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Forest, Elf, go. Nyxthos, Burning-Tree, Burning-Tree, make five mana with Nyxthos, Nissa.

This is how a handful of games went for me at the StarCityGames Invitational last weekend. Just a few weeks prior to the event, SCG added Pioneer to flank Modern in place of Standard at the Invi — just after it was first announced as a new format. But that left a few glaring questions on the minds of all the competitors: What was good in Pioneer? Was the format fast? How do I build a sideboard?

The week before the Invitational, I was competing in my first Mythic Championship. The weeks prior, I spent all of my time testing Standard and Limited. Now I had to test for Pioneer and Modern, and I had only played one MTGO league of Pioneer prior to this. It was time to find all these answers. And then:

Veil of Summer is banned.

Well, there went my plans to play Simic Nexus. Thankfully, I figured out fairly quickly that Mono-Green Devotion was one of the most powerful strategies Pioneer had to offer and devoted (lol) a week’s worth of testing to figure out the deck and what the hell everyone was trying to do in the new format.

As it turns out, most people had figured out that the combination of Elvish Mystic and Once Upon a Time was the best thing to be doing — and green mirrors were going to be everywhere.

Here’s the deck I landed on for the Invitational:

I finished the Pioneer portion of the event at 6-2. In retrospect, there were clearly problems with my list — primarily not being prepared enough for the mirror (Hunt the Hunted was a dud) and Mono-Black Aggro. But all in all I’m happy with my choice and think I played pretty well.

So how does the deck work?

Essentially, you are looking to keep a hand with a land and a mana dork or Once Upon a Time to find a mana dork. This puts a huge emphasis on your mulligan decisions in order to be successful with the deck. A huge reason to play this deck is because of the consistency of it. The deck has eight mana dorks and four Once Upon a Times —  that’s 12 chances to have one of these in your opening hand. And in the early going, turn one elf is the hallmark play of the format.

After that, your deck is filled with powerful spells and lots of green mana symbols to fuel Nyxthos. Burning-Tree Emissary plays an integral role in fueling devotion, while also producing two mana to immediately activate Nyxthos. The goal is to build up devotion quickly so you are able to play your payoff cards: Nissa, Who Shakes the World, Vivien, Arkbow Ranger, Walking Ballista and Voracious Hydra.

In a lot of ways it’s your run-of-the-mill ramp deck — but it just goes WAY over the top.

Walking Ballista and Voracious Hydra are two cards that benefit the most from producing an egregious amount of mana because obviously they’re X spells. These are especially powerful because of what they do — kill your opponents’ creatures. The format is just so dominated by creatures right now and when you’ve got a ton of mana and one of these, you take over really quickly.

Vivien, Arkbow Ranger plays really well with Walking Ballista by adding additional counters to it when you’ve got a small Ballista hanging around in the mid-game. On top of that, Vivien provides an additional way to interact with your opponents’ creatures and planeswalkers with her second ability. Finally, when you get up to ten mana, you can tutor your sideboard Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger with Vivien’s third ability. Ulamog’s not the only thing you can tutor with Vivien either. I’ve grabbed Nylea’s Disciple against Mono-Red Aggro to effectively reset my life total! For a ramp deck, having access to such a versatile mid-game card, is really powerful — it can both help you cement your advantageous board or allow you to get that Ulamog to end the game on the spot.

Nissa, Who Shakes the World is the card that has taken over Standard and she’s trying her best to do the same in Pioneer. Naturally, her static ability slots well into the big mana deck. Using her first ability to untap a Nyxthos and activate it again yields an unbelievably large amount of mana to fuel your Walking Ballista or Voracious Hydra.

During the tournament I played against a wide spread of decks including Simic Aggro, the mirror, Mono-Black Aggro, Izzet Phoenix, Izzet Prowess and Four-Color Siege Rhino! Mono-Green Devotion is a powerful deck because it has play against all of these decks, especially if you build your sideboard correctly. Like I mentioned before, I didn’t build my sideboard correctly for the mirror and Mono-Black matchup. To remedy this, going forward I adapted my sideboard a bit. Here is the list I would playing moving forward (if there are no bans):

The notable changes in the sideboard include adding Questing Beasts, an additional Reclamation Sage and a Hornet Queen. All of these have potential to swing a game in your favour against the two matchups I mentioned earlier. Questing Beast is phenomenal against all of the small creature decks in the format, and is especially good against Mono-Black Aggro and Field of the Dead decks. It can also be quite powerful in the mirror because of beating or trading with most creatures, with the additional threat of being able to kill Nissa or Vivien.

Hornet Queen is also a good option in the mirror. Flyers are important because every other creature cannot block them. This is especially good for dealing with the opponent’s planeswalkers. Queen can also effectively block almost everything in the deck when the board gets clogged up. One hazard of playing this card is the opponent’s Walking Ballistas. Sometimes Hornet Queen can be a liability against Walking Ballista. The good news is, Ballistas are usually trimmed in the mirror. Along with the mirror, I love Hornet Queen against Mono-Black Aggro. They don’t have any effective ways to deal with the 1/1 Deathtouch hornets, other than trading all of their creatures with them.

Finally, adding an additional Reclamation Sage helps hedge against the Mono-Black aggro decks and Izzet Ensoul Artifact decks, which is important as those decks continue to gain popularity. Notably, all of these additions can be fetched up with Vivien in game ones. So just a few simple additions actually have a massive impact on the way your deck plays out. As it turns out, tutors are good!

As long as Nxythos and Once Upon a Time are legal in Pioneer, Mono-Green Devotion is going to remain one of the most powerful strategies in the format. Being able to craft the sideboard depending on the meta is an extremely important tool to utilize with this type of deck.