State of Pioneer

Lee Shi Tian

Lee Shi Tian

Review the Current Top Decks in Pioneer

Since I last wrote about Pioneer, the format has changed a lot. After some massive updates to the ban list, now the format is a little bit more stable and being the format to the Players Tour in February.


Castle LocthwainMutavaultRamunap Ruins

The anchors of the format are two mono-color based Aggro: Mono-Black and Mono-Red aka “Chonky Red”. The manabases of the format are actually worse than they appear. There are real costs to having dual-color or tri-color mana. Also, the existence of 《Mutavault》, Castles, and Deserts provide mono-color decks a way to counter mana flood and stay in the game even going long. Therefore the reason to play dual-color Aggro was eliminated at this point.

Search Mono-Black Aggro Decklists / Mono-Red Aggro Decklists


Cut+RibbonsSiege RhinoNiv-Mizzet RebornBring to Light

The Midrange deck of the format is Five-Color Niv-Mizzet. The deck is filled with removal, life drain effects and 《Niv-Mizzet Reborn》. All the deck tries to do is cast some removals and 《Siege Rhino》s, refill with Niv-Mizzet, and chain them with 《Bring to Light》. It closes the game with direct damage like 《Cut/Ribbons》 or 《Oath of Kaya》 after an attack or two. It is a very interesting deck as who would expect to see a five-color deck when two-color decks barely exist in the format? Yet, the game plan of the deck is very solid in the current metagame and it is becoming more and more popular these days.

Search Five-Color Niv-Mizzet Decklists


Teferi, Time RavelerTeferi, Hero of DominariaSupreme Verdict

On the slower side of the format, we have Azorius Control. Azorius Control is the go-to Control deck of the format. This is mainly due to having the best planeswalkers in the format, both named Teferi. 《Supreme Verdict》 is another reason as it is the best 4-cost sweeper in the format.

Search Azorius Control Decklists


Gifted AetherbornSoulflayerZetalpa, Primal Dawn

Beyond the normal Aggro, Midrange and Control meta, we also have some popular decks on other axes. For the graveyard, we have Golgari Soulflayer. This deck aims at delving out a perfect 《Soulflayer》 with the help of 《Zetalpa, Primal Dawn》 and a collection of keyword equipped creatures.

Search Golgari Soulflayer Decklists


Ensoul ArtifactSkilled AnimatorShrapnel Blast

For artifacts, we have Izzet Ensoul. The deck aims to deal a multiple of 5 damages with the help of 《Ensoul Artifact》, 《Skilled Animator》 and 《Shrapnel Blast》. It pushes damage very quickly in the early game and tries to close the game before turn 4.

Search Izzet Ensoul Decklists


Ugin, the Spirit DragonShrine of the Forsaken GodsUlamog, the Ceaseless Hunger

For going over the top, we have Mono-Green Ramp. Battle for Zendikar is in the format and there is always a place for all the mighty Eldrazi. The deck was backed by 《Shrine of the Forsaken Gods》 and 《Castle Garenbrig》 as the “Tron” lands to cast 《Ugin, the Spirit Dragon》 and 《Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger》.

Search Ramp Decklists


Lotus FieldThespian's StageHidden StringsPore Over the Pages
Fae of WishesOmniscienceEnter the InfiniteJace, Wielder of Mysteries

At the end, for combo lovers, we have 《Lotus Field》 combo. The deck aims to get 《Lotus Field》 into play to copy it with 《Thespian’s Stage》 and generate huge amounts of mana via untapping it with 《Vizier of Tumbling Sands》, 《Hidden Strings》 and 《Pore Over the Pages》. 《Fae of Wishes》 acts as a win condition tutoring 《Omniscience》, 《Enter the Infinite》 and 《Jace, Wielder of Mysteries》.

Search Lotus Combo Decklists

There is actually a healthy range of decks in the format at the moment to fit different playstyles. So after this quick review of the format, now we can go over some new additions to the format in Theros Beyond Death.

