Evaluating and Upgrading the Pioneer Challenger Decks
Are the Pioneer Challenger Decks really worth the purchase? In this article, I assess the potential of each of the decks released today, and present the improvements that can be applied to them!
Azorius Spirits, Mono-Red Aggro, Orzhov Aurasand
Lotus Combo, as well as explaining how each list works, comment on their gameplay value straight out of the box and evaluating, at the end, which decks are most worth buying in gameplay terms. It is worth noting that, in the case of some decks, I will first try to make an improvement based on the strategy proposed by the closed product before moving on to the most competitive version as possible, since I believe that, in this way, the player who acquires it can make a “ladder” between the box version, an intermediate version, and the most competitive version possible that the proposed product can get.
Azorius Spiritsessentially functions as a
Tempo Deck, which aims to advance its evasive creatures while delaying the opponent's game by responding to their cards with counterspells like Lofty Denial or cards that perform relevant effects while also being creatures, like Spell Queller. It bets on the tribal synergy that Spirits and/or flying creatures have thanks to Supreme Phantom and Empyreal Eagle to speed up the clock and end the game quickly. This is the deck for players who like to have a proactive plan, but don't want to completely give up interaction against the opponent, having cards that work on both occasions, while the tribal synergy certainly attracts casual players to this list as well. However, out of the four, this is the one I would
least recommendto a new player. First, because a deck like Spirits is not simple to play and is too punishing to be used in an unpretentious way and without a careful planning, and besides, this is by far the worst deck for pick-and-play. Starting with the lands, the list has two copies of Glacial Fortess and four copies of Temple of Enlightenment, and while manafixing and scry are useful, a Tempo deck like Spirits which has a crescent curve, definitely cannot afford to play lands that enters tapped unconditionally, as it is extremely punitive to the player, as a tapped land on turn 3 can mean not being able to counter the opponent's key card with Spell Queller, for example. Going to the creatures, the list has very strange numbers of its main cards: two copies of Spell Queller and Mausoleum Wanderer, plus one copy of Selfless Spirit are very
questionable numbersto make it functional even if played against the other three products, straight out of the box. It's like this deck was built so you need to buy two of them to start playing. Finally, the sideboard has an equally strange mix of cards, but all are relatively understandable given that these products were not built to be fully complete, although I still consider that there are better options that could be applied, such as an increase in the number of Devout Decree. In summary, Azorius Spirits, despite being attractive and with a good strategy, seems too incomplete to be played straight out of the box because its structure has too few copies of essential cards and its manabase is pretty bad for a Tempo deck. So, how can we improve it?
Bandit Keith, who is commonly in the Top 4 of Pioneer Royale.
alwayscome in handy, even if you decide to change decks. Hallowed Fountain can enter untapped at any stage of the game while interacting very well with Glacial Fortress. Hengegate Pathway is another of the best allied color duals we have in Pioneer these days, but it should always be used planning ahead for your deck's needs, as when you choose a side, it will only generate mana of one color. By the way, if the inclusion of Hengegate Pathway makes the budget too heavy, you can use some copies of Port Town as it interacts well with Hallowed Fountain, but be aware that there will be times when you can have a tapped land on unwanted moments.
Bant Spiritsessentially uses the same base as Azorius Spirits, but includes a green splash for a card that makes a huge difference in the archetype:
extremely viablein larger tournaments, being the fourth most played deck of the format today and managing to get results in virtually every Challenge at the moment.
a pretty bad deck straight out of the box, but it has the potential to be very playable with some light investment where it retains its Azorius base and becomes much more functional and flexible against multiple opponents in a local metagame, and it also becomes one of the best decks of the format today if you decide to invest more and build your Bant version later.
Mono Red Burn
Mono-Red Burnis, as the name suggests, an
Aggrodeck whose objective is to bring the opponent's life total to zero in as few turns as possible and, to complete this objective, it has a low-cost creature base that have great synergy with its spells, as Soul-Scar Mage and Monastery Swiftspear grow every time you cast a noncreature spell, while Ghitu Lavarunner becomes an immediate threat when you have two or more Instants or Sorceries in your Graveyard. In addition, the list also has some reach and impactful plays for later turns, such as Bonecrusher Giant, which can be an early-game removal while also a threat from turn 3 onwards, while Bomat Courier and Light up the Stage allows it to keep the cards running after the first few turns. Considering the gameplay factor, Mono-Red Burn is the
second-best deck to play straight out of the box, as its base is very consistent, its game plan is fast and its main cards are present in the list in abundant quantities, plus archetypes like Mono-Red always have that "free-win" button against unprepared opponents, or punish bad keeps, or heavy mulligans.
