The God of Pioneer 9 (Live Updates!)
Welcome once again to coverage of the God of Pioneer tournament, part of the “God” series of events that Hareruya runs out of their main tournament center in Tokyo, Japan. This weekend, November 19th, marks the 9th event of the Pioneer series. It has continued to be one of the most popular God events at Hareruya, regularly attracting more than 200 players from around Tokyo and some players even coming from across the country. Hareruya will be streaming the Top 8 of the event around 6pm Japan time, so be sure to check out their Youtube Channel when it goes live! But what about the swiss rounds leading up to the top 8? What about metagame break downs, break out cards, and the overall atmosphere of the event? Well, that’s where I come in!
I’ve been covering the last few God of Pioneer events on my blog here, as well as on my Twitter which will HOPEFULLY still be working after this weekend. Depending on the amount of time between rounds, I will be first be tweeting out information on each round, then compiling everything into a round by round report here on my website so you can easily find it and gain some insight from my experience playing through the tournament.
My Choice of Deck
This time around I’ve decided to play an explosive deck that has piqued many people’s interest lately, but sadly hasn’t shown up center stage in the Pioneer metagame yet. I hope that this season of Opens and Regional Championships will be when it truly breaks out and joins many other decks that have gone from obscurity to metagame regulars. My deck for the event: Bard Class
I tried out a number of decks once Brother’s War was spoiled, testing them out with a group of local Japanese players who would be joining me at the God of Pioneer this weekend, but I ended up settling on Bard Class for a number of reasons. I expect the metagame to have the usual mainstays: Mono Green Devotion, Rakdos Midrange, Humans, and Parhelion. There will also be some decks that are always popular: Phoenix, Spirits, Mono Red, and Rakdos Sacrifice. I wanted something that could put a lot of pressure on the slower midrange decks, something that was resilient to removal or had a lot of card advantage, as well as something that could go head to head with other aggressive decks. Bard Class meets all of those criteria in my opinion. It got one new card from Brother’s War and I think that the deck finally has the critical mass needed to be competitive.
Hajar, Loyal Bodyguard is yet another card that can be cheated into play with the Bard Class enchantment once it has reached level 2, and while its body is respectable (especially if it comes in with a +1/+1 counter from Bard Class), where it really shines is a deterrent to board wipes. It can be effective both on offense and defense, protecting your other creatures from damage, or pumping them up for a few extra points of damage to destroy other creatures or kill your opponent. This is exactly what the deck needed, and I believe this weekend will be when it proves itself. Aside from Hajar, I added a few other cards to the deck after some initial testing to give it more reach and be able to threaten my opponent more. One of those cards is Goro-Goro, Disciple of Ryusei.
One of the problems I ran into during testing this deck was that even though I could storm out many creatures at once, I wasn’t able to attack with any of them other than Zurgo (Dashed) or Gallia of the Endless Dance. Enter Goro-Goro, which can give everybody haste for one red mana and let you swing huge in one big turn. It’s secondary ability also isn’t always dead since Bard Class puts counters on creatures as they enter the battlefield. But maybe that’s not enough? Maybe you can’t attack, or maybe you can’t let your opponent untap next turn or they will combo off on you? In that situation, one of my friends recommended Purphoros, God of the Forge.
If you combo off but can’t attack, how are you to win? Well, Purphoros, God of the Forge can help. If you are using your Birgi to make a lot of extra mana, have leveled up your Bard Class to level 3, and are playing creature after creature from the top of your library, there’s nothing better than doing 2 damage each time they come into play. Other decks were using Esika’s Chariot, but I think this will end up being a lot more useful. The deck has a few flex slots, and I think this is definitely worth a shot. I actually have some history with Purphoros. Back in the 2013-2014 competitive season, this fiery God of the mountains led me to victory at a Pro Tour Qualifier in Nagoya against Saito Tomoharu’s Azorious Control deck. Mono red devotion might not be a deck in Pioneer, but I am willing to believe in Purphoros once more to carry me to victory. Let’s hope my faith in him isn’t misguided.
