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Budget Magic: $72 (12 tix) Maze's End Gates (Pioneer)


Hey there, Budget Magic lovers, it's that time once again! This week, we're heading to a format that we haven't played in a while: Pioneer! When Pioneer first came out, it was competing with Modern to be my favorite format in all of Magic, but my interest faded thanks to Wizards being a bit slow to ban some combo pieces after Theros: Beyond Death was released. Lately, I've gotten the Pioneer itch again. The combo pieces are banned, I've been hearing good things about where the format is at, and the meta looks diverse and fun. So today, we're going to give the format a shot with one of my all-time favorite budget archetypes: Gates!

Apart from wanting to play some Pioneer in general, there are two reasons why I wanted to play Maze's End Gates. First, every time we play Gates, not only is the deck super fun, but it also ends up being surprisingly competitive. Cards like Gatebreaker Ram, Gate Colossus, Guild Summit, and Gates Ablaze are super strong and also super cheap, making it an ideal budget archetype. Second, a few weeks ago, I did a video about playing Magic Online for free after you pay $5 for your account. One of the easiest ways to do this is with the help of two free card-rental programs. Cardhoarder will give you $5 of cards for free, while ManaTraders gives you $7. If you get both, this means you can borrow up to $12 of cards without spending any money at all—and today's deck costs exactly $12, making it free for anyone using the free rental programs! Oh yeah, and the list actually 5-0ed a league, so it might actually be competitive too! A deck that's free but also strong enough to post winning records in leagues is exactly what you want on Magic Online because you'll end up making a profit if you manage to go 3-2 or better in your league, which allows you to build a Magic Online collection without spending anything! Is Pioneer good again? Is "free" Maze's End Gates competitive in the format? How many cards can we draw with Guild Summit? How big can we grow our Gatebreaker Ram? Let's get to the video and find out; then, we'll talk more about the deck!

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Budget Magic: Maze's End Gates

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The Deck

Maze's End Gates is basically a card draw–heavy midrange deck built around guildgate synergies that can win the game either by beating down with things like Gatebreaker Ram and Gate Colossus or by getting 10 different Gates on the battlefield and activating Maze's End!

The Lands

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What makes Maze's End Gates unique (and also super cheap) is the mana base. Apart from a single Forest, Plaza of Harmony, and—of course—Maze's End, all of the lands in our deck are Gates. We've got all 10 of the Gruul Guildgate cycle as well as a single Gateway Plaza, which helps up our Gate count for Maze's End purposes. While playing almost all tapped lands would normally be a dealbreaker, it actually works for Maze's End Gates because our deck is overflowing with Gate payoffs. As an added bonus, our entire mana base costs less than a single shock land!

As for Maze's End, it's honestly more of a backup plan than our primary way of winning the game. We're not overloaded with ramp to try to get 10 Gates on the battlefield as quickly as possible, which means that we'll most often win by smashing our opponent with big Gate creatures like Gatebreaker Ram or Gate Colossus. But this doesn't mean that Maze's End isn't important to our deck. The power of Maze's End is that it attacks our opponent in a way that most Pioneer decks can't deal with, which means we have all the inevitability if our beatdown plan doesn't work. Sooner or later, we'll get 10 Gates and Maze's End and win in an uncounterable way. Basically, while Maze's End might be our backup plan, it's a really strong backup plan.

Ramp

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While we don't have a ton of ramp, we do have a bit. By far the biggest challenge of Gates is that it can get off to some slow starts thanks to all of the tapped lands. Arboreal Grazer and Gatecreeper Vine give us early-game blockers to help us stay alive while we get our powerful mid- and late game set up and also support our Gates plan, Arboreal Grazer by letting us put an extra land on the battlefield from our hand and Gatecreeper Vine by tutoring up a Gate from our library to our hand (which also makes it a solid way to snag whatever Gate we might be missing in order to win with Maze's End). Meanwhile, Growth Spiral keeps us churning through our deck while also letting us put an extra land into play.

