Skip to main content Download External Link Facebook Facebook Twitter Instagram Twitch Youtube Youtube Discord Left Arrow Right Arrow Search Lock Wreath icon-no-eye caret-down Add to Calendar download Arena copyText Info Close

Metagame Mentor: Pioneer Before the Regional Championships

November 17, 2022
Frank Karsten

Hello and welcome back to Metagame Mentor, the weekly column in which I highlight the decks to beat and the latest Constructed format developments on the path to the Pro Tour. The main way to qualify for the Pro Tour is by placing highly at a Regional Championship, and this weekend features the very first of those!

In today's article, I'll summarize key details of this first round of Regional Championships, and I will provide an overview of the Constructed format, Pioneer, right before the release of The Brothers' War.

Regional Championship Guide

Regional Championships are major Magic events—a focal point for play in each geographic region. They happen three times per year and are scheduled approximately one to three months before their corresponding Pro Tour.

The schedule for the first Regional Championships is as follows:

Format: For all of these first Regional Championships, the format is Pioneer, and The Brothers' War will be legal. (In 2023, the format for the second round will be Standard, and the format for the third round will be Pioneer.)

Decklists: Regional Championships will use open decklists, to be submitted by competitors on MTG Melee on the day before the event starts. Exact details and timing are provided by the local organizer. Once the event gets underway, decklists will become publicly available and you can follow the standings live. To do so, bookmark the MTG Melee pages for the Regional Championships held in U.S.A, Europe, and Brazil. For more updates on the events, follow the regional organizers for U.S.A., Europe, and Brazil on Twitter, or keep an eye on our @PlayMTG account.

Invites: Regional Championships are invitation-only events. Most of the invites stem from Regional Championship Qualifiers (RCQs) held at local stores or larger conventions in July, August, and September of this year. On the Friday before each Regional Championship, the event hall can also hold Last Chance Qualifiers. Additional invitees include players who qualified through Magic Online or MTG Arena, members of the 2021-22 Magic Pro League and Magic Rivals League, top challengers from that season, and members of the Hall of Fame who use their "once-per-year" invite. More precise details can be found here. All in all, the level of competition will be fierce, and many of the best players in each region will be in attendance.

Prizes: Besides Teferi, Hero of Dominaria promo cards and monetary prizes, which total $100,000 in Europe and $130,000 in the U.S.A., top players from each Regional Championship will qualify for the first Pro Tour, to be held at MagicCon: Philadelphia on February 17-19. The exact number of Pro Tour invites differs per region. For example, it's 36 in Europe and 48 in U.S.A. Additionally, all Regional Championship winners, as well as the runners-up from U.S.A., Japan, and Europe, will be invited to the World Championship in 2023. All in all, these are big, big events, with a lot on the line.

Video coverage in Europe: The Regional Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria will be livestreamed on The commentators are Matej Zatlkaj, TheWillHallExp, Filipa Carola, and HarryMTG. The two-day event starts on Saturday November 19 at 9 a.m. EET (8 a.m. CET / 2 a.m. ET).

Video coverage in U.S.A.: The Regional Championships in Atlanta, Georgia will be livestreamed at The commentators are Corey Baumeister, Eilidh Lonie, Mani Davoudi, and Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa. The livestream of this two-day event starts on Saturday November 19 at 12 p.m. ET (9 a.m. PT / 6 p.m. CET).

I'm excited to see the next step in premier play take shape! I hope everyone will have a great time this and coming weekends, whether you're competing, cheering on your favorite players, or following the events otherwise. If you would like to test your mettle in future Regional Championships, then you can find RCQs around you by using the store and event locator with the filter "Regional Championship Qualifier" and/or by visiting your regional organizer's website.

Pioneer Metagame Snapshot

Pioneer is a nonrotating format based on expansion sets and core sets from Return to Ravnica forward, and the most notable cards on the ban list are the fetch lands.

