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Buy Into Pioneer NOW

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Now is the second-best time to buy into the Pioneer format. The best time would have been a couple of weeks before they announced the format with the rest of the insider-trading cabal (trollface). Since we can't go back in time, let's talk about why now is a good time to make your purchases or trades.

Pioneer was announced with a unique feature that no other format in recent history has carried. Wizards of the Coast launched the format with an experimental banned and restricted philosophy. Rather than start with a speculative banned list, they started by only banning the Khans of Tarkir fetchlands, and let the community run wild. Check out this tweet from Aaron Forsythe, Vice President of Design.

While this was an exciting approach for deck-builders and explorers, like myself, it injected the format with a healthy amount of fear. What if my deck gets banned? In response, many players have said, "I'll wait until the format shakes out before picking up a deck".

This trepidation is part of what is keeping the prices of Pioneer cards down. Don't get me wrong, plenty of Pioneer cards have gone up in price. Cards like the Kaladesh "fast lands", Walking Ballista, Thoughtseize, and many more have experienced price jumps. That being said, a majority of the cards in the format are still at reasonable price points (even undervalued in my opinion). That won't be the case for long, let's talk about how things are about to turn the corner, and why.

A New Format Approaches

Every new format in Magic has a vetting period. Besides the fear of the ban hammer which I talked about above, the psyche of a Magic player is pickled in skepticism. A measure of this skepticism is understandable. We've all watched formats come and go - from Extended to Brawl (sorry Shivam). They look promising but eventually they're relegated to the "dead-format" graveyard. This is not the trajectory of Pioneer; it'll be a long time before it joins the others in this field of the dead. Here's why.

The Progression of Formats

As a player's engagement and investment in Magic grows, their collection also grows. When this happens, they begin to get interested in formats beyond Standard. Often, this leads the person to engage with the adjacent competitive format*. I refer to this process as the "progression of formats". Until recently, the progression of formats looked like this; Standard into Modern into Legacy. But now, there's something interesting happening.

The popularity of Pioneer and the eroding support for Legacy has made an opening in the progression of formats. What has happened is that the gap between Standard and Modern has grown too wide for the Standard players to make the jump. Blake Rasmussen talks about this in his Pioneer announcement article:

But there's a gap. A sizeable one. The oldest Modern set came out in 2003 - sixteen years ago. And now that Modern's card pool is this large, it no longer serves the needed role of "format where you can use your Standard cards after rotation." For players who started more recently and still want to play with their favorite cards after rotation, Pioneer, like Modern before it, bridges that gap while providing a fun experience for both tabletop and Magic Online.

This is not only true from a card availability standpoint but also from a price point. The average price for a Modern deck is currently sporting a $700 to $1200 price tag, with format staples like; Scalding Tarn, Mox Opal, and Jace, the Mind Sculptor all holding at $100 or more. It's a moot point to talk about Legacy and its cost of entry - the mana base alone makes Modern decks look modest. As players hit these price barriers, there's a danger that they become discouraged and disengage from the game. This is where Pioneer comes in.

Pioneer is the New Modern

There's a natural desire for a "softer landing" when making the jump from Standard, and Pioneer has started to fill this role. This change is restructuring the progression of formats to look like this; Standard into Pioneer into Modern, with Legacy becoming an inaccessible community-driven format like Vintage is now. This shift will make Modern the new Legacy, and Pioneer the new Modern.

Tournament organizers have already adopted Pioneer for their premier events with Star City Games leading the charge by giving it top billing at the SCG Invitational in November. And in 2020 Pioneer is already touting an event schedule that screams "Premier Format" - with a slot at the Players Tour in Phoenix and multiple GPs in 2020.

As this trend continues, Pioneer card prices will climb to reach premier levels. This is especially true once the GPs start firing next year. The ultimate eventuality is that prices will rise to mirror the current trends of Modern staples. With things just getting warmed up, now seems like a great time to become a Pioneer!

No Better Time than the Present

Wizards has finally slowed down on the savage banning schedule or "taking a break from lunch" for a couple of weeks as Aaron Forsythe put it:

Here's the quote that Aaron is referring to from the latest banned and restricted announcement .

Given the continued improvement in metagame health and the upcoming holidays, our plan is not to make further changes until the new year. The next update for Pioneer will be Monday, January 6.

With a lot of the "problem cards" eliminated, I expect Pioneer to find its equilibrium in January. That means, that all the people who've been waiting for things to settle will begin to adopt the format and the Pioneer supply will be pressured. Right now there's an opportunity to get ahead of this wave of adopters and it seems that many others are coming to the same conclusion. I'm hoping by this point in the article you're ready to board the covered wagon with the rest of us. If not, let's talk about some of the reasons I've been hearing for people holding out.

Supply is Plentiful

"They printed SO much of those sets." This is true, Return to Ravnica forward typically have very high print runs. You can look at stock levels in most stores and they'll be higher for cards in Pioneer than for cards of the previous eras. However, I don't believe that this supply will outlast the incoming demand.

Supreme Verdict

The demand has already shown greater than the supply in examples like Supreme Verdict. This card was even reprinted in Iconic Masters and has already climbed from its $3 price tag to double-digits based on Pioneer demand. I could give you more Pioneer examples, but another way to look at this is to examine Modern viable cards from the Pioneer era. Cards like Kolaghan's Command, Collective Brutality, and Thoughtseize which all carried a premium due to Modern demand despite the high print runs.

High supply is no reason to drag your feet before buying in. It actually serves as the opposite. Since cards are plentiful, and demand is low - prices are also low, but this will change.

"I'm Going to Get Blown Out by Bans!"

