(Editor's Note: The number of Pro Tour invitations awarded through Regional Championship events in China was corrected after publishing.)
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, we'll take a look at the top 15 Pioneer archetypes from the first cycle of Regional Championships and discuss what happened in these events. This can be your go-to resource to acquaint yourself with Pioneer (or Explorer) as you prepare for upcoming tournaments.
The First Cycle of Regional Championships
The first cycle of Regional Championships for the 2022-23 season took place in November and December of last year, inviting the best players from each region to compete for hundreds of thousands of dollars in prizes, 13 invitations to Magic World Championship XXIX, and 162 invitations to the Pro Tour Phyrexia: All Is One. These Regional Championships, held three times per year in each geographical region, are the new focal points for competitive play and offer a chance for players to qualify for the Pro Tour.
Over 2,900 players, mostly qualified through Regional Championship Qualifiers (RCQs) arranged by each regional organizer through local game stores, entered the various Regional Championships across the globe. They experienced the excitement of returning to in-person tournaments and high-stakes competition.
To provide an overview of all events, I collected their MTG Melee pages, which yield decklists, results, and standings for the Swiss rounds. For each region, the listed number of Pro Tour invites include the start-up bonus invitations that Wizards of the Coast awards for the 2022-23 season only:
- U.S.A. (48 Pro Tour invites)
- Europe/Middle East/Africa (36 Pro Tour invites)
- Brazil (8 Pro Tour invites)
- Eastern Canada (8 Pro Tour invites)
- Japan/Korea (18 Pro Tour invites)
- Australia/New Zealand (12 Pro Tour invites)
- Southeast Asia (8 Pro Tour invites)
- South America (4 Pro Tour invites)
- Chinese Taipei (4 Pro Tour invites)
- Western Canada (8 Pro Tour invites)
- Mexico/Central America/Caribbean (4 Pro Tour invites)
- China (8 Pro Tour invites)
You can find Top 8 brackets, photos, and more in our event coverage archive. With more than 2,900 Regional Championship competitors in total, a lot of
The Pioneer Metagame
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. Using data from the Pioneer decklists submitted to the first cycle of 2022-23 Regional Championships, I determined the metagame share and non-mirror win rate of every archetype. While this analysis heavily weighs the results of the U.S. Regional Championship, which had an attendance of over 900 players, it accounts for developments from all regions.
|Archetype||Percentage of Field||Match Win Rate|
|1. Rakdos Midrange||17.1%||51.1%|
|2. Mono-Green Devotion||16.9%||47.9%|
|3. Izzet Phoenix||9.8%||49.5%|
|4. Mono-White Humans||7.6%||53.5%|
|5. Azorius Control||6.6%||51.5%|
|6. Gruul Vehicles||4.8%||53.9%|
|7. Abzan Greasefang||4.0%||47.6%|
|8. Keruga Fires||3.4%||46.6%|
|9. Lotus Field combo||2.9%||53.0%|
|10. Selesnya Angels||2.4%||52.4%|
|11. Bant Spirits||2.4%||45.9%|
|12. Mono-Blue Spirits||2.3%||51.0%|
|13. Rakdos Sacrifice||2.1%||54.3%|
|14. Enigmatic Fires||1.9%||55.0%|
|15. Mono-Red Aggro||1.1%||48.2%|
|16. Izzet Creativity||1.1%||50.0%|
|17. Esper Control||1.0%||46.5%|
|18. Niv to Light||0.8%||40.7%|
|19. Selesnya Auras||0.8%||51.1%|
|20. Atarka Red||0.8%||49.2%|
|21. Izzet Prowess||0.8%||46.2%|
|22. Dimir Control||0.7%||53.0%|
|23. Mono-Black Midrange||0.7%||52.1%|
|24. Boros Heroic||0.5%||48.9%|
|25. Jund Sacrifice||0.4%||52.2%|
In this table, each archetype name hyperlinks to a well-performing, representative decklist. The "Other" category included such deck archetypes as Bant Humans, Grinning Ignus combo, Azorius Spirits, Elves, Azorius Soldiers, Orzhov Humans, Selesnya Company, Affinity, Mardu Greasefang, Bant Company, Orzhov Midrange, Jund Midrange, Dimir Oracle, and more.
