Monogreen Walkers in Pioneer
- Rodrigo Martin
Let's review the latest, most fun archetype Pioneer has to offer yet, a monocolored deck showcasing everything devoted green mages love: mana dorks, lots of ramp and green mana symbols, a great top end with X spells and busted planeswalkers, plus a sideboard full of silver bullets.
0. Before the Early Bannings
The story of the archetype begins with Pioneer's creation back in the final days of 2019. At the very beginning, only the five fetch lands from Khans of Tarkir were banned, and people started testing the limites of the format in order to break it.
|Monogreen Devotion by Chayajom, November 2019|
What a time to be alive and how short this period lasted! It was pretty obvious that some cards had to go. From this early incarnation of the deck four cards are currently banned in Pioneer and all of them are green: Leyline of Abundance, Oath of Nissa, Once Upon a Time, and Veil of Summer. The reasons are pretty obvious for most of them, while others need a little bit of explanation, in case you are not familiar with the format's current situation. Leyline of Abundance, for example, is a card legal in Standard that hasn't seen almost any play so far, so why was it too powerful in Pioneer, you might ask? The answer: Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx.
Combine both cards in your opening hand with a turn one mana dork, and you will end up generating absurd tons of mana absurdly fast. You could cast Burning-Tree Emissary plus Nissa, Who Shakes the World on turn two, and Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger on the third! Besides, if you didn't draw your payoff, the Leyline allowed you to invest all the extra mana in pumping your whole team with some counters. All in all, the card was too strong within this configuration and at the cost of getting it into play for free.
1. Devoted to the Eldrazi
|Monogreen Edrazi by Kristopher Hirshberger, January 2020|
Let's jump forward to the moment right before Theros Beyond Death was released, when Dimir Inverter, Sultai Delirium, or Monowhite Ballista didn't exist yet. At that point, many monogreen mages were trying to pack a lot of undercosted creatures like Lovestruck Beast // Heart's Desire or Steel Leaf Champion to speed up Ghalta, Primal Hunger. The other route was to pump all their mana into colorless spells like the Eldrazi fatties from Battle for Zendikar and Oath of the Gatewatch alongside both Ugin incarnations.
This variant feels more like a "decaf" Tron deck directly imported to Modern, where you try to hit the mana acceleration in the early game, later sweep the board with either Ugin or Perilous Vault, and finally push the end button by playing your legendary Eldrazi monsters. Although this may not be the best actual configuration, it has some cute synergies, especially Golos, Tireless Pilgrim plus a singleton Cascading Cataracts so you can activate the Scout's ability by filtering all your colorless mana. Smart tech!
2. A Plan Full of Walkers
|Monogreen Walkers by Bayesta_93, March 2020|
Moving on, we are now back to present day, where as you might know, Dimir Inverter, Monowhite Devotion, Bant Spirits, and Sultai Delirium are the top four archetypes in Pioneer — followed by so many other strategies: Niv to Light, Lotus Breach, and so on and so forth. In this scenario, an improved monogreen shell shows up, sharing some similarities with the early pre-banning lists. Devotion is again the main theme, but this time around the deck packs a total of twelve planeswalkers which are the main finishers and also allow a wish sideboard loaded with silver bullets.
As usual with my deck reviews, let's divide the list into three categories: mana, payoff, and planeswalkers.
Mana: Devoted Workers
Within this section, there are two types of spells: on one hand, 1-mana mana dorks in the shape of Llanowar Elves and its younger brother Elvish Mystic which naturally add green mana to propel us one turn ahead of our opponents.
On the other hand, the 2-mana slots are divided into three different cards. Burning-Tree Emissary doesn't ramp, but it adds two green symbols for devotion to the board almost for free. Next, Voyaging Satyr is the best pal to team up with Nykthos and also synergizes pretty well with the next card. Wolfwillow Haven is the only main-deck addition from Theros Beyond Death, but it's more important than you might think. Early it offers acceleration while being resilient to removal. If played on an untapped land on a turn where you activate Nykthos in the midgame, it's mana neutral. Late, you can cash it in for a 2/2 Wolf.
Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx is an absolute must for the strategy, ramping you to the sky, producing 5, 7, and sometimes up to 9 mana, so you can cast a giant Hydra, a Ballista, or one of the walkers plus a wish target all in the same turn. Drawing them in multiples can result in awkward situations; however, if you are in a commanding position, you can take the mana from one Nykthos, then play another, and double up the mana.
Payoff: Rangers and the X Factor
The creature suite doesn't allow much room for a top end, since the deck heavily relies on the planeswalkers as finishers. Instead of drawing awkward Ulamog and other fatties in the early game, all the cards are pretty cheap and at the same time flexible, so you can cast them depending on the stage of the game.
Jadelight Ranger is both a reasonable body and card advantage. It is a minor payoff, but ideal to ramp into on turn two via our mana dorks, exploring for some extra lands or looking toward a specific card depending on the stage of the game. Having double green costs also works nicely to increase our devotion. Next, we find in Voracious Hydra another flexible tool that can either fight small threats during the early game or later becomes a huge trampling monster thanks to all the mana the deck generates, to bash in for million damage.
