Although Pioneer is still in its infancy, it's proving to be an adaptive and popular format. Admittedly, it can be discouraging to be invested in the format when the metagame shifts so quickly, not to mention Wizards of the Coast's approach of looking at the ban list every week. Despite this, there is plenty of creativity to be found.
In the very early days of Pioneer, it looked like a mix of previously iconic Standard strategies or watered-down versions of existing Modern archetypes—but now, Pioneer is beginning to find its own identity. Within the current metagame we are seeing Mono-Black Aggro, Mono-Green Devotion and even strategies focusing around Possibility Storm coming to fruition. Although there are plenty of price fluctuations in the format, you can achieve a competitive Pioneer list on a budget, with the option of upgrading down the line if you choose.While Wizards plans to revisit the Banned and Restricted list every week until 2020, you can easily create a budget and moderately competitive strategy which will overlook any potential ban contenders. With the format finally stabilizing, Pioneer prices are beginning to follow suit. On average, most Pioneer lists cost around $300 to $400, which is incredibly affordable compared to Modern. Plus, the format supports more rotated Standard cards than older formats, which are typically too fast and powerful for recent sets to compete in.
This week I'm delving into Pioneer strategies that provide an affordable gateway into Magic's newest and most exciting format. I'm going to emphasize mono-color strategies as they're typically more affordable, and will let you try out Pioneer without investing too much up front.
"8-Whack" has proved to be a viable and affordable entry into Modern and ports well into Pioneer. The objective is simple: swarm the board with Goblins and alpha strike with a surged Reckless Bushwacker as early as possible. Although we only running one 'Bushwhacker' as Goblin Bushwhacker is not legal in the format, this lists still packs a punch.
There is plenty of speculation that Pioneer will settle into a midrange format, and low-to-the-ground strategies can capitalise on those slower archetypes. Legion Loyalist fares well against Bant Field, which is rising in popularity, as it ignores the Zombie tokens created by Field of the Dead if battalion has been achieved. An additional bonus is that this list is tremendously budget, coming to $40 overall. However, there other excellent Goblins we can add if you are interested in upgrading this particular list over time or have any Goblins left over from Standard and Modern.
The key upgrades come to the creatures where we are adding Goblin Rabblemaster and Legion Warboss to the mix. Both of these cards are fantastic in the build and offer more inevitability as well as token generation. Besides, Embercleave synergizes well as you are rarely casting it for its full cost with the mass of Goblins on board. Goblin Piledriver is another card which benefits from the token generation both Rabblemaster and Warboss provide. Having protection from blue is not crucial, but can stop Piledriver from being turned into an Elk by Oko, Thief of Crowns.
Mutavault has traditionally worked well in tribal lists as it receives benefits from "Lord" effects, but it isn't necessarily desired within this build as there aren't many decently costed Goblin Lords in Pioneer currently. The price of Mutavault has shot up since the announcement of the format as it is one of the best man lands around, and it offers late-game inevitability for when you are running out of gas. Stripping Mutavaults from this list will reduce the price from $185 to $105. I would recommend adding a few more Castle Embereth, Mountain or even Ranumap Ruins if you can't acquire the versatile man land anytime soon.
Inspired by a previous Standard archetype of the same name, Mono-White Aggro plays similarly to Goblins: go wide and pump the board with anthems such as History of Benalia and Benalish Marshal. The biggest temptation to play Mono-White is due to Brave the Elements, as the spell acts as a deterrent to potent sweepers such as Anger of the Gods and Deafening Clarion. Even in creature matchups, Brave the Elements serves as a board breaker by making your creatures unblockable.
White is well known for having access to some of the best sideboard cards in Modern, and this continues to be the case in Pioneer. Although Felidar Guardian is now banned in Pioneer, Authority of the Consuls can slow other aggressive strategies and prevent Smuggler's Copter being crewed ahead of curve. Rest in Peace remains a generically strong hate cards as it shuts down any strategy that wants to take advantage of the graveyard, like delve spells or Scavenging Ooze.
If you have access to them, I would add Smuggler's Copters, moving History of Benalia to the sideboard as the artifact is one of the best aggressive cards in the format. Admittedly, Smuggler's Copter could also face a ban in the near future so I would not recommend picking these up for another month or so as the format is still adjusting. I don't think Smuggler's Copter will see a ban as I think it meets the correct power level for what Pioneer is looking to achieve, and there are more answers in Pioneer than there were in old Standard. Still, it's worth being cautious in the meantime, and the list above still presents an aggressive and quick strategy.
If you want a different take on a Mono-White strategy, we can go down an enchantment-focused route.
The objective of this build is to deploy creatures with evasive auras such as Gryff's Boon and Ethereal Armour to pile on lots of damage. Sram, Senior Edificier replaces your Auras with redraws, creating an engine to draw into more powerful spells. Knight of Grace is a fantastic addition in the current Pioneer landscape due to the popularity of Mono-Black Aggro, which won the SCG Invitational a few weeks ago. Powering up a Knight of Grace with All That Glitters or a Gryff's Boon is a powerful line to take against Mono-Black which will win games on its own. Additionally, the bestow creatures give flexibility in whether we want to power up our creatures to develop the board.
Adanto Vanguard was a nuisance in old Standard. Offering indestructible creates value, especially if the Vampire is bestowed with a Hopeful Eidolon. We are using enchantment-based exile effects as these feed Ethereal Armor, All That Glitters and Helm of the Gods. This list is stubborn, can generate a compelling board in a matter of turns, and is a great entry-level into Pioneer for roughly $40.
Mono-White Auras adopts a similar approach to Bogles which is seeing some play in Pioneer and is an established strategy in Modern. However, I would recommend holding off upgrading this into Selesnya Bogles as Once Upon a Time could potentially see a ban in Pioneer in the upcoming months. It creates a problematic level of consistency alongside Llanowar Elves and Elvish Mystic in Mono-Green Devotion, which may cause the powerful green cantrip to see the ban hammer. I feel it may be too powerful for what Pioneer is looking to achieve alongside the mana creatures which are available. Time will tell, but I would recommend being vigilant in the meantime. You can choose to upgrade into something such as Selesnya Bogles without Once Upon a Time, however, it removes a lot of consistency and you have to mulligan more aggressively instead.
With Pioneer adopting Standard-only sets, the innovation will continue over time and it will be exciting to see where Pioneer goes from here. We are beginning to see Pioneer move away from the influences of Standard and Modern and become its own format. I can't wait to see what new Standard sets bring to this non-rotating format.
Emma Partlow is a writer and Modern enthusiast based in Suffolk, England. She's been involved in Magic since Khans of Tarkir back in 2014, and loves helping players dive into the game's most diverse format.
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