I’ve been picking out the 10 best lower rarity cards for Pioneer play for the last couple sets, and it’s something I’ve really come to look forward to with each set release. I’ve said before that uncommon is my favorite rarity, and I like when they push the envelope when it comes to commons and uncommons.
While the last couple sets have added strong cards at these rarities (Sheoldred’s Edict and Wrenn's Resolve to name a couple), parsing through the preview cards for Wilds of Eldraine and subsequently diving a little deeper into it, I happened upon a discovery.
Wilds of Eldraine stuffed the envelope full of potential playable uncommons.
This initially came as a surprise to me. Reading all the rares and mythics for Wilds of Eldraine left me feeling a little underwhelmed, as I don’t believe there are any inherently wildly powerful cards mixed in, as the set mostly has a lot of interesting build-arounds and pay-offs.
But where the rares and mythics lack some inherent power, the commons and uncommons sure don’t, which is kind of a theme carried over from the original trip to Eldraine. And although I don’t immediately think we got anything on the level of Witch's Oven and Cauldron Familiar I do appreciate the potential of a lot of these cards.
I had to narrow down this list of cards from an original pool of 36 cards I pooled together, and while I don’t of course believe all 36 of those will see play, the fact that I had 36 cards I thought could be playable is pretty staggering. The last couple times I’ve done this, I had to cut down from a pool of 15-20 cards. This pool was about double that of the last few sets.
The fact of the matter is picking 10 of them was hard, so I’m going to cheat a little bit. There are two things I want to get out of the way before I get to the top 10 new commons and uncommons.
The point of this is not normally to talk about reprinted cards, and instead focusing on new cards. So of that list of 36 cards, I didn’t even include Gingerbrute or Disdainful Stroke two lower rarity cards we know are good.
But there is one reprint that is new to Pioneer, and it’s almost certainly the best lower rarity card in the set.
That card is of course Sleight of Hand.
This might seem subtle to those who haven’t played with it, but this somewhat innocuous looking sorcery is pretty much going to waltz into Pioneer and be one of the best one mana cantrips on the market.
Sleight of Hand’s power lies in the power of choice. The current best cantrip in the format is Consider, which is still going to see significant play, and does have a notable upside over Sleight of Hand in being an Instant. That might be enough for some of you to think I’m nuts in calling Sleight better than Consider, but the ability to see two cards is much more powerful than seeing one.
Imagine this common situation where you cast Consider. The top card of your deck is merely an okay option. It’s not exactly what you want, but it’s not the worst choice. Do you take the mediocre option or do you put it in the bin and risk the card after it being even worse?
This is the situation where Sleight of Hand shines. You get double the information to work with over Consider (or Opt), which makes a world of difference. That takes the mediocre level card you would be surveiling and gives you the option to know for sure what the card after it is.
The power of choice here can’t really be understated. And again, it’s not like Consider is going to be put back in the bulk bin. They work well in unison. Arclight Phoenix decks are going to love running Consider and Sleight of Hand, and might even run some copies of Opt on top of the other eight cantrips. Sleight will also work in decks looking for specific pieces, such as Indomitable Creativity and Jeskai Ascendancy Combo. Less combo-oriented blue decks could even pick up Sleight of Hand as well, though that seems like a little more of a stretch.
Regardless, Sleight of Hand used to be a playable card in Modern, and unlike some of the other former Modern standouts we’ve had printed into Pioneer, Sleight should see a good amount of play and I’m not afraid to call it the best lower rarity card in the set. It instead gets its own section because I felt like putting a reprint that most people know is really good at the top of the list was a cop out, and I wanted to talk about more of the new cards.
The Faerie Five
I also wanted to talk separately about the Faerie specific cards, as they all need the context of each other to properly evaluate. The Faerie Five includes Spell Stutter, Faerie Dreamthief, Faerie Fencing, Snaremaster Sprite, and Obyra, Dreaming Duelist. Individually, these five cards aren’t inherently powerful, but in the context of each other, a deck starts to get together.
