Tier List Companion – July 12th, 2023

Daren "Servotoken" breaks down movements and changes in yesterday’s Pioneer tier list.

Hey there! Each Week at PlayingMTG we put out a Pioneer Tier List update, and an accompanying article to explain some of our choices in terms of placements. Sometimes our choices don’t make a ton of sense unless you understand how things work on the back end, so in the name of transparency we’re laying it all out there.

How the Tier List works:

The PlayingMTG Tier List doesn’t work like most other Tier Lists. Other Magic Tier Lists are generally the opinion and experiences of one player put onto paper, and can vary wildly from reality at times. Non-Magic Tier Lists don’t have to worry about things like variance skewing statistics, so they can more reliably focus on the raw data. We want to combine both elements, and showcase the intersection of honest results-driven data and real life player experiences. 

Each week, we comb through all of the results data for relevant placements from competitive events, marking down each deck’s placements and number of finishes. We will typically omit the extremely high variance ends of the bell curve, here being MTGO League results (because Wizard’s doesn’t showcase the full picture in their data, rather only showcasing each deck one time) and Local Level RCQ events or lower. Typically events like these can stem inbred meta games where players are intimately familiar with each other and their usual play choices, and can severely bend the norm in order to succeed. While this is an encouraged practice, it doesn’t really show someone that isn’t from the area that that event took place what they can expect at their local event. In order to serve as many players and their expected metagames as possible, we stick to large events with meaningful prizes and a more widespread reach.

Combining all of that data together, we form a rolling average from the past three weeks in order to form the basis of one side of the list. This raw data is then shown to a small group of highly competitive players, who are personally in the trenches week in and week out living a legitimate grinder’s experience. They check that data and see how it reflects with their personal experiences. They each then submit their personal tier listings, and those are averaged together to form the list that you see here today. 

The goal of this Tier List is twofold; to give players a reasonable understanding of the decks that they might expect to face at any given event (to then check against their personal experiences and make adjustments to their deck accordingly), and to give players a small amount of foresight if they are currently choosing between multiple different decks to bring to an event. If a deck is in A Tier, you can reasonably expect to play against that deck at least once in a normal 7-9 round event. You can also expect that deck to perform reasonably well should you choose to pilot it yourself, as the conditions of the format are such that that deck is naturally succeeding. If a deck is in D Tier, that deck is still wholly within the realm of playability and experts with that deck will still likely be jamming it. It might require some extra effort on the pilot’s end to pick the deck up for the first time, but the deck is capable of spiking an event should their day line up. You aren’t likely to play against it as a guarantee, but it’s something that you might want to be ready for anyway – especially if the deck that you’re bringing has a bad matchup against the D Tier deck. If a deck is not on the Tier List, then it is much less likely to succeed and we do not recommend the deck to anyone but true masters who would be playing that deck anyway. 

All of that out of the way, here’s the Tier List for the week that we will be referencing:


The Data

Each week, we look at top Magic Online Tournaments including the weekly challenges, any Regional Championship Qualifiers or Magic Online Championship Series events, along with the Pioneer Prelim events. 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.

If there are any high-profile paper events, we will also include those. Some examples of events we would count are SCG Con events, NRG Events, Regional Championships, Pro Tours, etc. This is omitting Team Trio events, as the other formats involved can skew the numbers across the board.

Here were this week’s events:

Metagame Changes

Moved Up

Boros Pia

Atarka Red

Izzet Drakes

Mono White Humans

Moved Down

Rakdos Midrange

Lotus Field Combo

Azorius Control

Izzet Phoenix


It was a brilliant week for aggressive strategies this week, as the Boros Pia deck seemingly burst a hole into the metagame. With the continued decline in Rakdos Midrange’s representation, the decks that it preyed on have once again been given the green light, and they’re coming after Devotion’s throat in force. Red strategies that had been failing to best Sheoldred, the Apocalypse are now feeling more free to do what they do best, which is to outrace the snowball decks of the format. While Rakdos Sacrifice does a fair impression of the Midrange variant, it isn’t quite able to contain their sheer velocity as well, which has given them the opportunity to rise in popularity. We expect decks like Humans, and the red aggro decks like Pia and Atarka to continue to perform until they’re eventually stonewalled by something similar to – if not a full fledged resurgence in – the Rakdos Midrange deck. 

Interestingly, we aren’t seeing a decrease as of yet in the amount of play that the Rakdos-hosers are getting. Decks like Enigmatic, Drakes, and Strict Lotus are still holding strong in the lower tiers, which suggests that instead of Rakdos’s popularity diminishing the deck is just not performing as well as it has been while still putting in roughly the same number of decks to tournament entry. This may change soon as the Rakdos players begin to opt for different strategies, but if older non-rotating formats have taught me anything it’s that people will find any excuse to register 4x Thoughtseize. 

Getting into the data a little more, Boros Pia went on a tear this week with 14 qualifying finishes, which is huge for a week with as few qualifying events as this one. The deck is really solidifying its place in the format, taking over Boros Convoke as the go-to go-wide strategy with its inclusion of Chained to the Rocks giving it the reach to get around some of the biggest roadblocks in the format. Mix that with flying Thopter tokens and burn spells, and you’ve got an aggro deck that’s flexible enough to bend into whatever shape it needs to to steal the top spots.

Rakdos Sacrifice also overtook the mantle for most-finishes outside of our newcomer deck here with 13, beating out Green Devotion by a single finish. The deck is extremely potent when not being held down by other Midrange strategies, and is excellent at combating Red decks and other synergy decks alike with its quick clock and capacity to grind. As more and more Pioneer players make the status-change from “Intermediate” to “Entrenched”, we will see more and more instances of a fan-favorite deck like Sacrifice becoming more and more optimized and rising the ranks as long as people are willing to stick with them. It wasn’t too long ago that Sacrifice was threatening to hop off the Tier List, and now it’s vying for that top spot. 

Lastly down in the lower tiers we see Strict Lotus and Drakes holding their position as their counterparts in Azorius Control and Phoenix respectively begin to move downward. This is an intriguing trend that signifies the format’s overall depth and flexibility rather than competing trends headbutting for dominance. We see these spell-based cores can really bolster any reasonable threat suite, and that even the more whacky strategies have a chance to shine when given the right amount of attention. As with Sacrifice, more people becoming long-term Pioneer players means that some of these off-the-wall strategies that appeal to a specific type of player are going to gain prominence over their more generic and obvious cousin shells. I’m looking forward to seeing which other decks have one of these half-half mutations just waiting in the wings poised to take over the format. 

That’s all for this one. Thanks as always for your unyielding support and constant push for us to improve. We value all of your feedback and take your criticisms seriously, so please never hesitate to let us know when we’re not meeting or exceeding your expectations. Until next time, stay safe, play smart, 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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