3, May, 23

MTG Players Lament State of Controversial Format!

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Article at a Glance

Pro Tour Minneapolis is right around the corner! While the few who qualified, and the many who look forward to watching, are anticipating the Standard showdown with heavy fervor, this is not the competitive format at the forefront of many MTG players’ minds. The current Regional Championship cycle and the next one, instead, are focused on the Pioneer format.

There is a large crowd of players who are not too fond of the format. Dominated by powerful strategies that commonly involve the ‘two ships passing in the night’ sort of gameplay, linear Pioneer decks are commonly, so powerful that whoever ends up ahead quickly snowballs out of control. One of the Pioneer authorities has spoken up regarding this, and a lot of MTG players are echoing his sentiments, asking for the format to change.

Pioneer Controversy

Todd Anderson, widely regarded as one of the biggest Pioneer streamers in the community, decorated with multiple competitive accolades, posted a Twitter thread talking about some of the more frustrating trends in the Pioneer format. Many players have echoed Todd’s sentiments regarding the format, and the thread is trending pretty heavily in the community as a result. To break down the words of wisdom that Anderson had for aspiring Pioneer masters, here are the biggest ones regarding a lack of agency:

  • Pioneer is heavily play/draw dependent. Whoever is on the play has a significant advantage, and there’s not much players can do about that other than win the die roll
  • There are a lot of ‘ships passing in the night’ decks that don’t care too much about what the opponent is doing. This drastically reduces the amount of meaningful interactive decisions that players can make over the course of a game and can, ultimately, boil the game down to a simple “can you answer my gigantic turn? If you can, you win! If you can’t, you lose.”
  • For players who are playing these decks, sometimes your deck just ceases to work, and there’s not much you can do about it. Greasefang Combo, Mono-Green Devotion, and Lotus Field Combo are some examples of this.
  • There are some absolutely devastating matchups for almost any deck. Because Pioneer has a lot of powerful gameplans that do not provide a ton of meaningful ways of interacting with them, it’s common to have a nightmare matchup on almost any deck you decide to play. Running into this matchup is likely to give you a loss in your run, regardless of how well you play.

These are some of the biggest complaints overall from some players who partake in the Pioneer format. There are a lot of elements that feel out of control to the player that impacts the game state too much and, ultimately, creates fewer ‘edges’ that players can easily access to eke out a win in a game. This isn’t to say the edges aren’t there – quite the opposite sometimes. As Anderson mentions in his thread, these edges are not intuitive and sometimes require a lot of experience to make use of. For this reason, Pioneer is a format where deck mastery may trump deck selection.

The Community Agrees

Anderson’s thread goes into a lot more detail in regards to what players can do to try and shore up the uncontrollable aspects of the format (you can take a look at that here), but, for the most part, players agree with the sentiments being shared here:

“Tbh I agree with everything he said.

I like Standard bc the power level is pretty flat so blowouts aren’t too common.

Modern and Legacy have extremely strong decks but their interaction levels match their threat levels. So the end result is powerful gameplay but you can prevent blowouts from happening if you want.

Pioneer… has crazy threat level relative to the answers. All the interaction is super conditional so if things don’t line up right then you just lose. Like vs Mono G if you have Aether Gust/Change The Equation instead of Negate then Karn resolves. You drew interaction and it just didn’t matter.

Really feelsbad.

I’m playing Pioneer only because I’m qualified for the RC.”


“I mean, he’s right though. Mono Green and Lotus Field being two of the top decks pushes hard in the direction you described.”


“He’s absolutely not wrong from a statistics standpoint, born out by my own stats, those of my competitive friends, and those of many grinders online and even what you can access via stuff like mtgtop8. The die roll is more impactful in Pioneer than Modern, Legacy, or even Pauper, and unless Standard set design changes that will always be the case. The majority of the interaction starts at 2 or is sorcery speed and without a sea change in design we aren’t going to see more mana-efficient answers to fight against FIRE era threats. I enjoy Pioneer, but it’s hard to take it as seriously as other 1v1 formats when you are so disadvantaged by losing the die roll, my stats for the last six months moving from around 64% on the play to 48% on the draw.

A great example of one of these threats: Ob Nixilis, the Adversary. It’s hard to fit in anything aside from Rakdos Sacrifice, so it will never have a bannable meta share, but against some decks, especially on the play, two planeswalkers that protect themselves and set up a 4 turn clock are entirely unbeatable. There is no 2 mana answer to this play. In fact the only playable instant speed answer at all, Summary Dismissal, is 4 mana. Brotherhood’s End can help clean things up, but generally at least one walker will survive and you haven’t put yourself on the board to help.

