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Metagame Mentor: Pioneer Evolution from 5 Regional Championships

June 08, 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. Today, I'll cover the Regional Championships for the United States, East Canada, China, Mexico/Central America/Caribbean, and South East Asia.

After celebrating the champions, who earned their trophies by displaying their prowess in the Pioneer format, I will provide the combined metagame breakdown and match win rates for all major archetypes, followed by an overview of the most notable Pioneer developments, including spicy lists that earned a Pro Tour qualification. Overall, it was a major victory for off-meta, unpopular archetypes, showing that anything can win in Pioneer.

Top players from these Regional Championships earned invitations to Pro Tour The Lord of the Rings, held during MagicCon: Barcelona on July 28–30. This will be an exciting event, but you don't have to be qualified for the Pro Tour to enjoy it. There's something for everyone—awesome cosplay, incredible artists, fascinating panels, direct Pro Tour Qualifiers, the Secret Lair Showdown, and more. The event celebrates all things Magic: The Gathering, and tickets are on sale!

Congratulations to the Regional Champions!

Bradley Schlesinger won the Dreamhack Magic Showdown (i.e., the Regional Championship for the United States) with a Gruul Vehicles deck, defeating Matt Foreman, playing Rakdos Sacrifice, in the finals. Both finalists earned an invitation to World Championship XXIX, and the top 48 eligible players earned an invite to Pro Tour The Lord of the Rings. As Abe Corrigan and Sol Malka were already qualified for this Pro Tour, their invites pass down.

Théo Jacques-Griffin, a 17-year-old talent who picked up paper Magic in September 2022, won Toronto's F2F Tour Championship (i.e., the East Canada Regional Championship) with an Azorius Spirits deck, earning an invitation to World Championship XXIX. In addition, the top 8 players earned an invite to Pro Tour The Lord of the Rings.

Jianwei Liang, who didn't lose a single match all weekend, won the MTG China Open (i.e., the Regional Championship for China) with an Atarka Red deck, earning an invitation to World Championship XXIX. In addition, the top 8 players earned an invite to Pro Tour The Lord of the Rings.

Archi Peralta won The Gathering Final Showdown (i.e., the Regional Championship for Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbea) with a Gruul Vehicles deck. His list—the third red-green deck to win a trophy this weekend—used both Voldaren Thrillseeker and Embercleave for large amounts of burst damage, allowing him to race a turn-four Parhelion II in the finals and earn the invitation to World Championship XXIX. All top 4 players earned an invite to Pro Tour The Lord of the Rings.

Weng Heng Soh won the South East Asia Championships (i.e., the Regional Championship for South East Asia) with a Mono-Green Devotion deck, earning an invitation to World Championship XXIX. In addition, the top 8 players earned an invite to Pro Tour The Lord of the Rings.

The Metagame and Win Rates

Based on the nearly 2,000 decklists submitted across all five Regional Championships, I determined the combined metagame share and the match win rates (non-mirror, non-bye, non-draw) of every archetype.

Archetype Percentage of Field Match Win Rate
1. Rakdos Midrange 21.1% 48.2%
2. Mono-Green Devotion 11.1% 53.8% ✓✓
3. Izzet Creativity 8.2% ↑↑ 45.8%
4. Azorius Control 6.7% 51.1%
5. Abzan Greasefang 6.0% 49.3%
6. Mono-White Humans 5.9% 52.5%
7. Boros Convoke 4.2% 47.7%
8. Lotus Field Combo 3.7% 50.7%
9. Enigmatic Fires 3.5% 50.4%
10. Azorius Spirits 3.2% 57.0% ✓✓
11. Rakdos Sacrifice 2.9% 59.1% ✓✓
12. Omnath to Light 2.4% 47.0%
13. Gruul Vehicles 1.8% 51.0%
14. Dimir Rogues 1.4% 50.2%
15. Neoform Atraxa 1.4% 47.9%
16. Rona Combo 1.1% 48.0%
17. Mono-Black Midrange 1.1% 44.4%
18. Izzet Phoenix 1.0% 43.0%
19. Niv to Light 1.0% 42.6%
20. Selesnya Angels 0.8% 54.3%
21. Azorius Lotus Field 0.8% 62.5% ✓✓
22. Mono-Blue Spirits 0.8% 54.2%
23. Other 10.6% 45.8%

