Post-Ban Pioneer

Corey Baumeister and Ross Merriam battle in post-ban Pioneer! Can Jeskai Vehicles run over Azorius Control?

Round 1: Jeskai Vehicles VS Azorius Control

Round 2: Temur Energy VS Izzet Emerge

Round 3: Jeskai Fires VS Rakdos Midrange

Figuring Out Where Pioneer Goes After The Latest Round Of Bannings

How will the Pioneer metagame shape up after Monday’s triple banning? Patrick Chapin charts the decks left standing!

After taking one off, this week’s Pioneer Banned List updates were a bloodbath. Wizards of the Coast has confirmed that they’re still planning to slow down the Banned List announcements at the end of the year, and get the format onto a more normal schedule early next year (though not necessarily by the very first one).

The format has been progressing nicely with each wave of bans, but taking a week off really revealed how much more work was needed. Two of the bans were basically a foregone conclusion, but the other one kind of breaks my heart.

Smuggler's Copter

It’s not that Smuggler’s Copter wasn’t one of the most powerful cards in the format. It totally was. It’s also not that Mono-Black Aggro didn’t need a nerf. It totally did.

I think banning Smuggler’s Copter may have been a mistake, and I hope they consider adding it back in and taking other action.

For starters, the card is really fun, the play is dynamic and there’s a lot to it, it incentives lots of good things, and there are a lot of ways to use the card, despite how much it can’t fit into most strategies. Finally, it’s awesome design without a home. It had a brief moment in Modern, but the format has moved past it. Where else will this card live? Not every card needs to be good somewhere, but this one seems such a wasted opportunity (and to be clear, I own exactly four Smuggler’s Copter).

Okay, I’d hope the above argument can be granted, but it’s still totally understandable to want to go after the second-best card in the black deck (since it would seem that quality, cheap interaction like Thoughtseize is something they want more of in the format, not less).


Okay, let’s say you’re just not going to ban Thoughtseize. Does banning Smuggler’s Copter actually make sense?

Here’s an example of the Mono-Black deck in question:

Players piloting this strategy finished 2nd, 3rd, and 6th in this MTGO Pioneer PTQ, and the deck has been among the most successful basically since Day 1 (or at least since the first few Green Devotion nerfs).

Is Smuggler’s Copter great here? Without question. However, what will the deck look like without Smuggler’s Copter?

Just as not every card is equally strong, so to is not every card equally fun with one another. Is the world really going to have more fun if Pack Rat is the replacement for Smuggler’s Copter?

Pack Rat

It sure seems like the natural one. You’ve already gone lots of cards that play from the graveyard and a playset of Mutavaults. However, let’s just imagine the world ends up using some other two-drop option. What does that look like?

Glint-Sleeve Siphoner Pain Seer Gifted Aetherborn

While these would all be better than Pack Rat, they’re not bringing as much novel gameplay to the table as Smuggler’s Copter. I mean, maybe if we’re lucky, Kitesail Freebooter is part of the equation?

Kitesail Freebooter

Maybe the thought is that there will at least be some variety, since admittedly, if the world really did play a somewhat even mix of these and black’s play rate dropped by 20%, that’s probably a win. I’m skeptical that we’ll see anywhere near that variety, however.

What would I have rather seen banned?

Scrapheap Scrounger

This creature is so much better than the other graveyard recursion aggro threats (of which there are a lot). It’s already had plenty of time in the sun, and it simultaneously contributes to the “sameness” experience of the black aggro deck, being like everything else, yet also would be a serious targeted hit, as it doesn’t see much play elsewhere, and the value over replacement is nearly the same as the Copter, yet some of the replacements offer richer gameplay (and Smuggler’s Copter and Pack Rat are way less good of friends than Scrapheap Scrounger and Pack Rat).

At the end of the day, banning Smuggler’s Copter may be a blow to black aggro, but it doesn’t actually hurt them that much, as its value over replacement here isn’t actually otherworldly or anything. They’ll just use the next-best option and keep it moving. By contrast, banning Smuggler’s Copter is devastating to some other decks, like Izzet Ensoul.

Unlike the black aggro deck, this strategy doesn’t have quite enough good cards to fill it out as it is. What’s the value over replacement for Smuggler’s Copter here?