Welcome to the 9th God of Pioneer!
The tournament center in Takadanobaba, Tokyo started to fill out a lot earlier than usual this weekend for the God of Pioneer tournament. With a regional championship happening next weekend in Nagoya, many players are testing out new cards, new decks, and trying to improve their skills before taking them to what will probably be the biggest Magic event of the year in Japan.
As the time ran out to register and sign up for the event, 223 players sat down ready to start round 1. This was 2 players short of turning the event into a 9 round affair, which I’m sure some people were gracious to hear. Even with only 8 rounds, we’re still looking at a day filled with Pioneer in Tokyo and I’ll be commenting on each round’s results and developments until the doors close at the Hareruya Tournament center.
I was very excited to get round 1 underway with my new deck and I was matched up against Rakdos midrange. In my opinion, this was one of my better match ups and sure enough I played a turn 2 Bard Class and on turn 3 proceeded to play my entire hand on the board. My opponent drew a card for their turn 3 and then conceded. Game 2 was a little more difficult for me however after double Thoughtseize proceeded to take away my Bard Class and another card, and I was stuck drawing land for the next few turns.
In game 3, it all came down to removal, or lack there by my opponent. They had managed to land a Sheoldred and I was missing a Bard Class, but I did have at Klothys in play to negate the pain the Praetor was causing. I managed to keep it at bay with a Jegantha and drew a Purphoros, God of the Forge to put even more pressure on my opponent. The decisive turn game down to me playing a Goro Goro to give me 5 devotion for Purphoros and 7 for Klothys at the same time. Without removal for any of my creatures it was game, set, match.
A quick look at the metagame showed that the mainstays of the format were here but a few fringe decks such as Bant Auras, Mono blue devotion, UB Surveil, and even some Keruga Fires were seen too. About 60% of the matches were done with about 18 minutes left in the round though which leaves me to believe that there are a lot of aggro or combo decks out there.
My first roadblock in my search for an elusive top finish at a God of Pioneer event came in round 2 against Acererak Combo. You might be asking yourself just what the heck that is or might even be claiming that I made this deck up but I assure you that can’t be farther from the truth. I had only heard inklings of the deck showing up on MTGO but today I experienced it first hand.
The deck uses a two card combo that can go infinite ridiculously fast (much to my disappointment). It plays lots of mana elves, Kinnan, Bonder Prodigy, Acererak the Archlich, and a new card Gwenna, Eyes of Gaea. How it works is that when you Untap with a Gwenna and Kinnan, you can cast Gwenna for 3 mana and continuously bounce Acererak, doing an infinite amount of dungeons. I never looked at a dungeon card in my life but one drains you for one life and another gains you a life, either of which end the game right there. Lacking any type of effective instant speed removal to get rid of Gwenna, I quickly lost both games, regardless of how many free creatures I put in with Bard Class.
Also seems like a lot of Green Devotion, Rakdos, and UW Control showed up today as well. Should be able to get a better look at the Metagame after round 3. Right now Gwenna/Acerak combo has my vote for break out deck of the tourney.
Remember how I ran into that Acererak deck in round 2? Well guess what, it happened again in round 3. This time I had a little bit of practice under my belt so I knew HOW to stop it, but sadly I was lacking the tools TO stop it. I sided in my Abrades and Obliterating Bolts to try and take out my opponent’s Gwenna and I DID succeed one time to win that game, but in the first game I was powerless to stop it and in game 3 they just ripped another Gwenna off the top of their library to win the match. Just like that I dropped to 1-2.
I Wonder how each of these decks will end up doing at the end of the day. In Metagame news, the UW Control, Rakdos, and Parhelion decks seem to be doing well, and Mono green devotion isn’t that far behind. Also saw quite a few Spirits decks today (but not as many Humans this time). There were also quite a few big names in attendance. Shuhei Nakamura, Yuuta Takashi, and Ishiwata-san of Lotus Field fame were all in contention to finish as the God of Pioneer. While only one will end up getting that title, the others should get a lot of good practice for next week’s Regional Championships.
