What’s the Best Deck in Pioneer/Explorer MTG This Month? Post-Pro Tour Update

Welcome to Pioneer and Explorer Power Rankings. The Explorer card pool continues to grow, and there’s now very little practical difference between the Pioneer format you’ll play in paper and on Magic Online versus the Explorer format you’ll play on Magic Arena. Consider this a list of the top 15 decks you should expect to face as you play competitive Pioneer or Explorer. 

This installment is based heavily on the results of Pro Tour Phyrexia, plus the events in its immediate wake. It was quite a challenge to rank these decks, in part because Pioneer and Explorer are so wide open and well-balanced right now. The most-played decks aren’t the ones with the highest win rates, and every deck has bad matchups and weaknesses that can be exploited. 

Here are the additional resources I use to inform all Power Rankings, leaning more heavily on what applies best to the given format:

  • Magic Online results. This includes Preliminaries, Weekend Challenges, Super Qualifiers, and MOCS Events.
  • MTGMelee results. I typically look at all of the events with at least twenty players.
  • Large tabletop events. When applicable.
  • Untapped.gg stats. These show win rates of various archetypes on the Magic Arena ladder.
  • Previous rankings. Just because a deck didn’t make a top 8 over the weekend, doesn’t mean it’s suddenly a bad deck.
  • Public opinion. I discuss things with my teammates, and take a look at what’s getting a lot of attention on Twitch, Twitter, Youtube, podcasts, and written content.
  • My own instincts and experiences.


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15. Omnath/Bring to Light

The Omnath plus Bring to Light deck remains a hidden gem in Pioneer. It wasn’t a deck to beat going into Pro Tour Phyrexia, nor did it break through to a Top 8. Despite its small metagame share, it’s been putting up great results and has a consistently high win rate. 

The knockout punch is casting Bring to Light for Valki, God of Lies, which can then be cast as Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor. By doing so, you access one of the most powerful cards legal in the format for the affordable price of five mana.

14. Fires of Invention/Enigmatic Incarnation

Fires of Invention remains a powerful and appealing strategy, particularly in its ability to beat up on Rakdos and other midrange decks. The most successful version lately is built around Enigmatic Incarnation, but in the past more traditional Fires decks have performed well with Keruga, the Macrosage as a companion

One particularly impressive move is to convert Leyline Binding, via Enigmatic Incarnation, into creatures as strong as Agent of Treachery, Titan of Industry, Koma, Cosmos Serpent, Hornet Queen or even Atraxa, Grand Unifier. The deck is also capable of massive value turns involving Fires of Invention and the companion Yorion, Sky Nomad.

The goal of Keruga Fires is to survive long enough to land a Fires of Invention and then take over the battlefield with powerful top-end creatures. Fires of Invention allows you to cast Kenrith, the Returned King and your companion Keruga, the Macrosage in one turn, with mana left over for Kenrith activations.

13. Spirits

Spirits is a heavily-disruptive creature deck. It comes in three main forms. Bant Spirits is a little bit old-fashioned, but can still pack a punch based on the power of Collected Company. The most successful version lately has been Azorius, with Mono-Blue still out there as well. 

Spirits are cheap, evasive and pair well with Curious Obsession and permission spells to back them up. Mausoleum Wanderer, Rattlechains, Supreme Phantom and Shacklegeist form the backbone of all Spirit decks. One easy pattern is to stick Curious Obsession, protect it with Geistlight Snare and ride it to victory.

Mono-Blue Spirits was the most successful deck in the Explorer portion of the World Championship back in October. Adding more colors comes at the cost of Faceless Haven and Ascendant Spirit, but increases your power level by accessing cards like Spell Queller, Staggering Insight and even Collected Company. 

12. Auras

Auras was one of the breakout strategies of Pro Tour Phyrexia. Benton Madsen had a high-profile second place finish with Selesnya Auras, but Orzhov and Abzan Auras also put up impressive win rates. 

Regardless of the color combination, key cards include Light-Paws, Emperor’s Voice, Ethereal Armor and a selection of useful Auras to search up. 

11. Gruul

Gruul was the third most-played deck at Pro Tour Phyrexia. It didn’t do particularly well, but remains a strong deck, and a natural option for anybody looking to beat down. 

The best draws involve Llanowar Elves or Elvish Mystic ramping into a turn-two Reckless Stormseeker. Its triggered ability allows Esika’s Chariot or Skysovereign, Consul Flagship to attack right away, allowing you to dominate the battlefield by turn three or four. 

10. Mono-White Aggro

Similarly, Mono-White Humans won less than half its matches at the Pro Tour. However, as a powerful and streamlined aggro deck, it should not be discounted. 

White Weenie is fast, disruptive and highly punishing. It can deliver quick wins while throwing the opponent off with Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Elite Spellbinder and Anointed Peacekeeper. It makes for a good entry point into the format, but can succeed at any level of competition. It even has more staying power than you might expect due to Mutavault and Castle Ardenvale built into the mana base. You can use Brave the Elements, Ossification or both to gain more flexibility in scrappy games. 

9. Lotus Field

Lotus Field did well at the Pro Tour, with two players making the Top 8. Strangely, I haven’t seen it getting a lot of attention after the event, so I’m only giving it a middle ranking in this installment. 

The game plan is to find Lotus Field, get another copy via Thespian’s Stage and untap those lands with Hidden Strings and Pore Over the Pages. This allows you to generate loads of mana in a single turn. Through some wild combination of Emergent Ultimatums, wishes and tutors, you then generally put Omniscience into play, grab Approach of the Second Sun from your sideboard and cast it twice to win the game. 

