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20 Pioneer Decks With Core Set 2021

Core Set 2021 has spruced up known Pioneer decks and inspired some entirely new ones! Patrick Chapin takes a wide-ranging look at the metagame.

Possibility Storm, illustrated by Jason Felix

Core Set 2021 has introduced a whole slew of cards to Pioneer that have immediately had an impact. Today, I’d like to talk about a bunch of decks made possible by new cards or that have had some valuable pick-ups helping shore up weaknesses, bolster strengths, or introduce new dimensions to the strategy.

Conspicuous Snoop has finally given Goblins enough power to move them into consideration as a legitimate pioneer strategy. Being able to cast Goblins from the top of your deck is absolutely incredible, and even casting a single Goblin this way already puts you well ahead of your two-mana investment.

While some formats may have Goblins that really take advantage of Conspicuous Snoop’s other ability, we’re not looking to do much with it in Pioneer. Instead of anything fancy, we’re really just using the Goblins as an aggressive creature beatdown plan.


That’s right, this Goblin deck’s only Goblin payoffs are the Snoop and Goblin Piledriver (along with Icon of Ancestry out of the sideboard).

Instead of playing bigger Goblin cards like Goblin Chieftain or Goblin Ringleader, this list uses some decidedly non-Goblin cards like Rampaging Ferocidon. Even more interestingly, Subira, Tulzidi Caravanner makes an appearance as a three-of, giving more haste, evasion, and even a potential refill option.

Goblin Piledriver is an especially quality target for Subira’s evasion…

I’ve said it before, but I’m also suspicious of decks with four Wild Slashes and zero Shocks. Was four really the right number to use here? It’s not like the marginal difference between Wild Slash and Shock is very great at all…

By contrast, I’m inclined to believe D00mwake’s use of the full four of each in the list that follows, as they even have a copy of Rapid Hybridization, showing just how highly they are prioritizing removal that costs one.


First of all, it warms my heart to see Treasure Cruise remembered. So often, these days, the kids seem to give Dig Through Time all the love. As for Core Set 2021, Stormwing Entity provides an excellent new tool, not only as a hard-hitting, flying threat that smooths your draw…

It’s also technically a five-mana spell, which means Fatal Push and Abrupt Decay can’t hit it. Stormwing Entity isn’t the only new oversized flyer you can cast for three.

Gadrak, the Crown-Scourge has already been seeing a little play in Standard, somewhat fueled by Food and Witch’s Oven but also just providing another payoff for all your sacrifice synergies. In Pioneer, there’s a much greater supply of cheap and aggressive artifacts, making Gadrak effectively a 5/4 flyer for three with upside.


Ensoul Artifact decks have to be careful about playing too many cards that cost three or more, but Gadrak does offer a nice dimension here. Another new variant to be aware of has popped up, though.

All That Glitters may not be new, but using it in a Pioneer Ensoul Artifact decks is kind of an exciting new twist!


By giving up Skilled Animator and Gadrak, we’re able to access Lurrus of the Dream-Den out of our sideboard. And with only one actually dedicated white source, there’s no reason this list can’t actually splash more colors, and in fact it does, packing a playset of Fatal Pushes in the sideboard.

Fatal Push is extremely well-suited to powerful formats, both on account of its high power level as well as how many threats in powered formats are undercosted. Take Rotting Regisaur, for instance. Rotting Regisaur is a pretty incredible threat for just three mana, but that low cost leaves it more vulnerable to Fatal Push than most 7/6 creatures would be.

Vilaboy put up a 5-0 finish last week with a cool mostly green creature deck, splashing black for the Regisaur, Thoughtseize, Scrapheap Scrounger, and sideboard cards.

Necromentia is mostly just another Cranial Extraction type that can be quite effective against the numerous Pioneer combo decks out there.


There’s a new creature threat to look at here, Garruk’s Harbinger.

This card is awesome! First of all, it’s a 4/3 hexproof from black, right off the top. That’s already kind of interesting in a format with Fatal Push, Abrupt Decay, and Eliminate playing such large roles.

It’s the trigger that’s actually an excellent card draw engine. Getting your best creature from among your top four cards is generally going to be better than drawing a card in a deck like this, and it even works when you’re attacking planeswalkers.

