Hello and welcome back, my friendly audience.
Today I want to talk about the deck I played for Manaleak’s first Pioneer Preliminary, and how it performed for me on the day.
My choice of deck was a Heliod/Walking Ballista combo deck; there are a lot of ways to build this deck, most commonly a mono white version.
But I wanted instant speed tricks to help get my final combo piece. I have experience with Collected Company value-style decks in Modern which alongside Chord of Calling, led me towards a similar style mid-range deck.
This was my largest Pioneer event so far and my first event with this deck.
I woke up on the morning of the event with some self-doubt, but my girlfriend Natalie kept me level and helped me with my deck list whilst I locked down the 75 that took me through to Top 8:
[Editor’s note – see all Top 8 decklists from our first WPNQ Pioneer Preliminary (including Freddie’s) on our Tournament Report ]
2 Alseid of Life’s Bounty
1 Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit
1 Bygone Bishop
1 Charming Prince
3 Courser of Kruphix
4 Elvish Mystic
3 Heliod, Sun-Crowned
4 Llanowar Elves
2 Scavenging Ooze
1 Selfless Spirit
4 Militia Bugler
2 Tireless Tracker
4 Walking Ballista
2 Chord of Calling
4 Collected Company
2 Declaration in Stone
1 Knight of Autumn
2 Phyrexian Revoker
2 Prowling Serpopard
1 Shalai, Voice of Plenty
2 Shapers’ Sanctuary
1 Thalia, Heretic Cathar
2 Tocatli Honor Guard
1 Vivien, Champion of the Wilds
Eight of the ten 1-mana plays are mana producers, allowing the deck to accelerate into the important three drops – Heliod, Tracker, Courser and Bygone Bishop. Alseid of Life’s Bounty keeps your key cards safe, and can apply pressure when attacking alongside Heliod’s lifelink synergy.
In the 2-mana slot you have Scavenging Ooze, Charming Prince, Selfless Spirt and one Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit. The Ooze is there against graveyard decks like Dredge, mono black aggro, Sultai Delirium and Lotus Breach, whilst assisting Heliod to make your other creatures bigger against the other aggro decks. Selfless Spirt gives you protection against sweepers and lets you make great blocks in combat. Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit is great at making creatures on your board bigger. Charming Prince is my Swiss Army Knife, letting me scry 2, flicker my creatures or gain 3 life, which can all be useful in a pinch.
Three mana is where you find the real power of this deck: Heliod, Sun-Crowned, Militia Bugler, Bygone Bishop, Tireless Tracker, and Courser of Kruphix. Heliod is the card that lets you win on the spot with a Walking Ballista, while also growing your creatures or even giving one of your bigger creatures lifelink, which can turn the longer game in your favour against aggro decks. Militia Bugler gets you deeper into your deck; unlike Company it can find a Walking Ballista and put it into your hand, while providing a vigilant body that attacks well and still defends. Bygone Bishop is a great form of card advantage as all your creatures are 3 CMC or lower. Flying can also let you get over the top for some good damage. Tireless Tracker similarly draws you cards with it’s investigate ability, and can grow itself just from your land plays. Courser of Kruphix, usually great on its own and better with Tireless Tracker, works extra hard next to a Heliod, Sun-Crowned while giving you additional lands and information towards your next turn.
At the top of the curve you have Walking Ballista, which can give an instant kill, or clear the board for a combat kill. Collected Company can land on turn three to widen your board or maybe get lucky and find a Heliod. Chord of Calling can search for specific cards to help you out of tough spots.
The lands in this version of the deck are pretty standard, except for one Blossoming Sands and one Scattered Groves; Blossoming Sands gives you a trigger for Heliod. Sun-Crowned which can help you to combo out. Groves cycles a fresh card if you’re good for lands.
My sideboard is not refined but being able to find one-ofs gives you more options when planning:
– Declaration in Stone is good against creature-based match ups.
– Tocatli, Honor Guard works against Spirts and ruins the Inverter combo.
– Shalai, Voice of Plenty is strong against targeted removal, hand disruption and Settle the Wreckage.
– Knight of Autumn is another Swiss Army Knife.
– Prowling Serpopard helps against blue control while being a big 4/3 body, which can give an aggressive start.
– Phyrexian Revoker seems like an odd choice but you can name kill cards against Lotus Breach and the Inverter Jace, Ugin (from Breach), Planeswalkers or other activated abilities that have come out in game one.
– Thalia, Heretic Cathar works against greedy mana bases, or can keep creatures from blocking straightaway with an aggressive start, all whilst using First Strike to stonewall red decks.
– Vivien, Champion of the Wilds is strong against control as you can play creatures on their turn (before they find their Teferi, Time Raveler, at least). Forcing them to use mana on their own turn makes counter spells much less influential.
– Shapers’ Sanctuary goes in against targeted removal; you get several extra cards if they are trying to go one for one.
– Hushbringer works against graveyard decks like Dredge or Uro builds, and against mono black’s Gutterbones and Bloodsoaked Champion.
Match one was against mono black aggro. Game one, he ran me over with small effective creatures and disruption. Game 2, I started off with a mana creature into Courser, then landed Company to go far ahead before using Declaration in Stone on his blocker and beating down with my guys. Game 3, he was stranded with only Mutavaults for lands and I went wide enough with medium-sized threats. A 2-1 win for me to go 1-0.
Match two was against Lotus Breach combo. I flooded the board, including an Anafenza, using the combo with Charming Prince to make my threats big enough. Walking Ballista closed the game off, with Anafenza doing the final points of damage. Game 2, his combo came together before I could interact fast enough. Game 3, I got enough board presence that he had to start the combo, but he didn’t make it all the way and I was able to close out, but I was on the edge of my chair watching his combo attempt. 2-0.
Match three was against Bant Spirts. I worried that the deck would attack me in the air while disrupting my plays, and that was how game 1 played out: a one drop, a lord, another lord and Company, which and ran me down and out of the game. Game 2, I came strong before they stabilised, but Courser, Ooze and Heliod worked together to make my board both wide and tall, closing out the game. Game 3, I had to mulligan down to 5 and had a very shaky looking start, but my opponent couldn’t find a Spell Queller and for the first time of the day I had a clear chance for the Heliod-Ballista combo.
With a sigh of relief I looked at the standings and realised I could hopefully double draw in. 3-0.
Round 4 and 5 I was able to draw intentionally into top 8, qualifying to the next stage of the event.
Looking back at the deck now, I wouldn’t change much in the main except for possibly adding two Radiant Fountain over a Forest and the Blossoming Sands. The sideboard will need refinement as the format develops between now and the Qualifier event on the 22nd March.
Thank you for taking time to read my article and I hope you find your own success in Pioneer.
Freddie Faust Barber
For the chance to join Freddie in the battle for a place on the Players Tour 2 at our closed Pioneer WPNQ final, join us at our upcoming Preliminary events, on Sunday 1st, Saturday 7th, and Saturday 21st March. Discounted preregistrations are open until 11pm the day before, or join us on the day for £25.