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Metagame Mentor: Pioneer at the October 2023 RCs in China and Australia

November 02, 2023
Frank Karsten

Hello and welcome back to Metagame Mentor, your weekly guide to the top decks and latest Constructed developments on the path to the Pro Tour. This past weekend, hundreds of competitors entered the Regional Championships in China and Australia. The key to success was innovation, preparation, and choosing a deck that matches your play style. In this article, we'll take a closer look at the most notable deck-related innovations and stories from last weekend.

Congratulations to the Regional Champions!

Brett Girvan

Brett Girvan, who qualified in a Last Chance Qualifier, won the the ANZ Super Series Final (i.e., the Regional Championship for Australia and New Zealand) with Boros Heroic, earning an invitation to Magic World Championship 30 in 2024. In addition, the top 8 players earned an invite to Pro Tour Murders at Karlov Manor , which features the Pioneer format and will be held at MagicCon: Chicago on February 23–25, 2024.

Fu Yu

Fu Yu, who qualified via RCQ at Qidian Cardgames in Wuhan, won the MTG China Open (i.e., the Regional Championship for China) with Rakdos Sacrifice, earning an invitation to Magic World Championship 30 in 2024. In addition, the top 4 players earned an invite to Pro Tour Murders at Karlov Manor .

The Metagame and Win Rates

In total, 372 decklists were submitted across the two Regional Championships. After fixing mislabeled archetypes, I determined the combined metagame share and the match win rates (non-mirror, non-bye, non-draw) of every archetype this past weekend. In the following table, each archetype name hyperlinks to a well-performing decklist close to the aggregate of that archetype.

Archetype Percentage of Field Match Win Rate
1. Rakdos Midrange 15.1% 51.0%
2. Izzet Phoenix 9.4% 52.5%
3. Mono-Green Devotion 8.3% 49.5%
4. Lotus Field Combo 7.0% 46.2%
5. Mono-White Humans 6.5% 45.7%
6. Boros Convoke 5.9% 54.7%
7. Abzan Greasefang 4.8% 53.0%
8. Rakdos Sacrifice 4.0% 49.5%
9. Azorius Control 3.8% 60.2%
10. Rona to Light 3.8% 50.5%
11. Azorius Spirits 3.8% 42.0%
12. Boros Heroic 3.2% 52.3%
13. Gruul Vehicles 3.0% 50.0%
14. Enigmatic Fires 3.0% 34.6%
15. Atarka Red 1.9% 45.7%
16. Omnath to Light 1.9% 56.0%
17. Izzet Creativity 1.9% 59.6%
18. Azorius Lotus Field 1.3% 50.0%
19. Other 11.6% 46.5%

The "Other" category included such deck archetypes as Waste Not, Bant Auras, Jeskai Ascendancy Combo, Dimir Control, Mardu Greasefang, Mono-Black Midrange, Golgari Midrange, Orzhov Midrange, Selesnya Angels, Rona Combo, Bant Lotus Field, Boros Humans, Selesnya Company, Rakdos Transmogrify, Temur Phoenix, Goblins, Boros Pia, Elves, Archfiend Alteration, and more. Note that I distinguished between 80-card Rona to Light decks, which were popular, and 60-card Rona combo lists, which saw comparatively less play. The newfangled 80-card Rona to Light decks, which are to Izzet Phoenix but strong against Lotus Field Combo, are here to stay.

Both of last weekend's Regional Championships featured similar metagame trends. Compared to the preceding Regional Championship weekend in Europe and Canada, Izzet Phoenix has kept its upward trajectory, with its newfound additions of Picklock Pranksterand Sleight of Hand. As a result, decks that are well-positioned against it, such as Lotus Field Combo, have ticked up. Decks that struggle against Izzet Phoenix, such as Azorius Spirits, have ticked down. Finally, as Rakdos Midrange is better against Izzet Phoenix than Rakdos Sacrifice, Sheoldred, the Apocalypse is starting to eclipse Mayhem Devil in popularity.

