The Pioneer Metagame in 2022

Magic: the Gathering

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The Pioneer Metagame in 2022

09/15/22 Comment regular icon0 comments

A compilation of the main Pioneer archetypes in 2022 and their respective strategies!

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By Romeu

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translated by Romeu

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revised by Tabata Marques

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Pioneer's Metagame went through a few diverse changes during 2022, with a variety of new releases impacting the competitive landscape while bans on Lurrus of the Dream-Den and Expressive Iteration weakened well-established strategies, such as Orzhov Auras and Izzet Phoenix. So, how is the Pioneer doing after so many changes? And how did last year's releases change the format? In today's article, I introduce you to the current competitive Metagamelink outside website, categorized based on their main cards and strategies.

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Black-Based Midrange

Black-Based Midranges

are what we call the "Thoughtseize decks", being mostly geared towards early game disruption and efficient trade-offs with removals throughout the game, while establishing an advantage with 2 -for-1 effects and threats hard-to-kill threats, or cards that punish the opponent for failing on immediately dealing with them.

Rakdos Midrange

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While there are other options in this category, such as Mono Black, Grixis and Jund variants, the only one who achieved great success in the competitive Metagame today is

Rakdos Midrange

— establishing itself as the best deck in the format since the last wave of bans, and received great reinforcements in the last sets.
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Considered the most balanced deck in the format, Rakdos doesn't have many bad matchups and can easily adapt to the rest of the Metagame — the efficient combination of cheap removals, strong clock, and recurring card advantage is hard to beat — and the potential to adapt its list as per the demands of your local scene allows its pilot to handle

almost

any situation with the proper measures for each event. Its natural weakness, however, is the archetypes that can accumulate more value in the medium term or play over it by cheating in mana, such as Nykthos Ramp or Niv-to-Light.

Nykthos Ramp

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Formerly known as

Mono Green Devotion

, Nykthos Ramp is a mostly green deck geared towards mana acceleration with Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx to cast powerful spells and bury your opponent in value. More recent variants have been adopting more Planeswalkers thanks to easy access to any color combination with Oath of Nissa, such as Teferi, Who Slows the Sunset and Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God.
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One of its biggest advantages, however, is the efficiency of the toolbox provided by Karn, the Great Creator, making the archetype adapt to any situation while also carrying some winconditions and even infinite mana with your Sideboard. However, due to the setup required in the first few turns to operate efficiently and the high mana cost of its winconditions, it naturally suffers against Tempo decks such as Mono Blue Spirits or extremely aggressive clocks such as Boros Heroic.

Blue-Based Control

Blue-Based Control

counts on extending the game and burying the opponent with card advantage through efficient exchanges and recurring value through Planeswalkers. They are naturally reactive in the early game and have responses to the most varied situations with Counterspells and efficient removals, which allows delaying the opponent's pace until they lose their breath.

Azorius Control

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The most successful variant is

Azorius Control

, as its color combination covers good interactions for different situations: March of Otherworldly Light deals with low-cost permanents, Fateful Absence is comprehensive for destroying creatures and Planeswalkers for two mana, Portable Hole handles early game threats, and Dovin's Veto is the best option available in a Counter war on Pioneer.

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The UW combo also provides access to the format's two best Planeswalkers: Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, which triples in utility as extra draw, removal, and wincondition, plus The Wandering Emperor as a mix of threat and removal in a single card for a fair cost and under the opportunity to respond to the opponent's plays and deal with an important creature.

Dimir Control

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Dimir Control seeks to mitigate the linearity of its answers and the relatively lower quality of its threats through a "Draw-Go", approach where all your plays will preferably be executed on the opponent's turn.
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While the Azorius variants seek to stabilize the game long enough to overwhelm the opponent with Planeswalkers, Dimir executes its plan by extending the game to the point where their resources run out and rely exclusively on Instant-Speed ​​spells and manlands to win the game.

Izzet Control

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Being a recent addition to the Metagame compared to the others,

Izzet Control

seeks to take advantage of the combination between Narset, Parter of Veils and Collective Defiance / Day's Undoing to "lock" the opponent, leaving them with only one card in hand. The realistic advantage of the Izzet color combination is the effectiveness of its removals in an aggressive archetype-oriented environment, as Strangle and Fiery Impulse deals with a massive array of creatures and Planeswalkers for just one mana. Another notable quality of this variant is its threats.
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Like Izzet Phoenix, the low-cost spells make Ledger Shredder and Thing in the Ice powerful winconditions that allow you to close the game much faster than Planeswalkers or Shark Typhoon.