The most-played nonland cards across all main decks and sideboards were
The diverse metagame shows that there are many competitively viable options in Pioneer. In the hands of a skilled and experienced pilot, anything can win in Pioneer. Especially when all match win rates are close to 50-50, the pilot's familiarity with their deck and its play patterns can often be the deciding factor. As U.S. Regional Champion Matthew Saypoff pointed out, "Any deck can do well in Pioneer... so it's really a matter of picking a deck you like the play pattern of and can get really good at." South American Regional Champion Alejandro Sepúlveda echoed this sentiment, saying, "I think that experience can give me a greater edge than playing a better deck I don't know how to play."
The Top 15 Pioneer Deck Archetypes
To take a closer look at the 15 most popular archetypes from the Regional Championships, I've used a decklist aggregation algorithm that takes into account the popularity and performance of individual card choices. For each archetype, I've also included a matchup spread based on the Regional Championship round-by-round data, as well as tips for playing against the deck and a discussion of its viability in Explorer (the online true-to-tabletop format featuring all Pioneer-legal cards that appear on MTG Arena).
Quick deck summary: Rakdos Midrange was the most popular archetype overall at the Regional Championships, comprising 17.1% of the metagame. The deck features efficient discard, powerful removal, resilient threats, and flexible sideboard options, giving it game against everything. The most important Brothers' War addition to Pioneer—
Regional Championship story: During the first weekend of Regional Championships, Rakdos Midrange was the second most popular deck, behind Mono-Green Devotion. However, as players discovered that
Matchup spread: Rakdos Midrange has strong matchups against many decks, particularly those that are susceptible to removal, such as Boros Heroic and Bant Spirits. However, there are several archetypes that have a good matchup against Rakdos Midrange, including Gruul Vehicles, Keruga Fires, Rakdos Sacrifice, and Enigmatic Fires. These decks may see an increase in popularity in the coming weeks as players try to counter the dominance of Rakdos Midrange.
When facing this deck: It's important to keep in mind that you should mulligan slightly less aggressively than might normally, as you'll need all the resources you can get.
Viability in Explorer: On MTG Arena,
Quick deck summary: Mono-Green Devotion, at 16.9% of the combined Regional Championship metagame, was the second-most popular archetype overall. The deck uses mana elves and
Regional Championship story: Mono-Green Devotion started as the most popular deck in the first Regional Championship weekend, where it helped propel Adrien Houssard to a Top 8 in Europe and Eduardo Cesar to a Top 8 in Brazil. However, as its overall win rate dropped below 50% and other players tuned their lists against Mono-Green Devotion, its popularity decreased in subsequent weekends. Despite this, Mono-Green Devotion remains a popular and important part of the Pioneer metagame, with players such as Christian Trudel (winner of Eastern Canada Regionals), Michael van Vaals (Top 8 in Eastern Canada), Shuhei Nakamura (Top 8 in Japan), Dan Bretherton and Daniel Riley (both Top 8 in Australia), Chris Carlile, and Dan Snider (both Top 8 in Western Canada) finding success with the deck.
Matchup spread: Mono-Green Devotion has a close matchup against Rakdos Midrange and a good matchup against decks like Rakdos Sacrifice and Keruga Fires, where it can go over the top. However, it struggles against decks with disruptive aggression, such as Mono-White Humans and Mono-Blue Spirits, which exploit its lack of creature removal and reliance on expensive spells.