To provide a metagame snapshot that combines popularity and performance, I used decklists from competitive events over the past few weeks. Specifically, I used all available Magic Online decklists from Pioneer Preliminary and Pioneer Challenge events held from October 28 through November 15. (Due to publication issues, at the time of writing there were no such decklists available from events held after November 8.) In addition, I used Top 8 decklists from the RCQ at RNG Games, RCQ at Games Haven, and RCQ at Block 101 Hobbies Store, and I used decklists with at most one more loss than win from the NRG Series $5K Trial Fort Wayne, SCG CON 1 p.m. Trial, SCG CON 4 p.m. Trial, SCG CON $30K RCQ, and SCG CON $5K RCQ. This yielded 687 decks, with archetype labels algorithmically assigned by me.

A large source of decklists was last weekend's SCG CON in Philadelphia. It featured several RCQs that awarded invitations for the second Regional Championship, which can be scheduled between February 25 and April 9 in 2023. In the finals of the 288-player $30K event at SCG CON, Vincent Vitanza, playing Gruul Vehicles, defeated Dan Jessup, playing Rakdos Midrange. Skysovereign, Consul Flagship was one of the key cards; in the words of the champion, "Boat boat boat boat BOOOOOAT!"

But we'll get to the boats later. For each deck I used from SCG CON and the other competitive events, I assigned a number of points equal to its rectified number of match wins minus its number of match losses. For example, a deck that went 5–1 in the Swiss followed by a loss in the quarterfinals was assigned three points. The sum of these numbers for every archetype was then used to determine its record-weighted metagame share, which represents its share of total net wins. In the table below, archetype names hyperlink to a well-performing decklist closest to the aggregate of the archetype.

Archetype Record-Weighted Metagame Share
1. Green Devotion 13.8%
2. Izzet Phoenix 13.8%
3. Rakdos Midrange 9.5%
4. Mono-White Humans 8.8%
5. Azorius Control 6.7%
6. Lotus Field 5.8%
7. Keruga Fires 5.1%
8. Bant Spirits 4.3%
9. Gruul Vehicles 3.5%
10. Abzan Greasefang 3.1%
11. Dimir Control 2.8%
12. Rakdos Sacrifice 2.8%
13. Selesnya Angels 2.2%
14. Enigmatic Incarnation 2.2%
15. Mono-Blue Spirits 1.4%
16. Izzet Creativity 1.4%
17. Boros Heroic 1.1%
18. Mono-Red Aggro 0.8%
19. Mono-Black Midrange 0.7%
20. Niv to Light 0.7%
21. Zombies 0.7%
Other 8.8%

Continuing the descending order, the "Other" category contained Boros Midrange, Grixis Midrange, Esper Control, Elves, Dimir Midrange, Jund Sacrifice, Atarka Red, Azorius Spirits, Orzhov Humans, Golgari Company, Four-Color Humans, Izzet Prowess, Grinning Ignus, Dimir Dragons, Dimir Spirits, Bant Company, Jund Transmogrify, Jodah Humans, Gruul Stompy, and more. The number of competitively viable Pioneer archetypes remains enormous.

The most-played nonland cards across all main decks and sideboards were Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, Thoughtseize, Fatal Push, Bonecrusher Giant, Mystical Dispute, Llanowar Elves, Elvish Mystic, and Unlicensed Hearse. These are the true staples of the format.

The breakdown in the above table could be interpreted as a winner's metagame, i.e., a distribution of the types of decks that you could expect to face at the top tables if you were to make a deep run in a Pioneer tournament over the last few weeks. The top four archetypes in the metagame right now are Green Devotion, Izzet Phoenix, Rakdos Midrange, and Mono-White Humans. The biggest developments since my previous Pioneer analysis in October are the uptick for Izzet Phoenix, the emergence of Keruga Fires, and the downtick in Rakdos Midrange.

To showcase good, typical lists for all archetypes with at least a 2% record-weighted metagame share, I used a proprietary aggregation method that combines popularity and performance. The core of the method was explained in an article, but I have since extended it by considering win rates, sideboards, companions, land counts, and other relevant aspects, inspired by the theory behind artificial neural networks. It provides a systematic way to pinpoint the top fourteen "Decks to Beat" in Pioneer right before the release of The Brothers' War. Let's take a look.

