Catching Up on Pioneer, by Andrew Quinn

With Pro Tour results in and Pioneer Preliminaries starting up, it's time for a catch up on Magic's newest format.

Thassas Oracle - artwork by Jesper Ejsing
Thassas Oracle gives Dimir Inverter a powerful additional win method.

Since Andrew’s last article, bannings have settled, the meta has shifted, and competitive play is taking off for Pioneer. It’s time for an update on this popular new format.

Pioneer, Magic’s newest competitive format, has now been showcased on the biggest stage, as the first Players’ Tour events took place in Brussels, Nagoya and Phoenix over the past two weekends.

It has been an exciting few weeks in the format with some big players dropping off the map and new ones breaking out. The best part of this is that between three professional-level events, we have hundreds of decklists to spool and learn more about the format as it develops.

With Pioneer WPNQ preliminaries starting up, it’s time for a rundown of the decks hitting Top 8 of these events.

The twenty-four lists that made the cut are:

8 x Dimir Inverter
3 x Lotus Breach
3 x Bant Spirits
2 x Mono-Red Aggro
2 x Sultai Delirium
1 x Azorius Control
1 x Azorius Spirits
1 x Mono-Black Vampires
1 x Mono-Black Aggro
1 x Niv-to-Light
1 x Orzhov Auras

Let’s take a look at five of the most comment-worthy performers:

Dimir Inverter by Corey Burkhart, 1st Place at PT Phoenix

Inverter of Truth from Oath of the Gatewatch (OGW)
Creatures (8):
4 Thassa’s Oracle
4 Inverter of Truth

Planeswalkers (3):
3 Jace, Wielder of Mysteries

Spells (23):
4 Fatal Push
4 Opt
4 Thoughtseize
1 Omen of the Sea
2 Censor
2 Drown in the Loch
2 Thought Erasure
1 Hero’s Downfall
4 Dig Through Time

Lands (25):
2 Choked Estuary
4 Drowned Catacomb
4 Fabled Passage
2 Fetid Pools
1 Ipnu Rivulet
5 Island
2 Swamp
1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
4 Watery Grave

Sideboard (15):
2 Damping Sphere
1 Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy
1 Legion’s End
1 Negate
3 Pack Rat
1 Cry of the Carnarium
1 Hero’s Downfall
2 Mystical Dispute
1 Witch’s Vengeance
1 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
1 Languish

The Dimir Inverter deck appeared on the scene shortly before the first PT events in Brussels and Nagoya; it’s since made an enormous impact on the format, winning PT Phoenix and picking up 8 of our 24 Top 8 slots.

The combo is simple. Empty your library using Inverter of Truth and play Thassa’s Oracle or Jace, Wielder of Mysteries to win the game on the spot. With the deck relying on a 2-card combo, it has earned the nickname of “The New Splinter Twin,” drawing comparisons with the Deceiver Exarch + Splinter Twin combo that once terrorised Standard and Modern.

The fact that this deck can operate out of just blue and black is what gives it its power. These two colours contain some of the strongest disruptive elements available in the format, as well as ample card selection to find the combo pieces. Dig Through Time is the biggest gain here, capable of finding the two combo pieces at the same time as well as emptying your graveyard to best take advantage of Inverter of Truth’s ability.

Unless a future ban list acts on this combo, I suspect the deck to be the top deck of the format for the foreseeable future. I am not suggesting action needs to be taken as this deck is still in its infancy and the metagame has not yet fully adapted to its presence.

If you’re playing a Pioneer event in the near future, you should absolutely expect to see this deck at some point.

Lotus Breach by William ‘Huey’ Jensen, 2nd Place at PT Phoenix

Lotus Field from M20

Creatures (14):
4 Arboreal Grazer
4 Fae of Wishes
2 Satyr Wayfinder
4 Vizier of Tumbling Sands

Spells (22):
4 Hidden Strings
4 Strategic Planning
4 Sylvan Scrying
3 Underworld Breach
1 Mystical Dispute
4 Pore Over the Pages
1 Dig Through Time
1 Expansion // Explosion

Lands (24):
1 Blast Zone
4 Botanical Sanctum
2 Breeding Pool
1 Forest
4 Lotus Field
1 Sheltered Thicket
4 Temple of Mystery
4 Thespian’s Stage
3 Yavimaya Coast

Sideboard (15):
2 Natural State
1 Tome Scour
1 Underworld Breach
2 Unravel the Aether
2 Anger of the Gods
1 Lost Legacy
1 Mystical Dispute
1 Jace, Wielder of Mysteries
2 Supreme Verdict
1 Thought Distortion
1 Ugin, the Spirit Dragon

‘Lotus Breach’ is the other premier combo deck of the Pioneer format, one which had a breakout weekend at PT Phoenix. This deck has gone through a lot of different variations in the past few weeks, until several very prominent professional players finally appeared to have found a workable – if not perfected – way to build it.

