The first Pioneer Pro Tour is over and in the books. Aside from being a huge win for Reid and the team, it was a huge win for both the Pioneer format and Magic overall, as the event went swimmingly with thousands of viewers participating in the big weekend.
It’s been a minute since one single tournament has captured the attention of such a broad stroke of the Magic audience, and there are some things that typically happen when such an event occurs. The first is that the winner gets immediately mobbed and everyone goes to try out their deck. The second is that the general metagame tends to drastically warp because that first thing is happening. While I’m not sure exactly how things will shake out in the coming weeks in terms of overall meta share redistribution, I do know that we can expect the Team CFB deck, Izzet Creativity, to become a much bigger force in the overall metagame as people flock to the deck and jam it in as many events as possible.
Something that I like to do right around the end of a Pro Tour is examine the top deck(s) of the event and tune my lists to prey on their weaknesses in specific. But what if you don’t have a deck and are brand new to the format thanks to all of this Pro Tour hype? Well today, we’re going to be looking at a few ways to take down the Creativity deck while sticking to a budget, to give those who may be dipping their toes in for the first time a leg up on the competition.
Pioneer Izzet Creativity by Reid Duke
Let’s start off by breaking down what makes the Creativity deck work, and trying to find its weaknesses. Creativity is a combo/control deck that is primarily looking to stall out the game with some controlling elements like Make Disappear and Fiery Impulse until it’s able to resolve its one-card combo piece, Indomitable Creativity for X=2. This puts the only two creature cards in the deck into play – Xenagos, God of Revels and Worldspine Wurm – which can then attack for 30 damage immediately. Its alternate win conditions are Fable of the Mirror-Breaker and its value generation, some number of Shark Typhoons, and creature-lands like Hall of Storm Giants or Mutavault.
Creativity is a deck that wins games through the combat step exclusively. This means that it’s vulnerable to all of the same creature interaction that most decks fit over. What separates Creativity from the rest of the flock is its unique combination of speed and resilience, combining a turn four or five game-ending finisher with counterspell backup and a reasonable amount of creature disruption to both survive until that point and eliminate some key answers such as Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. The best way to “turn the deck off” though is to eliminate its means of assembling the combo because they are otherwise extremely light on threats.
Classically speaking, combo decks struggle against control decks. A deck that’s loaded up on answers will typically be able to assemble an answer to whatever win condition the combo deck is able to put out. This would lead us to believe that any removal spell is enough to keep Creativity at bay, when we all know that that isn’t quite the case. Wurm is especially resilient to generic removal spells, between its ability to make its way back into the deck for a second opportunity to Creativity into it and the three 5/5 Wurms that it produces when it dies. Xenagos is also largely non-interactable being an indestructible noncreature. So the best way to deal with the individual threats when they come down is to exile the Wurm. Cards like Baleful Mastery can take care of it from the field, or getting lucky with a card like Siphon Insight would put them off of their combo for the rest of the game.
Budget Pioneer Dimir Control by Darren Magnotti
Dimir Control is an excellent way to combine both of these answers with a ton of other disruption and blanket answers to the other important players in the format. While not a completely form-fitting traditional draw-go control deck like Azorius, Dimir affords you the flexibility to play around your opponent’s game plans while making your own waves at the same time. The core of the deck is the combination of Narset, Parter of Veils and Day’s Undoing to wipe out their hand while refilling yours. Backed up by some other class draw spells and as many cheap interaction pieces as could reasonably fit, this deck is excellent for telling the Creativity player that they are not allowed to do the thing they want to do.
Pushing their mana use to the max is another excellent way to prevent Creativity from going off, as for the most part they enjoy a more “limited resources” type of game than a true long grind. Using a series of taxing counterspells like Make Disappear or Censor will push the Creativity player into the later turns and out of their comfort zone. This means that if the deck sincerely becomes a problem, control decks like Dimir will have a plentitude of ways to fight through them.
Budget Pioneer Mono-White Humans by Darren Magnotti
One of the more common approaches to the matchup is to just beat them before they can do their thing. You can either assemble your own combo like Lotus Field does or mercilessly attack through their early defenses with cheap creatures, as we saw from a huge number of players do over the Pro Tour weekend. Humans is currently the best way in the whole format to deliver a good beatdown without breaking your wallet in half. A quick and efficient aggro strategy backed up by just enough disruption to skirt through most defenses, Humans has been one of the premier aggro decks in Pioneer for a couple of years now.
While not completely stocked with answers to the Creativity deck, Humans exploits one of Creativity’s big weaknesses in that the deck is full of cards that aren’t the best version of that effect available. For example, their interaction suite is heavily bolstered by the likes of Fire Prophecy, which is for all intents and purposes a bad card that happens to be good in their deck specifically. Humans is a deck that requires you to stay on your toes from turn one, and by relentlessly adding to the board turn over turn, the deck will eventually apply more pressure than these “suboptimal” card choices can contain. It’s a classic archetype and staple of the format, so playing a deck like this will help to keep the Creativity players at bay while also providing a more rounded play experience in the format overall.
Budget Pioneer Esper Greasefang by Darren Magnotti
Combining these two pathways, we come to our own combo/control deck, Esper Greasefang. This is a slightly different take on the classic Abzan Greasefang deck that saw a lot of play at the PT itself, championed since the release of Neon Dynasty by my friend KarnageKardsENT on MTGO. This deck aims to establish the classic Greasefang combo of playing the Rat Pilot in order to pull a Parhelion II from the graveyard and ride it to victory. Specializing in loot effects like Tainted Indulgence and Evangel of Synthesis, the Esper Greasefang deck can churn through itself to find any number of answers while also passively setting up the combo.
What makes Greasefang a good matchup into Creativity though? It has more to do with the back half of the deck than the win-condition front half. All of the interaction in the Esper deck is nearly perfectly suited to combat Creativity’s game plan. From Vanishing Verse cleanly dispatching the Wurm to Duress and Spell Pierce putting enough of a tax on the combo turn to buy time for the Greasefang deck to get its own combo moving, it can be a real uphill battle for the Creativity player. Creativity really wants to sit back and buy time to dig for its pieces if it doesn’t have the blistering start, and the ever-present threat of Parhelion coming into play makes it so that they can’t really afford to do so.
While not all of Greasefang’s matchups are stellar (there’s a reason that this may be the first time you’re hearing about the deck), the list is particularly suited to take on Creativity in specific. Whether or not that will be pertinent information moving forward is still yet to be seen as we are all waiting to see how the metagame will actually straighten out post Pro Tour. Through shifting metas and big format shake-ups, there will always be a best deck, as well as several ways to conquer that best deck. Some players aren’t a fan of this and will start to call Pioneer a “rotating format” or some other such nonsense, but that’s just the way that active and healthy formats develop. Every deck has a weakness though, and with a little bit of thought, most of them are fairly simple to narrow down and target. The best part about doing this on a budget is that it’s no big deal to hot-swap between all of your various answers depending on how your specific meta game turns out.
That’s all for this one. The Pro Tour was a huge success, and I’m looking forward to seeing its fingerprints all over the Pioneer format moving forward from here. Hopefully Wizards will only improve their already stellar coverage, and hopefully this will be just the first of many epic weekend adventures. Until next time, remember to stay safe, play smart and thanks for reading.