Re-evaluating Mono-Colored Cards in Pioneer
By Lucas Bryant
The introduction of the Pioneer format reinvigorated Magic: The Gathering’s player base like few other developments in the game’s rich history. Though still in its infancy, the neophyte format has already seen the rise and fall of several powerful strategies, and boasts an incredible diversity in its metagame. Surely, with so many cards to revisit and a competitive environment still developing, it’s easy for certain options to slip through the cracks, unnoticed, and harder still to sift through those options for evaluation. Here, we’ll revisit two mono-colored cards in each color and look at what they offer to players still navigating the brewer’s paradise of the Pioneer format.
Few creatures are as iconic to Magic players like White’s angels, and many of us can recall the powerhouse that Lyra Dawnbringer was in standards past. Harkening back to the same role as a control finisher that many of her angelic forbears played throughout the history of the game, Lyra can continue this tradition in Pioneer as well, offering both a way to close out a game and provide a hedge against aggro and burn strategies as a way to buffer your life total. But no matter whether she’s a control finisher or a top end for white aggro, there’s no simpler way to put it—Lyra is a 5/5 flying, lifelinking, beatstick, and worthy of consideration for you Pioneer builds.
Honorable mention: Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants
Magic Origins’ Languish has proven itself as a popular and powerful choice of board wipe in pioneer, and while go-wide strategies in Standards past could lean on cards like Heroic Intervention or Unbreakable Formation to shore up this weakness, Languish’s stat reduction effect offers no such luxury, making White’s signature “create a small army” strategy incredibly vulnerable to blowout. Luckily though, Core Set 2019’s Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants is worth a second glance for helping these strategies combat Languish and other board-wipes in general. Every one of the Leonin’s abilities helps on this front: his +1 ability helps lift your larger threats above the -4/-4 threshold, the -2 can bring back a creature destroyed by the board wipe, and his -7 ensures that you always have a handful of creatures to swing at your opponent.
In total honesty, Mission Briefing is as close as we’ll ever see to a Snapcaster Mage in pioneer, and allows control and midrange strategies to reuse their best spells to stay in the game. And while it may not provide a body to beat down your opponent with in the way that Snapcaster does, the Surveil 2 effect allows the opportunity to dig for an instant or sorcery that may not have been in your graveyard to begin with, while also filling up your bin to flip a Search for Azcanta, feed your Crackling Drakes, reanimate an Arclight Phoenix, or whatever the case may be. Instant and Sorcery recursion is powerful and seldom offered at the rate of two Blue mana at Instant speed. Mission Briefing is worth a once-over for your Blue-based decks.
Honorable Mention: Gadwick, the Wizened
Tapping down your opponent’s nonland permanents whenever you cast a blue spell may seem like a benign effect, but when stapled onto a creature who can refill your hand with blue spells to keep threatening creatures out of the way as he carries you to victory is an extremely satisfying play pattern. In the right deck, Gadwick rewards you for doing what Blue mages want to do by turning all of your cantrips and counterspells into a way of keeping your opponent’s creatures out of the red zone. Combine with Verity Circle for maximum jank. 10/10.
While Black Devotion and Vampires players may not be surprised to see the Aetherborn here, I would argue that this two-drop deserves more play than it sees currently and begs for at least sideboard consideration from every deck that can reliably cast it on turn two. Three toughness on turn two is nothing to scoff at. Coupled with lifelink and deathtouch, Gifted Aetherborn stonewalls early aggressive creatures from Red and/or White aggressive decks, and disincentivizes both attacks and blocks while bolstering your life total. Against burn strategies, this lifegain is invaluable, and if an opponent targets the Aetherborn with a Lightning Strike instead of you, the trusty vampire has still functionally gained you three life. Even outside of the main deck, Gifted Aetherborn is still a side board all-star against these strategies. If you can manage two Black mana in the early game, Gifted Aetherborn awaits your consultation.