Greasefang

Greasefang is a sub-category that corresponds to all the combo-oriented strategies based on Greasefang, Okiba Boss and Parhelion II, where you use the legendary creature from

Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty

, which came out at the start of the year, to return the vehicle from the graveyard onto the battlefield with Haste, attacking for 13 damage and creating two 4/4 Angel tokens, granting 21 damage over two turns. This is by far Pioneer's most efficient combo today, and several variants were created in the search to execute it in the most efficient way possible. Among them, three stand out:

Abzan Greasefang

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The most successful version currently is the one entirely focused on the combo and with some space for protection/disruption through discard, betting on a self-mill theme — speeding it up while ensuring greater consistency thanks to Can't Stay Away, which allows the player to perform it with all pieces in their graveyard.
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Due to its linear strategy, the Abzan version manages to dedicate more slots to answers against opposing hate and/or to ensure the flow of your game plan with discard spells, while most board interaction is left on the Sideboard.

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Mardu Greasefang

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The Mardu variant is less explosive than the Abzan, but carries some decent threats on its own like Bloodtithe Harvester to support the combo idea, using Blood tokens to drop copies of Parhelion II from your hand or sacrifice them with Deadly Dispute to draw more cards.
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The advantage of the Mardu version is that it interacts a bit better with the creature decks given that it has more maindeck removals, but at the cost of reducing its consistency in executing the combo without fully going to the Midrange plan.

Esper Greasefang

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There are two variants of Esper Greasefang — since one of them is just a worse Mardu, I'll focus on the one that leverage Raffine, Scheming Seer and the

Connive

mechanic to create a "Midrange with a combo finisher". I often call it

Obscura Greasefang

.
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Raffine, Scheming Seer is a powerful threat on its own by making any creature of yours stronger while also filtering the deck and discarding copies of Parhelion II and/or useless interactions from your hand, and unlike variants above, Esper Greasefang wins most of its games by pressing the "free-win button" at an inopportune moment while directly interacting with the opponent through "fair" beatdown plan.

Spellslingers

I categorize as

Spellslinger

archetypes whose strategy involves casting multiple spells in a single turn. They are usually Red-Based

or

have red in their composition, and mostly rely on Prowess and/or Ledger Shredder to function. In general, these decks rely on Tempo to operate, seeking to dictate the pace of the game and "cheat" in the pressure they establish, either by increasing the power of their creatures absurdly, as is the case with Illuminator Virtuoso, or putting various threats into play, such as Arclight Phoenix.

Izzet Phoenix

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Once the best deck in the format by a huge margin, Izzet Phoenix suffered a massive loss when Expressive Iteration was banned, but has remained among Pioneer's top competitors to this day thanks to its efficient combination of cheap spells next to Treasure Cruise to keep the gas running.
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As a

Turbo Xerox

deck, this archetype features a high number of cantrips (Consider, Opt) and hand filtering (Ledger Shredder, Chart a Course) to find the necessary parts during games. Its focus is to place a high number of Arclight Phoenix in the graveyard, while performing a sequence of spells to return them to the battlefield, while Ledger Shredder and/or Thing in the Ice offers a nice backup.

Izzet Prowess

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Izzet Prowess

are the variants that, instead of betting on Arclight Phoenix as a wincondition, seek to increase the board position with Young Pyromancer alongside bigger threats like Crackling Drake, or through an aggressive stance with Monastery Swiftspear and Soul-Scar Mage.

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The absence of Phoenix makes this variant less susceptible to hate than the former version - something relevant in a Metagame where Graveyard Trespasser is common in other people's maindeck. Also, the absence of the need to cast things quickly makes room for an attrition proposal, allowing more room for reactive spells like Spell Pierce.

