During the last month and change, Pioneer has really started to come into its own. A lot of viewers on my Twitch channel say it’s their favorite format, and for good reason. There’s a lot of room for specific cards and strategies to breath, and Wizards of the Coast is coming down on oppressive strategies with a heavy hand. At any given moment, your deck could get banned! That’s pretty terrifying, but it’s also refreshing because that means we’ll get a virtually new format every few months or the format will be full of different strategies.
Making Pioneer content has been refreshing, since virtually every other format has been constricted by some of the more powerful planeswalkers printed in the last few months. And while those cards are good in Pioneer too, they haven’t felt too oppressive yet. And how could they? Cards like Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time are legal!
But today isn’t about Oko or Treasure Cruise or even Smuggler’s Copter. Today’s article will focus on some of the hidden gems in Pioneer, and will include a sweet decklist with each card. If you’re looking for something new to try (and something that probably won’t get banned anytime soon), make sure to give these decks a try!
Glorybringer is one of the best cards in Pioneer, which is no surprise considering how dominant it was in its respective Standard format (after all the ridiculous stuff got banned). Glorybringer acts a lot like a removal spell, but the hard truth is that a lot of the removal in the format just doesn’t touch it. And much like my experience with Vivien, Arkbow Ranger just always killing a creature with the minus ability, people just have to tap out every turn or else they’re going to fall behind.
That means you’re sticking Glorybringer and connecting with the exert almost every time. And in a lot of cases, your opponent still won’t be able to kill it when you untap with it two turns down the line. There’s also a pretty big emphasis on planeswalkers and creatures in Pioneer, which makes Glorybringer the perfect weapon for combating both. And if you have other creatures trying to get into the mix, Glorybringer can help clear the way so you maximize damage.
I’ve talked to quite a few people who play a lot of Pioneer and the general consensus is that Glorybringer is one of the unsung heroes of the format. It isn’t as flashy as something like Oko or one of the scary cards that have been banned in the past, but it’s certainly powerful and explosive and worth the five-mana investment. For the cost, I can think of few cards even close to on par with Glorybringer. It just carries so much weight each time you cast it.
Without further ado, here’s one of the better decks featuring Glorybringer in the format. Many people, myself included, have gotten a 5-0 trophy with something very similar to the following strategy.
- 4 Legion Loyalist
- 4 Goblin Rabblemaster
- 4 Hanweir Garrison
- 2 Kari Zev, Skyship Raider
- 4 Glorybringer
- 2 Torbran, Thane of Red Fell
There are a few different ways you can build this, and I could be off on Legion Warboss versus Hanweir Garrison, but there is something supremely satisfying about getting the meld to function. Plus, three toughness is somehow outrageous in Pioneer because every red deck plays Wild Slash and Shock instead of Fiery Impulse.
This was my personal touch on the archetype a few weeks ago. The original list played Robber of the Rich, but I found that turning it on was actually pretty tough in Pioneer. Our opponents are emptying their hands pretty quickly. And once again, the difference between two and three toughness is big. Kari Zev, Skyship Raider deals a lot of damage for a small investment and is relatively hard to block due to menace and creating two bodies to swing on through. And going wide is important in this deck because of Embercleave.
One of the newer additions to the archetype, Torbran is pretty nutty with all the token generators. If you’re attacking with a few Goblins or Humans or even Ragavan, Torbran offers up a huge burst of extra damage. I’m not sold that it should belong in the deck just yet, as it feels more like I’m trying to goldfish opponents where the rest of the deck is trying to interact.
The trick with this deck, and making Glorybringer good, is having early creatures that require an answer. If your opponent spends all their time killing your cheap threats, eventually Glorybringer will come down and eat them alive. And when all your creatures threaten to make a bunch of other creatures, it becomes imperative for the opponent to interact on nearly every turn.
Bonus decklist for those who are big fans of Glorybringer (or CalebD):
This card doesn’t need much of an introduction, but it certainly has been overshadowed in Pioneer thus far. It almost feels a little too fair, but you can still pair it with some powerful, disruptive creatures or card advantage engines. I’ve seen Collected Company in quite a few shells, but the most successful ones have all been Bant, revolving around either Reflector Mage or the Spirit tribe.