This build has evolved into something resembling a storm deck with multiple moving parts, instead of a two or three card infinite combo. The biggest innovation comes from using a full playset of Fae of Wishes to keep the win condition outside of the main deck and in the sideboard, along with some specific answers to threats the deck can encounter.

So how does the deck work? Lotus Field can be untapped by Hidden Strings, Pore Over the Pages and Vizier of Tumbling Sands, effectively making those spells free to cast. If you have two of them out, you can even use Hidden Strings as a very powerful ‘ritual’ spell. Once you have cast a few spells, you can play an Underworld Breach, playing its best impression of Yawgmoth’s Will, to recast all of the previous spells and continue the chain. Fae of Wishes can find Tome Scour from the sideboard to fuel the escape costs of the spells you cast, including for itself to mill your entire deck very quickly if you have enough mana to do so. All these moving parts make this a very difficult deck to pilot with multiple possible lines of play to navigate. PT Phoenix was essentially the breakout event for Lotus Breach, so we’ve yet to see just how powerful the deck can be.

Players such as Luis Scott-Vargas, Matt Nass, Seth Manfield, Andrew Baeckstrom and Sam Pardee all put their faith in the deck and had strong constructed records with it, with Huey Jensen making the finals.

Sultai Delirium by Joel Larsson, 1st Place at PT Brussels

Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath from Theros Beyond Death (THB) (Full art)
Creatures (19):
1 Walking Ballista
3 Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy
4 Satyr Wayfinder
1 Scavenging Ooze
2 Courser of Kruphix
1 Murderous Rider
1 Tireless Tracker
4 Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath
1 Ishkanah, Grafwidow
1 Emrakul, the Promised End

Planeswalkers (3):
1 Liliana, the Last Hope
2 Nissa, Who Shakes the World

Spells (15):
4 Fatal Push
4 Thoughtseize
3 Traverse the Ulvenwald
2 Abrupt Decay
2 Grisly Salvage

Lands (23):
4 Blooming Marsh
1 Botanical Sanctum
4 Breeding Pool
1 Castle Garenbrig
3 Fabled Passage
1 Forest
2 Island
1 Opulent Palace
4 Overgrown Tomb
1 Swamp
1 Watery Grave

Sideboard (15):
1 Duress
1 Cast Down
2 Disdainful Stroke
1 Noxious Grasp
2 Mystical Dispute
1 Reclamation Sage
1 Sultai Charm
1 Tireless Tracker
1 Hostage Taker
3 Leyline of the Void
1 Vivien Reid

Joel Larsson had one hell of a weekend in Brussels, winning his second PT title with a deck of his own design. We have seen a few different Black/Green builds in the past few months and they’ve all performed rather poorly. Then in comes Theros Beyond Death with Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath. If you’re already looking to load your graveyard for the Delirium ability on Traverse the Ulvenwald, then that also fuels the Escape costs for Uro. This synergy gave Joel’s list a powerful combination of cards that’s taken the traditional ‘Rock’ archetype to the next level.

Traverse the Ulvenwald has proven itself a powerful engine in many Standard and Modern decks since its printing. If you can reliably load your graveyard with enough card types, then Traverse can be used to find one of many potential silver bullets to deal with different matchups. Thanks to the Adventure mechanic it can also find spells, like Murderous Rider or Bonecrusher Giant. In Larsson’s deck, you can find Walking Ballista to finish off your opponent, Ishkanah, Grafwidow to load up the board with several blockers, Tireless Tracker to grant you some much needed card advantage, Scavenging Ooze to attack the graveyard or just a big bad Emrakul, the Promised End to really play havoc with your opponent.

Niv to Light by Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa, Top 4 at PT Brussels

Niv-Mizzet Reborn from War of the Spark (WAR)

Creatures (13):
3 Gilded Goose
4 Sylvan Caryatid
2 Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath
4 Niv-Mizzet Reborn

Planeswalkers (6):
4 Teferi, Time Raveler
2 Nahiri, the Harbinger

Spells (13):
1 Thoughtseize
3 Abrupt Decay
1 Dreadbore
1 Anguished Unmaking
1 Slaughter Games
1 Solar Blaze
4 Bring to Light
1 Hour of Devastation

Lands (28):
3 Breeding Pool
4 Fabled Passage
1 Forest
1 Godless Shrine
1 Island
2 Mana Confluence
1 Mountain
2 Overgrown Tomb
1 Plains
1 Stomping Ground
1 Sunpetal Grove
1 Swamp
2 Temple Garden
1 Temple of Abandon
1 Temple of Deceit
2 Temple of Enlightenment
1 Temple of Epiphany
1 Temple of Silence
1 Woodland Cemetery

Sideboard (15):
1 Infernal Reckoning
3 Thoughtseize
1 Rakdos’s Return
1 Rest in Peace
1 Selesnya Charm
1 Thought Erasure
2 Voice of Resurgence
1 Deafening Clarion
1 Knight of Autumn
1 Questing Beast
1 Enter the God-Eternals
1 The Scarab God

Niv to Light has been around for a short while and although it has been played a lot on the Magic Online metagame, I have not been impressed. I love five colour decks, but the lists that were doing well looked very poorly built to me. They suffered from badly built mana bases, too many ‘cute’ choices, such as Siege Rhino, that didn’t benefit the overarching strategy of the deck. Enter PVDDR, one of the best players in history and the list is reborn (pun very much intended).

