For better or worse, Pioneer is quite a controversial format, with a wide range of opinions surrounding it. On the one hand, the innovation available in the format is a true delight, with countless strategies available to players. On the other hand, however, there are those who disdain Pioneer’s top decks, and the play patterns they produce.
Thankfully, even while some top decks are admittedly rather linear, Pioneer is still an incredibly enjoyable and entertaining format. Providing more consistency over a format like Standard, and a longer lifespan for many cards, Pioneer definitely has its upsides. If you’re after a skill-intensive format with a diverse group of decks to choose from, Pioneer might be the right format for you.
Following a recent ban announcement, many of the strategies that players lamented are now gone, hopefully bringing a lot of interest back to the Pioneer format.
Whether you’re looking to get into Pioneer or upgrade your existing deck, you’ll need to know the competition. Thankfully, we’ve got you covered here with all the best decks in the format. So, without any further ado, here are all the best decks within the Pioneer metagame right now!
Unlike our past tier list updates, this one is directly following the recent ban announcement announced on December 4. As a result, this tier list will be a bit more speculative than our past ones.
Honorable Mention | Mono Green Devotion
Mono Green Devotion remained one of the best decks in Pioneer for a long time, and for good reason. Its fast draws utilizing a turn one Elvish Mystic or Llanowar Elves can put a lot of pressure quickly on the opponent. Cards like Old-Growth Troll and Cavalier of Thorns are huge threats that provide value even if the opponent manages to remove them. These threats not only provide the ability to win in combat, but they also allow Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx to generate absurd amounts of mana, which you can sink into Karn or Storm the Festival.
If that wasn’t enough to get you on board, with Nykthos, enough devotion, and copies of Karn and Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner, you can even combo and win the same turn thanks to copies of The Chain Veil and Pestilent Cauldron! This added kill condition helped put an already excellent strategy over the top.
This strategy is still a playable one, at least on paper, but with a core piece of the deck gone, its difficult to know if Mono Green Devotion has a future in the Pioneer metagame. The deck was already falling from its previous throne, unable to put up positive winrates for quite some time. Now, it lost the most valuable card in its arsenal.
That said, the biggest blight to Mono Green Devotion also got banned – Geological Appraiser. This deck was an almost impossible matchup for Mono Green Devotion, theoretically pushing it out of the metagame completely. Whether it recovers from this ban or not is difficult to say.
Please note that the decklist provided is a pre-ban one, as we don’t really know what the post-ban decklists will look like quite yet.
14 | Boros Prowess
Once upon a time, Boros Prowess was the new hotness. The deck is still fine in the current metagame, but other shifts and archetype improvements have made this deck a much less popular choice.
This deck focuses around the combination of Pia Nalaar, Consul of Revival and identical cards, Reckless Impulse and Wrenn’s Resolve, that work perfectly with Pia Nalaar. As a two-mana three-toughness Creature, Pia Nalaar comes down early, survives Stomp, and can make a stream of Thopters when paired with either of the card advantage spells named above.
What makes this deck scary is that it has a much better late game than normal red aggro decks. It still has the aggressive Prowess starts, but between Impulse, Resolve, and Showdown of the Skalds, the deck seemingly never runs out of gas. Additionally, if Pia ever sticks around for multiple turns, it is quite easy to get a ton of value out of the card. All of these card advantage spells do make the deck a bit clunky against opposing combo decks, hence why it isn’t higher on the list, but the ability to have aggressive starts and a strong late game solidifies a spot on this list regardless.
13 | Indomitable Creativity
Similar to the five color variants at number 12, this deck has a lot of directions it can be taken. The core of playing Indomitable Creativity, a major payoff to search for, and token makers such as Fable of the Mirror-Breaker exists in every version of the deck. What changes are the payoffs and interactive cards surrounding them. One version of the deck plays Torrential Gearhulk alongside Magma Opus, which can both generate a treasure and help win the game when cast off Gearhulk. Gearhulk being easily castable without Creativity is a major appeal to this build of the deck.
