Top 8 Decks in Pioneer Going into 2020
After the latest flurry of Pioneer bans, we have arrived at a format with a reasonably equitable power level and diversity of gameplay. With Oko, Thief of Crowns gone, here are my picks for the best decks in the format!
8. Lotus Field Combo
Coming in at #8 is Lotus Field Combo! This deck broke out during the week of Pioneer PTQs in November, and it hasn’t had anything banned since. For those unfamiliar, the deck’s gameplan is to find a Lotus Field, use spells that cycle and untap the namesake land to generate large amounts of mana and cards, eventually casting some payoff, whether it be Expansion//Explosion, Ugin, or Enter the Infinite. The deck has lost some of its luster with the popularity of UW control, as the deck is incredibly weak to Narset, Parter of Veils. This is probably the most playable pure combo deck in the format, but while UW is on top, I’d go in a different direction if I could.
7. Green Aggro
Even though Oko is gone, the rest of the aggressive Green shell remains intact. I’m not going to lie; Oko was definitely a vital part of the deck, given not only his power level, but also his ability to easily crew Heart of Kiran. Nonetheless, Questing Beast, Steel Leaf Champion, and Rhonas are still intimidating beaters.
The Red splash gives you the Goblin Rabblemaster plus Legion Warboss package and Embercleave, while sticking to Mono Green allows you to have access to Aspect of Hydra. While still weak to Supreme Verdict, cards like Collected Company and post-board vehicles alongside Heroic Intervention can give your UW opponent a bit more to play around.
6. Green Ramp
Just like when Green Ramp was in Standard, Ulvenwald Hydra has joined the party. Ramp threatens to go over the top of the other decks in the format, while buying time to get to its giant payoffs with its “medium” creatures: Cavalier of Thorns, Ulvenwald Hydra, and World Breaker. Ugin is a clean answer to most of the format’s threats, and, much like tron in Modern, the cast triggers off the Eldrazi mean that Ramp is one of the few decks that can play a long game against UW Control.
5. UWx Spirits
There was a time when Bant Spirits was the best deck in Modern, and while that’s no longer the case, it’s still a reasonable contender. In Pioneer, the only major loss for the deck is Drogskol Captain, its most powerful lord. However, the Spirits deck in Pioneer has made up for its lack of the Captain by hybridizing with pieces of Monoblue Tempo and UW Flash, by including cards like Brazen Borrower and Curious Obsession. Nebelgast Herald is a powerful inclusion that really emphasizes the deck’s tempo plan, clearing the way for sometimes fragile attackers and, of course, Curious Obsession. Additionally, the deck has access to plenty of powerful sideboard cards, allowing it to shift into a more controlling plan with Settle the Wreckage and countermagic. The deck also has the option to splash Green for Collected Company, though it’s unclear whether the creatures are impactful enough to make CoCo worth it.
4. Mono-Black Aggro
Before the Smuggler’s Copter/Field of the Dead bans, Mono-Black Aggro was the best deck in the format. It pressured opponents. It disrupted opponents. It could play a long game with its recursive threats and card draw/filtering. The deck was simply great at everything. This particular list comes from Andrew Jessup a.k.a. Oliver_Hart on MTGO. While the loss of Smuggler’s Copter is certainly painful, the deck still has plenty of play to it. Mono-Black has access to all the cheapest, most powerful interaction in the format, allowing it to clear the way for its hard-hitting, similarly cheap threats.
Post-board, it gets to tune its plan against any deck it faces, bringing in Duress for spell-based decks, Noxious Grasp for all the Green decks running around, and lifegain for other aggro strategies. It’s still a powerful, versatile strategy that demands respect.
3. BGx Delirium
Unsurprisingly, it seems that the card that BGx Delirium was missing all along was Nissa, Who Shakes the World. BG has a beautiful suite of threats, answers, and consistency. These traits are pulled together by cards like Tireless Tracker, Traverse the Ulvenwald, and Ishkanah, Grafwidow. The top-end of Emrakul, the Promised End is a tough one to beat, but you’re just as likely to be able to close with Nissa, Walking Ballista, or a sleuthy Tracker.
As is true in most formats, BG has a great set of sideboard options as well: Scavenging Ooze and Kalitas to hate on graveyards, Damping Sphere to hate on big mana and spell-based combo, and plenty of more finely-tuned interaction depending on what the deck is up against. We’ll see if the fairest of fair midrange decks can compete in Pioneer, or if requires a splash for The Scarab God, but McWinSauce’s Nissa-based build is a promising start!
2. Red Aggro
As has been the case with Red since the beginning of the format, there are a lot of different directions you can go with the color, and all of them seem to be reasonable. You can go super-aggro with Boros Charm for burn, splash Black for Unlicensed Disintegration and sideboard flexibility, or go big with Glorybringer and Chandra, Torch of Defiance. With Red, you have to decide how fast you want to go, which four-drop top-end threat you want to play (Chandra, Torch of Defiance, Hazoret the Fervent, Experimental Frenzy, Torbraan), and which utility lands you want to include (Mutavault, Castle Embereth, Ramunap Ruins). I am confident that Red will continue to be a player in Pioneer, especially once the optimal build is determined.
1. UW Control
With bans removing the most egregious cards (Oko, Field of the Dead, Smuggler’s Copter) and the format settling down, UW Control has been able to tune its suite of answers and threats to match up well against the format. From the beginning of Pioneer, Supreme Verdict looked well-positioned to be a pillar of the format, and this is bearing out. Opt, Azorius Charm, and Censor give UW plenty to do in the early game, Dig Through Time lets it refuel for cheap, and Absorb makes up lost life against Aggro decks. The planeswalker suite is extremely powerful for a format that is creature-heavy and helps the control pilot pull ahead in most midrange battles. Post-board, the deck simply upgrades its gameplan according to which deck it is playing against, including sometimes switching to a creature-based plan. UW Control is currently the best deck in Pioneer, but not by a lot, and it is not oppressive.
Pioneer looks to be in a fun, balanced spot right now, and I’m excited to see what will come next as we begin to see results from the first wave of Pioneer GPs and PTs in 2020!
Ryan Normandin is a grinder from Boston who has lost at the Pro Tour, in GP & SCG Top 8's, and to 7-year-olds at FNM. Despite being described as "not funny" by his best friend and "the worst Magic player ever" by Twitch chat, he cheerfully decided to blend his lack of talents together to write funny articles about Magic.
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