The Pioneer Metagame in Phoenix and Updated Tier List

A week ago, in last week’s article, I analyzed how Players Tour events in Brussels and Nagoya set the stage for the Pioneer format. There, Dimir Inverter dominated with both a high metagame share and a high win rate, and the power of the deck was confirmed yet again in Phoenix last weekend.

But the Pioneer metagame continued to evolve with the Players Tour and Grand Prix in Phoenix. In this article, I will construct an overall picture of last weekend’s metagame and provide the PT win rates. Oh, and there will be decklists.

Top Grand Prix Decklits

While Burkhart was taking Dimir Inverter to victory at the Players Tour—more information, including all Pioneer decklists, can be found on the PT Phoenix text coverage page—the Grand Prix was going on the other side of the hall. Here is an overview of the decks that went 11-4 or better at the Grand Prix:

1. Benjamin Weitz – Mono-Red Eldrazi (15-2-1)
2. Andrew Lopez – Dimir Inverter (14-3-1)
3. Kyle Henriksen – Bant Spirits (14-3)
4. Isaac Sears – Dimir Inverter (13-3-1)
5. Joseph Artz – Dimir Inverter (13-3)
6. Max Milechman – Dimir Inverter (12-2-2)
7. Stephen Peters – Bant Spirits (12-2-2)
8. Jonathan Rosum – Dimir Inverter (12-3-1)
9. Matias Leveratto – Lotus Breach (12-2-1)
10. Harrison Bates – Bant Spirits (12-3)
11. Markus Thibeau – Izzet Ensoul (12-3)
12. Eric Landon – Dimir Inverter (12-3)
13. Frank Karsten – Mono-Red Aggro (12-3)
14. Martin Dominguez – Dimir Inverter (12-3)
15. John Lee – Lotus Breach (12-3)
16. Andrew Wolbers – Lotus Breach (12-3)
17. Christopher Iaali – Mono-White Devotion (12-3)
18. Benjamin Negomir – Izzet Ensoul (12-3)
19. Baker Neenan – Dimir Inverter (12-3)
20. Milan Bhayana – Dimir Inverter (12-3)
21. Matt Avila – Mono-Black Vampires (12-3)
22. Jesse Hampton – Sultai Delirium (12-3)
23. Gregory Orange – U/W Control (11-3-1)
24. Jordan Berkowitz – Azorius Spirits (11-3-1)
25. Bret Farrell – Mono-Red Aggro (11-3-1)
26. Pierson Laughlin – Sultai Delirium (11-3-1)
27. Ivan Meyer – Mono-Red Aggro (11-4)
28. Jackson Hicks – Lotus Breach (11-4)
29. Levi Wigington – Lotus Breach (11-4)
30. Ivan Espinosa – Bant Spirits (11-4)
31. Daniel Kirshon – Izzet Wizards (11-4)
32. Qail Shivji – Simic Uro (11-4)
33. Victor Wood – Sultai Inverter (11-4)
34. Evan Nelson – Sultai Inverter (11-4)
35. David Long – Bant Spirits (11-4)
36. Austin Blackner – Dimir Inverter (11-4)
37. Spencer Freeman – Sultai Inverter (11-4)
38. Steven Haker – Lotus Breach (11-4)
39. Bryan Rockenbach – Sultai Delirium (11-4)
40. Jason Qian – Lotus Breach (11-4)
41. Ed Bracamontes – Mono-White Devotion (11-4)
42. Nicholas Watkins – Hardened Scales (11-4)
43. Chase Stalsberg – Dimir Inverter (11-4)
44. Scott Ellsworth – Mono-Black Aggro (11-4)
45. Andres Cifuentes – Mono-Red Aggro (11-4)
46. Christian Keeth – Simic Delirium (11-4)
47. Philips Nguyen – Azorius Midrange (11-4)
48. Carlos Figueroa – Bant Spirits (11-4)
49. Joseph Bernal – Bant Spirits (11-4)
50. Lee Marino – Mono-Red Aggro (11-4)
51. Brian Weber – Azorius Spirits (11-4)
52. Bryce Gruneich – Izzet Ensoul (11-4)
53. Zachary Sommer – Mono-Black Aggro (11-4)
54. William Myers – Sultai Inverter (11-4)
55. Jack Kiefer – Dimir Inverter (11-4)
56. Gianluca Privitera – Mono-Red Aggro (11-4)
57. Theodore Jung – Dimir Inverter (11-4)
58. Michael Mastroleo – Boros Feather (11-4)
59. Alexander Buehler – Possibility Storm (11-4)

