Is this the New Best Deck in Pioneer?

Discover if the latest deck innovation could dominate MTG's Pioneer format. An in-depth analysis of its potential to reshape the meta.

Welcome Magic lovers!


With every day that passes, the Explorer format on Magic Arena grows increasingly similar to its paper counterpart, Pioneer, and so with Pro Tour Chicago in the books, it behooves us to go over the standout decks to see which can be ported directly into the online-only Arena format. Despite the Explorer meta game having a different dynamic due to some of the top decks still being absent on Arena, such as Lotus Field Combo, there are a few existing decks which are essentially the card-for-card equivalent of their versions in Pioneer, including the brand new, Pro Tour winning archetype, Rakdos Vampires:


Rakdos Vampires

Total Cards:


With the highest match win percentage of any archetype at Pro Tour Chicago, this synergistic midrange deck gets its name from the powerful, three-mana planeswalker, Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord, and the cabal of bloodsuckers he brings with him. While Sorin hasn’t seen play in Pioneer since the dawn of the format several years ago, back in those days, Mono-black Vampires was hands-down the best deck, and its ability to cheat a huge, six-mana vampire into play on turn three was one of the main reasons why. Then came the banning of Smuggler’s Copter, in addition to a couple of other cards, which was finally enough to tear Sorin and his brood down from their lofty perch at the top of the format, and put them to rest in their coffins…until now.


Magic the Gathering Card - Vein Ripper - MTG Circle


First came the unbanning of Smuggler’s Copter in Pioneer, and while it was immediately picked up by Rakdos Midrange decks of all stripes and used to good effect, it wasn’t until the subsequent printing of the new, powerhouse vampire, Vein Ripper, that the professional Magic teams suddenly became interested in testing a build of Rakdos that leaned more toward casting Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord and using his -3 ability to slam the huge, six-drop Ripper into play as early as turn three. Many of the top tier decks in Pioneer don’t have a great way to interact with Vein Ripper, as commonly played removal spells like Fatal Push and Fiery Impulse won’t cut it, while decks that are creature-light, such as Azorius Control, won’t even be able to target the huge vampire, since paying its ward cost requires a player to sacrifice their own creature. The Ripper’s ability to fly makes it difficult for other creature-based decks to block and, therefore, race it, while the opponent’s fliers, such as Arclight Phoenix or Ledger Shredder, can’t attack through it. It also does great work against aggressive decks as its massive 6/5 body on turn three or four dwarfs everything else on the battlefield, while the Vein Ripper’s passive ability to drain two life from the opponent whenever any creature dies makes it almost impossible to race. Indeed, this powerful passive ability means that even with only one or two other creatures in play against an Azorius deck, a sweeper like Supreme Verdict can be quite punishing on the control player’s life total, and end up costing them the game. Much like fellow, potent black creature, Sheoldred, the Apocalypse, the Vein Ripper’s passive ability makes an attrition battle almost impossible to win for the opponent.


Magic the Gathering Card - Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord - MTG Circle

The Plan

While the Sorin/Vein Ripper ‘combo’ is the main plan of the deck, the supporting cast also happens to be comprised of some of the most powerful cards in the Pioneer/Explorer format. Thoughtseize to disrupt the opponent or clear the way for the combo. Fatal Push, the most effective and efficient removal spell available. Fable of the Mirror-Breaker needs no introduction, as it is one of the most powerful cards printed in several years, and is the main reason that this otherwise mono-black vampires deck is splashing red. In fact, the only other red card in the entire seventy-five is Bloodtithe Harvester, an incredibly efficient, two-mana vampire whose 3/2 body applies quick pressure on the opponent, while also potentially being used to kill a troublesome creature in a pinch. Dusk Legion Zealot is yet another cheap vampire that not only replaces itself and attacks or blocks, but which also provides Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord some fodder to sacrifice later in the game in order to ‘burn’ the opponent out with his Lightning Helix ability. The recently printed Preacher of the Schism also shows up here to round out the curve and give the deck a self-contained threat plus card advantage-generator in one, as it draws cards and creates vampire tokens for Sorin to sacrifice.


The Sideboard

The sideboard is rather straightforward, containing several ways to combat the combo decks of the format in Damping Sphere and the full four Leyline of the Void, while sweepers like Path of Peril and Extinction Event allow Rakdos Vampires to settle into the control role post-sideboard against the aggressive decks. A few more disruption spells consisting of Liliana of the Veil and Duress come in against the Azorius Control decks, and that's it!


With cheap, disposable creatures to throw at the opponent in the early game, as well as several built-in ways to gain life via Vein Ripper, Preacher of the Schism and Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord, Rakdos Vampires can be a difficult nut to crack for the aggressive decks, while the full playsets of Thoughtseize, Fable of the Mirror-Breaker and Vein Ripper make it a thorn in the side of control decks also. Hand disruption backed up by very quickly pressuring the opponent's life total can also gives the combo decks conniptions, making it seem like the Rakdos Vampires deck is currently very well positioned against the wider meta game. If you’re looking for something new, if you’re a big fan of midrange decks, or if you’d like to try and crush your local Pioneer tournament with the deck featuring the highest match win percentage at the last Pro Tour, look no further than the hottest new archetype: Rakdos Vampires!

Hi, I'm Damien! I'm a Canadian television and voice actor turned streamer! I've been playing Magic: the Gathering since the early 1990's when the game first released, and was heavily involved in competitive Magic for many years.