Explorer Meta Guide: Top Decks for the Week of September 16

rose-emoji and BiRDxC0Re dive into this week's Explorer meta game, discussing matchups, tier list updates and some new contenders enabled by Dominaria United.

Overview

Each week, we at PlayingExplorer take a deep dive into the available MTGA ranked ladder data from players in Platinum rank and above. We take what data we have and break down which decks sit where in the Explorer metagame. These tier lists include a rolling average to ensure decks don’t move too volatility on the tier list after one good week. If you’re looking for an example of that tier list, here is this week’s best-of-three and best-of-one tier lists.

This metagame breakdown article will accompany that tier list each Friday, and will go over the top decks, why they have seen increases, decreases, or stagnation in play, and cover what stands out as to why these decks are contenders in the metagame.

Events

This week, we have our standard set of data from the ranked ladder from Platinum and up. Since Wizards is still not releasing Explorer data alongside their Historic, Standard and Alchemy data for some reason, we use a major tracker that we are affiliated with, in combination with Explorer tournaments with more than 50 players. This week, there was only one of those: the 66-person Pizza Box Open.

Explorer Competitive Guides

The data above is broken down by our Explorer Competitive Guides – a group of players on the PlayingExplorer team (which includes the two authors of this article) who have met certain metrics to qualify to be a Competitive Guide and maintained those metrics each month to remain on the competitive team. While leaning on the data as much as possible, the competitive team often shifts decks up and down based on their experience and feelings about expected matchups. The input from our competitive guides, combined with the data, makes up our weekly tier lists. 

Metagame Breakdown

S Tier

Decks in this tier are the most heavily played and format dominant. These decks are the core that the rest of the meta revolves around. Players should be prepared to face these decks multiple times throughout a series of games on the ladder or in a single constructed event.

No decks in this tier this week.

While Rakdos Midrange has dominated this tier since Explorer launched, and Abzan Greasefang moved into the tier last week for the first time, this week’s data suggested to the competitive team that both of these decks belonged mixed in with Mono-Red in A Tier.

A Tier

Decks in this tier are generally on the same power level as those above it, and consistently post top results at events. However, due to certain factors like deck population or weakness in a key matchup they are not as format dominant.

Rakdos Midrange

Deck Overview: Explorer’s version of Rakdos Midrange has been one of the most “complete” when it comes to Pioneer ports since launch, only getting closer with the printing of Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet in Explorer Anthology 1. Dominaria United gave the deck some powerful options in Sheoldred, the Apocalypse, Liliana of the Veil, The Raven Man, Evolved Sleeper and even Cruelty of Gix.

The deck’s gameplan focuses on one-for-one removal, hand disruption and topping off with tough-to-deal-with threats like Chandra, Torch of Defiance, Sheoldred, Kalitas and Graveyard Trespasser.

Why it’s in this tier: even before Dominaria United gave the deck some extra tools to work with, Rakdos Midrange was a staple in the top tiers of the Explorer tier list, finding itself in S Tier for for the first few weeks of the format and even forcing the creation of Tier 0 at one point. It seems, though, that despite printing Liliana of the Veil and Sheoldred, Dominaria United has actually brought Rakdos Midrange to par with the rest of the format. Whether this is due to other decks becoming inherently stronger or Rakdos Midrange having a temporary identity crisis in Explorer is yet to be seen.

Rakdos remains the most-played deck this week (by a factor of three) and maintained a respectable 60% winrate on the ranked ladder.

Abzan Greasefang

Deck Overview: Quite possibly the biggest winner from the printing on Liliana of the Veil, Abzan Greasefang had already shown itself to be the strongest of the three Greasefang variants in the weeks leading up to Dominaria United.

The deck’s gameplan is to use connive triggers, mill effects and Liliana of the Veil to put Parhelion II, Esika’s Chariot or Skysovereign, Consul Flagship in the graveyard and reanimate them with Greasefang, Okiba Boss. When faced with excessive graveyard hate, the midrange plan of hard casting an Esika’s Chariot remains a powerful backup plan.

Why it’s in this tier: Abzan Greasefang was the third most-played deck on the ranked ladder this week (just behind Mono-Red Cleave) while boasting a whopping 66% winrate. If we see its playrate increase and its winrate remain the same, the deck could easily pop back into S Tier, where it was upon Dominaria United’s launch for one week.

Mono-Red Cleave

Deck Overview: Mono-Red had a bit of a tough time finding its footing on the best-of-three side for a little while when Explorer first launched, split between three or four different variants before landing on an Embercleave, Torbran, Thane of Red Fell build nearly unanimously on the ranked ladder. 

