Where Does Pioneer Go from Here?

I think I can separate current sentiments about the Pioneer format, following the Players Tour and Grand Prix just held in Phoenix, into three camps:

  • Everything is Fine
  • Give it Time
  • Combos are Out of Line

1) Everything is Fine

The best argument for those who think the format is just fine is that players in Grand Prix Phoenix were able to adjust to what happened in the Players Tour the day before, and 0 copies of Lotus Breach made the Top 8. Although Dimir Inverter was overrepresented in that Top 8, it didn’t win, and the Players Tours have shown there are ways to deal with the Inverter deck from different points in the metagame, whether it’s Threaten effects from red decks or Leylines and discard from black decks.

2) Give it Time

This camp is caught between the other two, but pretty reasonably believes that just as the proactive tools are very powerful in Pioneer, so are the reactive ones, and we need to give the format time to settle down before we conclude that either Inverter or Lotus Breach are truly broken decks, rather than just powerful decks that happened to be best in a couple of events.

In fact, players in this camp might even worry that getting rid of Inverter and/or Breach will end up making Uro and Emrakul even more oppressive. There isn’t really anything “fair” you can be doing against Uro into Emrakul, as the theory goes. So having a few “unfair” things in tier 1 is part of an important balance.

3) Combos Are Out of Line

The last camp looks at overall results of decks using cards like Inverter of Truth, Dig Through Time, Lotus Field, etc. and says something’s gotta go. Inverter is such a powerful strategy that the deck in its near final form is squeezing pretty big chunks out of the metagame, and the Lotus Field Underworld Breach deck is simply too strong. Decks are rarely unbeatable in Magic, but that’s not the standard we have for Pioneer bans. No one said Smuggler’s Copter or Felidar Guardian or Veil of Summer were unbeatable. What they said was that these cards are too powerful and have a warping effect at the same time their decks win more than their fair share.

My Thoughts

I think the “give it time” camp gets it mostly right, given how differently the Players Tours in each region played out, and how differently still the Grand Prix Phoenix metagame played out. We also don’t yet know which Uro deck or decks will prove strongest. We could ban something like Dig Through Time while we wait for the rest to shake out, and I would support that given how likely that card is to get eventually banned anyway. So, I guess I’m somewhere between “combos are out of line” and “give it time,” and would choose Dig Through Time as a card to ban now while we wait and see on the rest.

Do I still regard Thoughtseize as too powerful an effect for too little an investment? I do, and I would support its ban, but the timing doesn’t seem right. If Underworld Breach is allowed to remain, black decks will need all the help they can get even it means Inverter players can continue to get the best reactive card and the best proactive card rolled into one in their decks.

I really enjoyed preparing for pro level Pioneer events, but I did enjoy it more before Inverter was a deck to beat. I think there are enough tools to straight-up hose Lotus Field that it might be okay longer term, but I can’t be too confident in that. And I think playing against Uro and/or Thoughtseize is already getting old, certainly older than Smuggler’s Copter ever got, so time will tell on cards like that. I’m sure they’re not in a rush to ban another 1UG mythic rare from the most recent set… but they sure seemed in a rush to print one at a power level that warps the metagame away from aggro again.

I don’t have any perfect prescription to make Glorybringer good again. That ship may have sailed. But maybe we can at least make Niv-Mizzet good again? That was fun, I thought.

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