Pioneer has seen an incredibly violent change of the guard over the past few weeks. Some players heralded the change as a much-needed breath of fresh air to a format that has been stagnant for quite some time. Others, understandably, were rather disturbed, as Pioneer’s new challengers may not necessarily be welcome ones.
Two weeks ago, the 400 player Pioneer Showcase Qualifier ended with a Discover Combo mirror in the finals. One deck took a faster, more reckless approach, employing a combination of Geological Appraiser, clone effects, and Eldritch Evolution to create a hasty board that swings for nightmarish amounts of damage as early as turn three.
The other employs Quintorius Kand, alongside Spark Double and some other clone effects to drain the opponent with Quintorius’s static ability. This build is a bit slower, but employs a more balanced gameplan that can play around more strategies.
Multiple Regional Championship events occurred this weekend, with many players’ questions being: will the new Discover Combo create another combo winter, destroying the Pioneer format? With over 40% of the aggregated metagame being taken up by Discover Combos in the Japanese event, it certainly looked that way.
The answer, however, is closer to either ‘probably not’ or ‘not yet.’ That said, the new Discover combo is definitely a serious competitive contender. Here’s what worked and didn’t work for the various MTG Discover Combo decks this weekend.
Appraiser Reigns Victorius
Despite Quintorius combo heavily outweighing play percentages for both Discover Combo variants this weekend, at least in Japan, the Geological Appraiser combo deck appears to reign victorious, at least in the winners metagame.
Geological Appraiser Combo appeared in the top eight of all three Regional Championship events this weekend. It won one of the three events – the smallest one for the South American region. Congrats to Guillermo Sulimovich!
It appears that the most effective variants of the Discover combo were both fast and had reliable backup plans for controlling matchups. To reiterate, while the Geological Appraiser combo is quicker, it is much easier to break up. Countering a single spell in the chain, removing Geological Appraiser in response to its Discover trigger and using ways to increase the mana spent to cast spells like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben are all ways to stop this combo in its tracks. We covered even more of them here.
This makes control decks, in particular, a very bad matchup for Discover combo, especially if the combo is all you’re up to. Even uncounterable threats like Thought Distortion are just one Narset’s Reversal away from turning into a disaster.
The Appraised Variants of Appraiser Combo
As mentioned, the Geological Appraiser variant of the Discover combo appeared in the top eight of all three Regional Championships this weekend, winning one of them. The three different variants, while greatly restricted by deckbuilding requirements employed slightly different plans. One of the Canadian Regional Championship versions had a transformational plan for bad matchups. The South American Regional Championship variant came equipped to dominate its strong matchups, and the Japanese Regional Championship variants had the mirror in mind.
Canadian Regional Championship
At the Canadian Championship, the best Geological Appraiser combo variant had a rather novel plan. Not looking like you’re going to get the combo off? Just side it out! The deck, otherwise, plays a lot of massive instant speed haymakers like Torrential Gearhulk, giving the deck an alternative gameplan against control decks. Additionally, even if you sideboard the Geological Appraisers out, you can still pull off the Discover combo with Trumpeting Carnosaur.
This variant of the deck played more instant speed threats in the sideboard like Horned-Leech Whale that can force control decks to utilize multiple counterspells to stop threats in a turn cycle.
Another variant of the Discover Combo appeared in the top eight of the Canadian Regional Championship. This one is much closer to the variant that won the South American Regional Championship.
South America Regional Championship
This deck is much closer to what players expected to find in their respective Regional Championships than the other two variants, but that doesn’t make it any less deadly. Many of the other top eight decks like Mono White Aggro, Boros Convoke and Mono Green Devotion simply cannot keep with with the relentless pace of a turn three combo.
Japanese Regional Championship
Finally, one Geological Appraiser build finished first in swiss of the Japanese Championship. This deck had more considerations for opposing the mirror than the other successful Discover lists. Considering how heavily that metagame was impacted by Discover Combo, this is probably correct for that field, but may not be for future developments. Considering how successful the deck was this weekend, however, you definitely need a plan for the Discover matchup.
One thing I personally noticed when testing cards that counter abilities to contest the Discover Combo is that it doesn’t actually get rid of the combo piece. This makes the various clone effects that the decks employ, like Spark Double and Glasspool Mimic that would otherwise be dead in hand, turn into another attempt at the combo.
In other words, while this may be a decent way for Discover decks to interact with the mirror considering the deckbuilding restrictions in place (these decks cannot play cards that would otherwise mess up the combo. This means that the Geological Appraiser variants cannot play cards with a mana value of five or less that would brick the combo), Leyline Binding may end up being a more popular interactive piece in the future. Trumpeting Carnosaur, of course, also acts as both interaction and a way to start the combo.
All of that said, in the mirror, all you need to do is stop your opponent from comboing before trying to combo yourself. If you can’t shut the door after countering their ability, however, a different answer may need to be considered for other archetypes.
Replicate, notably, actually helps make your combo more consistent, too. There is a fail rate associated with the Geological Appraiser variant of this combo that occurs when one hits too many Eldritch Evolutions in a row. You usually get to create a decent amount of bodies, regardless, but sometimes your team won’t get Haste. Replicate can be hit off of the Trumpeting Carnosaur Discover trigger, and creates another copy of the Carnosaur, repeating the chain. Between this and turning off opposing Discover effects, the card definitely saw, arguably, more play this weekend than it ever has in MTG history.
Otherwise, this variant plays some copies of Cavern of Souls in the main deck as a way to get around countermagic against controlling strategies game one. This is not employed the other variants of the Appraiser combo that performed well this weekend.
Power May Not be the Problem
While the Geological Appraiser combo is a powerful new challenger in the Pioneer format, it did not take over the entire format. That said, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the new Discover combo decks are a good thing for the Pioneer format. The problem may not be the power level of the combo itself, but instead the strategies that the deck pushes out.
Other linear decks that don’t present much interaction get completely destroyed by the Discover combo. All they need to do is resolve an unopposed Appraiser, and the opposing deck folds.
This could make creature-based aggressive decks a thing of the past. There are some strong answers available for those decks like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, but all the Discover decks need to do is remove that answer and kill their opponent. This also means Mono Green Devotion may be pushed out of Pioneer, which isn’t that big of an issue since it was already rather polarizing.
There is one more Regional Championship coming, the biggest one of them all. The American Regional Championship is coming this December, but there is one interesting date occurring before that: an upcoming ban window.
Will Geological Appraiser see a ban before the next Pioneer tournament? Considering its results this weekend, I would be inclined to say no. That said, one-card combos aren’t exactly healthy for any MTG format, and this combo is definitely viable enough to see serious competitive play. While the current iteration of the Discover combo may not be problematic, I could easily see the potential for the creation of an optimized version that is one.