The Pioneer Metagame

Combining all 414 available Pioneer decklists from Phoenix (i.e, all 355 lists from the Players Tour and the 59 top lists from the Grand Prix) and treating each list equally, the following overall metagame breakdown emerges.

Pioneer Metagame in Phoenix
Click to enlarge.

Compared to the preceding Brussels/Nagoya weekend, the metagame in Phoenix looked different:

  • Dimir Inverter, Bant Spirits, Mono-Red Aggro, Lotus Breach, and Sultai Delirium grew in popularity on the back of their success in the Brussels and Nagoya. Out of these five decks, the biggest gainers were Bant Spirits (from 2.0% to 12.6%) and Sultai Delirium (from 1.0% to 7.7%).
  • Mono-Black Aggro, Niv to Light, and Azorius Control fell in popularity after performing poorly in the preceding weekend.
  • The most notable new deck, at 4.6% of the field, was Sultai Inverter. It appeared to combine the best of Sultai Delirium and Dimir Inverter, but it didn’t end up performing particularly well.

The Pioneer Win Rates

Since decklists, pairings, and results are publicly available, I can determine the records and match win rates for all decks in the Players Tour. The following graphic provides the match win rates in non-bye, non-mirror, Swiss matches at both Players Tour events for all archetypes with 5 or more pilots and/or 20 or more matches. Only Pioneer matches are used; the Draft rounds are excluded. The error bars represent confidence intervals, based on a 95% confidence level under the normal approximation to the binomial distribution.

Pioneer Win Rates at PT Phoenix
Click to enlarge.

Comparing the win rates to the ones from the preceding Brussels/Nagoya weekend, several things stand out:

  • Dimir Inverter still performed just well as last weekend, which is scary given that it a had a huge target on its back.
  • Bant Spirits did worse than Azorius Spirits, which is surprising because the opposite was true in Brussels and Nagoya. Given the relatively low sample size and the fact that the decks are so similar, I would explain the difference as just random variance.
  • Mono-Red Aggro fell from 55.0% to 45.1%. The deck has trouble beating Simic Delirium’s recurring Uros, and many versions are too slow to beat Dimir Inverter. But there was a lot of variation across Mono-Red lists, and the lower-to-the-ground versions with additional 1-drops and Goblin Rabblemaster instead of Goblin Chainwhirler actually did fairly well. Also, Mono-Red Aggro can beat up Lotus Breach. I entered Grand Prix Phoenix with Ash Zealot, Damping Sphere, Eidolon of the Great Revel, and Scab-Clan Berserker in my 75 and felt strongly favored against Lotus Breach. I believe lower-to-the-ground versions of the deck are still well-positioned.
  • Lotus Breach had an outstanding performance in Phoenix. After everyone had discovered the best version of the deck (as played by Niels van der Sande, Brent Vos, and Pascal Vieren in Brussels) it over-performed with an incredible 64.2% win rate in Phoenix. Perhaps it was still under the radar and may do worse after everyone adds Damping Sphere to their sideboard, but it was the best-performing deck at the Players Tour by far.
  • Sultai Delirium didn’t post the ridiculous 70.6% win rate it had in Brussels, but at 56.8% with a reasonable sample size, it received confirmation as one of the top decks in the format right now.
  • Mono-White Devotion, which performed very well at 55% in the preceding weekend, now only won 39% of its matches. Poor matchups against the combo decks were the main drivers of this poor performance.
  • Azorius Control improved from 46.5% to 56.0%. Control decks generally do better when the metagame is more crystallized, which may explain the increase in win rate. Nevertheless, Azorius Control didn’t do well against Dimir Inverter, Lotus Breach, or Sultai Delirium, which are bound to rise further in popularity, so it doesn’t seem like a great choice going forward.
  • Izzet Ensoul fell from 53.5% to an abysmal 21.1%, although with a rather small sample size of only 19 matches.

