Pioneer, for much of its existence, has been a pretty controversial format. Many players deemed the format somewhat dull for a while given the domination of Rakdos Midrange and Mino-Green Devotion. While the recent bans as well as the release of The Lost Caverns of Ixalan helped shake up the format to a degree, Rakdos Midrange remains a dominant force within the metagame.
Players have also previously complained about the play/draw dynamic of Pioneer where, in many games, losing the die roll against great starts from the opponent can feel like a death sentence. The emergence of Boros Convoke only seemed to exacerbate these feelings.
One thing that has drawn players to the format, however, is the fact that it is essentially comprised of sets that were at one point Standard legal. This meant that Pioneer largely resembled a format that wasn’t overwhelmingly powerful, but still gave players a chance to immerse themselves in a non-rotating environment.
According to a recent response by MTG head designer Mark Rosewater on a Blogatog post, though, there’s a real possibility that a Pioneer Horizons set could be coming in the future. To be clear, Rosewater is only stating that something like Pioneer Horizons could be a real possibility.
To be clear, though, there is no confirmation that this will actually happen. This could also indicate a different Horizons set like Legacy Horizons is a possibility since the question was simply addressing whether a Horizons set for a non-Modern format was a realistic possibility. Either way, this got some players talking about the possibility of a Pioneer Horizons set.
This would have major ramifications for the format, for better or for worse. To understand exactly what this could mean, it’s important to take a closer look at exactly what various “Horizons” sets bring to the table and the impact they have on their associated formats.
Impact of Modern Horizons Sets
The most famous, or perhaps infamous, of the Horizons sets are definitely Modern Horizons I and Modern Horizons II. Supposedly, the main goal of these Modern Horizons sets in general was to print cards directly into the format without them entering Standard. Part of the issue with trying to design cards that are powerful enough to see play in formats like Modern that have comparatively vast card pools is that it could be way too strong in a Standard environment.
For instance, printing a card like Solitude into Standard could be disastrous and would likely result in the card getting banned in short order. By focusing a set on printing cards directly into Modern while bypassing Standard and Pioneer, you have a bit more freedom to push specific cards and mechanics.
In theory, this sounds like a reasonable idea. In practice, though, these Modern Horizons sets resulted in a multitude of overpowered cards that eventually needed to get banned. While Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis is perhaps the most egregious design from either Modern Horizons set, Fury ended up eventually getting the axe as well.
Modern Horizons II, in particular, came with a lot of criticism. The reality is, for better or for worse, tons of these cards were so pushed that the metagame quickly morphed around the best of the best from the set. It has been over two years since the release of Modern Horizons II and over four years since the release of Modern Horizons I.
Yet, even today, almost every tier one deck is defined by cards from these sets. From Crashing Footfalls to Murktide Regent to Urza’s Saga and beyond, these cards revolutionized Modern forever. Many previous tier one decks, such as Humans or Infect, essentially became obsolete.
Potential Upsides of Horizons Sets
Where sets like Modern Horizons do deliver, though, is in shaking up formats to help keep them less stale over time. Every time a Horizons set comes out, the associated format is bound to change. Even post-Hogaak ban, Modern was in a very different place with the release of Modern Horizons I. The release of Modern Horizons II only shook up the format once more. Later in 2024, Modern Horizons III is set to release, likely to have a similar impact.
This is where having a Pioneer Horizons set could come in handy. While the banning of Karn, the Great Creator and Geological Appraiser helped remove some “unfun” play patterns from the format, many players would argue Lotus Field combo and Fable of the Mirror-Breaker out of Rakdos midrange don’t lend themselves to the most fun situations.
As Brad Nelson points out, the goal is often to keep formats both fun and replayable, which isn’t always easy. From the days of Inverter of Truth onward, Pioneer has been quite combo heavy. While combo can be an important pillar of a format, too much combo can lead to plenty of non-interactive games where being on the play feels even more important. Horizons sets can keep a format fresh, which might help lure players into the format in question.
Issues of Price
One of the glaring issues with Horizons sets, though, which was omnipresent with Modern Horizons II, is the price of high rarity staples. When Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer first came out, the card was worth a huge sum of money. Simultaneously, tons of decks used a playset, requiring players to shell out roughly $400 to optimize certain strategies. Up until Ragavan was featured as a Multiverse Legend on the March of the Machine bonus sheet back in April 2023, the card maintained a price tag well over $60 each according to TCGplayer market price history.
Even beyond the price of picking up singles, the meta-warping nature of Horizons sets forced players to purchase new cards to adapt. There was a long period where decks like Jund and mono-green Tron remained relatively unchanged. This meant that, despite a large initial investment, players could continue bringing the same deck to Friday Night Magic week in and week out. With the constant influx of cards, this seems impossible moving forward.
Downsides of Pioneer Horizons Sets and Player Reaction
“since when has this changed???? what happened to the “pioneer is always going to be standard legal sets” statements we always hear???”yaoiketamin
One of the biggest gripes players seem to have over the idea of a Pioneer Horizons set is that it would ruin the maintenance of a non-rotating format made up of only Standard sets. Obviously, the Modern Horizons sets themselves were relatively controversial. For players that enjoyed the metagame shifts provided and the overall increase in power level of the format, Modern remained a solid format of choice. For players that weren’t a big fan of these Horizons sets in general, Pioneer was a perfect place to turn to.
By introducing Pioneer Horizons, Wizards of the Coast threatens to turn Pioneer into Modern-lite. Many players believe a huge appeal of Pioneer is the low-powered nature of the format overall, which would likely be completely tarnished by a Pioneer Horizons set.
“I hope not. we have modern for that, let pioneer be pioneer”theothin
Generally speaking, a lot of players seem to be heavily against the addition of a Pioneer Horizons set. It’s nice to maintain Pioneer’s identity, which a Pioneer Horizons set threatens to dismantle. This would perhaps be more reasonable years down the line as the Pioneer card pool continues to grow. Either way, it’s worth monitoring if any additional hints get spoiled in the future, as a Pioneer Horizons set could have massive consequences.