For Me, There’s No Point to Pioneer … Yet

Two weeks ago, Wizards of the Coast announced a new, officially-sanctioned constructed format, and … for some reason people think it’s a big deal? They’re like, excited to brew new decks for it and stuff?

Pioneer Format Featured Image Magic the Gathering

Personally, I don’t think there’s any point to putting too much thought into the new Pioneer format just yet. And by the end of this article, you might agree with me.

What Puts Me Off Pioneer

On the surface, Pioneer is actually quite appealing. A sanctioned, non-rotating format that doesn’t include fetchlands (a.k.a. the reason Modern players have to shuffle ten extra times per game) and does include Thoughtseize, Young Pyromancer, Arclight Phoenix, Maze’s End (listen, I’m going to try it), and Jeskai Ascendancy is definitely worth considering.

But the Pioneer format also includes a number of cards that have been banned in Standard, Modern, Legacy and other formats – but are not yet banned in Pioneer. Some of those cards (Deathrite Shaman) are likely fine, but some of them (Treasure Cruise, Dig Through Time, Felidar Guardian, Smuggler’s Copter) are likely living on borrowed time.

As a result, Pioneer isn’t actually a format, yet. It’s a list of decks waiting to get hit by the ban hammer:

If you’re planning to play in any of the Pioneer Grand Prix taking place in early 2020, then it’s worth spending some time thinking about the format (and figuring out what, exactly, is the most busted). Otherwise, unless you’re willing to rebuild your deck each time additional Pioneer cards get banned, it’s probably best to either plan ahead for the most likely bans (I have a non-Cruise/Dig Izzet Phoenix list ready to go) or stay away from the format altogether for a bit.

When I’ll Blaze a Trail Into Pioneer

I’d be lying if I said I haven’t started theorycrafting and getting excited for certain Pioneer decks (#IzzetPhoenix, #DontCallItAComeback). And I know that many, many other Magic players are pumped to experiment within a format that *might* not be as degenerate as Modern, but *will definitely* be more exciting (and long-lasting) than say, Historic or Frontier:

Return to Ravnica (Pioneer’s earliest included set) was the set that brought me back to playing Magic, so the Pioneer card pool means quite a lot to me, personally. So you can bet that when the format gets settled, I’ll start a’brewing with my most recent favorite cards.

The hardest part of diving into Pioneer, though, is determining what “settled” means. Will Pioneer’s real ban list be locked in by April 2020, after the initial four Pioneer Grand Prix take place? Or will we have to wait longer than that to see what the format actually looks like? Even worse, what if Wizards of the Coast starts “shaking up” Pioneer as soon as possible? Modern Horizons nearly broke my Modern budget … and I’m calling it here, we’re locked to see a Pioneer Horizons set within the next five to seven years. Modern Horizons (fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your perspective) sold too well for Pioneer Horizons to not eventually happen.

There Should Really Be a Plan to Bring Pioneer to Magic Arena

Meanwhile, Wizards seems to not be prioritizing the number one way they could get me interested in Pioneer TODAY – and that’s bringing it to Magic Arena.

Magic Arena is the future of Magic, and Pioneer is the future of non-rotating formats. It seems like a no-brainer to plug Pioneer into Arena as soon as possible (fix those current performance issues first, though). But right now, Arena has Historic, tabletop Magic has Pioneer, and neither team seems to be saying that there’s a plan for replacing Historic (a format that already seems to be dying) with Pioneer (a format that, again, already has four planned Grand Prix).

I don’t expect Pioneer to replace Historic today, tomorrow, or even soon. I’ve worked alongside software development teams, and I know these sorts of upgrades take time. But there should be a plan in place to bridge the gap between Historic and Pioneer eventually. The fact that there’s not is … slightly disappointing.

Settling the ban list, stating that the format’s not going to receive a Horizons-style shake-up anytime soon (or, y’know, ever), and bringing Pioneer to Magic Arena would lock me in to playing Pioneer. But let’s be real – I’m a Magic player. Regardless of my initial reluctance, I’m going to brew up some Pioneer decks. Like most of us, I see a new format, and I can’t help myself. I just start building decks.

(Yes, I even built a Tiny Leaders deck. No, I never played it.)

My hope is that, by the time I get into Pioneer for real, the format will be fleshed out and remain as popular as it seems to be today. Until then, I’m going to keep Pioneer on the back burner – and I think you might want to as well.

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