Breaking the Pioneer Meta with Three Underrated Brews

Pioneer has been heating up over the past couple months as a bunch of premiere events have taken place. For the first time in Pioneer’s history, a solid metagame has formed, consisting of decks like Dimir Inverter, Sultai Delirium, Lotus Breach, and Bant Spirits just to name a few. All of these decks play a little differently, meaning that it can be quite difficult to punch a hole in this meta.

I have found the best way to combat Dimir Inverter (the clear frontrunner of the meta) is to make their fair game plan worse, meaning I actively want to minimize the impact cards like Fatal Push and Thoughtseize have on my decks. This means my decks need to have either few or redundant creatures to beat Fatal Push and should play independently good cards that don’t rely on one another so Thoughtseize can’t crack your hands in half.

A deck like Sultai Delirium checks all those boxes, which is why it got so popular. It can go toe-to-toe with Dimir Inverter while holding its own against the creature decks of the format. Unfortunately, it’s a slow deck, which means it gives your opponents, specifically your combo opponents, a lot of time to find the tools they need to play through and overwhelm any disruption.

Esper Hero

This brings us to the first deck: a midrange strategy that gets on the board early to apply pressure, something that Sultai struggles with.

Creatures (9)
Atris, Oracle of Half-Truths
Hostage Taker
Murderous Rider
Hero of Precinct One
Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy

Enchantments (5)
Oath of Kaya
Detention Sphere

Spells (13)
Dig Through Time
Thought Erasure
Tyrant’s Scorn
Fatal Push

Planeswalkers (7)
Teferi, Hero of Dominaria
Teferi, Time Raveler
Lands (26)
Drowned Catacomb
Watery Grave
Glacial Fortress
Hallowed Fountain
Godless Shrine
Shambling Vent
Isolated Chapel
Castle Locthwain

Sideboard (15)
Supreme Verdict
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
Narset, Parter of Veils
Rest in Peace
Mystical Dispute
Noxious Grasp

Esper Hero is near and dear to my heart, as it gave me my first Pioneer 5-0 on Magic Online. With an early Hero of Precinct One backed up by removal and hand disruption, it’s easy to get aggressive and minimize the amount of turns your opponents have to assemble their combo. Even if it ends up eating a Fatal Push, it likely produced a token or two to keep pressuring life totals. The fact that it plays Oath of Kaya, a “burn spell” that can be rebought with Teferi, Time Raveler, gives it the reach it needs in the case of disruption.

To read Oren’s January 2020 article on (Pioneer) Esper Hero, follow this link.

It’s also a midrange deck that has access to Rest in Peace, allowing you to significantly slow down Sultai Delirium and Lotus Breach post-board. This is one of the biggest reasons to be in White.

My earlier builds used to have cards like Tomebound Lich and Reflector Mage, but as the meta transitions to more noncreature spells, Detention Sphere and Murderous Rider interact more favorably with the meta at large, specifically Jace, Wielder of Mysteries and Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath.

Mono-Black Aggro has been on the decline, but if you feel worried about that deck, don’t be afraid to play a couple Legion’s End in the 75 to help beat their recursive creatures.

With that said, even Esper Hero can find itself a turn too slow against some of Dimir Inverter and Lotus Breach’s best draws. It’s time to speed things up a bit with our second deck, Golgari Elves!

Golgari Elves

Elves fascinates me in Pioneer because it has access to the best mana dorks in the format. Combining that with a go-wide creature strategy allows you to accelerate into a massive board state.

Creatures (33)
Elvish Mystic
Dwynen, Gilt-Leaf Daen
Dwynen’s Elite
Elvish Clancaller
Llanowar Elves
Thorn Lieutenant
Pelt Collector
Shaman of the Pack
Steel Leaf Champion

Spells (5)
Collected Company
Chord of Calling
Lands (22)
Unclaimed Territory
Llanowar Wastes
Overgrown Tomb
Blooming Marsh

Sideobard (15)
Lovestruck Beast
Fatal Push
Shapers’ Sanctuary
Abrupt Decay
Heaven // Earth
Rhonas the Indomitable

Often times, go-wide strategies can have the problem of struggling to break through a board-stall. Bant Spirits avoids this issue by having a deck full of fliers, which can usually get through most blockers. If they can’t, then they have Nebelgast Herald to tap down problematic creatures. When building a tribal deck, it’s important to figure out if it’s better than Spirits in any way, because if it isn’t, it probably shouldn’t be played.

There are a couple things that Elves does better than Spirits. First, Spirits relies on the combat step to get through damage, which means that if the board stalls for any reason, they can’t get damage through. Elves has the luxury of playing to the board and winning with a Shaman of the Pack or two in the case of a board stall.

Second, Spirits does not have access to as many one drops, which means that some of their draws don’t apply as much pressure as Elves, which typically runs twelve.

Third, Spirits relies on certain creatures to survive, such as their lords, to grow their board state. Elves, on the other hand, has many redundant creatures. I can’t count how many times I beat Dimir Inverter by beating them down with a bunch of 1/1s and 2/2s because they just don’t have enough spot removal.