Garruk’s Harbinger is also showing up in a new breed of Winota, Joiner of Forces, but this time, Agent of Treachery is nowhere to be found…

Angrath’s Marauders has been gaining traction as a powerful and decidedly more on-color threat to Winota into than Agent of Treachery. You may not be stealing a permanent, but doubling all damage your stuff deals is outrageously powerful if your deck is full of threats…

…you know, like a Winota deck is.


In addition to the four copies of Winota, we’ve got four copies of Eldritch Evolution for some absolutely nutty starts. With the added consistency Eldritch Evolution affords us, we’ll pretty reliably open:

If we’ve got Winona, we’ll be able to attack with the Voice of Resurgence or Tithe Taker (which may also be suppressing their removal a little). If we’ve got Eldritch Evolution, we’ll have to sacrifice our two-drop, but now we’ll be able to attack with the one-drop Elf, ensuring we’re getting a Winota trigger right away.

Legion Warboss also works as a follow-up to a Turn 1 Elf, that if answered will make Winota even more devastating. Even if they deal with it, however, there’s a good chance we’re going to be a token the better for it.

The eighteenth-place list by lsmguys from last week’s Pioneer Challenge actually took it a step further, adding Goblin Rabblemasters to go along with the Warbosses. They also went with the slightly more ambitious Kenrith, the Returned King as their additional Human threat, as opposed to Hyper’s Pia and Kiran Nalaar.


The Llanowar Elves / Elvish Mystic / Goblin Rabblemaster / Legion Warboss package can also be used to help fuel a different sort of creature-heavy combo deck built around Possibility Storm.

The key to using Possibility Storm is limiting a card type that you have alternate access to. The list that follows is able to cast Enter the Infinite by casting an Adventure spell. Once you’ve got your deck in your hand, put Borborygmos Enraged back and cast Stonecoil Serpent for zero. This will put Borborygmos onto the battlefield, letting you win on the spot thanks to all the cards in your hand.


Shared Summons gives access to a virtual second copy of Enter the Infinite, but one that is much more castable if drawn. If you’ve drawn neither, you can use the Shared Summons to go find any combination of Adventure creature, Stonecoil Serpent, or Borborygmos. Casting another Adventure will immediately find the Enter the Infinite.

Even if you’ve drawn the Enter the Infinite, you can reliably find Borborygmos and just win by casting him. As fat as Borborygmos is, however, he’s hardly the biggest fish in the pond.

Worldspine Wurm headlines yet another Llanowar Elves / Elvish Mystic combo deck, this time relying on Dubious Challenge and See the Unwritten. See the Unwritten is a bit more straightforward (play a lot of incredibly expensive threats), but Dubious Challenge has a little more spice to it.

If your top ten cards include a game-winning threat and either Charming Prince or Trostani Discordant, your opponent can’t keep the fatty from you. You getting the Prince will just blink it back to your side, and you getting Trostani will let you steal it back. Remember, though, if you do get a really unlucky reveal from Dubious Challenge, you don’t have to pick anything, so it’s not like revealing only a single Eldrazi is going to result in your immediate demise.


While not actually built around any new Core Set 2021 cards, this is far from a mainstream strategy.

Continuing our stroll through new advances in Pioneer combos, an exotic take on Heliod combo showed up last week. First, to get a baseline, remember that a lot of Heliod decks end up looking like the following Mono-White Devotion deck:


Now, contrast this with Paragon249’s Gideon theme deck.

They’ve even got Gideon’s Intervention to stay on theme!


Instead of a white devotion theme, this list makes use of an incredible range of unusual options. For instance, when was the last time you saw anybody using Weatherlight to set up their combo?

And while Idyllic Grange as a means of speeding up the Heliod + Walking Ballista combo is commonplace, this list doesn’t stop there. Instead, Swallow Whole provides a very uncommon means of getting the +1/+1 counter we need to shave a turn off, and Spear of Heliod’s +1/+1 static ability means we can remove Walking Ballista’s last +1/+1 counter without it dying.

While Authority of the Consuls isn’t strictly ensuring the combo is sped up a turn, it’s a powerful tool for buying time, disrupting some combos, and potentially allowing Heliod to generate a ton of advantage without even drawing the Ballista.

Combo getting broken up by opponents with removal? Lurrus of the Dream-Den is functionally Eternal Witness for Walking Ballista (or Hushbringer) and can even be used to generate value turn after turn, or alongside Heliod.

