How many playables can there really be?
March of the Machine: Aftermath is a really strange set. It’s not draftable – as it has no common cards and booster packs only contain five cards each. It’s legal in Standard, even though it was clearly designed for Commander players who want to use Sarkhan and Kiora as their commander. I mean – come on – the set only has 50 cards in it! How many playables can there really be?
Ob Nixilis, Captive Kingpin
Ob was the most hyped card for Pioneer play, and the result does show just that. He fits perfectly into Rakdos Sacrifice, in the slot that has not been able to be filled yet. In the past, sacrifice decks have used Korvold, Fae Cursed King as a top-end creature that generates card advantage and grows as you sacrifice permanents, but Korvold has two main flaws that Ob Nixilis lacks. In a deck that wants to have a low land count already, four mana is so much less than five mana, so Ob wins there – especially when Korvold’s additional mana cost is green. Ob Nixilis doesn’t force you to play off-color Shocklands and Pathways, so you’re now free to play creature lands like Den of the Bugbearand Hive of the Eye Tyrant.
Ob will usually win the game within one turn cycle after he is played if left unchecked. Every time you trigger your Mayhem Devil? Put a counter on Ob and get a card. Cauldron Familiarenters the battlefield? Put a counter on Ob and get a card. You hit your opponent for one with that Familiar? Put a counter on Ob and get a card. Your opponent taps their Sulfurous Springs for black mana? You get the idea. This card will be constantly triggering, and the cards you find off of him will continue to fuel the engine you created, with only a few parts.
Rakdos Sacrifice generally has a strong Rakdos Midrange matchup, while also being very good versus Aggro and Control decks. You’re a lot weaker versus Combo decks, such as Greasefang and Lotus Field, and you’re close to 0% versus the Bring to Lightand Fires decks that go way over the top of your plan. It’s possible that Rakdos Midrange deck will become a real player in Pioneer because of Ob. If the results we see with the deck now continue at this rate, we would expect to see Rakdos Sacrifice climb back up the rungs of the Tier List.
Esper Legends has been a strong choice in Standard for a while, but the Pioneer version of this Aggro/Tempo creature deck has some really powerful tools. Mox Amber allows you to accelerate Sheoldred and Raffine out super quickly, enabled by Skrelv and Kytheon to make sure it’s activated as quickly as possible. Gold-Forged Thopteryx plays a really important role in this deck, and that is protecting your legends. While the Thopteryx is not a legend itself, it does an amazing job at protecting other Legends by granting them ward two. It’s not exactly Hexproof, but it is extremely close to it. The deck has a lot of ways already to punish removal spells, mainly with Skrelv and Plaza of Heros, and adding the Thopteryx to the mix makes it that much more difficult to remove game-ending cards for some strategies, like Thalia and Sheoldred.
Gold-Forged Theopteryx itself isn’t that bad of a body either. A two-mana 1/3 flier with Lifelink means that it’s able to contest with a lot of ground creatures pretty well. It’s a good body versus Mono White and Red aggro, especially when combined with something like Raffine. In the Standard deck, a common playpattern is to use Raffine to place the +1/+1 counters from the connive onto a Dennick to be able to start gaining a lot of life. However, now that we have the Thopteryx, we can put the counters onto a flying creature instead, so it’s easier to gain more life down the line by attacking for three each turn after the Raffine bites the dust.
Coppercoat Vanguard & Jirina, Dauntless General
By a wide margin, Coppercoat Vanguard is the strongest addition to Pioneer from March of the Machine: Aftermath. It has taken up all of the flex slots the Mono White deck used to offer, as well as forcing players to trim down numbers on Lumiarch Aspirant, a card that was super powerful if left unchecked. Vanguard, however, plays a much different role than Aspirant, as it immediately puts way more than two power into play for just two mana. Like Thalia, you’re going to want to spend your removal spell to remove the Vanguard first, or else you’re going to be taxed for it, and this play pattern allows Adeline to shine even more than she did in the previous iteration of this deck. She’s going to be able to attack more often, as the deck now has eight two-mana plays that draw out removal spells, and the Vanguard makes the tokens she spits out 2/1s instead of puny 1/1s. Usually, the turn you play Adeline and attack with one creature, the 1/1 she creates will get blocked profitably by any random Bloodtithe Harvester or Raffine’s Informant – but with a Vanguard in play, each token creature becomes that much more deadly.
Coppercoat Vanguard is less flexible than other creatures printed in this set, as there’s only one deck that can properly take advantage of it, but it is still a huge upgrade, especially when combined with Jirina, Dauntless General.
She is really powerful, allowing you to protect your entire team for very little opportunity cost, while also hosing graveyard strategies like Greasefang and Phoenix with zero effort. While the Mono White version of the Humans deck is more stock and will see much more play than any variant including a black splash, do expect to see both of these cards show up in the same deck from time to time.
Nissa, Resurgent Animist
Wait, Nissa Resurgent Animist costs HOW MUCH? Sometimes, the price doesn’t show the true power of a card, but here, it is completely accurate, Nissa is really strong. In Modern, Four-Color Control decks are using her in combination with fetchlands to generate a ton of mana, and search up the Modern Horizons 2 Evoke Elementals and win with the card advantage generated. In Pioneer, we don’t have access to any of those fetches, but the same general idea still stands, except the lands we’re using are much worse. Fabled Passage, Evolving Wilds, and the New Capenna sacrifice lands are the only options, but they still get the job done.
Nissa fits right into the Lotus Cobra ramp shell, utilizing cards like Growth Spiral, Bring to Light and Escape to the Wilds to draw a ton of cards, play a ton of lands, and eventually win using cards like Genesis Ultimatum, Chandra Hope’s Beacon, and even Villainous Wealth While she does cost a significant amount more mana than the Lotus Cobra (one mana is a lot of mana), when a deck plays 11 or more fetchlands, this landfall ability needs to be taken advantage of, and Nissa does a great job of this, while also being able to find other Nissas, Paradise Druids, or Omnaths. I would like to see a version of this deck that cuts the Paradise Druids for Sylvan Caryatids, allowing Nissa to always be able to find a better payoff card, as Omnath is usually the best thing to be doing on four mana in every situation.
Alright, which Ex-Planeswalker should I build around next…
March of the Machine: Aftermath may be a super small set, but a lot of care was put into it to make sure that it packs a pretty powerful punch, while not warping too many formats. There’s no cards with Fable of the Mirror-Breaker power level, but there are definitely some archetype definers.
I also finally get to play with a Kiora card that doesn’t help protect herself in combat! And Samut seems like it could slot right into Atarka Red Aggro. And Calix might be a really good top-end card for Enchantress to play. And giving Narset haste seems really strong…