Hello! The first wave of Pioneer Regional Championships is entering its end. European Regional Championship in Sofia was already a few weeks ago. In the aftermath of the Sofia and Atlanta events and the following RCs around the world, we have observed the Pioneer format undergo some substantial changes when under competitive pressure!
Let’s walk through the few important phenomena we’ve seen lately – let’s take a look at some of the decklists that top 8’d last weekend’s Pioneer Showcase Qualifier.
Izzet Phoenix was my weapon of choice in Sofia. It served me well enough, as I managed to go 11-4 and qualified for the upcoming Pioneer Pro Tour in Philadelphia. That said, Sofia was about the only tournament where Phoenix’s results were impressive.
In nearly every single other one it failed miserably, with low win rates across the board. While in theory, Phoenix can almost be seen as a broken deck of the format, with access to free threats and almost-《Ancestral Recall》, it actually has a few glaring weaknesses.
First of all, the deck can be very vulnerable to adjusting amounts of graveyard hate. Moreover, good matchups like Mono Green and Spirits are seen in lower numbers, giving their way to the frustratingly ever-slightly-unfavorable Rakdos matchup and the barely beatable Lotus Field matchup.
Structurally, there isn’t enough flexibility in the Phoenix shell to beat Rakdos with a high amount of hate and race combo at the same time.
For now, I can’t recommend Phoenix any longer, although I would stay vigilant. If Rakdos cuts down on their sideboard 《Go Blank》 once again, it will be the perfect time for Phoenix to strike.
Mono Green Devotion
Mono Green Devotion had a middling string of results at the RCs, while often being one of the most represented decks. Typically, the most popular deck also being the one with the greatest results indicates that a deck is simply too strong for the format, but Mono Green Devotion doesn’t seem to fall into that category.
While some of its draws are really fearsome if uninterrupted, and Brother’s War contained a few new powerful artifacts to expand 《Karn, the Great Creator》‘s arsenal, all things considered, it’s a ramp deck that’s prone to the typical ramp problems of not being functional if it draws too little or too much mana, and doesn’t get to sideboard at all.
Don’t get me wrong, the raw power level of Mono Green is still very high – but the exploits available out there can be very punishing, especially for a wishboard deck. Mono Green is a deck that you absolutely still have to heavily account for when choosing your archetype and building your exact decklist, but it’s not a deck I’d play in a tournament if I were looking to maximize my chances of winning.
Rakdos Midrange picked up an important card in Brother’s War in 《Misery’s Shadow》. 《Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet》 was one of the key cards for Rakdos in the Mono Green Devotion matchup, letting the Rakdos player use their removal spells freely on otherwise hard to deal with 《Cavalier of Thorns》 and 《Old-Growth Troll》.
《Misery’s Shadow》 opens up the same possibility, but importantly, it’s another two-drop! Rakdos is effective at throwing opponents off-balance for a little bit, pushing an on-board advantage, and converting it into damage, especially with the abundance of great creature lands; the deck really benefits from curving out. With another effective two drop, Rakdos is moving further and further away from its often-ridiculed mono three drop curve.
Rakdos had a very respectable showing overall at the RCs across the world, including a whooping 6/8 in the top 8 of the Champions Cup Final for Japan & Korea. Clearly, it’s no coincidence – Rakdos was already a very solid deck, with its bad curve being one of the biggest hurdles, and it’s just becoming more solid every time a new card improves its curve a bit. Rakdos is a deck worth having in your arsenal if you are trying to succeed in Pioneer.
In a way, the breakthrough deck from the weekend of the first RCs was Lotus Field. For the longest time, I couldn’t put my finger on whether this deck is broken, or unplayable. Current evidence seems to point towards a little bit more of the former!
Lotus Field is a pretty unique deck in its nature; being a sort of a Storm combo deck that also tends to function like a Tron deck, based around a hexproof land and spells on the stack.
Cain “sneakymisato Rianhardt introduced a new and exciting technology – 《Hope Tender》! Tenders speed up the deck considerably against a goldfish, as 《Hope Tender》 can both take the role of a 《Thespian’s Stage》, letting you combo off as early as turn 3 with just a single 《Lotus Field》, or it allows you hypercharge your double 《Lotus Field》 combo turns by effectively tapping for 5 mana each time you target it with 《Hidden Strings》.
While it might look very weird on the surface to play just a few copies of a mana dork that you need to untap with, it’s mostly fine. Pioneer is somewhat split between slow decks, where a turn 5 hard to interact with win should be quick enough, and faster decks with minimal interaction, like Mono Green Devotion, Mono White Humans, or even the Mirror match.
After sideboarding, your opponent won’t even know if you’ll keep 《Hope Tender》 against them or not, making it really tough for opponents to adjust correctly! I like this piece of technology very much.
The sideboard of Lotus Field decks gets a little bit more refined nowadays, too. 《Zacama, Primal Calamity》 seems to consistently show up, mostly as a more compact way to take over the game once the Fields get assembled compared to the 《Emergent Ultimatum》 package. 《Pithing Needle》 is a smart way to attack Green Devotion – it’s largely a 《Karn, the Great Creator》 or bust matchup for Green, but Green is good at deploying Karn early and often.
