One of the things I enjoy most about Pioneer is how uncharted, and thus exciting, it is. It’s finally been around long enough that we can begin to form a picture of what key archetypes looks like, but there still isn’t enough hard data to draw conclusions about the metagame that are not shaky at best. Not only is there not a ton of decisive data that we see in more established formats like Modern or Standard, but the format appears to be prone to bannings which also shake up what we know is dramatic, dynamic ways:
The Pioneer Banlist
- Felidar Guardian
- Leyline of Abundance
- Oath of Nissa
- Veil of Summer
- Khans of Tarkir fetchlands
Whatever our impressions of the format, decks and metagames, it’s clear that adaptation will be key in this new format. Veil is the most recent addition to the banlist, but all the decks that use it should be able to carry on without it.
Personally, I like to understand a format, the archetypes, and the strategic dynamics in an in-depth way. Obviously, Pioneer is a large format–approximately the size of old Extended–and so there’s a massive amount of space to cover. One way that I go about learning a format is to break it into pieces and focus on learning one type of Strategy at a time. Once I’ve learned how that segment of decks work and interact, I move on to something else (typically, whatever is beating me!).
Today, I’ll be laying out some of the most popular and successful aggressive archetypes in Pioneer. Understanding the aggro decks is such an important fundamental when it comes to building or choosing decks, and it seemed like the natural place to start. It also doesn’t hurt that the aggro decks are quite good in Pioneer, and so bringing the beats seems an ideal way to get started.
Expect the Unexpected
The first and most important generalization I can make about Pioneer is to expect the unexpected. The limit is truly one’s imagination and the key for feeding those good ideas is to understand what is going on in the meta.
While there are clearly established floating around, it’s also worth noting that there are a lot of brews in the mix. In a format such as this, I prefer to play decks that are proactive, powerful, and concise, rather than mold my decks to beat specific archetypes. With CopyCat gone, such an approach makes even more sense, at least for now.
With that said, there are clearly some archetypes that define the fledgling format.
The Aggressive Decks You Should Know
The first sign of a healthy format: aggressive red decks of various flavors are flourishing in the emergent metagame and are among the best decks in Pioneer. Red decks are among the most represented in the format (and that includes CopyCat data) and thus sets the pace of play.
Christiano7, 5-0 MTGO League
16 Mountain (343) 4 Ramunap Ruins 4 Bomat Courier 4 Ghitu Lavarunner 4 Monastery Swiftspear 4 Soul-Scour Mage 2 Viashino Pyromancer 2 Hazoret the Fervent 4 Wild Slash 4 Lightning Strike 4 Searing Blood 4 Light Up the Stage 4 Wizard's Lightning Sideboard 2 Pithing Needle 4 Smash to Smithereens 3 Goblin Chainwhirler 4 Rampaging Ferocidon 2 Chandra, Torch of Defiance
I’m not at all surprised to see these decks in a great place, considering there have been several iterations of Standard-defining Red Deck Wins variants across Pioneer sets. The most popular version is a hybridization of Ramunap Red and Mono-Red from last year. It’s also worth noting there is a popular variant splashing white for Boros Charm. The white splash also offers up some nice sideboard options:
If we want to add a true second color to our Red beatdown deck, Gruul is a tempting option and there are options within options!
CHOMPERS203, MTGO League 5-0
4 Aether Hub 5 Forest (347) 2 Mountain (343) 4 Rootbound Crag 4 Stomping Ground 4 Bristling Hydra 4 Electrostatic Pummeler 4 Longtusk Cub 4 Voltaic Brawler 4 Attune with Aether 3 Become Immense 4 Blossoming Defense 4 Collision / Colossus 1 Fling 4 Harnessed Lightning 2 Maximize Velocity 3 Temur Battle Rage Sideboard 2 Heroic Intervention 2 Pithing Needle 2 Reclamation Sage 2 Tormod’s Crypt 4 Veil of Summer 3 Wild Slash
R/G Pummeler brings the beatdown with a combotastic twist. While the beatdown contingent of the format isn’t necessarily the greatest bastion to abuse the delve spells from Khans of Tarkir, Pummeler is a nice home for Become Immense.