A one-drop -3/-3 effect that also scales is pretty above rate, and a Thoughtseize with no drawback if you have a Faerie creature is also rather tempting. Obyra is a low cost card that helps accelerate your clock just by playing Faeries, and Snaremaster Sprite is a one drop that can give you a bit of value late game, particularly against a big Reach or Flying creature.
Do these five cards being added to Pioneer all together make Faeries a real deck? I don’t currently think so, especially when you compare it to Rogues, which provides a quicker clock and better higher rarity support. Add in that the two best Faeries in Pioneer, Brazen Borrower and Faerie Mastermind, are also Rogues, and these new cards give you little reason to play Faeries over Rogues.
These cards are, however, strong plants for down the line, if we are to get more Faerie support, and with a return to Lorwyn on the calendar in a couple years, these cards could have the chance to really shine then. But for now, they’ll serve as nice upgrades to a fan favorite archetype to at least make the deck not embarrassing to play.
10. Woodland Acolyte
Though the Adventure costs one mana, this isn’t a turn one play in most games you’re going to play, though I suppose there is a corner case where it could be if you get Thoughtseize on the draw.
Rather, what Woodland Acolyte actually gives you is a Llanowar Visionary effect on turn three, which is reasonable. But it also gives you the flexibility of getting the full value of the card on turn four, by putting a card back on top of your deck and then immediately drawing it. That’s a pretty sweet deal, and the fact you can split it up only makes it sweeter. The creature side of this card is definitely better than the Adventure side, and the fact you can hit it off Collected Companyonly makes it better. It also has a potentially notable creature type, and while this card will absolutely not see play in Mono White Humans, it could be a flex slot contender for if Bant Humans ever returns to relevancy. It’s also an option for the GW Yorion Taxes pile that has been popping up a bit in Explorer, as it does play pretty well as a value card in Yorion.
9. Back for Seconds
Three mana to reanimate a lower mana cost creature has been the sweet spot for Pioneer, and in White we have even seen that effect cost two mana with upside recently (one of which is in this set, but not on this list).
Back for Secondshas a couple upsides. For one, it is, at worst, adding two cards to your hand from the bin (graveyard hate notwithstanding), but Bargain is a new
kicker variant mechanic that helps power up your spells. For the cost of sacrificing an Artifact, Enchantment, or Token, you get to bring a four mana value or lower creature back to the board, in addition to adding a creature into your hand. That is a nice little two-for-two that adds board presence and a card in hand, and oftentimes the Bargain cost ends up as an ancillary piece like a Food Token.
But it’s the ability to bring back a four drop that sets this card apart, and while there aren’t a ton of decks that both have extra things to sacrifice and play four drop creatures, it’s not really something that can be ignored because it isn’t something we really have. Call of the Death-Dweller is a card that has seen a little bit of play, and is a better card for something like RB Sac (giving a Mayhem Devil deathtouch should be considered a war crime), but this one has some potential to see play in some other shell other than RB Sac.
8. Witchstalker Frenzy
I haven’t really seen many people give this card a ton of attention, and on the surface, I understand. Dealing five damage at four mana is simply a terrible rate for constructed play.
To me though, Witchstalker Frenzy seems incredibly easy to turn on, whether you’re an aggro deck or a slower deck.
Frenzy doesn’t care about who is attacking, only that someone is. And if you ever can envision a point where you are either attacking with two creatures or being attacked by two creatures, this quickly goes from a well below rate removal spell to an efficient one.
The obvious home for this is in a Mono Red Aggro, Atarka Read, or maybe even a Gruul Boats, but I think it could also be playable in slower Red decks that struggle to kill Sheoldred or Polukranos.
I mainly envision this as a sideboard option, as cards like Nahiri’s Warcrafting and Roast have seen play in Pioneer sideboards in recent memory, both of which are pretty inefficient sorceries, with this one at least being a sometimes efficient instant.