Now, I’m not saying this strategy needs to be preserved. Maybe it’s faster than they’d like. I’m definitely sympathetic to the idea that giving it a pass might be unwise, if only because there is unlikely to be much variety in the deck from week to week. About 50 cards in the deck were kind of sewn up, and the rest didn’t draw from the deepest well of options. Besides, if they print another good card for this deck, it could easily be like some periods of Affinity’s lifespan, where all that changed were the last four flex slots.

I wouldn’t rule this strategy out, by any means, but losing Copter is a big hit. Here’s where I’d start with an update:

Playing an extra Ghostfire Blade and Metallic Rebuke isn’t necessarily right, but it’s somewhere to start.

Ghostfire Blade Metallic Rebuke

I kind of just wanted the full four Rebukes anyway, but Ghostfire Blade is somewhat risky, with even fewer threats than before.

Steel Overseer Phyrexian Revoker

As for two-mana threats, I’d be interested in trying both Steel Overseer and Phyrexian Revoker (and hopefully we don’t just end up being another boring Walking Ballista deck). Overseer could be a nice direction if the format gets more combo-rific, but I could imagine removal spells actually increasing after these changes. Phyrexian Revoker is kind of interesting, both as a fringe form of interaction and just as a response to a format with Teferi, Time Ravaler and Oko, Thief of Crowns (for now).

Another possible approach is to just adopt the aforementioned Scrapheap Scrounger:

If you’re looking for another Bomat Courier option that sidesteps the bans, you might consider some kind of a Mono-Red deck along the following lines:

I didn’t like Smuggler’s Copter in these decks anyway, and the prevailing trend has been towards something along the lines of the above. Between Black Aggro, Gingerbrute decks, and Green Devotion, there’s no shortage of good looks for Goblin Chainwhirler.

Bonecrusher Giant

I would strongly consider the full playset of these bad boys, for what it’s worth. I think the advantages it affords are sometimes subtle;,and besides, I’m just super-skeptical that if you’ve got room for ten Wild Slashes, Lightning Strikes, and Bonecrusher Giants, that the Giant is what has to give (and that’s to say nothing of possibly not maxing Light Up the Stage and Experimental Frenzy).

Another deck dealt a serious blow by the Smuggler’s Copter ban is Azorius Midrange. This deck seems like exactly the sort of thing the format is short on, rather than long, but c’est la vie.

This deck was already stooping to Selfless Spirit for a second two-drop. Smuggler Copter’s replacement at two isn’t going to be pretty.

Teferi, Time Raveler

Smuggler’s Copter was the only thing holding this deck back from wanting to be all-in on Teferi, Time Raveler. With that incentive out of the way, it’s definitely a green light for him.

Here’s an update:

Who knows? Maybe it’ll be right to play Knight of the White Orchid, Tithe Taker, Remorseful Cleric, Captain of Precinct One, or Siren Stormtamer. Again, I just hope it’s not Walking Ballista.

Adanto Vanguard

Adanto Vanguard is definitely a quality option we could consider, but it does sort of take you in a different direction. If you’re specifically in the market for white aggro, reew2n’s Mono-White Aggro deck was that special kind of list to run Sram, Senior Edificer instead of Smuggler’s Copter.

Sram, Senior Edificer

Obviously, once your deck is built around Auras, like Ethereal Armor and All That Glitters, you kind of have to, but this strategy definitely benefits from the Copter ban.

This strategy has not seemed problematic at all, but I would not put Ethereal Armor at 0% to get banned in the next year. 

Ethereal Armor

Still, if you’re into the Bogles experience, Pioneer’s version is an interesting new breed, sans hexproof. I just think it’s interesting how long this format seems to be on monocolored decks at the moment.

Thassa, God of the Sea Tempest Djinn

Mono-Blue Devotion was definitely another spot where Smuggler’s Copter didn’t really work. The ban is actually super-helpful, as they didn’t really have good answers, and it kind of dominated the skies at times.

I think I’d play more Brazen Borrower, for what it’s worth, but the list looks sweet, including the two copies of Gadwick, the Wizened, who is soooo underrated.

Brazen Borrower Gadwick, the Wizened

Not all blue decks emerged the bans unscathed, however. The Pioneer PTQ winner’s list was definitely a scary sight (also taking fifth in the same event).

Oko, Thief of Crowns

What if your Oko, Thief of Crowns deck had so many one-drop accelerators to choose from, it couldn’t even run them all?

