Free Pioneer 1K Tournament Write-Up (Part 2)

We’re excited to present to you part two of the Pioneer tournament write-up for the Free 1K that took place on Saturday, February 7th 2020. If you haven’t read part one (and want to see the full top 16 decklists), I’d recommend doing that first.

Tournament Results (A Closer Look)

In my previous article, I shared the tournament results and decklists in a sort of “raw text” form. Today, I’d like start my article by taking a look at the data from an angle that I think most relevant to local players (in a sort of Q&A format):

What percentage of players brought a deck to the 1K that is also found on the top 10 decks in the current “overall” meta (as reported by MTGGoldfish)? What can we learn from this?
58.5% —First, we have to be careful deriving too much from such a statistic (remember the meta as reported on MTGGoldfish is skewed by the data WOTC allows them to gather).  However, we can learn that the decks that you might see at 1K-level local tournaments (even free ones) can definitely mirror the current top decks a very fair amount. In fact, if you take into account decks at or near the top of the overall meta going back a few extra months, the number would be closer to 75-80%. In other words, my assumption that the tournament might consist of approximately 40% slapped-together or “rogue” decks was false.

What percentage of the decks brought to the 1K are from the various Archetypes (Aggro, Midrange, Control, Combo?)
This is a question that is fairly easy to answer in general, but tough to answer with precision. For example, many decks span these archetypes, and only about 75% of decks fit neatly into these four archetypes. You could argue at length over certain kinds of decks (and whether or not the inclusion of certain cards pushes it one way more than the other)—but we won’t do that. I’ve given it my best shot, and here’s the data:

What percentage of the decks brought to the 1K were “brews”?
11%— I wanted to be careful answering this one, because one person’s definition of a “brew” can be quite different from another’s. The definition of “brew” I’m using is—a deck you would have never seen on MTGGoldfish, at any time, without clicking “View More” and scrolling down pretty far. In other words, I’m not saying “brew” to mean the player came up with the deck all by themselves, or is a euphemism for “bad”. I’m using the phrase brew to basically mean that it represents less than 1% of the “overall” meta at any time (and that also meets my criteria for “well-constructed”).

Which decks overperformed or underperformed? Any surprises?
I want to start answering this question by giving you a few caveats… I don’t know the exact skill level of many of the players who were playing certain decks, I don’t have the win/loss records of all the players, and I don’t have the win percentages of particular decks vs another. I will tell you that my answers to this question is based purely off of looking at the tournament meta and seeing which decks ended up in the top 8 and top 16. I do know that many very good players and many very good decks were one less mana screw game or a few tie-breaker points from getting into the top 16. So with that preamble out of the way, I’ll share this:

  • I was surprised that there were not more Dimir Inverter and Lotus Breach decks in the top 16 (11 were brought to the tournament, but only 1 made it to the top 16).
  • Aggro and midrange decks did approximately equally well in terms of conversion percentages to top 16 (44% of decks brought were aggro, and 56% made it to top 16, 25% of decks brought were Midrange, and they represented 31% of the top 16).
  • Control decks didn’t fare that well (only 1 made it to the top 16), but due to the comparatively low amount of them brought to the tournament, this could very well be due to variance—or perhaps the decks being over or under tuned for certain matchups.

Spiciest Decklists!

I also wanted to make sure to highlight what I thought were some of the spiciest decklists from the tournament. At first, I was going to include every decklist I thought met the definition of “spicy” but honestly—there were just too many. Instead, I decided to limit my treatment to the decklists that meet my definition of spicy that also made it into the top 16.

The Tale of Two Goblin Decks

#15 in Final Standings – Goblins (aka Atarka Goblin Cavalcade) by Lee Sands

Yep, we’re starting off by taking a closer look at the deck I brought to the tournament. No shame.

Deck Introduction

For context, I have been a long-time goblins player—having played it in Modern for nearly six years—and when Pioneer was announced, my first thought was to build a goblin deck. At first I assumed the deck would be pretty mediocre, and when I built it to be a pure tribal deck—it really was kinda bad. Goblin Trashmaster is no replacement for Goblin Chieftain and Reckless Bushwhacker just isn’t as good as Goblin Bushwhacker. Goblin Instigator is Mogg War-Marshall’s crappy cousin and on top of it all, the lack of Goblin Grenade hurt a lot. But surely with Legion Loyalist, Goblin Piledriver, Goblin Rabblemaster and Legion Warboss in the format, there would be a deck somewhere, right? It took awhile, but what I eventually landed on was a deck I call Atarka Goblin Cavalcade.

The basic idea of the deck is to go fast and wide follow that up with some cards that really abuse that strategy. For example, after playing a hasty Legion Loyalist or Fanatical Firebrand on turn one, the idea is to start generating as many tokens as possible in order to play part of the deck’s namesake Cavalcade of Calamity. I’ll have to pause here a bit, to explain some interactions. First, every creature that attacks with power one or less triggers the Cavalcade’s ability, and multiple Cavalcades will give me additional triggers. The tokens generated by Legion Warboss and Goblin Rabblemaster come into play at the beginning of combat, enabling them to indeed trigger Cavalcade. In addition, Goblin Piledriver also trigger’s Cavalcade since the +2+0 pump he gets from other attacking goblins happens when his ability resolves, and Cavalcade’s ability checks the attacking creatures power when they attack (Legion Warboss’s mentor ability is similar). In short, all the rules work out the way I would want them to (so to speak) and I can get a lot of Cavalcade triggers.