The other two versions are more reliant on Creativity to execute their game plan, but in turn, get threats more likely to end the game themselves. One of these versions plays Atraxa, Grand Unifier, and plans to cast Creativity for X equals one. The other plays Worldspine Wurm and Xenagos, God of Revels, and plans to cast Creativity for X equals two. While harder to pull off, Xenagos’ ability to turn Worldspine Wurm into a Hasty 30-power Creature with Trample usually wins the game the same turn. Each version has their appeals and drawbacks, but Creativity is a powerful choice no matter what.
12 | Five-Color Variants
Playing five colors provides a few different directions you can take your deck. Your first option is to play Yorion, Sky Nomad as your Companion and play a high-value deck centered around Fires of Invention and Enigmatic Incarnation. Playing Yorion allows you to generate additional value from cheap enchantments like Omen of the Sea and Nylea’s Presence that pair nicely with Incarnation. While playing 80 cards may seem like a big downside, it allows you to play a wider range of Creatures to grab with Incarnation, all which can be “Blinked” by Yorion to re-utilize their enters-the-battlefield abilities.
The other options make use of either Bring to Light or Omnath, Locus of Creation as their high-impact cards of choice. Every variant of five-color, regardless of which option you choose, focuses on maximizing Leyline Binding and Fable of the Mirror-Breaker. Each choice has its positives and negatives, and each choice is a perfectly valid option depending on which decks you are trying to beat.
Another option is to play Keruga instead of Yorion, focusing less on value and more on consistency. Playing 60 cards instead of 80 makes finding Fires or Incarnation early much more likely. While Keruga is restrictive in deckbuilding, it pairs really well with Fires. Additionally, Bonecrusher Giant and Leyline Binding help provide the deck with early plays, and Temporary Lockdown is used as a great “catchup” mechanism.
11 | Azorius Spirits
Spirits is an archetype that has existed for a long time. Azorius Spirits takes the premier core of tempo-oriented Creatures alongside Curious Obsession featured in Mono Blue Spirits and adds some useful upgrades.
The most notable inclusion available for Azorius is Spell Queller. Mono U Spirits provided an effective game plan, to begin with, by making use of efficient creatures, some of which have Flash, and pairing them with cheap Counterspells. Spell Queller fills both roles nicely. It acts similar to a Counterspell for as long as you can protect it while providing pressure at the same time.
The main weakness for Azorius Spirits compared to Mono Blue historically was the mana base, but the printing of Seachrome Coast in Phyrexia: All Will Be One helped shore up this issue. The addition of Spell Queller, in conjunction with better sideboard options in white, gives Spirits a big boost moving forward.
If the pre-ban meta continued a while, chances are Spirits would rise a few placements. This deck has a decent matchup against Discover combo, as well as many of the other decks that benefit from Discover combo’s existence. Since the Geological Appraiser deck was banned, however, Spirits will likely go back to being a mediocre choice rather quickly.
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10 | Gruul Midrange
Gruul Midrange has had a presence in Pioneer for quite some time, but is starting to make a comeback. This deck is a true Stompy-style strategy that wants to get big, aggressive creatures out fast, but comes with some slower plans for decks that prey on aggro. To combat the Rakdos Midrange list, for example, these decks commonly run Skysovereign, Consul Skyship as a difficult-to-interact with way to clean up the board while pushing advantage. For that reason, this archetype is sometimes referred to as Gruul Boats.
While the deck has had promising runs lately, Rakdos Sacrifice feels like a nightmare matchup. This is one of the better decks in the entire metagame, and having one of the best strategies hard counter yours is not where you want to be.
Either way, the new introduction of The Huntsman’s Redemption has breathed some new life into the Gruul Midrange archetype.
