Regional Championship Prep Pioneer

Regional Championship Prep, April 2023: Pioneer

Michael RappPioneer, Strategy

The current Regional Championship season has just begun, and it is the first of the format locked seasons. This means every constructed RCQ for the next few months will be Pioneer. 

In many areas, Modern RCQs have had higher attendance than Pioneer RCQs during the last couple of seasons, so there is certainly a contingent of players who are looking to break into the format, or simply need a refresher. For a while, Pioneer has been a midrange slogfest after the great combo banning of 2020 that took Walking Ballista, Underworld Breach, Kethis, the Hidden Hand and Inverter of Truth

However, combo enjoyers can breathe easy again, as over the last few months, a few different, successful decks have carved out a space in the Midrange dominated metagame. Sultai Neoform, Izzet Creativity, Grixis Transmogrify and Jeskai Rona have been the breakout decks alongside mainstays such as Lotus Field and Greasefang.

Sultai Neoform

Sultai Neoform Pioneer deck list
Full deck list here.

Atraxa, Grand Unifier is among the beat creatures in Magic to cheat into play, so naturally Pioneer deck builders got to work and produced Sultai Neofrom. 

The name of the game here is to fill your graveyard by playing an interactive game with Thoughtseize and Fatal Push or with Strategic Planning and Founding the Third Path. Once you have a stocked graveyard you can cast either Hooting Mandrills, or Tasigur, the Golden Fang ahead of schedule. 

Neoform does this sweet trick where it turns either of the delve creatures into Atraxa, Grand Unifier! Once you’ve put an Atraxa into play, chances are you’ve drawn enough cards to at least perform your trick again, or just win the game with an insurmountable resource advantage.

The ability to defend itself isn’t something that combo decks get to do, historically. But one of Sultai Neoform’s strengths is you do get discard spells, counterspells and removal spells that can all be used either offensively or defensively. That means that Neoform actually has the ability to tailor its game plan to specific matchups as needed.

Izzet Creativity

Temur Creativity Pioneer deck list
Full deck list here.

Izzet Creativity moves the combo slider up and the interaction slider down compared to Sultai Neoform. Focusing on red removal spells to stay alive long enough to cast Indomitable Creativity for X = 2 is the name of the game. 

There are only two creatures in the deck, so you know you can only hit Xenagos, God of Revels and Worldspine Wurm. The payoff in Creativity does tend to be a bit better than an Atraxa, because it is a 30/30 haste, trample Worldspine Wurm that breaks into three 5/5s when it dies, like the world’s scariest piñata.

Because Creativity doesn’t have a great backup plan, it focuses heavily on card advantage and selection to make sure it finds Creativity and targets. Fable of the Mirror-Breaker is critical to Izzet Creativity, providing multiple targets for creativity, filtering draws and being among the best of the alternative threats, all in one card.

As a note, the Creativity archetype is fairly broad with some pilots favoring Atraxa as their target, while others have Magma Opus plus Torrential Gearhulk.

Grixis Transmogrify

Grixis Transmogrify Pioneer deck list
Full deck list here.

Grixis Transmogrify is a blend between the Neoform and Creativity decks. Transmogrify works in a similar way to Indomitable Creativity but only targets one thing. So, instead of having a two card combo payoff, your Transmogrify is putting Atraxa into play.

The addition of black to move into Grixis instead of Izzet means Grixis Transmogrify gets to upgrade its interaction to Fatal Push, Thoughtseize, Sheoldred’s Edict and Go for the Throat. Because Transmogrify can also target artifacts, many of the card advantage options like Fable of the Mirror Breaker and Big Score are showing up here as well.

Similar to Creativity, the backup plan is weaker than Sultai Neoform, with Fable and Shark Typhoon shouldering the load. However, Grixis Transmogrify also gets access to Jegantha, the Wellspring as an additional, backup threat.

Jeskai Rona

Jeskai Rona Pioneer deck list
Full deck list here.

Jeskai Rona is the newest iteration of the Jeskai Ascendancy deck. Modern players making the jump into Pioneer may remember the Fatestitcher based Jeskai Ascendancy builds, and Rona functions almost the same. The combo involves Rona, Herald of Invasion, Retraction Helix, Mox Amber and Jeskai Ascendancy. 

  • Retraction Helix targets a Rona that doesn’t have summoning sickness.
  • Mox Amber makes a mana.
  • Rona bounces Mox Amber with the ability granted by Retraction Helix.
  • Cast Mox Amber, which loots with Jeskai Ascendancy and also gives creatures +1/+1.
  • Repeat until Rona is large enough to kill your opponent in one hit.
  • Use Retraction Helix’s ability to bounce opposing blockers. Using the mana made from Mox Amber to cast spells you found with the looting ability of Jeskai Ascendancy to untap Rona enough times to clear out all the blockers.
  • Attack for lethal.

Notably, if you think your opponent may have removal, you can make a huge number of tokens with Third Path Iconoclast or use Skrelv to give Rona protection from all colors.

This deck is certainly the newest and least refined of the bunch, but it has been making the rounds — and I wouldn’t be surprised to see savvy players looking to play it in the next couple of weeks before everyone fully understands it.

End Step

Brushing up on new combos is useful if you’re a combo player looking to break into Pioneer, or a midrange player looking to study up on the enemy. Sultai Neoform and Grixis Transmogrify are my personal favorites from this list, which shouldn’t be a surprise for those who know me. After all, I am a sucker for Thoughtseize and Fatal Push.

As always you can find me on Twitter @RappaciousOne for questions, comments and feedback. Happy hunting out there this RCQ season!