One huge downside of this card is that it doesn’t hit Planeswalkers, and while I know we’re moving into an era of seeing a lot less Planeswalkers printed, I hope that doesn’t also mean we see a lot less cards to deal with Planeswalkers.
7. Rowan’s Grim Search
This type of effect is also one they’ve been exploring as of late in black. Without the Bargain cost, this is an instant speed Sign in Blood for an additional mana, which is fine. But with the Bargain cost paid, it becomes a Memory Deluge for one less mana and an additional cost of two life. That is a pretty good deal on selection, and as I mentioned talking about Back for Seconds this is going to be played in a deck where you end up with a lot of extra random game objects to Bargain away for the additional upside of card selection.
One card that Rowan’s Grim Search is competing with is Shadow Prophecy, a common from Dominaria United that does a very similar thing. However, that one requires running many land types to get full value out of, while this one asks you to sacrifice a permanent. They both have the same fail safe scenario though of drawing two cards and losing two life. Shadow Prophecy technically has the edge of not triggering Sheoldred or Narset, but the two cards serve different roles. I’m not sure exactly what kind of deck would want Rowan’s Grim Search but it is a pretty solid value card for black.
6. Candy Trail
Candy Trail reminds me a little bit of Witching Well from Throne of Eldraine, which isn’t a card that saw any meaningful Pioneer play, but has always seemingly been on the precipice of being playable, falling just short.
I think Candy Trail crosses that line of being playable. For one, it’s colorless, giving more decks access to it, and it provides the same immediate value that Witching Well does. And while Witching Well draws one extra card than Candy Trail, Candy Trail gives you some life back while also replacing itself.
This is another one of those discreetly powerful cards. It’s a cheap artifact that makes for easy Bargain or other sacrifice fodder and is even a Food to help support decks that might care about Food. It’s also, hilariously, a Clue as well, meaning that if you play, for example, Tireless Tracker, sacrificing Candy Trail will buff Tracker. You can also sacrifice it to bring back Cauldron Familiaror Feasting Troll King.
Candy Trail has enough going on with it that I could see it being a nice little piece in some decks that want a nice little value card.
5. Royal Treatment
Royal Treatment is a card that I know is good, but I’m not actually sure it’s good enough. We have seen a few pretty powerful protection spells for G, as Snakeskin Veil has pretty much been power crept out of the format.
Royal Treatment is competing directly with Tyvar’s Stand and Tamiyo’s Safekeeping for the slot of protection spell, and they each have their ups and downs. Tamiyo’s Safekeeping is better if you care about saving your non-creature permanents, Tyvar’s Stand is preferred if you need to get damage through, but Royal Treatment is going to have a separate niche.
If you’re a deck that cares about enchantments, this might even be a mainboard effect, as the aura that Royal Treatment creates not only buffs your creature, it gives it Ward 1, which is a small amount of lasting protection, though not insignificant. For a deck like Bogles, you’re probably going to care about having the lasting aura, and while Royal Treatment doesn’t trigger Sram or Light-Paws, it is still one of the better protection spells in the format and the fact that it leaves a relevant permanent behind makes it all the more intriguing.
4. Hopeless Nightmare
We’re getting into the four cards that I am pretty confident are Pioneer playable, and I’m going to lead off with Hopeless Nightmare. This is yet another card that does a ton of stuff for one mana.
For starters, it’s a disruption piece, as a one-drop discard spell is not bad, and it also gives you a little bit of damage as well. On top of that, it is the best Bargain fodder in the set, as it has an ability when it leaves the battlefield, allowing you to scry two. It also very neatly gives you a self-destruct button that lets you trigger the scry two without having to do anything else.
But there are also plenty of ways to sacrifice that that aren’t playing three mana, such as Doom Foretoldor any of the Bargain cards in the set, and this card also plays well with Yorion, allowing you to blink it. All for the cost of one mana, you get damage to your opponent’s life total, disruption, and a bit of consistency that can be cashed in as a payoff from another card or just on your own volition. This is easily among the most powerful lower rarity cards in the set.