You know how I said that one of the reason I chose Bard Class was because of how it matched up against a lot of the traditional decks like Rakdos Mid, Parhelion, and Humans? Well while I practiced against those decks I did NOT practice the mirror at all because I didn’t think I’d face it. Playing Bard Class right has been a lonely experience, but in round 4 I found a kindred spirit. A kindred spirit that was running more removal, less combo, and more beaters in their deck. The battle basically came down to who could get more card advantage first and their removal kept me at a disadvantage the whole time. We did end up talking about the decks after I lost though and I got some good ideas for my next iteration.
Round 4 of God of Pioneer showed a developing metagame of Rakdos, Parhelion, and Mono green at the top tables, but a few humans and spirits deck are hot on their tails as well. Control wasn’t visible after my round ended, but I’m guessing it’s hanging in there too.
My luck started to change in round 5 and I was able to dispatch a Bant Spirits deck quickly 2-0. I took game one thanks to a Hajar, Loyal Bodyguard sac bonus and Targ Nar attack bonus, and in game 2 my opponent couldn’t draw any blue mana for a few turns so I was able to take over the game rather quickly. After about 5 rounds with my Bard Class deck, I started to notice some other problems with my deck. I probably shouldn’t have cut my Radha, Heart of Keld from the deck for a 3rd Birgi because more often than not I was stuck with cards that cost 2 colorless in my hand and this not only slowed down my ability to combo off with Bard Class, but also created a lot of awkward situations where I mana flooded (in a 20 land deck). Going foward I’d like to fix this.
In round 5, the metagame seemed to shift away from blue decks as many of the control and spirit strategies seemed to be fighting for their lives at x-2. The Parhelion, Rakdos, and Mono green decks seemed to be doing very well at the top tables though, and a few aggro decks like Humans were still alive for the top 8 as well. And remember that Acererak combo player I lost to in round 2? Well they were still alive at x-1 at the end of the round! Would be cool to see him make it.
I was able to continue my winning streak in round 6 to go to 3-3 after a 2-1 finish against Abzan Parhelion. My opponent was able to return a Skysovereign, Consul Flagship quickly in game 1, but I was able to lock them down with a Weathered Runestone in game 2, and with some tight play I combo’d off at 3 life with a level 3 Bard Class to deal 30+ damage in one turn thanks to Goro-Goro’s haste ability. Due to this long game I was not able to get a metagame report from the top tables of the event, but I did make the observation that Jegantha, the Wellspring was incredibly popular at this event. I wasn’t able to check out each and every deck at the event, but it did seem like almost half of the 223 players were using a Companion and about 90% of those were Jegantha. Wouldn’t be surprised to see it show up in everything in the future.
My round 7 opponent was Rakdos midrange and after they missed my Bard Class with a turn 1 Thoughtseize in game 1, I was feeling really confident about the match up. I managed to level it up and show them WHY you don’t let a Bard Class player play it and level it up. I was able to flood the board with about 4 creatures on turn 4 and he wasn’t able to deal with any of them and quickly conceded. However, my opponent’s disruption hit a lot harder in game 2 with added Duress to his deck and that ruined my plans big time. He was able to control the tempo of the game from that point and then landed 2 Fable of the Mirror Breaker that eventually copied themselves into oblivion and hit me for lethal. This added disruption led me to keep a multiple Bard Class hand in game 3, but I wasn’t able to draw any removal for his Bloodtithe Harvesters and Tenacious Underdogs and died to them before I could go off with my enchantment. My record dropped to 3-4.
