Explorer is a new format coming to Arena tomorrow, containing every Standard set card available on Arena. For those that have been asking for Pioneer on Arena, this is finally a step in the right direction. Arena doesn’t yet have the entirety of Pioneer’s key cards, and some of the more popular omissions are cards like Elvish Mystic, Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, Bring to Light, Supreme Verdict and the Delve spells. Explorer was announced as a bridge to Pioneer, eventually to be retired and renamed once the two card pools align. Over time, we will see Explorer grow with introductions of more supplemental sets such as Historic Anthologies, Remastered Sets, and hopefully a Pioneer Masters set.
Right now, explorer is a brand new format with its own functional identity. There are about 3500 cards not yet on the client, which means that some of pioneer’s traditional strategies can’t be fully replicated. We believe that brewers and grinders will use this as an opportunity to approach things with a fresh set of eyes instead of trying to make direct ports from Pioneer to this format. It’s even likely that some entirely new archetypes are available that the Pioneer community may not have even thought of exploring yet! While it’s probable that the early days of Explorer are treated as a Pioneer-Lite, with players bringing their tried and tested strategies from Pioneer, Historic, and Standard, Innovation is sure to follow.
WHO WILL SHAPE THE META?
The way we see it, there are three types of players who will be attracted to Explorer, and their different approaches to deckbuilding and play will certainly influence the early days of the meta. These are:
- Historic players who feel either burned or disenfranchised by Alchemy, which affected their format in ways that they weren’t fans of, or who are just looking to try something else. These players already have an extensive cardpool available to them, likely based on current high-tier Historic meta decks.
- Pioneer players, both from MTGO and paper play, who want to play their favorite format on Arena. These players either have a decent cardpool (or collection of wildcards) waiting for them as they log back in, are likely to dump a ton of money into the platform to make their favorite Pioneer decks, or will grind the format from zero starting on day one with their sights set on eventually crafting their favorite Pioneer deck.
- Arena Standard or Alchemy players who want to use their old cards, their banned-in-Standard cards, or just want to give the new Explorer format a test-run.
Each group of players brings a different collection to the table, and it is difficult to predict how that will warp and shape the early days of the Explorer metagame. Some players will have an easy time converting their collections into viable decks while others will struggle as they use Explorer as their starting point into Arena, coming in with a minimal collection. Based on some reasonable assumptions, here are our best guesses for how these early days can shake out.
Big disclaimer here: with the release of Streets of New Capenna coinciding directly with the release of Explorer, new archetypes are bound to emerge in the format rather quickly. With the way the Arena economy works (or doesn’t) though, we expect new cards from New Capenna to be introduced into the decks below before we start seeing brand new brews built around cards from the set in Explorer. This guide is written more for those launching straight into Explorer tomorrow than those who will spend the day collecting and brewing with the new set.
DECKS USING HISTORIC-BANNED/NERFED CARDS
No longer on house arrest with the changes to their designs, Explorer will see Winota, Joiner of Forces, Agent of Treachery, Fires of Invention, and Omnath, Locus of Creation all return with a vengeance. These cards are all build-around cards that either have had, or currently have a place within the Pioneer meta. Because of their sheer power, the smaller card pool of Explorer, and player’s desire to once again play with these previously banned cards; the decks these cards helm are our picks for the first top decks within the meta.
A deck that players from all three paths will be familiar with, Naya Winota is a deck with an aggressive combo so potent it was banned in Historic. Its time spent in the top tiers of Pioneer, along with the amount of time spent tinkering and optimizing in that format, leads us to believe that the werewolf-centered build that rules the Pioneer-sphere will reign supreme in favor of the older Historic versions of the deck. Looking at the Pioneer lists, the deck’s only loss is Voice of Resurgence, which we’ve replaced here with Ranger Class.
You should expect to see a fair amount of Naya Winota in the early days of Explorer, not only because Pioneer players are going to craft it and long-time Historic players will already be itching to play their banned cards, but also because the majority of sites and people reporting on the format have claimed it as enemy #1 that will immediately take over the format. Some have even gone as far as saying that it will be the first deck in the format to see a ban.
The desire to play with cards that had previously been banned is a huge drawing point for many players. The Fires of Invention decks are no stranger to bans and erratas, and the players coming to the format from Historic are sure to look to them as a strong option in this new open field. On top of the fact that some of the Pioneer versions of the archetype are fully available on Arena, we expect players from both paths to bring the deck into the ladder. From Pioneer, 4C Fires has everything available to it in Explorer except for Chained to The Rocks, which can easily be replaced by Portable Hole, March of Otherworldly Light, or Fateful Absence.
Omnath Ultimatum, while not having seen Pioneer play much lately, still has the majority of the deck available to it. The only piece the deck is really missing is Part the Waterveil, which is a card that wasn’t even a solidified choice in the archetype anyway. The deck looks to take advantage of Lotus Cobra and Omnath himself to generate insane amounts of mana in order to cast Genesis Ultimatum. Top-end permanents you’re looking to cheat into play include Ugin, Koma, and occasionally Kiora Bests the Sea God or Ulamaog. All of which are Explorer legal.
