Regional Championship Qualifier season is on its way! MTG Pioneer is the format of focus, and a LOT has changed over three days. Before now, Pioneer seemed like a format that a few fundamental archetypes would dominate. Between paper and online events, it’s clear now that the format is actually wide open, and no one has any idea what the best choice is. Everything seems to beat something else, and meta shifts are causing dead decks to reemerge. Here are the highlights from various MTG Pioneer Regional Qualifiers this weekend!
Old Tech Renewed
Boros Heroic won the MTGO Super Qualifier alongside a more traditional Izzet Phoenix Combo list. While both decks highlighted a newer tech option to adapt to the current MTG Pioneer Metagame, the Boros one is much spicier. Fiendslayer Paladin does a beautiful job identifying a weakness in the current metagame. Previously seen in Azorius Auras builds in Pioneer, almost all of the removal spells running around right now are targeted black and red removal. This makes Fiendslayer Paladin an absolute nightmare to play against. With Phoenix and Rakdos decks being the premier removal-based midrange decks in the format, Fiendslayer Paladin becomes incredibly difficult to remove by blanking all of the format’s most common pieces of removal. Most decks interested in the cards that Fiendslayer Paladin targets are traditionally sketchy matchups for Boros Heroic. This new tech may flip the script and help the Heroic deck to climb to the top of the metagame!
The new Phoenix tech is not quite as interesting, but there’s a good reason for it. Izzet Phoenix Combo (utilizing Temporal Trespass and Galvanic Iteration for a possible win condition) in Pioneer is now maindecking two copies of Thing in the Ice. This is mainly in response to the rise of Mono-Green. Thing in the Ice gives the Phoenix deck an easy way to deal with Green’s board and win the game instantly through the turns combo when flipped. This makes what was a bad matchup into a better one. Arclight Phoenix as an archetype performed strongly this weekend. As a result, keeping it in mind when going to your RCQ event is a must.
Something You’ve Never Seen Before
One paper MTG Pioneer Regional Championship Qualifier was split between a Rakdos and a Dimir player. While the Rakdos player didn’t have anything of interest, the Dimir player was on something that the format hasn’t seen yet. This wacky midrange deck utilizes various tempo-oriented pieces and aims to finish longer games with The Scarab God. This may interest you if you’re looking to test a different way to attack the Pioneer meta.
Is Rakdos Actually Good Now?
For a while, Rakdos was the worst deck in Pioneer that everyone played. That being said, for the first time this weekend, Rakdos actually put up good results. Rakdos legend Luis Salvatto piloted an updated Rakdos Midrange deck to win a Pioneer Challenge over the weekend. The same list reached the top 8 in the Pioneer Super Qualifier. Not including the additional win from the RCQ split with Dimir Scarab God, Rakdos Sacrifice also put up decent results over the weekend. This build is based on a deck that MTG streamer D00mwake brewed up. Multiple players had good results in paper RCQs, taking down various events. When choosing between these builds for your tournaments, I advise you to reflect on your area’s meta. Suppose there are a lot of creature decks (aggro or midrange) running around, then Sacrifice is the way to go. Rakdos Midrange has a more solid matchup spread overall but also has the worst? This translates to: a good draw in Rakdos Midrange beats everything. A bad one loses to everything. As a result, this deck can be surprisingly decision-intensive if you choose to pick it up.
The biggest thing all the Rakdos decks have in common is that they don’t have a tremendous Mono-Green Devotion matchup. Results signal that Mono Green decks are being heavily targeted by the metagame right now. Many of the decks performing well are taking advantage of this, but Mono Green could make a resurgence! Extinction Event is a great new addition to address this, but if you’re expecting a lot of Mono-Green this weekend, stay away from Rakdos.
Esper Control isn’t a deck you immediately think about when preparing for a Pioneer event. Yet, quietly, this archetype won two different RCQ’s over the weekend. Boros Heroic may be on an uptick with its success in the MTGO Super Qualifier, and having tools that can remove creatures, as well as address the opponent’s game plan in hand, is paramount to taking the deck down. Adding black to have access to Thoughtseize, as a result, is essential.
