How Dominaria United Painlands Will Make Pioneer Better

The painlands may prove to be Dominaria United’s key additions to Pioneer. Dom Harvey breaks down which prints will see play — and why the absences hurt.

Sulfurous Springs
Sulfurous Springs, illustrated by Bruce Brenneise

The most important constraint on any format is the mana. For its entire lifespan, Pioneer has been an accidental experiment in what uneven access to fixing can mean for a format. 

Branchloft Pathway Hengegate Pathway

The Pathways were more revolutionary for Pioneer than they had any right to be, allowing various promising archetypes in the allied colours to tell themselves their mana would work as the enemy colours offered patronizing words of support from their ivory tower.

Inspiring Vantage Battlefield Forge

The best argument for an enemy colour pair in Pioneer is rarely some impressive gold card or an interaction between the cards in those colours – it’s the mana. The original Scars of Mirrodin fastlands were too early for Pioneer; the other five in Kaladesh made it in. Llanowar Wastes has been printed twice in the scope of Pioneer, while Adarkar Wastes hasn’t seen a new printing in fifteen years. 

Other than the iconic Ravnica shocklands, the complete fixing cycles in Pioneer lack universal appeal. Yes, every colour pair has its Sunpetal Grove or Overgrown Farmland, but these only help you meet tough colour requirements later in the game.

The Difference in Practice

Compare a control deck in allied colours with a proactive deck in enemy colours.

This Azorius Control deck has as many good dual lands as it could hope for. Without the need to have a specific colour on Turn 1 (other than Portable Hole), Azorius Control is free to load up on Irrigated Farmland and Glacial Fortress – with Farmland even helping to set up untapped Fortress – as well as Deserted Beach, and can expect to have a clean and functional manabase in the mid-game. Even lists that have an extra twenty cards for Yorion, Sky Nomad have a full roster of good fixing and may not want or need Adarkar Wastes. 

By contrast, Boros Heroic needs to use all its mana effectively in the first few turns, and this sequencing can be quite demanding on your mana. If you want to cast and flashback Homestead Courage on your Monastery Swiftspear or cast Ancestral Anger + Reckless Rage on your Favored Hoplite by Turn 2, Inspiring Vantage and Battlefield Forge join Sacred Foundry in letting you do that, but no amount of tapped fixing or Pathways will help. If you flipped the fixing available to Azorius and Boros while keeping the spells the same, Boros Heroic as we know it would be dead on arrival.

Azorius Aggro?

Adarkar Wastes is the first step towards making an Azorius deck in that space possible. This list has to play a full set of Mana Confluence – a big risk in an increasingly fast and aggressive format – and still has somewhat shaky mana. We may have to wait for Phyrexia: All Will Be One to pick up the Seachrome Coast half of that cycle and finally get full mana equality in Pioneer, but we can start dreaming big now. 


It’s easy to write off Azorius as a controlling colour pair, but that’s largely because of these mana issues. There is an entire family of proactive decks that has more room to flourish on the Adarkar Wastes. 

Light-Paws, Emperor's Voice Curious Obsession Staggering Insight

Orzhov Auras has been the default for fans of Ethereal Armor, as much because of Concealed Courtyard and Godless Shrine as Thoughtseize or Kaya’s Ghostform. Blue ticks every other box too with some more exciting Auras and good creatures to attach them to, but the glaring deficiency in its mana held it back.


Watcher of the Spheres Spell Queller Empyrean Eagle

Mono-Blue Spirits is the aggro-control deck of choice in Pioneer, and Bant Spirits still pops up sometimes, but Azorius Spirits has been squeezed out in the middle. Even though it didn’t need to deploy a flurry of one-drops, Azorius Spirits still suffered from mana problems that curbed its appeal; if you want to avoid these problems while sleeving up Supreme Phantom, you could head to Mono-Blue while Bant offered the allure of Collected Company in exchange for mana that wasn’t that much worse. 

Both Azorius and Bant Spirits are big winners from the painlands. The white Spirits are incredibly strong – including the barely castable Skyclave Apparition – and any excuse to revisit those is welcome. 


Ensoul Artifact Spire of Industry

Azorius Ensoul avoided some of these mana problems with its unique access to Spire of Industry, but even this required some setup. Adarkar Wastes makes it easier to explore cheap artifacts in different colours, like Moonsnare Prototype and Portable Hole, at the same time if you want to go that route, or to protect your Ensoul Artifact with Stubborn Denial

Esper Sentinel Moonsnare Prototype Portable Hole

This is especially true in Historic, where Esper Sentinel adds yet another colored artifact that you’re keen to cast as soon as possible. Azorius Artifacts was already a front-runner in a format trying to find its feet again after rebalancing and a wave of new cards – once again, the spells were impressive, but the mana wasn’t good enough for them. 

