Card: Keruga, the Macrosage | Art: Dan Scott

Hippo Good? Hippo Good. Keruga Fires Pioneer RCQ-Winning Tournament Report

Hippo Good? Hippo Good. Keruga Fires Pioneer RCQ-Winning Tournament Report

Riddle me this… Do you like casting spells like Atraxa, Grand Unifier and Koma, Cosmos Serpent for free? Do you like tutoring creatures from your deck for free? Do you like winning games against the most popular deck in the meta? If you answered yes, Keruga Fires might just be the new Pioneer deck you need to try!

I piloted this list to win a 31-person RCQ this weekend to qualify for the Season 2 Round 1 Regional Championship in Atlanta later this year.

First of all, big shoutouts to Noah (@njamtg on Twitter) for his decklist and sideboard guide. And another to user pg8 from the Enigmatic Incarnation Discord for helping craft this super clean manabase.

Today, I’d like to introduce you to this awesome deck, break down some key cards, recap my tournament journey, and discuss a few changes to the original list I made based on my view of the format and matchups I expected to face. Let’s dive in!

My Tournament Path

The meta in this RCQ was full of Rakdos Midrange, something I was hoping for with Keruga Fires sleeved up. Of the 31 players, I saw at least six pilots on Rakdos, though I didn’t get to see every deck. There were also several Izzet Creativity players, all on the Gearhulk build. Two copies of Dimir Rogues (yikes) and Mono Green showed up alongside three copies of Mono White. Mine was the only Keruga deck, though the other qualifier from this two-slot tourney was also on a Fires of Invention deck, running Yorion and Transmogrify to find Atraxa, Grand Unifier.

Here are my matchups and results:

Round 1: Rakdos Midrange LWL

Round 2: Gearhulk Creativity (teammate) LWW

Round 3: Rakdos Midrange WW

Round 4: GB Elves WLW

Round 5: Gearhulk Creativity LWW

Top 8:

Quarters: Abzan Greasefang WW

Semis: Rakdos Midrange (my round one opponent again) WW

Finals: ID

I was thrilled to play against Rakdos three times as that matchup is very good for us. I got unlucky in round one, getting stuck on two and three lands respectively while they got off to a fast start. I was less thrilled to face Creativity twice as the matchup can be a bit trickier, especially post-board when they have access to Disdainful Stroke and Hullbreaker Horror. But I was fortunate to take both of those matches, including an incredibly tight Round 5 game three where I flickered one of my opponent’s two Hullbreakers with Fires on board as he swung for lethal. I followed it up with two Leyline Binding triggers off Elesh Norn to clean up on my turn and take over.

In the Top 8, I won both games against Greasefang courtesy of everyone’s favorite enchantment, Leyline Binding. I didn’t see (or need) Leyline of the Void in game two. Then I was able to take down my round one opponent in the pseudo finals fairly easily, even through triple discard spells in game two. I found the Fires/Enigmatic combo, got Kenrith, started gaining life, and reanimated my Keruga to draw a handful with a Sheoldred on board. Yikes.

Why Play Keruga Fires in Pioneer?

Not convinced, yet? I believe Keruga Fires is incredibly well-positioned in the Pioneer meta right now. Though it’s exploitable, no one is gaming for this matchup at the moment. Of course, this could quickly change and decrease your odds, but for now, Fires is in a great spot.

You have an incredible matchup against Rakdos Midrange, the most popular deck. We just saw this deck making up 20+ percent of the meta at the Regional Championships taking place this weekend. You’re almost certain to play against it at least once in any given tournament and Keruga Fires gives you as close to a bye as you can get.

Despite slower starts and a tricky manabase, the combo of Fires of Invention and Engimatic Incarnation (as well as each of these separately) helps you explode for extremely powerful plays on turn four. You can catch up from a significantly-behind board state or blow your opponent away with the value you can generate. I prefer this version over the 80-card Yorion builds also using these cards due to the improved consistency of hitting your key pieces on time.

Finally, let’s give a shoutout to Leyline Binding. It’s trivial to get this spell to cost just two mana with our manabase. And once you meet that requirement, Binding is the most flexible removal spell in Pioneer. Since hardly anyone is running enchantment hate, it’s essentially a permanent answer. Except you can turn it into a seven-drop creature as soon as turn four.

Are you sleeving up yet?

How the Deck Works

I’ve already alluded to the power of Fires of Invention and Enigmatic Incarnation. These two cards are the centerpieces of the deck. They allow us to play some high-powered four, five, and seven drops for free—either by casting them from hand or tutoring them from our deck.

