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MTG Pioneer format guide

MTG Pioneer is one of the newest Magic formats and its popularity is surging - find out about everything from card bans to the best Pioneer decks.

MTG Pioneer - Artwork of Sheoldred, Greasefang and Karn.

MTG Pioneer has recently become one of the most popular competitive formats in all of Magic: the Gathering. It’s the newest addition to the competitive format list, and has very quickly become beloved by a large chunk of the player base. From banlists to where to play, we’re going to break down everything you need to know about the Pioneer format. We’ll also provide a list of the best Pioneer decks to give you some ideas about the current Pioneer metagame.

There are so many different ways to play Magic: the Gathering these days, with more great formats than one person could ever hope to keep up with. Whether you prefer casual or competitive, want to know the top cards in MTG Modern or which are the best MTG commanders, we’ve got guides to help you out. Or if you prefer Standard, we can help you find the top MTG Arena decks, which you can build with the help of these MTG Arena codes.

Now back to MTG Pioneer…

MTG Pioneer artwork of a greek temple with a galaxy above.

What is MTG Pioneer?

The Pioneer format is one of the newest competitive formats in Magic: the Gathering, and was only officially introduced in late 2019.

MTG Pioneer is a 1v1, 60-card format, with its own card pool and MTG banlist, which gives the format its own unique feel. It’s widely considered to be one of the more ‘fair’ formats out there, and in terms of power level, lies in the middle point between Standard and Modern.

MTG Pioneer Artwork of a dwarf forging a weapon

What sets are legal in MTG Pioneer?

Pioneer’s set legality is actually quite simple. Any Standard-legal MTG set that was released from Return to Ravnica (2012) onwards is legal in Pioneer. Here is the full list of legal sets in Pioneer.

  • March of the Machine
  • Phyrexia: All Will Be One
  • The Brothers’ War
  • Dominaria United
  • Streets of New Capenna
  • Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty
  • Innistrad: Crimson Vow
  • Innistrad: Midnight Hunt
  • Adventures in the Forgotten Realms
  • Strixhaven
  • Kaldheim
  • Zendikar Rising
  • Core 2021
  • Ikoria Lair of Behemoths
  • Theros Beyond Death
  • Throne of Eldraine
  • Core Set 2020
  • War of the Spark
  • Ravnica Allegiance
  • Guilds of Ravnica
  • Core Set 2019
  • Dominaria
  • Rivals of Ixalan
  • Ixalan
  • Hour of Devastation
  • Amonkhet
  • Aether Revolt
  • Kaladesh
  • Eldritch Moon
  • Shadows over Innistrad
  • Oath of the Gatewatch
  • Battle for Zendikar
  • Magic Origins
  • Dragons of Tarkir
  • Fate Reforged
  • Khans of Tarkir
  • Magic 2015
  • Journey into Nyx
  • Born of the Gods
  • Theros
  • Magic 2014
  • Dragon’s Maze
  • Gatecrash
  • Return to Ravnica

MTG Pioneer - Artwork for nexus of fate

MTG Pioneer banlist

But not every card from those sets is legal in Pioneer. We mentioned that the Pioneer banlist gives the format its own unique feel. For instance, a key point is that while Khans of Tarkir is legal, the fetch lands reprinted in that set are not. Here is the full banned and restricted list for MTG Pioneer:

  • Balustrade Spy
  • Bloodstained Mire
  • Expressive Iteration
  • Felidar Guardian
  • Field of the Dead
  • Flooded Strand
  • Inverter of Truth
  • Kethis, the Hidden Hand
  • Leyline of Abundance
  • Lurrus of the Dream-Den
  • Nexus of Fate
  • Oko, Thief of Crowns
  • Once Upon a Time
  • Polluted Delta
  • Smuggler’s Copter
  • Teferi, Time Raveler
  • Undercity Informer
  • Underworld Breach
  • Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath
  • Veil of Summer
  • Walking Ballista
  • Wilderness Reclamation
  • Windswept Heath
  • Winota, Joiner of Forces
  • Wooded Foothills

MTG Pioneer Sheoldred artwork

Best MTG Pioneer decks 2023

Now, let’s cover the best MTG Pioneer decks. For a while, Pioneer has been considered to have a very wide and open metagame with a variety of strong decks able to succeed at competitive events.

Now, there are two very powerful decks that are currently at the top of the meta, but below these ‘S-tier’ decks, the field evens out and there is a lot more variety. The top two decks right now are Rakdos Midrange and Nykthos Ramp.

Rakdos Midrange is exactly as it sounds. It’s a deck that leverages some very powerful cards in the midgame, such as Fable of the Mirror-Breaker and Shelodred, the Apocalypse. These powerful value cards, working in tandem with some of the format’s best removal and disruption, have the makings of a deck that can grind with any other deck in the format, but also put the hurt to them when the time is right.