Gaining access to black gives these lists other powerful options to tap into. Vanishing Verse looks absolutely incredible in the current Pioneer meta. Void Rend adds a versatile option that’s rarely dead in hand. Oath of Kaya can slow down aggressive decks and make it taxing to take down your walkers. Finally, Thought Distortion grants access to control mirror-breaking tech.
Graveyard Hate is King, so Adjust
If the recent surge in price for Unlicensed Hearse hasn’t made this clear, then I don’t know what does. Expect a lot of graveyard hate to show up at your tables. This is especially true since we just finished a weekend where Arclight Phoenix decks overperformed. There are Phoenixless Izzet Tempo-style decks out there that perform admirably. Those might be a better alternative for players who want to bring Phoenix. All of this said you should expect Phoenix in your field. I wouldn’t leave home without a plan for it.
Lotus Field is Resurfacing
Pioneer’s most infamous combo deck is resurfacing. This deck put up results in multiple Pioneer Challenges and won Hareruya’s Japanese weekend tournament. Players believed this deck was kept in check by Mono-Green Devotion (due to its ability to trigger devastating hate like Damping Sphere) and Spirits. Still, with both of those decks struggling to put results up, Lotus Field may have the green light again. You’re throwing the dice with this pick. Generally, you’re either heavily favored or unfavored in every matchup, so it’s like roulette. This is a tough deck to pilot to make things more difficult. If you don’t have experience with this deck, don’t sleeve it up this weekend. Do practice and get your reps in, but give yourself more time.
More savvy Lotus Field players seem to be solving the Mono-Green matchup. Results state that the matchup may not be as bad as people thought. Generally, if Lotus Field has the tools to remove any troublesome artifacts that Karn, the Great Creator tutors up, then Lotus Field outspeeds Mono-Green. A lot of Lotus Field lists, as a result, are playing a heavier artifact hate package, including multiple Wilts and Natural States in the sideboard, one or less in the main deck, and anywhere between 2-4 Boseiju, who Endures. There are a lot of different approaches to this deck right now. Figuring out the correct configuration may reward experienced players with a qualification.
Mono Green and Spirits are Missing
Another interesting note is that, for core metagame contenders, Mono-Green Devotion and Spirit decks saw a bad performance online. Spirits have some appearances between top eights, but Mono-Green Devotion is almost nonexistent except for some smaller paper RCQs. With heavy ramp decks dominating MTG Pioneer recently, players are eager to put some counterspells in their 75 to address gigantic spells. This is a sort of cyclical pattern, however, because if decks stop sideboarding so heavily for Green, then Green stands to dominate the competition all over again. Since specific strategies shut this deck down, it may have similar standing to Lotus Field in the meta right now as an excellent tool to do a sort of ‘meta check’ with if people start forgetting about it.
What I Recommend for This Weekend
It can be tough to know what to play for any of you, like me, who are going to competitive events this weekend. While a lot of decks’ performances will depend on your local meta, there are some general decks that I would keep an eye on. The big decision is whether Mono-Green will be popular or not. Since that deck, like Lotus Field, either has fantastic or terrible matchups, it can heavily impact the performance of your deck in the field. If you’re not expecting a ton of Green, Lotus Field, if, and only if, you’re an experienced pilot, as well as Rakdos Midrange/sacrifice stand to be healthy choices. If you expect Green, I would want to pilot a deck with much more interaction, like Esper Control. Phoenix seems like the most played MTG Pioneer deck on MTGO right now, so bringing a plan for that is essential. Otherwise, Phoenix may be your best option in an open field. If you do play Phoenix, respect Green. When disrespected by a Phoenix’s 75, Green turns into a bad matchup.
If you’re going into a more open field, I recommend something with a decent matchup spread(like Phoenix). There are so many viable decks in Pioneer that, unless you know your meta, it can be challenging to bring a targeting strategy right now.
If your goal is to qualify for regional championships, you should be playing in paper. Online MTG is not ideal for competitive ventures at the moment. As someone who would much rather play online, this coming from me is a bad sign.