In this table, each archetype name hyperlinks to a well-performing decklist close to the aggregate of that archetype. The "other" category, continuing the descending order, included such deck archetypes as Orzhov Humans, Jeskai Ascendancy Combo, Mono-Red Aggro, Grixis Midrange, Elementals, Izzet Control, Selesnya Auras, Bant Auras, Grixis Transmogrify, Goblins, Dimir Control, Selesnya Vehicles, Selesnya Company, Bant Spirits, Mardu Sacrifice, Jeskai Control, Golgari Midrange, Waste Not, Atarka Red, Transmogrify Fires, Esper Control, Jund Transmogrify, Keruga Fires, Elves, Four-Color Humans, Jund Sacrifice, Abzan Sacrifice, Storm Herald Combo, Orzhov Midrange, Izzet Ensoul, Esper Greasefang, Five-Color Transmogrify, Rakdos Creativity, Jeskai Creativity, Simic Devotion, Hammer Time, Archfiend Alteration, Possibility Storm, Mono-White Midrange, Grixis Phoenix, Golgari Vehicles, Orzhov Pact, Rakdos Lutri, Esper Legends, Gruul Dragons, and more.

The number of competitively viable Pioneer archetypes remains enormous, and deck familiarity is a significant success factor. My advice for navigating the Pioneer format is to invest time in mastering your preferred deck. A skilled player who is well-versed in their deck's interactions and matchup strategies, with a well-adapted sideboard for the metagame, can win with almost everything.

The overall distribution of decks was strikingly similar to the one seen at the top tables of RCQs and online events in recent weeks, cf. last week's metagame roundup. The biggest difference was the rise of Izzet Creativity. However, the deck did not perform well at the Regional Championships, with a below-average match win rate. The match win rate of the most-played deck, Rakdos Midrange, did not clear the 50% mark either.

The best win rates against the field were posted by Mono-Green Devotion, Azorius Spirits, Rakdos Sacrifice, and Azorius Lotus Field. As indicated by the check marks in the table, it would be very unlikely (<2%) to see a result at least as good as theirs when the archetype's true win rate would be merely 50%, suggesting that their metagame positioning is above average in a statistically significant sense. We might see an uptick in the numbers of Azorius Spirits, Rakdos Sacrifice, and Azorius Lotus Field in the Regional Championships to come. These three archetypes have no pronounced weaknesses against the most popular decks in the current metagame, and they may be underplayed at the moment.

Overall, it was a big victory for the unexpected decks in Pioneer that were not as popular but that put up great performances nevertheless. Let's zoom in on the biggest deck-related innovations, lessons, and developments to come out of this first Regional Championship weekend of the cycle.

Azorius Lotus Field Broke Out

In his second Regional Championship Top 8 in a row, white-blue control specialist Patrick Wu made the finals of Toronto's F2F Tour Championship. His Pioneer deck used Strict Proctor and Discontinuity to annul the enters-the-battlefield tax of Lotus Field, which means that you won't have to sacrifice two lands to Lotus Field. This mana boost allows you to ramp into a set of sweepers, planeswalkers, and card draw spells that can outgrind even Mono-Green Devotion.

Azorius Lotus Field is not a brand new archetype. For example, Kazuya Kiyofuji used a similar list to make the Top 8 of last year's Regional Championship in Japan, and he followed it up by taking the deck to a 59th-place finish at Pro Tour Phyrexia. Nevertheless, the strategy fell out of favor since then, and I chose to view it as an Azorius Control variation when I wrote a Pioneer primer in April. But after a resurgence at last weekend's Regional Championships, I made the distinction again, and my analysis showed that Azorius Lotus Field was one of the breakout decks of the weekend, with an amazing 62.5% win rate.

Besides Patrick Wu's dominance in Canada, Azorius Lotus Field was 0.8% of the metagame as a whole and put multiple players in the Top 16 at the Regional Championships in Mexico and China. If Teferi, Hero of Dominaria is your favorite planeswalker, then it's definitely worth considering the virtues of Lotus Field.