Gruul Stompy Aggro is also a nice twist on red aggression, although it’s worth noting the deck is more base green than red.
7 Forest (347) 2 Game Trail 6 Mountain (343) 4 Rootbound Crag 4 Stomping Ground 4 Bonecrusher Giant/Stomp 4 Elvish Mystic 4 Ghor-Clan Rampager 2 Glorybringer 4 Goblin Rabblemaster 4 Gruul Spellbreaker 4 Llanowar Elves 1 Blossoming Defense 4 Wild Slash 2 Embercleave 4 Smuggler’s Copter Sideboard 3 Courser of Kruphix 3 Destructive Revelry 2 Domri Rade 3 Fry 1 Glorybringer 3 Lava Coil
Gruul Aggro is exactly what we’d expect it to be. Eight 1-mana Elves is an extremely consistent start for a deck capable of deploying a three-drop on the second turn. I also love that the Elves can crew Smuggler’s Copter.
Speaking of vehicles…
Grindy Aggro With Synergy
Some beatdown decks get it done by setting up powerful combinations that I refer to as “bursts.” These bursts can function in different ways, but the outcome is always the same: the generation of some resource or material at a bargain basement price via synergistic interactions.
These decks are not combo enough to be considered true combo decks, but clearly synergy defines these archetypes.
Alexandre Cunha, Xpace Brazil
1 Caves of Koilos 4 Concealed Courtyard 3 Godless Shrine 4 Inspiring Vantage 1 Mountain (343) 1 Plains (331) 4 Sacred Foundry 3 Spire of Indusry 1 Swamp (339) 4 Bomat Courier 4 Bonecrusher Giant/Stomp 2 Depala, Pilot Exemplar 4 Scrapheap Scrounger 4 Toolcraft Exemplar 4 Veteran Motorist 3 Thoughtseize 4 Unlicensed Disintigration 2 Gideon Blackblade 3 Heart of Kirin 4 Smuggler’s Copter Sideboard 3 Fatal Push 2 Fragmentize 3 Grafdigger’s Cage 2 Pithing Needle 2 Suncleanser 2 Thalia, Heritic Cathar 1 Thoughtseize
My biggest concern with playing a deck like Mardu is the copious number of Smash to Smithereens and Destructive Revelry in the red sideboards. With that said, there is undeniable, proven synergy here.
“I’m back again!”
Aggro isn’t strictly defined to red. In fact, Golgari Aggro looks to be one of the format-defining decks at the moment:
Robert Litfin, 1st NRG (160 Players)
4 Blossoming Marsh 6 Forest (347) 4 Llanowar Wastes 4 Overgrown Tomb 4 Woodland Cemetery 4 Experiment One 4 Hangarback Walker 4 Pelt Collector 2 Rishkar, Peema Renegade 4 Stonecoil Serpent 4 Walking Ballista 4 Winding Constrictor 4 Once Upon a Time 4 Hardened Scales 4 Nissa, Voice of Zendikar Sideboard 4 Abrupt Decay 4 Leyline of the Void 2 Scavenging Ooze 4 Thoughtseize 3 Veil of Summer
Personally, I think Scales Aggro is unreal good. Top to bottom, every card in the 75 is great and there are so many opportunities for game-breaking synergy. I’m also inherently biased because I’m obsessed with Hangarback Walker and Walking Ballista!
The deck has the grind of a Rock deck and the speed of an aggro deck. It’s an undeniably focused and powerful strategy.
It’s also worth noting that B/G can obvious take a midrange or controlling twist. I’m not going to “delve” any deeper into midrange than Scales in my beatdown article, but the Golgari have an embarrassment of riches to play with.