Honorable Mention: Cry of the Carnarium
Remember when I mentioned how powerful Languish is? Sometimes turn four is too late to start cleaning shop. Cry of the Carnarium is more, great sideboard tech against aggro, downright punishing early overcommitment to the board and condemning your opponent to a period of rebuilding, all the while shutting down dying triggers and possible future graveyard shenanigans by exiling all creatures that would die the turn it was cast. Keep Cry in mind for aggro-heavy metas.
Overload is an Izzet mage’s dream mechanic and allows more utility out of your card selection by letting spells with a single target instead hit multiple targets in exchange for higher mana investment. Though Sorcery speed, four damage for two mana is a necessity in some matchups and is a desirable effect for many strategies, particularly to combat base-Green decks that can churn out large creatures very early. A turn two Mizzium Mortars can kill a turn two Yorvo, Lord of Garenbrig, and that’s that. But at Sorcery speed, damage that can only hit creatures can be less than stellar in many circumstances. That’s where Overload comes in—be it in Red-based aggro to get beefy creatures out of the way, or in Red-splash control to kill those creatures before they can swing in, Mizzium Mortars can kill those larger threats early, to be sure. But in the late game, Mortars can be a one sided board-wipe, which is worth almost any price, six mana or otherwise. If either solid creature removal in Red or a one-sided board wipe catches your interest, Mizzium Mortars can overload the power of your Pioneer deck.
Honorable Mention: Sweltering Suns
In a format where Anger of the Gods is legal, Sweltering Suns may seem like an odd inclusion. The exile clause of Anger of the Gods is nice in a meta where graveyard nonsense is afoot, but one thing that Sweltering Suns has over its Therosian cousin is the ability to replace itself in your hand at instant speed. Cycling is an easy mechanic to overlook. But in a heavy control strategy that looks to wipe the board often and as early as possible, Sweltering Suns is likely a better choice. Two generic mana can draw you a card later in the game when Suns doesn’t do the job, or in matchups where main deck Suns is dead in your hand.
Green has had many powerful cards banned out from under it in these early stages of Pioneer’s development. Luckily for us, Green still boast an almost unimaginable amount of three-mana threats to play on turn two off the back of your trusty mana elves. Rhonas does come with the downside of not being unable to attack unless you control another giant idiot, but Green decks are full of absolute lads to ensure that Rhonas can swing in. Incredibly hard to deal with thanks to indestructibility, deathtouch is also nice in that even if your opponent does manage to find a creature bigger than the God of Strength, they’re encouraged not to swing in or else Rhonas simply eats up the attacker. Late game, Rhonas’ activated ability (there’s seriously more text on this card) makes one of your creatures even bigger and give it trample, potentially bringing Rhonas online if he wasn’t already, meaning that Rhonas pairs incredibly well with literally any other creature. Speaking of which…
Honorable Mention: Nullhide Ferox
A 6/6 for four mana is already an incredible rate. And if there were no other text on this card, that would be plenty. But the play between Ferox’s other three abilities offers great utility in removal heavy matchups. Consider this: Your opponent wants to kill your Ferox. They pay two generic mana to have it lose its abilities until end of turn, which includes its Hexproof. Your opponent pays three mana and casts Swift End targeting Nullhide Ferox. Because your opponent did you the favor of getting rid of Nullhide’s abilities, you’re free to cast noncreature spells. You cast Blossoming Defense to give Ferox +2/+2 and Hexproof. You still have your beater, now an 8/8, and you opponent has spent five total mana for no effect. Heroic intervention also enables this play pattern. Against control matchups, this taxing effect to remove Hexproof only for you to give it back in response to removal is invaluable to ensuring that your creatures stick around to finish the job. Nullhide Ferox is begging to be tagged into your Green stompy lists.
So what are you brewing with in Pioneer? Share the article with your thoughts or hit me on Twitter to let me know your thoughts or share your lists! If you want to see more articles like this one or on different subjects in Magic: The Gathering, send your support to myself and the Proprietors of Tapstart Games.
Lucas Bryant is a writer, Vorthos, and Tapstart regular. He plays deeply medium cards in both Commander and Pioneer. You can find him on Facebook and as @_entropymage on Twitter.