A big takeaway from this match up was that my sideboard needs to develop more and be able to react better to a wider variety of threats. I didn’t have a clear sideboard plan for the big match ups, thinking I was favored against them, and that overconfidence led to my losses and misplays. While this event was giving me a lot of experience, i feel that I still need a lot more repetitions with my deck to learn lines of play I might have passed over this time around. This round also went to time so I wasn’t able to see what the metagame was like at the other tables, but with the top 8 just around the corner I’m sure I’d find out soon enough.
My final round of the event was against Keruga Fires, another deck that I had only heard of recently but hadn’t been able to test against prior to the event. I knew how it generally worked though. The deck plays Keruga, the Macrosage as it’s companion and A LOT of enchantments.
You think this type of deck would lose to faster decks, so I did my best to fill the board and try to combo out with Bard Class, but I ran into Temporary Lockdown game 1 and game 3 and it absolutely wrecked me. Without my enchantment removal I was dead on the board pretty much, losing to Kenrith, Cavalier of Flame, or both. I almost regret changing Back to Nature to a Natural State. Oh well. I did end having a lot of fun at the event and learned a new deck for it, and got to see TONS of MTG friends, as well as meet some new ones. I finished 3-5, but did what I set out to do at the beginning of the day; to make content for the God of Pioneer event in English that people usually don’t get to see! But we’re not done yet. Time to move on to the top 8!
The Top 8
At the end of round 8, the top tables had Green devotion, Keruga Fires, Rakdos Mid, Jund Sacrifice, and the Acererak combo deck that I had mentioned before, but when the smoke cleared the Top 8 had been decided:
- UW Control
- Mono Green Devotion
- Abzan Parhelion
- Abzan Parhelion
- Mono Blue Spirits
- Keruga Fires
- Rakdos Midrange
- Jund Dragon Engine Vehicles
The biggest shock from the top 8 was that somebody found a way to integrate the Phyrexian Dragon Engine and Mishra, Claimed by Gix into the GR Vehicles deck.
Gruul Vehicles never had a problem putting a 3 mana card into play on turn 2, so Phyrexian Dragon Engine is a good add to the deck regardless if you have the other meld side or not. Double strike, can play it from the graveyard, and also allows you to draw 3 cards? Tons of value. The problem people were facing when testing with Mishra, Claimed by Gix was that there was no way to easily get him to attack the turn he enters play alongside a Dragon Engine. Enter Reckless Stormseeker.
Stormseeker gives another creature haste, namely Mishra, and if either survives the next turn, there is a good chance to meld a Mishra, Lost to Phyrexia. While I didn’t have a chance to see this happen during the event, I’m sure he was able to take people unawares throughout the day and have a massive creature end games. Another benefit of playing black was that the vehicles deck also had access to better removal and Thoughtseize for disruption as well.
The rest of the top 16 was:
Rakdos Mid x2
This was a very well balanced top 16 I think. We had some top tier decks, some brews, and even some innovative decks. However, it seems that aggro was completely absent outside of the mono blue spirits deck. Last God of Pioneer’s breakout deck was Humans which left their mark on the meta, but this time around it seems like all of the midrange and combo decks stifled aggressive ones.
The match ups for the quarterfinals were:
UW Control Vs Jund Dragon Engine Vehicles
Mono Green devotion Vs Abzan Parhelion
Abzan Parhelion Vs Mono Blue Spirits
Keruga Fires Vs Rakdos Mid
I’m not going to lie, the Jund Dragon Engine deck held most of my attention at this event and I was focused mainly on that match up during the top 8. Hall of Famer Shuhei Nakamura’s mono green devotion deck won its match up against Parhelion, and the other Abzan Parhelion deck piloted by Travis Vallon fell to mono blue spirts. When the Keruga Fires player locked their ticket to the top 4 shortly after, it all came down to the final match between control and Dragon Vehicle Jund. While I was interested in seeing the Jund deck, I was rooting for the Azorious player, Akira Kobayashi, who was a local player from Yokohama who I play with from time to time. He won a RCQ last season and will be attending the Regional Championships in Nagoya next week, but the God of Pioneer ended being a great dry run for him leading up to his next big event.