I’ve saved the best for last…
Mark Kelley, 2nd NRG (160 Players)
4 Island (335) 2 Mountain (343) 4 Shivan Reef 4 Spirebluff Canal 4 Steam Vents 2 Sulfur Falls 4 Arclight Phoenix 4 Thing in the Ice/Awoken Horror 4 Chart a Course 3 Fiery Temper 4 Izzet Charm 4 Lightning Axe 4 Opt 3 Strategic Planning 4 Treasure Cruise 4 Wild Slash Sideboard 3 Abrade 1 Brazen Borrower/Petty Theft 2 Chandra Torch of Defiance 4 Mystical Dispute 3 Narset, Parter of Veils 2 Sweltering Suns
Izzet Phoenix variants are currently the single most popular, successful and proven aggressive archetype in Pioneer. It turns out that pairing up draw + discard synergy with powerful delve cards like Treasure Cruise is quite strong. Oh, and this Thing….
What a backbreaker! Even without Faithless Looting in the mix, Phoenix has risen to the top of the metagame in droves. One Thing I would personally adjust in a build of Hardened Scales is to play more action to directly interact with a quickly deployed Thing in the Ice so as not to be “cold” to a two-drop!
Other Respectable Decks
Alongside CopyCat, green aggro was the format-defining deck before its signature card Leyline of Abundance was banned. As far as green beatdown decks go, I’m a big fan of Gruul and we’ll have to watch to see how it rebuilds without Leyline.
Mono-Black Aggro has also quietly been posting results.
Mono Black Aggro
CLYDE THE GLYDE DREXLER, 10th, Pioneer Challenge
4 Castle Locthwain 4 Mutavault 2 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx 12 Swamp (339) 2 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth 4 Champion of Dusk 3 Drana, Liberator of Malakir 4 Gifted Aetherborn 4 Gray Merchant of Asphodel 2 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet 4 Knight of the Ebon Legion 3 Stromkirk Condemned 4 Fatal Push 4 Thoughtseize 4 Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord Sideboard 1 Ashiok, Dream Render 2 Blightbeetle 2 Duress 2 Grasp of Darkness 2 Hero’s Downfall 3 Leyline of the Void 1 Pithing Needle 2 Witch’s Vengeance
Mono-Black Aggro is one of the decks I’ve been enjoying. I’m looking forward to potentially playing with one of my favorite Pauper staples, Gray Merchant of Asphodel, in Pioneer.
Nothing “bugs” a Scales player more than a Blightbeetle! It’s insane sideboard hate card against a popular archetype. It’s a cool one to keep in mind for black sideboard because it functions like Stony Silence or Rest in Peace against a specific archetype.
Fanattic, 4th MTGO Challenge
20 Island (335) 4 Mutavault 4 Brazen Borrower/Petty Theft 4 Harbinger of Tides 4 Master of Waves 4 Merfolk Trickster 4 Smuggler’s Copter 4 Siren Stormtamer 4 Tempest Djinn 4 Thassa, God of the Sea 4 Quenchable Fire Sideboard 4 Negate 3 Sorcerous Spyglass 4 Spell Pierce 4 Tidebinder Mage
Mono-Blue is an archetype I haven’t heard much buzz around, but seems extremely good to me. As a point of reference, there have been two dominant mono-blue decks in Standard spanning Pioeneer sets (Return to Ravnica and Dominaria) and the first was competing with two unbelievably hostile strategies: Black Devotion and UW Control with Supreme Verdict!
The ability to mix the decks from across formats creates a surprisingly deep deck.
These are both just insanely powerful cards in their own rite that when paired up are unbelievable.
There is clearly a diverse mix of aggressive decks currently available for play in Pioneer that cater to a wide array of playstyles and preferences. Personally, I’m obviously drawn to Hardened Scales (and Golgari Midrange decks in general), but the Mono-Blue Devotion deck looks unbelievably good to me. It’ll probably be the deck that I put together and play at my LGS.