Elvish Mystic Llanowar Elves Gilded Goose

We’re talking about a deck so good, it didn’t even max out on Smuggler’s Copters.

I love Stubborn Denial in these sorts of decks, for what it’s worth, and the move towards more Heart of Kiran only bolsters the claim.

Stubborn Denial Heart of Kiran

This strategy, like most strategies, made great use of Once Upon a Time. What does it do for the deck? It just really, really reduces variance, for no reason.

Once Upon a Time

Here’s an updated build:

As for replacing Once Upon a Time, the answer is going to vary quite a bit from deck to deck. Some decks Once Upon a Time into land more than others, and what sorts of creatures you’re likely to hit really informs what kinds of costs you’ll need (but I’d generally aim low).

This list is actually robust enough, I don’t think losing Once Upon a Time hurts it quite as much as losing it hurts decks that really rely on drawing a good mix of creatures, like Mono-Green Devotion, for instance.

It’s one thing to have a deck that just wants to cast an accelerator on Turn 1, a three-drop on Turn 2, and a four-drop on Turn 3. To actually start to get into needing a mix of Burning-Tree Shaman, an X-spell, and to desperately be digging to Nykthos, well, this is a deck that really relied on Once Upon a Time more than most. 

Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx

A bunch of cards may end up getting banned to keep Nykthos around, but Once Upon a Time was certainly not one of them. That card was getting banned regardless, and I’d enjoy the fun with it in Modern while it lasts. It’s not like the card isn’t going to still be nuts in Legacy and Vintage once its Modern days are through.


The banning of Once Upon a Time in Pioneer is definitely going to be felt in the Hardened Scales department. Like with Mono-Green Devotion, this deck really relies on getting a good mix of stuff together. While Once Upon a Time can’t find the deck’s namesake, it does do a great job of finding Winding Constrictor.

Winding Constrictor

One of the things I love about the Once Upon a Time ban is that it frees up space for each deck to actually play more stuff that is about whatever the deck is about (instead of just doing the same exact thing more often). For instance, what do you replace them with here?

Like, it’s not actually obvious where to go from here without Once Upon a Time. We’re definitely going to need more mana, but even that’s hard, because we’re already maxed on the multicolor lands we want.

We might start with a 2/2 split between land and threats and see if we can get away with it on the manabase. I’m not thrilled at the prospect of playing two Woodland Cemeteries, though.

Woodland Cemetery Hissing Quagmire

I also don’t want to play Hissing Quagmire, either. Playing a land tapped on any of the first three turns is just devastating, considering how low to the ground we’re aiming to be. Unclaimed Territory wouldn’t necessarily be crazy, but it’s not great for supporting the sideboard cards.

Anyway, here’s an attempt:

You know, considering the field was 67% Once Upon a Time, or whatever, there was actually a fair bit of diversity, and I’m excited to see where the format goes with the training wheels now off.

Here’s yet another Once Upon a Time-fueled monstrosity, taking an otherwise unassuming white aggro deck and turning it into a villain:

What do you do with Once Upon a Time?

Thalia's Lieutenant

Oh, I mostly just smooth my mana out while I dig for the best card in my deck.

Once we’re off Once Upon a Time, do we even still splash green? I mean, it’s basically just Heron’s Grace Champion, right? And we could definitely replace that creature with somebody else.

Heron's Grace Champion

Once Upon a Time was not exclusively the domain of creature decks, however. The Simic Omniscience deck by gottelicious is definitely a scary one to see the zero-cost dig spell out of, as it helps them find Fae of Wishes, which kind of pulls the whole thing together. What’s really scary, though, is how often it can put together some combination of Lotus Field / Thespian’s Stage, letting it play a weird kind of Tron game.

Omniscience Lotus Field Thespian's Stage

What does this deck do? Well, just take a look:

Lotus Field is obviously bananas with Vizier of Tumbling Sands, and if you stick a Hidden Strings on Fae of Wishes, you’re kind of going off. Even your card draw can net you lots of mana when your Pore Over the Pages untaps your Lotus Field and your Thespian’s Stage.

Vizier of Tumbling Sands Hidden Strings Pore Over the Pages

All this card draw and mana is building towards Omniscience into Enter the Infinite. With your whole deck in your hand and your cards all free, winning is trivial. For starters, you can Jace, Wielder of Mysteries people out without much trouble.

