Starting off in eternal formats can be troublesome. It can be all too easy to feel excluded based on price of entry, and it can seem like a huge risk to drop so much of your hard-earned money into a deck that may not even be relevant in a few months’ time. It doesn’t have to be this way, though.

Price of Progress is a series dedicated to making entry into eternal formats as enjoyable and budget-friendly as possible. Each article will focus on one deck from Modern or Pioneer, and show how it can be taken from a budget build to a top tier list in manageable, affordable steps. As of writing this, Wizards of the Coast has stopped all paper organised play across North America, Europe, and South America. To help reflect current available methods of play, all prices will be in Tix (Magic Online).

Our deck this week is Izzet Ensoul for Pioneer. Affectionately nicknamed Running With Scissors due to the art on the namesake card, it’s one of the more aggressive decks in the format. It looks to play out low-cost artifacts and turn them into extremely potent threats that require immediate answers.

Ensoul has always been a solid deck choice in Pioneer, having put up consistent results since the format’s inception. It is exceptional at pressuring opponents while also disrupting their game plan, making it an excellent choice against the more combo-oriented decks like Dimir Inverter and Lotus Breach, or slower decks like Azorius Control.

It’s worth noting that several builds of Ensoul (including this one) run cards that are neither blue nor red, making the name inaccurate. However the deck is most commonly referred to as Izzet Ensoul by its players, even with the additional splashes. The decklist below costs about 34 Tix online, or $70 in paper.

Izzet Ensoul—34 Tix

Creatures (20)
Ornithopter
Bomat Courier
Gingerbrute
Hope of Ghirapur
Phyrexian Revoker
Skilled Animator

Spells (22)
Stubborn Denial
Shrapnel Blast
Ghostfire Blade
Springleaf Drum
All That Glitters
Ensoul Artifact
Lands (18)
Aether Hub
Spire of Industry
Darksteel Citadel
Battlefield Forge
Shivan Reef
Island

Sideboard (15)
Tormod's Crypt
Dive Down
Redcap Melee
Rending Volley
Stubborn Denial
Lava Coil
Aethersphere Harvester
Metallic Rebuke

The main aim of this deck is simple: reduce our opponent’s life from twenty to zero as quickly as possible, usually in increments of five. This is done by making our cheap and seemingly innocuous creatures into massive threats from as early as turn two.

The key piece of this deck is the namesake card, Ensoul Artifact. The ideal turn two play is to strap this to an artifact that was played on the first turn, making it into a 5/5 creature for just two mana. It becomes a rapid clock that cannot go ignored; if left uncontested and with no further interaction, this will kill your opponent on turn five. This effect is so critical to the deck’s game plan that we’re running playsets each of Skilled Animator, Ghostfire Blade, and All That Glitters; having sixteen of these “Ensoul-like” effects ensures the deck’s frightening consistency. While not all of these perform the exact same function, they are similar enough that any one of these is a very welcome sight in our opening hand.

To take advantage of these effects, we need valid targets. Our main deck has a whopping twenty-eight artifacts onto which we can Ensoul, most of which come with some form of additional benefit. Both Ornithopter and Hope of Ghirapur have flying, Bomat Courier and Gingerbrute have haste (with the latter being able to either gain us some life or become essentially unblockable), and even Darksteel Citadel has indestructible. This means there is rarely a bad target for us to suit up for the red zone.

We must protect our threats to be able to execute this gameplan. We’ve got two Stubborn Denial as a means of shielding our giant scissors from dreaded removal spells like Fatal Push, and " onclick="ga('send', 'event', 'Card Kingdom Card Link', 'click', 'Card Kingdom 2019');">Hope of Ghirapur’s sacrifice effect prevents our opponents from casting noncreature spells for a whole turn. In addition to this, Phyrexian Revoker can shut down almost anything with an activated ability, such as planeswalkers, and creatures like Walking Ballista or Heliod, Sun-Crowned.

To help close out the game, we have four Shrapnel Blast. We only have to connect with a beefy creature three times before using this to deal the full twenty damage. It’s rare that this hits a creature or planeswalker, but the option is there in a pinch.

This is quite a unique deck, in that we require very little coloured mana. The colour requirements are so low that we can run lands like Spire of Industry and Aether Hub; these allow for effortless production of the colours we need, yet they will never come into play tapped. I’m including Springleaf Drum in the mana base also, as its functions are to provide us with mild ramp and an additional four sources of each colour. The fact that it’s another target for Ensoul is a nice bonus.

The sideboard is fairly straightforward:

This is a sample sideboard that covers most scenarios. Due to constantly-shifting metagames the sideboard can be updated and tweaked where necessary.

Path to Upgrade

This build will set you back roughly 34 Tix or $70 in paper. It is more than capable of holding its own in the weekly Pioneer Challenge, or even going positive in a league. But what if we want to take it a step further?

Thankfully, the upgrade path for Izzet Ensoul is very affordable and can be completed incrementally. I’ve broken down the upgrade into three simple steps, and I’ll explain my reasoning for each one.

Step 1: True to the Name (35 Tix to upgrade)

Additions: 3 Mutavault (32 Tix), 1 Shivan Reef (0.90 Tix), 2 Emry, Lurker of the Loch (2.20 Tix), 1 Wild Slash (0.05 Tix), 1 Metallic Rebuke (0.05 Tix), 1 Island, 1 Mountain

Cuts: 4 Springleaf Drum, 4 All That Glitters, 2 Battlefield Forge

The aim of this upgrade is primarily to remove the white splash and Springleaf Drum for more interactive and powerful cards. Mutavault almost doubles the cost of the deck alone, but it’s one of the strongest upgrades. It increases threat density, and as it currently sees an incredible amount of play in Pioneer, it will be a sound investment.