When facing this deck: It's important to be aware that the deck is capable of complex infinite loops. For example,
Viability in Explorer: On MTG Arena, Mono-Green Devotion lacks consistency due to the unavailability of
Quick deck summary: Izzet Phoenix was the third most popular archetype at the Regional Championships, comprising 9.8% of the metagame. This deck aims to put multiple
Regional Championship story: Izzet Phoenix peaked in the first Regional Championship weekend, where it won the European Championship in the hands of Miguel Castro and had players Ben Jones and Thierry Ramboa reach the Top 4. Ken Takahama also made it to the finals in the U.S., and Pedro Avena made Top in Brazil. However, as the metagame became more hostile to graveyard strategies and the popularity of Lotus Field combo increased, Izzet Phoenix's results and popularity declined significantly in later weekends. Andy Peters still made Top 8 in Eastern Canada, but performance dropped afterwards.
Matchup spread: Izzet Phoenix has strong matchups against Mono-Blue Spirits and Bant Spirits, but struggles against Lotus Field combo and Selesnya Angels. The matchups against Rakdos Midrange and Mono-Green Devotion are close to even and can be heavily influenced by specific card choices and player skill, although Rakdos Midrange may have a slight edge thanks to cards like
When facing this deck: When playing against Izzet Phoenix, try to avoid casting spells that can be countered by
Viability in Explorer: On MTG Arena, Izzet Phoenix is missing key cards like
Quick deck summary: Mono-White Humans is a popular aggro deck that made up 7.6% of the combined metagame at the Regional Championships. It focuses on curving out with powerful Humans on turns one, two, and three, using
Regional Championship story: Mono-White Humans had a strong showing at the Regional Championships, with players such as Matthew Saypoff (winner of the U.S. Regional Championship), Heng Chye Hwee (Top 8 in Southeast Asia), Dalia Morin (Top 8 in Eastern Canada), and Shu-Yu Hsueh and Josh Zhen (both Top 8 in Taiwan) finding success with the deck. Mono-White Humans has a good win rate against the current metagame as a whole.
Matchup spread: Mono-White Humans has a good matchup against Mono-Green Devotion, Azorius Control, and Lotus Field combo, but struggles against Gruul Vehicles, Selesnya Angels, and Rakdos Sacrifice. The matchup against Rakdos Midrange is close to even.
When facing this deck: Be aware of the possibility of surprise lethal via
Viability in Explorer: On MTG Arena, Mono-White Humans is missing
Quick deck summary: Azorius Control, at 6.4% of the combined Regional Championship metagame, is the premier control deck in Pioneer. It includes a range of standard control elements such as spot removal, countermagic, card draw, sweepers, and planeswalkers. While 80-card builds featuring
Regional Championship story: Azorius Control had several strong finishes at the Regional Championships, with players such as Théau Méry (second place in Europe), Derrick Davis (Top 8 in the U.S.), Pedro Perrini (Top 8 in Brazil), Michael Martin Go (winner in Southeast Asia), Kazuya Kiyofuji (Top 8 in Japan), and Mario Flores (Top 8 in Mexico) finding success with the deck.
Matchup spread: Azorius Control has a good matchup against Selesnya Angels, Keruga Fires, and Enigmatic Fires, but struggles against the more popular Mono-White Humans. The matchups against Rakdos Midrange and Mono-Green Devotion are close to even.
When facing this deck: When playing against this deck, you always have to be wary of sweepers and countermagic. Try not to overextend your threats into
Viability in Explorer: In Explorer, Azorius Control is fully legal and is one of the most popular choices in the format.
Quick deck summary: Gruul Vehicles is a midrange deck that uses
Regional Championship story: The archetype did particularly well in Canada, as Noe Offman made Top 8 in Toronto and Violet Davies made Top 8 in Calgary. Violet Davies played a non-Jegantha version featuring
Matchup spread: Gruul Vehicles is well-positioned in the current metagame, with good matchups against Rakdos Midrange and Mono-White Humans. It struggles against Enigmatic Fires, Rakdos Sacrifice, and Selesnya Angels, which are not seeing much play. The matchup against Mono-Green Devotion is close to even.
