MTG Meta Breakers: How to Beat Naya Winota in Pioneer / Explorer
Welcome to MTG Meta Breakers! This series is devoted to helping you take on some of the most common decks in your favorite formats (aka “the meta”).
Whether you’re looking to climb the competitive ladder on Arena, want to win your local Friday Night Magic (FNM), or are just sick of getting beat, you’re in the right place.
For the purposes of this series, we’ll assume that all games are in best-of-three format. This allows you to sideboard against your opponent. When hoping to take down the metagame, sideboarding is your best friend.
Without further delay, let’s dive in!
After terrorizing opponents in Standard and eventually getting a ban in Historic, Winota, Joiner of Forces is back. Well, more like Pioneer is back.
With plenty of buzz surrounding the format right now, Winota has once again risen to prominence as a busted card at the helm of a top-tier deck.
This time, players are also learning to navigate with and around Winota in Explorer, the Arena version of Pioneer with a more limited card pool.
Most often seen running Naya colors, this deck is extremely explosive and can win on the turn Winota comes down. In best-of-one environments, Winota is undoubtedly one of the best decks. However, this list can hold its own in traditional best-of-three formats as well.
Anyone queueing up in an Explorer event or attending a Pioneer tournament should be prepared to face this deck.
Want to know how to beat it? Let's dive in!
Understanding Naya Winota Decks
The main goal of this deck is to win with a huge swing after dumping powerful human creatures onto the battlefield tapped and attacking with Winota's ability.
This requires some setup. However, doing so puts you exactly where you want to be when you drop Winota as most of the setup involves playing mana dorks and non-human creatures with evasion or an ETB ability.
Let's look at exactly what makes this deck tick.
Obviously, Winota is the key component. Her ability is often enough to win on the spot. That's mostly because she can find hits like Blade Historian, Tovolar's Huntmaster, and Kenrith, the Returned King.
Of course, you also need non-human attacking creatures to trigger her ability. This is mostly accomplished by a variety of mana dorks. In true Pioneer, Elvish Mystic and Llanowar Elves give you eight perfect targets. Meanwhile, Explorer players are forced to play things like Gilded Goose to replace the Mystic, which isn't on Arena.
The two-drop slot is filled by dorks like Prosperous Innkeeper as well as Voice of Resurgence.
Something that helped take this deck to the next level is the printing of new werewolves in both Innistrad: Midnight Hunt and Innistrad: Crimson Vow. They serve a dual purpose with front and back sides. On their face, cards like Tovolar's Huntmaster and Brutal Cathar are humans. This means you can hit them off Winota's ability. However, when they flip to their back side at night, they aren't humans, meaning they can trigger Winota's ability if they are already in play.
Finally, being in Naya colors means this deck has a variety of answers out of the sideboard. Cards like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Deafening Silence, and Archon of Emeria line up well against a huge slice of the meta.
High Priority Targets
When it comes to beating Naya Winota, the most important target is the namesake herself. If you can successfully stop Winota’s ability from triggering, this deck becomes far less scary.
Outside of the huge Winota turn, you mostly have to deal with tiny dorks and expensive mediocre creatures.
While Esika's Chariot and a flipped Fable of the Mirror Breaker can be problematic, this deck's plan B is very beatable for most decks.
Fortunately, there are plenty of opportunities to deal with Winota. Arguably the cleanest way is to counter the spell. That’s only possible for some decks, though.
If Winota does hit the field, you still have a chance to react before going to combat. You can hit her with a kill spell or a bounce spell before your opponent declares attackers. This prevents Winota’s trigger from going on the stack and leaves your opponent with a far less explosive turn.
Outside of dealing with Winota directly, you can also slow this deck down by dealing with their board. If Winota comes into play on an empty battlefield, she is effectively useless. This can be done with both spot removal and board wipes.
While effective, keep in mind that a resolved Winota is still a huge threat with just one non-human creature in play. If you opt to deal with the board early, be sure you also have answers to Winota when she inevitably comes down.
Cards that Beat Naya Winota in Pioneer / Explorer
Once again, this matchup is all about dealing with Winota effectively. This means cards that are good against Winota as a card are likely going to be solid against the deck.
As discussed, instant speed interaction is essential in this matchup—whether you prefer to interact on the stack or on the battlefield.
