Kaldheim First Impressions: Pioneer

How do Kaldheim’s best cards place in Pioneer? SCG creators offer their Top 5 lists to combine for a final ranking that will surprise you.

Valki, God of Lies, illustrated by Yongjae Choi

Welcome back to Kaldheim First Impressions week!

All week long, various members of the SCG Staff will share their thoughts on the Top 5 Kaldheim cards in each format. On Monday, we showed our love for Goldspan Dragon in Standard and yesterday we acknowledged the Pathways’ impact in Historic. Today, we’ll knock out Pioneer and tomorrow Tibalt’s Trickey Modern.

To add a little fun to the mix, a scoring system has been put in place so that we can get an idea of what card ranked in what place in the aggregate to close out each article. The scoring system is as follows:

  • 1st — 5 points
  • 2nd — 4 points
  • 3rd — 3 points
  • 4th — 2 points
  • 5th — 1 point

Today we kick things off with the host of Recurring Insight (watch his debut episode so I don’t have to fire him) and basic Mountain superfan, Patrick Sullivan. Take it away my friend!

Patrick Sullivan

  1. Valki, God of Lies // Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor
  2. Alrund’s Epiphany
  3. Old-Growth Troll
  4. In Search of Greatness
  5. Esika, God of the Tree // The Prismatic Bridge

For the purposes of these rankings I’d like to exclude the Pathways; they’ll definitely show up some amount, but not in a way that’s particularly necessary, nor am I interested in speculating on which one is going to be most ubiquitous long-term.

The rate on Valki is so sick that I think even the first paragraph alone would be something to consider, and the additional activated power plus having some extra play if the game drags puts this well over the top. Rakdos Sacrifice strategies have been good-to-great in Pioneer at most points in the format and Valki seems custom-made for those decks, and the card is so broadly good that decks like Mono-Black Aggro and Orzhov Auras probably want to at least consider it throughout the 75.

As long as Uro and Omnath are legal, Time Walks are going to have a different context, as we’ve seen with recent shifts in Modern. Alrund’s Epiphany is a bit pricey, but these midrange soups regularly get to six and seven mana, and the tokens aren’t a trivial bit of this either. There’s also some shot it inspires some new combo decks.

Lot of green hits in here. Old-Growth Troll seems priced to move in both Collected Company builds and Mono-Green Devotion. There’s a ton of competition at three mana, but for decks that can fulfill the mana cost and have a broad interest in attacking, blocking, leveraging mana symbols, and ramping, Old-Growth Troll is probably better than at least one card they’re currently playing.

This is a bit speculative but I think that “GG, Enchantment, at the beginning of your upkeep scry 1” would already be something for Devotion decks to think about and In Search of Greatness has a lot going on in addition. Be it in Mono-Green Devotion or an entirely new strategy, this blend of selection and ramping could be attractive for a number of strategies.

I think the front half of Esika, God of the Tree is a bit short. There’s definitely something interesting to explore, but lots of analogous cards at better rates and/or lower opportunity costs. However, the fact that this is paired with “you win the game” on the other side, with a card type that most people can’t interact with, gives this its own niche. My biggest concern is building around a plethora of gold cards instead of Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, but Pioneer has a robust history of five-color good-stuff decks with some haymakers on top and there’s no reason to believe Esika couldn’t fit into such a deck.

Ari Lax

  1. Valki, God of Lies // Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor
  2. Blightstep Pathway // Searstep Pathway
  3. Hengegate Pathway // Mistgate Pathway
  4. In Search of Greatness
  5. Bloodsky Berserker

My Top 3 for Pioneer are the same as Historic, just a bit jumbled around. Valki, God of Lies gets the top spot in a format where Mono-Black Aggro is a top-tier archetype already and where Balustrade Spy and Sylvan Caryatid are crucial exiles. Blightstep Pathway narrowly beats out Hengegate Pathway despite Azorius Spirits being high-tier just based on the potential upside of mixing black and red one-drops. The same “Blooming Marsh is legal but Seachrome Coast isn’t” logic from Historic puts the allied Pathways over their enemy counterparts.

This is the first format we have seen where In Search of Greatness plus Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx is legal. Sounds good to me for a solid fourth place even without Leyline of Abundance.

