With Pioneer becoming one of Magic: The Gathering's most popular non-rotating formats, it may be intimidating to invest in Pioneer when the metagame shifts regularly. Despite this, there are approaches to ensure you can get the most mileage from your money, with the key one being investing in lands. Lands are one of the most important card types in Magic. They enable you to cast your spells, they are the backbone of (almost) any strategy in the game, and it's important to have the best fixing possible. However, due to their deep-rooted purpose within the game, they can be expensive depending on their application and flexibility.
This week, I'll be breaking down the rare dual land cycles we have in Pioneer. This will help you identify what is appropriate for your budget, with considerations for the strategy you play in mind. Budget is subjective from person to person so I won't be aggressively looking at card values. However, I will be offering advice and recommendations on what to pick up first as a starting point for Pioneer deck building.
Shock lands are the backbone of Pioneer mana bases, and that is unlikely to change anytime soon. Fortunately, thanks to Guilds of Ravnica and Ravnica Allegiance, we have all ten of these available to use in Pioneer. As a result of their importance in the format, the value of this cycle has skyrocketed in value due to their continued application in Standard, Modern and even Legacy.
Another reason this cycle is so good is because of their subtyping. Even in a fetch-less format such as Pioneer, some lands unlock more potential from having a basic land subtype (Plains, Island, etc.) From a budget standpoint, acquiring these should be your last port of call. Some alternatives can achieve similar fixing, though these will have more notable downsides such as coming in tapped or requiring particular criteria. Depending on what strategy you play, tap lands may hinder momentum, so playing basics may be the safer option until you can acquire shock lands.
Despite the heavy financial investment, once you have acquired these lands, they will provide plenty of mileage across various formats which makes them worthwhile long-term. Pioneer creates a fantastic bridge between Standard and Modern, which means cards will see a lot of mileage going forward.
Originally named the "Scar Lands" due to their original printing in Scars of Mirrodin, the fast lands are excellent for lower-curve strategies that adopt a lower land count. With the omission of fetch lands in Pioneer, the application of this cycle is more accepted compared to Modern due to these being the next best option behind shock lands.
Because of this, the fast land cycle can be pricey depending on the color pairing. Historically speaking, any land with the white pairing tends to be cheaper given that white is seen as a support color in Magic. As a result, white dual lands are in less demand, which influences the price.
Unfortunately, the allied cycle is not legal due to originating in Scars of Mirrodin. Despite this, I expect these to be reprinted in due course to enable more options for Pioneer. Wizards seem incredibly keen to nurture the development of the format, which means gaps have to be filled in cycles that are not currently legal. It's a case of when, rather than if.
Pain lands have been a feature of Magic: The Gathering since Apocalypse and Ice Age which have seen modest reprints throughout the game's life. This cycle is my favorite to include in budget decks as it allows viability for two-color strategies without breaking the bank. As a result, they're an excellent placeholder for shock lands. Admittedly, these lands offer a downside of incremental damage, but the fixing is important enough that these are commonly played in Pioneer outside of budget lists.
Although the cycle is currently incomplete for Pioneer, I expect to see this gap filled in a similar respect to fast lands. Besides, I would not recommend picking up the non-legal pain lands as they are expensive due to their limited printing. As they are likely to be reprinted in a Standard set, the price will likely drop as there will be more in circulation.
Also, Mana Confluence is considered the "best" pain land available as it permits you to add any color at the expense of one life. Due to its broad application in a myriad of strategies, and the fact that so few lands offer any color of mana, the price of Mana Confluence is high. From a budget standpoint, acquiring the legal pain lands is a great start as these are affordable enough and will see plenty of usage.
Known as the "Shadow Lands" (or as I like to call them, peek-a-boo lands) due to their debut in Shadows over Innistrad, these lands can be effective if you have the correct density of subtypes for them to come in untapped. Although they make for a poor topdeck, they are fantastic in the early game where they can offer a similar potential to fast lands.
They currently see fringe play in Pioneer and are often used in strategies that need fixing such as Gruul Midrange or Azorius Control, simply because there aren't many alternatives to choose from. If we saw the complete cycle of fast and pain lands printed into Pioneer, these Peek-a-Boo lands would see very little play—in extension, it's why these strategies are not at the forefront of the format. The limited choice of ally-colored dual lands creates mana inconsistencies which makes these strategies weaker compared to other color pairings. However, looking at this through the budget lens, this land cycle is cheap, readily available and can work if you can meet the criteria of showing a basic or land with a similar subtype. I'd recommend only running two to three of these, as they become less effective the more you have in your opening hand.
