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The Biggest Shakeup Pioneer Will Ever See


Usually this is about the time I would be doing my Mythic Championship predictions, as has come to be tradition here on CoolStuffInc.com. However, I am not doing it for this event for two reasons. The first is that it would frankly be disingenuous. I have played so little Standard the last few months that I'm very out of touch with the format and as such I'm not confident I would be able to make good predictions. The second is that I'm just having too much fun playing and thinking about Pioneer!

(Aside-- the metagame for this Mythic Championship actually looks very wide open and balanced, so we will see a return to some standard content soon!)

So anyway... about that Pioneer!

When Wizards of the Coast announced Pioneer they also announced there would be no starting ban list and that they would basically just be letting players go nuts and banning things on a case by case basis for the first few months of the format. We've seen a few rounds of bannings so far, but nothing like what happened this Monday.

Prior bans felt much more subtle. They took out a few pieces to power down Mono-Green Devotion and removed some clear design mistakes (Felidar Guardian and Veil of Summer). While removing Felidar Guardian obviously removed that archetype from the format, Mono-Green Devotion still exists and there was never really a major upheaval in the format. Each time the format mostly went on with minor adjustment. Well, that is, until now.

Smuggler's Copter
Field of the Dead
Once Upon a Time

Before Monday's ban list announcement, Pioneer could have been simplified into three main pillars:

So in a word, this ban announcement is basically complete and total...


This is the biggest shakeup the Pioneer format will likely ever see. I'm sure they aren't done cultivating a proper ban list for Pioneer as a whole, as things are likely to change over the years as cards come and go, but banning these three cards completely and irrevocably changes almost every aspect of the Pioneer format. All three bans feel correct (and are exactly what I predicted #HumbleBrag) and today I'm going to go over why they were banned, where the format goes from here, and what cards are likely to be next on the chopping block.

Smuggler's Copter: Banned

Smuggler's Copter

Smuggler's Copter is a very fun Magic card. It is sleek, efficient, promotes creature combat, helps to turbo-charge graveyard synergies, solves mana flood, and plays well around removal. It often creates interesting choices in game play (when to crew or not, what to crew with) and never feels like it's doing anything too unfair. So why is it better for the format if Smuggler's Copter is banned?

Unfortunately, this is just the nature of cheap, colorless cards. The opportunity cost for playing Smuggler's Copter is already very low - all you need is an amount of creatures with greater than zero power and you're ready to roll. If Smuggler's Copter cost 1w instead of 2, this would not be a discussion because you would be limited by needing to play a certain color. However because it is so easy to play that you need to find a reason not to play it rather than a reason to play it, it creates a deckbuilding restriction where you are essentially locked into playing it if you're playing creatures. This homogenizes deckbuilding too much as everything ends up revolving around Smuggler's Copter.

Considering that Smuggler's Copter sees almost no play in Modern, this will likely end up as a Bloodbraid Elf-style ban that will eventually be undone as the format grows and gets more powerful as a whole, but for now Smuggler's Copter is just a bit too much for Pioneer.

Resulting Effect On The Format:

With Smuggler's Copter gone aggressive decks are going to need to look other places to find their reach and flood insurance. Heart of Kiran can certainly stand in for a number of decks as it plays just as well with Scrapheap Scrounger while also playing great with cheap aggressive planeswalkers, but any deck that was aggressively relying on Smuggler's Copter to help turn on graveyard or artifact synergies is going to struggle to replace the power and velocity that it provided. There will also be less pressure on decks to have removal capable of dealing with Smuggler's Copter, meaning cards like Abrade and Fatal Push won't be as necessary.

Once Upon A Time: Banned

Once Upon a Time

Speaking of homogenizing deckbuilding, the fact that Once Upon A Time even got through the Wizards of the Coast play design team is astounding. It's not even that the card is just too good and ubiquitous, but also that it makes games too repetitive and takes away deckbuilding slots from more interesting cards to help your strategy. Now we get to add two or three more cards to our deck that actually do something!

Once Upon A Time, like Veil of Summer, is just one of those cards that should have never seen print it its current form. It's far too castable in the fail state of not having it in your opening hand, making the drawback so minor it's not even a consideration. Please join me when I say "good riddence."

