As a write this, we have a Modern and LOTR Limited Pro Tour Coming up. While I haven’t played any Modern in a while, I spent tons of time the last few months playing Pioneer.
In the testing process for the last Regional Championships, I spent a lot of time trying out almost every deck in Pioneer so I would have a vast understanding of the format. While the format is far from my favorite, it’s important to understand the format if you want to be a competitive Magic player these days.
In many discussions with the players I tested with for the RC and my own personal testing, I’d evaluate the Pioneer decks as follows. Keep in mind this is backed up very little by data, but it is included.
Decks I’d register right now
Rakdos Sac is the superior Rakdos deck in the format, and it makes me wonder why it has such low representation while normal Rakdos Midrange dominates the metagame. This should be the go-to Rakdos deck and should be dominating. This is starting to happen on MTGO, but paper tournaments adjust slower because people don’t have cards for everything and want to play with the $300-worth-of Sheoldreds they bought.
Another positive with this deck is it’s super cheap!
Rakdos Sac has all the tools, especially with Thoughtseize main deck. If I had to play a Pioneer tournament today, I’d play Rakdos Sac.
This deck is underrepresented, and it's the most powerful deck in Pioneer. The issue with the deck is it is linear and has few ways to beat fast goldfish kills.
We see Lotus field between 2-5% of the metagame in every major Pioneer event, yet it occupies tons of sideboard space in the form of Damping Sphere and other cards targeting it because it's that powerful. While the deck can be quite hard to learn, it’s incredibly strong once you do.
Decks I’d consider and are solid choices
Mono G Devotion
I was a bit of a hater of this deck, and I should maybe have it in S-tier. My issues are a combination of inconsistency and lack of agency. It's the second most powerful deck in Pioneer behind Lotus Field, but I feel like if I play this in a tournament, it's hard to get any mirror edge and winning on the draw is tough in some match-ups much like Lotus Field.
While I think this is a strong deck, it’s simply not for me. If you’re looking to dive into Pioneer for the first time, this is a great deck with tons of resources available, especially if you just look up Bobby Fortanely on Twitter where you can find any information you could possibly want about the deck.
While I have not played any with the Lotus Field version and little with the non-Lotus version, I’ve played enough against this deck and heard enough from teammates that UW Control is far from a meme, and the data recently has backed it up big time.
If you’re looking for a deck with few true bad match-ups and few great match-ups, this one's for you. This deck plays close games and can beat anything if it draws well, especially in the early turns to bridge you to the late game.
Tons of people play Rakdos Midrange for agency, and I think UW Control might just be a superior choice if that’s what you’re looking for.
I have a love-hate relationship with this deck, as we played a Mono U Spirits deck at Worlds last year and absolutely lit up the tournament. However, that was Explorer, and the deck didn’t bridge well into Pioneer because there were tons more decks that it wasn’t so good against.
Oddly, Spirits decks have bad match-ups against other slower blue decks, which you’d think the opposite of, but cards like Shark Typhoon and even Hullbreaker Horror out of a deck like Creativity that had lots of removal were a problem.
This deck benefited the most from Invasion of Gobakhan and might be the only deck that wants to play it. It’s easy to flip and that it will essentially remove a Shark Typhoon from the game is a huge benefit for this deck. If you asked me a few months ago, I’d put this deck in C- or D-tier, but the addition of the Invasion of Gobakhan and Wedding Announcement sideboard plan has been impressive.
I would not be unhappy to play Spirits in a Pioneer event if I expected Rakdos Sac to be underrepresented.
Another deck I loved in Explorer but that was too inconsistent, Abzan Grease has improved with more iteration. While I struggle to put it in A-tier, I think it's that or the top of B-tier. It’s fair plan with Chariots can be enough, but it’s a Thoughtseize deck with a potent combo and has potentially the best nut draw in the format of Thoughtsieze into Grisly Salvage into Greasing back a Parhelion II.
Without new cards, I likely wouldn’t submit this deck myself, however I don’t think it's a big mistake to register, and it wins a lot of tournaments when people are underprepared.
Not the best decks, but not a huge mistake to register
Mono W Humans
This would be my aggro deck of choice unless you consider Spirits aggro. It’s a great deck on the play and can beat even its bad match-ups if they stumble because of how its fast clock. It's nothing to write home about, but it’s solid and will continue to get new cards as more Humans are printed. A solid B deck.
Convoke was a deck I was very unimpressed with initially, but as the format has developed it’s found a nice place in the metagame. We all know it’s not Hogaak, but it has some busted draws.
This is a deck that iteration, time, and card printings could help. If ignored on any given weekend, it could run over a tournament. If aggro is your thing, this is a solid choice, but I wouldn’t be happy registering this deck.
Everything about this deck is mid. It’s the definition of a B-tier deck that feels like it has no good or bad match-ups. It flips coins with basically everything. If you’re looking for a non-linear deck that provides you with agency, this is an inferior choice to both Rakdos Sac and UW Control.
I feel registering Rakdos Mid is playing to not lose, as opposed to playing to win.
Creativity is my pet deck, and I hate to say it, it's probably at the bottom of B-tier at the moment. It’s lost some points across the board, as the metagame developed and new cards have been printed. I prefer versions with Worldspine Wurm or two over Gearhulks.
I like the control plan this deck provides, playing with Fable, and being able to close the game with a single card. Unfortunately, this deck has major problems against lots of Thoughtseize and Duress and plays a lot of close games with basically every deck in the format.
When this deck was an afterthought, it was great, but Reid had to go and win the Pro Tour with our version of Creativity. It's been on the map, and people know exactly how to approach the match-up.
I personally feel I’d make a mistake registering these decks
Anything Five Color
Five-color Fires of Invention or Bright to Light are too slow and inconsistent when I tested them. They’ve put up results at times and done absolutely terrible at other times. These decks felt like they had some really bad match-ups. For decks like Rakdos Mid that they were supposed to prey on, I felt like I was only winning half the time because the deck would just start so slowly. I felt like I was playing Standard in Pioneer, which is not a good thing in a format that’s so play/draw dependent.
This deck felt too clunky and inconsistent. While I love the UR Shells in Pioneer, this deck is worse than Creativity and doesn’t have a great match-up spread. I’m not surprised this deck comes and goes in the format.
An interesting deck with some potential, but it’d be a mistake to play it in its current builds right now. This is not the deck if you’re trying to win the tournament you’re playing. If you’re trying to iterate on it, it’s a worthy cause.
A deck that I often say to myself “maybe now’s the time for Bogles.” Unfortunately, it rarely is the time. The deck is reliant on its opening hand and even then it has issues in tons of match-ups when it draws well. A deck with potential, though.
Underpowered and often overrepresented. This deck is fairly weak when it doesn’t draw smoothly or its opponent draws well. With a downtick of Rakdos Midrange, I don’t see a good reason to play this deck right now.
Has some good match-ups at times, but overall too underpowered for this format. I could see certain metagames where this moves up a tier or even two, but Pioneer is slow to change, so right now this deck just ain’t it.
Decks like this are fundamentally flawed. They struggle with interaction, sweepers, and faster clocks.
I thought every deck I played against with this deck had to have been bad match-up, but I no longer feel that way after getting more experience with this deck.
I’m not going to do an F-tier, because nothing is truly that bad in Pioneer. On any given Sunday, we could see any deck in the format winning the tournament, so if I underrated your deck, prove me wrong!
I look forward to learning about Modern this weekend and watching Lord of the Rings Limited from the comfort of my home while I play Diablo IV.