Pro Tour Philadelphia: Pioneer Metagame

Ruckman breaks down the Pioneer metagame at the first Pro Tour since 2018.

A Peek Behind the Curtain

While there is still some time between now and Round Four’s impending decklist release for Pro Tour Philadelphia; social media has been buzzing with players sharing their finalized decklists, giving us a small peek behind the curtain for this weekend’s main event. Not to be outdone by the player base, Wizards was also kind enough to give us the full archetypal breakdown of what to expect come the start of Friday’s constructed portion in Round Four. So let’s quickly take stock of what we can expect to see on the tournament room floor.

Leading the Pack

I don’t want to say that the two most populous decks in the tournament aren’t boring, but I will say that I’m not surprised. Pioneer as a format has been revolving around Rakdos Midrange and Green Devotion for some time now, and it looks like the Pro Tour is no different. Of course, we don’t know the breakdown of pilots to decks yet so it could very well be the case of a lot of up and coming players sticking to what they know vs. established players just defaulting to the perceived best decks. In my opinion it’s most likely going to be the former more than the later as I’m expecting to see a lot of the long time pro players on a wide spectrum of strategies that fit their particular play style, something I believe Pioneer is very good at offering players, as opposed to locking in the number one meta deck.

For most viewers, I think the biggest surprise here is Lotus Field being the 4th most played deck in the field. As much of the overall Pioneer meta, and most other formats for that matter, revolves around Magic Online events it’s very rare to see more than a small handful of lotus field decks make any sort of meaningful finish, if any finish at all. This lack of finishes shouldn’t really fool long time Pioneer players, as the deck’s strength is more or less an open secret mired by matchups against Rakdos Midrange and Green Devotion that have ranged from even to worse. Where Lotus field is trying to squeeze into this meta is by preying on the decks teched out for the Midrange and Devotion matchups like Incarnation and Gruul Boat; decks that are trying to play a longer midrange plan and potentially struggle to put in the damage necessary to end the game quickly and also lack proper interaction for lotus’ plan.

Speaking of Gruul Boat, take a look at that whopping 9.6% metagame share. With how little enigmatic has shown up and a whole lot of Rakdos, the meta looks poised to bring Pioneer’s newest meta competitor home to port at the winner’s circle. Despite my prediction of it being Vehicle’s weekend to lose, there is still one question that remains……what’s the better build. It looks like things are still split on Werewolf Pack Leader vs Jegantha, with Jegantha taking the edge in deck count. Perhaps this weekend will put a definitive end to this schism in the archetype. I’m curious to hear from our readers which build you prefer, I’ve been leaning towards the Pack Leader build myself.

Capping off the top five most populous decks is Mono-White Humans, which has quickly become Pioneer’s preeminent aggressive deck. Able to swarm the board with a swathe of synergistic aggressive creatures, bolstered by Luminarc Aspirant and Thalia’s Lieutenant turning even the most humble 2/1 into a game winning threat. Couple that with creature based disruption like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and Brutal Cathar, and topping it all with the army in a can that is Adeline, Resplendent Cathar and you have a recipe for a clock that can put any deck on the back foot; a clock that’s very important for matchups like Green Devotion and Lotus Field.

Middle of the Road

Rounding off our double digit decklists we have a trio of decks with 14 copies in Azorius Control, Izzet Creativity, and Rakdos Sacrifice alongside Izzet Phoenix with 11 copies in the field. These strategies aren’t necessarily the strongest in the format, especially when compared to our Pioneer Tier List, but given a competent pilot and some lucky draws I wouldn’t be surprised if any of these made it all the way to finals. This was a constant theme during the inaugural round of Regional Championships which saw deep runs by both Azorius Control and Izzet Phoenix, both decks that were on the lower end of our Tier List at the time. Even Rakdos Sacrifice was noted for Regional Championship success using its cheap threaten effects to help cinch the Rakdos Midrange matchup, but of course it tends to falter in the face of Green Devotion.

While most of these decks have had their time in the Pioneer Sun, perhaps the biggest surprise of the weekend is how popular Izzet Creativity is. Coming into this weekend I wouldn’t have expected it to be tied as the sixth most populous deck in the field. When decklists drop we’ll be sure to see if these deck lists are packing any surprises and just who those intrepid 14 pilots are, so be sure to come back for that later today.

All the Single Digits

Selesnya Angels is looking to stick it to Rakdos Midrange thanks to the power couple of Collected Company and Kayla’s Reclamation allowing the deck to keep ahead of Rakdos’ suite of removal spells, and of course flying over all of Rakdos’ creatures. But, with such a large uptick in decks like Green Devotion and Lotus field will this slow to start deck be able to snowball its way to victory before being locked out of the game?

Other decks to keep an eye on are the variety of Auras decks which also managed some impressive showings during Regional Championships, especially now that they have access to Razorverge Thicket and Skrelv, Defector Mite. Let’s also not forget about the Greasefang variants as I’m sure all of our readers have been on the receiving end of a turn two lucky Parhellion II at one event or another in recent months. One question that plagues me however is, “Where are all Leyline Bindings”? Enigmatic Incarnation has been going through a renaissance as of late, so I was definitely expecting it to show up in force this weekend. Perhaps a heightened field of decks like Control and Lotus Field caused players to leave their Fires of Invention at home despite the amount of Rakdos Midrange in the field.

What Do You Want To See

Finally, from Storm Herald to Grinning Ignus to Azorious Powerstones there is quite a lot going on when looking at the expanded field. Luckily for you, our staff will be pouring over all the decklists once they go public with Round Four. So let us know what outlier decklists you want to see most, what archetype trends you want our opinions on, and any other topics you want to see covered as the Pro Tour rolls on throughout the weekend..

  • Ruckman


    Having started playing Magic shortly before the release of Return to Ravnica, Ruckman’s Magic lifespan covers the breadth of the Pioneer format. Despite not being a stranger to the Top 8 tables of the old IQ and PTQ systems, most of his competitive experience comes from the other side of the event space, where he served more than five years as a level-two judge, only hanging up the black shirt for good at the beginning of 2022. Currently, you can find him making Pioneer content for Crew3 on your favorite podcasting platform or on Twitch/YouTube.

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