9 | Mono White Humans
Humans is another classic Creature-Tribal archetype that has received some excellent improvements in the last few sets. Despite being Mono White, the deck makes use of disruptive elements such as Thalia to keep the opponent on the backfoot.
Now, the deck gets to add Invasion of Gobakhan to the mix, helping to improve its matchup against combo decks and decks with board wipes. The deck is super fast, playing 12 or more one-drop creatures alongside Thalia’s Lieutenant and the new Coppercoat Vanguard which grow your whole army. With a good mix of disruption, pressure, and resiliency provided by cards like Wedding Announcement, this deck has game against almost any deck in the format, making it a decent choice.
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8 | Abzan Greasefang
Abzan Greasefang is another combo option available in Pioneer, and the speed and resiliency of the combo make it top-tier. The best draws of the deck involve getting a copy of Parhelion II into the graveyard, typically on turn two by either milling it or discarding it to Raffine’s Informant. Then, playing Greasefang on Turn three lets you return Parhelion, crew it with Greasefang, and attack with 13 Flying power!
What makes this deck so powerful is its ability to both maximize Esika’s Chariot, which is a great card on its own and paired with Greasefang, as well as dig for additional copies of Greasefang with cards like Grisly Salvage. As a combo deck using black, this deck gets the added bonus of being able to use Thoughtseize, one of the best cards available in the format. All this makes the deck more resilient than it might seem on the surface, and, thus, a decent choice in Pioneer. With Geological Appraiser getting banned, Greasefang loses one of its worst matchups, priming it for the new metagame.
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7 | Quintorius Kand Combo
Despite Geological Appraiser getting banned in Pioneer, one Discover combo variant remains legal: Quintorius Kand combo. This combo initially took the crown when the Discover decks broke out in a Pioneer Showcase Challenge, in exchange for a slower combo speed, this deck offers a more rounded gameplan and a one card combo that is a bit more difficult to interact with.
Quintorius Kand combo definitely felt like the weaker Discover choice after its first Regional Championship weekend performance. Geological Appraiser combo top eighted three different Regional Championships, winning one of them. Quintorius Kand did not even appear once.
Either way, one-card combos are undeniably scary, and this deck has some serious potential. With players looking away from Discover combo, Quintorius Kand could be surprisingly effective in the new metagame.
6 | Boros Convoke
Boros Convoke is a deck capable of blazing-fast starts. By pairing either Venerated Loxodon or Knight-Errant of Eos with cards that help you go wide with tokens, such as Gleeful Demolition. You can cast one of these Convoke Creatures as early as turn one (but generally, your fast starts will happen on turn two).
By going wide with creatures, you also get to maximize Reckless Bushwhacker, which is quite effective at putting your opponent on the backfoot quickly, even if you weren’t able to cast one of the Convoke Creatures.
Boros Convoke recently got a rather powerful upgrade in the form of Inner Sky Warden from The Lost Caverns of Ixalan. Thanks to all the artifacts and token bodies that the deck makes, it is incredibly easy to activate this card’s ability multiple times in a turn, fixing your draws and continually growing its body. This, combined with Rakdos Sacrifice being in a worse spot thanks to metagame shifts makes it an ok choice right now. Just try to dodge Discover combo – as even the Quintorius one does not feel like a good matchup.
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5 | Rakdos Sacrifice
This deck is built around a powerful combination of cards many Magic players find frustrating to play against. Witch’s Oven pairs exceptionally well with Cauldron Familiar. Together, you can sacrifice Familiar to the Oven, which generates a Food token. You can then use that Food token to bring back the Familiar, draining your opponent for one. You can repeat this process every turn cycle. The life drain of Familiar is bad enough for Creature-based aggressive decks to beat, but the fact that Familiar can block every turn, get sacrificed to the Oven before damage, and come right back ready to block again next turn makes connecting in combat on the ground a nightmare.
