After a few weeks off for the Holidays, our article series dedicated to the Pioneer format of Magic: The Gathering is back! As a reminder, this article series has three primary goals (which have shifted slightly since it’s inception):
- Share with the everyone the top performing decks from the premier weekly Pioneer tournament taking place every Thursday at 7:00 pm at Game Grid Lehi, located in Utah County, Utah.
- Provide a mini-primer for and commentary about the top performing decks
- Commentary on the Pioneer format itself, especially as someone can expect to experience it by playing at a local game shop.
Article Series Format
This article series will follow a similar format each week:
- A list of every deck that goes 3-0 in that week’s tournament and the full 75-card decklist for the 3-0 decks.
- A brief introduction/mini-primer and commentary about the decks that 3-0, and if available, a few comments directly from the pilot of the deck (their card choices, how they felt about certain matchups, etc.)
- If there’s a deck we think warrants highlighting that did not go 3-0 you can also expect some commentary. (Jank-of-the-week, Brew of the week, etc.)
Statistical analysis that our data-driven approach can provide.(more on why this is being shelved later)
- Commentary on the Pioneer format as a whole.
The tournament took place on Thursday, January 2nd 2020 and featured 13 players. The following decks went 3-0:
Gruul Aggro (aka Gruul Company) by Shaun Rossiter
Pioneer has its share of aggro decks, and one that has been running over opponents since Pioneer was launched as a format—in one form or another—has been Gruul Aggro. Compared to other top decks in the format, Gruul Aggro is not quite as popular, but has been consistently showing up in MTGO Challenges, Preliminaries, and Leagues and is definitely a deck to contend with. At this past week’s tournament, a Gruul Aggro variant—one featuring Collected Company—was piloted by Shaun to an impressive 3-0 finish.
Before discussing Shaun’s list, let’s consider what makes Gruul Aggro tick. While there is a decent amount of diversity in card choices in Gruul Aggro decks, the “core” cards seem to be the following:
- The one drop mana accelerants (aka “mana dorks”) Elvish Mystic and Llanowar Elves—enabling you to cast powerful, aggressive spells a turn earlier
- Bonecrusher Giant // Stomp
The rest of the cards in the deck tend to be cards with haste and/or high power/toughness for their converted mana cost. Gruul Aggro decks also tend to be very creature heavy and only run around 4 burn spells, if any at all. It sets itself apart from other aggressive decks which are often mono-colored and/or tribal based.
The most notable feature of Shaun’s list is that he runs four copies of Collected Company. This fact separates his list from many other Gruul lists, and obviously puts a premium on creature cards that are 3 converted mana cost or lower, such as the token-generating Goblin Rabblemaster and Legion Warboss and the 1/1 reliant Lovestruck Beast. For this reason, you might wonder why the deck chooses to run 3 Heart of Kiran. I posed this question Shaun, and his response was (paraphrasing), “I was actually thinking of cutting it [because Collected Company doesn’t hit it], but having an evasive flyer actually came in quite handy a number of times… it did a lot of work, more than I thought it would.”
When I asked Shaun how he felt about the deck overall, he noted that it felt really good, and aside from the sideboard which he noted he might shift around a bit, he wasn’t inclined to make changes. He did tell me that going into the tournament, he wasn’t sure how he felt about the main deck Scavenging Ooze,but that since it single-handedly helped him win the matchup against Izzet Phoenix, he had to grant it was quite useful. He also mentioned that Domri, Anarch of Bolas felt particularly good, since the deck does have quite the ability to go wide and that its +1/+0 effect performed well. Lastly, Shaun said that he felt the decks only real weakness was to sweepers, but that he was lucky not to have seen a single one all night. After some discussion about that possibility, Heroic Intervention seemed like it might find its way into the sideboard.
Green Devotion Stompy by Mark Roberts
This tournament’s other 3-0 deck was also an aggressive one, but instead of going wide, it goes tall, very tall—in a ramping/stomping mono-green kind of way. So how tall are we talking about? For starters, we’ve got a pair of dinosaurs, the 12/12 trampling Elder Dinosaur Ghalta, Primal Hunger and the hexproof 7/6 Carnage Tyrant. The deck is filled with other massive creatures (notably having a generous amount of useful abilities and green pips), where the “lowliest” of which (aside from the mana dorks) is Questing Beast—a 4/4 beast with vigilance, haste, and deathtouch. Oh, and it also can’t be blocked by creatures with power 2 or less, have combat damage be prevented, and deals damage to planeswalkers when it connects.