The Finishers

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Our two main creature finishers are Gatebreaker Ram and Gate Colossus, both of which are absurd in a deck full of Gates. Gatebreaker Ram is a 5/5 trample, vigilance on Turn 3 and often grows to a 10/10 or bigger as the game goes along, making it (arguably) the most powerful three-drop in Pioneer, if you're willing to play a mana base that is almost all Gates. Meanwhile, Gate Colossus is most often a three- or four-mana 8/8 on Turn 4-ish, and it comes down for free later in the game, which is also pretty insane. If our opponent manages to kill it, we can even put it back on the top of our library whenever we play a Gate, making it really hard for most decks to deal with permanently. Together, Gatebreaker Ram and Gate Colossus dominate the battlefield, being bigger than basically anything played in the Pioneer format and allowing us to close out the game super quickly, even through blockers, thanks to their evasion.

Card Draw

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Perhaps the biggest reason to play Gates is that the deck gets a ton of powerful card draw. Guild Summit often refills our hand once it enters the battlefield (assuming we're willing to tap all of our Gates, which we often are); afterward, it should draw us at least one extra card each turn as we make our Gate-y land drop. Meanwhile, Escape to the Wilds is a strong standalone card, giving us five cards for five mana, but it's even better in Gates since it gives us an extra land drop, which pushes us toward the 10 Gates we need to win with Maze's End. Finally, Expressive Iteration gives us some cheap early-game card draw to help us dig for our payoffs or removal.

Removal

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Removal-wise, the big payoff is Gates Ablaze, which is basically a three-mana wrath in our deck. On Turn 3, it sweeps away a bunch of aggro creatures, and it scales throughout the game as we play more Gates, so it typically is a three-mana Wrath of God later. It's pretty close to a Toxic Deluge that's legal in Pioneer and doesn't cost any life, which is incredibly strong against creature decks. We also have one Mythos of Nethroi as a catch-all that can hit anything, and we've got a bunch of extra removal in the sideboard, like Abrupt Decay, Abrade, Rending Volley, and Deafening Clarion.

Wrap-Up

Record-wise, we ended up going 3-2 with Maze's End Gates in a Pioneer league, earning us a profit of about 2.5 tix, which is pretty solid, especially for a deck that anyone can play for free with the card-rental programs. Heading into our matches, I was a bit worried about aggro, thinking that perhaps we'd get run over because of all of our tapped lands. But in practice, we beat all of the aggro decks we faced, with our two losses coming to more midrange and control-style decks in Jund Sacrifice and Rakdos Control.

More importantly, the deck is just super fun to play. Thanks to all of the card draw in the deck, we typically have a hand full of cards. We've got good removal and huge creatures. Plus, we have a bit of an Against the Odds–style win condition in Maze's End. I have a ton of fun every time I play Gates in basically any format, and this week was no exception.

As far as changes to make to the deck, I think the main deck felt solid. The sideboard could probably be tweaked a bit (Archway Angel seems like it could be helpful against aggro, although maybe it's not necessary since we beat aggro every time we faced it), but it felt decent. In all honesty, I'd probably just run the deck back as-is if I were going to play another league with it now.

So, should you play Maze's End Gates in Pioneer? Should you play Pioneer at all? I think the answer is clearly yes to both! As for the deck, it's cheap (or even free on Magic Online), super fun to play, and good enough to post winning records in leagues, which is exactly what you want out of a budget deck. As for Pioneer, I think it's time for it to get some more love. The meta feels diverse and fun, there are a ton of cool decks, and Modern is really expensive at the moment, which makes Pioneer the perfect format if you're looking for something that's non-rotating but without decks that cost as much as a mortgage payment. If you haven't been playing it recently and like older formats, I think it's very much worth revisiting.

Ultra-Budget / Non-Budget Decks

No ultra-budget or non-budget lists this week. While you might be able to cut a few dollars off the cost of the deck by trading things like Abrupt Decay and Rest in Peace in for lesser removal and graveyard hate, the deck is so cheap that I'm not sure it's really worth it unless you're desperate. As for a non-budget list, this is the non-budget list—it just so happens that Gates is a really cheap archetype even in optimal form!

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. What do you think of the current state of Pioneer? Should we play the format more often? Let me know in the comments! As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.



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