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Kaldheim Exit Interview: Pioneer

How did Kaldheim make its mark on Pioneer? SCG creators rate the most impactful cards and compare their Top 5 lists to their early predictions.

Valki, God of Lies, illustrated by Yongjae Choi

Welcome to Kaldheim Exit Interview week!

If you missed Kaldheim First Impressions week, various members of the SCG Staff shared their thoughts on their Top 5 Kaldheim cards in each format before having the opportunity to play with them. With the Strixhaven: School of Mages preview season beginning tomorrow, we thought it would be fun to have those same folks update their lists now that they’ve had the opportunity to play with Kaldheim for the past six weeks and share what they got right, what they got wrong, what surprised them, etc.

On Monday, we knocked out Standard and yesterday blew through Historic. Today, we’ll knock out Pioneer and tomorrow is Modern. The same scoring system we had in place for Kaldheim First Impressions week will be in place here 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, once again, kick things off with the host of Recurring Insight (check out the episode on Lightning Helix!) and basic Mountain superfan, Patrick Sullivan. Take it away my friend!

Patrick Sullivan

Previous List

  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

New List

  1. Old-Growth Troll
  2. Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider
  3. Valki, God of Lies // Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor
  4. In Search of Greatness
  5. Behold the Multiverse

Cedric had the audacity to call me the other day and harass me about cranking up a follow-up to my set review at a fraction of my normal rate, berating me on how bad my initial list was. Nonsense. One of my cards got hit by the Wilderness Reclamation ban, several others have actually showed up from a set that (so far) has been light on format impact, and unlike many of my co-workers, I didn’t lazily pad my list with Pathways. That said, some revisions are in order.

I think Old-Growth Troll is here to stay; it’s one of the safest and most powerful openings off a Turn 1 Elf, and I regularly run into it against both Devotion and Collected Company strategies. I would like to add Vorinclex to my list, as it’s proven its worth in Devotion decks as well. I was skeptical that the value over replacement would be high enough — there’s a ton of competition among expensive plays — but that one might be the best of the bunch.

I remain bullish on Valki, God of Lies in part because Rakdos decks are fairly popular, In Search of Greatness is likely to age well, and Behold the Multiverse has proven its worth to me in both control and combo decks so that I think it’s a good bet to see play in a variety of decks, if not in great numbers. I still think we’re in the infancy of Kaldheim’s impact on Pioneer and there are several cards from the set that I think have a home in spite of seeing little play, but the initial returns have been especially good for green, as I predicted in my surprisingly accurate breakdown of the set a few weeks back.

Ari Lax

Previous List

  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

New List

  1. Blightstep Pathway // Searstep Pathway
  2. Valki, God of Lies // Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor
  3. Darkbore Pathway // Slitherbore Pathway
  4. Esika’s Chariot
  5. Faceless Haven

The success of Rakdos Arcanist (Lurrus) keeps Blightstep Pathway firmly in the top slot, but unlike Historic I’ve got Valki as an actual relevant addition due to Bring to Light. I don’t know how much access to Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor adds over just finding a Niv-Mizzet Reborn in the full five-color deck, but seeing decks like the Grixis or Four-Color Control decks that just use Release to the Winds or partially powered Bring to Light implies there is definitely a power upgrade across the format happening.

I’m giving anyone who said Hengegate Pathway initially full credit for the response, since Teferi, Time Raveler was still legal. I’ll save my arguments about how Teferi only improves competitive play since it seems like the card causes disproportionate levels of mental anguish to the broader player base who doesn’t get thrills from figuring out precise mana counts for Mystical Dispute and Negate stacks. I’ll just accept that it’s fine to draw a line in the sand of “things kinda like Blood Moon aren’t okay for Pioneer” and let people cast their Finale of Promise in peace. 

In reality, Hengegate Pathway probably should be in these five cards because eventually it will matter the most; it just isn’t the case right now. Right now, Darkbore Pathway casting Catacomb Sifter and Bolas’s Citadel just matters more, and Faceless Haven bashing people out of Mono-Black Aggro and Vampires matters more.

I’m pleasantly surprised to include Esika’s Chariot though. Beyond just the raw rate, the card has an absurd number of synergies that have resulted in it being a multiple-archetype all-star. Not only are you blinking it with Yorion, Sky Nomad and Transmogrifying the tokens, it added the power and width of play that Naya Winota really needed. We haven’t even gotten to how it interacts with Saheeli Rai if anyone plays that card again, where you can copy the Chariot, attack with the token copy, copy that token with the Chariot trigger, and end up a crazy Cat Wizard with six Cat tokens and a Chariot.