If that’s not scary enough, the deck can also make its big creatures even bigger with one of the cornerstones of the deck, Aspect of Hydra.
But surely with creatures this big, the deck couldn’t be too fast, could it? Well, with cards such as Elvish Mystic, Llanowar Elves, Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, and Castle Garenbrig the massive creatures can come out quite fast. Mark also gave us a little spice, with his inclusion of Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner in the main deck for some card draw.
I had personally not ever seen this exact sort of deck, but after looking online a bit, I found a similar deck has been around and putting up results for at least the last few weeks. Perhaps it’s because I was not playing MTG during the break, but I suspect it’s also because MTG Goldfish chooses to call the deck simply “G” instead of something identifiable I might have actually clicked on and taken notice of.
Oh and if you are wondering why his sideboard only included 8 cards, it’s because of the little-known interaction between Shifting Ceratops and another card in the maindeck you might have missed. Actually, I’m totally just screwing with you, it’s because Mark—like many others I have spoken to—are still experimenting heavily with sideboards, and he simply threw it together last minute.
Pioneer Format Commentary
With Oko and Nexus Gone and Theros:Beyond Death Coming… Now What?
The biggest news for Pioneer (since our last article) happened on December 16th, with what might have been the most popular Pioneer Banned Accouncement of all time. While most everyone thought it was highly likely that Oko, Thief of Crowns was going to get banned (it did) few saw the Nexus of Fate ban coming. Apparently the deck featuring it had the second-highest win rate and number of 5–0 league finishes among top decks, with it’s only unfavorable matchup being the Simic deck that featured Oko. Wotc also told us that, “frustrating play patterns and long matches is an additional factor in this decision,” and for that, we thank them.
So now that those two cards are gone, has the format started to settle? In some ways, yes, in others, no. Let’s start with the ways that the Pioneer format has started to settle:
- Now that the aggressive ban period is over, it’s mostly believed that there are no cards (with one notable exception, mentioned below) potentially facing an imminent ban.
- A number of decks have consistently put up very good results, forming a fairly diverse group of top decks that you can expect to face at your local game shop.
So what’s still not settled? Let’s consider:
- Lots of players are bringing some unexpected and powerful brews to tournaments, so you can’t necessarily assume any given tournament will consist of the same 5-10 decks (thank goodness!)
- With decks being cheaper in Pioneer than many other formats, many players are able to bring different decks each week or so. I’ll be curious to see if this changes in the coming weeks as the format continues to settle and players begin to find their “favorite” deck or two.
- The first new set since the inception of the format, Theros: Beyond Death, is being released soon. How much of an impact the new set will have on Pioneer is a very open question, and it will be exciting to see how much things shake up as a result.
- Whether or not Walking Ballista will be targeted for a ban due to the infinite combo enabled with the soon-to-be-released card Heliod, Sun-Crowned.
So what does all this mean for current or would-be Pioneer players? My take is that the format is fun, diverse, and definitely popular enough to invest in. If you’ve been waiting to build a Pioneer deck until the bans are over, now is a great time—unless you are considering running Walking Ballista. If you’ve been waiting to see what the top decks might be, or if your favorite archetype would be viable in the format before making your choice of deck, you now have much more information. I suppose you might wait until Theros: Beyond Death is fully spoiled on Jan 9th to make sure there isn’t some insanely powerful card printed that you just have to build around or account for. But I would advise against waiting much longer, as I’ve noticed card prices starting to creep up (and in some cases spike) on many Pioneer cards.
I’ll now close this article with a few unorganized comments and thoughts:
- The goal to share data-driven matchup results in this articles series has been shelved. It’s really an all-or-none situation, where if we don’t get decklists from all players, there’s simply no way to provide complete data—and incomplete data is not very useful. I’m personally hoping there’s a technological solution in the future, or perhaps regular, longer events can start taking place where decklists would be more appropriate.
- Stay tuned for the next article, where in the Pioneer Format Commentary section I will invite a few friends to highlight and discuss some of the new cards from Theros: Beyond Death and to speculate about their implications on the Pioneer format.