Underground River: MIA

Underground River

Underground River is missing from Dominaria United, but will anyone even notice? In Pioneer, Dimir is the exclusively controlling colour pair that Azorius is easily mistaken for. Underground River makes it a little easier to cast your choice of Consider, Thoughtseize, and Fatal Push on Turn 1 and may make the mythical Dimir Phoenix deck a reality, but this stands to be the least valuable member of its cycle.

Sulfurous Springs

Sulfurous Springs

Sulfurous Springs is a more complex situation. It’s easy to mock Rakdos Midrange for its plethora of three-drops, but this allows Haunted Ridge to hold up a mostly functional manabase. Sulfurous Springs makes it easier to curve Thoughtseize or Fatal Push into Bloodtithe Harvester sometimes, and I expect most Rakdos Midrange decks to pick it up, but it’s not the game-changer that its siblings are in these other contexts.

Going Low

Cauldron Familiar Unlucky Witness Claim the Firstborn

Meanwhile, the other popular Rakdos Sacrifice has as low a curve as it’s possible to have in Pioneer. Sulfurous Springs lets a deck like this unload its hand as intended and realize this comparative advantage. 

Knight of the Ebon Legion Voldaren Epicure Bloodtithe Harvester

This might open up some fringe possibilities too. Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord is one of the strongest cards in Pioneer, and the latest trip to Innistrad yielded some appealing Vampires in Rakdos, but the mana was shaky despite a deliberate nod in the form of Voldaren Estate. I doubt this will stand up to regular Rakdos Midrange, but we get to find out now. 

Too Much Pain?

Sulfurous Springs Blood Crypt Thoughtseize

Ultimately, the black painlands have a shared problem – the one-drop you most want to maximize your odds of casting on Turn 1 is Thoughtseize, which places a further strain on your life total. If you later have to pay two life for a shockland as well, this self-inflicted damage adds up quickly. The rest of the format – including the two-colour aggro decks emboldened by these painlands – is well-placed to exploit this. 

Death's Shadow Scourge of the Skyclaves

This is great news if you are actively looking to deal yourself damage. Death’s Shadow is a fan favourite that hasn’t lived up to its potential in Historic, largely because the lack of fetchlands makes it difficult to damage yourself on demand. Painlands don’t totally fix that problem, but I’m sure you will see a lot of otherwise pointless painland activations to set up a Death’s Shadow on the Historic ladder before long. 

Karplusan Forest

Karplusan Forest

In Pioneer, the main goal of Karplusan Forest is to let your Llanowar Elves or Elvish Mystic curve into the likes of Gruul Spellbreaker or Bonecrusher Giant more quickly. That is tough to justify in a world where Mono-Green Devotion has pushed out the eight-Elf decks. Karplusan Forest may have to stay on the bench for now. 

Fable of the Mirror-Breaker Winota, Joiner of Forces

Karplusan Forest is exactly what Naya Winota would have wanted if it were still around. By the end, its spells were locked in and as good as you could ask for; the issue was casting them without feeding your life total to Mana Confluence. The curve of Turn 1 Llanowar Elves into Turn 2 Fable of the Mirror-Breaker is still a formidable one if the right shell can be found. 

Brushland: Worth the Wait


We will have to go even longer without Brushland, but it will be worth the wait. 

Bant Humans

Hopeful Initiate Werewolf Pack Leader Collected Company

Bant Humans gets to exist because Secluded Courtyard and Unclaimed Territory join Temple Garden in casting your cheap Humans on curve. Brushland will be a welcome addition to that roster that also casts Collected Company – somehow the most difficult mana requirement in the deck!

Collected Company

Llanowar Elves Skyclave Apparition

Without Courtyard and Territory, non-tribal Selesnya Company decks have struggled to bridge the gap between Elvish Mystic and the three-drops it is meant to ramp you into. Casting Skyclave Apparition on Turn 2 will still a challenge, but a slightly easier one. 

Selesnya Auras

Gladecover Scout

The biggest prize may be Selesnya Auras. Rancor just missed the cut for Pioneer eligibility, but Gladecover Scout is the perfect one-drop to put these pants on and a big draw to green by itself – as long as you can actually cast several of those Auras on the following turn. Brushland will be one step in that direction, but those floodgates won’t open fully until we have Razorverge Thicket

Making a Splash in Devotion?

Old-Growth Troll Portable Hole

Brushland may also enable another of the light splashes we have seen in Mono-Green Devotion recently. The deck has some interest in Portable Hole in the sideboard as cheap interaction for the aggro matchups that can be retrieved from the sideboard with Karn, the Great Creator or found by Storm the Festival. A similar splash in black for Fatal Push and Vraska, Golgari Queen was just about doable because of Blooming Marsh and/or Llanowar Wastes acting as additional black sources that could still cast Old-Growth Troll. Pathways weren’t suitable here; if you had to put a Pathway on the splash colour, it wasn’t a green source. Brushland opens up Selesnya Devotion as another variant of Pioneer’s strongest deck. 

So far Dominaria United looks to be an intriguing set with some exciting new tools for Pioneer, but none of them are as important as these existing cards that the format has been waiting for since its creation almost three years ago.