It is another Wednesday, my dudes!
I'll be honest: I've been having a blast talking about and exploring Pioneer each week. To have a brand new format like this, and being able to watch it unfold week after week, is actually an extremely rare thing in Magic. While we sometimes have formats pop up, like Frontier or Tiny Leaders, those are often short-lived and unofficial.
Pioneer, on the other hand is different. This is an official format, with legitimate PTQ's and everything, that is fully supported by Wizards. The last time we had a sanctioned format that fit that criteria was literally Modern, which was released in 2011, nearly a decade ago. So, to say Pioneer is exciting as the first non rotating format in eight years is kind of an understatement.
For the past few weeks we've been discussing the evolution of the format, along with what cards are dominating and what cards might need to be banned. Just last week, in fact, I went over how dominant several cards and decks were in the format. Those cards and decks in particular included Smuggler's Copter and Field of the Dead. I mentioned that in the November 25th Pioneer Challenge there were five decks with Smuggler's Copter in the Top 8 and seven Field of the Dead decks in the Top 16 (nearly half). Coincidentally - or not so much - these were two of the three cards that were banned this week, all of which I want to discuss today! Surprised? Me neither.
This is basically the Skullclamp of vehicles. Both were pushed, colorless cards to show off their respective card type that allowed an amount of card drawing to decks that shouldn't have access to it. Heck, they even both have names that abbreviate to "S.C." When every aggro or midrange deck in your new format begins with "4 Smuggler's Copter" you have a problem.
I'm not even going to say that, in terms of power level, the vehicle is a 10 out of 10. I honestly don't think it is. The problem with Smuggler's Copter is the same as with Skullclamp: it's ubiquitousness and the fact that it fits in every deck. Any creature could wear a Skullclamp, just like nearly any creature can crew the Copter, so long as it has a measly 1 power. And it isn't an irrelevant threat either. Three flying damage is a good amount. Heck, 3/3 ground creatures for two mana are usually a good deal!
I agree with this ban completely, as the card was homogenizing all of the aggro and midrange decks in the format. Heck, even decks like Eldrazi were running Smuggler's Copter. When a card is too good not to play, and every deck can play it, you have a problem, and that's exactly what happened with Skullclamp back in the day. While we don't have the same Top 8's with the full 32 copies of Smuggler's Copter, the card is still an unhealthy addition to the burgeoning format.
Field of the Dead
As I mentioned last week, this card just kills any sort of midrange or late game strategies in the format, which is terrible. The reason the aggressive Red and Black Smuggler's Copter decks were winning so much was because they were able to go underneath the Field of the Dead decks.
The truth is, we don't have Wasteland like Legacy, or Ghost Quarter like Modern, and even if we did, I don't think that would be enough. Heck, even if you destroy a Field of the Dead with a card like Field of Ruin, you might just be netting them zombies in the process if they happen to have a second or third copy in play. We don't have things like Fulminator Mage or Blood Moon (thank goodness), because Pioneer is a format that was being designed long after efficient land destruction was deemed (and correctly so) quite unfun. And even if we did have land destruction, the Field of the Dead decks would likely have a greater number of ways to get a Field of the Dead into play - from Hour o Promise to Golos, Tireless Pilgrim, to Elvish Rejuvenator - than we had ways to remove them.
Field of the Dead asks you to interact with a single card in a way you aren't meant to interact with cards in the format, and that's a sizable problem. Just like Smuggler's Copter, this was a card that was warping the metagame around it: either play Field of the Dead, or have a way to beat Field of the Dead. And that's not a recipe for a healthy format.
Once Upon a Time
This one surprised me a little, but it really shouldn't have. Just like Standard, now Once Upon a Time is banned in Pioneer as well, adding it to a long list of Green cards that are just too powerful for their own good. I didn't realize how prevalent this card was until I started deleting decks in Magic Online that had banned cards in them; turns out a lot of Green decks were playing Once Upon a Time. Who knew?
I don't know how to be more clear about this: if Ponder and Preordain are too strong, so is a free Ancient Stirrings. Magic is a game that, while it doesn't lean into it too heavily, still has randomness as a large part. Once Upon a Time made Green decks too consistent, just like Oath of Nissa. If you needed to hit that one-mana Elf on turn one, this was going to help you essentially play 12 instead of eight. It also let you trim some lands, as you could simply play this on turn one and look at 12 cards instead of seven. That's a pretty sizable advantage when mulliganing and deck-building.
Maybe a better comparison for this is Gitaxian Probe, a card that people would claim let you run 56 card decks. While playing Once Upon a Time isn't exactly the same as drawing the next card, the selection can be just as good if you're looking for something specific. The only real downside is that the card could only hit creatures and lands - not cards like Smuggler's Copter or planeswalkers - but that's a small price to pay for something so useful in both the early game and the late game.
Ironically, this card was also getting everything you wanted out of the Field of the Dead decks: it was either getting Field of the Dead itself, or a creature that could search for it. Just like Smuggler's Copter, when any deck that can run the card does, when there's no real strategic decision to be made when deck-building with the card, that's kind of the point when you should reevaluate the health of a card.
Ultimately I agree with all of the bans this week, and I think I have for every ban that's taken place so far. The only thing that's currently on my radar still is Nexus of Fate, and that's not because I think it's too prevalent or overpowered. It's mostly just an unfun, time consuming card. Sensei's Divining Top isn't too powerful for Modern, it just makes games miserable for one of the players in the match. I think that's about where Nexus of Fate falls, so I don't necessarily expect it to dominate the meta now that there have been more bannings.
Week after week I seem to be excited about this format and what new decks it will produce. I think what we're looking for is a Top 8 or a Top 16 with more than two or three different archetypes. I think that's a good barometer for a healthy format, and we're not quite there yet. There are no control decks yet to speak of, and we barely had any midrange decks when Field of the Dead and Mono-Black Aggro were dominating. I'm definitely looking forward to next week, to see what evolves.
One thing to note is that if you're worried about "regular bannings," you just have to come to terms with the fact that Wizards planned and announced that there would be weekly bannings for the first few months to regulate the health of the format, and that if having your favorite card banned is going to be soul crushing to you, you shouldn't be investing in the format just yet.
What do you guys think? Have you been having fun with Pioneer? Are there any other cards you think should get the axe? Let me know in the comments below! As always, thanks so much for reading, I love you guys, and be sure to use promo code FRANK5 to get 5% off! I'll catch you next week!