Pioneer Atarka Red Deck & Sideboard Guide
05/11/2023 · 9 min read
Pioneer remains a stagnant format , with little innovation and decks that aren't enjoyable in gameplay, often being deemed "unfair" by a portion of the community. However, there's still room for some decks to shine, even if it's just in Magic Online leagues.
One of the latest to reemerge was the return of Atarka Red, a deck that once caused a bit of a stir in the format, but had seemingly disappeared. Now, with a few new tricks up its sleeve, it appears to have gotten a second wind.
Today, I'll be discussing this new list, including card choices, tips and tricks for playing the deck, mulligan decisions, and a side guide against some of the format's tiers.
My Current Version of the Deck
(5 - 0)
100% in MTGO Pioneer League — 30-Oct-2023
|4 Burning-Tree Emissary||$0.35|
|4 Reckless Bushwhacker||$1.79|
|4 Soul-Scar Mage||$1.99|
|4 Monastery Swiftspear||$0.69|
|4 Bonecrusher Giant||$0.49|
|4 Kumano Faces Kakkazan||$0.99|
|4 Phoenix Chick||$0.59|
|4 Questing Druid||$7.49|
|4 Atarka's Command||$1.29|
|4 Play with Fire||$3.49|
|4 Karplusan Forest||$2.99|
|4 Copperline Gorge||$2.49|
|4 Stomping Ground||$12.99|
|4 Cragcrown Pathway||//||$4.49|
|2 Den of the Bugbear||$5.99|
|1 Sokenzan, Crucible of Defiance||$3.99|
|4 Rending Volley||$2.99|
|4 Damping Sphere||$0.35|
|1 Experimental Frenzy||$0.49|
Compared to the Monored Anax deck I've discussed with you guys before, the list doesn't have many differences and the focus is almost the same, except for the Anax and Embercleave combo. However, some cards are quite unique and make the deck interesting from a general perspective.
Seek the Beast/Questing Druid
There's been a lot of chatter about this card, not only in formats like Modern and Legacy, but it seems it has also found a home in Pioneer. I believe the resurgence of the deck is largely due to its inclusion in the main deck. It provides a significant boost to the deck in the mid/late game, but it also stands as a great creature to play on turn 2, especially when we can follow it up with a Burning-Tree Emissary. The deck was lacking solid 2-drops to pair with this card, and the druid has fit perfectly into the plan.
Before the introduction of Questing Druid, Atarka’s Command was the main reason for this deck to incorporate the color green. The feature that prevents life gain, boosts the power of your creatures, or even deals 3 damage to an opponent is excellent for this deck. With the support of creatures with Prowess (and now, the druid itself), they become even more potent. It's also challenging to play around in combat because in a creature swap, it's a card that can give you a significant advantage.
It's not one of the best creatures ever designed for this deck, but it does its job well. It has an evasion that's rarely seen in a red creature and in some circumstances, it can return from the graveyard attacking with even greater power.
Playing the deck
Curving creatures out from the start is what this deck aims to do the most. Openings that involve multiple copies of Burning-Tree Emissary are highly appreciated, especially if they're followed by Reckless Bushwhacker.
Example Hand #1
We don't have a one-drop, but we do have the deck's unfair play, which is Burning-Tree Emissary with Reckless Bushwhacker and hitting for 5 on turn 2, or playing Burning-Tree Emissary and using Stomp to take out something, or even with Questing Beast and start growing it. Burning-Tree Emissary gives you a lot of options in this deck, it's one of the key cards on the list and usually it's what makes the deck spin.
Example Hand #2
Another slightly slow hand, but Burning-Tree Emissary enables us to have a double play on turn 2, plus we can eliminate a creature on turn 1. It's interesting to note that, depending on our upcoming draws, we could hold onto the Questing Druid to extract more value from him in the late game. But if we need to outpace our opponent, deploying him alongside Burning-Tree Emissary is a very viable option.
Example Hand #3
This hand really showcases the significance of Questing Druid in our deck. We're flooded with lands, but a Seek the Beast can effectively get us back in the game without losing momentum. Think carefully about your sequencing - consider if it's best to play BTE with Druid and then Seek the Beast at the end of your opponent's turn.
