Seasons Change and So Do We
Welcome to PlayingExplorer’s first season reset meta breakdown, where our team will take a look back at the last four weeks of tier lists and data and break down any major shifts, new archetypes and recurring themes that showed up over the course of the month and what it could mean for the new season.
This season was the second in Explorer’s short lifespan, and saw one new ban in Expressive Iteration and a firming up of the meta reaction to the previous season’s Winota, Joiner of Forces ban. With no new sets printed into the format this season, the meta changes happened mostly along the lines of these bans and regular ebb and flow of what people are playing.
Of course, there are two Explorer formats (best-of-one and best-of-three), which vary enough in metagames to explore each completely separately. Let’s start with best-of-three.
The true-to-paper, sideboarded version of Explorer (and the format that the Arena Championship will be played in), saw much more meta movement throughout the ranked season than the best-of-one side did. One deck in particular, though, remained constant in playrate, winrate and tier list position through the entire season: Red/Black Three-Drop Tribal.
The Constant S-Tier
Rakdos Midrange has been the top-played deck in Explorer best-of-three since the format launched, and that did not change during this ranked season. This was anticipated, as it is one of the more powerful, complete decks as far as Pioneer ports go – only really missing Dreadbore, which I believe has a decent chance at being one of the cards printed into Explorer in the first anthology. Rakdos, a color combination always capable of teching to whatever meta it finds itself in, has done exactly that throughout the season – mostly varying in the number of Bloodchief’s Thirst in the mainboard, the number of Duress in the sideboard, the inclusion of Extinction Event and the mirror-match powerhouse of Rekindling Phoenix.
With an early ranked season so dominated by Spirits, Mono-Red, various Humans builds and a fair amount of Greasefang, it is no wonder Rakdos Midrange remained at the top for so long. It was only later in the season (around the time of the Explorer play-in qualifier) that less-ideal matchups like Jund Food, big Omnath decks and Agent Transmogrify decks started showing up in force. Even still, Rakdos didn’t lose enough in winrate or playrate to drop it out of its spot in the tier list.
Throughout the season, Mono-Blue Spirits maintained the highest winrate on the PlayingExplorer tier list. It bounced between A Tier and B Tier solely due to variation in playrate, and almost joined Rakdos Midrange in S Tier for our last tier list of the ranked season. The decklist barely changed throughout the course of the month. When it did, it was usually in the number of Brazen Borrower in the maindeck and the number of Witness Protection, Cerulean Drake, and Faceless Havens in the sideboard. Lists varied in their ratio of Dive Down:Slip Out the Back, largely based on whether the meta was board-wipe heavy or single-removal heavy (or needed to block).
Some new tech did end up emerging this season in Nebelgast Herald, which is either a carry-over from the Pioneer side or vice-versa. While Shacklegeist is great for tapping down single, large creatures or flying blockers, it is negative-value against a wide board. Nebelgast Herald seemed a strong choice for the Mono-Red matchup, as the Spirits player could tap down opponent attackers or blockers by doing the thing the deck is built to do: play spirits.
Again, the only metric keeping the ghosts out of S Tier was its relatively low playrate in the early season, so keep an eye out for them as their playrate starts to increase, as it did later in the season.
Mono-Red decks remained in A Tier throughout the entirety of the ranked season, but the decklists themselves weren’t quite as stable. Beginning the season strictly in the Throne of Eldraine-constructed aggro version, featuring Torbran, Thane of Red Fell, Fervent Champion, Embercleave, Robber of the Rich and Burning-Tree Emissary, it shifted to a few different iterations of burn and aggro mid-season. Some played the wizards burn package with Ghitu Lavarunner, Wizard’s Lightning, Soul-Scar Mage and Viasimo Pyromancer. Some tried to port the Pioneer Mono-Red Burn deck more directly, sorely missing Monastery Swiftspear and Eidolon of the Great Revel. Some (like me) mixed the two playstyles, incorporating elements of the burn deck and the aggro/Embercleave deck.
Between the playstyles, Mono-Red maintained a strong winrate throughout the season and was always well-represented in the format, maintaining its position as the second-most played deck throughout.
It was always there. Abrupt Decay excepting, the deck had every card it needed to match its Pioneer counterpart. It wasn’t until the the week of the best-of-three play-in qualifier that the deck started seeing a ton of play in Explorer. Starting the season in C Tier and ending the season in A Tier (which it entered the week of the play-in qualifier), the deck continues to not have solid, clean answers in many of the tiered decks in the format.
The Recent Addition
While still seeking the optimal color identity, Fight Rigging decks were sparsely played in the early days of this ranked season and were almost exclusively Jund. Early on, a Golgari Obosh version started to emerge, which was horrifying. Eventually, a Sultai build started to pick up steam and the archetype made its way into B Tier by the end of the month, and even there it was only kept from going higher due to its relatively low playrate. The decks currently maintain the second-highest winrate on the entire tier list and could remain something to watch out for this season.
The best-of-one side saw very little metagame shift throughout the season, which surprised me – as I would have expected the combo/aggro-centric version of the format to be much more volatile as mainboard hate cycles in and out of the tiered decks. Perhaps the format was less affected by the Expressive Iteration ban than the best-of-three side was, or maybe the Winota ban took less time for best-of-one players to digest. Either way, there are only a couple of major takeaways from this ranked season in best-of-one that could have implications for the new season.
Eater of Red
Selesnya Angels started the season by moving into the best-of-one S Tier and it hasn’t looked back. Its ability to gain too much life and establish too fat of a board for red decks to overcome even before a turn-three Ferocidon, combined with its unique ability to look at a turn-four Parhelion and say, “okay”, Angels plus Collected Company is a powerhouse on the best-of-one side and the train doesn’t look like it’s going to stop anytime soon. The deck’s increased playrate over the month has cost Mono-Red Aggro, an S-Tier staple since the launch of Explorer, to lose two entire percentage points of winrate. Rending Volley when?
The New Aggro
Mono-Blue Spirits decks entered A Tier in the middle of the month, and came dangerously close to entering S Tier in our last tier list of the season yesterday. Playing the creature aggro game while gaining the ability to counterspell and bounce problematic angels or turn them into Legitimate Businessangels with Witness Protection (and with the lack of Rakdos Midrange dominating the format the way it does in best-of-three), the deck’s only tough matchup on the best-of-one side is Mono-Red, which is definitely winnable.
A new ranked season is always an exciting time for me, as it feels like a fresh start (even though it’s kind of not) and gives me something to work toward again that’s not grinding my way into numbered Mythic or trying to maintain my numbered Mythic position every day. I usually take this opportunity to grind safely to the bottom of the next rank and then playtest fun, jank decks for a few days while I can’t rank down. This week, that deck is Rakdos Obosh, but I have Grixis Superfriends in the queue if the Preypiercer doesn’t do it for me.
Anyway, keep an eye out for our next tier list update on Thursday morning US time, and good luck in your grinding as always!