Where Does Pioneer Go From Here?

We got our weekly B&R update from the mother ship today, and after a quiet last week of no bans, the format settled enough to make a couple problem cards become clear

  • Once Upon a Time is banned.
  • Field of the Dead is banned.
  • Smuggler’s Copter is banned.

This changes everything. Midrange, Aggro, and Ramp all got hit by the ax. They explain in their article what we all saw, green as a whole, black aggro decks, and Field of the Dead ramp decks were way too prominent and oppressive of the rest of the metagame in order to keep in the format. A lot of people were asking which of these three would be getting banned, I’m pleasantly surprised to see all three.

So what now? Is the format wide open again, or is there a clear contender for what’s going to be moving in to tier one? There are a few decks that are highly suspect to become relevant.

 

Combo

Nexus is, thus far, the combo deck of the format. However, it’s not the greatest combo deck, requiring a fair bit of set up, sometimes requiring upwards of six or seven turns for it. If you look at the Pioneer metagame breakdown on MTG Goldfish, Nexus is the first deck on the ladder (in ninth place as of the time of writing this) that does not play any of the banned cards. Now, Nexus doesn’t really struggle with midrange or ramp decks. It’s in combo’s nature to have a favorable match up. The struggle comes from the aggro side of the format.

Aggro has been too good for Nexus to compete, as it turns out, it requires more than a play set of Fog to survive. For Mono Black, they provide early pressure quick enough to get you within lethal range of a Gray Merchant before set up is complete. Not only that, but Thoughtseize is an outstanding card against combo decks, especially a slow one like Nexus. 

While this banning definitely helps Nexus’ odds of being a player in this metagame, only time will tell.

 

Control

Field of the Dead is the most oppressive of the three cards banned today. I saw a thread on /r/PioneerMTG earlier of someone asking why Field of the Dead is so good in Pioneer and Valakut isn’t in Modern. This was of course answered by how different formats are, but the two cards are very comparable, and in a vacuum, Field of the Dead is far more oppressive. Generating a 2/2 body creates an environment where targeted creature removal is not good enough of an answer for the threats being presented. Sweepers become a must, but even they won’t actually answer the problem.

Once Upon a Time wasn’t as oppressive, but definitely made green decks (and incidentally Field of the Dead decks) far more consistent than control could handle.

Control plays a crucial role in any metagame, and now that Field of the Dead is out, there is a good amount of hope that control can return. I personally think that Azorius will be the accepted color combination, though Esper will surely be played as well.

 

Midrange

The Midrange slot in Pioneer has been up in the air ever since the inception of the format. Midrange kind of just morphed into Field of the Dead decks, while others only played Once Upon a Time. Either way, green will definitely still be the way having the best creatures in the format. If I had to take a guess, I would say that the spot will be primarily contended by Sultai and Temur. The question is which is more worth it, Black or Red?

Historically, black has ben the better color. And in Pioneer we don’t have a shortage of powerful black cards between Thoughtseize, Fatal Push and Abrupt Decay. Red does not offer comparable answers, but rather excellent threats and support cards in Bonecrusher Giant, Glorybringer, The Royal Scions and Chandra, Torch of Defiance. All of these will almost always be two-for-ones or better, giving midrange the ability to keep refueling on gas.

Sultai may take a more control aspect, which I think may hinder the deck. Green has excellent creatures available to it, and not taking full advantage of the best cards in your color combination (given they synergize with your deck) is how you play a mediocre deck. I’m not saying you’re wrong if you’re playing control over midrange in Sultai, simply that I believe that midrange is better.

 

Aggro

Smuggler’s Copter enabled a lot of aggressive decks to become extremely consistent by being able to filter away all the unnecessary lands for more gas to throw on the fire, while also pressuring the opponent. In Mono Black’s case, it even fueled their strategy due to their recursive threats. It was an auto-include in almost every aggro deck on the market, so what is going to be the best now?

I believe Mono Black, Mono Green, and Mono Red will all contend for top spot. Each deck has specific strengths and weaknesses, and I think the best of the format will rotate based on meta judgements made by pilots. If you’re expecting a field of control and combo, Mono Black will be best utilized. Expecting a field of midrange and ramp, Mono Green will be ideal. Or if you’re expecting a lot of other aggro decks or brews to be present, Mono Red will probably do you best.

There are solid options for aggro, and dual color and hybrid decks will definitely come to light and see some number of success, but if I had to put my soul on the line and take a guess at what would be best, I would say Mono Black will still be excellent above the rest.

 

Ramp

The real question I need to be asking, is will Ramp survive this banning? The optimist inside me says absolutely! The realist inside me however says ramp just lost the most consistent piece of the deck on top of the card that gave it the most survivability.

I don’t think ramp is dead. Ramp was fringe before the metagame settle on Field of the Dead, but it wasn’t bad by any means. Ramp is also not the only deck that lost these two cards, meaning the format as a whole will be weaker too. Ramp didn’t lose any actual ramp pieces or, just bits of consistency. Their threats aside from Field are all also untouched. Ramp will still be a contender, and possibly one of the better decks while the metagame shifts around and settles.

 

The beauty of this format is in its potential. It has the opportunity to be extremely diverse, fun, and even fair. This is something that I know will be accomplished sooner rather than later. Four of the seven non fetch land bans have been cards from the last two sets, which, as we all know a little too well, have been some of the more powerful sets printed in the last couple of years. Though there is this imbalance, power is being restored to its former glory; strong, but not broken.