‘Twas the Hour Before Atlanta
Welcome back readers for our (decidedly delayed) monthly meta recap. October proved to be an interesting time for Pioneer, featuring multiple new strategies attempting to top the S-Tier elite, and an increased fervor in discussion around what potential course corrections need to take place in the format. To make up for the delay, I’ve also gone ahead and included the first several weeks of November to give us a more current look at how PlayingPioneer’s Competitive Guides have been ranking things. So, let’s see where all the decks stand as we head into 2023 Season One Regional Championships.
Kings of the Hill
Early last month, we pulled the trigger on tagging Rakdos Midrange as the first (and still the only) S+ Tier deck. However, as we moved through October, the format was able to fight back against this seemingly daunting foe, and I’ll point out those decks as they come up further down the tier list.
The biggest change in Rakdos as the month went on was the shift away from Liliana of the Veil and embracing the duo of four drops between Kalitas and Sheoldred. Liliana still shows up in sideboards and singleton mainboard slots, but she’s nowhere near as out in force as she was following the release of Dominaria United.
At this point in time heading into Regional Championships, Rakdos Midrange will be a known number. Players will come prepared for the matchup, and we can expect to see a lot of it in the middle tables in Atlanta as our other S-Tier king threatens to steal the spotlight.
Despite this season being the story of Rakdos, the format still feels like it’s firmly built around decks that can beat Mono-Green and maintain a decent to good Rakdos matchup. It’s safe to say that all eyes are on Mono-Green this weekend, with most players falling into two camps: trying to beat Mono-Green or just accepting reality and playing it. The question on everyone’s mind is whether all of the deck’s new toys in Brothers’ War will really make an impact or if it was all hyperbolic worrying. Personally, I think we’re going to see a lot of mirror matches with Stone Brains naming Karn the Great Creator and Cityscape Levelers making a lot of Powerstones.
New Kids on the Block
Author’s note: new decks were ranked differently in my chart compared to all other decks. Their monthly average was calculated based only on when they first charted on our tier list, while other decks that moved between D-Tier and off-meta are averaged across the whole six week period.
“Stop complaining about Rakdos, just play more Boat,” shouted the man with his feet ablaze, and so they did. Gruul Boat is our first real newcomer to Pioneer in quite some time. Leveraging out some large three-drops to crew two of Pioneer’s most powerful vehicles: Esika’s Chariot and Skysovereign, Consul Flagship combined with a mix of Reckless Stormseeker/The Akroan War and you have a recipe for success. I could go on about the strengths of the deck, but instead, you can read all about on our premium side with a wonderful article written by recent Pioneer 30k winner Vinny Vitanza.
Of course, Boat wasn’t the only new deck to grace the Pioneer battlefield; Keruga Fires also made quite the splash in the later half of this month. As a close approximation to its Modern counterpart, Keruga Fires looks to use Fires of Invention to cast a bevy of impactful midrange threats for free and outvalue its opponent.
What really sets this deck apart from the rest of the field, however, is the inclusion of the powerful duo of enchantments from Dominaria United, Temporary Lockdown and Leyline Binding. Little known fact: enchantments are pretty good right now in Pioneer. Rakdos can’t answer them once they hit the board, and Mono-Green only has two or three answers in their 75 (with one of them being a Meteor Golem or similar effect). This means once you put a big payoff under a Leyline Binding, it’s most likely gone for good. Add in the fact that this deck can cast Leyline Binding on turn two, and nothing is safe. Meanwhile, Temporary Lockdown is wiping up not only aggressive creatures, but also Witch’s Ovens, Blood Tokens, mana-elves, and Oath of Nissas. This deck is pretty well-positioned to take it to Mono-Green and Rakdos – or, rather, it was.
Thanks to Brothers’ War, the Mono-Green matchup might not be as much of a slam dunk as it once was for Fires. Buried deep in all those exciting spoilers was a little uncommon called Haywire Mite. This inexpensive Naturalize on a stick is just enough to make it a major risk to tuck away something like a Cavalier of Thorns. That one little bug could just be enough to flip the script and take what was initially my dark horse to win Atlanta and just throwing out the window.
Other Decks to Watch
Heading into Regionals, Greasefang feels like a deck everyone is going to be “prepared” for…until they take a Parhelion II the face. Greasefang’s success this weekend feels like it’s going to come down to two factors: how much Karn there actually is and how many turn threes they get. I haven’t heard of a lot of Greafang players rocking up at the various events this weekend, but I wish them all gang gang.
Another deck that gained a lot of eyes after last weekend’s 30k was, of course, Selesnya Angels. Angels decks have been around for quite some time in Pioneer, largely following Kaldheim’s release and getting a little boost from Giada in New Capenna. Currently, it sits in a weird spot in the overall wider Pioneer meta, but there’s no doubt it can be a strong contender.. Despite a small competitive-level following, the deck consistently finds success when player at a higher level. Perhaps the Top 8 finish at Philly has convinced enough players to give this deck a second look when submitting decklists for Atlanta.
Our final deck in the main pack is, of course, Izzet Phoenix. At this point, I just expect some amount of Phoenix to perform well at any given Pioneer event, and I’m expecting to see the recent uptick in online presence reflected in Atlanta. It turns out, one-mana draw-three’s are still as strong as they’ve ever been. And with early rumblings of how the tournament meta is likely going to break down, a well-tuned Phoenix deck could just go all the way this weekend.
A Dark Horse Takes It All?
At the end of the day, who knows what is going to win? Pioneer plays host to plenty of archetypes that have snuck their way into the top tables across the format’s life. Niv-to-Light, Enigmatic Incarnation, Day’s Undoing, Azorious Control, and so many others have a chance to make a deep run.
Sorry again for the delay on this, but it has been a hectic last few weeks for me. Best of luck to any of our readers playing in any of the Regional Championships this weekend, and of course, shoutouts to the PlayX team members battling it out in Atlanta this weekend. If you see someone from our team be sure to say “hi” and ask for a PlayingPioneer sticker! And if you can’t see the action in person, be sure to check out DreamHack’s twitch for a live stream of the event!