A Pioneering Challenge
Pioneer is a format that drummed up a lot of attention when it was first announced, mostly because it was the first of the ‘what if modern but smaller’ formats that Wizards of the Coast were offering official tournament support for. Interest in the format has largely died down in the past year or so (no external factors I’m sure) but now is the time to get it back going again.
Pioneer, for those not aware, is a format using cards printed from Return to Ravnica to present, giving it access to all the new cool designs without any of the baggage that older formats like Modern has. There is a small ban list for Pioneer, mostly cards that have proven themselves too powerful, such as Oko, Uro and Nexus of Fate, and the Khans of Tarkir ‘fetch land’ cycle which were pre-emptively banned in the format so that decks wouldn’t have access to the same consistent mana available in Modern.
That brings us to the Pioneer challenger decks, by far the best way to get involved in the format at a reasonable price point. I’m going to be walking through the four decks, giving an overview of the basic strategy and any notable exclusions that would improve the decks.
Lotus Field Combo
This is the only combo deck of the bunch and it’s a fun one. The deck has suffered a ban in the past, loosing Underworld Breach as a consistent value engine and is now having to resort to doing things the ‘fair’ way. The deck revolves around the card Lotus Field, and various ways of untapping it to take full advantage of its ability to produce three mana at a time. You’ll use these to produce enough mana to cast a Peer into the Abyss to draw most of your deck, and from there it’s as simple as casting Omniscience and Approach of the Second Sun twice to secure your victory.
As combo decks go this is a pretty decent one, its main value engine involves drawing cards and main combo piece has hexproof so it’s pretty difficult to interact with one it gets going, It’ll be the getting going part that’s the problem. As far as improvements go, the main missing piece would be copies of Emergent Ultimatum to set up the combo a bit more consistently along with a few minor mana base upgrades.
Mono Red Burn
It wouldn’t be a challenger deck release without good old mono red, and this version certainly doesn’t disappoint. Featuring format all-stars such as Bonecrusher Giant, Soul Scar Mage and Bomat Courier the game plan here shouldn’t need to much explaining (beep beep, go fast). Using your efficient creatures and burn spells you’ll be looking to reduce your opponent from 20 to 0 in the shortest amount of time possible, which usually doesn’t take too long. Burn makes the perfect deck for large tournaments as it allows plenty of time to get food between rounds.
This is probably the closest to a full powered Pioneer deck out of the box as is usually the case with the red variant. Notable exclusions are Eidolon of the Great Revel, a massive threat in most matchups which punishes your opponent for trying to play spells, and the small white splash present in most Pioneer Burn lists which supports Chain to the Rocks as a removal spell and Lurrus as a companion for a bit more power if the game goes longer. The white addition is definitely not essential, but might be something to look into if reds your thing.
As my personal deck of choice, spirits is a relatively fast aggro / tempo deck, meaning that it can have some super fast starts thanks to Mausoleum Wanderer and the ‘lord’ effects (creatures that make the other spirits bigger) in Supreme Phantom and Empyrean Eagle. Tempo decks revolve around interacting with your opponent while increasing a board position, which is handled nicely by Spell Queller, Rattlechains and Selfless Spirit.
This deck looks to be the one that needs the most help out of the box, a lot of the most powerful cards (Spell Queller, Mausoleum Wanderer and Brazen Borrower) you’re only given one or two of and the mana base would need some work too, adding cards like Hallowed Fountain and Hengegate Pathway will make sure you get all the right colours at the right time.
Last up is the incredibly powerful black-white auras deck, dedicated to making a massive creature to beat up your opponent with. Using Sram and Hateful Eidolon to let you draw cards through auras and Selfless Saviour and Alseid of Life's Bounty for protection this deck is ruthlessly consistent at what it does, letting you go over what most of the other aggro decks in the format are doing through lifelink and first strike effects and punch through control decks.
Notable additions to this deck would again be in the mana base department, the lands provided are a good start, but adding some more mana consistency with Godless Shrine and Brightclimb Pathway is never a bad idea. In terms of actual cards, apart from bumping up Stonecoil Serpent and Thoughtseize up to playsets you’ll have all the tools you need to have a competitive version of the deck.
As it turns out the majority of these decks are decently powerful out of the box, without needing too many adjustments outside of the land. If I was to rank them for power level, the Orzhov Auras would come out on top, followed by Burn, Lotus Field and lastly by Spirits purely because it needs another six or so cards to make competitive than the other three.
If you’re as excited as me about these new Pioneer decks, fear not! An opportunity for you to get some games in is coming very soon. The decks officially release on the 15th of October and will be available from Athena Games both in store and online with our first official tournament for Pioneer since lockdown taking place just one week later on the 24th with tickets available now from the link here: https://athenagames.com/collections/event-tickets/products/pioneer-sunday-24th-ocober
I look forward to seeing you there!