If that wasn’t bad enough, this combination alongside Mayhem Devil can remove a lot of small creatures or simply cut down the opponent’s life total in short order. It is no secret this deck thrives against most aggressive decks, but the resiliency of the Familiar+Oven combo can be quite effective against Midrange decks with lots of removal too. This deck’s one major weakness is that it does not typically close games quickly, so be weary in a field of combo decks.
Despite Rakdos Sacrifice’s popularity declining somewhat thanks to the rise of Lotus Field Combo, that deck’s counters are beginning to become more popular. While Rakdos Sacrifice doesn’t like Lotus Field, it loves to play against fast creature decks like Boros Heroic.
Recent metagame shifts caused by the introduction of Discover combo caused Rakdos Sacrifice’s weaker matchups to temporarily increase in popularity. Creature decks have a tough time beating Discover combo, so they had taken a smaller percentage of the meta, leaving less things for Rakdos Sacrifice to prey on.
That said, with Hidden Strings once again on the rise and Geological Appraiser getting banned, Rakdos Sacrifice may, once again, be able to prey upon the creature decks looking to get under opposing combo decks.
4 | Azorius Control
Azorius Control is the premier control deck of the format. Playing blue provides the necessary card draw and Counterspells necessary to gain an advantage over the opponent, and playing white provides the necessary interaction for any creatures the opponent plays, including The Wandering Emperor, which can act both as removal and a value engine. Playing both blue and white together also gives you access to two of the best cards any control deck could ask for.
First, you get to play Supreme Verdict, an uncounterable way to reset the board and buy you tons of time against Creature decks. Second, you can follow up your Supreme Verdict by slamming Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, which provides a stream of card advantage for the rest of the game. Not only that, but Teferi’s plus one ability untaps two lands, giving you the mana to interact on your opponent’s turn and make sure your Teferi sticks around. Its final ability will shut down any hopes your opponent has of coming back into the game. Teferi does everything a control deck could want, and even in a format with plenty of linear strategies, it helps keep this control deck afloat.
For a period of time, Azorius Lotus Control was the best strategy to champion for control players. Currently, both the straight control and the Lotus variants of this deck are rather popular, particularly thanks to their insanely positive Discover combo matchups. With Geological Appraiser combo getting banned, however, its tough to say where Azorius Control will land in the future.
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3 | Hidden Strings
Lotus Field is a deck that revolves almost entirely around the namesake card. The goal of the deck is to get a copy of Lotus Field into play, copy it with Thespian’s Stage, then use a multitude of ways to generate mana via floating mana with each Lotus Field activation and then untapping them. Lotus Field conveniently has Hexproof, so there is no need to worry about it getting destroyed in the process. From there, you can dig for Emergent Ultimatum and assemble a combination of cards that will lead to a win.
The card that really serves as the glue that holds the deck together is Pore over the Pages. Not only does it draw three cards, digging for your win conditions, but it also untaps both Lotus Fields just like Hidden Strings does, netting you mana in the process. Pair that with ways to get back Pore from the graveyard, and it is quite easy to chain them together until you find a way to win the game. This deck is very effective as long as you take the time to learn the ins and outs.
Lotus Field Combo does have positive matchups against all of the decks above it on this tier list, and generally offers some of the most lopsided matchups in the entire Pioneer metagame.
The downside is that anyone who wants to beat the Lotus Field deck can prepare for it. A few Damping Spheres combined with ways to stop you from destroying them is all you need to stop this deck in its tracks. That said, in capable hands, this deck can be a nightmare.
Lotus Field recently won the largest Regional Championship that occurred so far thanks to a new innovation utilizing Discontinuity, but was forced to readjust when Discover combo crashed onto the metagame. The deck was in an odd spot thanks to cards like Damping Sphere being rather popular choices since they hit both Hidden Strings and Discover combo.
Now that Appraiser combo is banned, Lotus Field may experience less hate than previously. That said, recent results suggest that Lotus Field Combo could likely be the best deck in the entire Pioneer format. The only thing holding this back from becoming that, in our opinion, is that the deck is very difficult to learn.
