How To Play The Pioneer Format In MTG

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  • Which cards are banned in Pioneer?

There are tons of different ways to play Magic: The Gathering. The game has several formats that follow different rules. Some take advantage of the multiplayer aspects, while others keep the traditional one-on-one gameplay. One of these many formats is A pioneer.



RELATED: Magic: The Gathering – The Best Decks in Pioneer

Pioneer is one of the game’s eternal formats, meaning there is no rotation in the format. Its power is somewhere between Standard and Modern and is one of the most popular ways to play the game. The barrier to entry is generally lower compared to other formats and many standard sets can be converted to get you into Pioneer.

What is Pioneer?

Bloodtithe Harvester by Lucas Gracian
Bloodtithe Harvester by Lucas Gracian

It’s a pioneer eternal format which features every card released in the premiere set from the 2012 set The return to Ravnica and beyond is legal. Since Premier decks are the ones that were legal in Standard at launch, decks like Jumpstart and Modern Horizons are not legal to play in Pioneer.

Pioneer-Legal Kits

Return to Ravnica


Dragon Wizard

Magic 2014


Born of the gods

Journey to Nyx

Magic 2015

Khans of Tarkir

Fate Reforged

Dragons of Darkir

Magical origins

Battle for Zendikar

Oath of the Gatewatch

Shadows over Innistrad

Welcome Deck 2016

Eldritch Moon


Aether Rebellion

Welcome Deck 2017


The hour of destruction


Rivals of Ixalan

would dominate

Basic set 2019

Ravnica guilds

Plains of Allegiance

War of Sparks

Basic set 2020

Throne of Eldraine

Theros: Beyond Death

Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths

Basic batch 2021

Zendikar Rising


Strixhaven: School of Wizards

Dungeons & Dragons: Adventures In The Forgotten Realms

Innistrad: The Midnight Hunt

Innistrad: The Scarlet Vow

Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty

The streets of New Capenne

Dominaria United

A war of brothers

Phyrexia: All will be one

The march of the machine

March Of The Machine: The Aftermath

Wilds of Eldraine

The Lost Caverns of Ixalan

Additionally, additional cards such as Mystical Archives from Strixhaven and Multiverse Legends from Phyrexia: March Of The Machine are also not legal for use in Pioneer unless the card in question was already legal in it.

It’s a pioneer played one on one with an opponent. Games are played best-of-three (meaning the first to two wins is the winner) and start at 20 lives. Each player has a deck of at least 60 cards and a sideboard of 15 cards to put into their decks between the second and third games.

The only rule for the sideboard is that it can never exceed 15 cards – so you can’t remove more cards from your deck than you started with.

Which cards are banned in Pioneer?

Lurrus of the Dream Den, Slawomir Maniak
Lurrus of the Dream Den, Slawomir Maniak

Like any format, Pioneer has its own ban list. Eternal formats tend to have many more active banlists as the card pool is wider, and new cards can sometimes drastically increase the power of old cards to the point where they are unworthy of bans.

Despite its perennial format status, Pioneer’s banned list is actually quite small. Most of the cards that were banned happened in the first few weeks of the format’s existence. Most of the banned cards were combo pieces that proved too strong, or cards that completely disabled other strategies due to their power. The most important banned cards are fetch lands, as they were pre-emptively banned to give Pioneer more of an identity away from Modern.

Pioneer Banlist

Balustrade Spy

Bloody stool

Expressive repetition

Felidar Guardian

Field of the dead

Flooded Strand

A truth bender

Kethis, The Hidden Hand

Leyline is abundant

Lurrus of the Dream Lair

Nexus Of Fate

Eye, thief of crowns

Once upon a time

A polluted delta

Smuggler’s helicopter

Teferi, The Time Traveler

Undercity Informer

Underground Break

Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath

Veil of summer

A walking ballista

Wilderness restoration

Windy Heath

Winota, Union of Forces

Wooded foothills

How to get to Pioneer

MTG Indomitable Creativity Art Card
The unrelenting creativity of Alexander Deruchenko

The best way to get started with the Pioneer format is to find the deck that interests you. Thanks to it being a timeless format, there are strong decks for almost every playstyle. Pioneer is one of the most open formats in Magic: The Gathering, allowing you to pick a powerful deck to win games with that favors your preferred playstyle.

If you don’t want to jump into building your own deck, Wizards Of The Coast also offers it Challenger Decks for a format based on metarelevant sets. These are all solid starter kits that are meant to be played right out of the box. The decklists are solid and, while they’re usually weaker versions of the meta deck, they’re great to build on and add to until you have a fully-powered version.

RELATED: Magic: The Gathering – Build Your First Pioneer Deck

Where to play Pioneer

Greasefang, Okiba Boss by Victor Adame Minguez.  A rat on a high-tech engine in a cyberpunk Japanese setting.
Victor Adame Minguez – The best of Victor Adame Minguez

Pioneer is a popular format and there are several places where you can play the format. The most obvious is playing with physical cards. You can take these to your local game store – many of them hold Pioneer events. Alternatively, if that’s not an option and you still want to play with cards in your hand, then Spelltable is a great choice. It’s a site that monitors everything for you as you play, using webcams pointed down at your board.

You can also play Pioneer digitally. The only current way to digitally play all legal Pioneer cards is via Magic: The Gathering online. You have to pay for the cards just like you would for a paper set. The benefit of this is that many clips on Magic: The Gathering Online are cheaper compared to buying physical cards. There are also rental services that allow you to pay a flat monthly fee to rent cards from them to build sets without shelling out a ton of money.

You can finally play researcher on Magic: The Gathering Arena. Explorer is a format where all Pioneer-legal cards on the client are legal. Although it is currently its own format, Explorer’s ultimate goal is to become Pioneer, making Magic: The Gathering Arena another way to play Pioneer digitally.

While the metagames are currently very similar, there are still a handful of key cards missing from the format that make them different, even though they are similar until they are added.

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