Recently I’ve been trying to adapt Pioneer without Smuggler’s Copter. I shelved the Delirium decks for a playtest of Mill against a friend. He was running a spicy melange similar to Frank Lepore’s U/B Processor deck from Pro Tour Oath; it caught my eye. That deck exploited cheap disruptive creatures (Kitesail Freebooter, Brain Maggot) and Eldrazi processors (Ulamog’s Nullifier, Blight Herder, Wasteland Strangler) to convert temporary exile into permanent death.

A solid concept, I enjoyed the half-dozen games we jammed with it, but there was something missing. The Eldrazi processors were, as we all learned back in 2014 Standard, underpowered; and the exile-to-process pipeline was difficult to sequence. Later that evening, as I cruised into sleep, I was slapped with the answer: Kaya, Orzhov Usurper, who both exiles for a great rate and provides a secondary path to victory.

Lepore, as it turns out, had the same thought earlier this year; but he built it for Modern, and I thought it was worth revisiting in this lower-powered and highly-volatile format that we have now. This is one of the more exciting decks I’ve played recently—it feels like it’s operating on a totally different axis from the rest of Pioneer. Here’s where I am at the close of the year:

Kaya’s Process

Creatures (14)
Brain Maggot
Wasteland Strangler
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
Ulamog's Nullifier
Oblivion Sower

Planeswalkers (7)
Kaya, Orzhov Usurper
Teferi, Time Raveler
Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver

Spells (16)
Specter’s Shriek
Legion’s End
Rest in Peace
Anguished Unmaking
Settle the Wreckage
Lands (23)
Concealed Courtyard
Watery Grave
Isolated Chapel
Shambling Vent
Mana Confluence

Here are the quick hits: Anguished Unmaking plays the instant speed pseudo-Vindicate role. You’re playing the panoply of post-Oko three-mana Planeswalkers. The deck attacks on an unpredictable axis, and Specter’s Shriek is a wild card. On the down side: the mana is difficult, you can stumble and get run over, and Specter’s Shriek is a wild card.

A brief list of some of the Pioneer-relevant cards Kaya exiles: Llanowar Elves, Elvish Mystic, Deathrite Shaman, Gilded GooseBlood-soaked Champion, Dread Wanderer, Cauldron FamiliarLegion Loyalist, Bomat Courier, Ghitu Lavarunner, Monastery SwiftspearKnight of the Ebon LegionPelt CollectorPteramanderCurious ObsessionHardened Scales, Legion’s Landing, Grafdigger’s Cage, Silent GravestoneWitch’s Oven, and Pithing Needle (assuming it wasn’t set to her).

Not bad for five bucks and three mana.

More than anything, this is a deck that will require constant tweaks as the format evolves—your removal options are so flexible, and your Planeswalker suite is adaptable. From preliminary testing, though, I do have some thoughts: Blight Herder is a trap—five mana for a max of seven power divided among several bodies doesn’t pay off. The fail state is Douser of Lights, and the best outcome is a moderate body with some Lotus Petals.

Kitesail Freebooter and Yarok’s Fenlurker made the original draft, but the finicky mana of Fenlurker and the narrow focus of Freebooter made them easy cuts. The Lurker would be ideal for a more black-oriented build, which would also allow you to play Leyline of the Void and Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx—mimicking the mono-Green devotion deck that ran roughshod over the format before the banning of Leyline of Abundance.

There are several possible iterations of this archetype. Indeed, my temptation is to cut the Blue, which gives us the important engine card of Ashiok and the hateful Teferi; but cutting it would allow us to add a set of Thought-Knot Seers. You can’t run three colors plus a splash for colorless in Pioneer; you can barely run three colors in some decks. If they’re allowed to stick around unimpeded, though, Ashiok absolutely takes over games and feeds your Kayas, Stranglers, and Nullifiers, and can periodically snag you a choice creature. Both versions are worth testing.

It may also be worth it to cut the Rest in Peaces for more Kalitases—uh, Kalitasodes?—but the security of the two-mana enchantment makes it my first pick for the deck. Between Legion’s End and Anguished Unmaking, the removal is rock-solid, and can handle either smaller creatures or more problematic permanents.

We don’t lack for temporary exile removal, with Seal Away, Banishing Light, and Glass Casket as options; plusnd Cast Away and Ixalan’s Binding as more permanent solutions. So far, Settle the Wreckage has been the most effective and hilarious option.

The sideboard has the remaining two Settle the Wreckage to come in against aggressive decks, two Vraska’s Contempt to hit Avacyns and other resilient gamebreakers, and my pick for the most underrespected card in Pioneer: Ratchet Bomb. I’ve rounded out the board with a third Ashiok, two Selfless Spirit, Rankle, Master of Pranks, and a playset of Noxious Grasps, which in an Okoless world may be overkill. I’ll certainly be testing out Theros’ new Ashiok.

Regardless of the final build—and I’m getting closer to that final build by the day—this deck does something unexpected and pilfers free wins against unprepared opponents. As the Pioneer metagame continues to solidify, and we close out the period of weekly bans. Now’s the time to prey on both the uncertainty of an evolving metagame and the perceived safety of certain decks—perfect hunting grounds for a ghost assassin.

A lifelong resident of the Carolinas and a graduate of the University of North Carolina, Rob has played Magic since he picked a Darkling Stalker up off the soccer field at summer camp. He works for nonprofits as an educational strategies developer and, in his off-hours, enjoys writing fiction, playing games, and exploring new beers.

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