Boros Heroic

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Considered one of the best Aggro decks in the format today,

Boros Heroic

bets on a more aggressive and faster approach to win the game in a few turns using pump and protection spells alongside creatures that benefit from the number of spells cast, or from become their target.
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Heroic was one of the archetypes that received the most benefits with the 2022 releases: Ancestral Anger is a powerful cantrip that offers evasion, Illuminator Virtuoso can win the game in a single attack, and Homestead Courage increases the power of your threats while triggering them twice. This combination makes it one of the most famous in the format today and a solid option for the competitive scene.

Sacrifice

Sacrifice

are archetypes aimed at the interaction between Mayhem Devil, Cauldron Familiar and Witch's Oven, which seek to accumulate value each turn while dealing gradual damage to the opponent and/or controlling the board through the triggers and benefits of sacrificing your permanents.

Rakdos Sacrifice

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Rakdos Sacrifice is the base version of these archetypes: It relies directly on your card interactions and seeks to maximize them by running Experimental Synthesizer and Unlucky Witness. It typically operates faster than the tricolor variants, relying on more low-cost permanents and occasionally resorting to Oni-Cult Anvil to gradually improve the weight position with Cat-Oven.
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Jund Sacrifice

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The Jund variant doesn't differ all that much today from Rakdos Sacrifice, but it does have a powerful value engine, Korvold, Fae-Cursed King.
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Korvold turns every sacrifice trigger of yours into an extra draw while naturally growing with what the deck already sets out to do, demanding an immediate response from your opponent to prevent you from burying them in card advantage. Other slower versions used to run Gilded Goose and Trail of Crumbs to further improve Food interactions.

Creature-Based Aggro

Creature-Based Aggro

encompass all strategies that seek to win the game with a huge number of creatures in play — whether those strategies have tribal synergies, or that take advantage of an abundance of threats in play to tap into some spell or synergy that win the game on your own.

Humans

Humans is by far the most diverse in this category: it has Mono-White, Orzhov, Bant, Abzan, and Four-Color versions, but all exist on the same founding base - Thalia's Lieutenant and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben.

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Mono White Humans

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The Mono-White version is the most straightforward and relies exclusively on a beatdown strategy, increasing the pressure each turn while protecting your creatures with Brave the Elements and resorting to Adeline, Resplendent Cathar to increase the clock and Brutal Cathar for interaction. Also, going with a Mono-White base makes room for utilitarian lands like Mutavault.

Orzhov Humans

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The Orzhov version increases the potential of turn 1 aggressive drops with Bloodsoaked Champion, as well as including another high-quality threat with Graveyard Trespasser and an extra lord with General Kudro of Drannith. Adding a second color also increases the Sideboard options.

Bant Humans

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The Bant version offers one of Pioneer's most powerful staples: Collected Company, and that along with the card advantage provided by Werewolf Pack Leader would be enough for a Selesnya version. But the addition of blue offers one of the most efficient Tempo plays for an aggro deck, Reflector Mage.

Four-Color Humans

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The Four-Color version — made possible by lands that tap for any color for creature spells — pursues a

toolbox

strategy through Pyre of Heroes, where you find the necessary creature for each situation as per the mana cost requirements. And the artifact's interaction with Extraction Specialist, where you can return a sacrificed creature to the battlefield to use them again the next turn, generates an absurd amount of value that allows you to stay ahead of your opponent.

Spirits

Spirits is, at its core, a Tempo Deck that relies on the interaction between your creatures and the ability to cast them on your opponent's turn to win the game. There are three versions: Mono Blue, Azorius, and Bant. However, the Azorius version is mostly worse than the others for trying to operate in a middle ground, so I will only cover the other two options.

Mono Blue Spirits

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The Mono Blue variant is as close to a true Tempo deck as we have in the format: you cast a creature, enchant it with Curious Obsession and seek to protect it as long as you can. Then play another creature, and seeks to protect both and thus advance its game plan while delaying the opponent's with Counterspells. This version is a great answer for any archetype with a greedy manabase, or that takes too much time preparing a setup, while having a hard time against faster strategies that might just ignore what you're doing and put pressure on you in combat as your clock doesn't it is as efficient as a pure Aggro.

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Bant Spirits

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The Bant version has more tribal synergies with Empyrean Eagle and also counts on Spell Queller as another efficient Tempo play, but is slowed down due to the addition of two colors in the manabase — something the archetype tries to compensate for with Collected Company.