Resulting Effect On The Format:

Llanowar Elves decks will no longer have their mana accelerator on turn one every single game! Green decks will lose a level of consistency, both in threat density as well as in their manabases. While often used to find creatures, don't underestimate the effect that Once Upon A Time had as a mana fixer helping to pull together somewhat sketchy three color manabases in a format that doesn't have amazing support for them. Decks like Temur Food are going to feel the exit of Once Upon A Time more than you'd expect due to mana base issues.

Field of the Dead: Banned

Field of the Dead

Hour of Promise and Field of the Dead was the ultimate endgame of Pioneer, full stop. Field of the Dead is a cool card, but being able to assemble multiple copies as early as turn four of five with cards like Hour of Promise and Golos, Tireless Pilgrim created far too many repetitive game states for too little cost. Field of the Dead was far too easy to set up, too easy to fuel by just playing lands and normal Magic, and most importantly lacked any sort of good counter play.

It's one thing to be a deck like Valakut in Modern where everything you do is hellbent on getting Valakut and six Mountains in play, and another to just add four Hour of Promise and four Field of the Dead to your Golgari Midrange deck, swap around a few lands and call it a day. Field of the Dead was a key piece to a number of the top decks in the format, and likely more would have come up had it not been banned.

Resulting Effect On The Format:

It is now safe to play midrange or control decks again. Any slower deck without an over the top endgame or some sort of combo just couldn't compete with the endless hordes of zombies that Field of the Dead could produce. Field of the Dead doesn't really care how many cards you draw or creatures you kill if you can't break up the engine; eventually you will succumb to the tide of zombies.

With Field of the Dead gone it's safe to play a longer game again, which means midrange and control decks can now focus on beating each other as well as the aggressive decks. The big winners here are Jund-style midrange grindy decks as well as Dig Through Time and planeswalker fueled control decks. If you're playing an aggressive deck things just got much harder for you and you must prepare accordingly.

The Watch List

Invariably the first question everyone wants the answer to is "which cards are going to be banned next?" While this was a huge shakeup to the format there are still plenty of exceedingly powerful cards floating around and we will be waiting to see how things shape up. These are the cards keep an eye on as potential future bans.

Oko, Thief of Crowns

While it would be nice if we could just use the Men In Black neuralyzer to just blink Oko, Thief of Crowns (and a few other cards from 2019) out of all our memories, that just isn't the case. While Oko has seen his exit from Standard, he hasn't been that impactful in Pioneer just yet.

That's all about to change.

Very aggressive Smuggler's Copter decks and never ending zombies from Field of the Dead both play very well against Oko, Thief of Crowns, but with both gone and midrange and control decks back on the menu, Oko is set to rule the roost going forward. You must either be playing Oko or planning to beat Oko going forward or you are going to have a very tough time in Pioneer going forward. This, coupled with annoying Oko is to play against and how it completely invalidates so many fun cards like big creatures, God-Pharaoh's Gift, The Great Henge, and so on, has it extremely likely that Oko will not survive the next wave of Pioneer bannings.

Dig Through Time

Both Dig Through Time and Treasure Cruise are banned in essentially every format they are legal in for with just cause - delve is a truly broken mechanic. However, in every format that they are banned in the fetchlands are also legal. The lack of fetchlands in Pioneer has kept both cards mostly in check so far, but Dig Through Time is starting to rear its head in a number of combo decks as well as more fair blue decks that weren't possible with Field of the Dead legal.

Lotus Field-Twiddle combo has been tuned and tuned and is starting to approach a legitimately threatening combo deck, and Simic Nexus also gains a step if the format moves in a more midrange/control direction. Dig Through Time is disgusting in both decks, as it does a far better job enabling broken combo decks than anything else. While just going directly after Nexus of Fate is certainly an option too, Dig Through Time is likely too strong for what Pioneer wants to be and will only get better as the cardpool grows.

A Whole New World

The most enjoyable part of Pioneer has been the ability to explore a virtually unexplored format, and these bannings give us even more play time in the unknown. Once again we must reevaluate our perceptions of the format, and even those perceptions were based on incomplete information at best. Having an understanding of what effect the banned cards had on the format, and using that knowledge to exploit the new format, is key to success right out of the gate.

I can't wait to explore the format more, and I leave you with a few bonus brews to get your minds going. I'll be playing these all on stream soon, or maybe even in my Monday video right here on CoolStuffInc.com!

If there's one in particular you'd like to see for Monday's video, please leave a note in the comments!

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