One of the neatest interactions in the Yorion Control deck Kobayashi was Soul Partition, which had been doing work for him all day when I talked to him. Being able to exile an opponents card OR your own was key in a lot of match ups. He lost one game to the speed of Gruul Vehicles and the damage from Phyrexian Dragon engine, but ended up winning his match through board wipes, exiling, and countering his opponents thread. Congrats Kobayashi!
The top 4 match ups in the semifinals was Keruga Fires Vs. Mono Blue Spirits and Mono Green Devotion Vs. UW Control. My fellow Yokohama player drew the short straw it seems and had to face off against Shuhei Nakamura and I wouldn’t be surprised if he was a little bit flustered (and tired by this point). While Kobayashi put up a brave front it didn’t seem to be enough and Mono green devotion did what it did best and combo’d out to end his run. During this match, Keruga Fires won its match against mono blue spirits to set up a final battle against the dreaded mono green end boss.
With all of the local players I knew out of contention for the finals, I decided to call it a day. But if you want to see the Keruga Fires Vs Shuhei Nakamura’s Mono green devotion match, you can see it on Hareruya’s YouTube page. Watching it on there for yourself is going to be a lot better than having to read through my account of it.
That being said, I do have some final thoughts about the event, the metagame, and the cards used. First off, I’d like to address the Hall of Famer in the room. I’ve gotten pretty used to seeing Yuuta Takahashi, Kihara, and even Makito Mihara at these God of Pioneer events in the past, but this was the first time I’ve seen Shuhei Nakamura show up at one. To me, this screams LOUDLY at all the naysayers of Pioneer that the format is here to stay and that the pros recognize it finally as a competitive format. With the lack of other large events like GPs in Japan at the moment, I think this could be the start of a trend where we see all of the old pros and semi pros come out of the woodwork to participate in these “opens” more.
Takeaways and Wrap Up
I’d like to say that I think Companions aren’t long for competitive MTG. Keruga showed up in the top 8 & It seemed like almost every other deck was playing a Jegantha as their companion (myself included). While some people would argue that they don’t really interfere with deck building, I think there’s going to be a point in the near future where almost every deck will play one and those that don’t will be the exception to the rule.
I’d also like to point out that there are A LOT more combo decks these days than in the past. Mono green, Lotus Field, Infinite Dungeons, and even my deck Bard Class could be considered a combo deck since it storms out. It makes me wonder if A) More anti combo cards need to be printed and B) if Wizards is allowing these decks then they might be contemplating allowing other combo decks to be unbanned (looking at you Kethis and Felidar). I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again but if you want to get midrange and combo decks under control you need to make aggro decks faster. UNBAN SMUGGLER’S COPTER ;).
Even with all of these combo decks out there now, I will say that the Metagame seems to be very balanced. Sure lots of people might PLAY Rakdos Midrange and Mono green devotion, but they struggle to covert the wins. I wouldn’t go so far to say that Mono green devotion is overrated, but I would say that people have learned to play against it and that it will have to claws its way to get every win. I can’t be mad at the top 16 lists from this event. In Pioneer you really can play a variety of decks and do well with them!
Another takeaway is that Brothers War made Lots of new decks playable. I expect even more innovation by the time the regional Championships are over. I saw a lot of innovation, some new decks, and also some fringe decks see the light of day finally.
Until Next time …
I really enjoyed playing in this event and look forward to doing the next one after the next set is released. I also hope that you were able to get a lot of useful information from the event and that you’d like to see more content like this in the future! I hope to bring more Pioneer content from Japan in the future, and while I might not always have time to update my blog, you can always stop by my discord to see what Magic players like me who are living in Japan are talking about or you can follow me on my Twitter to see what cool or interesting things I’ve found about MTG. Thanks for reading and see you at the next big Magic event!