Azorius Control Succeeds with Companions

Azorius Control did fairly well. Rakdos Midrange and Mono-Green Devotion, the two most-played decks in the field, earned 10 and 13 Pro Tour qualifications respectively last weekend. Azorius Control was not as popular, but it still earned 8 qualifications, making it the third-most successful archetype according to this metric. For a large part, this was due to streamlined builds using different companions.

Last week, in my discussion of Azorius Control before the Regional Championships, I wrote that the most prominent build from RCQs and online events did not use any companion at all. At the Regional Championships, Wei Wang and Jia Wu indeed found success with companionless builds, and 60-card versions with either no companion or Kaheera, the Orphanguard were by far the most popular (112/134 Azorius Control players). Nevertheless, Chan Sze Hang made the finals in China with Zirda, the Dawnwaker, while Rudi Asinas, Maxim Bachvaroff, Jesse Hampton, Ian Mark Gutierrez, Abe Corrigan earned Pro Tour invites in the United States with 80-card versions featuring Yorion, Sky Nomad in their sideboard.

This suggests that the optimal build of Azorius Control need not equal the most popular one. Also, if you're entering an RCQ, it's important to be aware of what your opponent's companion, if any, can tell you about the deck they might play. Kaheera still strongly suggest Azorius Control, but Zirda and Yorion could also be emblematic of the archetype.

Rakdos Sacrifice Overperformed

In terms of total number of Pro Tour qualifications, can you guess what the fourth-most successful archetype was? Could it be Izzet Creativity at 8.2% of the field, or perhaps Abzan Greasefang at 6.0% of the field?

No, both combo decks didn't do particularly well. Instead, it was Rakdos Sacrifice at a measly 2.9% of the field that clinched a whopping 7 Pro Tour invite-awarding finishes: Kyle Gellert, Liam Kane, Donald Sheldon, Will Pulliam, Logan Nettles, Matt Foreman, and Sol Malka all found success with Mayhem Devil. Despite initial excitement about Ob Nixilis, Captive Kingpin, none of them used the new legend, showing that the original list was already perfect.

Honestly, none of this should come as a surprise. Rakdos Sacrifice was one of the best-performing archetypes at last year's Regional Championships, one of the best performing archetypes at Pro Tour Phyrexia, and it has retained the same powerful core throughout. The deck is not easy to play optimally, but going by raw win rate numbers, it's puzzling that Rakdos Midrange is so much more popular in Pioneer than Rakdos Sacrifice.

Gruul Vehicles Victorious with Voldaren Thrillseeker

If you had asked which color combination would clinch the most trophies in last weekend's Regional Championships, most Pioneer players would probably have guessed red-black. But as it turned out, three of the five events were won by Gruul decks! Jianwei Liang showed that Atarka Red remains a formidable strategy in China, while the curve of Reckless Stormseeker and Esika's Chariot triumphed in Mexico and in the United States.

The Gruul Vehicles champions did not agree on all card choices. For example, Archi Peralta used Embercleave, while Bradley Schlesinger exploited Jegantha, the Wellspring and Invasion of Ixalan. Yet both of them relied on a new addition from March of the Machine: Voldaren Thrillseeker. When you control a lonely Lovestruck Beast, then Voldaren Thrillseeker turns it into a 7/7, allows it to attack, and grants the ability to sacrifice it post-combat. That's 14 total damage out of nowhere! Moreover, Voldaren Thrillseeker can sacrifice a creature stolen by The Akroan War, which is another valuable interaction.

The resulting mana curve is extremely heavy on three-drops, making the deck even more reliant on Elvish Mystic or Llanowar Elves than it was before. Nevertheless, Voldaren Thrillseeker is a sweet new addition. Right now, counting Reckless Stormseeker and Voldaren Thrillseeker, there are more Seekers than Vehicles, so perhaps the deck name should change to Gruul Seekers? We should all keep an eye on this development in the coming weeks.

Boros Convoke Fizzled Out

The latest deck in Pioneer right before the start of this Regional Championship cycle was Boros Convoke, which burst on the scene with explosive starts involving Gleeful Demolition and Venerated Loxodon. However, last weekend's Regional Championships confirmed that comparisons to Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis were overblown. Boros Convoke was 4.2% of the metagame with a 47.7% win rate, which is indicative of a viable option that increases Pioneer's competitive diversity, but nothing overwhelming.