Although the win rates are provided in the table for completeness, there was no archetype that performed significantly better or worse than 50% against the field. Due to the relatively small sample size, the differences between the observed win rates could very well be due to natural variation, and no strong conclusions can be drawn. Perhaps after the quadruple Regional Championships this coming weekend, I may be able to do more meaningful analysis. For now, the Pioneer metagame appears reasonably well-balanced.

Seven Successful Decks in the Spotlight

Let's zoom in on the seven biggest deck-related innovations, lessons, and developments to come out of last weekend's Regional Championship.

Brett Girvan crushed the Top 8 of the ANZ Super Series Final with an aggressive Boros Heroic build, preparing with hundreds and hundreds of games before the event this weekend. "The deck slaps," he said, highlighting the effectiveness of boosting Illuminator Virtuoso with Monstrous Rage.

The recent addition from Wilds of Eldraine had been a big boost for the archetype. After multiple Boros Heroic players had already won Pro Tour invites at earlier Regional Championships in Europe and Canada, the victory of Brett Girvan cements the power of the deck. He went undefeated throughout the event, showing that if you pick an archetype and test many hundreds of games, your preparation may be rewarded. Expect more in-depth coverage of Girvan's victory in Corbin Hosler's The Week That Was column tomorrow!

While Boros Heroic clinched the trophy, a different Boros deck also had excellent results at the Regional Championship for Australia and New Zealand. Both Willow Moon and Jose Gabriel Hilario made the Top 8, both earning a Pro Tour invite. "Gleeful Demolition is like Black Lotus, but with goblin friends," Willow Moon said as they locked up a back-to-back Regional Championship Top 8.

While Boros Convoke is an established Pioneer archetype, there was innovation to be found in Jose Gabriel Hilario's list. Instead of Regal Bunnicorn or Clarion Spirit, he ran Thalia, Guardian of Thraben in the main deck, which seems well-positioned when Izzet Phoenix, Lotus Field Combo, and Rona to LIght are ticking up in popularity. Antoine Nguyen, who came within one win of the Top 8, also ran Thalia main deck, providing further credence to the card choice. Given where the Pioneer metagame appears to be headed, I like the tweak and wouldn't be surprised if this becomes the norm going forward.

Dillon Kikkawa made Top 8 in Australia, leveraging The Huntsman's Redemption in Gruul Vehicles. "The deck is proactive and powerful, with lots of options", he said. Following breakout finishes of Gruul Vehicles with The Huntsman's Redemption at previous Regional Championships, Kikkawa added several unique silver bullets to enhance the Saga's second chapter. He could fetch Klothys, God of Destiny to dodge sweepers, Halana and Alena, Partners to leverage the boost of the next chapter, or Eldrazi Obligator to set up surprise lethal after sideboard. The addition of these powerful options helped him clinch a Pro Tour invite.

The tweaks in his list went further than the singletons. When you plan to sacrifice 1/1 mana dorks to The Huntsman's Redemption, Lovestruck Beast gets worse, giving an incentive to run Fable of the Mirror-Breaker instead. When a new card gets added to an existing archetype, you have to reevaluate all existing choices, and I like how Kikkawa's innovations allow his deck to make the most of The Huntsman's Redemption. All in all, the Saga is proving itself to be one of the top new cards from Wilds of Eldraine, and it was even used in Abzan Greasefang by Cho Yiu Lam, who went 5-2 at the Regional Championship in China.

Atarka Red did not come near the top of the standings last weekend, but it may be poised to break out soon. The deck won the last Regional Championship in China several months ago, showing its power, and I noticed that it rose to a sizable 1.9% of the field last weekend. Its fiery aggression can prey on the rise of Lotus Field Combo, and the deck gained a lot from the latest set.

