SCG-CON Indy 2022 Pioneer Recap

This past weekend marked the unofficial return to large scale in-person Magic events, capped off with the main event; a Team Trios 25k tournament featuring Legacy, Modern, and to many of our collective surprise, our favorite format: Pioneer.

The Unofficial Return of Paper

Once again, the hallowed halls of the Indianapolis Convention Center have been graced with the presence of several hundred grown adults getting angry over a children’s card game, and I for one could not have been more excited about being in the thick of it. This past weekend marked the unofficial return to large scale in-person Magic events, capped off with the main event; a Team Trios 25k tournament featuring Legacy, Modern, and to many of our collective surprise, our favorite format of Pioneer. Here’s everything you need to know in case you missed out.

The weekend kicked off like any other, with everyone scrambling to the dealer booths because they came to the event with an unfinished deck. From teammates picking up that last sideboard card to the guy who literally brought 400,000 cards in a wheelbarrow, there was a lot of cash exchanged for cardboard this weekend. Something that i’m sure many players didn’t even know they missed during our time away is that feeling of sitting down, unloading all those cards that you swear you have no idea how you ended up with, and filling up your pocket with some cold hard cash to blow through way too quickly. 

Photo by ServoToken

The Events

Side events were firing all day every day. From draft to legacy, anyone who wanted to play any format could get a game rolling. The main attractions at this event were a mix of Magic, taking up about ⅔ of the room, and up-and-comer Flesh and Blood, who also seemed to be firing on all cylinders and keeping pace with everything the Magic portion had going on. This isn’t the article to talk about if Flesh and Blood is a threat to Magic, but from what I saw this weekend, the game is a roaring success.

None of that stuff really matters though, right? We’re all here on this site because we want to hear about our favorite format. So how was Pioneer’s first big showcase weekend? Well, a bit of a mixed bag to tell you the truth.

The Decks

The start of the weekend saw a lot of blue-producing lands being tapped for mana, mostly from the two definitive powerhouses of the format in Azorius Control and Izzet Phoenix.

Phoenix, of course, was the boogeyman coming into the weekend as not only is it the deck that the largest percentage of Magic players mesh with but also as it’s undoubtedly the strongest and most consistent deck in the format and has been for over a year now.

Azorius, on the other hand, had a target more recently painted on its back, following the printing of The Wandering Emperor, a card that several players over the weekend described to me as “obviously and completely stronger than Jace, the Mind Sculptor”. I was dubious when I first heard that, but the numbers don’t lie; Azorius Control had an amazing Saturday.

Looking over the rest of the field for the team event, you saw your typical smattering of decks that people enjoy playing such as Mono Black Aggro and Green Stompy variants as well as older top-tier contenders that aren’t as prevalent in today’s metagame such as Burn and Lotus Field. The real business, however, was the new up and coming hotness of 5-Color Humans which helped land pilot Max McVety and his team with the #1 slot for the event. The deck has been and will continue to be highly scrutinized in the coming days, but its power was clearly showcased this weekend. 

Photo by ServoToken

The Pioneer $5K

Sunday had a tremendous showing as well with the Pioneer 5k. With 140 players, it was a true slog as players attempted to take their favorite archetypes to the very top. Observing the metagame, It was clear that the event was much more of a super sized FNM than a top level competition, but that doesn’t mean that things weren’t wildly exciting. To not bury the lede, pilot Steve Byerly ended up at the top of the King of the Hill pile with Pioneer’s ol’ faithful, Naya Winota

Winota had another fantastic weekend, being one of the most highly-represented archetypes in the room in both events. The deck is just the right mix of powerful, consistent, and fast enough to smite any crowd that isn’t fully prepared to take it down. You can expect to see all of the decks mentioned in the upper tiers of the metagame in the coming weeks, as people are surely going to value this weekend’s results. 

The State of Pioneer

While participating in the 5k, side events, and generally running about the halls chatting up fellow Pioneer players, I was able to draw some consensus about the format at large as well. Aside from the glitz and the glam of the decklists and pilots that end up on top, what was it that stood out to Pioneer fans this weekend? From those that I talked to, most are just excited to be back. Taking proper precautions, in person play is absolutely back with a vengeance, and players are hungry to just get out and butt heads with this weekend being just the start. 

To add to that: many players told me, completely unprompted, that Pioneer is the best format available right now and that they wished that more people were playing. This sentiment was collectively shared amongst 99% of people that I was able to chat with on the weekend, and I think that it’s that sort of zeal and appreciation that will thrust this format to the forefront of the Magic zeitgeist very soon. Pioneer has some of the best fans and players out there, with some of the highest levels of passion that I’ve seen from Magic players since Modern’s golden era in 2015. The events and numbers have proven that Pioneer is here to stay, and that it’s a force to be reckoned with. 

All in all, SCG Con Indianapolis was in many ways the turning of the page in the Magic storybook. The mark where we begin to put the horrors of the past three years behind us and move on to better things. It’s invigorated me and i’m sure many others, giving us fresh eyes and perspectives on the game we all love by being a showcase of what the spirit of the game is really about; the Gathering. Our petty squabbles over deck selection, card quality, Arena, and our real-world problems aside, I know that I’m ready to use this past weekend as a springboard into something better and brighter. Look forward to more events like this coming to you soon as things begin to open up more and more. Do what you can to organize events in your local areas and share this amazing format with your Magic friends and neighbors. And most importantly, try not to forget why we’re here in the first place.

As always, play smart, stay safe, and thanks for reading.

  • Darren "ServoToken"


    ServoToken has been playing competitive magic since 2011, spending a majority of that time living in the shoes of a player on a strict budget. After investing a lot of time learning how to make the best of a bad situation, his goals today are to spread those lessons to the often-ignored population of Magic players who can’t afford to drop a car payment on a new deck every couple of months. His mantra is that “You don’t need to play mono-red to do well on a budget”. These days, you can typically find him deep in the archives of Scryfall searching for new cards to brew around or making tweaks to the Pioneer Budget deck spreadsheet on his unending mission to bring his favorite format to the people on the cheap.

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