I’m going to go out on a limb for my fifth place with Bloodsky Berserker. Historic is short on good cheap cards to double-spell with, and Modern is overloaded with Tarmogoyfs and Death’s Shadows, but Bloodsky Berserker seems like it might just fit into Pioneer as the massive two-drop body of choice even beyond Mono-Black Aggro. The safer pick for this slot is Blizzard Brawl; Birgi, God of Storytelling; or just another Pathway, but Bloodsky Berserker feels like a more distinctive and higher-impact addition to the format.

Ryan Overturf

  1. Birgi, God of Storytelling // Harnfel, Horn of Bounty
  2. Valki, God of Lies // Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor
  3. Usher of the Fallen
  4. Skemfar Avenger 
  5. Ascendant Spirit  

Pioneer as a format goes back far enough that you should focus in on cheap spells when trying to determine what will make an impact, which is a major driving force behind my list. Allied-colored mana in Pioneer has left something to be desired since its onset, and I’m sure that many of my colleagues will highlight specifically Blightstep Pathway and some of the other Pathways as well, but they don’t register as loudly for me until I know what I’m trying to cast. 

Pioneer right now centers around hyper-efficient decks that tend to feature Llanowar Elves or mostly one- and two-mana spells on one end of the spectrum and Omnath/Uro piles on the other. Four of my picks are cards that work in some flavor of efficient shell, and Valki, God of Lies gets the nod because I really want to rip an opponent’s Uro with it. I’ve worked on Grixis decks in Pioneer in the past to some success and Valki strikes me as a clear upgrade to those shells. 

Birgi, God of Storytelling strikes me as exactly the type of card that I’ve wanted for Mono-Red Aggro in Pioneer since the format’s inception. Experimental Frenzy has never quite hit for me, but Birgi is a card you can happily register four of as a combination threat and mana engine or source of card advantage. Costing three and having CMC three makes Birgi tough to Shock or Fatal Push, which makes me optimistic about its Pioneer potential. 

Usher of the Fallen, Skemfar Avenger, and Ascendant Spirit are all solid, efficient roleplayers for archetypes represented in recent 5-0 Magic: The Gathering Online (MTGO) League dumps. Golgari Elves should run significantly more smoothly with the addition of Darkbore Pathway and Skemfar Avenger is an efficient threat that helps to grind through more attrition-based games. Usher of the Fallen and Ascendant Spirit are both quality one-mana threats that could show up in Spirits tribal, with Usher also being great for Winota, Joiner of Forces decks and Ascendant Spirit being an efficient threat for Curious Obsession decks that scales well into the late-game. 

Todd Anderson

  1. In Search of Greatness
  2. Old-Growth Troll
  3. Faceless Haven
  4. Esika, God of the Tree // The Prismatic Bridge
  5. Birgi, God of Storytelling // Harnfel, Horn of Bounty

Mono-Green Devotion is one of the best decks in Pioneer, so it should be no surprise that two cards from Kaldheim are poised to make waves in Pioneer. In Search of Greatness works incredibly well with Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx on multiple levels. We’ve already learned how important it is to have permanents with high loyalty, but what about a card that generates an absurd amount of mana over the first few turns?

Old-Growth Troll is probably good in the beatdown versions of Mono-Green, but I think it will shine in the Devotion decks as well. Your creatures dying is an easy way for you to lose devotion, as well as your foothold in the game. Old-Growth Troll sits around even after it dies, keeping your devotion count high and threatening another creature at a moment’s notice once you start flooding out. And it ramps you a bit!

Faceless Haven is my pick for card to most easily and obviously make an impact, as the mono-colored nature of the format leads to Snow-Covered lands being mostly a freeroll, and having an efficient creature-land is huge for many archetypes. Mutavault exists, but some decks should want Faceless Haven instead.

As for Esika, God of the Tree, I have a sneaking suspicion that Five-Color Niv-Mizzet will want one copy to tutor for. The engine of The Prismatic Bridge seems incredibly difficult to overcome, and the fact that you can search for it via Bring to Light is icing on the cake. Birgi, God of Storytelling is also a potential weapon for any red deck in the format. It won’t fit into all of them, but I foresee it being the core of an entirely new iteration of red.