From Wilds of Eldraine, Atarka Red gained not one, not two, but three new cards, which is more than almost every other Pioneer strategy. Questing Druid is a powerhouse that grants a fast clock, late-game staying power, and a way to trigger prowess. Goddric, Cloaked Reveler exploits the fact that Kumano Faces Kakkazan exiles itself and returns to the battlefield to enable celebration. And Witchstalker Frenzy is hyper-efficient removal in a deck that floods the board with cheap, hasty creatures. If I were preparing for an upcoming Regional Championship, then I would test Atarka Red and try to find the optimal build. Given that it won a Regional Championship a few months ago and gained multiple new cards, it has a lot of potential.

After adopting Thoughtseize, Rakdos Sacrifice became the breakout deck of the previous Regional Championship cycle several months ago. The version that Fu Yu used to win last weekend's Regional Championship in China does not have standout card choices, but he did have good reasons to choose it: "The deck is strong, suits my playstyle, and I thought it would be well-positioned for the metagame." Even though Rakdos Sacrifice struggles against Izzet Phoenix, he showed that picking the right deck for your playstyle can carry you towards success.

This insight is widely applicable because the Pioneer metagame is fairly homogenous across Regional Championships. Even though there are always tiny differences—for example, the MTG China Open had slightly more Mono-White Humans and slightly less Lotus Field Combo than the ANZ Super Series Final—the major metagame trends have been fairly consistent across regions. Deck familiarity is important for diverse formats, which was shown last weekend with four different decks across the finals: Boros Convoke beat Abzan Greasefang in Australia, while Rakdos Sacrifice beat Rakdos Midrange in China.

Grand Prix Shanghai 2014 champion Yu Yin made Top 4 in China with Waste Not, earning a Pro Tour invite. Thoughtseize, Go Blank, and Liliana of the Veil can force opponents to discard their best cards before they get to play them, and it only gets better when Waste Not rewards you with extra creatures, extra mana, or extra cards. It's the first breakout finish for the archetype, which had already been on the rise for months.

Yu Yin not only proved the power of the deck but also brought several innovative card choices. With the rise of Izzet Phoenix and Boros Convoke in mind, he used Graveyard Trespasser and The End, which can exile a discarded Arclight Phoenix, alongside Path of Peril as a one-sided sweeper. With a few copies of Brightclimb Pathway, he can sometimes even pay the cleave cost too. Finally, Yu Yin highlighted Karvek, the Spiteful from his sideboard as his best card of the weekend, as it proved valuable against Boros Convoke, Mono-White Humans, and Abzan Greasefang. All of these small card choice innovations added up to a memorable Top 4 finish.

Xuan Ji Wang went 6-2 in China, one win short of advancing to the Top 8. Wang's deck is an innovative take on Izzet Creativity, using Flip the Switch and Torch the Tower. Flip the Switch was recently popularized by Pascal Vieren in Transmogrify, but it also fits just as well in a Creativity deck. It's a piece of interaction that puts a token onto the battlefield, which the deck can turn into Torrential Gearhulk or, after sideboard, Atraxa, Grand Unifier.

Torch the Tower is seeing more and more play in various Pioneer decks because Izzet Phoenix is on the rise and it's an efficient answer to Arclight Phoenix. It excels in Izzet Creativity because all the tokens also count as bargain fodder. Yet Torch the Tower fits in many other red decks too; for example, it's becoming a common one-of in Rakdos Midrange decks. These are the card choices you should consider to keep up with the evolving Pioneer metagame.

Looking Ahead

The keys to success in Pioneer remain preparation, innovation, and choosing a deck that matches your play style. With enough practice, anyone can qualify and make their way. Yet as this article showed, small innovations and adaptations to account for the rise of Izzet Phoenix and Lotus Field Combo can improve your chances of success as well. A skilled player who is well-versed in their deck's interactions and matchup strategies, with a well-adapted list for the metagame, can win with almost everything.

I look forward to seeing how the metagame keeps developing, as this coming weekend features Regional Championships in four different regions! The schedule for the remaining Regional Championships in this first cycle of the 2023–24 season is as follows:

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