC, due to Magic Online transitioning to Daybreak Games. When we did get the data, it had quite a few errors in it compared to our normal sources that we hope to have ironed out in the next few weeks as WOTC works on their back-end reporting of these events.
Here are the two challenges, but we’ll go back to linking to the Preliminary data once it is cleaned up a bit, given there were numerous issues in that format reporting.
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 through discard, removal, and difficult to answer threats.
Why it’s in this tier: With fourteen finishes this week, Rakdos reclaims the number one spot. Rakdos looks like it got the best new tools from Dominaria United and has dominated the format in bigger events. Despite having some natural predators in the format, each new powerful addition helps to shore up those poorer matchups a bit and give Rakdos even more ability to fight through difficult pairings.
While decks have been finding ways to beat Rakdos, this was a good example of the deck rebounding from a few weaker weeks and returning to the top spot. It’s certainly still too early to say whether this deck will remain on top or if people will readjust to move it back down to second place, but for this week, it’s back at the top.
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 ten qualified finishes. Mono-Green pulled ahead of Rakdos for the past two weeks, but this week we saw the return of Rakdos as the top deck as Green still outpaced much of the field but sits tied in second place. 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.
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: 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 ten qualifying finishes this week, leaving it tied in second place for number of results this week. 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.
Deck Overview: A more midrange Gruul Aggro deck leveraging the power of Esika’s Chariot and Skysovereign, Consul Flagship to help finish out games against midrange and controlling opponents.
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, Gruul Vehicles managed to get four qualifying finishes including winning a challenge. While we won’t know quite yet if 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.
Gruul Vehicles has done enough to warrant consideration as a new factor in the metagame. Much like Atarka Red before it, the Gruul decks in the format have started to show up at the top tables each week and now it’s finally time for these decks to show if they can break through in quantity of finishes alongside their high quality of finishes. With cards like Skysovereign, Consul Flagship and The Akroan War headlining this deck, there are plenty of decks scared to face this new challenger in the Pioneer metagame.
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 surprisingly weak showing this weekend with only two qualifying finishes, the rise in popularity of more decks running Stomp and other main deck removal may potentially knock this deck down a tier in the coming weeks. 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, but decks like Gruul Vehicles are starting to fight for that title. 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.
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: 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 two qualifying finishes, which is a real low point for this deck in terms of quantity of finishes. It’s an incredibly powerful deck with the ability to constantly put opponents under pressure, but it seems like the metagame is starting to adjust for the Rat and the deck is currently starting to struggle.
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. Bant Spirits only managed to put up three qualifying finishes this weekend, showing the downturn in the deck’s ability to survive if we see more red-based decks rising in popularity.
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.
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: 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 one qualifying finish, this deck struggled to put up strong results once again 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.
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: Rakdos Sacrifice found a foothold into the metagame with three qualifying finishes, but the numbers are down from last week. These decks continue to suffer from being in the spotlight last week, and if the numbers don’t start to turn around, it won’t be long before this deck starts to slide a bit.
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.
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, Atarka Red managed to get three qualifying finishes. While we won’t know quite yet if Atarka Red, Gruul Vehicles, or Gruul Aggro will end up holding the top 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. As the weeks go by, it seems more likely that these decks are just the latest staples in the format. We even saw some new adjustments to this deck with various artifact one drops paired with Shrapnel Blast for an even more burn heavy method of finishing the game. It’s safe to say that these decks are here to stay and will continue to shake up the metagame.
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: 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 two qualifying finishes this weekend, which was a slight downtrend from last week for the second week in a row.
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.
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 three weeks ago but struggled again this week. We see that people have adjusted and the deck struggled to show up. 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.
If we don’t see this deck start to pick up more results, it will be hard to keep from dropping it back into the FNM-level.
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.
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 two in the challenges or premier events. The deck continues to show up, and the lack of Mono-White Humans helps 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. This deck put up one qualifying finish, showing the tough position the deck currently faces in the metagame.
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 only one qualifying finish. 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 looked like it had gained a lot more staying power in the metagame. Now it seems that the Gruul decks have swept up this deck’s space in the metagame.
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 the deck struggled to put up any qualifying finishes this week, it continues to exist as a potential metagame option for Aggro players looking to play Red.
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!