The Embercleave build is chonkier than the wizard burn, Obosh, the Preypiercer and Pioneer burn versions, thereby giving it a better matchup against Rakdos Midrange. Its gameplan is to get cheap creatures on the board for a turn-four Embercleave, or get a Torbran down on a full board of attackers to get two points of extra damage in per creature.

Why it’s in this tier: In any format, as a new set releases and players are flock to experiment and build around some of the greedier cards in the set, Mono-Red tends to be a good option. This has easily been the case in Explorer, rocketing Mono-Red up from D Tier to the top of the tier list. It represented the second-most played deck and boasts a similar winrate to Rakdos Midrange.

B Tier

Decks in this tier are proven performers with strong finishes that will reward good player skill/dedicated play. However, they generally lack a certain level of power/consistency to take them to the winner’s podium on a regular basis.

Rakdos Sacrifice

Deck Overview: Rakdos Sacrifice uses Claim the Firstborn to brutally punish small creature decks and Mayhem Devil/Cauldron Familiar/Witch’s Oven synergies to grind Midrange decks down. On the Pioneer side, most pilots are splashing green for Korvold, Fae-Cursed King, but that has yet to be seen on the Explorer ladder. 

Why it’s in this tier: While the deck’s winrate is decreasing slightly week over week, it remains a highly-played deck and is able to ruin anyone playing cheap creatures or X/1 creatures’ day pretty handily. Looking at the decks above it in A Tier and surrounding it in B Tier, the time to splash for Korvold might be coming soon.

Green “Devotion”

Deck Overview: An absolute menace on the Pioneer side (of course, they have Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx and we don’t), Explorer players have been working on Green Devotion in the format since it launched. While there are zero devotion cards in the current build, the strategy is mostly the same: ramp and untap lands to cast Storm the Festival as early as possible and  use Karn, the Great Creator to wish for whatever artifact best suits the boardstate at the time. Cavalier of Thorns is the best Storm the Festival hit in Explorer, and it can shut down quite a few opposing strategies as soon as it hits the battlefield.

Why it’s in this tier: Green “Devotion” (or ramp, really) has been seeing increased play since two weeks before Dominaria United printed, but its winrate is relatively low at 55%. It has significant game against Rakdos Midrange and is one of the few decks that can survive through a resolved Greasefang/Parhelion setup. It struggles most against Mono-Blue Spirits in both Pioneer and Explorer, and has a difficult time against Azorius Control in Explorer specifically. 

Jeskai Agent

Deck Overview: Agent of Treachery/Transmogrify/Indomitable Creativity decks have been a staple in Explorer since launch, as Historic players who played Agent of Treachery before the ban were excited to “sleeve” them up again. The deck uses cards like Big Score and The Raven’s Warning to make token creatures or Treasure Tokens, then uses Indomitable Creativity to turn them into Agent of Treachery. The Jeskai version gains access to Wedding Announcement, The Wandering Emperor and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria over the Izzet variant.

Why it’s in this tier: The Jeskai Creativity deck jumped up to represent the fifth most-played deck in Explorer while maintaining a 61% winrate on the ladder. It has a strong matchup against Rakdos Midrange, as it often uses difficult-to-interact-with Treasure Tokens as the Creativity target rather than Fatal-Pushable creature tokens. Agent of Treachery is also inherently more powerful against the bigger creature decks like Mono-Green, as the steal targets are just better. 

Azorius Control

Deck Overview: UW Control has been another mainstay in the top tiers of the Explorer ladder, dropping down to B Tier this week for the first time in a bit. Azorius has always been the premier control deck in Pioneer and Explorer, but since Dominaria’s printing, its playrate on the Explorer side has rapidly diminished and has nearly been overtaken by Dimir Control.

Why it’s in this tier: With a diminishing playrate and a terrible matchup against decks that play three or more maindeck copies of Liliana of the Veil, Azorius Control sticks around in B Tier this week largely due to the aforementioned rolling average that we use to keep our tier lists from having extreme volatile shifts week-to-week. It’s very possible this deck falls further on the tier list next week. 

Mono-Blue Spirits

Deck Overview: The premier tempo deck in the format, Mono-Blue Spirits uses cheap spirits, Curious Obsession and a plethora of cheap countermagic to keep control and combo decks (and any of the greedier big-mana decks) off their game. 