cannothave lands entering tapped in the first turns of the game. And the reason you play white, essentially, is not found in the maindeck:
straight out of the box, does a good job of giving you cards for both bases for more competitive versions of red decks, while also working very well on its own, as it has a consistent, monocolored core with four copies of its main cards.
the most complete deckamong the four lists, as it has virtually all the cards needed to function at its best, its dual lands are excellent compared to the other two-color list, and its creatures and spells are essentially the same as the most competitive lists. Auras works like a "voltron", or a "Bogles" on Pioneer, where you, instead of using creatures with built-in protection, benefit from using cards that give protection or indestructible to your enchanted creatures, which will commonly be evasive and/or are value-added threats. The deck revolves around Sram, Senior Edificer and Hateful Eidolon, both cards allows you to keep your hand full as you cast your spells or if an enchanted creature dies, while permanents like Ethereal Armor and All That Glitters make your creatures huge in just a few turns. The issue with Orzhov Auras, however, is that the archetype
is at a low on Pioneer these daysand has made little or no significant results recently, but for a local Metagame, this deck definitely works well and manages to win on its own against unprepared opponents, while its Sideboard allows for better interaction in games 2 and 3. Also, the list comes with its Companion: Lurrus of the Dream-Den, which fits this strategy perfectly. Therefore, Orzhov Auras is
great to play straight out of the box, and it just needs some punctual changes to its lands and Sideboard to be the most competitive version as possible.
Orzhov Aurasis the
best preconstructed deck among the four, having a maindeck and sideboard consistent with the strategy that the most competitive versions propose, and requiring little investment to get to the "final" version from the list. Its only flaw is the space where the archetype is currently in the Metagame, with few results. But in a local Metagame like a store or an FNM, it has a lot of potential right out of the box, and it grows even more when you invest in it.
Lotus Combois the hardest deck to evaluate out of the four, as it has many variations on its lists and its game plan is not the easiest to understand directly. It is essentially a
Combothat abuses Lotus Field along with untap effects such as Hidden Strings or Pore Over the Pages to generate a bountiful amount of mana and then use Fae of Wishes to cast extremely explosive spells from the Sideboard, or cast Peer Into the Abyss to draw half of your own deck and continue looping until you win the game with some combination of cards commonly coming from the Sideboard, cast for free with Omniscience. As for the box list, the winning plan is to use Approach of the Second Sun from the Sideboard and then use it again in the same turn to win the game. It's a valid plan, but it seems under-optimized compared to how the most competitive lists plays.
extremely flexible, and you shouldn't necessarily take all the cards on this list as written in stone and required, as each player has a different way of using the sideboard since it operates as a wincondition and toolbox thanks to Fae of Wishes. In this list, Alpine Moon serves on the Mirror Match, to invalidate the opponent's Lotus Field while yours are active. Nine Lives can win you several turns against aggressive decks, as it prevents a significant amount of damage and adds counters. Which means the opponent needs to have many permanents dealing damage for those counters to pile up quickly. Anger of the Gods works better than Sweltering Suns these days, as it handles Arclight Phoenix, Scrapheap Scrounger and any other creature that returns from the graveyard, the same goes for Shadows' Verdict, although this one is more directed towards Rakdos Pyromancer. Mystical Dispute works well against Control decks, allowing you to have ways to respond to their counters or deal with specific cards on these lists. On the other hand, Niv-Mizzet, Parun and Jace, Wielder of Mysteries work as card advantage and wincondition simultaneously. Niv-Mizzet Parun can essentially win the game if combined with one or more copies of Peer into the Abyss, while also functioning as a wincondition if you can put it into play and maintain the spell streak flowing, drawing a card and dealing 1 damage to the opponent for each spell cast. Jace, Wielder of Mysteries also serves as a Card Advantage engine in games where you need to accumulate resources, while the deck has the means to draw all of its cards with certain patterns, making it an alternative wincondition. As I mentioned earlier, Lotus Combo has a multitude of options available: some lists play Ugin, the Spirit Dragon on the sideboard to control aggressive decks, others adds Emergent Ultimatum and/or Baral, Chief of Compliance on the Maindeck, among other options, and it's up to the player to define which is the best selection for their local metagame. I believe that the Lotus Combo,
despite being well-built and with logical options, and considering that the investment needed to make it more competitive is not so high, it is an extremely challenging deck for its pilot and, as a result, its gameplay straight out of the box is not as accessible to the average player due to the knowledge it demands of the lines that its pilot can go through to win the game. So, my recommendation is that if you plan to buy this deck, have at least one copy of Niv-Mizzet, Parun (because I believe it's a better wincondition than Approach of the Second Sun) and study a lot about it through articles, videos and gameplays to understand exactly how it works and learn its most diverse combo lines.