A Pioneer Tier List

Based on the combination of metagame share, win rates, and my own views, I would rank the most-played Pioneer decks into the following tier structure. (Due to their similarity, Azorius Spirits and Bant Spirits were combined into a single “Spirits” archetype.)

Pioneer Metagame 1.1
Click to enlarge.

The Most Successful Under-the-Radar Brews

Naturally, this tier list doesn’t include every possible deck in Pioneer, of which there are a lot. In particular, several spicy brews shone through last weekend, and I would like to highlight five of them.

Mono-Red Eldrazi

Ben Weitz, GP Phoenix Champion

12 Mountain
4 Battlefield Forge
4 Mutavault
4 Ramunap Ruins
4 Monastery Swiftspear
4 Soul-Scar Mage
1 Zurgo Bellstriker
1 Satyr's Cunning
3 Kari Zev, Skyship Raider
4 Bonecrusher Giant/Stomp
3 Eldrazi Obligator
4 Rampaging Ferocidon
4 Torbran, Thane of Red Fell
4 Lightning Strike
4 Wild Slash

4 Damping Sphere
4 Thought-Knot Seer
2 Chandra's Defeat
2 Fry
2 Mizzium Mortars
1 Tormod's Crypt

Ben Weitz’s deck was an innovative take on Mono-Red. He felt that playing fewer than four Mutavaults in an aggressive deck was criminal and that there were enough colorless lands available to add some well-positioned Eldrazi. Eldrazi Obligator is eager to steal Inverter of Truth or Uro in the current Pioneer metagame, and Thought-Knot Seer is a great sideboard card against combo decks. All in all, it’s a sweet list and a well-deserved Grand Prix victory for him.

Simic Uro

Qail Shivji, 11-4 at GP Phoenix

6 Forest
1 Island
4 Mutavault
4 Yavimaya Coast
4 Botanical Sanctum
4 Breeding Pool
2 Fabled Passage
4 Elvish Mystic
4 Llanowar Elves
4 Jadelight Ranger
2 Questing Beast
4 Satyr Wayfinder
2 Sylvan Advocate
4 Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath
4 Nissa, Who Shakes the World
4 Tamiyo, Collector of Tales
3 Cyclonic Rift

2 Ashiok, Dream Render
3 Damping Sphere
1 Disdainful Stroke
4 Mystical Dispute
2 Scavenging Ooze
3 Shifting Ceratops

Satyr Wayfinder and Uro is a great match, and they can fit in shells other than Sultai Delirium. This list exploits eight Elves for speed, along with Jadelight Ranger and Tamiyo to potentially mill Uro. Another notable aspect of this deck is that Mutavault synergizes nicely with Nissa and Sylvan Advocate. All pieces work together quite well, and the sideboard offers relevant interaction against the combo decks.

Boros Feather

Michael Mastroleo, 11-4 at GP Phoenix

2 Clifftop Retreat
4 Inspiring Vantage
4 Sacred Foundry
3 Mountain
6 Plains
4 Favored Hoplite
4 Monastery Swiftspear
4 Dreadhorde Arcanist
4 Tenth District Legionnaire
3 Feather, the Redeemed
1 Ajani's Presence
2 Boros Charm
4 Defiant Strike
4 Gird for Battle
4 Gods Willing
4 Reckless Rage
3 Titan's Strength

1 Ajani's Presence
2 Apostle of Purifying Light
2 Boros Charm
2 Chandra's Defeat
3 Lagonna-Band Trailblazer
2 Rest in Peace
1 Tajic, Legion's Edge
2 Tomik, Distinguished Advokist

We have seen this deck in Standard, but the big difference in Pioneer is the addition of synergistic 1-drops in Favored Hoplite and Monastery Swiftspear. This increases the damage clock considerably. The deck can now easily win on turn 4, for example by combining Titan’s Strength and Boros Charm to turn Favored Hoplite into a huge double striker. With Gods Willing protection, of course.

