August 26th 2019 was the day that the only fair Faithless Looting deck died and was a bittersweet moment for me. Mardu Pyromancer has always been one of my favorite decks ever since it first burst onto the scene with Gerry Thompson placing second at a pro tour with the deck. Even though the meta evolved to become hostile towards the deck, it still remained one of my favorites and I’d bust it out every now and then. However, even though Pyromancer is dead in Modern, Pioneer gives me the opportunity to attempt a new version of Pyromancer and see if it has any legs in the new format. There were a lot of different color combinations to test and I’ll include a link at the end of the article to the current version of each deck that I ended up on.
Mardu Pyromancer seems like a deck that could be well-positioned for this new metagame. It takes full advantage of Thoughtseize, one of the defining cards of the format. It’s packed to the brim with removal, has an excellent late game, and a slower format makes the loss of Faithless Looting hurt a lot less. The deck loses a few other cards, but the general gameplan of the deck remains intact.
My first version of Mardu Pyromancer did it’s best to stay as close to the original Modern list, but a lot of changes still had to be made. A lot of removal spells made the cut to Pioneer including Fatal Push, Collective Brutality, and Kolaghan’s Command. There is no Lightning Bolt so I tried out Fiery Impulse as an easy way to get a 3 damage one mana spell. What I quickly learned is that being able to target face is incredibly important for the deck. If you had a hand full of bolts you can throw them at your opponent’s face to make a bunch of Pyromancer tokens against control, or empty your hand before you play a Reveler. Fiery Impulse got stuck in my hand very often and prevented me from doing the above things. As for the rest of the removal, Dreadbore was incredible in a format filled with Planeswalkers, Anguished Unmaking is a good catchall, and Crackling Doom is just plain sweet.
The biggest loss was Lingering Souls and was part of the engine that made the self discard work so well. In its place, we have to settle for more token makers such as Monastery Mentor, which has the upside of closing out the game much faster than Souls. However, the 2/2 body was very middling and didn’t hold up well against a lot of the removal of the format. One of the main reasons Lingering Souls was so strong in the original list was due to it being something you could do after you became Hellbent. Without any ways to take advantage of the graveyard, cards like Thrill of Possibility become much weaker.
This led me to my next list which tried to use Gurmag Angler as a payoff for all the cards going in my graveyard. This was a nonbo with my Bedlam Revelers but came up pretty rarely. I wasn’t really trying to get either Reveler or Gurmag out as quickly as possible, and it was often enough for me to cast the fatty that was appropriate for the situation and let it handle everything on its own. Gurmag Angler gave me more ways to use the resources in my graveyard which the first list was sorely lacking.
I also replaced Fiery Impulse with Shock. Shock being able to go face is very important to help get out Gurmags, Revelers, or Pyromancer tokens. They technically should have been Wild Slashes but I didn’t care enough to buy/rent those. Fiery Temper was considered, but there aren’t any ways to discard it efficiently and it will almost always be a 3 mana bolt. This list didn’t change much but was hugely beneficial to the deck.
- -4 Fiery Impulse -1 Fatal Push
- +3 Shock +2 Gurmag Angler
While the above list was doing ok, I was still eager to try out other versions of the deck and see where it could take me. This led me to try out Smuggler’s Copter as a repeatable source of looting. However, as my list stood currently, I didn’t have nearly enough ways to crew a copter on turn 3 so I had to look to other options and increase the effective creature count of the deck. After poking around for a bit I discovered Mardu Charm which was a card I had never really considered before but made a lot of sense in this version of the deck.
After making some tough cuts I finally ended up with this. Smuggler’s Copter proved to be a very powerful card. It survived sweepers, deterred a lot of attackers by being a 3/3, got in lots of chip damage, and looted of course. I think I would prefer a few more ways to get bodies for the copter and I’d start by adding another copy of Mardu Charm. This card proved to be incredible and is a staple in any future Mardu decks I might build. The mode I chose most often was creating 2 warriors, as those tokens could buy me a ton of time or crew up the copter. The main drawback to this list was it being Mardu. There were many opening hands where I’d have Sacred Foundry, Mountain, and a bunch of black spells. I also wanted to explore a deck that played only two colors because I’m a huge advocate for my lands doing more than tap for mana in case I flood.
- -2 Crackling Doom, -3 Kolaghan’s Command, -2 Monastery Mentor
- +4 Smuggler’s Copter, +3 Mardu Charm
Cutting white from the deck didn’t significantly change what cards I played. Red and black are more than capable of dealing with most permanents on their own. Of all the cards I lost, Mardu Charm was the one that hurt the most and I still want to go back and do some more testing with the card. I did test out one new spell in Treasure Map as an attempt to try and keep action well into the late game. It did fine, but with how many redraws and looting effects in the deck I wasn’t hurting for gas in the late game all too much.
The real changes happened in the mana base, and playing just RB gave me a whole new world of options. The mana is so much smoother in a 2 color list and was much easier to manage. I had the choice of trying out either Temple of Malice or Canyon Slough as my lategame dual of choice. I decided to go with Canyon Slough as it worked better with Dragonskull Summit, and an actual card seemed better to me than scrying. I also got to play with a Castle Locthwain, and I think I was too conservative here playing with only one copy.