While these decks tend to always have Karn, not all of them feature Crystalline Giant as an option to go get out of the sideboard…

I guess sometimes you just need a powerful threat and this is the best one?!

While Heliod combo was initially the talk of Theros Beyond Death Pioneer, there were two other combo decks that stole the show at the Players Tour.

You can go off with Underworld Breach by continually untapping your Lotus Field with Hidden Strings and milling yourself more and more. While the core combo remains unchanged, Breach picks up a powerful new option in the form of See the Truth.

See the Truth misses out on the advantage of putting the other two cards into your graveyard, like Strategic Planning, but makes up for it with just how incredible it is with Underworld Breach. Drawing three cards already turns it into an upgraded Treasure Cruise, but it really doesn’t take much to draw such an massive number of extra cards that the “value Breach” option has never been so good.


The other super-influential combo from Theros Beyond Death Pioneer was the Inverter of Truth + Thassa’s Oracle (or Jace, Wielder of Mysteries) combo. While Core Set 2021 doesn’t completely revolutionize the strategy or anything, it does offer a powerful tutor from another era that actually curves quite nicely with the primary gameplan.

Grim Tutor was once feared and revered, but since its reprinting in Core Set 2021, it hasn’t gotten the respect it once had. Inverter is actually a perfect place for the card, though, since you can cast it Turn 3 and then just cast Inverter on Turn 4.


Dig Through Time always does a lot of work in Inverter, not only setting up the combo but also giving us a convenient way to exile cards from our graveyard and make the win deterministic.

Talos41 recently put up a solid finish with a very different kind of Dig Through Time deck, however…

Because why not Torrential Gearhulk your Dig Through Time? Now that is some serious value.

If you consider that to be serious value, what do you call three copies of Sublime Epiphany to go along with it?

This is a family website.


Yep, we really are talking about basically all counterspells and cantrips. We’ve just got to buy ourselves a little time. If we get Wilderness Reclamation going, we can quickly overpower people with our very strong ability to leverage the mana advantage. Even without Reclamation, however, if we can survive long enough to get to the Torrential Gearhulk / Sublime Epiphany stage of the game, that interaction will bury most opponents.

Obviously Sublime Epiphany can do an outrageous amount of everything, but once we Torrential Gearhulk it, that’s when the real fun begins. Whether or not we counter a spell or ability, we’ll be able to draw a card, copy the Gearhulk, bounce something (maybe our Gearhulk?), and cast another spell out of our graveyard (and heaven forbid it’s another Sublime Epiphany).

We just looked at both Underworld Breach and Inverter of Truth as engines to set up a Jace, Wielder of Mysteries kill, but the most stylish Jace kill of the week goes to Traft and their revival of Kethis, the Hidden Hand combo.

Kethis lets us play legends out of our graveyard, which combines with Diligent Excavator to keep milling ourselves, digging deeper and deeper. Lazav, the Multifarious and Emry, Lurker of the Loch give us additional ways to dig even deeper as we recast our Mox Amber over and over. Core Set 2021 adds a couple of new legends to the mix, one of which is actually another payoff for playing so many legends.

Niambi has a lot of tactical applications: bouncing your own stuff, gaining life, and generally giving you some instant-speed options. She’s also a way to turn your legends into card draw, and even puts them into your graveyard for later use.


Seeing Lurrus of the Dream-Den as yet another legendary permanent that can allow us to return Mox Amber or Diligent Excavator is no surprise, but it is cool to see Barrin, Tolarian Archmage making an appearance.

While not central to our core engine, it does serve as the “one bounce spell to potentially solve hard problems” that is so common in combo decks with a way to access their whole library (such as milling it all and then getting it out of the graveyard with Kethis).

Pioneer is not short on graveyard shenanigans, and Narcomoeba / Prized Amalgam decks should never have been allowed to get together with Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath.

Of course, while we’re on the topic, should anybody have? Okay, sure, Oko, Thief of Crowns would have been fine with it, but anybody else?


Of course, it’s Uro who really makes the new addition of Silversmote Ghoul so strong.

Silversmote Ghoul is yet another creature that returns itself from the graveyard for free, in this case from either an Uro trigger or Crippling Chill. That it can be used to draw extra cards can have its moments, but really, it’s just a zero-mana 3/1 that doesn’t cost you a card, and even if they kill it, it’ll just be back next turn.

