Pioneer RCQ Deck Selection Guide
June 18, 2024
By IslandGoSamE

Magic is the art of correctly generalizing from sample sizes too small to draw real conclusions.

Andrew Elenbogen (@Ajelenbogen)

Deck Selection and Data Analysis

If you ask the average competitive Magic the Gathering player what tier list website they like using to determine what decks are good choices for tournaments, they’re first going to complain about how EDH players are ruining the game for everyone and how their local FNMs aren’t firing anymore because of them. Once calmed down, they should give you their real answer.

“I don’t. I look at the data myself.”

As someone who is both a competitive player, and someone who is contractually obligated to write tier list articles for this website, I’m going to give you a deep dive into deck selection processes, how to analyze data for yourself, and how to properly assess your own personal datasets into other people’s conclusions. For these articles, I will be looking exclusively at Magic Online data, as they are the most plentiful and easiest to chart, and are a generally good approximation of the paper metagame.

This week, and for every coming week of this RCQ and RC season, we’re going to be looking into Pioneer! And yes, there will be a TIER LIST at the end of this article. Don’t worry. 

While one week of Magic Online results might not have been enough to really determine anything a few months ago, since Daybreak Games took over running MTGO, there’s about three times the amount of Challenges played every week, so the data generated actually begins to become significant. Let’s look at this data set, along with the results of the past two months of Pioneer data, to draw some conclusions about how the Pioneer metagame might be changing.

The Elephant in the Room


Amalia is the best deck in Pioneer by a landslide, and the data clearly demonstrates this. With the exception of Mono White Humans (which we will get to next week), it’s the only deck in Pioneer whose confidence interval exceeds 50% win-rate at the lower endpoint. Even if we remove the week of data when MTGO user Hamuda won both main weekend challenges with the deck, it still rests at a solid 54.9% win rate. Let’s talk about why.

Amalia’s only “bad” matchups (under 45%) seems to be UW control and Dimir Control, which makes sense. The decks with counterspells and removal and sweepers (especially sweepers that exile such as Sunfall and Farewell which are very important vs Vein Ripper out of Rakdos Vampires) are good against the creature combo deck. However, what the data doesn’t tell you, is why these control decks are going down in play rate instead of up, and the answer is simple. 

Memory Deluge, the main draw spell in both of these control decks, is currently bugged on MTGO. Instead of putting the cards not chosen onto the bottom of your deck in a random order, they instead go back on top, which makes the spell significantly worse. If you didn’t find the sweeper you’re looking for off of your end-of-turn Deluge, you’re not going to have the chance to topdeck it on turn five. Or turn six. It’s a really brutal bug that impacts the playability of these decks, as well as the new Analyst Spelunking deck. Once this bug gets fixed, I would definitely expect to see a bit less Amalia as a result of the UW players going back into the streets to put her in her place. This deck is still powerful around the board however, and this metagame shift won’t put it down any tier placements. 

The Return of the King

Mono Green Devotion is back, requiring even less format knowledge and practice to play it optimally than before! In this past week, we can see that the Green deck sports good matchups versus every top deck, with the exception of Amalia. Players are finally beginning to realize how huge of an upgrade Outcaster Trailblazer is for this archetype, having more copies of Kiora that can attack an Invasion of Ixalan is game-changing. It’s no Karn, but it’ll do. This, compounded with the fact that the upcoming B&R was said to “possibly be looking at the Pioneer format”, Mono Green has the chance to become an S tier deck again. But first, they have to solve the Amalia problem, and it’s extremely difficult.

Without Karn, finding specific hate pieces, and even winning the game on your combo turn, can be quite difficult, and the Amalia deck is very good at sweeping the board if left unchecked for a few turns in a row. The Green players have tried a multitude of different answers, and none of them work super well. The Stone Brain is a very clean answer to Amalia, but it is slow, hard to find, and is not very applicable outside of this specific matchup. Gather Courage is cheeky, allowing you to target a 19 power Amalia for 0 mana, grow her to a 21/21, and draw the game. However, this does not WIN you the game, so it’s not great. The card most players have been gravitating towards is Tail Swipe, which is an instant-speed fight spell that is applicable in a lot of other matchups. Similar to Hunt the Hunter, it is a fight spell that allows your Elves to remove opposing Elves and live. While this seems like a solid answer to Amalia, this card is not able to be found off of Oath of Nissa or Invasion of Ixalan, and will make your Storm the Festivals hit less frequently. There’s just not a lot the green players can do about this matchup, a lot of the better players I have talked to recently have begun cutting cards from the SB just because they’re not as effective, and they would rather have a few more extra cards to play vs Waste not or Vampires, two matchups that are more popular, and a bit closer. 

Why does Gruul suck SO BAD????


It doesn’t. Well, not yet at least.

Gruul Aggro/Atarka Red did have a very bad week, only winning 40% of its matches. It’s a bit difficult to point fingers at exactly why, because there were only 297 games played with this deck the entire weekend, but we can use the 60 day Data Chart to learn about the matchup win rates and understand a bit more. 

Gruul seems to sport bad matchups across the top five decks in the format with the exception of Niv to Light. It is very good at beating up on the lower tier decks, but Phoenix, Rakdos Vamps, Waste Not, and Amalia all generally give this deck trouble, and the evolution of the current metagame doesn’t look good for decks with similar matchups spreads. As formats begin to homogenize around one or two strong decks, the fringe decks begin leaving the format for two main reasons. First, some players will refuse to play formats dominated by one or two archetypes, and those same players are ones who generally gravitate to non-high tiered decks. It’s pretty clear to most players that Amalia is top dog, even if she’s only the 3rd most played deck in the format. We’ll talk about why that is next week. Secondly, when a format has to deal with one or two decks that are leagues above the rest, a lot of other decks are pushed out of the format because they just don’t have a powerful or proactive enough game plan versus the top deck. Amonkhet Standard is a great example of this phenomenon. The Rakdos Midrange deck was the best deck, and it pushed out the Mono Red Aggro deck AND the Golgari Constrictor Midrange deck, because it played the Aggro and the Midrange roles almost as equally well as the respective decks, but while also being able to pivot roles in matchups when necessary. 

Gruul is looking like it is being pushed out of the format because Amalia keeps getting better and better, which is already not a great matchup for Gruul, but also because decks are packing more creature removal to beat Amalia, which hurts Gruul a lot. Phoenix is playing more than eight one-mana removal spells now, we see some players registering Torch the Tower. Musasabi is playing Cut Downs in the sideboard of their Rakdos Midrange deck. These cards are meant to be good versus Amalia, but hurt Gruul even more.

Gruul did have an objectively unlucky week, and while we really shouldn’t discount the deck due to the 40% win rate we see from the latest results, it’s important to try to understand why these metagame shifts are occurring.

What you all really are here for 🙁


As a reward for your seven minutes of learning, here’s my Pioneer tier list based on the data discussed today! 

S Tier

A Tier

Izzet Phoenix

Rakdos Vampires

Amalia Combo

Mono-Green Devotion ▲

B Tier

Waste Not

Gruul Prowess ▲

Spirits ▲

Niv-to-Light ▼

C Tier

Izzet Ensoul

Azorius Control

Humans ▲

Lotus Field 

Quint Combo ▲

Mono-Red Burn 

D Tier

Boros Heroic ▲

Boros Convoke ▲

Dimir Control ▲

Simic Merfolk *New*

Latest Articles


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *