On Monday, October 21st Wizards announced a new Magic format called Pioneer, which will feature all sets from Return to Ravnica forward. I don't think many players were expecting a huge announcement like this—most of the recent focus has been on Standard and Field of the Dead. However, now that the format has been announced there is a ton of excitement, and players are scrambling to figure out what decks to build.
As of now there are only five cards banned, the fetch lands. This was definitely necessary, as the goal isn't to have a format as strong as Modern, and fetch lands allow mana to get stretched too far sometimes. The question is, should there have been more cards banned other than fetch lands? Wizards is willing to ban more cards in Pioneer if it becomes apparent that's necessary. A tweet by prolific deck builder Sam Black best describes the stage of Pioneer deck building we are in:
If you don't think something in your Pioneer deck needs to be banned, you're not trying hard enough. The victory condition at this point in the format is getting a card banned. If you don't think your deck will do that's build a new deck.— Sam Black (@SamuelHBlack) October 22, 2019
The idea is to find the broken decks and cards that will require a future ban. With the format so new, there is general agreement that plenty more cards will get banned, it is just a matter of time. There are certainly some super powerful cards around in Pioneer, most of which were dominant during their time in Standard. I'm going to talk about cards and key interactions that may end up getting quickly banned.
Both Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time are currently legal in Pioneer! This is a huge red flag, as these cards are banned in Legacy and Modern, while being Restricted in Vintage. If cards are banned in older formats with much larger card pools what makes Wizards believe they will be okay in Pioneer?
There are a couple things to notice here. The first is that these cards were actually legal in Standard, though they saw plenty of play. Also, the lack of fetch lands does make it a little tougher to get cards into the graveyard for delve. I expect Dig Through Time to be a bigger offender than Treasure Cruise. Recasting it with Torrential Gearhulk in a control deck seems busted, and it will do a ton of work as an enabler in combo strategies. Worst of all, these cards will make it more difficult for other card draw effects to see play. We all want Sphinx's Revelation to be good enough, but I'm not sure it will measure up next to the delvers.
Now we are moving to a card that actually got banned during its time in Standard, Felidar Guardian. We have seen a few versions of this combo find success in Modern, so with a smaller pool these two cards create one of the best combos in the format. Two-card combos that win the game are extremely dangerous. I have lumped these two cards together because they are only going to be good when put in the same deck. Banning either Felidar Guardian or Saheeli Rai will be like banning them both.
There are a couple different variations of the combo we may see. One is a Jeskai Control deck that runs a bunch of traditional interactive control cards, but can win at any time with the two-card combo. Many times the control deck can wait to play a combo piece until the turn it wants to win, and six lands is all you need because you can start by blinking a tapped land with Felidar Guardian before casting Saheeli Rai.
The control version is actually not quite as scary as the variant that plays green. Oath of Nissa is a great way to find either of your combo pieces, and you can play more creatures that work well with both Saheeli Rai and Felidar Guardian. A turn-one mana accelerant also means that you can combo kill on turn three. The version that was most popular during Felidar Guardian's time in Standard was the green-based version, and I suspect this to carryover to Pioneer. This Cat combo is going to be one of the premier combo strategies, undoubtedly.
While we are on the subject of cards that have been banned in Standard, there is no need to look further than Aetherworks Marvel. Energy will be back as cards like Attune with Aether, Aether Hub and Harnessed Lightning make their return. The powerful Eldrazi creatures you can find with a spin of Aetherworks Marvel will also be present. A turn-four Eldrazi is normally going to be lights out, and there is no reason to believe this deck will have trouble doing its thing.
The question for an energy deck, and many of the other Pioneer decks being built, is which cards help the deck that were not available during its time in Standard. If the Marvel deck can become slightly more consistent than it was during Standard that would make a big difference. A large part of the reason for the original banning of Aetherworks Marvel was that it simply wasn't that fun to play against, and I wonder if it's not long before we hear complaints about what it's capable of in Pioneer.
