This past weekend we witnessed what Pioneer's new world looks like on one of the biggest stages, the U.S. Regional Championship, which featured around 1,300 players. Teferi enjoyers may rejoice since world-class player Daniel Weiser used Azorious Control to take down the tournament, but it was not the deck of the tournament.
Amalia Combo is the new kid on the block, and from what I saw, it looks like it's here to stay a while.
My initial thoughts on decks like this are that they always start strong and end up falling off when people learn and prepare for play patterns. By "decks like this" I mean the Birthing Pod, Collected Company, or Chord of Calling creature combo decks.
I still believe that, but this deck is fast and resilient enough to remain a player in Pioneer for the foreseeable future. The combo of Amalia and Wildgrowth Walker and starting the explore chain means you're off to the races as early as turn three. Dina provides a way to win without combat, which is a nice additional angle.
I think we'll begin to see more counterplay to this deck, and while this deck performed well at the Regional Championship, it'll soon be a poor choice as we see more Azorious Control, a natural predator, and more copies of cards like Hallowed Moonlight and maybe even the scarier Containment Priest.
Amalia probably has another week or two of success before the metagame shifts completely, but every deck builder right now is looking for plans to improve against Amalia. In general, Amalia has the characteristics of a format-defining deck, and like Mono Green, the format will adapt around it with players choosing decks that fight it well, rather than just changing a few sideboard cards. Pioneer will look different when all is said and done.
All eyes are on Amalia, and in a format as large and powerful as Pioneer, it doesn't take much to push back against a deck as powerful as Amalia. If your deck has a bad Amalia matchup then start looking for a new deck as things shake out. Amalia appears to be here for a long time, not a good time.
Decks like traditional Rakdos Midrange have to adapt. In fact, how does Sheoldred the Apocalypse stack up against decks like Azorious Control and Phoenix? It's easily answered by Lightning Axe out of Phoenix and all of Azorious Control's removal. At four mana you better hope Amalia Combo isn't ready to set up the kill if you're tapping out and spending four mana. Against Amalia, I prefer the leaner versions featuring Smuggler's Copter that can fly over the ground clutter, provide a clock, and continue to provide card selection to make sure the combo is never fully assembled.
That's exactly the effect Amalia will have on the format, which is similar to Splinter Twin in Modern years ago. When tapping out for a sorcery-speed permanent, you better be sure you have your bases covered. Amalia will force Pioneer to be a leaner, more reactive format because of its speed, consistency, and ability to punish. Amalia is the fastest goldfish available, and you have to give it respect.
With Return to the Ranks a draw step away, you need to make sure your reactive spells are ready to go and close the door on Amalia quickly or be able to interact with Rally on the stack. You can always attack their graveyard, but dedicated graveyard hate like Leyline of the Void is a horrible approach since you're hoping for things to line up just right rather than proactively shutting off Return the Ranks. It's better to have some incidental graveyard interaction like Graveyard Tresspasser, Containtment Preist, or Scavenging Ooze that can provide a clock while weakening Return to the Ranks off the top.
We see decks like Phoenix and Azorious Control winning longer games against Amalia. Despite Phoenix being a poor matchup, it can play the game by negating the Collected Company or Return to the Ranks and putting pressure with a good Phoenix turn. Azorious Control can continuously answer the threats and eventually flood out the Amalia combo.
I was impressed by Voice of Resurgence, and if I were to play an event with the deck right now, there's no way I'd leave home without a couple of copies in my sideboard to play a fairer game against these blue reactive decks. From Amalia's side, I'd look for more ways to win fair games while punishing opponents when they tap out. Voice of Resurgence seems to fit the bill.
While I haven't found any official metagame data yet, I suspect Amalia will push slower, linear decks like Lotus Field to 1-2% of the metagame deck. Amalia is a faster, linear combo deck that is more reliable and easier to play.
However, if the reaction to Amalia is too strong, there will be some weeks when Lotus Field is exactly where you want to be. If Amalia gets pushed back, the types of interaction you want against Amalia are different than what is required for Lotus Field, so if Lotus Field can find some spots where Amalia is only 5% of the field, it will have a good day with less-prepared versions of Rakdos, Phoenix, and Azorious Control.
While it's too early to see how the metagame will shift, I suspect we're soon going to see more churn with so many variables in the past few weeks, including the addition of Smuggler's Copter, a new tier-one deck that's actually good (sorry Convoke fans), and the oppressive Mono G menace all but removed from the format.
If I were playing a Pioneer tournament today, I would copy Daniel Weiser's winning Azorious Control deck. I have no faith anything else is up to the task of beating down Amalia, and while Daniel won the event, all eyes are on Amalia right now. Amalia will be heavily targeted and heavily played in the immediate future, and that's a good spot for Azorious.