Why it’s in this tier: Spirits is in B Tier solely due to a low playrate. Whether people feel there are better options with the new set out or they think the Rakdos Midrange matchup is too tough, not enough people are playing the deck to justify moving it higher. At 67%, the deck has the second-highest winrate on the entire tier list, and some of the configurations of Rakdos Midrange have actually made this matchup significantly better for spirits players.

C Tier

Decks in this tier are on an average power level for the format or are heavily underrepresented. Like our B-tier these decks can reward dedication to the archetype, but they will require a more concerted effort. Players should be aware of these decks, but not over-tune for these matchups.

Jund Food

Deck Overview: As mentioned – on the Pioneer side of things, Jund Sacrifice has merged with Rakdos Sacrifice, only playing green mana for Korvold, Fae-Cursed King. In Explorer, players are largely still on the Gilded Goose and Trail of Crumbs plan. When and if the decks end up merging in Explorer, my opinion is that it will be for the better for Jund Food. 

Why it’s in this tier: While representing the seventh most-played deck in best-of-three, its winrate is slipping week-to-week. Still, it maintained a 57% winrate this week and has a strong matchup against many of the A and B Tier decks.

Humans

Deck Overview: Another deck with somewhat of an identity crisis, Explorer Humans decks have tried going Mono-White (with no Brave the Elements in the format), Orzhov, Abzan, Selesnya, five-color and five-color with Pyre of Heroes. This week was largely Abzan, with several new cards from Dominaria United making the cut.

Why it’s in this tier: Creature decks are having a bit of a tough time in Explorer right now, and Abzan Humans (in its current form) just barely doesn’t go wide enough to decisively beat a Liliana of the Veil when combined with a plethora of other removal spells. If we are to see Humans climb back up again, I think it will have to be a go-wide(r) version or a value five-color pile, maybe with Jodah, the Uniter.

Green Stompy

Deck Overview: While not getting much in the way of new tech in Dominaria United, Mono-Green Stompy (or Turbo Great Henge) is always a strong option against a format dominated by Black-based midrange and slower combo decks. The deck looks to play big three-mana creatures like Steel-Leaf Champion and Rhonas, the Indomitable on turn two to overwhelm the opponent with combat damage.

Why it’s in this tier: While not putting up much of anything in terms of playrate this week, our Explorer Competitive Guides feel that with a number of uncounterable and indestructible creatures and mana elves to sacrifice to Liliana of the Veil, Green Stompy is well-positioned in the new meta and deserves a second look when it comes to Dominaria United cards to slot in.

Dimir Control

Deck Overview: As opposed to Azorius Control, Dimir uses cheap single-target removal to fend off the more aggressive decks that can get underneath UW Control, as well as hand disruption and new cards like Sheoldred and Liliana of the Veil to grind out games.

Why it’s in this tier: Dimir Control saw a substantial increase in playrate over the last two weeks, putting it far above Azorius Control as the eight most-played deck in the format. With a respectable 57% winrate and this much of a playrate increase, it looks like it has nowhere to go but up. This is one of the rare Explorer-first breakout decks and I am curious to see if there will be similar movement in Pioneer in the coming weeks. 

5C Elementals

Deck Overview: Officially switching from four-color to five-color last week, Elementals uses value engines like Risen Reef and Omnath, Locus of Creation to create boardstates that few Explorer decks have the ability to come out from underneath.

Why it’s in this tier: With the five-color shift and the printing of Leyline Binding, the deck – which has sat in D Tier for about a month – has finally moved up. It is certainly one of the greedier decks that I have mentioned Mono-Red and Mono-Blue Spirits coming out to contest, but its strong Rakdos Midrange matchup makes it a strong choice on the ladder. It holds the highest winrate on the entire tier list right now at 69%, but we have reason to believe this was the work of one or two players and can’t justify moving the deck further up than C Tier based on this.

D Tier

Decks in this tier will find the current meta hostile to their overall game plan. These decks can find success in the right environment, but the winner’s podium will be few and far between.

Dimir Rogues

Deck Overview: Dimir Rogues gets its wins by tempoing out its opponents. The deck plays to a similar play pattern as Mono-Blue Spirits, but it allows the player to have access to some excellent black cards in the form of Thoughtseize and Fatal Push.

Why it’s in this tier: While considerably less played when compared with its counterpart in Mono-Blue Spirits, Dimir Rogues remains in the tier list at D because it’s a fan-favorite on Arena and keeps up a favorable win percentage week after week, this week landing at 62%.