Keruga is able to take advantage of Fires of Invention and abuses its own companion restriction to draw lots of cards and catch us up in the mid- to late-game. Don’t underestimate the power of the hippo.

I touched on the power of Leyline Binding as a removal spell. But this card also has excellent synergy with Engimatic Incarnation. You sacrifice the Binding and can tutor a seven drop from your deck. You can do this as soon as turn four to blow a game wide open. This lets us tutor up cards like:

  • Atraxa, Grand Unifier
  • Titan of Industry
  • Koma, Cosmos Serpent
  • Agent of Treachery
  • Dragonlord Atarka

You also get some powerful three-drop enchantments in Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, Touch the Spirit Realm, and Temporary Lockdown. These pair with tutor-able four drops like Heliod, the Radiant Dawn (a huge upgrade for this archetype) and multi-format all-star Sheoldred, the Apocalypse.

Finally, we get a suite of great five drops to clean up the game regardless of the situation. Cavalier of Dawn serves as catch-all removal and a way to recur our enchantments from the graveyard. Kenrith is an ideal mana-sink once you have Fires online and can lead your team to hasty victories. Tolsimir is a premier threat against aggro decks and is one of our best plays to stabilize the board. Elesh Norn, Mother of Machines also has tremendous synergy, doubling up all of our many ETB triggers. This includes everything from Leyline Binding to Tolsimir and Keruga to Atraxa. Yes, drawing upwards of 10 cards is a thing.

Don’t forget, while it’s great to tutor these creatures into play with Enigmatic Incarnation, you can also cast them from your hand pretty reliably. This gives you a solid midrange plan if you don’t find either piece of your combo.

Card Choices

I want to take a moment to touch on a few of my choices, especially those which deviated from most stock lists. Hopefully this will help you consider whether or not you should try them out!

Sheoldred, the Apocalypse

There isn’t much to say about this card that hasn’t been said before. I’d argue Sheoldred is the best creature in Pioneer (or at least in the running), so playing it here feels like a natural fit. I see why some are hesitant to include our Phyrexian friend due to her double-black mana requirement.

But this deck plays eight copies of cards that allow you to get Sheoldred onto the battlefield without ever seeing black mana. You also have treasure tokens from Fable and can even cast her on occasion with your Triomes. In my opinion, the upside far outweighs the downside and Fires players should seriously reconsider Sheoldred as their second four drop of choice behind Heliod. Certainly over Clever Impersonator.

Koma, Cosmos Serpent

The biggest snek. Koma was my inclusion over Agent of Treachery (see below). I believe it fills an important role in the deck, giving you a great tutor target, and controlling the board in meaningful ways.

Against Mono Green, you can sacrifice serpents to tap down their most important lands to slow down their mana production. Against creature decks, the deluge of serpents is a roadblock that’s often too much to overcome. You can also tap key blockers to close out games. This card is highly flexible and is a great target for Enigmatic on turn four, especially if your opponent hasn’t presented a specific threat you need to answer.

Agent of Treachery

I personally dislike this card very much. I don’t want my toolbox deck to rely on what my opponent is playing to get value. Yes, you can do crazy things with a flipped Fable or by flickering Agent with Touch the Spirit Realm. I just wasn’t high on this card and value Koma way higher. Of course, this could change if the meta gets a different look with more permanents worth stealing instead of just going over the top of them.

Touch the Spirit Realm

This card is amazing. I made the mistake of trimming the third copy to play a 28th land, opting to keep my creature suite large and hedge against aggro decks a bit more. Looking back, this was definitely incorrect. I’d recommend trimming another Bonecrusher giant or even a seven drop if you want that extra land.

The flexibility of Touch is simply too good to pass up. Don’t overlook the importance of being able to flicker things on your opponent’s turn when you have a Fires of Invention in play. This can lead to some major blowouts. Picture targeting a treasure token your opponent is trying to hit with Creativity or an attacker your opponent thinks is lethal with you unable to cast spells. Given all of your ETB effects, flickering your own creatures also frequently represents lots of value. And Touch can act as a pseudo protection spell against targeted removal.

Archon of Emeria

While I never had a chance to bring this card in during my tournament, it was key to beating Mono Green and Lotus Field in my testing. I’d argue these are both unfavored matchups, with the latter being much, much worse. Archon slows down your opponent’s big combo turns so your engines can generate enough value to take over. Don’t leave home without your archons!


Keruga Fires is a ton of fun! I’ve never enjoyed a Pioneer deck more and I hope this write-up entices you to try it out. It will be interesting to see how the meta adapts as this RCQ season rolls on and Fires gets more attention. Until then, stay hungry, hippo fans!

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