Haunted Dead is another graveyard payoff (albeit a modest one), along with another graveyard enabler, helping round things out. AlexFiero put up a 5-0 finish with a little different of a Silversmote Ghoul deck, replacing the Narcomoebas with more copies of Haunted Dead, on their way to cutting blue entirely (save a slim ability to hardcast Prized Amalgam). How did they make up for the loss of Uro?

The emerge package capitalizes on Prized Amalgam, Silversmote Ghoul, and Haunted Dead having much higher costs than what they actually cost to get onto the battlefield. Gurmag Angler is not exactly a bad sacrifice target, either. Abundant Maw’s Emerge trigger conveniently drains exactly enough life to bring all of our Silversmote Ghouls back, including the one we sacrificed to emerge it in the first place.


Silversmote Ghoul isn’t just a faux-dredge card, though. Since it’s a Vampire Zombie, the tribal implications are numerous.

Sorin is an excellent Vampire incentive to start with, but Silversmote Ghoul is an incredible creature to sacrifice, since the drain for three will return it to the battlefield immediately.


Not exactly a complex card to evaluate, Eliminate is efficient and well-suited to helping ease the burden of planeswalkers like Teferi, Time Raveler; Narset, Parter of Veils; Gideon of the Trials; and so on.

Like the Goblin list at the top, this list doesn’t try “too hard,” and instead plays out like a Mono-Black Aggro deck that happens to have some Vampire payoffs. That isn’t the only way to do it, though. If we ditch the Vampire theme, we pick up a variety of minor upgrades as well as gaining more room for added angles of attack, such as Demonic Embrace,

Demonic Embrace is deceptively versatile, functioning as a quasi-haste threat, a way to ensure giant evasive threats, and another card that functions from the graveyard, stacking very effectively with self-recursive creatures (which can be discarded to pay the additional cost of Demonic Embrace’s graveyard ability).


Graveyard card draw, graveyard combos, graveyard recursion… I’m starting to notice a pattern here.

MioCid 5-0’ed last week with a Rakdos Lurrus deck leveraging a lot of really cheap interaction and some resilient ways to gain card advantage for grinding people out while putting a lot of pressure on them. At its heart, the deck is made possible by the printing of Village Rites and its excellent synergy with Young Pyromancer.

Village Rites is incredible. While this kind of thing has never been good at two mana, a lot of mediocre-minus cards would be amazing at 50% off. Young Pyromancer even offsets the cost, making it into two-thirds of an Ancestral Recall.


The graveyard action extends beyond just stockpiling food for Kroxa and targets for the Arcanist, however.

Archfiend’s Vessel is incredible to get back with Call of the Death-Dweller, Claim // Fame, or Lurrus, and I’d be inclined to play at least one more. The reanimation cards are great anyway, keeping Arcanist and Pyromancer building more and more advantages.

Also, remember that while Claim may only be so-so with Kroxa, Fame has the potential to be absolutely bonkers (though even just Claiming Arcanist is a huge game).

One last deck I’d like to talk about today is Azorius Spirits, an archetype that has been around a while but that has recently made a couple of interesting pickups that give it access to a little more permission, as well as some occasional explosiveness.

While Lofty Denial is an overpriced Force Spike if you have an empty battlefield, that’s hardly going to be the case in a deck with 30 creatures, aside from maybe Turn 2, and in spots like that, a two-mana Force Spike is pretty serviceable. 

If you have even a single flyer, however, suddenly you get access to a stronger Mana Leak. Once we’re talking about a Mana Leak taxing for four, we’re up to counterspell levels of card quality. It may not be a “hard” counter, but that colorless in the cost makes it a lot easier to play so many Plains.


Finally, War of the Spark‘s Rally of Wings provides one more twist, giving us some surprise explosiveness for taking a turn off a clock or pulling ahead in a race.

Decks like this usually don’t give any space to such aggressive tricks, but with so many combo decks all over the place, I kind of like it as a way to really throw off the math for how much time people have against you (particularly with Lofty Denial helping Spell Queller provide a bit of disruption).

I have no idea what’s going on with the recent sets and Standard, but Core Set 2021 appears to have been designed with Pioneer in mind, and I’m liking how much it appears to add to so many different decks, rather than just offering seven cards to the same deck or anything like that.

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