There are lots of options to try in colorless lands, but I decided to go with 2 Mutavault and 1 Field of ruin. Mutavault is a sticky threat that gives you something to do with your mana in the late game and can punish Planeswalkers really well. Field of Ruin is a generically nice card to have, and I think I’ll continue to play one copy, but I might try to push my luck and play more copies of Mutavault. Another card that seems like fun is Westvale Abbey, although that is probably win more in this deck. This isn’t the end of experimenting, however, as I did try one more color combination beyond this.
- -2 Anguished Unmaking, -3 Mardu Charm, -2 Sacred Foundry, -2 Godless Shrine, -2 Plains, -2 Mountain, -1 Swamp
- +4 Treasure Map, +1 Duress, +4 Canyon Slough, +2 Mutavault +1 Field of Ruin, +1 Castle Locthwain, +1 Dragonskull Summit
UR Pheonix has had a resurgence in Pioneer thanks to Izzet Charm and I figured I’d give it a shot in Pyromancer as well. My first attempt at using Izzet Charm in a Pyromancer list was in Modern and had middling results with it, but the slower format of Pioneer gave me hope. (Mardu Pyromancer vs Grixis Pyromancer). After a few games, I’m happy to say Izzet Charm did much better than it did in Modern. Its other modes came out a decent amount of the time, and being an instant speed Faithless Looting was nice and let me craft my hand however I wanted.
Going into Grixis this time, I was interested in trying out other options and even threats for the deck. This led me to the God-Pharoah himself and gave me some very powerful late-game threats. Nicol Bolas, the Ravager became one of the best cards in the deck and was great at pressuring my opponent’s hand after I had already Thoughtseized them a few times. He was a must answer threat in a deck filled with must answer threats and was a great top-end. Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God was also an incredible sideboard card and would devastate any control opponent he resolved against.
Speaking of the sideboard, access to counterspells has been huge for this deck. In Modern, the average cmc is so low that counterspells aren’t that effective. In Pioneer, however, I find them to do much more especially in a format dominated by walkers. Disdainful Stroke is a fantastic sideboard card right now, and Spell Pierce does a good job of countering things on curve or protecting your key spells like Pyromancer. Where I found the splash for white not very impactful, the splash for blue in Pioneer has made the deck feel much stronger. Some cards weren’t pulling their weight, however, so I decided to try out one more version to test out a different Planeswalker.
- -4 Canyon Slough, -2 Mutavault, -1 Field of Ruin, -1 Castle Locthwain, -4 Smuggler’s Copter, -4 Treasure Map, -1 Bedlam Reveler
- +4 Izzet Charm, +3 Nicol Bolas, the Ravager, +2 Murderous Rider, +1 Fatal Push, +1 Dreadbore, +3 Kolaghan’s Command
Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy is another great reason to play blue and wasn’t immediately on my radar when I switched over to Grixis. Jace was another threat that utilized the graveyard well and could flip pretty quickly after an Izzet Charm. I was skeptical of his weak body at first, but he just increases the threat density of this deck even further. I have seen many different people main phase their Dig Through Times in an attempt to find an answer to all of the different cards in this deck.
Moving forward with Grixis, I’m going to try and focus on amping up the discard aspect. Rather than playing Thrill with Possibility, I’m going to try Thought Erasure and in the sideboard, I’m going to squeeze in another Dragon-God. I’m also going to replace Gurmag Angler with Bedlam Reveler as the draw 3 is too good to pass up.
- -3 Bedlam Reveler
- +3 Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy
Mardu is the best combination for creating tokens and is the best equipped for taking advantage of Smuggler’s Copter. Mardu Charm is a powerful card that I have only scratched the surface of and I feel that it will be a suitable replacement for Lingering Souls. My main issue with the Mardu deck is that the splash for white at times felt underpowered, and having complicated mana didn’t exactly convince me that it was worth it. However, with Theros: Beyond Death on the horizon, having a midrange deck that can efficiently answer enchantments might prove to be more important in the near future. If you want a classic Pyromancer deck filled with tokens, removal, and a great late game this is the way to go.
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If you don’t want to deal with a finicky manabase, trim the fat and play Rakdos. There is only so much to gain from splashing, and by not splashing you get access to some incredible utility lands that can keep the flood away in the late game. This more consistent gameplan loses out on some powerful cards like Smuggler’s Copter and Nicol Bolas but makes up for it in consistency. The trimmed decklist also gives you the opportunity to test with different cards such as Rankle, Master of Pranks.
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Out of all the variants I’ve tried so far, Grixis Pyromancer has given me the most promise. Blue gives access to a lot of powerful cards that have a more proactive gameplan and can threaten the opponent much more easily on their own. Izzet Charm is much more powerful than Thrill of Possibility, and the counterspells the color provides have been very beneficial. Grixis brings back the clunkier manabase, however, and if they resolve any enchantment based graveyard hate, it can be a challenge to overcome. Getting to cast a Nicol Bolas makes up for it though.
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Mardu Pyromancer may be dead in Modern, but the archetype still has a chance to live on in Pioneer! I have hopes that my favorite midrange deck will make a comeback, and I hope that I have given you the tools to try it out on your own. There is still a lot of exploration that can be done in this niche, and as the meta starts to stabilize, Pyromancer might have a chance to attack it and come out ahead. If you do decide to take one of these decks and make it your own, I would love to hear the exploration and changes you make along the way.
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