Some lists run two copies of Walking Ballista as well as an additional one in the sideboard, which we will discuss later, but the philosophy is pretty much the same: X always depends on how much mana you have. The great thing about Ballista is you can play it on turn two as a 1/1 and later grow it thanks to Nykthos and Nissa doubling up your mana, or with Vivien's plus ability, and it's one of the few ways to deal direct damage for a monogreen deck. Closing up the list, a single copy of Genesis Hydra can be found in some versions, working as another flexible card-advantage creature that most of the times will hit either a creature or a planeswalker.
Planeswalkers: Spiritual Archer, Quiet Elf, Undaunted Golem
Speaking of which, these three individuals are the reason the deck has so much consistency. Together, they are capable of pretty nasty things, starting with the fact that you don't need to sideboard during most games as almost all the cards can be "wished" for by either Vivien, Arkbow Ranger or Karn, the Great Creator, or both in the case of an artifact creature like Ballista.
Starting with Vivien, Arkbow Ranger, she comes down at 4 mana and interestingly adds three green symbols to our devotion. Once in play, you can immediately activate two of her three abilities: the +1 turns your creatures into bigger trampling threats, very handy to transform your mana dorks into profitable attackers. Needless to say that it feels awesome to add two free counters to your Ballista, and when combined with Nissa, you can also pump your Elemental lands from 3/3 to an improved 5/5, such a nice move!
Her minus ability is also ready to rumble once she is cast and no, this is better than fight, your creature straight up deals damage to another creature or a walker, which is super handy to get rid of troublesome individuals. Last but not least, her ultimate ability is likely to be activated a turn after she is summoned, which basically can tutor up any creature you wish for, from a hate piece like Scavenging Ooze against graveyard decks or a huge payoff in the shape of an Eldrazi, which will be discussed later.
Karn, the Great Creator is our other tutor planeswalker, this time giving us access to any artifact we desire. On this occasion, his static ability won't be as useful as in older formats like Modern or Legacy, basically shutting down opposing Ballistas and occasionally some Blue-Red Ensoul Artifact players. His plus ability isn't very spectacular either, unless we have searched for something before; the ultimate reason why Urza's Golem is in the deck is to make a plethora of artifacts available, to face any type of matchup, from smaller ones to cast almost immediately to bigger payoff to win the game in a few turns.
Nissa, Who Shakes the World is the deck's top end, our only 5-mana walker that can still easily land on the battlefield as early as turn three. Her static ability is all a green mage can ask for. Other than that, Nissa's user manual is just one sentence: keep plus-ing until you get to the ultimate, which probably results in game over. Note that you can use Nykthos's ability once and then transform it via Nissa to use it again, another great interaction this planeswalker offers.
Long story short, between Nissa and Nykthos, you will be able to produce enough mana so that any Karn or Vivien wish becomes devastating for the opponent. They need to deal with the Elf walker immediately, or they'll be smashed by the amount of resources you can deploy in a few turns.
3. Wishing for the Sideboard
One of the coolest things about this deck is the fact that, with few exceptions, there is no need to add or cut cards between games. You just submit the same main deck over and over, since Karn and/or Vivien can reach the majority of the cards from the sideboard. Let's inspect the possible options worth wishing for …
These three artifact creatures can be fetched by both planeswalkers. We already talked about Ballista as a flexible creature/pinging machine all lists include in the sideboard. Verdurous Gearhulk is an interesting target since it can undo the opponent's math on an alpha strike. Finally, some versions run one Meteor Golem as a catch-all answer for any kind of permanent.
- Karn's exclusives: Darksteel Citadel, Tormod's Crypt, Pithing Needle, Shadowspear, Damping Sphere, Heart of Kiran, Aligned Hedron Network, God-Pharaoh's Statue, Skysovereign, Consul Flagship, The Great Henge
The list is pretty big and it might change depending on how the Pioneer metagame evolves. However, there are some must haves: Darksteel Citadel is our only way to grab an extra land from the sideboard and additionally transforms via Nissa into an indestructible attacker. Tormod's Crypt is essential against Lotus Field and can be played immediately while Pithing Needle shuts off opposing planeswalkers or the Ballista combo, among other things.
Damping Sphere is mainly against Lotus Field. Although it hits our Nykthos as well, it is worth it overall. Then, Heart of Kiran and Skysovereign are additional flying threats, while God-Pharaoh's Statue slowly kills your opponent — unless you turn it into a 6/6 the turn after, in which case it kills quickly. The list concludes with The Great Henge, a way to boost our creatures while drawing extra cards and gaining life.
- Vivien's exclusives: Scavenging Ooze, Setessan Petitioner, Questing Beast, Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, Emrakul, the Promised End
We already mentioned Scavenging Ooze. The list goes on with Setessan Petitioner, fresh from Theros, to put our life up in any aggro matchup. Questing Beast is fantastic to pressure planeswalkers at the same time as speeding up the clock. Finally, having one copy of Ulamog and Emrakul ensures that if the game goes long, we'll probably get the victory just with the advantages of their cast triggers.
That brings us to the end of this breakdown of Monogreen Walkers in Pioneer. As usual, thank you so much for reading and I sincerely encourage you give the deck a try. It's so much fun either to play or watch. Luckily, with Ikora just around the corner, it might receive awesome new inclusions to keep the green devotion theme going. I wish you the best during the lockdown — be safe, have fun at home, and leave your comments or questions below!
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.