How’s it going everyone? Today I’m bringing you a snapshot into the latest Magic Arena competitive format, Explorer. While we’ve had a little more time to sus out what decks are at the top of the meta, we’re still very early on in this format’s development.
We have already had the format’s first unique bans (deviating away from Pioneer) in Tibalt's Trickery and Winota, Joiner of Forces, I’ve been grinding away on the Mythic ladder and taking in as much Explorer content as I can to see what new decks will start to take shape and fill the void left at the top of the metagame by Winota’s absence.
So, what kind of shakeups can we expect now that the format has started to take form a little more this week? Let’s dive right in with the top decks in Explorer! As always, you can find the link to the complete tier lists and rankings below.
Rakdos Midrange is easily one of the best decks in Explorer right now; I even wrote a full deck guide on Rakdos Midrange on my way to Mythic! Leveraging the power of two-for-ones, Rakdos Midrange can adjust to any deck currently in the metagame.
With powerful creatures like Graveyard Trespasser, Bloodtithe Harvester, and Bonecrusher Giant accompanying Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, Chandra, Torch of Defiance, and Sorin the Mirthless as the basis of your deck, it is incredibly difficult for opponents to stop all your threats. Once you account for the piles of removal, Thoughtseize, and the utility lands such as Den of the Bugbear, it is easy to see why Rakdos is my top choice for anyone looking to climb the Magic Arena Ladder. Proactive versatility is a great feature to have in a diverse metagame.
While the deck is missing a few pieces from the Pioneer shells, namely Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, Dreadbore, and Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, current Explorer builds have found ways to mitigate those losses and are now operating on par with the Pioneer shell. One major advantage Explorer Rakdos has though, is with the lack of combo decks in the format due to cards not being on Arena yet, most decks must operate on a fair axis and that’s where Rakdos Midrange shines. Rakdos is one of the best post-sideboard decks in Explorer, since you can customize your plan to attack aggro decks, control decks, or find tools to better counteract what few combo-esque decks, such as Greasefang.
Izzet Phoenix is another top deck in explorer that I’ve written an entire deck guide on and has been showing up more on ladder in the past week. The power of Ledger Shredder has worked to erase the absence of Thing in the Ice from our collective minds and while we are seeing Pioneer Izzet shift towards Prowess shells, the Explorer version leans more into Crackling Drake and its ability to close out games quickly.
Izzet Phoenix’s ability to removal opposing creatures and fly over gummed up ground stalls make it an ideal deck to handle many of the more aggressive or midrange strategies. Due to the reliance on Crackling Drake and missing out on some of the powerful Delve Spells, the hardest matchups for the deck so far have been the Rakdos style deck mentioned above. While Rakdos Sacrifice isn’t as bad, given you can fly over their recursive chump blockers, Rakdos Midrange can kill off your threats and without Pieces of the Puzzle, Treasure Cruise, or Temporal Trespass, it’s a lot more difficult to put Midrange down than it is in the Pioneer version of Izzet Phoenix.
With the banning of Winota, we have seen the format slow down a little bit as decks try to out Midrange and Control each other, winning the late game through grindy attrition and recursive value. Jeskai Agent of Treachery is a deck from Zan Syed that leverages making several small bodies and treasure tokens, to power out early Agent of Treachery paired with Reflections of Kiki-Jiki to steal enough of the opponent’s permanents that they have no way to come back. With the addition of powerful Planeswalkers to the strategy, I think this deck is poised to punish some of the slower decks in the format and keep us from reaching a true Midrange and Control arms race.
The deck can struggle against aggressive decks, as other versions leveraged cards like The Birth of Meletis, this version focuses so heavily on Mountains to enable Dwarven Mine that it doesn’t make sense to include something that fetches Plains. This shell is still relatively new, but Zan has been dominating the upper mythic ladder with it and the deck’s highs are very impressive. I even played Zan on stream in a mirror match. While aggressive decks could put this deck down, they would greatly struggle into Phoenix and Rakdos Midrange, so those decks should act as cover for Agent to steal some matches.
With the banning of Winota, Joiner of Forces, there must be a new turn three potential game-ending card and Greasefang, Okiba Boss has taken that role in Explorer. Mardu leverages the best backup plan for when your main plan of turn three Parhelion II attacking for thirteen doesn’t pan out. Through Thoughtseize, Bloodtithe Harvester, and Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, you can churn through extra cards and protect your key threats. In addition, cards like Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord and Can't Stay Away work to punish removal-based decks looking to kill your Greasefang.
Mardu Greasefang works best at punishing decks that want to tap out in the early to mid-game as once Parhelion II is in the graveyard, you must hold open mana or risk falling too far behind. Without the presence of Karn, the Great Creator or Rest in Peace to slow down Mardu Greasefang, it has taken over as the best deck in the format when the opponent fails to interact. While that was a big reason as to why Winota is no longer allowed in Explorer, hopefully we can see decks adjust to Greasefang in the same way they have in Pioneer, where the deck struggles into quite a few meta decks, like Mono Green Karn, Mono Blue Spirits, and Azorius Control.
Mono Red Aggro
Thanks to Arena missing a few key pieces of the Pioneer Mono Red decks, we have seen a return to the older Theros Beyond Death style Mono Red decks on the ladder.
These decks leverage Fervent Champion, Torbran, Thane of Red Fell and Embercleave to kill players who are trying to slow the game down. While the Explorer version of Mono Red seems less powerful, it manages to kill the unprepared easily and can steal games even against the best decks in the format through having a consistent and lean game plan that punishes any missed land drops or overly clunky draws.
This is a deck that will keep Midrange and Control from overly indexing towards the mid to late game and is the primary aggressive deck in Explorer since the banning of Winota.
Azorius Control is a deck that once dominated Pioneer and now has the chance to dominate Explorer early in the format’s development. With access to haymaker cards like Rest in Peace, Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, and The Wandering Emperor, this deck can beat up on many of the top decks mentioned above.
The lack of Supreme Verdict has been felt thanks to decks like Izzet Phoenix and Mono Blue Spirits being able to interact with your wraths in ways they otherwise couldn’t in Pioneer. But overall, you still have almost all the same powerful cards in Explorer as Pioneer without two of the worst matchups for Azorius in Mono Green Karn and Lotus Field.
While some newer decks like Jeskai Agent are starting to find their footing that could prove problematic for Azorius Control, for now the deck is still primed to be a top contender in the format through plenty of cheap interaction and an inevitability that the Midrange decks of the format will struggle to overcome.
Mono Blue Spirits
Mono Blue Spirits is in an interesting place in Explorer. Without the over-the-top decks currently around like Mono Green Karn, Lotus Field, or Jeskai Ascendancy, you don’t have a ton of great matchups, but the lack of Rending Volley from Phoenix, Rakdos Midrange, and Mono Red gives the deck a little more play against some of its tougher matchups. I think Mono Blue Spirits is the best tempo deck in the format and it will take a little time for the deck to find the right balance of threats and answers to find the same success it has had in Pioneer.
This is a deck to keep an eye on as it will only get stronger over time as cards make their way onto Arena, but for now, you are able to beat up on midrange and control decks where you can find them, but you will struggle into the myriad of red-based aggro decks that can one-for-one you into the ground.
Are there any decks that have been treating you particularly well? Let me know in our Discord community!
As always, thanks for reading and stay safe!