8. Angels

Angels, in the hands of Masahide Moriyama, had the single best performance of any deck at Pro Tour Phyrexia.

There are a lot of powerful Angels in Pioneer. Giada, Font of Hope and Youthful Valkyrie are excellent two-mana plays in this deck, and Bishop of Wings is another good way to start the curve. Its life gain trigger is particularly appreciated by Righteous Valkyrie and Resplendent Angel. Thanks to Collected Company and Kayla’s Reconstruction, you’ll assemble these synergies with startling consistency.

7. Rakdos/Mardu Sacrifice

Rakdos Sacrifice consistently overperforms expectations, and has put up solid numbers in both the Explorer portion of Worlds and the Pioneer portion of Pro Tour Phyrexia. It maximizes strong curves into either Mayhem Devil, Fable of the Mirror-Breaker or Ob Nixilis, the Adversary on the third turn of the game.

The trio of Mayhem Devil, Cauldron Familiar and Witch’s Oven creates a once-per-turn loop that drains your opponent, shoots two damage and lets you block for free. Claim the Firstborn and Deadly Dispute can be a deadly combo as well.

Autumn Burchett has also popularized a Mardu version with Showdown of the Skalds and Rite of Oblivion. You give up a little when it comes to the consistency of your mana base, but you gain a lot of staying power from the Saga and the flexible removal spell. 

6. Izzet Phoenix

Like Lotus Field, Izzet Phoenix continues to quietly overperform expectations, despite not getting a lot of attention. I’ve given it a relatively high ranking due to its long-term success (it was a top deck in the first round of Regional Championships), plus its high win rate at the Pro Tour. 

Izzet Phoenix aims to put multiple Arclight Phoenix into the graveyard, typically via Pieces of the Puzzle or Lightning Axe, and recurs them by chaining three cheap spells in a single turn. It’s also capable of copying Treasure Cruise or Temporal Trespass with Galvanic Iteration, which is often a game-winning play.

5. Mono-Green Devotion

Mono-Green Devotion was the second-most-played deck at the Pro Tour, but won less than half its matches. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to players looking to pick up a new strategy, but it’s clearly a strong deck with a dedicated following. Everyone should have a plan against Mono-Green. 

This deck is capable of ramping into a turn-three Storm the Festival and can set up convoluted infinite loops. For example, after Karn, the Great Creator grabs The Chain Veil and Pestilent Cauldron // Restorative Burst from the sideboard, you can make it so that multiple copies of Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner untap Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx infinite times.

4. Azorius Control

Azorius Control is a classic and beloved strategy. Like Izzet Phoenix, Azorius Control pairs long-term success with a high win rate at the Pro Tour. With a solid suite of spot removal, countermagic, card draw, sweepers and planeswalkers, Azorius Control has remained the premier control deck in Pioneer.

Control aficionado Greg Orange, for example, has now put up winning records in both the Explorer portion of Worlds and the Pioneer portion of Pro Tour Phyrexia. 

3. Greasefang

Abzan Greasefang is probably the hottest deck in the wake of Pro Tour Phyrexia. A strong team (highlighted by David Inglis’s 9th place finish) made the significant innovation of playing Traverse the Ulvenwald to search for Greasefang, and this deck list has been showing up everywhere for the last two weeks. While not as popular, Esper Greasefang is a solid deck as well. 

In either case, the goal is to use Greasefang, Okiba Boss to reanimate Parhelion II (although getting Skysovereign, Consul Flagship or Esika’s Chariot is plenty strong as well). The rest of the deck is built to fill the graveyard and support this combo. Liliana of the Veil is a great card that allows the Greasefang combo deck to set up its graveyard, and also contributes to the midrange backup plan both before and after sideboarding. 

2. Rakdos Midrange

Rakdos Midrange is the most popular deck in Pioneer, and for good reason. It’s well-rounded and customizable, with reasonable game against everything. Like Mono-Green and Gruul, Rakdos was popular at the Pro Tour, but had a below 50 percent win rate. Still, I’m not expecting it to slow down or lose metagame share. 

What Rakdos Midrange lacks in the synergies of sacrifice decks, it makes up for with the highest individual card quality in the format. It has resilient threats, card advantage, removal and discard. It’s able to tailor itself perfectly for any matchup after sideboarding.

Featuring efficient discard, powerful removal, resilient threats and flexible sideboard options, Rakdos Midrange has the tools to take on everything. Misery’s Shadow prevents the death triggers on Old-Growth Troll and Cavalier of Thorns and also provides a powerful early-game threat. Reckoner Bankbuster has also caught on as a role player card and a hard-hitting two-drop. 

1. Izzet Creativity

It wasn’t an obvious choice, as I do believe Pioneer is quite a balanced format. However, when in doubt, it makes sense to give the #1 slot to the deck that won the Pro Tour, and that’s Izzet Creativity

The goal is to cast Indomitable Creativity for X=2. If you haven’t drawn either of your creatures by that point, you’ll put Worldspine Wurm and Xenagos, God of Revels onto the battlefield, turn Worldspine Wurm into a 30/30 creature with trample and haste and attack for the win. Alternative Creativity targets include Hullbreaker Horror, Atraxa, Grand Unifier, Torrential Gearhulk and I’ve even heard of Impervious Greatwurm! 

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