Since its inception back in October 2019, Pioneer has had a rough time. With the COVID-19 pandemic, the design woes of 2019, and the dominance of Dimir Inverter, Pioneer is starting to get back on its feet.
While it’s still in its infancy, Pioneer is an exciting format that is starting to form its own identity. With Modern and Historic becoming similar, it’s given Pioneer the opportunity to break away into something unique. Despite Pioneer only legalising cards from Return to Ravnica onwards, there is plenty of value in the format which is only going to grow the more people play it.
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
You may be familiar with Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth[tooltips] in Commander as it pairs well with [tooltips]Cabal Coffers, but the Legendary Land is effective in Pioneer. Often you see the card in Black-based Aggressive or Control strategies, as it allows you to run utility lands such as Mutavault that can tap for a Swamp with Urborg in play.
You also see the Legendary Land crop up in Modern in 8-Rack builds as they also utilize Mutavault to great effect. Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth exists to fix your mana, but can also fix your opponent’s mana depending on the colors they are playing. Either way, it’s a powerful way to play Black-heavy cards while giving you freedom with your mana base.
The Scarab God
Another powerful threat in Pioneer is The Scarab God, which sees play in Dimir and Sultai builds as a way to gain value from your opponent’s threats. It’s tricky to remove since you need an exile spell to permanently deal with it, then you have to worry about the upkeep trigger.
Also, it’s a 5/5 so it’s not shy of getting into combat. The reason the Legendary God is scaling up in price is due to the Innistrad: Midnight Hunt Undead Unleashed Commander deck which centres around Zombies. The Scarab God is a slam dunk for tribal Zombie decks since you get to leverage that upkeep trigger as much as possible. In the Pioneer landscape, it sees a reasonable amount of play but plays best when the metagame is slow enough for the God to take advantage.
Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
Coming from Core Set 21 and Fate Reforged, Ugin, the Spirit Dragon is a fantastic ramp payoff in Pioneer. You often see the Legendary Planeswalker in Mono-Green Devotion builds that ramp out into various Planeswalkers including Ugin. Also, you see the card in Mono-Green Tron as a turn-four payoff if you have all your Tron lands in play.
You never run the whole set of Ugin since the first two abilities are situational, but a couple is ideal alongside cards such as Karn Liberated or Nissa, Who Shakes the World. Even though it’s on this list, the card is expected to creep up in price as it’s now rotated out of Standard. So if you are looking to pick up some Ugins, now is the time to do it.
Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
Heavily featured in Devotion-based strategies in Pioneer, Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx is a huge roleplayer for these styles of decks. Often you see the Legendary Land in Mono-Green Devotion as an approach to get ahead on mana to cast huge threats such as Ugin, the Spirit Dragon.
As it’s flavored with Theros in mind, it’s pretty difficult to reprint the card in a Standard or supplemental set. Although we could’ve seen it in Theros Beyond Death, there wasn’t a huge devotion theme with the set. As such, Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx sees heavy play in Commander as it’s so easy to have so many permanent to get ahead on mana. Usually, you see the Legendary Land focused with Enchantress in mind too, as the strategy offers heavy color requirements. It’s one of the best utility lands in Pioneer, which is reflected in its current price.
Teferi, Hero of Dominaria
One of the most powerful Planeswalkers in the Pioneer format, Teferi, Hero of Dominaria fits right at home in Azorius and Esper Control strategies. The combination of drawing a card, untapping lands, and tucking away a non-land permanent is powerful to take games on its own. You’ll have to make do with this version of Teferi from Dominaria, as Teferi, Time Raveler is banned in Pioneer at present.
With this in mind, this version of Teferi commands a decent price as it sees incidental play in Modern too. If you are looking to build Control in Pioneer, you’ll want a playset of Teferi as the backbone of your list. It’s strong and a win condition all rolled into once, it’s the ideal Control card.
The addition to Cyclonic Rift this list is a usual one, as its price is mostly influenced with Commander in mind. It sees minor play in Pioneer in sideboards in Control and Midrange archetypes, but rarely beyond that.
You don’t want to cast a seven mana overload spell in Pioneer as it doesn’t help your game plan, and there are other effective spells you can cast instead. It’s handy to keep a couple of the Instant in your collection as you may play Control or Midrange in Pioneer, but its price originates from its heavy use in Commander.
Liliana, Dreadhorde General
From War of the Spark, Liliana, Dreadhorde General is a strong Mono-Black Planeswalker that cares about sacrifice effects and creating Zombie tokens. You often see Liliana in Mono-Black Devotion, Golgari Midrange, or in “Sacrifice Matters” strategies in Pioneer.
Once again, the card is creeping up in price as it creates Zombie tokens. This is a knock-on effect from the release of the Innistrad: Midnight Hunt Undead Unleashed Commander deck, as the Planeswalker offers a lot of synergy with Zombies. Once the hype dies down, expect the card to fall into a more reasonable price point which enables you to grab it for Pioneer usage. Even then, it’ll be interesting to see what Crimson Vow brings as it’s expected to introduce more Zombies, which only makes Liliana more powerful.
Emrakul, the Promised End
Back in Eldritch Moon, Emrakul, the Promised End saw extensive play in Standard as a top-end for Delirium builds. In the early days of Pioneer, players referenced previously dominant Standard decks as a baseline for Pioneer usage. Some of this remains true today, and you often see Golgari or Sultai Delirium Builds featuring the Legendary Eldrazi.
You also see Emrakul appear in Modern in Mono-Green Tron as a one-off for the late game. Emrakul is fantastic against Control-heavy strategies as her ability is a cast ability, so even if your opponent counters the spell, you are still able to control their next turn. Sometimes, you see the Promised End feature as a Commander for colorless builds since Emrakul, the Aeon’s Torn is banned in the format. Not to mention, the 13/13 stat line is more than enough to end games quickly backed up with protection from instants. Like plenty of other Eldrazi, it’s difficult to reprint these in Standard or accessible sets, so the price tends to drive up as there is always demand for the big Eldrazi.
The Great Henge
From Throne of Eldraine, The Great Henge is a unique effect that sees play in Mono-Green Devotion builds in Pioneer but is also a staple in Green-based Commander lists.
Often you aren’t casting the Artifact for its native nine mana but for much less as you typically run high power creatures to discount the cost. Packed with lifegain and ramp, The Great Henge offers you an additional +1/+1 for any non-token creature you control that comes into play and you draw a card. It’s such a powerful effect that can turn the tides of battle in your favor as you build up so many resources. As such, the Legendary Artifact is racking up a high price due to its independent power level, coupled with players opening very little Throne of Eldraine given how unpopular it was from a design outlook.
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Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
It may come as no surprise, but Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger is one of the most expensive cards in Pioneer. Not only does the Eldrazi see play in Mono-Green Ramp in Pioneer, but also features heavily in Mono-Green Tron builds in Modern. Also, it’s a powerful creature in the Commander format as it’s a surefire way to remove tricky permanents.
Since the Eldrazi are flavorful to a handful of planes, there is only one printing of the Legendary Eldrazi available which only drives up the price further. Not to mention, the attack trigger is enough to end constructed games of MTG with ease. It’s one of the best Eldrazi around, so it may be unsurprising to see this card be the most expensive in Pioneer.
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