Emry, Lurker of the Loch, Wild Slash, and Metallic Rebuke will help you cope better against removal, threats, and wars of attrition. While these can be weaker topdecks than a timely All That Glitters, their versatility is what makes them worth taking its slot.

Step 2: Robot Rock (7.25 Tix to Upgrade)

Additions: 4 Stonecoil Serpent (2.65 Tix), 2 Hangarback Walker (4.35 Tix), 1 Shadowspear (0.25 Tix)

Cuts: 4 Ornithopter, 2 Phyrexian Revoker, 1 Hope of Ghirapur

This upgrade focuses on our creature suite. Stonecoil Serpent gives us versatility that we wouldn’t otherwise have access to—it scales well as the game progresses, reach and trample make it excellent both attacking and blocking, and its protection makes it difficult to remove for some decks. Hangarback Walker is another great addition—it helps us to grind out against removal-heavy decks, and synergises beautifully with Shrapnel Blast. Finally, Shadowspear helps us to race against aggro, and gives us a main deck way of removing hexproof or indestructible.

Step 3: Landscaping (21.40 Tix to upgrade)

Additions: 4 Spirebluff Canal (16.35 Tix), 4 Steam Vents (5.05 Tix)

Cuts: 2 Island, 1 Mountain, 4 Aether Hub, 1 Spire of Industry

The final upgrade polishes off the mana base. Usually I would recommend upgrading our mana first; but Ensoul can function incredibly well with the lands in the budget version, so this deck doesn’t need it as badly. This may be a more expensive upgrade, but what I said about Mutavault is also true here: these are Pioneer (and Modern) staples, and will see play for a very long time to come.

Sideboard Upgrades

As I mentioned earlier, sideboards can vary wildly. They’re subject to the ebb and flow of your metagame, so be sure to adjust accordingly. Here are some suggestions for possible sideboard upgrades:

  • Mystical Dispute (0.30 Tix) is great against blue decks and in the mirror
  • Aether Gust (0.20 Tix) is incredible against any green or red deck
  • Abrade (0.15 Tix) as a flexible answer to both creatures and artifacts
  • Damping Sphere (0.40 Tix) to tackle decks like Lotus Breach and Izzet Phoenix
  • Rampaging Ferocidon (0.35 Tix) to prevent life gain
  • Bonecrusher Giant (5.30 Tix) for decks that look to either grind out or play to the board
  • Brazen Borrower (39.50 Tix) as a way to bounce problematic permanents

Again none of these are necessary, but they are worth considering as options if you plan on playing this more competitively. Having them at the ready will save time and money when you need to change the sideboard right before a tournament.

There are many benefits that we gain from these upgrades, the most notable is that we can hold our own better against some of our harder matchups. Emry allows us to rebuy artifacts from the graveyard, helps us to find Ghostfire Blade to start pressuring, and tends to eat a removal spell that would otherwise be aimed at a real threat. It’s also worth noting that having an Emry out with " onclick="ga('send', 'event', 'Card Kingdom Card Link', 'click', 'Card Kingdom 2019');">Hope of Ghirapur locks our opponents out of ever casting noncreature spells, which can be game over for decks like Azorius Control.

Wild Slash is primarily included to help against Mono Red. Soul-Scar Mage is public enemy number one for us, and having a cheap way to remove it can flip the script on the matchup. Shadowspear also helps us maintain pressure with a healthy life total. Upgrading our mana base means that we are less at the mercy of our lands to ensure that we have enough coloured mana to play out our best game.

Now that we’ve gone through the upgrades, let’s take a look at our final list! This comes in at 92 Tix online, and $248 in paper.

Izzet Ensoul—92 Tix

Creatures (21)
Bomat Courier
Emry, Lurker of the Loch
Gingerbrute
Hangarback Walker
Hope of Ghirapur
Skilled Animator
Stonecoil Serpent

Spells (17)
Ensoul Artifact
Ghostfire Blade
Stubborn Denial
Metallic Rebuke
Shadowspear
Shrapnel Blast
Wild Slash
Lands (22)
Darksteel Citadel
Mutavault
Shivan Reef
Spire of Industry
Spirebluff Canal
Steam Vents

Sideboard (15)
Tormod's Crypt
Dive Down
Redcap Melee
Rending Volley
Stubborn Denial
Lava Coil
Aethersphere Harvester
Metallic Rebuke

Our finished list is more reliable, resilient, and flexible than our budget version. While it is less invested in the “turn 2 suit up” plan due to the loss of All That Glitters, we more than make up for that by being more easily able to adapt to situations. Our threats are better, our card quality is higher (nothing feels worse than topdecking an Ornithopter at the wrong time), and our mana is much smoother. We can still race with the best of them, but now we can attack on axes that are more difficult for the more grindy decks to effectively manage.

Pioneer is a unique format. Some of its best decks are built around cards that were once labeled as being too narrow, unplayable, or weird—I’m looking at you, Inverter of Truth. I feel Izzet Ensoul fits that description nicely; its game plan seems very loose, considering it involves putting a powerful yet specific aura onto a creature that has no natural protection. However, once you suit it up you’ll quickly realise that the only danger of running with these scissors is you might never play another deck again!

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