Green Devotion, at 13.8% of the winner's metagame, has been the #1 archetype in Pioneer for a while. With Elves and Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, you can potentially ramp into a turn-three Storm the Festival and put Karn, the Great Creator and Cavalier of Thorns onto the battlefield. With such raw power, it can go over the top of midrange decks. However, it is weak to blazingly fast aggro decks, which can exploit Green Devotion's lack of creature removal and reliance on expensive spells.

When playing against this deck, you should be aware that Green Devotion is capable of convoluted infinite loops. In tabletop events, I recommend using pen and paper to track your opponent's mana in pool, potential land drop for the turn, the number of The Chain Veil activations, the number of times Karn, the Great Creator has been activated, and the number of times Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner has been activated. This way, you'll make sure the game state remains clear and accurate.

The Brothers' War will introduce a lot of cards that could bolster Karn, the Great Creator. New sideboard options include Cityscape Leveler, Haywire Mite, The Stone Brain, Woodcaller Automaton, The Stasis Coffin, The Mightstone and Weakstone, and Portal to Phyrexia. We'll see this weekend which ones deserve a slot and how impactful they are.

Izzet Phoenix, also at 13.8% of the record-weighted metagame, has been on the rise and is now basically tied with Green Devotion in terms of metagame dominance. The game plan is to put multiple Arclight Phoenix into the graveyard, typically via Pieces of the Puzzle or Lightning Axe, and then recur them by chaining three one-mana spells in a single turn. Ledger Shredder, which has edged out Thing in the Ice in most lists, is also a good way to set up your graveyard.

When playing against this deck, try to avoid jamming into Spell Pierce if you can avoid it. It's usually only a two-of, but if your opponent is conspicuously holding a blue mana up, then consider casting a noncreature spell instead. Also, keep in mind that Izzet Phoenix is capable of copying Treasure Cruise or Temporal Trespass with Galvanic Iteration, which is often a game-winning play.

The Brothers' War introduces Brotherhood's End, which may be superior to Sweltering Suns from the sideboard. It not only damages planeswalkers but also gives you an out to Unlicensed Hearse. The artifact is a popular sideboard card against Izzet Phoenix, and Brotherhood's End may help to fight back.

Rakdos Midrange, at 9.5% of the winner's metagame, has been on the downtick over the past few weeks, but it's still the premier traditional midrange deck in Pioneer. Featuring discard, removal, value-generating permanents, and mid-sized creatures, it can take the role of an aggro deck against control players or the role of a control deck against aggro players. Add a flexible sideboard, and Rakdos Midrange has the tools to fight anything, especially creature decks. From Dominaria United, Liliana of the Veil has not lived up to expectations, but Sheoldred, the Apocalypse has established a home in most lists.

When playing against this deck, you should mulligan slightly less aggressively than you otherwise might because you'll need all the resources you can muster. If you mulligan aggressively in search of certain key cards, then that will often be foiled by Thoughtseize and Dreadbore. When they deprive you of further resources with Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger, mulligans look even less appealing. Against Rakdos Midrange, you need raw cardboard, so a mediocre seven-card hand is often better than a synergistic six-card hand.

Mono-White Humans, at 8.8% of the record-weighted metagame, is the premier aggro deck in Pioneer. Human tribal decks in Pioneer come in many colors, but all of them rally around Thalia's Lieutenant. The benefit of staying mono-color is that you can effortlessly fit Mutavault and Castle Ardenvale into your mana base and that you can steal games with Brave the Elements.

When playing against this deck, you should always have surprise lethal of Brave the Elements in mind. The instant can not only counter removal spells but also provides a massive burst of damage past your opponent's blockers. Consider blocking and trading off early to avoid the crowded battlefields where the card excels. Also remember that Mutavault is colorless.

Azorius Control, at 6.7% of the winner's metagame, is the premier control deck in Pioneer. It has all the typical ingredients you might expect: Spot removal, countermagic, card draw, sweepers and planeswalkers. Nearly everyone over the past few weeks opted for a 60-card version, steering clear of Yorion, Sky Nomad to get better consistency.

