Adventures In The Forgotten Realms First Impressions: Pioneer

Can Adventures in the Forgotten Realms revive interest in Pioneer? Five SCG creators sort through Magic’s newest set and find out.

Den of the Bugbear, illustrated by Jeff Easley

Welcome back to D&D: Adventures In The Forgotten Realms First Impressions week!

All week long, various members of the SCG Staff will share their thoughts on the Top 5 Adventures In The Forgotten Realms cards in each format.  On Monday, we knocked out Standard. Yesterday, we took a stab at Historic. Today, we’ll take a look at Pioneer and tomorrow is everyone’s favorite volatile format — 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 our Pioneer aficionado, Todd Anderson!

Todd Anderson

  1. Demilich
  2. Circle of Dreams Druid
  3. Lair of the Hydra
  4. Den of the Bugbear
  5. Loyal Warhound

Demilich Circle of Dreams Druid Lair of the Hydra Den of the Bugbear Loyal Warhound

Demilich is making waves in the Historic version of Izzet Phoenix. It works so well with all the same cards as Arclight Phoenix, so it seems like a no-brainer to put into the same deck. I expect builds of Izzet Phoenix to feature Demilich moving forward, as it’s one of the best payoffs you could ask for in the archetype and is very difficult to remove permanently. Look for Finale of Promise to start seeing more play to fuel Demilich, as it casts three spells in one for a pretty low cost.

The Pioneer format features a lot of monocolored strategies, so many of the triple color payoffs should be taken into consideration. Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx is a powerhouse in Pioneer, so I would be looking at Circle of Dreams Druid specifically to take over the three-drop slot in the Mono-Green Devotion decks. I always thought Jadelight Ranger and Llanowar Visionary were just okay, but I think Circle of Dreams Druid might be incredible. Lair of the Hydra will similarly fit into this archetype, as entering the battlefield untapped in the early turns is key with eight versions of Llanowar Elves. Having a land that can use every point of extra mana you get from Nykthos and Circle of Dreams Druid is absurd.

Den of the Bugbear, like Lair of the Hydra, should see play in most Mono-Red strategies because you want a payoff for when you flood out but you also need your lands to enter the battlefield untapped in the early turns. Den of the Bugbear is pretty similar to Ghitu Encampment, but entering the battlefield untapped early versus tapped late means you won’t be getting punished for it too often. Any Boros deck that plays Lurrus of the Dream-Den will likely want Den of the Bugbear because your curve should be pretty low, meaning you probably won’t need an untapped land on the third or fourth turn too often other than putting Lurrus into your hand. All of the creature-lands from this cycle seem decent, but I think these two lend themselves to aggressive monocolored strategies the best. The true test will be to see if you can play this plus Mutavault or Faceless Haven in the same deck.

Loyal Warhound is on this list for me because I know the true strength of Knight of the White Orchid. For a while, Knight of the White Orchid has always hovered on playable to good in Pioneer, but the downside has always been that it costs WW and it doesn’t pack enough punch when you’re on the play. Loyal Warhound doubles as another variant of this, meaning being on the draw has fewer downsides, or it just fills in the gaps where Knight of the White Orchid just wasn’t good enough.

Dom Harvey

  1. Portable Hole
  2. Werewolf Pack Leader
  3. The Blackstaff of Waterdeep
  4. Power Word Kill
  5. Treasure Vault

Portable Hole Werewolf Pack Leader The Blackstaff of Waterdeep Power Word Kill Treasure Vault

Portable Hole is the best of a bad haul for Pioneer. Most of the format’s aggro decks as well as Rakdos Arcanist rely on Lurrus of the Dream-Den, allowing Portable Hole to hit all of their maindeck threats. The white aggro decks like Azorius/Bant Spirits or Azorius Ensoul have had to resort to nonsense like Isolate to keep up with the competition and Portable Hole is a massive upgrade there.

Werewolf Pack Leader slots nicely into the green aggro decks that sometimes pop up. In a format with 4 Llanowar Elves and 4 Elvish Mystic those decks want to bypass two-drops and jump straight to three for the likes of Steel Leaf Champion or Old-Growth Troll but most people are ready to Bolt the proverbial Bird and you want to curve out effectively in games where you don’t have a mana creature. Pack Leader is a fine hit for Collected Company, making that card more reliable without making you play even more three-drops that bloat your mana curve.

The Blackstaff of Waterdeep has already carried Azorius Ensoul to a Top 8 in the first week of Pioneer MTGO Challenges with Adventures in the Forgotten Realms. The deck is easily hated if it does become popular (and my top pick in Portable Hole is excellent against the deck) but it’s hard to ask for more from a card than restoring a beloved deck to the top tables.

Power Word Kill is a marginal upgrade to Heartless Act depending on what sees play and its placement is a good indication of how shallow the set is for Pioneer. Treasure Vault is a more speculative but exciting pick — alongside Darksteel Citadel, you now have eight artifact lands and four of those make more artifacts, which may be enough to spawn a new artifact-centric strategy.

Ari Lax

  1. The Blackstaff of Waterdeep
  2. Demilich
  3. The Book of Exalted Deeds
  4. Unexpected Windfall
  5. Flumph

The Blackstaff of Waterdeep Demilich The Book of Exalted Deeds Unexpected Windfall Flumph

The Blackstaff of Waterdeep is a good bet to revitalized the Ensoul Artifact archetype. Not a lot of nuance there, just a lot of 4/4 beater bricks in a package that dodges the removal issues other Ensoul Artifacts have.

Demilich is just a good bet in formats. Another pick I would describe as not rocket science.