It should also be no surprise that Ross Merriam had the most accurate initial predictions of the group, and it bodes well for Pioneer’s future that was the case. I would bet on Ross having played more Pioneer with more decks than anyone else writing the first time around, and being able to use that accumulated deck knowledge to make accurate predictions about the future of a format reminds me a lot of Modern at its best.

Ryan Overturf

Previous List

  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  

New List

  1. Esika’s Chariot
  2. Valki, God of Lies // Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor
  3. Esika, God of the Tree // The Prismatic Bridge
  4. Binding the Old Gods
  5. The Raven’s Warning

When I initially looked over Kaldheim for Pioneer, I was most confident in Birgi providing a new angle for red decks and Usher of the Fallen being a good tool for Winota decks. I was optimistic about Valki for Grixis Control, and picked a couple of role-players for decks that were Tier 2 prior to release.

In a weird way, my list missed both in not selecting the cards involved in major shifts in Pioneer deck construction and in not respecting how much would have to change for some of my selections to really take off. It’s true that Birgi has seen some Pioneer play, though it has mostly been in Lotus Field combo decks. It just doesn’t offer enough to make players stop companioning Lurrus of the Dream-Den in their red decks. Valki shows up, but primarily when the punchline is to get a five-mana Tibalt off Bring to Light. 

On the other side of things, Yorion decks gained a ton of tools from Kaldheim that I didn’t fully grasp until I saw them in action. I suspected that Yorion gained a lot from the companion nerf given that it’s still a free card and Pioneer games tend to last long enough for you to take advantage of that sort of thing, but that didn’t play out immediately to the extent that I expected. A handful of powerful Sagas have moved the needle further in that direction. I was pretty cold on Esika, God of the Tree initially, but much like Valki, it gains a ton of value from the ability to Bring to Light out The Prismatic Bridge. 

The card that I missed by the most is Esika’s Chariot. I dunno, maybe being a dog person cost me here. Esika’s Chariot being a Vehicle that snowballs value while crewing itself and that also synergizes with several powerful cards has turned out to be a huge deal. When I see it in decklists it just makes sense that it’s seeing play, but I sure didn’t predict that it would! Not only is a Turn 4 Chariot considerably more powerful than I read it to be at first blush, but it also sets up more good Yorion turns and provides tokens for Transmogrify and other ways to cheat out Agent of Treachery. 

So what’s the lesson here? Maybe it’s that I’m out of touch, though for my sake I’d hope there’s something more actionable that I could work with. My read for now is that Pioneer is a Lurrus and Yorion format that mostly only has room for other significant power outliers, and until something dramatic changes that’ll be the lens through which I analyze future sets for Pioneer. 

Todd Anderson

Previous List

  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

New List

  1. Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider
  2. Faceless Haven
  3. Valki, God of Lies // Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor
  4. Esika’s Chariot
  5. Behold the Multiverse

It’s actually incredible how many Kaldheim cards have significantly impacted Pioneer. I would count all of my previous five cards a “hit” in terms of playability, but there are so many cards that have found a voice! Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider surprised me. The moment I cast it, something felt different. I could feel how heavily it impacted my opponent’s permanents. I could hear their heart beat in desperation as they struggled to answer such a behemoth. Vorinclex has fundamentally reshaped Mono-Green Devotion, one of the most powerful and consistent decks ever to grace the Pioneer format.

Faceless Haven continues to impress in older formats. I love the speed and brutality with which it closes games. The heavy hits for such a small investment is critical to the success of many aggro decks already. The four-point chunks border on grotesque and it becomes comical after you realize you get to tap it for mana on the same turn. Faceless Haven will fight with Mutavault for some spots, but it’s found quite a few homes already.

Valki, God of Lies continues to add some spice to the format. A few decks have adopted the classic Bring to Light method, while others still try to cheat it with Release to the Wind. The gameplay is actually pretty fun even when you’re on the losing side. It’s powerful and generates a snowballing advantage, but some combos are easy enough to disrupt or interactive with that it’s just fine having them around. For Pioneer specifically, all the ways to cheat it onto the battlefield seem pretty fair. Even if it happens on the third turn, it requires two cards and leaves a lot of vulnerability. Plus, a gimmicked Tibalt doesn’t necessarily mean game over.

Esika’s Chariot surprised me. It’s fine, I guess, but the games where you get to attack with it feel easy. Generating extra threats while attacking for decent chunks is pretty wild, but Esika’s Chariot goes even further than that. It’s a permanent you can find off Narset, Parter of Veils that just so happens to generate creatures. Imagine a card that works excellently with Yorion. It also weaves its web around all the Transmogrify combos to create a truly stunning trap. I don’t really know why, but I’ve also seen some people jam it into Naya Winota, so maybe it’s just incredible on rate as well as versatility.