Collected Company is one of those cards that will only be as good as the creatures you pair with it. I’ve seen some people try it with Goblins, and others pair it with Rally the Ancestors like the days of old. But time and time again, Collected Company shows itself to be “king of the fair matchups” by just crushing anyone trying to trade resources on a one-for-one basis. All your creatures generate a card, and this spell generates two creatures, so in some cases you’re getting four or more cards for the small price of four mana.
- 2 Llanowar Elves
- 1 Scavenging Ooze
- 4 Voice of Resurgence
- 2 Elvish Mystic
- 2 Courser of Kruphix
- 2 Jace, Vryn's Prodigy
- 4 Reflector Mage
- 3 Tireless Tracker
- 4 Spell Queller
- 2 Selfless Spirit
- 1 Deputy of Detention
- 2 Brazen Borrower
Bant Company has been around in actuality or spirit for a long time. It just changes on what cards rotate in or out depending on the metagame, and whether the pilot wants to build around Spirits or not! At the moment, there are still quite a few ways to build this type of deck, and I doubt this version is the “best” or even close to it. I just really like the feel of Dromoka’s Command and Voice of Resurgence in the format.
This card just feels unbelievable. Remember the thing I keep saying about opponents never being able to hold up mana? Well, Dromoka’s Command can fight the creature you need to kill or protect your battlefield from a sweeper like Anger of the Gods. There are also some enchantments that randomly show up and having a maindeck answer to them is big.
One of the better creatures in the deck, Tireless Tracker is almost always a great hit on Collected Company. Just remember to main-phase your Collected Company on occasion if you want to get that Clue token! Tireless Tracker has long been one of the best green creatures, and it just so happens to hit right under four mana for Collected Company. A match made in heaven.
I feel like too many people try to put Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy into shells that have no other targets for Fatal Push or Wild Slash. That means Jace just never survives, but that’s not the case here. We have so many creatures our opponents have to kill or else they start to fall behind. And when Jace survives, it usually means you get to cast Collected Company again. Just like the old days!
Bonus Company decklist:
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Elvish Visionary
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 4 Dwynen's Elite
- 4 Gnarlroot Trapper
- 4 Shaman of the Pack
- 2 Marwyn, the Nurturer
- 4 Elvish Clancaller
- 1 End-Raze Forerunners
Brazen Borrower is my pick for sleeper card from Throne of Eldraine to have a long-lasting impact on Pioneer. When I first tried it in Modern, I wasn’t impressed. Petty Theft just doesn’t come up as often, but Pioneer seems to be all about hitting the battlefield running. The 3/1 body also shines against Smuggler’s Copter.
I’ve tried and loved Brazen Borrower in so many shells that it’s hard to pick just one. So instead of boring you with a deck featuring Brazen Borrower, why not show you something cool I’ve been working on over the last few days?
I know what you’re thinking, but trust me, if I’m not playing Thing in the Ice, then you certainly shouldn’t be playing Thing in the Ice. It is one of your better cards in matchups that don’t have a lot of removal, but virtually every deck in Pioneer has some way to deal with it. And because of that, and your time spent investing in transforming it, Thing in the Ice is often a trap.
Instead, we’re opting to play four copies of Brazen Borrower. While it does die to Wild Slash and other cheap damage effects, the bounce ability is crucial (and powerful). Too often I’d have a Thing in the Ice unable to transform on an important timetable. But with Brazen Borrower, you get a flying threat that pairs nicely with Arclight Phoenix while counting as a spell for it.
If I’ve learned anything from playing Pioneer, it’s that you can’t play cards that require a huge investment to get going. You need most (or all) of your value upfront, because nearly every deck in the format is designed with the ability to check cheap creatures. So if you’re not overloading your opponent with them, there’s virtually no way something like Thing in the Ice or Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy or any other cheap creature is going to survive if it’s your only target. These decks are saturated with removal, and we’re not exactly transforming Thing in the Ice on the third turn like Modern.
As we talked about earlier, Glorybringer is one of the more powerful creatures in the format, so I’m going to try to slot it into my deck at any point I can. It’s also a great payoff from all the extra lands drawn from Treasure Cruise, as well as a way for you to proactively attack planeswalkers or check medium-sized creatures.