Possibility Storm

Alexander Buehler, 11-4 at GP Phoenix

9 Forest
3 Mountain
1 Geier Reach Sanitarium
4 Rootbound Crag
4 Stomping Ground
2 Game Trail
4 Llanowar Elves
3 Elvish Mystic
4 Bonecrusher Giant/Stomp
1 Borborygmos Enraged
3 Captain Lannery Storm
1 Glorybringer
4 Lovestruck Beast/Heart's Desire
2 Questing Beast
2 Rosethorn Acolyte/Seasonal Ritual
3 Walking Ballista
2 Chandra, Torch of Defiance
2 Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner
1 Enter the Infinite
4 Possibility Storm
1 Shared Summons

1 Chandra, Awakened Inferno
1 Domri, Anarch of Bolas
3 Glorybringer
3 Pulse of Murasa
2 Ratchet Bomb
2 Reclamation Sage
2 Scavenging Ooze
1 Sorcerous Spyglass

This deck was made possible by the Adventure creatures. The plan is to drop Possibility Storm, cast Heart’s Desire, hit Enter the Infinite, put Borborygmos Enraged back on top, turn Walking Ballista into Borborygmos Enraged, and fling all lands at the opponent. The alternative route to victory is by casting Stomp or Seasonal Ritual, which are guaranteed to hit Shared Summons, which will fetch Lovestruck Beast for the win. Although this combo is not brand new, it had fallen out of favor, so it’s nice to see that it can still perform at the Grand Prix level.

Orzhov Midrange

Raja Sulaiman, 8-2 at Players Tour Phoenix 

4 Plains
1 Swamp
4 Caves of Koilos
4 Concealed Courtyard
4 Godless Shrine
2 Isolated Chapel
4 Mutavault
1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
1 Archangel Avacyn/Avacyn, the Purifier
2 Glory-Bound Initiate
4 Knight of the Ebon Legion
1 Kunoros, Hound of Athreos
2 Scrapheap Scrounger
1 Thalia, Heretic Cathar
4 Thraben Inspector
2 Gideon of the Trials
3 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
4 Thoughtseize
1 Anguished Unmaking
4 Fatal Push
3 Heart of Kiran
4 History of Benalia

1 Kunoros, Hound of Athreos
2 Agonizing Remorse
1 Arguel's Blood Fast/Temple of Aclazotz
1 Cast Down
2 Devout Decree
1 Doom Blade
1 Duress
1 Elspeth Conquers Death
2 Glare of Heresy
2 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
1 Kaya, Orzhov Usurper

The final brew comes from the Players Tour. At first sight, it’s like a Mono-Black Aggro deck with History of Benalia and Thraben Inspector instead of Bloodsoaked Champion and Rankle, Master of Pranks. But the best parts are the disruptive white 3-drops: Gideon of the Trials protects you from the Inverter of Truth + Thassa’s Oracle combo, and Kunoros prevents Underworld Breach from going off or Uro from returning. In fact, I would love to see another copy of Kunoros in the main deck, as it efficiently disrupts several of the top-tier Pioneer decks.

These five spicy decklists indicate that there is still a lot of depth to explore in Pioneer. The format is still young, rapidly shifting, and full of potential.


If Brussels and Nagoya last week were the breakout events for Dimir Inverter, then this weekend belonged fully to Lotus Breach. Going forward, I expect that Lotus Breach will be hated out with Damping Spheres, and I am not sure it can withstand that hate. We’ll have to wait and find out.

Dimir Inverter is more resilient and has few bad matchups. The fact that the Top 8 of Grand Prix Phoenix contained five Dimir Inverter decks, even though everyone was ready for it, is worrisome. At the Players Tour, the only notable bad matchup for Dimir Inverter was Lotus Breach, and that might change when Damping Sphere takes more sideboard slots.

I can only hope that the environment can adapt organically. Otherwise, a Dig Through Time ban may ultimately be necessary.


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