Jace, Wielder of Mysteries

Finale of Revelation actually costs mana, but it’s got plenty of spots, and it’s not like Emrakul, the Promised End and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon are slouches, either.

Losing Once Upon a Time is going to make the Lotus Field / Thespian’s Stage mana engine much less reliable. Not every Simic combo deck was hurt by the bans, however.

Nexus of Fate

Nexus of Fate continues its proud Pioneer tradition of always dodging every ban. This deck is obnoxious, so hopefully it doesn’t take off any bigger. That said, if you’re into being obnoxious, here’s a good way to do it:

At twelfth place, GGBuffon’s list was actually the highest-finishing deck not hit by at least one of the three bans.

&#8221 [author Possibility Storm[/author]“]

Another combo deck showed up just outside of the Top 16 that couldn’t use Once Upon a Time, despite being a green deck full of creatures it’d love to get.

This deck is built around the interaction between Adventures and Possibility Storm[/author]“][author name="Possibility Storm"]Possibility Storm[/author]. If you cast the Heart’s Desire while you have a Possibility Storm[/author]“][author name="Possibility Storm"]Possibility Storm[/author], the only sorcery in your deck is Enter the Infinite, which draws everything but Borborygmos Enraged.

Enter the Infinite Borborygmos Enraged

From here, you cast the one Walking Ballista, which immediately Possibility Storm[/author]“][author name="Possibility Storm"]Possibility Storms[/author] into the big boy himself. Discard all your lands, and your opponent is toast. Casting Stomp is also effective, as it immediately finds our only instant, Shared Summons.

Shared Summons

Shared Summons can find Lovestruck Beast, if nothing else, and it’s not like it’s the worst backup plan.

While Possibility Storm[/author]“][author name="Possibility Storm"]Possibility Storm[/author] decks also get a smile from the crowd, they’re nowhere near as popular as actual ramp decks, or at least they weren’t. It’s a whole new ballgame now, however.

Field of the Dead is a great example of an awful card to be a pillar of a format (unlike Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, which promotes such great things, all things considered).

Field of the Dead

It was only a matter of time before Field of the Dead fell, as it’s strong in a kind of boring way. It’s repetitive and brutally effective at invalidating multiple classes of archetypes.

While some of these decks played black interaction, like above, and others played more of an almost Tron-like Eldrazi Green style, they were basically just all about Hour of Promise setting up Field of the Dead.

Hour of Promise

Losing Once Upon a Time definitely would have mattered, but so long as this sort of a deck could Hour of Promise for Field of the Dead, we were unlikely to see many folks try to actually playing anything reactive or controlling.

While Gobo2009’s list is going to need to be totally reimagined in light of the bans, maybe we’re supposed to start with something a little closer to BabySoft’s list, which was a little less reliant on Field of the Dead in the first place.

Without the Field of the Dead endgame, we’re going to need to be prepared to win medium and long games with something big, like an Eldrazi. Without the battlefield presence implied by Field of the Dead, we might also need to play a few more Deserts in order to somewhat reliably actually be able to produce blockers when we Hour of Promise.

Here’s a potential update to the archetype, emphasizing the big mana ramp:

While the loss of Field of the Dead is devastating to this archetype, I actually think it’ll bounce back. There will (eventually) be less hate for it, and with less of a target on its back, plus more control and midrange decks for it to try to go over the top of, it’ll find it’s way back into the metagame.

While I’m not thrilled to see Smuggler’s Copter given up on so quickly, it was admittedly pretty high on the “most dangerous cards” list, and maybe the power level they’re aspiring to get the format to was always going to be a problem with cards like Smuggler’s Copter out there appearing so frequently in so many places. While I would consider other possibilities, I could easily believe it if they said they were confident it was going to have to go eventually, regardless of whether today or next month. If they do decide there’s no future in Smuggling, I totally understand. I just hope the stuff that rises up to replace it plays close to as well as it did.

Banning Once Upon a Time is the easiest freeroll ever, and I don’t think we’ve seen the last of its name among the announcements. Field of the Dead at least gets a tear (or so you could argue). Long-term, the format will be much healthier without it. In the short-term, it was particularly crucial when considered through the lens of the Copter getting banned.

While there is something to be said about finally settling down and getting off the weekly bans thing, I’ve got to say, this experiment with such a different approach to them has been a welcome one and a lot of fun to experience.