When facing this deck: Keep a close eye on their companion. If they don't reveal
Viability in Explorer: In Explorer, Gruul Vehicles is fully legal and is one of the most popular archetype choices.
Quick deck summary: Abzan Greasefang is a combo deck with a decent midrange backup plan. Its goal is to put
Regional Championship story: While the deck has had some decent finishes in Regional Championships, such as Eren Kacmaz making it to the Top 8 in Europe and Cameron Sweetnam making it to the Top 8 in Western Canada, it never excelled.
Matchup spread: Abzan Greasefang has good matchups against Lotus Field combo and Keruga Fires, but it struggles enormously against Mono-Blue Spirits and Bant Spirits. The matchups against Rakdos Midrange and Mono-Green Devotion are close to even, even with
When facing this deck: To best play against this deck, it's important to remember that the best time to kill Greasefang depends on the situation. If the opponent has lots of spare creatures, it's best to kill Greasefang in their main phase before it can trigger. If they have no other pilots, then it's best to kill it with the trigger on the stack so that
Viability in Explorer: On MTG Arena, Abzan Greasefang is viable, although it's worth noting that
Quick deck summary: The goal of Keruga Fires is to survive long enough to play
Regional Championship story: Keruga Fires had a rough time in the first Regional Championship weekend, largely due to its poor matchup against Mono-Green Devotion. However, after Rakdos Midrange soared ahead, the deck saw more success. Eton Delmoro piloted it to the Top 8 in Southeast Asia, and Brandon Ortiz won with it in Mexico in the penultimate weekend.
Matchup spread: Keruga Fires has a bad matchup against Mono-Green Devotion and Azorius Control, but it has a strong advantage against Rakdos Midrange. On the whole, its win rate against the field was poor, and Enigmatic Fires may be a better choice for a
When facing this deck: When playing against this deck, keep in mind that the opponent's options for doing something for less than three mana are limited to
Viability in Explorer: In Explorer, this deck is fully legal.
Quick deck summary: The game plan of this combo deck is to find
Regional Championship story: Lotus Field was a fringe deck in the first Regional Championship weekend, but John Tatian had a breakout Top 8 finish in the U.S. With an amazing matchup against Izzet Phoenix, it gained popularity. It brought Top 8 finishes for Brennan Crawford in Australia and Matthew Tonary in Eastern Canada, but its success waned as
Matchup spread: Lotus Field combo has a great matchup against Izzet Phoenix, but it struggles against Mono-White Humans. The matchups against Rakdos Midrange and Mono-Green Devotion are close to even.
When facing this deck: A useful way to interact with this combo deck is by destroying their
Viability in Explorer: On MTG Arena, this archetype is missing
Quick deck summary: There are many powerful Angels in Pioneer, and Selesnya Angels makes use of several of them.
Regional Championship story: Selesnya Angels has been on the rise ever since
Matchup spread: Selesnya Angels has a good matchup against Izzet Phoenix, Mono-White Humans and Gruul Vehicles , but it doesn't fare well against Azorius Control.
When facing this deck: Keep in mind that their creatures are weak individually but powerful when combined. It's a good idea to destroy their Angels and put pressure on their life total to prevent
Viability in Explorer: In Explorer, this deck is fully legal and a popular archetype.
Quick deck summary: Bant Spirits is a popular home for
Regional Championship story: Bant Spirits saw some play, but it had a relatively poor win rate against the overall field and did not have impressive performances.
Matchup spread: Bant Spirits has a good matchup against Abzan Greasefang, but it struggles against Rakdos Midrange and Izzet Phoenix.
When facing this deck: Be cautious of
Viability in Explorer: In Explorer, neither
Quick deck summary: Mono-Blue Spirits has many cards in common with Bant Spirits, but it doesn't rely on
The Regional Championship story: Mono-Blue Spirits was about as popular as Bant Spirits, but it had better results. Daniel Kristoff made it to the Top 8 of the U.S. Regional Championship, and Steven Hitchcock made it to the Top 8 in Australia.
