Underworld Dreams Art by PINDURSKI

Three Tier 2 Pioneer Decks That Could Be Tier 1 in Explorer


Hello, dear readers. Explorer, the new MTG Arena format, is here! This is going to be a crazy weekend, with everyone trying to figure out which are the best decks to play in this format. New brews, ports from Pioneer… Almost anything is possible.

With this in mind, I started brainstorming and realized that there are some Pioneer archetypes, really strong ones, that are almost 95% or even more complete in Magic Arena.

First, let explain a little why I call these decks Tier 2. We should remember that a Tier 1 deck is not only one of the strongest ones in their meta, but also a popular choice while playing competitively. The combination of these points make a deck stand out over the competition. This means that if you are going to play in any tournament, ranked queue, or something similar, these powerful decks are going to be there and they will also be stronger than almost every other possible choice. Tier 2 are not always decks that have worse results than tier 1 options. In fact that in some cases, lower tiers mean less solid strategies… But in other cases, these kind of approaches to a metagame are quite powerful and they just go unnoticed.

This is the case of the three archetypes that I’m going to present today as some of my stronger options for tackling the new Explorer format. Why these decks? All of them have recently had great performances in some Pioneer tournaments, all of them are almost complete in Magic Arena, and I believe all of them will perform better in a metagame without some of Pioneer’s best decks challenging them. Some of the tier 1 options for Pioneer are missing key components. Phoenix, doesn’t have Thing in the Ice, Izzet Charm, Pieces of the Puzzle, Temporal Trespass and Treasure Cruise. Mono red lost Eidolon of the Great Revel, Monastery Swiftspear, and Zurgo Bellstriker.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that these two tier 1 Pioneer examples are not playable, but there are some really strong tier 2 options that only lose 1 card or even none. Being consistent in the first days of the format is key to succeed.

Let’s go to the deck lists and the explanation behind them, shall we?


Mono Black Devotion

gray-merchant-of-asphodel-art
Gray Merchant of Asphodel Art by Scott Murphy
Mono Black Devotion
by Bohe
Explorer
best of 3
7 mythic
20 rare
19 uncommon
14 common
0
1
2
3
4
5
6+
Planeswalkers (2)
Sorceries (9)
4
Thoughtseize
$83.96
Artifacts (3)
Enchantments (11)
4
Warlock Class
$1.00
Lands (23)
14
Swamp
$3.50
4
Castle Locthwain
$23.96
60 Cards
$469.86
Sideboard
4
Noxious Grasp
$1.16
3
Duress
$0.75
2
Necromentia
$2.98
2
Go Blank
$4.98
15 Cards
$28.35

The first thing we have to be clear about is that in Explorer we don’t have Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, one of the more powerful tools devotion decks have in Pioneer. Nevertheless… this card is sgenerally of “win more” type of card. With this, I mean that if you have this land in play and it can produce tons of mana, most of the time it means that you have a lot of permanents on the battlefield, something that we can translate to a good position in the game.

Nykthos is the only card that this powerful archetype doesn’t have available in Explorer, and without a doubt, this strategy can win many games in Pioneer even when it doesn’t draw this land.

Currently, Mono Black Devotion is now playing with a combo integrated into it. Underworld Dreams makes our opponent bleed while drawing cards. If we add Peer into the Abyss, this means that our opponent is going to lose on the spot almost every single time.

Yes, we don’t have Nykthos to ramp in the later stages of the game, however, having a devotion core lets us prolong the game until a turn when we can pay 7 for Peer into the Abyss without a lot of trouble. Gifted Aetherborn blocks amazingly well against aggressive strategies. 3 toughness, Deathtouch, Lifelink, what else we can ask for? Gray Merchant of Asphodel is another one of the main reasons for going with this deck. Draining 4-7 life is an easy task for this zombie most of the time. With the help of The Meathook Massacre and Warlock Class, pinging our opponents to death even if we don’t go for the combo kill is most commonly our win condition.

Wishclaw Talisman is an old acquaintance of some combo decks from time to time. The three copies of this artifact are usually for finding Peer into the Abyss when we want to kill with the combo. Even so, they’re not bad draws if we have Peer into the Abyss in our hand or if we don’t want the combo route. Finding a Gray Merchant of Asphodel during our opponent’s end step is many times a way to win the game.