Tips & Tricks
#1 Seek the Beast
The cards revealed through Seek the Beast must be utilized before the beginning of the next end step. It's critical for you to keep this in mind to determine the ideal timing to cast the spell, or the revealed cards may not be fully utilized.
If you manage to resolve a Seek the Beast during your opponent's turn and another Questing Druid is revealed, remember that you must use it before your end step, or you won't be able to play it.
#2 Soul-Scar Mage + Kumano
Remember the interaction between Soul-Scar Mage and Kumano, Master Yamabushi: If you're planning to use a burn spell to take out a creature, it won't be exiled, since the damage is dealt in the form of -1/-1 counters.
#3 Damping Sphere
Damping Sphere can also interfere with our game plan, so keep that in mind if you're planning to cast multiple spells in a single turn, especially if you're using Burning-Tree Emissary.
#4 Atarka’s Command
In addition to the +1/+1 boost, Atarka’s Command also provides reach to your creatures. Keep this in mind if you're planning a surprise block against flying creatures.
Matchups & Sideboard guide
We had a solid match, initiating with an aggressive strategy in Game 1 and successfully flooding the board with an array of creatures, notably with the assistance of Burning-Tree Emissary. Post-sideboard, we have Roasts on hand to eliminate threats such as Old-Growth Trolls and Polukranos, World Eater. Of course, we must respect the deck's potential, but I believe the chances are slightly in our favor. Remember to flip Kumano as soon as possible, as it aids in permanently removing creatures from the deck, without triggering their death abilities.
The match-up is a bit unfavorable, as he has numerous removals combined with Graveyard Trespasser and Sheoldred the Whispering One in Game 1. If we manage to get an Experimental Frenzy on the field in Game 2, he can't remove it from play, and with additional Roasts to answer his most troublesome cards, we stand a better chance of winning. However, we are still at a disadvantage given the substantial value his deck can generate through its creatures and removals.
Good game, we've got a lot of aggression. He can't hold up defense for long with Arboreal Grazer, thanks to the prowess combined with spells and we've got burns to wrap up the match. Post-side, Damping Spheres are even more helpful in conjunction with Cindervines, which acts like a sort of "mini Eidolon" and additionally helps to destroy Temporary Lockdown.
It's not one of the better match-ups, the Cat-Oven strategy really breaks our damage with burn spells and also disrupts our ground attacks, especially when combined with Mayhem Devil, it can annihilate any existing aggro. Post-sideboard, we do have some cards that can help in the match-up, but I don't believe it's enough. Playing Pioneer also means this: understanding that some match-ups will be really tough while others will be better - pairings are also part of the game.
A favorable match-up, running burns with creatures that have prowess is a highly effective strategy against this kind of deck. After sideboarding, we have more targeted removals, which further improves our match situation.
Another solid match-up, but we need to remain vigilant about the deck's creatures, especially Thing in the Ice and Ledger Shredder. Applying pressure with our own creatures and burns is key to finishing the game. After sideboarding, we have more specific removals for these creatures and Cindervines, which can usually knock off a significant amount of life points.
The match was rough, but we have a few tricks up our sleeve to deal with the deck in Game 1, especially those involving Soul-Scar Mage. Keep in mind that damage is dealt with -1/-1 counters, so even if they drop a Greasefang on turn 3, if there's no other creature on their side, we can reduce its power with burn spells, making it unable to crew vehicles. Post-sideboard, Rending Volleys help prevent us from falling to the combo, but they have other ways of stealing the game, like generating 4 mana with Esika’s Chariot or deploying creatures like Graveyard Trespasser and Sheoldred. So, we need to bring in some Roasts as well.
Another solid matchup, similar to facing Monowhite Humans, the blend of creatures with prowess and burns is quite effective against this type of deck. They might have more tricks up their sleeve, but I still believe it's quite favorable for us. Rending Volley comes into play to help remove more specific cards, further enhancing our deck's performance.
As stated in the article, it's impossible to have a great match against every deck, but Atarka Red has some really favorable matchups. Depending on the metagame, it could be a compelling choice, especially now with the addition of Questing Druid, which has truly invigorated the deck.
Until next time!