Hello PlayingPioneer readers! With Prerelease Weekend behind us Brother’s War makes its official debut in just a few days, and with Regional Championships starting up around the globe we thought it would be good to take a look at some of the cards poised to make a splash in Pioneer. So, ServoToken and myself sat down, combed through all the cards in the set, and came up with the perfect top 10 list that has absolutely zero bias or assumption and is perfect in every way. Let’s get to it.
10: Mechanized Warfare
Between Torbran, Thane of Red Fell consistently finding his way into Pioneer decklists, and the memories of Cavalcade Red decks of Standards past constantly afloat in people’s minds, these kinds of cards inevitably find some kind of home. With Mechanized Warfare being able to trigger off of Artifacts as well as Red creatures, Pioneer players have plenty of options when trying to find a home for this damage pumping Enchantment. From doubling up the strength of 1/1 tokens like those from Young Pyromancer or Third Path Iconoclast to turning Play with Fire into an honest-to-God Lightning Bolt, this card certainly has potential at a reasonable cost.
9: Recruitment Officer
Humans variants and aggressive Mono-White decks alike have plenty of options when it comes to their one-drop slots; these decks have historically relied on cards like Thraben Inspector to act as an early body and provide some amount of later game card advantage. With Recruitment Officer flipping that stat line around allowing for a more aggressive start, and an activated ability that digs deeper with some added flexibility, Thraben Inspector’s days are certainly numbered. It mostly comes down to whether or not this is an effect that the Humans players will continue to want to include.
8: Diabolic Intent
Talk about an interesting reprint look to make big waves in Pioneer. Players were quick to plan out the perfect curve of turn one Stitcher’s Supplier -> turn two Diabolic Intent sacrificing Supplier to tutor Greasefang, Okiba Boss -> turn three cast Greasefang to reanimate the Parhelion II that we 100% never-miss milled over with those two Supplier triggers. Sorry to Grinch all over your Magical Christmasland this close to December, but you already have Eldritch Evolution to do just about the same thing AND it frees up your turn two for a Grisly Salvage or Satyr Wayfinder. Where I think intent will really shine is in the RBx Sacrifice Shells. Intent will allow these decks easier access to Korvold, Fae-Cursed King or tutoring up a Mayhem Devil/Fable of the Mirror-Breaker. Oh, and as an added bonus for all my fellow Sacrifice players out there, Intent is the perfect free spell to cast after stealing a big nasty with Kari Zev’s Expertise.
7. Hajar, Loyal Bodyguard
I think Wizards must have stolen my dream journal, because they just printed my hypothetical World Championship card. That above-the-curve aggressive stat line, those singular red and green pips in the mana cost, and that all important board-saving activated ability…everything about this card speaks to me. The voices are all whispering the same thing: B a r d C l a s s. That’s right, my favorite little pet deck is getting a sweet new toy and just in time for a potentially new metagame once the Regional Championships are over. Of course that last part is all a bit of hearsay, but a man can dream. Regardless, giving Bard Class some easily mainboardable wrath protection that doesn’t impact its ever-growing board state is a big upgrade for this otherwise fringe playable combo beat down strategy. Whether Hajar affects the meta at large remains to be seen, but he’ll certainly affect my own personal meta.
6. Portal to Phyrexia
Older players will be no stranger to “that one giant artifact card that everyone wants to cheat into play but honestly isn’t very good”. From Blightsteel Colossus to Sundering Titan, even as far back as Aladdin's Ring, players have chased the dream of ruining a game thanks to one single devastating artifact. Well, this one’s the new one. Between ravaging the opponents board to creating an inevitability engine that can’t be beat, Portal to Phyrexia has everything that the big dumb artifact card of the set should. Whether players choose Refurbish, Omniscience, or maybe even a cheeky Possibility Storm to cheat on that huge 9 mana cost, players are sure to be putting this into play for years to come.
5. Phyrexian Fleshgorger
Hailed as the new Graveyard Trespasser by people who have never played with either card before, Phyrexian Fleshgorger presents two different threats at hugely different levels of power and impact. The front side is a relatively powerful evasive threat that’s difficult to dispatch. It may see some play as a sort of “tarmogoyf-adjacent” style threat; just a huge beater that isn’t particularly impressive unless the rest of your deck is full of interaction. The trick with the Wurm though is its ability to acquire mass and become dummy thicc with the addition of a flicker effect. While chasing the “flicker my prototype” dream isn’t worth building a deck around in and of itself, the plan can be a potent addition to any midrange pile looking to abuse ETBs and looking for a top end finisher though. We expect this card to become a small force in the format so long as midrange exists as a plan, though the work it takes to create the same threat that other cards make on their own may mean that the juice isn’t worth the squeeze. Time will tell though!
