OH MY GOD THEY DID IT
If you are reading this right now, it means Wizards of the Coast has put Pioneer (or something like it) on Arena and I that I have dug out my suitcase containing one key, drove across the country, met up with the person who had the other key, and together we have used those keys to unlock this article and release it into the world.
It’s a good day. At the time of writing this, things are rather grim. There was an Arena economy stream that happened. It was bad. The fact that someone at Wizards tweeted a cryptic message about Pioneer on Arena is the only thing I have to hold onto. But today, sometime in a future where Pioneer or Pionear is finally launching on Arena, it is a good day.
OR DID THEY?
There are some things to work out, I am sure. Maybe they didn’t commit to releasing all the cards available on Pioneer. Maybe it will take ten years. Maybe they did something like starting the format at Ixilan instead of Return to Ravnica. Maybe it’s actually not a good day. Rather than go in and edit this article with the new information, I would like it to serve as a time capsule and am releasing it in its current form, because that seems like more fun.
All I know is that if you’re reading this, there is a new true-to-paper format on Arena that is either Pioneer, will eventually become Pioneer or resembles Pioneer enough for us to have enabled the aforementioned nuclear football. What I also know – with near certainty – is that this new format will be playable in a best-of-one format. This is much more important than you might imagine.
For those who don’t know me, I am an Arena grinder at heart. I reach Mythic nearly every season, realize there’s little incentive to do so, rinse and repeat. My favorite format is Pioneer, and I play it on paper whenever I can and am a part of the team here at PlayingPioneer, an entire website devoted to the format. Combining these two passions means I have been playing a lot of Historic. Usually, I try to play Pioneer-legal decks in Historic, but when I want to win, I’ll throw in a couple Dragon’s Rage Channelers, Unholy Heats or Inquisition of Kozileks. I almost exclusively play best-of-three, as it is as true to paper Pioneer as I can muster on the Arena platform. Once in awhile, I will play best-of-one. These are two entirely different formats.
For one, combo decks have an advantage in best-of-one. Imagine playing against Lotus Field Combo in Pioneer and never getting to board in your Alpine Moons, Unmoored Egos, Slaughter Games, Necromentias, etc. Aggro decks tend to have a similar advantage, as some or all of your removal could be in the sideboard. In order to remain competitive, everyone else needs to move their sideboard hate into their main decks. Because combo and aggro players understand that they will be up against maindeck hate, their maindecks have to change to counter that hate. This means nearly every deck in a best-of-one format will and should look different from their counterparts in best-of-three. It also adds value to flexible hate cards usually relegated to the sideboard, like Kolaghan’s Command, Mystical Dispute and Feed the Swarm (my apologies for every reference being in Grixis colors). If K-Command is in your maindeck mostly for the artifact removal to deal with Rakdos Anvil or Parhelion Combo, and you end up against mono-red aggro, it’s not a completely dead card (whereas By Force would be). These considerations are much more important when they are being made for your mainboard in a best-of-one format.
Deckbuilding and brewing in best-of-one requires a much more detailed meta analysis and understanding than best-of-three, as you need to know which hate cards you absolutely need in your mainboard and which of those will sometimes be dead draws against anything else (Flame-Blessed Bolt against UW Control) and ratio accordingly.
Without a sideboard, the value of Lesson/Learn cards also increase slightly, as the Lesson cards don’t take up a sideboard slot anymore and can give you some level of matchup-based card selection.
OUR COVERAGE OF THIS FORMAT
All of this being said, we understand that people will be playing best-of-one, whether they just prefer it, don’t have time, or are somewhat forced to by the prize structure of Arena events varying between best-of-one and “traditional” events. We also know people will be playing best-of-three, as it is truer to paper and will help people better prepare for their FNMs and paper events. We will be providing best-of-one and best-of-three versions of each deck whenever possible to accommodate both styles of player. If I’m wrong, and Wizards really meant true to paper when they said true to paper and only offer best-of-three, you can ignore the previous 500 words of this article.
Currently, we will have decklists on the “Decks” page. If you were around for the beginning of PlayingPioneer.com, you will know that we started the “Decks” page over there in a similar fashion, only later to convert it to a tier list. This is our intention here as well. For now, they are in no particular order, and clicking on the name of the deck will bring you to a page where you can find the best-of-one and best-of-three version of each deck.
Please bear with us, as the decklists will initially assume that Wizards has not released any cards or sets into Arena. The decklists are made up of cards that are currently available on Arena that will be legal in this new format (probably). We will have “export to Arena” options on all decks so you can start playing as soon as they fire the starting gun.
PLAYINGPIONEER TEAM REACTIONS
I may not be the biggest fan of Arena, especially the economy, but I am happy to see that the Arena team will be moving towards true Pioneer in time. While this doesn’t do much for me right now, it does a lot to ensure that we will have a larger player-base for Pioneer soon. I am excited for Arena only players to hopefully get to enjoy Pioneer but given the long turnaround time and the way in which WotC has broken timelines and promises before, I am cautiously optimistic. I will still be pouring my time into Pioneer as it is in paper and on Magic Online, but this will get me to start paying closer attention to Arena in a way that was absent before.
Explorer has been officially announced as a hold over format, and we have been given a commitment to the end goal of it being eventually replaced with Pioneer. Yet here I am asking myself a simple question, “Why?”. Why does it all feel so hollow? It might have been the lowest hanging fruit for them, and exactly what I wanted/expected to happen…..but why does it feel so pyrrhic? Pioneer will be visible on more device screens than I ever dreamed it could be on MtGO, and with the gaze of Organized Play set on Pioneer the format can be bigger than ever. But it’s not Pioneer, is it? It’s Explorer. And that’s why I’m wary of this announcement. They’ve told us they’re committed to this being the first step to Pioneer, but this isn’t the first time they’ve said it. Kaladesh and Amonkhet Remastered the previous first steps, which were then abandoned. Pioneer Master, more Remastered sets, the original purpose of Historic. All of these “first steps” were abandoned for the sake of short term profits and an attempt to turn magic into a digital card game like Hearthstone. The carrot of Pioneer has been dangled in our face so many times that I can’t help but wonder if we’re being set up for another let down. Hopefully this summer’s first anthology release really goes a long way to add some of those format defining cards that Arena currently lacks, but this summer sure is an awfully long way away without any hard release date. If Wizards can keep up with this commitment and take consistent steps towards that end goal maybe I can be convinced to reinstall Arena. Until then, the verdict is out for me.
This is what we were all expecting, even if I personally hoped for an Anthology to be dropped alongside it. The fact that it is still going to take a few years is disheartening but expected. I do look forward to getting some use out off my Arena account that sees very little play nowadays in a format that is close to what I love. There is one point of worry for me though: “our goal is “all the Pioneer cards that matter”. As I’m sure everyone here is aware by now, my jam is bad brews and combo decks that use obscure commons that haven’t seen the light of day. I do wonder if this means decks like NeoMachus will not be brought to Arena anytime soon due to the lower quality of cards it plays. Outside of that, I’m looking forward to jamming games on Arena (even if I personally like MTGO’s UI more) due to the amount of players this will bring to the overall format.
Have fun! I’ll definitely see you there. My Arena name is rose-emoji#11274 if you want to get some practice games in. I have Pioneer-legal decks built on Arena ready to go.