It’s no secret that Pioneer is a synergy-driven format in its current state. Decks like Mono-Green Devotion, Neoform combo, Abzan Greasefang, and various forms of Indomitable Creativity lie at the forefront of the format. These decks all rely heavily on executing their own combo-centric gameplan in a quick manner. This definitely creates some polarizing opinions regarding the health and overall enjoyment level of playing Pioneer. Well, this weekend featured another breakout synergistic deck that has people up in arms even more than before.
Boros Convoke managed to claim both first and second in Sunday’s Magic Online Pioneer Challenge. A Boros Convoke mirror in the finals was certainly unexpected and came with its fair share of reactions:
Some people think the deck is a flash in the pan. Others believe the deck is more resilient than it appears on the surface, giving it real legs in the format. Some have gone as far as to compare the deck to the old Modern Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis deck in its ability to put a massive amount of power on the board as early as turn two. What is clear, however, is that if you enjoy playing Pioneer, you should be prepared to play against this deck A LOT for the time being.
The big draw to the deck is definitely getting to play four Loxodon and four Knight-Errant. Paired with plenty of cheap Creatures and token makers, it is quite easy to Convoke either of these five-drops into play as early as turn two. Knight-Errant is fantastic in attrition-based matchups focused on total resources. Even if your opponent can navigate past your early slew of Creatures, Knight-Errant digs six cards deep for up to two more threats to add to your hand. This helps you keep the pressure on your opponent and keep them constantly on the backfoot.
Loxodon, on the other hand, simply makes every creature that helped Convoke it into a more potent threat on their own. Because most of the creatures used for Convoking are super efficient but small as a result, the buff Loxodon gives is extremely important in guaranteeing that you can end the game before your opponent can stabilize. This deck’s powerful draws involving Loxodon are often extremely difficult or simply impossible for any opponent to beat, especially if they are on the draw. For those comparing the deck to Modern Hogaak, these Loxodon draws are the reason why.
Most of the rest of the deck is trying to maximize the power and consistency of casting these Convoke Creatures. By running Thraben Inspector, Voldaren Epicure, and Ornithopter, three efficient creatures that make sure an artifact is left on board, the deck gets to utilize Gleeful Demolition. Demolition makes three Creatures in one card, which allows the deck to cast one of the Convoke Creatures on turn two. When paired with Loxodon specifically, it is possible to get an absurd 14 power on turn two from the Loxodon and five creatures that Convoke it, hence the Hogaak comparisons.
Beyond Demolition, the deck plays additional efficient ways to create multiple creatures. Forbidden Friendship and Resolute Reinforcements are premier two drops for the deck. Reinforcements can even be found with Knight-Errant’s enters-the-battlefield trigger, which is a nice bonus. These Creature tokens can create wide board states too, allowing the deck to make use of four copies of Reckless Bushwhacker. Bushwhacker, similar to Loxodon, pumps your other creatures to make them into real threats. While this may be temporary, by giving them Haste, it is quite easy to attack your opponent for a large chunk of damage before they even knew what hit them. You can find Bushwhacker off Knight-Errant as long as three creatures Convoked it too, helping to set up a potential kill the following turn. This deck is extremely linear but quite effective in its gameplan, and perhaps leverages being on the play better than any deck in the format.
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The Downsides of the Draw
Being on the play as opposed to being on the draw makes a huge difference in how games of Magic play out. As mentioned with Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, some specific cards and decks leverage being on the play better than others. Boros Convoke’s extremely fast starts become harder to disrupt with removal, and permission in the form of Counterspells such as Make Disappear won’t be able to interact as favorably with a quick Loxodon or Knight-Errant when on the draw.
Perhaps no card encapsulates this more than Temporary Lockdown. When on the play with Lockdown, you often can wipe the board before Loxodon or Knight-Errant hits the table. This can potentially strand their Convoke Creature in their hand for many turns. On the draw, Lockdown is much more likely to be too slow. Lockdown also cannot get rid of the Convoke creatures themselves since they technically cost five mana, which can be a huge problem.
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The Good and the Bad
This dynamic further represents the controversy surrounding the MTG community’s enjoyment of the Pioneer format. For those that enjoy linear gameplay, Pioneer is often their format of choice. For those that don’t, however, it is hard to find a reason to want to play Pioneer in the first place. Having another linear Pioneer deck arise is certainly nothing new. That being said, I believe Boros Convoke is a bit more on the extreme side. The potential for 14 power on turn two forces other decks to adjust and mulligan a lot for disruption, which, as I mentioned, could easily be too slow regardless. Boros Convoke isn’t super resilient and consistency is sometimes an issue, but this only heightens the unpleasant feelings of losing to absurd starts knowing there was nothing you could have done.
I am still hopeful that good hate cards will become more prevalent and help keep Boros Convoke in check. For example, almost every creature in the deck has one toughness, so cards such as Illness in the Ranks might start creeping into people’s sideboards. Even Goblin Chainwhirler could be quite effective at slowing the Convoke deck down. The key is finding effective hate cards that have uses in other matchups as well. Over the course of the coming weeks, we will see just how resilient this deck can be now that it’s on everyone’s radar. Is the deck a fad, or will it continue to dominate? Only time will tell.