New Polukranos is a 4/5 with reach that lands turn 2. If you wanna see why aggro decks are gone from the format, it’s not even the removal pile that is midrange that does them in the most, it’s that you stop being able to attack on turn 2 against Green and Gruul. When 3/3s and 4/4+s start at two and three mana in an eight dork format, your removal isn’t going to be enough as you have to 2 for 1 yourself at best to get through. Alternatively, why play a synergistic pile of attackers when Greasefang just nullified your gameplan by almost one-shotting you and having so many blockers that your only hope is to Brave the Elements for lethal this exact turn cycle?

New Tyvar reads “killing my best two drop is useless for the rest of the game” unless answered on the stack. Atraxa reads “four for one yourself or die”.

It should be somewhat troublesome that the majority of new decks in the format are trying to cheat out giant threats because they know the reward is worth it even if you are stopped 1-2 times along the way.”


Many Think It’s Not as Bad as It Sounds

While a lot of the downsides to the Pioneer format have been agreed upon as a whole, a lot of players still love the format despite it. While all of the things that have been mentioned have truth to them, a lot of this is chalked up to the absence of meaningful interaction. There is still a lot of room to brew in the Pioneer format as long as you respect the stronger strategies the format has to offer instead of brewing despite them:

“Pioneer is the only format i brew in, it’s absolutely not hostile to creativity, but you have to know the format, you also have to accept that you’re probably not going to making something top tier. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be good, or interesting to play.”


“It’s not nearly as brewer hostile as he makes it out to be, the format is just very hostile to reactive play. You really need to play to the board, and if you are running removal it needs to be incredibly efficient. Counterspells are pretty bad as a whole, though you can play some bizarre control builds.

It definitely favors linear strategies, but there’s a lot of room to experiment within those constraints. My personal pet deck is Spaghetti Red, which is pretty strong against Mono-G, Greasefang, Phoenix, and does okay against stuff like Soldiers and Rakdos. I’ve also seen a lot of new Rogues brews having success off the back of the new MOM additions.

I’d liken it to pre-Horizons Modern, where you could brew a lot as long as your deck had a gameplan against Tron.”


Many players have likened the current state of Pioneer to ‘2015 Modern,’ or Modern, before the record-breaking Modern Horizons sets started coming out. To some extent, Lotus Field Combo, Greasefang Combo, and even Mono Green Devotion can be likened to Tron. They demand you to have a concrete plan for the strategy that dodges a lot of general interaction that’s good in every matchup. If you come with a plan, these matchups are all very beatable. That said, because of the unique ways these decks attack the format, it’s difficult to find general interaction that performs well across the board.

Read More: Massive MTG Multiverse Changes Open Endless Possibilities!

What Do I Think?

As I have mentioned in the odd article that discusses Pioneer, I play a lot of Lotus Field Combo. I’m definitely not one of the best pilots out there for the deck, but I have won multiple RCQs and have done well in MTGO challenges and RCs with the strategy. What Anderson talks about is, in my opinion, pretty accurate of the format at the higher competitive level of it. Still, it also offers a mode of play that is very distinct from other MTG formats.

I love Pioneer because I can play something silly like Lotus Field Combo, fully knowing that there will be some games where the deck doesn’t work or I run into some disgusting interactive pieces that are very tough to beat. That said, I care more about the type of Magic I get to play over winning every single game. Lotus Field Combo offers a lot of complicated routes that take a long time to learn, which still presents constant learnings from each loss. Still, the deck also has a lot of decision-making that, while ignoring a lot of what your opponent is doing, makes the deck incredibly fluid depending on what approach you want to take to what matchup.

As mentioned, however, interaction with most Lotus Field builds (outside of the mirror) is absent, and being on the play is incredibly important. This does create blowout games on both sides where decision making doesn’t matter too much as long as neither player is throwing the entire game.

If you’re a competitive player that wants as much agency over a game as possible, you will lose some games in the Pioneer format strictly because your opponent’s gameplan had a strong start, and there’s nothing you can do to interact with it. This is true for every format, but happens a bit more often in Pioneer. This can occasionally make decision-making somewhat irrelevant, which, from the perspective of trying to win as much as possible, can be annoying.

That said, the best deck in the format, Rakdos Midrange, is an interactive one, so there is a deck that offers a lot of agency against various strategies if interaction is your cup of tea. Game decisions 100% matter when playing decks like this, but sometimes it can take a couple hundred reps to see that. The recent RCQ that I won, for example, had multiple games where my draw was worse than my opponent’s, but their game decisions let me eke out a win where I probably should not have. At the highest level, the agency begins to disappear a bit, but there’s still a lot to learn before players get to that point.

Obsess Over Your Opportunities Instead of Your Losses

Try not to let the losses bog you down, especially since some will be outside of your control. Instead, try to prioritize learning from each game and identifying if there were any opportunities for decisions that could have impact the end result. Getting obsessed over the learning opportunities instead of getting frustrated with the losses is the way that I choose to engage with the format, and I’ve been having a lot of fun with it.

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