The Newcomers

《Heliod, Sun-Crowned》

Heliod, Sun-Crowned

Heliod and 《Walking Ballista》 is a two-card combo. Both of them are fine cards by themselves and I believe it will put Mono-White into the format, at least closer to the top tier decks. From what we have now, it could be either in an aggressive shell and try to abuse the trigger ability of Heliod in general, or a value-based version that aims to survive until the combo is assembled. I strongly think that the former approach will suit the current metagame a little bit more as the format is filled with aggressive strategies. Relying heavily on the combo may not be ideal.

《Tymaret Calls the Dead》

Tymaret Calls the Dead

《Tymaret Calls the Dead》 is a good self-mill enabler. This card covers the tempo loss that self-mill has historically always suffered. The enablers of the format are 《Grisly Salvage》 and 《Gather the Pack》 which do not contribute to the board when you cast them. 《Tymaret Calls the Dead》 mills six cards when you get to the next turn which is a good rate for a single card plus two Zombies for your trouble. In 《Soulflayer》, we can always choose to exile the redundant keyworded creature to make the Zombie. I believe this card can prevent the deck from falling too far behind.

《Woe Strider》

Woe Strider

《Woe Strider》 is a sacrifice outlet, a token generator, a card filtering effect and a card that can be hit by 《Collected Company》. If you still remember the glorious day of 《Rally the Ancestors》 in bygone Standards, 《Woe Strider》 is just the perfect addition to the deck. I like the chances of 《Woe Strider》 putting this type of deck into the format. Let’s not forget 《Return to the Ranks》 is also in the format.

《Underworld Breach》

Underworld Breach

《Underworld Breach》 can combo with 《Chronic Flooding》 and 《Hidden Strings》 to mill your whole library. 《Thassa’s Oracle》 is an easy win condition to cast after we mill our whole deck. We have seen a mix of 《Underworld Breach》 and 《Lotus Field》 combo decks in the top 8 of the Pioneer Challenge last weekend.

I could see potential for 《Underworld Breach》 to replace 《Lotus Field》 as the best pure combo deck in the format. We shall wait to see what is the best version though.

《Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath》

Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath

《Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath》 is a card that fit into lots of different strategies.

It fits Ramp. 《Cavalier of Thorns》 will become the go-to 5-drop helping to dig for both 《Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath》 and 《World Breaker》 to make sure the Ramp deck will not run out of gas.

It fits graveyard decks. Dredgeless Dredge has seen some play but may not be very successful among all decks. Now we gain a strong payoff that increases the power level of the deck.

It is a gold card that can be drawn from Niv-Mizzet and naturally get you to a turn 4 Niv-Mizzet (or 《Bring to Light》 fetching him) while gaining life plus drawing a card. I call that a perfect fit.

I am sure we are going to see Uro escaping pretty often in the format.

《Soul-Guide Lantern》

Soul-Guide Lantern

《Soul-Guide Lantern》 is one of the best graveyard hate cards we could have in the format. 《Tormod’s Crypt》 or 《Grafdigger’s Cage》 are both bad in multiples. 《Soul-Guide Lantern》 can cantrip when you need to access extra cards to win the game. It is not as good as 《Relic of Progenitus》, but the card is a Modern-level hate card so we can’t really ask for too much.

Callaphe, Beloved of the SeaDaxos, Blessed by the Sun

These are my picks of the Pioneer-potential cards in Theros Beyond Death. There are also cards like 《Callaphe, Beloved of the Sea》 and 《Daxos, Blessed by the Sun》 that could help different type of devotion decks. But I am not going deep with them as their applications are very straight forward.


The Pioneer Players Tours are happening soon and I can’t wait to see what people will play in the format to see what is the people’s preference in the format. I hope you get to pick a deck you enjoy in the format.

Thank you for reading,

Lee Shi Tian (Twitter / Twitch)

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Lee Shi Tian

Lee Shi Tian Lee Shi Tian is a super star from Hong Kong. He has 5 PT top 8s and 10 GP top 8s with 1 trophy and is well known as a Modern specialist. He is an outstanding player but also well known as a great community leader for Asia. Lee and his squad "Team Mint Card" made a lot of excellent results one after another at pro scene. His impressive results and contributions were rewarded and he was elected Magic Pro Tour Hall of Fame 2018. Read more articles by Lee Shi Tian