Angels

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Angels is a Selesnya list that relies on Collected Company to pressure your opponent while gaining an insane amount of life with every creature that comes into play.
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Due to its notorious Lifegain interaction coupled to an efficient clock, this strategy is powerful against the other Aggro decks, but loses against Control or more removal-oriented Midranges, in addition to interacting poorly with combos.

Mono Red Aggro

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The only "non-tribal" archetype in this category with recurring results is the

Mono Red Aggro

, where instead of betting on a proposal of synergy between creatures, it seeks to have many threats in play to increase the devotion for Anax, Hardened in the Forge and to cast Embercleave quickly.
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Its idea is to apply pressure on the opponent every turn: Kumano Faces Kakkazan on 1 means a larger creature on turn 2, which will eventually lead to Anax, Hardened in the Forge or Bonecrusher Giant on turn 3 and a fateful Embercleave on the next turn. And even if that ideal play doesn't happen, Mono Red is flexible enough to win the game through different means. Some versions even prefer more board interaction and direct damage rather than relying on Embercleave and Torbran, Thane of Red Fell to win the match, resorting to Soul-Scar Mage and Monastery Swiftspear as your aggressive early-game drops.

Goodstuff Decks

Goodstuff

encompasses all archetypes that seek to run four or more colors to use most of the best cards in the format with an interactive and synergistic plan based on some spell or powerful engine. Commonly, they are toolbox strategies.

Niv-to-Light

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Niv-to-Light is a multicolored toolbox that seeks to bury the opponent in card advantage with compelling mid- or late-game bombs. Its main interaction is with Bring to Light as a tutor for any spell on the list, but ideally used to fetch Niv-Mizzet Reborn — a gigantic creature that offers five or more cards in your hand when it hits the board.
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This archetype has a slower strategy than traditional Midranges, making it more susceptible and vulnerable to Tempo decks or Spellslingers, but the amount of value set in later turns is one of Pioneer's most efficient.

Enigmatic Fires

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Enigmatic Fires takes the word "Toolbox" to the literal level: it is the archetype with the most one-ofs in the format.

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Its strategy involves using Enigmatic Incarnation alongside enchantments to seek out the right creatures: be it recursion with Renegade Railer, card advantage with Kenrith, the Returned King, a value bomb like Yorion, Sky Nomad or an immediate threat like Titan of Industry. Each enchantment used in the list is efficient to serve some purpose like correcting mana, filtering draws, or interacting with opponents' cards — something the new Leyline Binding does masterfully. Its biggest weakness, however, is its reliance on its enchantments to work, as well as the difficulty of the knowledge needed to know all its ins and outs.

Combo

This category encompasses all combo archetypes that rely on more than just two cards to function, and require major deckbuilding concessions.

Lotus Combo

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Lotus Combo relies on the interaction between Lotus Field with untap effects like Hidden Strings and Pore Over the Pages to generate an insane amount of mana — enough to cast Emergent Ultimatum, fetch Omniscience, Mastermind's Acquisition and another tutor and/or Peer into the Abyss, where your opponent will normally return Omniscience and you will cast the remaining cards. The idea is that you have enough mana to cast Omniscience and then fetch Approach of the Second Sun from your Sideboard and use your other spells to fetch and cast it again.
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There are several lines that lead to this result, and knowing how to interpret them and understand when to apply each one of them is the most difficult challenge for the Lotus Combo player. But once you've mastered the archetype, it's one of the most rewarding decks in the format.

Four-Color Ascendancy

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Four-Color Ascendancy is a combo based on Jeskai Ascendancy interacting with mana dorks to generate an insane amount of mana and increase the power of your creatures. Ideally, you want to transform your lands into creatures with Sylvan Awakening and then start the spell chain, increasing their power to the point where they can attack for lethal damage.
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Dominaria Unitedlink outside website has brought a powerful addition to this archetype with Llanowar Loamspeaker — a creature that serves both to correct your mana and speed up the cast of your spells, as well as turning your lands into creatures with its second ability.

Conclusion

That's all for today. Pioneer went through several changes during 2022, and it's interesting to see how much the Metagame has developed in the last year. I hope this article helps you better understand how the format currently works. Thanks for reading!
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Romeu

Journalism student, writer and translator for Cards Realm. Plays virtually every Magic: The Gathering competitive format and is a lifetime Final Fantasy fan.

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