Two Boros Convoke players, both from the United States, qualified for the Pro Tour last weekend. Both of them used Resolute Reinforcements and Clarion Spirit over Forbidden Friendship and Burning-Tree Emissary. However, the debate on the optimal build will surely rage on, as several Burning-Tree Emissary players came one match short of a Pro Tour invite in South East Asia, Canada, China, and Mexico.

Dimir Rogues Invaded Amonkhet

After the release of March of the Machine, Dimir Rogues entered a resurgence, as many fans of the deck excitedly added Faerie Mastermind. At last weekend's Regional Championships, three players earned a Pro Tour invite with Soaring Thought-ThiefZihao Ji, Toph Robinson, and David Muraoka. They showed that the archetype is a real contender in Pioneer.

However, after looking over their lists, it seems like Faerie Mastermind wasn't the most important addition from March of the Machine after all. In fact, semifinalist Toph Robinson didn't even use any copies of the card. Instead, the most valuable new card was Invasion of Amonkhet! The battle mills the opponent for Soaring Thought-Thief, is easy to defeat with the various flyers, and can provide an enormous battlefield presence when transforming into a copy of Sheoldred, the Apocalypse. This innovation may lead to an uptick in Dimir Rogues in the coming weeks.

Rona Combo is Fleshed Out

For fans of infinite combos, Rona, Herald of Invasion was the most important addition to Pioneer from March of the Machine, as the legend can add infinite mana when combined with Retraction Helix and Mox Amber, leading to a brand new archetype.

In short, Retraction Helix gives Rona the ability to tap to return Mox Amber to your hand. Then you recast Mox Amber, untap Rona, tap for a blue mana (or another color if you control a planeswalker), and repeat. With infinite mana, you can bounce and activate Tyvar, Jubilant Brawler arbitrary often, find Fae of Wishes, and grab a win condition from your sideboard.

At last weekend's Regional Championships, four players earned a Pro Tour invite with this strategy: Antonio Guzman and Gabriel Maxson with disruption-heavy Zirda, the Dawnwaker versions, Robert Graves with a fast mana Elves build, and Brian Boss with a Jeskai Ascendancy list. Given this variety, my conclusion is that there are multiple viable ways to build around Rona and that the archetype has a lot of potential going forward.

Elementals Resurgent with Nissa

One of the spiciest decks to earn a Pro Tour invite last weekend was Fredrick Fong's Elementals deck from the South East Asia Regional Championship. While Elemental decks with Risen Reef and Omnath, Locus of the Roil have been around as a fringe Pioneer archetype for a while, a new card from March of the Machine: The Aftermath put the strategy over the top—Nissa, Resurgent Animist.

Her powerful landfall ability is easy to trigger multiple times per turn with Brokers Hideout; Fabled Passage; or Elesh Norn, Mother of Machines. When it resolves for the second time in a turn, you'll put another creature into your hand for free, providing amazing value. It's a sweet list, and it just goes to show that there is constant innovation happening in Pioneer, keeping the format fresh and exciting.

Spicy New Combos Revealed

To corroborate my previous point on the incredible potential for innovation in Pioneer, there were several spicy brews that found themselves one of two wins removed from a Pro Tour invite. For example, Hammer Time with Rundvelt Hordemaster or Possibility Storm with Invasion of Ixalan. But Rei Zhang, who unveiled RataBlade Combo at the previous U.S. Regional Championship, unveiled the spiciest new addition to Pioneer, posting a 9-5 finish this past weekend.

The combo involves Archfiend of the Dross and Metamorphic Alteration. If you control the Archfiend, then you can turn one of your opponent's creatures into a copy, pass the turn, and win the game. Indeed, their creature won't have any oil counters on it, so they will lose the game to the upkeep trigger. This two-card combo was wrapped up in a Grixis Midrange shell and could turn out to be a sweet new option.

Looking Ahead

All in all, last weekend was a big win for archetypes with relatively small metagame shares, and I'm excited to see how the format will develop. The schedule for the remaining Regional Championships in this third cycle is as follows:

I'm looking forward to watching the livestream from Athens, Greece as Pioneer innovations will be unveiled and a new European Champion will be crowned!

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