I feel we are witnessing history as the first week closes on a new format, with our first League taking place, yielding a plethora of archetypes and deck choices. The results of this league can be found here. Now when I say a plethora, I mean somewhere around 137 unique deck choices. Because of the sheer amount of unique decks, I am going to go over the decks that appeared to 5-0 more frequently than the rest. This is not a metagame analysis, just a quick view of what’s doing well so far.
We need to talk about mono red first. There are a LOT of variants of mono red in this format. Some are Run-Away Steamkin oriented, some are splashing white for Boros Charm, some are splashing green for Atarka’s Command, all of them are good. Here’s my favorite of the aggressive lists.
This build has a fairly strong game plan, it has good aggressive creatures in Monastery Swiftspear and Bomar Courier while being able to generate a large board state with Goblin Rabblemaster and Dragon Fodder. Going wider allows you to get in extra damage through blockers and also allows for an alpha strike with pump spells like Crash Through and Become Immense. Stoke the Flames has added synergie with the token generation, on top of allowing for some insane reach.
Atarka’s Command is the namesake card for a lot of the Pioneer aggressive decks, and for good reason. I believe most all red aggro decks are going to be good, though I believe Atarka Red to be the best. This is something Frontier and Pioneer have in common, and moving forward you should always be prepared to fight aggressive decks en mass.
There are multiple reasons as to why red aggro is doing so well right now, first of all this is a brewing period of the format, and brews are usually weak to aggressive decks. As people and decks adjust, aggro will swing in and out of favor. Secondly, red has very good hate for the decks that people are trying right now. They have Rampaging Ferocidon for the Saheeli decks, Atarka’s Command and Abrade for the Marvel decks. Great hate makes it easier to fight.
Saheeli combo is a deck that we all knew would be good, just a matter of how it should be built. There are Jeskai builds, and there are four color builds that play green, and the inclusion of Oath of Nissa makes the argument indisputable for me.
The green gives you perfect color fixing, so mana isn’t even an issue for it. It is also able to accelerate Planeswalkers out extremely quick and is able to churn through the deck with Oath of Nissa, Narset, and Tamiyo. It also stalls interaction with Teferi, Time Raveler and Oko, Thief of Crowns.
What good ways are their to fight these decks? We can fight the combo with cards like Authority of the Consuls, Rampaging Ferocidon, and Hushbringer, and Thalia, Heretic Cathar, so there’s actually quite a good number of answers (not to mention interaction like Thoughtseize, Abrupt Decay and Assassin’s Trophy) however, due to the power of Planeswalkers, the deck can handily win without the combo.
The only change I would make to the above list is cutting two cards for two copies of Sarkhan the Masterless, as it makes the deck have a legit threat to land on the table to either force answers from your opponent, or to fight through combo hate. I genuinely hope we get some good answers for Planeswalkers in the coming sets, as they keep getting pushed more and more, and answers for them are frequently mediocre.
Hardened Scales is a deck that I was really hoping would be good, so I am very happy to see so many lists make the 5-0 cut. The recent printings of Steel Overseer and Stonecoil Serpent is quite amazing given the kind of “Construct Tribal” vibe this deck has going on.
This deck feels like the Green/Black Constrictor deck from back in Kaladesh Standard, and Winding Constrictor comes back in a big way, returning to Team Walking Ballista, this time alongside Hangarback Walker. I’m a little sad that Verdurous Gearhulk can’t make the cut, but Steel Overseer is a fine replacement.
What’s notable to me about this deck is that it’s only piece of interaction in the main is Thoughtseize. If this deck is going to dedicate three mainboard slots to interaction, Thoughtseize being the best can say a lot about the format. Assassin’s Trophy or Abrupt Decay could also be fine options, though meta calls. They’re better in an aggressive meta, but if you’re expecting control or combo then Thoughtseize is better. Maybe I’m just looking way too deep into this, but Saheeli combo seems to be as good as people were thinking.
Mono Green Devotion
Woah buddy, Mono Green Devotion is a thing! This was another deck that I was really rooting for, Leyline of Abundance adds a lot of potential to the explosiveness of this deck. There haven been two kinds of Mono Green Devotion decks popping up, big mana ramp decks, and stompy decks.
The rampy version aims to fully utilize the explosiveness that Leyline offers. Ideally, they have turn 0 Leyline, turn 1 any dork, turn two as many dorks as they can play, and finally a Nykthos on turn 3 for mana to cast an Ulamog, a Hornet Queen, or a very large Walking Ballista. I would imagine this build struggles against high interaction decks. If one of your payoffs gets hit with a Thoughtseize and a dork gets hit with a Fatal Push, I can see it stumbling for a few turns.
On the other hand, if that interaction isn’t backed up by pressure, this deck has enough redundancy and inevitability to come back with a hard hit.
I like this deck a lot, but I feel it loses to the aggressive decks, the midrange and control deck’s interaction, and the combo decks that are faster or that interact.
The Stompy version of the deck I imagine has much better game against the aggressive decks, and stomps (pun intended) on midrange and control. It feels like any non-dork card in the deck is the deck’s top end, being able to play so many potent threats in Ghalta, Nullhide Ferox, Polukranos, Rhonas, Steel Leaf Champion and Surrak. I’m not sure how I feel about the exclusion of Leyline of Abundance, but the deck builder appears to have put in The Great Henge in favor of Leyline. Moving forward, this may be the top tier midrange deck to beat.
Control is definitely going to be a thing in Pioneer. The question that was to be answered was what flavor? Our options are pretty much Azorius, Dimir, Jeskai, or Esper. As it’s been showing, it’s a hard toss up between Azorius and Jeskai.
The Jeskai variants tend to get their win condition from non other than the Saheeli combo. It’s effective and it works. I chose this list because it just shows how many powerful Planeswalkers we’ve gotten in the last several years, and how real Planeswalker deck are becoming. Before War of the Spark, Super Friend decks were somewhat of a joke, being few and far between. Now, it’s a real competitive choice.
This is much more of a tap-out control deck however, so it comes with the disadvantage of not playing very many counterspells. It’s power comes from being able to stabilize almost any board state to stall out until you can combo. See also, Splinter Twin.
Azorius is a much more traditional control deck. It counters spells, it draws cards, it wipes boards, it plays powerful Planeswalkers. What more could you ask for?
The only thing that I don’t like about the Azorius build is that it has a much lower count of win conditions. This does not make the deck worse by any means, but I am constantly stressed about going to time, so I would only be concerned with winning games in a timely manner.
That’s all I’ve got time to touch on for today, but so far Pioneer is looking to be a lot less degenerate then I initially thought. There are still very powerful things that you can do, but Aetherworks Marvel and Rally the Ancestors are turning out to not have what it takes. On the other hand, Saheeli and Jeskai Ascendancy are looking to be power players of the format so far.
Atarka Red is also putting up outstanding results. The midrange deck of choice for the format has yet to be decided as there are so many contenders, but control is being narrowed down slowly, though I don’t believe we’ll ever arrive to a conclusion for sure as to which build is best.