AFRaid? New Pioneer Tech: Blessed, Book, Bards

TobiH

Such is the advantage of a smaller format unburdened by the weight of decades worth of Magic cards: With just a little aid from the latest set—AFR for short—the Pioneer landscape is three decks richer: Here's what Moon-Blessed Cleric, The Book of Exalted Deeds, and Bard Class are up to!


moon-blessed cleric - bard class - the book of exalted deeds

First Chapter

I already wrote about the combo between Faceless Haven and The Book of Exalted Deeds within the context of a Standard control deck. Further evidence suggests it may be better suited to act as plan B in a more aggressive build. But no matter which direction you take, in Standard, you rarely gain enough life to create more than a couple of Angel tokens, and it's unlikely Angel tokens constitute a relevant part of your game plan. Things look very different, on all counts, in Pioneer.


the book of exalted deeds

Pioneer does have a proper tribal deck that's so full of Angels that it even supports Youthful Valkyrie and Metallic Mimic. It also gains enough life, via Bishop of Wings and Righteous Valkyrie, as to get the token production from Resplendent Angel and Speaker of the Heavens going. Successful games typically end in a flurry of feathers with various creatures triggering each other's abilities for more and more life and always more and bigger Angels. The Book of Exalted Deeds would feel right at home here, even if you dismissed its activated ability completely.

The thing is, on top of all the above, Pioneer also includes a land that turns into an Angel at a far cheaper cost than Faceless Haven does in Standard. You can just tap Mutavault to pay for its own animation. This means, with Book already out, it only costs four more mana to make Mutavault "enlightened." Four mana also makes it far more likely you can catch an opponent off guard, all tapped out, allowing you to activate your Book with no need to worry about creature removal. This goes double when running an aggro strategy that may force an opponent to act on their turn. Then, once the exalted deed is done, they need something to deal with a land or they can never win this game. Many won't have anything like that in their main deck at least.

The deck immediately won the first Pioneer Challenge following Forgotten Realms' online release. While that was undubitably in part due to the surprise factor, later events have shown it to remain a serious contender.


Next Draw

Pioneer is a weird place. The format contains not one but two crazy five-color concoctions with toolbox elements, often 80 cards in size, that aren't just viable but both legitimately strong. Until recently, the more popular of the two focused on Niv-Mizzet Reborn, and that one still won the Challenge on July 17. However, the other one put people into second, seventh, and eleventh place at the same tournament, and it's all thanks to Moon-Blessed Cleric.


moon-blessed cleric

Apparently the deck existed as a pet project beforehand, but I first noticed it a few weeks ago when several Pioneer players were all atwitter because of the Cleric. The reason is, they really absolutely want to cast a very specific enchantment on turn four, usually Enigmatic Incarnation, sometimes Fires of Invention, ideally both. At least that's what I believe is going on here. It's complicated.

They then use the Incarnation to sacrifice a succession of enchantments. Most of these enchantments come with enter-the-battlefield abilities, think Omens, Trials, Oaths, and Nylea's Presence. So they've already replaced themselves before the Incarnation replaces them again with whatever creature best fits the current game state. Most of these creatures come with enter-the-battlefield abilities too. When all parts of the toolbox, the fodder and the fed, deal in ETB effects, Yorion is naturally one of them, and because all of it takes up so much space, going for 80 cards and another Yorion in the side is practically a given.

Problem: When you shuffle up 80 cards and your strategy relies on one particular four-of, you obviously need a tutor. Idyllic Tutor could work, but Moon-Blessed Cleric is superior by miles, for a ton of reasons: 3/2 is more than just a warm body; if only the engine starts rolling, one missed draw step barely figures; it's actually safer to have the key card on top because of discard; and later the Incarnation can turn two-mana enchantments into additional Clerics to find the perfect enchantment to then find the perfect creature. (Note that the top finisher's choice, below, of running just three Clerics was an outlier.)


Third Level

I already wrote about Bard Class in Standard before I even got to play with the card. So exciting! Really. Once I did, I realized that I had vastly underestimated its third level. Even in the Constructed format with the smallest card pool, it almost felt like going off with some sort of Storm deck.


bard class

Moving on to the next larger format, you get to add legendary one-drops and Mox Amber. The Pioneer pool also contains powerful red-green planeswalkers, all of whom generate extra mana.

Between all of this and Birgi, God of Storytelling, it is feasible on turn four to reach level 3 and to keep going! And when a fully leveled-up Bard Class gets going in a deck with 36 legendary spells, you can easily vomit half your library onto the battlefield.

The idea and first successful implementation originated with Will Thompson who took to Twitter to report a 10-0 run. Magic Online celebrity Butakov later took 59/11 of Thompson's 60/15 to a Top 16 Challenge finish. Another similarly similar version earned another Top 16 spot at the same tournament as well.



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