Of the cards I have mentioned so far, this one may seem like the most unlikely to get banned, but hear me out. A lot of the pieces from the Burn and Red Prowess strategies that have been successful in Modern carry over to Pioneer. What is going to be the best aggressive deck in Pioneer? I would actually be surprised if the deck doesn't have four copies of Monastery Swiftspear in it. It's possible you can play Wizard's Lightning along side Soul-Scar Mage and Monastery Swiftspear.
So far players don't seem to be focusing on aggressive decks, but that could be a big mistake. These decks are going to be both fast and consistent. One advantage to playing red aggro is you can grab cards from many different blocks and sets rather than focusing on one block, like you need to for energy decks among others. Monastery Swiftspear decks don't need to be mono-red, and we could even see a blue splash for Treasure Cruise for some card advantage.
First of all, any black deck that isn't doing something degenerate will want to play Thoughtseize. This could be one of the most played cards in Pioneer. The question is whether this type of disruption is too good, or a necessary way to keep the more explosive decks in check. Right now, I lean toward the latter. Without Inquisition of Kozilek around this is clearly the best discard spell in the format, and should be very frustrating to play against for a number of decks.
This is another weird one, but the stock of Satyr Wayfinder should go through the roof. It does a number of really important things for both graveyard decks and emerge strategies. We won't be seeing traditional Dredge decks in Pioneer, but we could still have Prized Amalgam decks. Players will likely not run as much graveyard hate as in Modern, which opens the door. In decks with Elder Deep-Fiend, you want creatures around that you don't mind sacrificing.
We saw how important Satyr Wayfinder was in Hogaak decks as an enabler, and that's the role it will play in Pioneer. Stitcher's Supplier is also legal, and likely will see play in the same decks as Satyr Wayfinder, but I think Satyr Wayfinder is the more powerful of the two. Look for Emrakul, the Promised End in decks with Satyr Wayfinder, as loading up the graveyard with different card types becomes a major priority.
During its time in Standard seemingly every deck wanted to play Smuggler's Copter. That being said, its power level certainly isn't too high for Modern, though it does see some play. Pioneer looks like it's going to be a nice sweet spot for Smuggler's Copter to really flex its muscles again. There will be decks that want the loot effect, or are artifact-based, or just want an evasive attacker. Whatever it may be, Smuggler's Copter can fill the role. Look for almost every deck with lots of small creatures to want four copies of this card.
I fully expect to see plenty of Gilded Goose plus Oko, Thief of Crowns in Pioneer, just like there is in Standard right now. Without Noble Hierarch, Gilded Goose is actually quite a good mana creature, maybe the best one in Pioneer. Oko, Thief of Crowns being able to shut down opposing artifacts could become very important. The card is very powerful and you don't really need a good excuse to put this in a deck that can cast it.
Yes, I also think it will be banned in Standard. It's just a matter of time.
Collected Company is an extraordinarily powerful Magic card, and there are a lot of strong creatures to draw upon that cost three or less. Certainly, we will see Bant versions of Collected Company that include cards like Spell Queller, Reflector Mage and Tireless Tracker. The deck could also just be fully Spirits-based, as we have seen this before, so we know there will be strong Collected Company decks.
We are going to see some combo decks focused around Jeskai Ascendancy. Sylvan Caryatid's stock has gone up, as you want a mana dork in play in order to get full value off your Jeskai Ascendancy triggers. It's a little too early to figure out exactly which cards will go into these decks, but with Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time it's very possible to set up fast kills, after looting through most of your deck with Jeskai Ascendancy triggers.
Honorable Mentions: Walking Ballista, Mox Amber, Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, Teferi, Time Raveler, Liliana, the Last Hope, Rally the Ancestors, Ensoul Artifact, Emry, Lurker of the Loch, Emrakul, the Promised End, Deathrite Shaman, Arclight Phoenix and Reflector Mage.
I want to say that I don't think any of the cards are auto-ban worthy right now. I'm excited to see how the format plays out, and it's very likely I missed a broken card or two. Even though Wizards has said they will happily ban cards as necessary, the format may self-correct faster than we imagine. It has been so long since the creation of a new competitive format, and I can't wait to start brewing!
Seth Manfield is a professional Magic player and member of both the Magic Hall of Fame and the 2019 Magic Pro League.
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