Both Spirits and Elves have their strengths and weaknesses, but if you want to beat Dimir Inverter, making Fatal Push a worse card goes a long way. With eight one-mana dorks and a powerful top end of Collected Company, it’s easy to run away with the game.

Black also gives the deck access to great disruptive elements out of the board, including hand disruption and removal to help beat other creature decks. Ironically enough, Spirits can be one of the most difficult matchups for this deck, which is why we go deep with Heaven // Earth in the board as a way to swing the matchup.

Unfortunately, as with all decks, Elves has its weaknesses. While you can stomp some of Dimir Inverter’s more common draws, they can often slam a Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet post-board and run away with the game from there. Elves is an aggro deck that gets bricked by one of the best anti-aggro cards in the format. 

Mardu Vehicles

Mardu Vehicles is a bit of an outdated name. Since the banning of Smuggler’s Copter, it really only plays Heart of Kiran and an occasional Aethersphere Harvester in the sideboard. Mardu Artifacts is a bit more representative of the deck, but tradition is hard to shake off.  See “Affinity”.

The reason I like Mardu Vehicles a lot right now is because it has must-answer one-drops, which means that Fatal Push doesn’t actually slow it down that much. It also plays Scrapheap Scrounger to grind through removal. Lastly, it plays Unlicensed Disintegration, one of the best removal spells in the format, allowing it to push through any potential blockers while significantly pressuring the opponent’s life total. This means that cards like the previously mentioned Kalitas are no match for us, and because we get on the board early, we can afford to pay three mana for a removal spell and keep the opponent behind on board.

Creatures (22)
Bomat Courier
Bonecrusher Giant
Rotting Regisaur
Scrapheap Scrounger
Thraben Inspector
Toolcraft Exemplar

Planeswalkers (4)
Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
Gideon of the Trials
Gideon Blackblade

Artifacts (6)
Heart of Kiran

Spells (6)
Unlicensed Disintegration
Wild Slash
Lands (22)
Sacred Foundry
Inspiring Vantage
Godless Shrine
Spire of Industry
Mana Confluence
Concealed Courtyard

Sideboard (15)
Aethersphere Harvester
Fatal Push
Gideon of the Trials
Noxious Grasp
Rest in Peace
Legion’s End

The deck has very aggressive play patterns and the potential for a turn four kill. Toolcraft Exemplar can start swinging for three damage as early as turn two, doing its best Wild Nacatl impression.

Thraben Inspector and Bomat Courier round out our one drops, both of which contribute artifacts to the board for Toolcraft Exemplar or Unlicensed Disintegration, as well as turning on Spire of Industry for mana fixing.

A split between Wild Slash and Bonecrusher Giant is a concession to Elvish Mystic decks. While Bonecrusher Giant is certainly the more powerful card, as it’s a built-in two-for-one, falling behind against a Green deck playing its powerful three drop on turn two is a sure fire way to lose the game.

We play a package of Gideon planeswalkers which play really nicely with Heart of Kiran, allowing them to crew it using loyalty counters and still be able to attack.

Rotting Regisaur is a real thick buddy, single handedly winning games. Slap an Embercleave on it, a popular strategy from Standard, and the game ends quick. The discard isn’t much of a downside, as it lets us pitch extra Heart of Kiran or Scrapheap Scroungers that we can rebuy from the yard. We also dump our hand fast, so it doesn’t force us to discard a good card very often.

Moving to the sideboard, we have access to all the tools we need to beat the scary combo and creature decks of the format. Rest in Peace really hurts Sultai, while Thoughtseize and Gideon of the Trials force combo decks like Dimir Inverter and Lotus Breach to get them off the board before comboig.

Extra removal like Fatal Push and Legion’s End gives us an edge against Mono-Black Aggro and Bant Spirits, while Noxious Grasp cuts down the Green stompy decks or a Nissa, Who Shakes the World.

Which One is Best?

If I had to choose one of the three above decks to play, it would be Mardu Vehicles. The “cheese” factor is always something to consider, and what I mean by “cheese” is the ability to steal games by playing fast and minimizing the amount of turns your opponent gets to stay in the game.

Rotting Regisaur lines up very well against a lot of the removal being played right now and packs a mean punch, especially when your opponents are forced to use spot removal on your cheaper, less impactful, but nonetheless powerful threats.

By playing an aggro deck that just wants to get the opponent dead as fast as possible, you avoid running into issues where your cards don’t line up well due to a bad meta call. The least flexible card in the deck is Unlicensed Disintegration and almost every deck in the format plays creatures. Minimizing the amount of dead cards you have in your own deck is a great way to stay ahead of a constantly evolving metagame.

With that said, I do believe all three decks are both viable and worth exploring more. These lists are ones I settled on over multiple leagues on Magic Online, but they are certainly not the end-all be-all. I encourage brewers like myself to improve these decks or their own versions using the metagame analyses I used here. As brewers, we have to take the meta into consideration, and this means playing decks that are not obsolete.

My parting words to you: don’t let anybody tell you that Pioneer is solved. There’s still plenty of room to brew and I’ll be at the front lines day in and day out. If you enjoyed the read, please let me know on Twitter @OrenLagzielMTG, cheers!