Mono-Black Midrange

Deck Overview: Mono-Black Midrange is very much the “new deck on the block.” Pushed back into contention with strong black cards from Dominaria United like Liliana of the Veil and Shreoldred, the Apocalypse, Mono-Black Midrange looks to close-out games with value cards and “good cards” at every CMC. As usual, this midrangey Mono-Black list doubles down on devotion and lands massive life-swinging haymakers with Gray Merchant of Asphodel whenever it can to take the match advantage. 

Why it’s in this tier: As its new tools bring it back into contention this week, there isn’t an exorbitant amount of data surrounding this previously off-meta deck. As a result, it begins its climb at D Tier while it waits to have additional pilots pick it up this week!

Golgari Fight Rigging

Deck Overview: Golgari Fight Rigging does one thing and one thing only – ramps out massive threats as soon as possible with its namesake card Fight Rigging. Titan of Industry and Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider never looked so sweet! The deck also sometimes manages to steal wins with its enormous low-drop, big power/toughness creatures like Shakedown Heavy and Rotting Regisaur before the opponent has time to answer them. Backed by the power and structure of a Golgari Rock deck, it’s no surprise why Golgari Fight Rigging can hold its own.

Why it’s in this tier: Unfortunately, there was not a lot of data this week with pilots who represented this list successfully. As a result, our competitive guides still feel like it’s a deck to keep your eye on – although without data to back it up – it finds its home in D Tier this week.

Enigmatic Incarnation

Deck Overview: Enigmatic Incarnation is a deck that has seen an incredible jump in both success and playrate. With the addition of Leyline Binding to this five-color list, players now have excellent low-cost removal and a combo piece that can find them massive threats like Agent of Treachery or Titan of Industry after an Enigmatic Incarnation trigger. The game plan is to play enchantments on curve, then later sacrificing each one to Enigmatic Incarnation to grab a toolbox creature with one CMC higher than the enchantment, eventually tutoring out powerful four or five-mana creatures like Siege Rhino, Tolsimir, Friend of Wolves or Yorion, Sky Nomad to win the game.

Why it’s in this tier: While it didn’t put up a significant playrate this week, verified reports from Discord and Reddit Explorer communities have shown the strength of the deck, and it being potentially the strongest home for Leyline Binding goes a long way in that. It’s a very wildcard-heavy deck, and more people pulling the trigger and crafting it is likely all it needs to move it up the tier list. 

Golgari Midrange

Deck Overview: Golgari Midrange or Golgari “Rock” is that true-to-magic, feel good midrange list that presents strong threats consistently (like Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, Liliana of the Veil, Vraska, Golgari Queen and Sorin the Mirthless) and is backed up with equally strong removal (in Fatal Push, Bloodchief’s Thirst and Assassin’s Trophy). It is the definition of “fair magic” and in a similar vein to Rakdos Midrange, it is a list that churns out wins by grinding through matchups and rewarding players who best tweak their list to their meta-game. 

Why it’s in this tier: Golgari Midrange shot up to represent the ninth most-played deck in the best-of-three format this week, now that Rock players are able to play Liliana of the Veil. With a 55% winrate, though, it doesn’t seem like the optimal list has been worked out yet. This is certainly an archetype to keep an eye on, but Golgari players might be better served playing Fight Rigging variants at this point.

Wrapping Up

This has been our first weekly breakdown of the Explorer metagame, and a bit of an explanation of why each deck is positioned where it is in the meta and on our tier list. We will also continue our monthly Season Rewind series that will break down the entire season’s meta shifts in a similar way this series will do on a weekly basis. Make sure to look out for that in early October, and good luck on the ladder!

  • Editor

    Tyler Hilton aka BiRDxC0Re, a proud magic player for over 22 years, his love for the game started during the Onslaught era of Magic. At a kitchen table with friends, some basic Mountains, and a pair of Raging Goblins going face – his adventure began, and he’s never looked back. Much has changed since then though, for both Tyler and Magic, and these days you can find him playing high-level Burn at many Canadian Modern events or grinding Mythic Rank on MTG Arena season after season. A canny Pioneer/Explorer brewer, young father, and KarnageKardsENT’s biggest fan – he joins our team to help the crew with whatever he can in the hopes of sharing his love for this game with the next generation!

  • Publisher

    rose-emoji started playing Magic: The Gathering during Battle for Zendikar, then took a break from the game until Throne of Eldraine. Pioneer got him back into Magic full-force, and the launch of Arena on mobile hooked him in forever. Now that his favorite format is working its way onto Arena, he can be found grinding the format to death, mostly in Grixis colors, mono-colors or tribal decks.

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