Behold the Multiverse has yet again proven itself worthy of pairing with Torrential Gearhulk. I suspect that will be the case in any format where people want to play Torrential Gearhulk, as it’s just a better version of Glimmer of Genius, one of my favorite draw spells. Foretell is a powerful mechanic, allowing you to cheat a more expensive spell into existence by paying one more mana across those two turns. It’s particularly strong on instants because you have the option to just cast them on your opponent’s turn. Behold the Multiverse is particularly impressive because it doesn’t “cost one more mana” as was the norm with the other foretell cards and is appropriately costed at the original mana value. What more could you want?

There are so many cool cards in Kaldheim that have affected Pioneer in a positive way. I’ve enjoyed my experiences with all the ones I’ve touched, as well as encountered from the opposing side of the battlefield. What a home-run set.

Ross Merriam

Previous List

  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

New List

  1. Blightstep Pathway // Searstep Pathway
  2. Valki, God of Lies // Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor
  3. Esika’s Chariot
  4. Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider
  5. Faceless Haven

Overall, not a bad initial list. I keyed in on the Pathways being important, though Hengegate has missed relative to Blightstep. I’ve been working under the assumption that aggressive strategies in Selesnya and Azorius have been primarily hindered by their mana, and I’ll have to revise that moving forward. We saw some Spirits early on this season, but over time it’s clear that Rakdos benefited much more, with Rakdos Arcanist, Jund Sacrifice, and Rakdos Midrange all utilizing the additional dual land to good effect.

In fact, Hengegate Pathway has fallen entirely out of my Top 5. Valki has helped to elevate Five-Color Niv-Mizzet to bogeyman status, pushing it to second place, and Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider has impressed much more than In Search of Greatness in Mono-Green Devotion, so it moves up a spot as well. The two newcomers to my Top 5 are solid rate cards whose obvious home I missed at first.

Esika’s Chariot has breathed new life into Transmogrify decks, offering them not only a powerful source of targets for their namesake spell but also a threat that excels in both aggressive and controlling matchups while further synergizing with Yorion. It requires stretching the mana a bit but the cost is more than worthwhile. Chariot also buffed Naya Winota, so its double home earns it the third spot on the new list.

And lastly, I went with Faceless Haven over The Raven’s Warning. Both have had a relatively small impact, but while The Raven’s Warning is a niche application in a single deck, I think Faceless Haven’s role in Mono-Black Aggro is generalizable moving forward. Any mono-colored aggro deck that can handle more than four colorless lands should now consider supplementing its Mutavaults with Faceless Haven. It’s too easy to dismiss the latter as worse than the former, but you always have to ask yourself, why not both? So I see more possibility for a sustained role in the metagame for Faceless Haven, and thus it earns my last spot.

Cedric Phillips

Previous List

  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

New List

  1. Esika’s Chariot
  2. Blightstep Pathway // Searstep Pathway
  3. Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider
  4. Valki, God of Lies // Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor
  5. Faceless Haven

Let’s just get this out of the way right now — my previous list is rather embarrassing. I felt that Valki would be fantastic where it has been merely okay. Maybe that’s because Uro got banned on February 15, so we didn’t get to see that interaction as much as we had expected, but I can’t say it’s a top performer in the format even if it is a great Bring to Light target.

Like many others have stated, Hengegate Pathway underperformed due to Teferi, Time Raveler (correctly) being banned. Old-Growth Troll and In Search of Greatness have been fine but, again, I see them as underperformers given what my initial expectations were. As for Fall of the Impostor… well… just… whatever…

As for the new additions, Esika’s Chariot has been awesome and I’m disappointed in myself for not realizing that the card is basically Cloudgoat Ranger on steroids. I had pegged Faceless Haven for minor success in Standard (I was wrong there too…) but I didn’t expect it to impact older formats like Pioneer in the way that it has (especially since Mutavault is an option). Lastly, big shoutout to Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider on really changing the game for Mono-Green Devotion. I felt like Old-Growth Troll and In Search of Greatness would be the ones to do that, and they still might, but for now, one cannot argue the success of Vorinclex in that archetype.

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

5. Faceless Haven — 9 points

T-3. Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider — 14 points

T-3. Blightstep Pathway // Searstep Pathway — 14 points

2. Esika’s Chariot — 17 points

1. Valki, God of Lies // Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor — 20 points

Cya back here tomorrow to review Kaldheim’s impact on Modern!