Remember Pioneer? Back in the before-times Pioneer was a shining beacon of 60 card constructed formats. It was fresh, easy to get into, diverse, and had a constantly evolving metagame that was dynamic. Bans of problematic cards were swift and not based on any previous format. But these golden days of Pioneer would not last long. With the printing of Thassa’s Oracle, Inverter imposed upon the infantile metagame and stifled the creativity of the format. Following this the world was struck by Covid-19 and the primarily paper based Pioneer lost it’s player base. It’s been a long time since 2020 and Pioneer is arguably the best constructed format Magic: the Gathering has to offer now.
A Brewer’s Paradise
No other format comes close to Pioneer in what is possible while also being viable. When a new Magic set comes out it is very rarely going to impact Modern and Legacy because they are already using all of the best cards in Magic’s history. Brewing in Standard is possible but limited by the rotating card pool. Pioneer offers the best balance between classic staples and new hotness. There are dozens of sets that have unexplored potential in Pioneer that just need maybe one or two new cards printed to kick off a meta defining deck. There is probably a tier one deck hidden away in all the currently legal sets that just needs the right brew to come to life.
The podcast Faithless Brewing is constantly experimenting with exciting new brews featuring the latest cards and as of late they have had the most success in Pioneer. Modern unfortunately has a homogenized metagame defined by the Modern Horizons sets. While there is diversity within Modern, if you aren’t playing cards from MH1 or MH2 it is significantly harder to compete in the format. Pioneer being limited to the last 10 years of Standard sets results in a much flatter power level across cards. While the tier one decks will continue to be great decks tier 2 is not as far behind tier 1 as it is in other formats.
Modern has effectively rotated with Modern Horizons, but in Pioneer many of the tier one decks at the beginning of the format are still around in some shape or form. Spirits, 5C Niv-Mizzet, Vampires, Scissors, and Lotus Field are all viable decks to this day. Provided that we don’t go through another era of F.I.R.E. design it is unlikely for these decks to be pushed out of the metagame soon. If you were to pick up the current best deck in the format in Jund Sacrifice (according to MTGGoldfish) the core of the deck is unlikely to be outdated in a few years time. This was the promise that Modern was originally built upon but due to wildly differing power levels across Magic’s lifespan it was unable to hold. The same fate may befall Pioneer, but given it’s current outlook it is incredibly safe to pick up a deck and expect it to maintain it’s value and power in a few years time.
Pioneer is also incredibly cheap to play right now. For the price of a Standard deck you can get a deck that will last you for years. Mono color decks are not only viable but available in almost every color. My personal deck for Pioneer right now is Mono-Blue Spirits which costs only $100 in paper and can cost as little as 20 tix if you cut the two Brazen Borrowers. That’s getting as cheap as a pauper deck! The most expensive deck in the format is 5C Niv which sits at $439 and 158 tix. You can almost rent the entire deck at the lowest ManaTraders subscription. Compare this to Modern in which the average deck costs $1,000. Even Burn widely considered to be the cheapest viable deck still costs $527 and 266 tix. And whatever deck you had before Modern Horizons probably needs significant changes to even be considered a tier two deck these days.
Incredible Diversity and Stability
In the top 10 decks on MTGGoldfish only 4 cards are seen multiple times across main decks. (Fatal Push, Thoughtseize, Deadly Dispute, and Prosperous Innkeeper). No deck can claim to be the undisputable best in the format which gives you tons of freedom in what you can play. There are dozens of variants of aggro, control, midrange, and combo that lets you choose the playstyle that suits you best. Because decks are cheap to build and brewing isn’t as punishing at it is in other formats you’ll often come across decks that do things you would have never dreamed of.
Pioneer being a paper first format also has the added benefit of not being subject to unexpected changes. Historic while being very similar to Pioneer in many regards is upended constantly from Historic Anthologies and Alchemy buffs and nerfs. Modern suffers from this as well with the newest Modern Horizons set completely changing the look of the format. Pioneer is only changed when a new Standard set comes out and doesn’t change already existing cards. With such a constant influx of new cards and changes the stability that Pioneer provides is unparalleled and is something of value.
Pioneer is the best it’s ever been and looks like it will only get better from here. It is a tragedy that this format offers everything most constructed Magic players are seeking while having a such a small player base. No other format can compare to the diversity, stability, affordability and potential of Pioneer. It is very likely that Pioneer will become a format on Arena and with the eventual return of paper play it can flourish in LGS’s across the world. If you haven’t played Pioneer since 2020 I cannot recommend the format enough. If you are currently playing Pioneer spread the good word. This format is incredible and deserves much more recognition than it currently has.