Although the Temple lands are preferred in slower archetypes such as control or midrange, the scry can be a powerful tool. They can work in aggro strategies, however, it's typically better to run lands that don't come in tapped, as momentum is key with these archetypes.
If you are limited in terms of budget, these are excellent as they provide information for your next draw and are readily available due to their recent printing in Theros Beyond Death and Core Set 2020. The scry lands are not exciting or flashy by any means, but they do the job with the upside of smoothing out draws.
Originating from Amonkhet, the cycle lands are an unusual design. Although entering tapped, they offer an upside where you can cycle them for two mana to see a fresh card.
What makes these interesting is that they have the subtyping which other land cycles care about. Cycling lands let slower strategies play a slightly higher land count, rarely stumble on their mana, and then be able to keep playing spells every turn in the late game. I put these alongside scry lands in that they are overlooked and more powerful than they seem at first. These are not ideal for low-to-the-ground strategies as it's important to have a faster start, but in the right shell, they reward land-heavy hands with an option for more action.
Despite this, they are incredibly affordable and are a decent starting point if you have a limited budget, where you can upgrade into tap lands that offer more options. Although we don't have the complete cycle yet, I foresee these coming into Standard soon enough.
The check land cycle is close to the ideal land you want in your deck. They care about typing and they rarely come in untapped late in the game. The best part? All ten are available in Pioneer, thanks to recently rotated Standard sets Dominaria and Ixalan.
Along with shock lands, check lands are the backbone of various Pioneer strategies and are staples within the format. Not to mention, check lands complement shock lands incredibly well and provide mana consistency in multi-color strategies. If you intend to play plenty of Pioneer, I would suggest picking these up; they grant smooth mana fixing, even if you run more basics than normal.
From a budget perspective, they offer an incredible upside which you will likely keep in your decks for some time—they only become better the more lands with subtyping enter the format from new Standard sets. As mentioned above, they recently rotated out of Standard which means their price has decreased despite their renewed use in Pioneer. I'm a big fan of check lands and recommend grabbing a set of each eventually as they will unlock various deck building options in the future
Creature lands are powerful if utilized correctly. Whenever a land enters tapped, you are investing in it. For example, with Temple of Triumph, you are investing in its scry ability. In the instance here, you are investing in a land that can attack or defend later on in the game.
Another benefit is the insurance against mana flooding these creature lands provide. All in all, they are an excellent way to increase the consistency of your deck and make sure you have fewer cumbersome hands. One challenging trick is identifying when to turn the corner, which means switching from being the defender to being the aggressor and going for the kill. Over time though, this does become easier to understand through experience.
Due to their steep activation, it's unlikely that you will run four in a typical list, however, one or two are a great way to offer a different axis of attack in your deck. Lastly, they are relatively affordable to pick up and could slot into a control or midrange strategy nicely. Who knows, maybe we will see the original Worldwake cycle printed in Pioneer soon? Perhaps Creeping Tar Pit and Celestial Colonnade may be too good for Pioneer, we'll have to wait and see!
Lastly, we have the battle lands (or as I like to call them, tango lands) which hailed originally from Battle for Zendikar. They became incredibly popular in Standard as they could be fetched given their subtyping, which opened the door for consistent mana. However, in the world of Pioneer where fetch lands are banned, they are not as impactful.
I'm not huge on the battle lands compared to the check lands, as you need one extra land for it to enter untapped. Still, they do create a solid option for budget Pioneer if you are running enough basics. Also, they have that all-important subtyping that can complement other lands too. They aren't the best option currently, however, running a handful can mitigate some consistency issues and aren't too expensive at present. If I had the choice, I would rather run check lands as they achieve a similar effect to the battle lands with less requirements. Currently, the battle lands remain an incomplete cycle, though we could perhaps see the rest when Zendikar Rising is released? I'm excited to find out!
I can't wait to see what Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths brings to the table in regards to mana bases, especially if we see something new or a reprint of a previous cycle. My hope is that the current mana inconsistencies are identified and remedied in future Standard sets to aid Pioneer. Unfortunately, there are plenty of gaps in various cycles that will take time to be fixed. As a result of these inconsistencies, there's a bias toward enemy color pairings, allowing them to dominate and creating an imbalance in deck building. Wizards of the Coast seems to care greatly about Pioneer and want to nurture its growth as much as possible, and I believe having symmetrical land bases for all color pairings is a huge step in the right direction for deck diversity within the format.