Atarka Red for Pioneer

A few weeks ago, Wizards of the Coast decided to drop one heck of a bomb in the form of a brand-new competitive format. For those that still don’t know, Pioneer is a non-rotating format consisting of cards from Return to Ravnica forwards, with the only banned cards from the start been the five allied fetchlands from Tarkir block, with Felidar Guardian, Leyline of Abundance and Oath of Nissa been added yesterday. What’s more, Pioneer will be supported with MTGO leagues and events available as well as a number of Grand Prix’s in the 2020 season. As you can imagine, this created quite a buzz in the community, most of which was positive.


Many players have been expecting to see a ‘post-modern’ format for a while now. With Modern prices rising thanks to its popularity and staples still difficult to get a hold of despite reprints, players have been keen to get their hands on an officially sanctioned format to use their rotated cards in. Additionally, unlike Modern (that had a very extensive banlist upon its creation) Pioneer’s slim ban list leaves the doors open for brewers to go to town creating new decks and reviving favourites from previous Standard seasons.

Since it came to MTGO, I’ve been playing a large amount Pioneer both in leagues and 1v1 queues. I’ve been trying out loads of different decks, from tribal brews to reimagined successful Standard decks of old. It also seems that most other people have been doing the same, and few decks you’ll encounter are identical. The meta is yet to converge on the ‘best’ deck, and as a result, the format is a real treat to play.

So, you’ve heard my glowing recommendation and are now wanting to get into this new format, but you don’t know what to play. Well, while the format is new and the meta is fairly fluid, my advice would be to play something aggressive. Faster decks always do better at the start of a format’s meta, and Pioneer is no different. Additionally, aggro decks tend to be fairly budget friendly, making the initial investment more manageable. And since Pioneer is non-rotating, if you want to play something else later on, you can always trade in your deck without too much of a financial hit.

Personally, I would recommend playing a revamped version of Atarka Red. A former Pro Tour winning strategy, Atarka Red is a mostly mono-red goblin tribal deck that splashes green to gain access to Atarka’s Command. The idea of the deck is simple. Get down as many creatures as possible as quickly as possible, then pump the team to swing in for large amounts of damage. It was already a strong deck when it first came out, but when you give it access to the Pioneer card pool it suddenly goes up a notch.

As I said above, the first part of the deck is getting down a lot of creatures to go nice and wide. Goblin Instigator and Goblin Rabblemaster allow us to build our board fairly quickly, giving us a decent number of 1/1 tokens. The Rabblemaster also fits in with another part of our battle plan – having multiple attackers. Creatures like the above mentioned Rabblemaster, as well as Goblin Piledriver and Foundry Street Denizen, can put out large amounts of damage. The Piledriver in particular can grow into a real beast, easily getting into double digits worth of power.

But all the power in the world will do us no good if our opponent can just chump block us. That’s where Legion Loyalist comes in clutch. When attacking with two or more creatures (something we should be doing often) this goblin soldier suddenly gives out trample and first strike, while also making tokens less than useful for our opponent. Alternatively, you could always just get rid of any pesky X/1 blockers with a well-timed Fanatical Firebrand (or just use them to hit face), as well as a single copy of Frenzied Goblin.

We also run one non-goblin creature in the form of Burning-Tree Emissary. This is mainly to help us get as many creatures out of our hand asap, but it also makes surging our Reckless Bushwhacker a lot easier to add to the damage output. Our final creature in the deck is Goblin Ringleader as a late game way to refill our hand and redouble the pressure after a board wipe.

Finally, a playset of Atarka’s Command acts as an additional pump effect as well as a source of direct damage to finish off the game. We can also stop our opponent from gaining life if need be, or even ramp up if the situation calls for it, although most of the time we are going to be pumping and doming. The mana base gives us enough green sources to cast our Commands with Stomping Ground and Rootbound Crag, as well as additional pump effects from Castle Embereth. We then round off the mainboard with nine Mountains.

Creatures (36)
Fanatical Firebrand
Foundry Street Denizen
Legion Loyalist
Frenzied Goblin
Burning-Tree Emissary
Goblin Instigator
Goblin Piledriver
Goblin Rabblemaster
Reckless Bushwhacker
Goblin Ringleader

Spells (4)
Atarka's Command
Lands (20)
Stomping Ground
Rootbound Crag
Castle Embereth

Sideboard (15)
Destructive Revelry
Goblin Chainwhirler
Ghor-Clan Rampager

When it comes to a sideboard, we start off with a full playset of Destructive Revelry to handle pesky Enchantments and Artifacts, as well as four copies of Goblin Chainwhirler to deal with token decks and to act as a pretty strong beater. Fry gives us a good answer to White or Blue Planeswalkers, while Ghor-Clan Rampager can help us trample over if the ground gets too clogged up with creatures.

And there you have it, Atarka Red for Pioneer. In the coming weeks I’ll be delving into more Pioneer decks as the format growths and evolves. If, like me, you have been enjoying Magic’s latest format, then why not tell us about your thoughts on Pioneer in the comments below. While you’re there you could like and subscribe to keep up to date with all we do here at Master of Magics.

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