When playing against this deck, you always have to be wary of sweepers and countermagic. Don't overextend your threats into Supreme Verdict, and sometimes play a cheaper but worse spell to play around Censor. Their exact suite of answers is always changing; lately in Azorius Control main decks, we're seeing more Temporary Lockdown and Make Disappear and fewer Portable Hole and Detention Sphere. In sideboards, Settle the Wreckage has returned as well. Every Azorius Control list is different, but these are relevant aggregate trends.

Lotus Field, at 5.8% of the record-weighted metagame, has made a comeback as the premier combo deck in Pioneer, perhaps with the intention to prey on Izzet Phoenix. The game plan is to find Lotus Field, get another copy via Thespian's Stage, and untap those lands with Hidden Strings and Pore Over the Pages. This allows you to generate loads of mana in a single turn. Through some wild combination of Emergent Ultimatums, wishes, and tutors, you then generally put Omniscience into play, grab Approach of the Second Sun from your sideboard, and cast it twice to win the game.

From The Brothers' War, The Stone Brain could be a problem for this deck. Previously, Karn, the Great Creator would grab Damping Sphere to nullify Lotus Field, but that artifact was easily destroyed by Boseiju, Who Endures. Now, Karn unlocks The Stone Brain to exile Mastermind's Acquisition, after which the list shown above may no longer be able to win. I'd expect Lotus Field players to add Fae of Wishes // Granted to diversify their win conditions.

Keruga Fires, at 5.1% of the record-weighted metagame, has rapidly emerged as a prominent archetype over the past few weeks, perhaps also with the intention to prey on Izzet Phoenix. The key cards in the deck are Keruga, the Macrosage and Fires of Invention. Fires of Invention essentially doubles up your mana while allowing you to spend your lands on Kenrith, the Returned King's activated abilities. Keruga, the Macrosage comes with a substantial companion restriction, but it can create massive card advantage, especially when you control Fires of Invention.

When playing against this deck, remember that their only ways to do something for less than three mana are Bonecrusher Giant's adventure, Mystical Dispute from the sideboard, and Leyline Binding. Always keep an eye on their domain count because that determines the cost of Leyline Binding.

Bant Spirits, at 4.3% of the winner's metagame, is the most prominent home for Mausoleum Wanderer, Shacklegeist, and Supreme Phantom. There's also Mono-Blue Spirits with Curious Obsession and Geistlight Snare, which crushed the Explorer rounds of World Championship XXVIII, but it has been seeing comparatively less play in Pioneer in recent weeks.

When playing against Bant Spirits, be wary of Spell Queller when they have three mana untapped or four mana for a Collected Company. Think twice before jamming your best spell on turn three into open mana. Likewise, remember that Rattlechains can counter your spot removal spells.

Gruul Vehicles, at 3.5% of the record-weighted metagame, rose to prominence early in October. It's a novel midrange deck whose best draws use Llanowar Elves or Elvish Mystic to ramp into a turn-two Reckless Stormseeker. If you can grant haste to Esika's Chariot, a creature stolen by The Akroan War, or Skysovereign, Consul Flagship, then you'll be dominating the battlefield by turn three or four. The Akroan War is particularly potent against Green Devotion, and Skysovereign, Consul Flagship can singlehandedly defeat Rakdos Midrange.

When playing against this deck, keep a close eye on their companion after sideboard. If they don't reveal Jegantha, the Wellspring, then that generally means that they boarded in Embercleave, so watch out for that. Another interaction to be aware of is that with the third chapter of The Akroan War on the stack, they can tap the stolen creature to crew one of their vehicles.

From The Brothers' War, Obliterating Bolt should be a small upgrade over Lava Coil.

Abzan Greasefang, at 3.1% of the record-weighted metagame, is a combo deck with a decent midrange backup plan. The dream is to put Parhelion II into the graveyard on turn two and to crew it with Greasefang, Okiba Boss on turn three. The latest versions have mostly moved Witherbloom Command to the sideboard, instead favoring the duo of Stitcher's Supplier and Eldritch Evolution to increase consistency in the main deck. The archetype has been waxing and waning over the past months based on the popularity of Leyline of the Void and Karn, the Great Creator (which completely shuts down Parhelion II's crew ability).