Controlling the early and mid game is not hard with the help of Thoughtseize, Murderous Rider, Bloodchief's Thirst, and Sorin the Mirthless. Furthermore, the aforementioned Gray Merchant of Asphodel and our lifelink creatures let us stabilize while our opponent’s life goes down turn after turn.

Our sideboard isn’t tailored to a specific deck, but one that is both flexible and customizable to contend with the decks that show up in the next few weeks. With this in mind, having strong cards against every type of strategy is not hard even if we play mono black. Duress and Go Blank for rounding out our discard spells, Noxious Grasp, Sorin's Thirst and Cry of the Carnarium against creatures, Necromentia for those pesky combo decks and Leyline of the Void against graveyard decks.


Potential Inclusions / Notable Exclusions

  • Without a doubt, the combo approach could be somewhat greedy. If you want to play this deck without worrying about having 7 mana because of the lack of Nykthos, Shrine to Nix, playing 4 copies of Dread Shade or Yarok's Fenlurker is a good idea.
  • If sprucing up the mana base for our combo is needed, we have some good mana rocks that could be potentially good in midrange or control cores like our list such as Powerstone Shard, The Celestus, or Skyclave Relic. This last card works better if you go for the aforementioned black mana intensive creatures.
  • Invoke Despair could also be a good idea since it’s just a powerful card.

Mono Green Devotion

Karn, the Great Creator Art by Wisnu Tan
Karn, the Great Creator Art by Wisnu Tan
Mono Green Devotion
by Bohe
Explorer
best of 3
4 mythic
24 rare
9 uncommon
23 common
0
1
2
3
4
5
6+
Creatures (18)
4
Gilded Goose
$15.96
4
Llanowar Elves
$1.00
2
Paradise Druid
$0.50
Sorceries (8)
Enchantments (4)
Lands (21)
60 Cards
$270.5
15 Cards
$19.37

Another Pioneer Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx deck. In this case, the legendary land is even less necessary than with Mono Black. Having 10 mana dorks in the form of Gilded Goose, Llanowar Elves, Paradise Druid, and Wolfwillow Haven will get the ramp started early on. Having all this ramp will let us quickly accelerate into our late game creatures and planeswalkers.

In this Pioneer port, we lose Elvish Mystic, Sylvan Caryatid and Oath of Nissa, that are now replaced by the aforementioned Gilded Goose, Paradise Druid, and Adventurous Impulse. 3 cards could mean the difference between a good deck and a bad one, but in this case, our replacements do the work without a problem.

The Goose doesn’t give us mana every turn, but the functionality of making Food could be a game changer in some matches. Also, enabling Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner is what we need most of the time to start playing powerful spells turn after turn from turn three onward. Sylvan Caryatid is an amazing creature as having Hexproof while being a great defender thanks to its 0/3 body helps a lot, however, Paradise Druid is protected while being untapped, so having a self-protected two mana dork is covered. Adventurous Impulse could be the most wild change here, but in terms of functionality, it does almost the same for us as Oath of Nissa. Yes, we cannot find planeswalkers with it, but solidifying our land and creature drops is what we need most of the time while we find our walkers.

Playing this deck in Explorer is not going to be much different than playing the Pioneer version. Turn 1: ramp, turn 2: ramp, turn 3+: strong spell after strong spell. In this version we play Karn, the Great Creator, something that gives us a plethora of good options in our sideboard. Damping Sphere, God-Pharaoh's Statue, Grafdigger's Cage, Meteor Golem, Pithing Needle and Tormod's Crypt are usually varied enough to face any trouble, while Blizzard Brawl and Kenrith's Transformation will deal with problematic creatures. Setessan Petitioner is a classic in this archetype, rounding out our sideboard against the more aggressive strategies.

Potential Inclusions / Notable Exclusions

  • Most of the time, this archetype tends to play in Pioneer cards like Vivien, Monsters' Advocate and Vivien, Arkbow Ranger. This iterations of Vivien are very good cards for our purposes. However, this Karn version is more or less the most successful one in the last few weeks and surely the best option to start playing this new format.
  • Voracious Hydra was a staple for this archetype for a long, long period of time. If the meta needs more answers against creatures, this hydra is always there for us.

