Pioneering: The Mana of Pioneer

It is a brave new world and everyone is looking to break it in half. For those who are unaware, the Pioneer format has been unleashed and it contains nearly ten years worth of cards. This is not another flash-in-the pan format. It will be supported as a Grand Prix main event throughout 2020 and now is the time to figure it out. So let us start from the ground up with the manabases of Pioneer.

Shock Lands
These will be the absolute foundation of the format and we have all ten of them at our disposal. Every single one of them sees Modern play and now they will see Pioneer play as well. However, we will not be playing a handful of them to fetch. We will have to play many of them and get shocked often. The damage is well worth it though and the subtyping is still useful in a fetchless format. I am keeping it short here because we all know how effective these are in Standard and Modern right now.

Fast Lands
In low curve decks, these can be even better than shocklands. Some decks do not even run four drops so they often will not care when these enter tapped. This format is slower than Modern though so I would not jam them just anywhere. Furthermore, we only have access to the enemy color pairs and they lack subtypes. But they are painless, flexible, and great in fast formats. Without fetches to steal the spotlight I would expect these to be even more popular than they are in Modern.

Buddy Lands
These are the primary reason to care about shocklands having subtypes. For example, a Bant deck could play Breeding Pool and any buddy land you play after that (Glacial Fortress, Hinterland Harbor, Sunpetal Grove) will enter untapped. When set up effectively your buddy lands will be entering untapped from Turn 2 onwards. You do not want to overload on these though because a hand without a shock or appropriate basic will leave you way behind. I would expect these setups to be the foundation of tri-color manabases and bi-color manabases that lack fastlands.

Man Lands
I always get frustrated when I think back to this half of the cycle. The enemly half is all we have in Pioneer and they are far worse than what we saw in the original Zendikar set. However, the format itself has a lower power level as well. The best among them is Hissing Quagmire as it trades a land with an opposing threat in the lategame. The rest of the cycle is likely not worth exploring though. We do have a couple colorless manlands and among them is Mutavault. This is an excellent card in decks with tribal synergy but the low activation cost and entering untapped will allow it to show up just about anywhere.

Scry Lands
I do not expect these to see significant play but we do have all ten available. Scry 1 is about equivalent to drawing half a card so maybe control decks could use them. They often do not have a Turn 1 play, especially in a format without Serum Visions, so maybe they will want that early card advantage. Or maybe a combo deck is lurking that would like to scry towards its combo pieces; think Ad Nauseam in Modern. However, games will be lost because these lands prevented a player from playing on curve. So I expect most decks to avoid them.

Battle Lands
I am not optimistic about these either and we only have half the cycle. Think of them as reverse fast lands. But unless you are going very heavy on basics they are not even reverse fast lands. They do have subtypes to benefit buddy lands but with these and buddy lands both entering tapped on Turn 1, you are not likely to be playing proactively. I just cannot see these being played when all of the shock lands are available.

Shadow Lands
I do not have high hopes for these either. Where battle lands are worse shock lands, these are worse buddy lands. I will admit that these can be better than buddy lands on Turn 1 when you have the proper basic or shock in hand. However, in that situation why not just play out the basic or shock to cast your spell? There is a small chance that a shadow land is better on Turn 1 and it will almost always be worse on any turn after that. So I would not expect to see these when all of the buddy lands are available.

Castle Lands
These ones are a new and interesting case. It is quite easy to get them into play untapped and they have some serious utility when you flood out. The only struggle will be fitting them without disrupting your buddy lands. But if you are playing just two colors, with a shock and fast land manabase, these will be great. Of course mono-colored decks will appreciate these most of all. These seem swell and I would expect them to see occasional play.

Cycling Lands
I did not know how to feel about these in Standard and I do not know how to feel about them now. Lands that always enter tapped have the issues that I mentioned above. The similarities to scry lands are uncanny. They are bi-colored lands, always enter tapped, and provide card advantage. However, a scryland can be used to accrue card advantage on the very first turn and you are not giving up a land and mana to pull it off. So on that front I think scrylands are just better. However, these have the subtypes so you can follow them up with untapped buddy lands. I struggle to evaluate these but I think it is possible that these see very fringe play in control. We only have half the cycle but Azorius and Dimir are both available.

Pain Lands
I had forgotten that they randomly reprinted these for a couple years. If you really need the color-fixing these are going to do some serious damage to you so they are best in low curve decks. This only took care of the enemy color pairs though and that puts them in direct competition with fast lands and that is a losing battle. Their saving grace might be Eldrazi decks that appreciate them as “tri-lands” but I doubt that these strategies will be viable without Eldrazi Temple. That leaves us with artifact heavy decks that will sparingly utilize the colored mana. Even in those they will be playing second fiddle to Spire of Industry.

By nature a tri-land really can only see fringe play right? We have the Kahns half of the color triplets available to us and I do not expect to see them outside of decks focused on Siege Rhino, Mantis Rider, etc. Even for those decks though it will be hard to play tri-lands over the shock and buddy land combo manabases. Entering tapped to make a third color is very powerful mana fixing though. Perhaps we will see a deck that uses fastlands, shocks, and a few tri-lands. It will be extremely fringe but it could happen.

Rainbow Lands
There are more of these than I expected but the vast majority are straight bad. The  non-tribal highlights are Mana Confluence, Spire of Industry, and Aether Hub. Mana Confluence is functionally identical to City of Brass and both have seen Modern play. In a format with inferior manabases, I expect them to be even more valuable. At worst, I could see this filling a similar role to the tri-lands described above. Spire of Industry looks great and will be a huge boon to artifact decks. It will pretty much always be active so we are looking at a Mana Confluence with the regular pain land upside. Then finally we have Aether Hub and I am iffy on it. Energy is a parasitic mechanic and we have not returned to it yet. So you might end up building an underpowered Kaladesh block deck. However we might actually be using this, Attune with Aether, and Servant of the Conduit as the base for a four or five color good stuff deck. The floor on it is a Tendo Ice Bridge and even that card saw fringe Modern play so keep an eye on this one.

Tribal Lands
It was very difficult to narrow down the search parameters to capture these but we mostly go there. Unclaimed Territory is there for anyone that wants to jam a tribal deck that is three or more colors. Beyond that though we have lands for Slivers, Edlrazi, Dragons and more. Honestly though, I am not optimistic about the viability of any of these strategies in Pioneer. Perhaps we will do an article on the tribes of Pioneer if that is something you all would be interested in.

Mana Dorks
Lands are great but we cannot overlook the mana dorks. Elf players will be pleased to know that they have both Llanowar Elves and Elvish Mystic at their disposal. Our closest Birds of Paradise alternative is Gilded Goose and is an admirable alternative. It will often only be single-use but that food synergy with Oko is going to keep it relevant for quite some time. We also have Sylvan Caryatid if you want your mana dork to be a sure thing. The other consideration, as outline above, is Servant of the Conduit. It could be perfectly reasonable outside of an energy deck though. The floor is a bear and it will accelerate you for two turns without any additional help required. It even has a favorable tribe in Elves. The options decline pretty steeply from there but it is a brave new format and anything can happen.

I had not initially realized we had so many lands available to us in Pioneer. In just bi-colors we have three full cycles and six half cycles. It will be hard to keep track of all of these options but I hope that this article will act as a first stop on your way to breaking the format. So how do you feel about Pioneer? Will you build a deck and dive right in? Or will you wait for the inevitable bans to clear things? Please come and share your ideas with us in our discussion group. Or if you would like to take a swing at writing content for the site you can contact us directly here. We will be back soon with another article for you to enjoy. Until then my friends.

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