In capable hands, Hidden Strings is probably the best deck in the format.
2 | Rakdos Midrange
For those tired of playing against Fable and Sheoldred, the Apocolypse in Standard, unfortunately, you will have to endure this play experience in Pioneer too. Rakdos Midrange was the most popular deck, and generally considered the best deck, in Pioneer for quite some time. That said, the rise of Rakdos Sacrifice caused the deck to temporarily decline in popularity.
That decline now appears to be over. Rakdos Midrange has remained the most popular deck for recent Regional Championship weekends, maintaining a positive winrate despite it having the biggest target on its back in the current format.
Rakdos Midrange plays a lot of the most powerful and efficient cards available in the format. Rakdos Midrange makes use of the elite curve of Bloodtithe Harvester into Fable into Sheoldred. However, this deck also gets to add two premier turn one plays in the form of Thoughtseize and Fatal Push. Having two absurdly efficient pieces of interaction to pair with a proven, powerful game plan gives you a fighter’s chance no matter what matchup you happen to play against.
Notably, thanks to the recent ban announcement, Rakdos Midrange may have a new tool to play with: Smuggler’s Copter. This recent unban may replace Reckoner Bankbuster as a card that fulfilled a rather similar role. Smuggler’s Copter may be able to do do what the Bankbuster was supposed to in a more efficient way. That said, these cards do function differently, so be sure to keep an eye on top-performing lists to see what ends up being the better option.
1 | Izzet/Grixis Phoenix
Izzet Phoenix is a strong choice in Pioneer, especially if players aren’t well-equipped with graveyard hate like Rest in Peace. The goal of this deck is to get copies of Arclight Phoenix into the graveyard while maintaining a high spell count in hand. This allows you to consistently cast three Instants or Sorceries to bring back Arclight Phoenixes, making it difficult for your opponent to keep them off the battlefield with traditional removal.
This deck plays a bunch of cheap removal of its own, such as Fiery Impulse, and cheap cantrips like Consider. This helps guarantee the ability to cast multiple spells in one turn. In addition to Pieces of the Puzzle which fuels your graveyard and keeps your hand chock full of spells, this deck plays discard outlets like Lightning Axe to pitch Phoenixes that end up in hand.
Izzet Phoenix wasn’t considered a frontrunner until the release of Wilds of Eldraine. Sleight of Hand and Picklock Prankster helped to innovate the deck, bringing it to the next level. The Phoenix lists now have a Regional Championship under their belt and commonly appear in the top eight of various Pioneer events.
Notably, a new variant of the Phoenix archetype is on the rise, and it looks pretty powerful. Grixis Phoenix, mainly Dimir in nature splashing red for the namesake card, utilizes powerful black spells like Thoughtseize and Bitter Triumph alongside the usual Delve-inspired Phoenix shell. It has proven incredibly powerful in recent weeks.
Plenty More Decks in the Sea
While we have covered the most popular, played, and powerful decks here today, Pioneer has a lot more archetypes to play. Sure, they might not all be the most competitive, but the format still has a lot of diversity to celebrate. Alongside this, Pioneer decks also see a decent amount of development over time, leading to meta mix-ups.
Between additions to the highly refined Lotus Field Combo and unique Selesnya Elves lists, players are always innovating. Thanks to this, there’s always the distinct possibility of a niche deck suddenly becoming a competitive powerhouse. Ultimately, despite the somewhat polarizing opinions surrounding the format, Pioneer is a great deal of fun.
To make that fun more accessible the format will soon be available on MTG Arena! While Arena won’t be getting every Pioneer card immediately, a tournament-ready Pioneer has been promised by 2024. Hopefully, thanks to the Pioneer Masters set, players will have everything they need. Whatever happens, the influx of Pioneer players from Arena should hopefully propel the format to new heights!
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