In Pioneer, UW Control can attack on multiple fronts with counterspells like Absorb as well as removal like Fateful Absence and bounce spells like Brazen Borrower’s Petty Theft.
Non-blue/white decks still have lots of options. Black has access to kill spells like Heartless Act, Infernal Grasp, and even Doom Blade.
Meanwhile, red can interact with a variety of mainly sideboard cards like Redcap Melee, Fry, and Rending Volley. That said, red decks can have a tough matchup against Winota given a lack of great interaction and a wall of creatures to attack into.
As mentioned, board wipes can also be useful against Winota decks by keeping the field clear. Supreme Verdict, Shatter the Sky, Extinction Event, Anger of the Gods, and Doomskar all see Pioneer play. Keep in mind they can be useful to clear the board even after a big Winota turn if you manage to survive.
Finally, you can attack this deck in a few unique ways as well. One of the more popular non-removal answers is Grafdigger’s Cage. Although this card is usually played as graveyard hate, it is also relevant against Winota since it prevents creatures from entering the battlefield off her trigger. Containment Priest has a similar effect stapled to a body.
Hand disruption like Thoughtseize prevents Winota from ever being cast by taking it out of your opponent’s hand. Elite Spellbinder taxes the Joiner to make her much more difficult to cast.
Common Mistakes Against Naya Winota Decks
When playing against Winota, your number one priority should never change—stop the giant swing.
If you can do this, you simply need to carry out your plan against the deck’s “meh” fairly played creatures.
That said, the biggest mistake you can make is not having a way to deal with Winota. Whether this means wasting your interaction on unimportant creatures or not mulliganing into a more favorable hand, one mistake can easily cost you the game in this matchup.
Something else to keep in mind is that the Winota player can try to combo off at odd times. For instance, the ideal curve is turn one Llanowar Elves into turn two Prosperous Innkeeper and another elf. This leads to a turn-three Winota with three attacking creatures.
However, Winota players often know how to play around your deck to give themselves the best chance of a big swing. It’s important to keep your guard up at all times and not get caught off-guard by an oddly timed, off-curve Winota.
Best Matchups Against Naya Winota in Pioneer / Explorer
An interesting thing about this matchup is that few decks are truly favored. Though fragile, Winota can hang with most decks in the format (especially in sideboard games). For instance, it matches up poorly with Izzet Phoenix in game one but punishes it in games two and three with a huge chunk of its sideboard. That said, there are a few matchups that are certainly favored.
Azorius Control simply has too many answers for Winota to deal with. Likewise, it can refill on cards and drag the game into the late game where Winota players will be relying on top-decks.
Cards like Fateful Absence, Absorb, Supreme Verdict, Portable Hole, and March of Otherworldly Light shine here.
Once you’ve cleared the board or shut down your opponent’s big Winota turn, you can take over with planeswalkers like Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and The Wandering Emperor.
Rakdos Midrange attacks in two ways. First, it can pressure the Winota player with strong creatures and planeswalkers. While it can’t race a nut draw from Winota, it can close out the game quickly and disrupt their plan.
Second, it has access to hand disruption and plenty of removal. Thoughtseize, Redcap Melee, and Dreadbore excel at shutting down Winota. Meanwhile, the deck’s backup plan of midrange creatures will struggle to deal with the likes of Kroxa, Bonecrusher Giant, and Kalitas.
Mardu Greasefang Combo
Winota can win fast. Greasefang can win even faster. This deck is challenging Winota as the best creature combo deck in the format. It gains an edge in the matchup thanks to strong cards out of the sideboard.
Of course, it can also close out the game before they matter by putting big 4/4 angels into play and swinging for massive amounts of damage.
Although this matchup isn’t quite as favored as the two previous, it certainly seems to have an edge in the Winota matchup.
Naya Winota isn’t going anywhere without a format-warping ban. Barring that, players will need to deal with the Joiner of Forces if they hope to be competitive in Pioneer or Explorer.
Although its explosiveness makes this deck top-tier for a reason, it is beatable if you play your cards right (literally).
How do you deal with Naya Winota? Got a spicy brew that takes down this meta tyrant? Let us know your favorite cards in this matchup in the comments below or on social media!
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