It's not often that Magic: The Gathering introduces a brand-new format for players to try and crack, so consider these very lucky times. Much like when Modern was first introduced, the announcement of the constructed Pioneer format has professional and casual players very excited. With so few cards banned to start out, many brewers are already hard at work trying to figure out which cards are going to be the most busted in Pioneer.
Wizards of the Coast's decision to start out by only banning the fetch lands is a very interesting one. This means that Magic: The Gathering players have every other spell from the designated timeframe at their disposable and only the problem of mana fixing and graveyard populating to solve. Players are up to the challenge and many experts have already identified a shortlist of cards to watch out for when they pop up on an opponent's decklist.
Keep in mind that the format is sure to adjust as testing and tournaments are underway and some cards that seem insane and expensive right now may drop out of favor and others that aren't even on anyone's radar (Satyr Wayfinder, anyone?) will grow in popularity. With that in mind, here are the cards that expert deck builders are currently the most excited to use in an attempt to break the Pioneer format.
Dig Through Time/Treasure Cruise
Let's chat about this pair of iconic Delve cards right off the bat. Some players are insisting that the lack of fetch lands will make Dig Through Time and Treasure Cruise irrelevant, but that probably won't be the case. Sure, it's going to be a lot harder to break these cards without graveyards filling up with fetch lands, but they are still a serious card advantage threat and shouldn't be overlooked when facing off against control decks... Or even a red/blue aggro deck looking to get some extra card draw value out of all of those burn spells in the bin.
While on the topic of cards that aren't quite as powerful without fetch lands, it's important to mention Deathrite Shaman. Yes, this card isn't going to be the same sort of powerhouse that we've seen it be before without fetch lands, but much like Cruise and Dig, it still should not be underestimated. Deathrite Shaman still packs a ton of value and with Abzan sure to be a powerful archetype (see Siege Rhino below), Deathrite is likely going to find a home in a lot of decks.
Emrakul, the Promised End
This version of Emrakul does exactly what players want to happen when casting an Eldrazi: It makes it nearly impossible for the opponent to get another turn. Emrakul is a huge swing when it hits the board and Pioneer is a set that goes deep enough to contain some very clever ways to get this massive Lovecraftian beast onto the battlefield without coming anywhere near paying its actual mana cost. The format shouldn't be degenerate enough to allow for turn two or three Eldrazi, but it will be very interesting to see just how fast some decks are able to get Emrakul on the board and in control of the match.
This is exactly the kind of card that players hope to break the format with. Nothing like a wombo-combo to infuriate opponents and eventually ruin a tournament format, right? Jeskai Ascendancy has the potential to take over games and completely lock opponents out of the match, so deck brewers will be looking for every possibility to take advantage of its potential. Just make sure to be familiar with the common triggers and have a close eye on the clock when playing these brews.
This one may seem to obvious, but it still needs to be mentioned. When Pioneer was first announced Aetherworks Marvel is the first card that came to many players' minds. Get ready to see this artifact show up on a ton of decklists, but also be easily answered when every sideboard in the format is prepared to handle it. That said, if left unanswered it's going to run away with a ton of games.
Ugin, The Spirit Dragon
Ugin is one of the most powerful planeswalkers ever printed in Magic, despite its steep mana cost. The fact that it is still near the top of the list despite costing eight mana should give a hint as to just how serious its abilities are. There will be a few different Pioneer deck archetypes that want to take advantage of Ugin, including a lot of ramp decks, but its really going to be another major tool for control players.
The age of Siege Rhino is back. Although Siege Rhino isn't broken in the sense that it wins the game the turn it hits the table, it still backs enough value to make the list. The standout creature from the Khans of Tarkir era of Standard was powerful enough to make a name for itself in Modern for a while and that will very likely also be the case for Pioneer. When casting Siege Rhino's, just get ready to play around Oko's annoying abilities...
It wasn't all that long ago that Arclight Phoenix was dominating multiple tables at the Pro Tour and it will likely be making a return to the top level of play at Mythic Championships thanks to Pioneer. This powerful creature feels unanswerable and requires tons of resources for players to handle. It also takes advantage of the many cheap can trips that players have access to in the new format.
Anytime a card gets as much attention across formats as Eldrazi Displacer has in its lifetime it is worth considering for new formats. Although there isn't an obvious way to use Eldrazi Displacer to break the format quite yet, it is definitely going to be coming. This is a very powerful card and will likely be a key components to multiple combo strategies as the format settles.
The ban list is sure to grow as players figure out ways to exploit some of these super powerful cards in the coming months, but for now it is very exciting to see what the brewers come up with and watch closely as playtesting continues and the new format evolves.
Be sure to check back in the near future for more Magic: The Gathering strategy guides, news, and updates. Until then, draw well, planeswalkers!
Magic Arena is available now in select regions on Android and iOS devices. The Magic: The Gathering Throne of Eldraine expansion set will release October 4, 2019.