Ross Merriam

  1. Hengegate Pathway // Mistgate Pathway
  2. Blightstep Pathway // Searstep Pathway
  3. Valki, God of Lies // Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor
  4. In Search of Greatness
  5. Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider

When it comes to Pioneer, any boost to the manabase for allied-color pairs, particularly for aggressive strategies, is going to draw my eye first. There are lots of powerful synergies to build around in those pairs, but without access to painlands or fastlands, they have mostly been relegated to the fringe for consistency reasons. So I have Hengegate Pathway and Blightstep Pathway at the top of the list. Hengegate got the nod at number one because of Azorius Spirits being an obvious home that was already putting up some results, but it’s very close.

The rest of the list is composed of cards that bolster existing strategies that are near the top of the metagame. Much has been made of Valki’s pairing with Bloodbraid Elf in Modern Jund, but it also does great work with Bring to Light in Pioneer. Because of how the DFCs interact with tutors that immediately cast the spell, you effectively get to find Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor, circumventing the five-mana limit and the no-planeswalker clause on Bring to Light. Given that Valki is a solid card on its own, especially in a format where Uro is popular, I expect it to show up even more than that, so it takes the third spot.

The last two cards are excellent in Mono-Green Devotion. In Search of Greatness can let you cast a Karn, the Great Creator or Nissa, Who Shakes the World with your lands untapped, leading to some game-breaking turns, and the floor of the card is quite reasonable, providing devotion and digging you towards your high-impact threats. I was surprised to not see players adopt the card last weekend, but I expect that to change soon.

Lastly, we have Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider, a great top-end threat for any deck that’s playing Castle Garenbrig. The stats are good and there’s a novel of text on the card, which is usually a good sign. While I look to the counter-halving ability for the card’s applications in Standard, in Pioneer it’s about the counter-doubling because of its synergy with planeswalkers. Untap with Vorinclex on the battlefield and any of Karn, Nissa, or Vivien, Arkbow Ranger is so much more threatening. It’s an absolute must-answer threat that will often get some immediate value by attacking down an opposing planeswalker.

Cedric Phillips

  1. Valki, God of Lies // Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor
  2. Hengegate Pathway // Mistgate Pathway
  3. Old-Growth Troll
  4. In Search of Greatness
  5. Fall of the Impostor

I’ll keep my breakdown short and sweet. Valki is more messed-up the older the formats get because its upside gets higher and higher — especially in formats Uro is legal in. But even if Uro’s legality ever comes into question in Pioneer, Valki will still be a major player because Pioneer continues to be a format based around creatures.

Hengegate Pathway is a four-of in at least Azorius Spirits but probably other places as well. Allied-colored decks needed a boost and the Kaldheim Pathways are finally here to give that to them.

As mentioned by others, Old-Growth Troll naturally slots into Mono-Green Devotion at the very least but can also fit into a Mono-Green Aggro decks as well (a deck which performs much better than I would expect in Pioneer). In Search of Greatness may land in similar places as Old-Growth Troll but we’re talking about a card that could be format-defining or completely unplayable. I’d bet on the former more so than the latter, hence its inclusion on my list.

Last is the very unimpressive Fall of the Impostor. Why did it make my list? Hardened Scales and Conclave Mentor mostly. I’m not sure if this is the card that will put any type of Hardened Scales variant back on the map but the ceiling on this card is high within the archetype and Chapter III looks very appealing simply because Pioneer is a creature-based format.

And now, without further ado, the SCG Staff’s Top 5 Kaldheim cards for Pioneer are…

5. Blightstep Pathway // Searstep Pathway — 8 Points

Blightstep Pathway Searstep Pathway

4. Old-Growth Troll — 10 points

Old-Growth Troll

3. Hengegate Pathway // Mistgate Pathway — 12 points

Hengegate Pathway Mistgate Pathway

2. In Search of Greatness — 13 points

In Search of Greatness

1. Valki, God of Lies // Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor — 22 points

Valki, God of Lies Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor

Cya back here tomorrow for our thoughts on Kaldheim’s impact on Modern!