Overall, while the Lotus Field deck is getting more popular, it will also become a worse choice in the immediate future, as while it’s hard to interact with it, the tools – most prominently 《Damping Sphere》 – exist out there. Lotus hate is typically narrow enough and costly enough to include that many players will (and should!) choose to omit it or skimp on it anyways, so lately I’ve been pouring my time into learning the Lotus Field deck myself – with lots of pain along the way.
Whether I will want to entertain it as my choice for the Pro Tour Philadelphia will depend on many factors, but having intricate knowledge of this high barrier to entry deck seems like a very valuable skill in the format now and in the future.
Modern on the other hand remains Modern. The recent Modern Showcase Qualifier was won by… Eldrazi Tron, out of all things!
Leandru’s innovation of the archetype is 《Inscribed Tablet》. Tapping three lands to summon a 《Matter Reshaper》 probably doesn’t impress anyone in Modern anymore, so it makes sense to focus a little bit harder on assembling Tron early and often.
Besides that, an interesting move we see in this decklist is the fourth 《Chalice of the Void》 moved from the maindeck to the sideboard as a 《Karn, the Great Creator》 target – acknowledging that the best use of the card nowadays is as an anti-Cascade hate card.
Rakdos Evoke is a deck I wanted to touch on. Lately, it’s established itself as a certainly playable Modern deck, but when I tried it myself, I got mixed results.
There are some underlying issues – relying on the Evoke/《Feign Death》 package asks you to play a low land count and many colored cards that you can pitch to your Elementals; on the other hand, in the regular, midrange games the deck plays very often you’d be happy to hit a bunch of lands drops to get proper value out of 《Seasoned Pyromancer》, 《Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger》 or from hard casting your elementals.
Those two gameplans stand in such a strong contrast that even if I like the deck in theory, in practice in many games I played I felt like the innate awkwardness is holding me down. Unfortunately, that’s probably just a feature of the deck and not particularly solvable.
《Expressive Iteration》, for example, would be great at helping you hit land drops in the midgame while contributing to your midrange plan, for example. On-color, weaker alternatives include 《Night’s Whisper》 or 《Reckless Impulse》.
There have been two relatively stock Jeskai Breach decklists in the Showcase Qualifier, but instead I’m showing you a list I top 8’d a challenge with.
I have dabbled a little bit with the archetype, trying to find a solid shell capable of playing the 《Grinding Station》 combo ever since way before Modern Horizons 2; but only lately I’ve been picking it up again after its recent resurgence and spread in popularity.
《Grinding Station》/《Mox Amber》 combo is actually a pretty fragile, cumbersome combo; asking you not only to assemble specific cards together but also a large enough graveyard, all while giving your opponent many points of interaction to stop the combo kill from happening. If that’s your entire game plan, your opponent won’t have much trouble stopping it.
Modern Horizons 2 threats did wonders to the deck, giving you a non-graveyard midrange plan that’s just strong enough to threaten a win if uninterrupted, so that you can go for the combo when your opponnent inevitably has to expose themselves.
《Underworld Breach》 is also, simply, just a great card. With Modern’s best cantrip, 《Mishra’s Bauble》, it does a pretty good 《Treasure Cruise》 impression. In fact, when playing the deck, I often board out 《Grapeshot》, 《Grinding Station》 and 《Mox Amber》 entirely, if I assess that my midrange plan using 《Underworld Breach》 as a draw spell will be strong enough to win.
《Grapeshot》 is a slightly inferior wincon to 《Thassa’s Oracle》 – sometimes it might require me to start the combo with three extra cards in the graveyard – but it’s a lot better to just draw in a fair game, and, more importantly, it lets me play Jegantha. I’ve had post board games get grindy and decided by the 5/5.
As much as “just playing the good cards” seems to ring true in Magic and Modern in the past few years, I sometimes feel like some nuance gets lost in internet discussions. Diminishing returns do in fact exist.
《Emry, Lurker of the Loch》 can be a must-answer threat and enables 《Underworld Breach》, but I never want to draw two in my opening hand; I don’t want to draw two in an artifact-light draw; and I don’t want to hold multiples when all of them get answered by graveyard hate or a 《Pithing Needle》. 《Urza’s Saga》 is great, but the freedom of not having to play it as my second land drop is worth a lot to me, and a potential 《Blood Moon》 will answer all of them the same.
《Mox Amber》 is responsible for innumerable unplayable opening hands ever since it got released, and there is actually very little reason to play more than a pair because even with the combo you can mill over your deck with a 《Mishra’s Bauble》 and only escape a 《Mox Amber》 towards the end of the combo. Simply, I just want the most flexible, hard to sideboard against a combo deck, with just a sprinkle of a combo finish, so I can find it over a longer game or dig towards it if needed.
Mono Red Prowess
《Underworld Breach》, in general, I’d say been weirdly absent from Modern besides those 《Grinding Station》 decks. Lately, some prowess decks have been showing up on MTGO, seemingly prompted by 《Third Path Iconoclast》. While I don’t think 《Third Path Iconoclast》 will stick as a staple, I think exploring the “fair” use of 《Underworld Breach》 is something worth doing.
A hypothetical list like this, trying to be aggressive and efficient to the extreme, while being able to reload with 《Mishra’s Bauble》, or just straight up kill the opponent with 《Lightning Bolt》 or 《Monastery Swiftspear》 + 《Mutagenic Growth》 combo from the graveyard, sounds like a force to be reckoned with, and something I will definitely try out in one of my upcoming streams.
That is all for today, folks – thanks for reading, and until next time!