Decks containing Historic-banned cards aren’t going to be the only decks showing up in the Explorer ladder, as there are plenty of decks fully available in Explorer as direct ports from Pioneer. From any of the Rakdos builds to many flavors of Control, there is no shortage of familiar decks to choose from.
(Click for decklist)
A top-tier deck in both Historic and Pioneer, Izzet Phoenix will look different in Explorer than one might expect. From Historic, we lose Dragon’s Rage Channeler, Unholy Heat, and, perhaps most importantly, Faithless Looting. From Pioneer, we lose Treasure Cruise, Thing in the Ice, Invasive Surgery, Temporal Trespass, Pieces of the Puzzle. What we end up with is a deck in between these two, with players from each format likely to put their own spin on it. Phoenix may end up being a trap deck for day one of Explorer. It might be a top deck in both Pioneer and Historic, but it’s missing far too many key pieces from either established list to keep it relevant without any tuning. The deck misses out on its powerful late game refuel with the omission of Treasure Cruise. Thing in the Ice is arguably the best threat the deck has to offer, as it serves as an early blocker that can represent a three-turn clock for your opponent by turn four. Pieces of the Puzzle is a severely underrated card that sets up your next turn incredibly well while putting birds in the bin. Then of course, Temporal trespass is your big spell that usually wins the game upon resolution when combined with Galvatic Iteration. Phoenix can always play cards like Chart a Course, Crackling Drake, and Stormwing Entity and still function, but it’s a far cry from both its Pioneer and Historic counterparts.
That being said, we expect to see Phoenix on the ranked ladder in droves as Historic players will probably already have the cards, Standard players will already have a lot of the lands, and Pioneer players love the deck and will simply want to craft it. On top of it being a fun archetype that people enjoy piloting, there are a lot of draws to the deck regardless of its potential shortcomings.
Azorius Control is easier to port from Pioneer than its Historic variant, which uses Stifle to counter Lotus Field’s ETB “sacrifice two lands” trigger and ramp three mana in one turn. Historic also has a nerfed version of Teferi, Time Raveler that Explorer will not. From Pioneer, the deck is only missing Supreme Verdict. Since New Capenna drops on the same day as Explorer, we could see a fair amount of Esper or even Bant Control in Explorer before it ever sees the light of day in Pioneer. Of course, not having Supreme Verdict is a huge blow to the deck, but not as dire a situation as some might think. There are other – albeit slightly worse – wraths available that UW can make use of, such as Doomskar and Shatter the Sky. There is also Settle the Wreckage, as well as the option to shift into a more spot-removal heavy build. All in all, we don’t foresee these setbacks being a real roadblock to the archetype’s success in Explorer.
We expect to see Azorius Control on the ladder, mostly from Pioneer players, but Historic players who already have the entire manabase and shell might also load it up on day one. If New Capenna starts pushing UW Control into Esper, we could see some Standard players with their own takes on the deck, as Esper Control is a pretty powerful archetype in Standard right now.
Rakdos Arcanist, another deck that has fallen a bit out of favor in Pioneer as of late, has a real chance at seeing a resurgence in Explorer. The deck has found success in Pioneer’s past, as well as being easily portable from historic, which makes it an ideal candidate to try in this new format.
One thing that puts Arcanist ahead of other Rakdos midrange style decks is its ability to attack the common factor shared between a huge swath of the format. Most decks that you might run into are powered by and rely on some sort of four-drop card whose role it is to take over the game upon resolving. Decks like Winota, Fires, Omnath, and many other Midrange and Control strategies rely on resolving a four-mana card and riding it to victory. Arcanist takes advantage of that with its ability to recur Thoughtseize effects on repeat, making it able to snipe those powerful payoffs before they can come down. If slower strategies like these are as common as we feel they will be, then Arcanist is in the unique position to really take advantage of that.
Of the various Rakdos-flavored decks available in Pioneer and Historic, one that sees a bit of crossover is the Pioneer Rakdos Midrange deck. This deck is very similarly constructed to the Historic Arcanist deck, looking to take advantage of some larger midrange threats such as Bonecrusher Giant and Chandra, Torch of Defiance. This strategy plays out very similarly to the Modern Boomer Jund decks, using cards like Graveyard Trespasser and Bloodtithe Harvester to apply some pressure while acting as disruptive tools as well. The absence of Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet and Dreadbore will certainly be felt, but the archetype is generally flexible enough to answer any questions the format may throw at it.
Another Rakdos deck that will certainly see play by the likes of Pioneer and Standard players alike is the Anvil deck, a list that looks to take advantage of Cauldron Familiar and Witch’s Oven in conjunction with cards like Mayhem Devil to grind out wins through a pile of innocuous permanents. The deck is supported by relative newcomer Oni-Cult Anvil, which fill all of the roles that the deck is looking for as the ultimate engine piece. New Capenna also comes with the menacing threat of Ob Nixilis the Adversary, which the Anvil deck is sure to take full advantage of with his sacrifice synergies. We expect to see plenty of this version on the ladder in the days to come, considering the popularity and relative ease of build that comes with building a deck largely from uncommons.
