Pioneer at Rule Zero

Right now, our new building is undergoing all sorts of fun building work, meaning that right now, Gav and I each have a valid excuse to wear hard hats. In practice they aren’t really needed, but we quite like wearing them anyway. Works are progressing nicely, and we should be ready to open fairly soon. How soon? We’ll let you know once we are confident that nothing is going to come along and make liars of us by taking longer than expected. We aren’t the builders – while we can speed up some stuff, we probably shouldn’t be allowed to wear hard hats and start messing with building stuff.

In the meantime, Magic just announced a new format, so we can do a bit of building work that isn’t going to impact on the structural stability of our lovely new home. Pioneer is a new non-rotating format that lets players use every set from Return to Ravnica onwards, and has only five banned cards – the fetchlands. This got announced on Monday, meaning everything is pretty fresh, but here are a bunch of things to consider about this new format.

1) Mana bases will not all be pretty

The lack of fetchlands in the format means that the fetch/shock manabases of Modern are out of the window. There also won’t be quite the same access to fast-lands, man-lands, and groovy lands like Cavern of Souls. This will come as a massive source of relief to those who balked at the price of buying these lands, but it will mean that building mana bases for decks sporting 3 or more colours will not be as simple as many of us have gotten used to. Wizards of the Coast stated in their introduction to the format that they didn’t want extra colours to feel ‘free’ when deck building, and banning fetchlands is a great start to achieving this. If you’re building something new, keeping the overall number of colours down will likely help with your consistency quite a bit.

2) A lot of decks will feel like powered up Standard decks

One of the reasons for non-rotating formats to exist is to give us something to do with cards once they are no longer in Standard. The bigger a non-rotating format, the harder for cards to feel relevant in it. This is likely another reason that Pioneer exists at all – right now Modern is in a pretty powerful place, and realistically there aren’t tonnes of cards from your typical Standard deck that are good enough to compete there. Not so Pioneer. The cut-off at Khans of Tarkir has swept the legs out of a lot of the most powerful things that exist in Modern, meaning that lots of what makes Modern feel scary isn’t there. Here are a list of decks that have been great in Modern that are impossible in Pioneer.

  • Affinity
  • Infect
  • Splinter Twin
  • Bogles
  • Second Sunrise
  • Ironworks
  • Urzatron
  • Urza
  • Dredge
  • Storm
  • Amulet Titan
  • Living End

This list goes on, and when I say that these decks are impossible in Pioneer, I am being less hyperbolic than I normally would be when throwing around the word impossible. Most of these decks lose namesake cards that are the lynchpin of their entire strategy. Yes, there might be an artifact deck, but without Arcbound Ravager, Cranial Plating et al, it won’t be Affinity. Yes, there might be a graveyard based deck, but it won’t be a Dredge deck. For most of the other decks in this list, there won’t even be a possibility of there being a deck that could get reasonably mis-understood for any of the above. If you are looking for a template for something to do in Pioneer, don’t look too hard at Modern, take a look back through Standard of the last few years.

Conveniently, there have been some very powerful Standard decks in this time. If you look through old Pro Tours, you’ll see some trends coming through which are probably worth investigating. Quite a few Standard Pro Tours were won by mono-red variants, and it seems likely that a red-based aggro deck will be good in Pioneer just as it is in most other formats. The details may take a little bit of finessing, but if you like casting burn spells and Monastery Swiftspear, that’s likely a good start. Blue/white control variants also have plenty to play with in Pioneer. When you combine the raw power of some of the newer planeswalkers (cough cough Teferi) with some of the nonsense achieved by casting a big Sphinx’s Revelation, you have got yourselves a great shell to build around. The win condition for blue/white could well be planeswalkers of one stripe or another, or potentially to expand out into green for Wilderness Reclamation, which will in turn mean that Nexus of Fate recursion could be very potent.

Energy-based decks were also a big deal in Standard. Being able to spin the wheel with Aetherworks Marvel was enough to prompt bannings, and in principle could be good enough again in Pioneer. A lot of players have looked toward the banned lists in other formats to get a feel for what might be a good starting point for Pioneer, and alongside Aetherworks Marvel, the combination of Felidar Guardian and Saheeli Rai is definitely worth investigation. With the addition of Teferi, Time Raveler from War of the Spark, this combo deck has the potential to win the game in decisive fashion while being difficult to disrupt.

Previously banned cards will be a feature in the early stages of the format

Of the cards that have been banned in assorted formats that are suddenly let loose on Pioneer, the two that are of most interest to me are Dig Through Time and Treasure Cruise. Both of these powerhouse blue card drawing spells were good enough to be banned in Modern, and were very good in Standard also. Without fetchlands they get a little bit harder to cast at a very low cost, but they remain incredibly powerful, and versatile enough to work across a variety of decks.

Smugglers’ Copter is a vehicle that was omnipresent in Standard for a short while, and contains a whole mess of design decisions that seem loopy to me. Why does it only cost 1 to crew? Why does it trigger on attacking and blocking rather than damage? Why is it a 3/3? It feels like it was made by rolling dice, and allowed through in part to get people to play with vehicles at all. Whether it is good enough in Pioneer though is a little bit of a question mark. Against ‘fair’ decks, Smugglers’ Copter is incredible, but with Modern being what it is, the little chopper never did very much. We shall have to see how it fares in Pioneer, but I wouldn’t necessarily bet the farm on it.

It seems likely that relatively soon (maybe around the MagicFests in the Pioneer format early next year) there will need to be bannings of something in Pioneer, but at least for now there is a question mark as to what. For those looking to get in early, I’d start off by buying up Treasure Cruise, as it’s obviously good and won’t break any banks. After that, rather than trying to chase waterfalls of broken decks, I’d be more inclined to try to power up Standard decks you’ve enjoyed as much as you can, rather than watering down Modern. Be a little wary about buying ‘broken cards’ for the format if you can’t handle the swings of bannings – it seems likely they will appear.

Play Pioneer with us!

Alright, fine, we don’t have a firm opening date just yet, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make a few plans. For those of you who love playing Magic with us already, rest assured that we will be having a bash at Pioneer once we open our new doors. As we get to a point where we have a better idea of dates, we will add them to our calendar here.

Have a great week!