I hear this one a lot and it's a fair concern. When something gets banned it could not only impact the price of a single card but also some of the other cards in the deck. Before we go to deep remember, bans are going to slow down, so the likelihood of getting burned is greatly reduced coming into the new year. Even if you do get struck by the hammer the impact financial impact will be lessened because of the rise of the cards on average. Pioneer is in its infancy right now, and all the cards in the format are set for an upward trajectory.

The best way for me to illustrate this is to share my own personal experience. Once Pioneer was announced, I immediately started building a collection. I was hit by most of the bans, but since I picked up the cards at a lower value, the bans did not affect me too much. For example, when Felidar Guardian was banned, I had a playset of Saheeli Rai. I had two copies sitting around in a binder and the other two I picked up post-spike around $10-14 each. When Felidar Guardian was banned Saheeli dropped to around $5 each. I may have lost $10-15 on those cards, but since I was picking up other cards for the deck, I gained value on the other cards, especially the lands like Hallowed Fountain. In the end, the value I gained far outweighs the value that I lost.

Dangerous Buys

If you're still worried about bans, then I would recommend avoiding the cards that have been in the ban discussion. Most of the cards banned in Pioneer were in the community ban discussion before they were hit. I'll give you a list here of cards to be cautious of. The list is short because Wizards has been cleaning house! These all have varying degrees of likelihood, and their prices will behave differently depending on viability in other formats. For example, Oko would have been on this list, but the shirtless menace just got booted. Prices for Oko, have been unaffected at the time of writing this. I could see the same for another three mana planeswalker on this list. Here are some cards that I would consider "dangerous buys".

Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
Teferi, Time Raveler
Dig Through Time

That's all I can think of at the moment. There are some powerful cards that are not on this list, like Thoughtseize and Nissa, Who Shakes the World but I don't think these are in danger of bans at the moment. All right, enough ban talk. Let's talk about how to jump into the Pioneer format.

Checklists and Boxes

One of my favorite articles was a series that Steve Menendian used to write about Vintage, called the Vintage Checklist. It can now be found in book form on Eternal Central. The article was a list of all the cards you might need to play Vintage, so that you'd be prepared to play any deck. For example, under White you would see "3 Disenchants" or if there was a new card that entered the format like "4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben", he would add it to the list and write about why you'd want to add these to your collection. These articles had a profound impact on how I approach building a collection.

Since not everyone can be a baller and build an entire vintage collection, let's take a Patrick Sullivan-esqe approach by focusing on an archetype. For the uninitiated, Patrick keeps a "Red Box" which is full of all the playable Mono-Red cards. It's like the Vintage checklist, but for the Mono-Red archetype. Focusing on an archetype rather than a decklist also prepares you for deck changes and shifts in the meta. Let's get some practice at building our own box.

Building an Archetype Box

Your best friend in this endeavor is the MTGO Decklist dump. It's a great place to find an archetype that you like. I recommend starting with things like the Pioneer Challenge or Pioneer Preliminary because they record standings of a specific tournament. This will give you an idea of where the archetype falls among the other decks in the metagame. Today we're going to start with the December 18th Preliminary. We'll be talking about an archetype that might finally have some legs after the recent banning; uw Control.

Keep in mind anything because we're looking at time-sensitive data, and the meta is in flux, things can change. My hope is that this exercise gives you a way to think about this process instead of something strictly specific. Let's look at our 5-0 decklist.


Let's pretend I wanted to start playing uw control. Typically, I can't afford to buy all the cards up front. It's a process of trading, and looking for deals to build the body of cards needed before I can start playing the deck. I'm mindful that some cards may appreciate in value while I'm on the hunt. So, to help shield myself from getting hit with price spikes, I break the body of cards into sections, and prioritize each section accordingly. Here's the section breakdown and where I would put each card. The sections are listed in order of priority.

Low Price (under $2) - The sum total of these cards is typically low, I try to pick up all the cards in this category first, usually in one purchase. It feels bad when a fifty cent uncommon jumps up to four dollars (I'm looking at you Wild Slash).

Cross-Archetype Cards - These are cards that are in other archetypes in addition to the one you're looking at. I prioritize these cards above the rest because they'll be in the highest demand, since they see play in many decks. There will be a bit of a tug-o-war for these cards, as things heat up and it's good to prioritize them early.

Meat and Potatoes - These are the cards that make up the archetype that are not in the previous categories.

High Dollar (over $25) - I tend to pick these cards up last because the high price indicates a more mature price point. These cards have less of a chance to spike in price.

Okay, we mapped out the decklist, but remember we're trying to map an archetype, not just a single decklist. This is where I would start looking at other decklists, either in the same tournament or in the Pioneer Leagues. In doing this, you want to start noting cards that show up in those lists that are not in your primary list. Let's look at the 4-1 list in the same Preliminary for additional cards that are of interest.

After adding these cards to the checklist, repeat the process for each version of the deck that you can find. I won't bore you by repeating this process over and over, but once the work is done you'll have a complete checklist for the uw Control archetype. This process can be applied to any archetype. I'm a bit torn here, because I feel like there's more to say about this process but I need to wrap things up. There are nuances that I didn't cover here like how to handle alternate arts, and expanding the concept to buy into multiple archetypes, etc. Instead of exploring these here, I'll just say, I'm happy to help anyone work through this process in my Discord.

Conclusion

We covered a lot of ground today, and I hope that all the concepts that we talked about were clearly communicated. I'd be curious to hear your experiences with Pioneer. Have you already bought into Pioneer? If not, do you plan to now? Is there a certain archetype that you have your eye on? Let's talk on Twitter or in the comments! Thank you for reading.

-Jonathan Medina (@Medina_MTG)

*I opted to not talk about the role of Commander in the "Progression of Formats" but it has a significant position in the greater eco-system of the game, so much so, that it's a topic for another day.

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