4. Urza, Lord Protector / The Mightstone and Weakstone / Urza, Planeswalker
Attention Azorius Control players, your court-mandated quarterly dose of Copium is here. The component parts of big daddy Urza on their own are a bit interesting; the family jewels give a flexible piece of card advantage that can act as removal if needed, and Urza himself can make spells cheaper once the board is secured and you can protect him. Of course, where these cards really shine is when melded as Urza, Planeswalker. Safe to say, if you manage to get the meld off then Urza should easily run away with the game, but that is a very strong IF. The amount of investment it takes to get to Urza will certainly make it an uphill battle. However, those of us that wish to go running up that hill and make it to the summit will surely be rewarded. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some shiny rocks I need to shove into my eyes.
3. Mishra, Claimed by Gix / Phyrexian Dragon Engine / Mishra, Lost to Phyrexia
Body with some solid stats? Check. Recursion? Check. Pseudo card advantage? Check. A multitude of ways to bury my opponent? Sextuple Check. I’ll admit, when discussing this list with Servo I was team Urza all the way, but as time went on I’m now firmly in the team Mishra camp. Where Urza, Planeswalker was the culmination of his parts, Mishra, Lost to Phyrexia melds as a bonus. And I think that’s the most important difference between the two. With Urza your goal is generally going to be meld as fast as possible, but with the Mishra and the Dragon engine being very solid cards on their own you can rely on them to put in work until you can make the meld happen. Of course, it also helps that melding these together doesn’t come at a large mana cost; on top of that, it’s going to be very easy for a deck playing either of the two halves to make room for the other.
2. Gix, Yawgmoth Praetor
Mono-Black Aggro has been out of the spotlight for quite some time now. In the current world of Pioneer, decks need more than just recursive creatures when it comes to card advantage if they have any hope of keeping pace with the big dogs. Luckily for all the Bloodsoaked Champion stans out there, Gix is here to make sure all is right with the world. With Gix in play, any hit from the multitude of 2/1s in the deck puts an extra card in our hand; most importantly is that this trigger happens for every creature that connects, not just that once-per-turn garbage that they like to promote these days. Gix also comes with a potentially very powerful activated ability that’s there in case the games go long.
Honorable Mentions: Transmogrant’s Crown / Go for the Throat
In Servo’s words, “Nobody seems to be talking about it, but Transmogrant’s Crown has all the right words on it. Just not sure how good it really is”. And you know what? I agree. Crown really does have all the right words on it. It buffs a guy, draws cards, and has a very inexpensive equip cost. However, unlike its predecessor Skullclamp you’ll have to put in the work yourself to make the creature die if you want those cards. That’s not necessarily a bad thing because it does set up for some interesting combat step mind games, leaving it up to your opponent to decide if they’re taking additional damage or if you’re drawing a card. Unfortunately allowing the opponent to make the decision means they’re going to pick the option best for them and not you. Now decks like Rakdos Sacrifice do have a little more control over their own destiny here, but the Crown is competing for slots against Village Rites and Deadly Dispute. Time will tell if the right words are enough for this to be the right card.
Pioneer plays host to just about every Terror variant in the game, and still players complain about the lack of good catch-all removal to choose from. With Brother’s War granting access to arguably the best Terror variant with Go for the Throat I’m hopeful that’s finally come to an end, though probably not. Let’s be real, if you weren’t happy with any of the other existing options, is this one actually going to be any different?
Theoretically this also represents Underground River, because being closer to full mana parity is very important for any format. However, we are certainly more excited for another untapped Green/White land as opposed to the Blue/Black option. Having another untapped dual land is big news for all the people clamoring for something akin to a Death and Taxes deck in Pioneer, helping make sure we can cast Voice of Resurgence on turn two and still have Double White for Skyclave Apparition a turn later. Brushland is also potentially a big pickup for the SCG 30k darling Selesnya Angels or even fringe playable strategies like Soul Sisters.
0. Karn, the Great Creator
I mean yeah, deep down we all knew this was going to be the case. With Brother’s War being an artifact set it just made sense there was bound to be a good Karn target somewhere in the mix; what we didn’t see coming was just how many there would actually be. Let’s just take a second and look at the cards in the image above. Stone Brain is a recurring Cranial Extraction effect that is going to make the Devotion mirrors and matches like Phoenix absolute heck to play. Woodcaller Automaton is a combo extender in a pinch allowing for a Nykthos untap while also adding an additional two devotion. Cityscape Leveler is a strict Meteor Golem upgrade that will just start eating the opponent’s board. Even Haywire Mite is going to make players think twice before Leyline Binding a Cavalier of Thorns. Then when you consider some of the cards also already mentioned in this list like Phyrexian Fleshgorger and Portal to Phyrexia that Karn decks can and will play, the amount of upgrades to Devotion’s toolbox just becomes overwhelming. There’s certainly a general unease about the format as we head into the Regional Championships, and the thought on everyone’s mind is “is Devotion finally too good to stick around?” Thanks to Brother’s War, I think the answer could be “yes”.
Brother’s War is shaping up to be one of the most impactful sets for Pioneer that’s come out since the start of the format. Plenty of new cards to discover leading to new decks and updated versions of longtime favorites, I just hope the big silver golem in the room doesn’t eclipse all of that. To those of you heading to Atlanta or any other Regional Championship over the next few weeks: good luck, have fun, and make these some of the best tournaments ever!