MTG Pioneer card Karn, the Great Creator

The other top deck is the Nykthos Ramp deck. This is another deck that is pretty straightforward. The deck leverages mana dorks like Elvish Mystic and Llanowar Elves, and the powerful land Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx to ramp out a lot of cards. It uses Storm the Festival to get multiple cards in play quickly.

One of the big hits is Karn, the Great Creator, which gives the deck access to a suite of powerful artifacts from its sideboard. In addition to all these strategies, the deck rocks a strong creature package to close out games.

Some of the other top decks in the format include Rakdos Sacrifice, Hidden Strings Combo, Azorius Control, Abzan Greasefang, Azorius Spirits, Mono-White Humans, Five-Color Midrange, Fires of Invention, and Indomitable Creativity. Each of these decks have relatively close representation in the field and can all do well if piloted expertly.

Below we have some sample deck lists for some of the top decks in Pioneer, in case you wanted to see what’s being played.

MTG Pioneer The card Fable of the Mirror Breaker

Rakdos Midrange

Rakdos Midrange holds the top spot in the metagame. The cards that it has at its disposal make it a force to be reckoned with.

Nykthos Ramp

The other top deck of the format is Nykthos Ramp. It’s a very fast and resilient strategy that powers out a strong board well ahead of the curve and buries its opponents in value.

Rakdos Sacrifice

If we want to talk about decks that can grind, Rakdos Sacrifice is definitely in the conversation. It has a lot of tiny creatures that are sent to die for value. If you want a thinking deck, with a lot of decision trees, this is the MTG Pioneer deck for you.

MTG Pioneer The card Emergent Ultimatum

Hidden Strings Combo

Hidden Strings / Lotus Field decks all aim to get down a few key creatures, stick a Lotus Field, and untap it a few times with Hidden Strings to cast Emergent Ultimatum. The deck closes out games with an Omniscience, Mastermind’s Acquisition and a win condition out of the sideboard, like Approach of the Second Sun.

Azorius Control

This is your typical control deck. Counterspells? Check. Board wipes? Check. Powerful MTG planeswalkers? Yup it’s all here. If you like dictating the pace of the game, and watching your opponents suffer as you destroy every plan they have, this is your deck.

MTG Pioneer Greasefang Okiba boss.

Abzan Greasefang

Abzan Greasefang is a graveyard-centric combo deck that wants to get a Parhelion II into the graveyard, and a Greasefang, Okiba Boss on the board. Then you slam in for 13 points of damage out of nowhere, and then win off the back of the angels left over. It’s a very fast deck that requires a little set up, but it can grind a bit if needed.

Azorius Spirits

Azorius Spirits is a ‘flyers’ and Spirits tempo deck that looks to play creatures and counterspells on your opponent’s turn. It very quickly builds up a board of flying creatures to bring down your opponent’s life total.

Mono White Humans

Mono White Humans is an aggro deck centered around, you guessed it, Humans. Many of the cards in the deck, like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben have tax effects on them to slow down the opponent’s game plan. Then the deck quickly amasses a sizable board or creatures that can throw down.

Enigmatic Fires

Enigmatic Fires is, as the name suggests, a Fires of Invention deck. It often has Keruga, the Macrosage or Yorion, Sky Nomad as its MTG Companion, and wants to accomplish two things: Make a land drop every turn, and get Fires down quickly to start playing free spells. Once that’s achieved, the deck looks to control the board with powerful enchantments, and eventually pumps out very strong creatures.

MTG Price Spike: Artwork showing a knight on a lion

Where can I play MTG Pioneer?

If all of this sounds wonderful to you, and you want to jump headfirst into the MTG Pioneer format, well you have a few choices. More than likely, if you have a local game store within a reasonable driving distance, there’s a good chance that they either hold Pioneer events, or there’s people there who play.

If there isn’t, well fear not! With the advent of Spelltable, finding a game of Magic has never been easier! All you need is a webcam and a well-lit play area. Then you’ll just head over to the Spelltable website and set up or locate a room for Pioneer.

If the thought of playing over a webcam is still a little off putting, or you don’t have a good set up to play Spelltable, then consider Magic Online. It will run on any PC, matches are plentiful and easy to find due to on demand leagues and tournaments, and best of all, cards are significantly cheaper than in paper. Oftentimes, you’ll end up playing half as much as a paper deck.

Now if you don’t want to bother with Magic Online’s archaic interface, then there is another option. MTG Arena has its Explorer format, which for all intents and purposes is Pioneer-lite. Explorer has nearly all the competitive cards in the Pioneer format in the game. Heck, many of the decks in Pioneer can be copied over one to one, and if there’s something missing, there’ll still be a version of the deck out there that has substitutes. Plus, eventually Explorer will become Pioneer anyway!

Check out our MTG release dates guide to learn what sets are coming up this year and our guide to the MTG LOTR release date.