When playing against this deck, remember that the best time to kill Greasefang depends on the situation. If they have lots of spare creatures, then kill Gresefang in their main phase before it can trigger. If they have no other pilots, then kill it with the trigger on the stack so that Parhelion II returns to their hand. Also, if you board in Unlicensed Hearse, then consider leaving a 2-power creature untapped so you turn it into a creature in response to a Witherbloom Command that attempts to destroy it.

From The Brothers' War, Diabolic Intent may be an interesting option if you'd want more than four copies of Eldritch Evolution.

Dimir Control, at 2.8 of the winner's metagame, is a relatively new archetype on the competitive Pioneer stage, with no consensus build whatsoever. There's countermagic, removal, discard, planeswalkers, and card draw, but the precise cards differ a lot. Extinction Event is arguably better than Supreme Verdict in the current metagame because it can exile Old-Growth Troll and Cavalier of Thorns.

When playing against this deck, remember the static ability of Narset, Parter of Veils. Don't discard to Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, and try not to trigger Ledger Shredder on your own turn.

Rakdos Sacrifice, at 2.8% of the winner's metagame, is based on the trio of Mayhem Devil, Cauldron Familiar, and Witch's Oven. Together, it creates a once-per-turn loop that drains your opponent, shoots two damage and lets you block for free. This combo appears in both Rakdos Sacrifice and Jund Sacrifice, but the two-color variant with the cleaner mana base has become more prominent.

When playing against this deck, kill Mayhem Devil on sight and be weary of the latest hotness: Kari Zev's Expertise alongside Village Rites. Not everyone has it, but it's a potent combo especially against Old-Growth Troll or Cavalier of Thorns. To mitigate the impact, keep multiple blockers untapped.

Selesnya Angels, at 2.2% of the winner's metagame, is another tribal deck on the rise. Payoffs for focusing on the Angel tribe include Youthful Valkyrie, Bishop of Wings, and Giada, Font of Hope. Righteous Valkyrie and Resplendent Angel have the right creature type, and they love the life gain provided by Bishop of Wings.

From The Brothers' War, Brushland could be an upgrade for the mana base. Also, Kayla's Reconstruction is worse then Collected Company but still worth considering. For reference, in this deck with 12 two-drops and 15 three-drops, Collected Company would put 1.84 creatures with total mana value 5.0 on the battlefield in expectation, which is a gain of 1.0 mana. Kayla's Reconstruction for X=2 would put 1.91 creatures with total mana value 5.28 on the battlefield in expectation, which is a gain of 0.28 mana. Not great, not terrible.

Enigmatic Incarnation, at 2.2% of the record-weighted metagame, has become a Pioneer mainstay ever since Dominaria United added Leyline Binding. The dream is to cast Leyline Binding on turn two or turn three, followed by Enigmatic Incarnation on turn four. This allows you to turn your six-mana enchantment into Titan of Industry, which will rule the battlefield on turn four.

When playing against this deck, you should generally try to win the game before they draw all colors of mana and deploy their key pieces. When given the chance, they will quickly take over the game with Fires of Invention and Yorion, Sky Nomad from the companion zone.

Looking Ahead

In the hands of experienced pilots, all archetypes shown above are capable of doing well at a Regional Championship or RCQ. There is something for everyone, whether you like aggro, midrange, control, ramp, or combo. And I haven't even gotten to some of the more fringe Pioneer archetypes!

The Brothers' War will surely also have an impact on Pioneer. I already mentioned several cards while going over the top archetypes, but new archetypes may emerge as well. Brushland could herald the return of Selesnya Aura decks, and there are several enablers for wacky new combos. For example, Gwenna, Eyes of Gaea goes infinite in combination with Acererak the Archlich and Kinnan, Bonder Prodigy. The rewards for breaking the format with a spicy brew are huge, and many Regional Championship competitors will be trying their best. I'm looking forward to seeing everyone's innovations.

As a reminder, the first Regional Championship season will start this weekend with events in U.S.A, Europe, and Brazil. By Sunday evening, nearly 100 players will have made the Pro Tour. I'll be vying for a slot myself, and I'm excited to see who will prove to be the best in their region. To follow along, don't miss the live streaming coverage from U.S.A. and Europe!

Share Article