This seems pretty good, but it probably wouldn’t be good enough without Torbran, Thane of Red Fell making each Cavalcade trigger do three damage in addition to making the lowly goblins hit pretty hard. There’s also Atarka’s Command and Castle Embereth that I can use after declaring attackers (so as not to interfere with Cavalcade triggers) to pump each goblin.  Lastly, the deck isn’t solely going wide, as a Rabblemaster or Piledriver can swing in for a lot of damage, and with Legion Loyalist or Embercleave giving it trample, the amount of damage that I can potentially do with one creature is quite high. Blossoming Defense is there simply to protect this when it does happen, and no one is expecting that ridiculous card in this ridiculous deck. Lastly, Stoke the Flames is there for some reach, and with as wide as I’m going, it’s pretty easy to cast it efficiently.

Interview Questions

Why did you choose to play Atarka Goblin Cavalcade at the 1K?
I had been playing Chonky Red the past few weeks… but with the meta as it is right now, I knew that I needed to go faster. Instead of building a red aggro deck (which I seriously considered), I went with the goblin deck… cause it felt just as fast, more explosive, and able to attack on an angle and do things I assumed would take people off guard.

Are there any card choices you’d like to highlight?
Hordeling Outburst—This card revolutionized the deck once I decided to give it a try. The deck really wants to keep its goblin count up, and playing one of these after a sweeper or after a barrage of fatal pushes gives me the ability to do it.

Are you considering removing any cards from the maindeck or sideboard?
Maybe. I’d like to make room for another Stoke the Flames in the maindeck, but it’s really tough to cut any more goblins (opening hands where I don’t have enough goblins are the absolute worst). I could swap it for Blossoming Defense, but that card has stolen me enough games I’m pretty attached. I definitely want to add three copies of Heroic Intervention to the sideboard, but I’m just waiting for them to come back in stock at Game Grid, or to trade for them.

#10 in Final Standings – Goblins by Scott Jackson

You can imagine my surprise during the tournament when I heard, “I cast Cavalcade of Calamity” a few chairs down from where I was sitting. Someone else was playing a goblin deck with Cavalcade of Calamity! I mean, I’m sure I’m not the only person who has thought of such a deck, but it was pretty surprising to see that someone else bring it to this particular tournament and also do well with it. I unfortunately did not get a chance to ask Scott about his card choices, but I can see that he’s done a few things worth pointing out:

Bomat Courier and Light Up the Stage—One of the weaknesses of goblin decks are the lack of card draw, and these are two good choices to help in that department. I’ll have to try them.
Goblin Chainwhirler—This card along with Torbran, Thane of Red Fell is pretty absurd, and fitting it into a goblin deck makes a LOT of sense (removal is sometimes really important).
Goblin Warchief—Giving all your goblins haste is one sure-fire way to speed the deck up a bit (which has proven to be very important in the current meta).

#12 in Final Standings – Goats (Gruul Aggro) by Tony Wisdom

Tony’s Goats deck also has a few very spicy cards and lines of play that definitely separate it not only from other gruul aggro lists you might have seen, but also aggro lists in general. For starters, the deck runs Mox Amber, which completely took me by surprise as an option for an aggro deck, but when you consider the cards in the rest of the deck, it seems quite powerful.

Obviously Mox Amber needs you to play legendary creatures, and generally speaking, playing lots of legendary creatures in an aggro deck is tough to pull off. However, Theros Beyond Death gave us a enough solid choices to make a deck like this possible. I didn’t get a chance to see the deck in action, but I can imagine that it’s incredibly explosive. For example, any opening hand with Mox Amber and a Zurgo Bellstriker enables you play both cards and another one drop on turn one. Furthermore, Mox Amber also sets up some incredible turn twos, the three craziest of which that I can imagine would be:

  1. Multiple Burning Tree Emissaries into either a hasty Gallia of the Endless Dance (and if you don’t like a particular card in hand and want two different ones, go for it) and potentially multiple, pumped, hasty Firedrinker Satyrs.
  2. Multiple Burning Tree Emissaries into Reckless Bushwhacker and with potentially multiple one drops out.
  3. Multiple Burning Tree Emissaries into a (really) big Anax, Hardened in the Forge

And these are just a few that I’ve imagined! There’s also the fact that when Anax is on the board and he (or any other non-token creature) dies, the deck gets satyr (goat) tokens—which only get bigger and hasty if a Gallia of the Endless Dance is on the board. I also assume that this interaction is why the deck runs Collateral Damage. Atarka’s Command seems incredible here too. There’s honestly a lot to like here, and I have to say that Game Grid just sold me Mox Ambers as a result.

Lastly, I think there’s actually some room for experimentation and improvement with this deck, which is honestly pretty exciting for a deck that seems as solid as it already is.

#13 in Final Standings – Mono-Blue Devotion by Arrow Sparhawk

Mono-Blue Devotion looks like an incredibly fun deck to play, and Arrow’s version here has a lot going for it. I honestly would not be surprised to see this (or a similar list) start seeing more play. Let’s take a closer look at what makes it tick!

At it’s heart, the deck is a tempo deck that gets to play a high number of cards with very high utility. First, the deck gets to play counterspell…err Wizard’s Retort, which feels quite strong in the format right now. With the prevalence of Red Aggro, four maindeck Master of Waves seems like a very good choice. It has a generous amount of card selection with Thassa’s Oracle, Thassa, God of the Sea, and Gadwick, the Wizened. The deck plays lots of cards with Flash, and if it has a Leyline of Anticipation on the board, everything has flash. With all of the bounce spells and abilities, this deck really looks like it can lay waste to even the best laid plans.

Pioneer Format Commentary

My original plan was to provide some Pioneer format commentary in this article, but I’ll be honest, there’s still quite a bit to take in from all of the tournaments that have happened. I also really enjoyed taking a closer look at the data and spicy lists from Saturday’s 1K at Game Grid. My plan (for now) is to provide some format commentary to the write-up I do for this week’s Thursday night Pioneer tournament.

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