Matchup spread: Mono-Blue Spirits has a good matchup against Abzan Greasefang and Mono-Green Devotion, but it struggles against Izzet Phoenix. Compared to Bant Spirits, its results against Rakdos Midrange and Mono-Green Devotion were slightly better overall.
When facing this deck: Remember that their most-played piece of interaction is
Viability in Explorer: In Explorer, this deck is fully legal. Mono-Blue Spirits was the third-most played archetype in the Explorer portion of Magic World Championship XXVIII several months ago.
Quick deck summary: Rakdos Sacrifice is centered around
Regional Championship story: While only a small portion of the metagame, Rakdos Sacrifice put many players in Regional Championship Top 8s—André Santos in Europe, Eduardo Vieira in Brazil, Matias Leveratto in South America, and Ricardo Landeta in Mexico. While many players used
Matchup spread: Rakdos Sacrifice is well-positioned in the current metagame. It has good matchups against Rakdos Midrange, Mono-White Humans, and Gruul Vehicles, and bad matchups like Izzet Phoenix are on the decline.
When facing this deck: Pay close attention to their companion. If they revealed
Viability in Explorer: In the Explorer format, this archetype is missing
Quick deck summary: Enigmatic Fires is a toolbox deck that aims to cast
Regional Championship story: Despite only being a small portion of the metagame, Enigmatic Fires put a lot of players in Regional Championship Top 8s—Chris Ferber in the U.S., Norbie Mendoza in Southeast Asia, Joaquin Maletti in South America, and Alonso Mijares in Mexico. Enigmatic Fires had an excellent match win rate throughout the Regional Championships.
Matchup spread: Enigmatic Fires is well-positioned in the current metagame. It preys on Rakdos Midrange because effects like
When facing this deck: Be aware that their most common play is to turn a two-mana enchantment into a three-mana creature with an enters-the-battlefield ability. This could be
Viability in Explorer: On MTG Arena,
Quick deck summary: Mono-Red Aggro is a fast, aggressive deck with several different versions. Some focus on creatures, using cards like
Regional Championship story: Alejandro Sepúlveda won the South America Regional Championship with a Mono-Red Aggro build that I would describe as a hybrid version.
Matchup spread: Most versions of Mono-Red Aggro have a good matchup against Mono-Green Devotion, but struggle against Gruul Vehicles. However, this depends on the specific build.
When facing this deck: When your opponent casts
Viability in Explorer: In the Explorer format,
The Pioneer format offers a range of powerful archetypes, rewards players for their experience, and provides the tools needed to counter any strategy. The best deck choice for the metagame can vary from week to week. In the future, we may see a decline of Rakdos Midrange and an increase in the popularity of Mono-White Humans and Gruul Vehicles. Rakdos Sacrifice and Enigmatic Fires may also become more popular as they try to take advantage of this changing metagame. This could lead to a decrease in popularity for Mono-White Humans and Gruul Vehicles, and Mono-Green Devotion may make a comeback.
The release of the new set, Phyrexia: All Will Be One, is likely to shake things up in February as players prepare for the Pro Tour. The event, which will feature both Pioneer and Phyrexia: All Will Be One draft, will take place at MagicCon: Philadelphia on February 17-19. High-level tabletop Magic is back, and I'm excited to see it blossom in 2023 with the return the Pro Tour.
If you're eager to start your competitive Magic journey, store-level RCQs are a great place to start. You can find tournaments on the Store & Event Locator or your regional organizer's website. While qualifiers for the second cycle of Regional Championships have ended, current RCQs through April 3, 2023 will feed into the third cycle of Regional Championships.
The second cycle of Regional Championships, held in the Standard format, will take place in March or April (depending on your region) and will feed into the Pro Tour at MagicCon: Minneapolis on May 5-7. The third cycle of Regional Championships will be held in May, June, or July in the Pioneer format, and it will feed the Pro Tour at MagicCon: Europe in July.