Another archetype that has held a position of power across multiple formats is the Food deck. Going back to Eldraine Standard and into Historic, even having spikes in popularity in Pioneer on occasion, the Food deck is an absolute menace that many new players with few resources pick up early on in their Arena play experience as the shell is mostly made of uncommons. Historic players may try to port over a Golgari version (though without Ravenous Squirrel and Lurrus, that may be a slightly more questionable option), while Pioneer players will likely lean Jund with Korvold, Fae-Cursed King or Karn, the Great Creator.
MONO-BLUE TEMPO / SPIRITS
Mono-Blue Spirits is missing Mausoleum Wanderer to round out its Spirit package, so we could see the deck pivot in a couple of directions. It could either increase the number of support spells such as Essence Capture, Spell Pierce, Lofty Denial or Brazen Borrower; or it could shift away completely from the Spirits plan and play a more traditional Mono-Blue tempo list. We’d sooner expect the former to come to fruition than the latter, due to the power of spirits being too good to pass up even with Wanderer being absent from the format.
ESPER / MARDU GREASEFANG
The people playing Greasefang combo decks in Explorer will most likely come from Pioneer, unless Standard players port a more fair midrange version with Esika’s Chariot as the featured reanimation target. Both Greasefang archetypes have everything from their Pioneer counterparts at their disposal except for Supreme Verdict and Silence for the Esper variant. Pioneer’s Mardu list has a direct port into Explorer.
We expect Greasefang to be slightly overrepresented in the best-of-one ladder, as the early decks of the format may not be ready to reliably deal with the combo in the mainboard. You’ll certainly still see it in best-of-three, where it will likely prove a formidable strategy as well.
Barely existent in Historic and missing too many staples from the Pioneer side, Mono-Red Burn will look much different from what players from either format are used to. To compensate for the absence of Eidolon of the Great Revel, the deck can turn to Cemetery Gatekeeper as a potential replacement. This, combined with a lack of Monastery Swiftspear, will likely see the deck shifting more into the Wizards package, featuring Ghitu Lavarunner, Viashino Pyromancer, and Wizard’s Lightning.
We still expect to see it on the ladder piloted by people looking for fast games, or who love the burn playstyle and jam it no matter what format they are playing.
Making some predictions based on the decks that see play in other formats is all well and good, but what should you do in order to answer those strategies? Here, we’ll cover some ways to respond to the more popular archetypes that we expect to see.
KARN, THE GREAT CREATOR
Karn’s passive ability alone shuts off the likes of Jund Food, Rakdos Anvil, Greasefang, Blood Tokens in Rakdos and Treasure Tokens in Winota. He also has the ability to wish for artifacts that can hamper every deck listed above aside from Azorius Control. Finding a shell for Karn is a great day-one endeavor for this format. Some good existing shells include Jund Food, Esper Greasefang and anything that can ramp him into play on turn three.
Any spell that can deal with Winota, Joiner of Forces will be important at least on day one. If you are playing best-of-three, some amount of sideboard slots should directly deal with Winota herself. If you are playing best-of-one, you might want to consider some number of these in your mainboard:
Fry, Redcap Melee, Lightning Axe, Ray of Enfeeblement, Power Word Kill, Heartless Act, Noxious Grasp and Fatal Push with reasonable ability to Revolt it
GRAFDIGGER’S CAGE/WEATHERED RUNESTONE
These cards turn off Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger, Greasefang, Okiba Boss, Cauldron Familiar, Arclight Phoenix and Winota. Again we have a case of a meta call that hits all of the decks above except for Azorius Control. Depending on how the meta shakes out, best-of-one players could end up mainboarding these.
OTHER GRAVEYARD HATE
Cards like Cling to Dust, Go Blank and Scavenging Ooze will likely be premium stock in the early days of the format, as Phoenix, Anvil, Greasefang, Jund, and even Azorius Control to some extent (Memory Deluge) use their graveyard as a resource.
Without Dreadbore from Pioneer or Unholy Heat from Historic, planeswalkers that can protect themselves from combat damage become more difficult to deal with than we are used to in either format. This is another instance where the meta calls skirt Azorius Control, as the deck will have access to Fateful Absence.
Whichever way the Explorer meta ends up, we will have coverage of it here at PlayingExplorer.com, with articles, weekly-updated decklists, meta data (coming soon) and video content. Soon, our deck list page will be converted into a tier list using meta data and analysis from our competitive guides as well.
PlayingPioneer.com has been proud to be a part of everyone’s Pioneer journeys along the way, and PlayingExplorer is equally honored that you are here for Explorer content. We hope that you stick around on your journey until those two paths come together.
Stay safe on the trails!