From there it’s a little more interesting. I actually like The Book of Exalted Deeds, both because I feel like you can support the lifegain trigger in the format and because adding Mutavault as a land Angel makes that lock efficient enough to pull off.

I could have just slapped another heavy colored card into this list in Circle of Dreams Druid and called it a devotion day, but I’m taking some risks here. Unexpected Windfall seems like a really good natural setup to Turn 5 Indomitable Creativity for two targets in a format where The Locust God plus Sage of the Falls looks like the pairing of choice. I probably should have included that card on my Historic list now that I’m thinking about this exact pairing.

As for Flumph, it just feels like a real issue for aggressive decks to push into against combo decks trying to set up. Pioneer certainly has some mid-tier combo decks trying to solve this issue all the time, and I’m really hoping a silly Jellyfish defender is the card they were looking for.

Shaheen Soorani

  1. Den of the Bugbear
  2. Hive of the Eye Tyrant
  3. Treasure Vault
  4. Cave of the Frost Dragon
  5. Werewolf Pack Leader

Den of the Bugbear Hive of the Eye Tyrant Treasure Vault Cave of the Frost Dragon Werewolf Pack Leader

My Top 5 lists have differed from those of my colleagues thus far.  There’s a lot of emphasis on the creatures and spells of the format, where I see more value in the lands.  The mana base for these monocolored decks yearn for added utility, which is what Adventures in the Forgotten Realms brings to the table.  Not only do we have creature-lands, we received a beautiful artifact land that will have an immediate impact on the older formats.

I reluctantly added a creature to my list, since there’s a Mono-Green Aggro element in Pioneer.  Werewolf Pack Leader fits right into the archetype, adding some depth to the traditional creature package there.  Collected Company is a very strong card, making any additional green-creature updates noteworthy.  Barkhide Troll may not be employed for much longer, with Werewolf Pack Leader entering the format.

The rest of my list is a bunch of lands again, just as I selected in Historic and Standard.  I truly believe these lands will affect each competitive format, especially for the monocolored aggro decks that take full advantage of their creature-lands that enter the battlefield untapped in the early-game.  The powered down spells of the new set are something we all recognize; however, my colleagues see many diamonds in the rough where I do not.  There will be very few spells from Adventures in the Forgotten Realms played in Pioneer, while the lands will have a direct impact.

The one, non creature-land is Treasure Vault.  There’s an Azorius Ensoul deck that will directly benefit from this addition in a big way.  Even though Darksteel Citadel is the preferred target of Ensoul Artifact for obvious reasons, there are times where having a land to target, when the indestructible one is not available, will be huge.  More importantly, All That Glitters gets more powerful with the easy artifact land inclusion, making the deck that much scarier.  Time will tell if I am way off about this one, but I do not see the spells being more impactful than the lands in Pioneer, Historic, or Standard.

Cedric Phillips

  1. Portable Hole
  2. The Blackstaff of Waterdeep
  3. The Book of Exalted Deeds
  4. Demilich
  5. Den of the Bugbear

Portable Hole The Blackstaff of Waterdeep The Book of Exalted Deeds Demilich Den of the Bugbear

Given how cheap it is itself and how older formats rely on cheaper spells, I’d be somewhat surprised if Portable Hole isn’t a Pioneer mainstay moving forward. It solves problems at a very cheap cost, allowing for easy double-spell turns, something white has been sorely missing in Pioneer since the format’s inception.

While I’m not the biggest believer in Ensoul Artifact-based decks in Pioneer, The Blackstaff of Waterdeep does provide the deck with something it lacked — redundancy. Given its legendary status, Ensoul decks won’t max out on this card but a few copies will certainly make their way into maindecks moving forward. If you’re into Ensoul Artifact-style decks, this is a welcome addition.

The Book of Exalted Deeds kinda reads like a joke card initially but results have shown that it’s anything but. Selesnya Angels won a MTGO Pioneer Challenge this past weekend with four maindeck copies of the legendary artifact, and WotC has already deemed the card too powerful to exist in Standard 2022 on Magic Arena. Does this mean it’s the real deal? Much to my chagrin, I think the answer is yes. Do I think four copies is excessive given its legendary status? Also yes, but Xerk playing four copies in their Pioneer Challenge winning decklist feels more like stress testing than anything else to me.

I’m not really sold on Demilich one way or another. Izzet Phoenix decks have no shortage of threats in Pioneer (Thing in the Ice, Crackling Drake, Brazen Borrower, etc) and without Manamorphose in the format (thankfully), Demilich can’t really be cheated onto the battlefield in a traditional sense. However, the card does have a high ceiling, it has all the attributes of a card that one would spend time trying to break, and because it isn’t legendary (am I the only one who feels like this card is legendary?), players will max out on four copies when stress testing whether it’s right or wrong to do so. We’re gonna find out pretty quickly if this card is legit or not.

Lastly, there’s Den of the Bugbear. I felt compelled to pick one of the creature-lands to fill out my list because creature-lands are always powerful and I think this is the best of the bunch in Adventures in the Forgotten Realms. While I’m not entirely sure where this fits in just yet (Boros Wizards perhaps?), Den of the Bugbear has a high floor so that’s reason enough to have it round out my Top 5.

And now, without further ado, the SCG Staff’s Top 5 Adventures In The Forgotten Realms cards for Pioneer are…

5. The Book of Exalted Deeds — 6 points

The Book of Exalted Deeds

4. Den of the Bugbear — 8 points

Den of the Bugbear

3. Portable Hole — 10 points

Portable Hole

2. Demilich — 11 points


1. The Blackstaff of Waterdeep — 12 points

The Blackstaff of Waterdeep

Cya back here tomorrow for our thoughts on Adventures In The Forgotten Realms‘ impact on Modern!