Reliably cast, Niv-Mizzet Reborn is going to be a 5-mana 6/6 that draws you about 2 extra cards. That’s insane, especially for a creature that dodges Fatal Push, all damage-based removal and a lot else. Bring to Light gives you 4 additional copies of Niv that can also be some of your silver bullets. Slaughter Games for example lets you take away Inverter of Truth or Fae of Wishes to ruin the combo decks of the format.

All in all, this version of the deck looks a lot better to me than previous ones that I’ve seen, if only because it appears able to cast Niv far more consistently. With all the other decks that have appeared in the past few weeks, I doubt that Niv will be a big presence in the forthcoming metagame. From time to time, I expect it to be a great surprise choice that people don’t see coming. But other than that, I would imagine that you won’t see a lot of Niv to Light on a regular basis unless something happens to shake things up a bit, such as a new ban list or a lot of nice cards printed in upcoming sets.

Orzhov Sram Auras by Ken Yukuhiro, 2nd Place at PT Nagoya

Sram, Senior Edificer Aether Revolt
Sram, Senior Edificer Aether Revolt

Creatures (17):
4 Alseid of Life’s Bounty
2 Favored Hoplite
4 Hateful Eidolon
3 Aphemia, the Cacophony
4 Sram, Senior Edificer

Spells (23):
4 Karametra’s Blessing
4 Cartouche of Solidarity
4 Ethereal Armor
3 Gryff’s Boon
4 Sentinel’s Eyes
4 All That Glitters

Lands (20):
4 Caves of Koilos
4 Concealed Courtyard
4 Godless Shrine
1 Mana Confluence
6 Plains
1 Swamp

Sideboard (15):
2 Dead Weight
1 Grafdigger’s Cage
2 Thoughtseize
3 Apostle of Purifying Light
2 Baffling End
3 Brain Maggot
2 Gideon of the Trials

Perhaps some of you are not familiar with the work of Ken Yukuhiro. I suppose the best way to describe Yukuhiro-sama is that he is the crazy mad scientist of the Pro Magic scene. The man comes up with some incredible concoctions that no one else in the world is playing and then manages to top professional events with them. This was no exception, as Ken turned the concept of the Modern ‘Bogles’ deck into a fully functioning powerhouse in Pioneer.

First, whilst we have no Hexproof creatures to put our auras on, we do have Hateful Eidolon, which will draw us cards if any of our creatures, including itself, die while enchanted by our auras. So if we play Eidolon on turn 1 and follow up with two Auras on turn 2, then even if our opponent is able to kill our big creature, we get to draw two cards to refill our hand and start again. Alseid of Life’s Bounty and Karametra’s Blessing give us ways to protect the large creature we make just in case some removal comes along that we don’t like. Ethereal Armor, one of the centrepieces of the Modern Bogles deck, is backed up here by All That Glitters, an identical card that costs only 1 mana more. The deck’s namesake, Sram, Senior Edificer, gets to draw you cards whenever you play one of your 19 auras too. Finally, Aphemia, the Cacophony lets you build up a brand-new board of creatures if all that goes horribly wrong. And did I mention that 11 of your creatures are also enchantments to boost the synergies of the deck even further?

I am in love with this deck, as I often am when Yukuhiro-sama reaches the Top 8 of a professional Magic tournament. I absolutely loathe the Bogles deck; but replacing Hexproof with the ability to draw an additional 20 cards per game is an ability that really does capture my attention.

Pioneer is in a very healthy state right now. We will next see the format on show at Magic Fest Louisville at the end of March and I can’t wait to see how it develops in that time.

Before then of course, don’t forget that Manaleak is running 4 WPNQ preliminary events in the coming month along with the final on March 22nd, all Pioneer constructed. Hopefully this article and the results from these PT events has given you some deck ideas

Until next time, best of luck in your Pioneer tournaments!

Pioneer Constructed WPNQ Preliminaries start 15th Feb 2020
Pioneer Constructed WPNQ Preliminaries start 15th Feb 2020
Catching Up on Pioneer, by Andrew Quinn
Catching Up on Pioneer, by Andrew Quinn
With Pro Tour results in and Pioneer Preliminaries starting up, it's time for a catch up on Magic's newest format.

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