Brewing for Pioneer

Anthony LowryPioneer

When the Pioneer format was announced last week, I was initially reserved. I wasn’t sure what to expect, as it was so sudden. Plus, I was already so neck deep in Modern and Standard, that I wasn’t sure if I could put time into another format. But after about twelve hours, I fell in love with Pioneer. All of the nonsense of Standard formats in my past will be pitted together in a mayhem of familiar but innovative interactions. 

When building decks in Pioneer, it is imperative that you remember the cards that dominated previous Standard formats. While there is room to make something new happen, you absolutely must take these cards into consideration. They were banned for a reason!

Sam Black put it best:

It’s also important to understand the interactions between the banned and dominant cards that were never in Standard together. The most glaring example of this is Emrakul, the Promised End and Aetherworks Marvel. This is what I’ll be exploring in the near future, as more and more big events begin to showcase the format.

My focus will be on aggressive strategies that use the clear best aggressive cards in the format, so let’s kick things off with Mono-Red!

Mono-Red Aggro, by Anthony Lowry

4 Monastery Swiftspear
4 Bomat Courier
4 Burning-Tree Emissary
4 Reckless Bushwhacker
4 Goblin Rabblemaster
4 Rampaging Ferocidon
4 Smuggler’s Copter
4 Wild Slash
4 Stoke the Flames
4 Light Up the Stage
4 Ramunap Ruins
16 Mountain

Sleek, low to the ground, and explosive, Mono-Red is a mainstay of almost every Constructed format. The debate here is whether to play Goblin Rabblemaster or Hazoret the Fervent as a curve-topper. Hazoret has much more upfront power, while Rabblemaster allows you to go wider. Eidolon of the Great Revel vs. Burning-Tree Emissary is also worth debating, but I think Eidolon is a bit worse heads-up against the rest of the creatures in the format. Stoke the Flames also gets moderately worse when you aren’t going wide, and I’m a firm believer in the convoke burn spell.

Eldrazi Vehicles, by Anthony Lowry

3 Thraben Inspector
4 Toolcraft Exemplar
4 Scrapheap Scrounger
4 Pack Rat
4 Eldrazi Displacer
4 Thought-Knot Seer
3 Heart of Kiran
4 Smuggler’s Copter
4 Thoughtseize
3 Fatal Push
4 Caves of Koilos
4 Aether Hub
2 Concealed Courtyard
2 Mutavault
2 Spire of Industry
1 Fabled Passage
2 Plains
1 Wastes
1 Swamp
1 Shefet Dunes
1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
2 Godless Shrine

If you like Vehicles in general, then there’s definitely room for that. You have the creatures to support it, but the tricky part is finding everything else surrounding it.

While I don’t think this is the best Vehicles deck, I do think it’s likely the best Eldrazi deck. The problem with Eldrazi in Pioneer is that you lack the fast mana to really push the strong disruptive effects early. The classic Thoughtseize and Pack Rat combination hopes to bring disruption back to the forefront, without the need for acceleration. It’s very important to have an “I win” setup in Pioneer, and these disruptive pieces, along with Toolcraft Exemplar into Smuggler’s Copter, are strong candidates. 

Editor’s Note: Smuggler’s Copter was banned in Pioneer on December 2, 2019.

If you want to go even bigger than Eldrazi, you can’t go wrong with Green Devotion…

Simic Devotion, by Anthony Lowry

4 Llanowar Elves
2 Paradise Druid
4 Elvish Mystic
4 Oath of Nissa
4 Hydroid Krasis
4 Walking Ballista
3 Polukranos, World Eater
3 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
4 Nissa, Who Shakes the World
4 Once Upon a Time
4 Leyline of Abundance
4 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
2 Castle Garenbrig
14 Forest

The tried and true ramp strategy – but this time, you have incredible payoffs. Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon are must-haves; you can play Dragonlord Atarka in Red and Hydroid Krasis in Blue. You really do have a plethora of options available, and it’s mostly a matter of what you want your utility spells to be. Blue gives you countermagic, Oko, Thief of Crowns, and a better sideboard overall. Red gives you Wild Slash, Mizzium Mortars, Rampaging Ferocidon, and a more robust pivot into a beatdown position via Gruul Spellbreaker and Chandra, Torch of Defiance. Black gives you the best removal in Abrupt Decay, Assassin’s Trophy, and Fatal Push. The flexibility of this deck is almost as good as its upfront power.

Editor’s note: Leyline of Abundance and Oath of Nissa were banned in Pioneer on November 4, 2019. Once Upon a Time was banned on December 2. Oath of Nissa was unbanned on July 13, 2020.

Izzet Phoenix, by Ryan Overturf

4 Arclight Phoenix
2 Baral, Chief of Compliance
4 Thing in the Ice
4 Opt
4 Wild Slash
4 Chart a Course
4 Thrill of Possibility
2 Strategic Planning
4 Izzet Charm
4 Fiery Temper
4 Treasure Cruise
2 Fabled Passage
3 Island
3 Mountain
4 Spirebluff Canal
4 Steam Vents
4 Sulfur Falls

2 Spell Pierce
4 Aether Gust
2 Negate
2 Brazen Borrower
3 Abrade
2 Fry

Arclight Phoenix and Treasure Cruise are a match made in heaven, and I expect the delve spell to breathe new life into Phoenix archetypes. While this deck’s game plan is virtually identical to the Standard version, you get major upgrades in Baral, Chief of Compliance and Thing in the Ice. Fiery Temper does an amazing Lightning Bolt impression and will pull a lot of weight while you work towards your critical mass of spells. You also don’t have to worry too much about graveyard hate this early in the format as well, and you have more than enough tools to adjust, including Planeswalkers, Crackling Drake, and prowess creatures.

U/W Control, by Anthony Lowry

1 Dragonlord Ojutai
3 Fae of Wishes
3 Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy
4 Teferi, Time Raveler
2 Teferi, Hero of Dominaria
2 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
1 Sphinx’s Revelation
3 Opt
1 Seal Away
3 Dig Through Time
4 Azorius Charm
1 Dovin’s Veto
3 Detention Sphere
2 Supreme Verdict
1 Search for Azcanta
4 Hallowed Fountain
4 Glacial Fortress
3 Fabled Passage
1 Mystic Sanctuary
1 Prairie Stream
4 Temple of Enlightenment
4 Plains
5 Island

Lastly is good ol’ classic U/W Control. The strength in this deck lies in how customizable it is. The only caveat is that counterspells are relatively weak in Pioneer, not only because the actual selection of counterspells is fairly lacking, but Teferi, Time Raveler is such a huge deal. The best counterspell is likely Silumgar’s Scorn, but that requires a dragon-heavy build. Dragonlord Silumgar, Dragonlord Ojutai, and Haven of the Spirit Dragon make that route easy. Tap-out control will likely steer you toward Planeswalkers, including Elspeth, Sun’s Champion. The possibilities are very plentiful here.

I’ve only scratched the surface of Pioneer, and it has already captured my heart as my favorite format. Expect a lot more Pioneer deck dumps in the future from me, as there’s so much to explore and so much to figure out!