Testing with Izzet Phoenix featuring one copy of The Royal Scions led me to believe that it is likely one of the best cards in the archetype if you can build around it. The looting effect is potent in this deck, but the best part is how easy it is to ultimate (and how hard it is to kill with damage). I get to use the ultimate with The Royal Scions in many matchups, simply because my deck is full of removal. We can clear opposing creatures easily, and even Arclight Phoenix is great at providing a defensive body for keeping it alive and well.
For the record, I’m not a fan of The Royal Scions in Modern, but it felt unreasonably powerful in this deck.
Last, but not least…
One of the lesser-known delve cards, Soulflayer gives you some unique angles of attack while assembling a Voltron-type creature that few decks can interact with or beat. Giving your creature indestructible and hexproof means it’s not going anywhere. Double strike and haste means you’re hitting for huge chunks of damage. Trample or flying means your opponent can’t block it very well. So what exactly is someone supposed to do against a fully powered Soulflayer?
The short answer is nothing. The long answer is also nothing, but you can beat them by being faster than them or hoping their draw is bad.
- 4 Lotleth Troll
- 4 Chromanticore
- 4 Soulflayer
- 4 Zetalpa, Primal Dawn
- 2 Murderous Rider
- 4 Questing Beast
- 4 Gingerbrute
There are a number of different ways to build around Soulflayer, but most of them are going to be playing the big payoffs. Any creature with two or more abilities is desirable, but especially those that have utility outside of being eaten by Soulflayer. While something like Murderous Rider only has one ability (lifelink), having a creature that acts as a removal spells is huge. Lifelink is also a big deal for Soulflayer, as the only real way someone can beat you is by racing you and going wide. When your Soulflayer has lifelink, any sort of comeback is much more difficult by traditional means.
I thought this one was strange, but it’s one of the only creatures with haste that is also an artifact. That means finding it from a self-mill effect helps turn on Traverse the Ulvenwald, which is one of your better cards if you can get it working. It definitely seems out of place, but it’s a bit better than you might think.
This one is firmly your #2 creature behind Soulflayer, enabling you to discard a bunch of extra big things to eat with Soulflayer. It gets big, regenerates, and also gives trample to Soulflayer if it gets eaten.
These two dig spells help you find Soulflayer but also put your creatures into the graveyard. They’re excellent. But are they better than Once Upon a Time? Should we be playing Once Upon a Time anyway? It’s not entirely clear but both of these enabler spells are very good in the archetype. They keep the deck running smoothly, but it does feel pretty bad when you don’t find Soulflayer after casting one or two of these.
These two are your big payoffs for Soulflayer, giving it a nice assortment of keyword abilities. I have seen quite a few variations that play four Zetalpa, Primal Dawn and zero Chromanticore, but the truth of the matter is that your deck only has a handful of spells that actually matter. I mean, you’re not casting Zetalpa or Chromanticore, so we might as well try our best to assemble Voltron with the fewest cards possible.
The above decks are all on my radar at the moment for stuff that isn’t quite Tier 1. I’ll likely need to iron out some kinks over the next few weeks to get them in fighting shape, but they’re all powerful and proactive. There are a few cards in these lists that are on my list of potential bans, such as Smuggler’s Copter and Treasure Cruise, but the majority of these cards (and decks) are safe. If you want to pick them up, I guarantee you’ll have some fun and won’t get too nervous come Monday.
In the coming weeks, I expect very few, if any, changes to the Pioneer Banned List. I think they’ve firmly decided to let things lie for a little while, but there are also Pioneer PTQs all week which should give them some valuable data. At the moment, Mono-Black Aggro and variations on Field of the Dead are dominant, but how much so? And can we find a way to beat them without joining them? And what about Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx? Is it still in danger of getting the axe?
There are a lot of questions left to be answered when it comes to Pioneer. Just last weekend I was sure that Mono-Green Devotion was the best deck and certainly going to have something banned out of it. But now, I don’t think even think it’s Tier 1. That’s just how metagames develop and powerful decks suppress others. That isn’t to say that Mono-Black Aggro and Field of the Dead are oppressive in general, but that my Mono-Green Devotion deck doesn’t quite have the right answers to beat them.