Abzan Humans (Mostly)

General Kudro of Drannith Art by Ryan Pancoast
General Kudro of Drannith Art by Ryan Pancoast
Witch (non-red) Humans
by Bohe
Explorer
best of 3
3 mythic
35 rare
20 uncommon
2 common
0
1
2
3
4
5
6+

Without a doubt this is one of the archetypes we are going to see a lot during the first weeks of the new format. This iteration of one of the more aggressive decks in Pioneer and is 99% complete when ported to Explorer. The only card we are missing is Reflector Mage, one of the best uncommon humans in the history of the game.

The other version of this deck in Pioneer is more or less a five colored version with Mantis Rider and Werewolf Pack Leader (yes, as strange as it sounds). Even if this five colored version could also be ported using other red, green or blue good humans, this almost Abzan one is more solid and a safe choice for a new format.

Most of the cards are some very well known options for the Historic and Standard Humans iterations. One of the more noticeable cards in this list is Ollenbock Escort. This one drop hasn’t seen much play since it was printed, nevertheless, in a deck with 4 Luminarch Aspirant and 4 Thalia's Lieutenant, having a functional Selfless Savior would be a headache for many of our opponents. General's Enforcer is another one of the creatures that is more or less new for this format. It doesn’t see to much play in Historic, but here we have Katilda, Dawnhart Prime, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, General Kudro of Drannith, Jerren, Corrupted Bishop, and Lavinia, Azorius Renegade. Without a doubt it will became a puzzle for our opponents trying to kill one of our creatures while having Ollenbock Escort and General's Enforcer on the battlefield.

Playing a lot of colors in this deck is possible thanks to a new uncommon print of Cavern of Souls; Secluded Courtyard. With this and Unclaimed Territory, we can configure this deck in many ways. In this particular iteration, we have Lavinia, Azorius Renegade in our sideboard. It’s just one copy of her, but it’s a very good option against many of the things the people are going to be trying in the first weeks and it’s easy to cast because of the fixing.

The sideboard has two non-humans: Reidane, God of the Worthy and Archon of Emeria. Both are great options against creature decks that could be present in the field, and even if they are not part of our tribe, playing both creatures surely will make our life easier. Giant Killer and Portable Hole cover other creature decks, while Rest in Peace and Sungold Sentinel let us cover our opponent’s graveyard shenanigans. One Cathar Commando seems enough for now against pesky artifacts or enchantments and two The Wandering Emperor are the last pieces of our 75 cards.

Potential Inclusions / Notable Exclusions

  • With so many +1/+1 counters, Abzan Falconer could be very good in creature matchups.
  • Adeline, Resplendent Cathar is without a doubt one of the stronger three drops in the tribe. If we want to go more tall than wide, we could play 2-3 copies of her.
  • Augur of Autumn is included most of the time as a one off in the 5c iterations of the deck. In slower environments, we could go for this option.
  • If we want to keep making our opponents have a hard time trying to clear our board, Basri's Lieutenant is amazing for that. Also, it fits with the +1/+1 counter theme.
  • Benalish Marshal was a key part of many mono white decks in the past years. An anthem effect is always appreciated.

In the end, Humans is more or less the more adaptable tribe of Magic. Expect many variants of this deck in Explorer during the first weeks.


Round Up

I couldn’t be more excited to play Explorer. Finally an Eternal format that we can also test on paper and is our first step towards Pioneer in Arena. Keeping an eye on this format or playing frequently in this Pioneer-Lite will be very important for any player that wants to be part of competitive Magic in the near future; and even if you just want to play it casually, it’s for sure something packed with new ideas.

In the end, we just have to be grateful. Like I always say, more sets and more formats = more Magic, and that is something good. Some people say it’s something unsustainable, but we don’t have to play every format and having more and very invigorating environments for playing the game we love is something I’m very happy for.

Until the next time, dear readers. Let’s enjoy this new format with these and many other amazing decks that surely are going to be here in MTG Arena Zone during the first days of Explorer. And remember, smile when your day starts, trust me, it makes a difference. <3

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Bohe

A full time MTG content creator. Started playing Magic in 99’ with the release of Urza’s Destiny, 3 times Grand Prix attendant (1 as a player ending #78 and 2 as a judge). Mexican, lover of coffee, Korean culture, languages and ex-LoL coach.
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