Pioneer has long been overrun—in number if not at speed—by sluggish black-red brews. Their main selling points were always supreme stamina and the ability to act on all axes: some discard, some removal, a little card draw, solid creatures, some with built-in recursion or precursion, a few planeswalkers, and a couple of lands that turn into creatures. Bloodtithe Harvester is still alive and well, but the first Pioneer Challenge following the online release of Dominaria United suggests an interesting alternative.
BReal2 claimed a Top 16 position with what is, in part, a monoblack implementation of the outline given above. It uses several of the same cards. It likewise discards and destroys, draws a few cards, drops above-rate and/or tough-to-kill creatures, deploys planeswalkers, and animates even more lands into attacking. However, it trades some value in for a much leaner curve. So one could argue that the deck takes as much or more inspiration from a different source. It also is the spiritual successor to the Monoblack Aggro lists that were popular during Pioneer's infancy.
Said curve starts with Bloodsoaked Champion, Knight of the Ebon Legion, Thoughtseize, and new arrival Evolved Sleeper. That one takes some mana to get up to speed but offers a valuable late-game mana sink in return. The latter is true for Tenacious Underdog as well, and both offer the odd extra card here and there. Meanwhile, Fatal Push and the new Cut Down clear the way. With 22 one-mana plays, double-spelling is the name of the game—a stark departure from what Black-Red does.
It is the main selling point and one that meshes especially well with the midrange elements that the deck does retain. Most notably, Liliana of the Veil has become the uncontested queen of planeswalkers all across the format now. But whereas she competes with a host of three-drops in black-red builds, this one can empty most of its hand before her deployment, massively improving the utility of her +1. Putting a Champion or Underdog into the graveyard this way for use later is nice too, of course.
Sitting at the very end of the curve we find the final new addition, which brings the total of Dominaria United cards in the main deck up to thirteen. Between toughness 5 and the life gain, Sheoldred truly is the apocalypse for red aggro decks. Between deathtouch and the life loss ability, Sheoldred can also kill some things/people that would otherwise be out of reach. It is a big, dumb creature with no enter-the-battlefield or death trigger, kind of like a new-age Juzám Djinn. Seeing such a four-drop succeed, in 2022, warms my heart. It succeeds here because all of the disruption and threats thrown at the opponent beforehand are liable to leave them without removal when it counts.
|BReal2's Monoblack, 12th at Pioneer Challenge, September 3|
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