R Koster's picture
By: R Koster, Rob Koster
Jan 28 2020 10:35am

I closed out my previous article with a decklist for Hardened Scales in Pioneer. In the past week, I ran it through a few leagues with it to see how it would go.

For reference, this is the list I came up with:



This list was looking to solve four problems I had with the previous list I had used for my first few leagues. Those problems were:

The mana was never right. I was either Flooded or Manascrewed in almost half my games.

The deck wasn't linear enough to ignore what the opponent was doing. Still, it wasn't interactive enough to stop other decks, either.

I wanted a new sideboard.

I wasn't able to sacrifice Hangarback Walker.

With these problems in mind, I went into my next league to see how it went. And to be honest, it felt mostly the same. I ended up going 1-4 after losing to UW Control, Mono-Black Aggro, Mono-Black Aggro again, and BG Traverse. The one thing I did beat was Mono-Blue Devotion.

The match against UW control was close. I ended up trying to race a Lyra Dawnbringer in game 3 with an 8/8 Mutavault and some other dorks. In the end, I even managed to kill the Lyra Dawnbringer, but they had a second one that was just too much to overcome.

The matches against Mono-Black Aggro both went the same. We ended up trading one for one until we were both out of cards and things to do. From there, they would just end up drawing a ton more cards and be able to pick me apart.

The match against BG Traverse was the same. Just a bunch of one for one trading until they just ground me out hard.

That paints a horrible picture for the deck. But I did like a few of the changes I made. Mutavault was worth its weight in gold. A creatureland that on the regular becomes a 6/6 or a 7/7 is no joke. The little bit of interaction that I put in the Maindeck helped a lot. However, I should have played Abrupt Decay over Assassin's Trophy because I never wanted to give them a land and had a game where I would have easily won if I could have killed my own Hangarback Walker with Assassin's Trophy. The sideboard felt a lot better, as well. Having access to 3 Scavenging Ooze cleaned up against BG Traverse. Shapers' Sanctuary became Ancestral Recall against most of the decks I played against in this league as well.

So that's the good stuff, and it sounds excellent. So why did this list go 1-4?

The deck still feels like it's to synergy based. When you are casting 1/1's for 2 and 1/2's for 3, the deck feels poor. The four mana Planeswalkers were also too expensive, as I rarely get to 4 mana with this deck. According to the hypergeometric calculator, 23 lands and 4 elves should be fine. But I find myself wanting more lands almost every single game.

Assassin's Trophy also should have been Abrupt Decay in the Mainboard, but that's fixed quickly enough.

At this point, I'm getting sick of having so much mana troubles with this deck, though. I'm going to try two more things, and after that, I'll just be off it. The first thing I'm going to try is removing the Elves and just playing more lands and Planeswalkers and just being a Midrange deck. Perhaps something like this:

The other thing I'm going to try, and which I think will have the most success just looking at it, is going smaller and more aggressive. Going aggressive and faster has been proven time and again in Modern, and I expect Pioneer to be no different. While I was researching other ideas, I came upon a decklist that had Lotleth Troll and Slitherhead. I don't know if I want to go quite as low as that, but I can work with that idea. Lotleth Troll does probably mean removing the Mutavault, though, which is a shame.

So I tried to come up with a list that is as linear as possible, but I couldn't come up with a list that seemed as likely to work as the one I found. So I'll be taking that out for a spin shortly just to see how it goes.

After having played this through a league, I feel like this is the version that I would like to get into deeper. Just as I suspected being lower to the ground and more condensed helps the deck. I didn't miss the elves at all, and with the lower curve, the mana feels a lot better as well. Even though there are fewer lands, the curve is just a lot lower, which makes it not such a big deal not to draw your 4th land. I never even got close to getting any value out of Tireless Tracker or Westvale Abbey, though. I also got paired against UR Ensoul twice and had a lot of trouble with Stonecoil Serpent. So I wanted another card in the deck that could at least interact with it and ended up putting two Voracious Hydra back in the deck. It won't be as good without the Elves, so two of them seem fine. But it's still just a colossal beater that can interact every once in a while.

I used Karn's Bastion in 1 game that I probably would have won anyway without it. And Westvale Abbey did nothing but be a Wastes the entire run, so they are easily replaced with Mutavault, which I did miss a few times during the league.


Slitherhead and Lotleth Troll surprised me with how good they were. Lotleth Troll randomly just wins the game by being huge and also regenerate helps against Supreme Verdict.

Slitherhead is just a bunch of tricks on a one drop. You either cast it as a one-drop, so you have something to do on turn 1. After that, you can just run into everything and find out if the opponent messes up. Sometimes you want it alive to keep it as a blocker, and sometimes you just want it to die a horrible death so you can pump Walking Ballista or Hangarback Walker post-combat. Which is especially great with Hardened Scales or Winding Constrictor out.

So yeah, my final verdict is that it's a great deck, but I don't think it's tier 1. I could definitely see it getting there with getting just one more piece. All in all, I don't recommend buying into it right now because of the Walking Ballista ban possibility. But if you like playing Hardened Scales, the Slitherhead version is great!

See you next week when I get into another deck.