3. Torch the Tower
Torch the Tower is yet another upgrade for a card that has always been close to playable. It started with Magma Spray back in Amonkhet, and in the latest return to Innistrad, we got Flame-Blessed Bolt. Torch the Tower is a Flame-Blessed Bolt with a massive upside, which will likely make it playable.
Like how I talked earlier about how we don’t really have an efficient instant speed way to deal five damage in Red, we also don’t really have a good way to deal three damage for one mana at Instant speed. Strangle has been on the precipice of being playable, but being Sorcery speed has been its downfall. Torch the Tower gives you the default of a close to playable removal spell, while giving you the upside of cashing in a random token to deal three damage, and it even further rewards you for cashing in a permanent, allowing you to scry one. It even hits Planeswalkers and exiles to boot.
I see this being a potential tool for Creativity decks, as they make a lot of tokens, and although they need their tokens for their deck to work, they also need ways to stave off early aggression, and getting to deal three damage for one will help stave off aggression. It is competing with Volcanic Spite, though it costing one mana less might give it an edge.
And not that Third-Path Iconoclast and Young Pyromancer are cards that see a ton of play in Pioneer, this plays extremely well with them too, though you will already need a token on board to Bargain it.
While it obviously doesn’t come close to the playability of Fatal Push, there is a world where RB Mid is interested in dealing three damage for one mana as well, and that deck gets enough random tokens thanks to Bloodtithe Harvester and Fable of the Mirror-Breaker to where turning it on would be pretty easy.
2. Toadstool Admirer
Toadstool Admirer is almost exactly the extra one-drop that Bogles needs for Pioneer. While Ward 2 is not literally Hexproof, it does a darn good impression of it in the early game, and it is way better than any other card the deck had access to for Gladecover Scout copies 5-8. It also gives you the ability to pump it if you are flooding out, which probably won’t happen a ton but the option to do so is nice.
Admittedly, I don’t really see another deck that would be interested in Toadstool Admirer, as it isn’t really effective enough for any other strategy and it lacks relevant creature types. But in decks where you want a mini-bogle, this card is going to absolutely shine.
One cool interaction is actually with Royal Treatment. If you cast Royal Treatment, Toadstool Admirer gets the aura, giving it the buff and Ward 1. Instances of Ward actually stack, so your opponent would have to pay for the Ward 2, and then pay for the additional Ward 1 after.
There really isn’t much else to say about this one. Just suit it up and go.
1. Up the Beanstalk
This almost feels like a holdover from Throne of Eldraine with how potentially powerful I think this card is in Pioneer, and even Modern. But focusing on Pioneer, here are a few applications I think this has.
One application is with Leyline Binding and subsequently Bring to Light decks, where you’ll not only get the draw off the initial playing of Up the Beanstalk, but considering your whole deck is designed around casting five mana spells, it’s going to draw a ton of extra cards.
The other application is with Yorion, where you play Beanstalk, draw a card, then cast Yorion to draw another card, using Yorion to then blink Up the Beanstalk to draw another card. Yorion decks obviously are notorious for accruing tons of value, and this line is no different, but it is very easy to max out value with this card.
The key here is the fact that it cantrips by itself. We see a lot of payoff cards like this that don’t do anything when they come down, and those ones are bad, but the fail case scenario of just drawing a card for two mana is perfectly reasonable. This is also a card nobody is going to actually remove on purpose, other than with something like Temporary Lockdown that removes it incidentally.
All of those pieces together make for a very strong card, and I have no doubts that this card is going to hit the table in games of Pioneer pretty frequently.
The rest of the list
Here is every other card I considered for this list. Like I said, there were a lot, and I don’t expect all of these to end up seeing play, but they were interesting enough for me to want to at least mention.
While Wilds of Eldraine is bound to have several rares impact the Pioneer format, it is fun to see all the potentially playable lower rarity cards. I think having a lot of lower rarity cards be playable in a format is a feature of a format, as it keeps decks a little bit cheaper and more accessible, both online and in paper. It also makes opening sealed product a little more fun because you have the chance to get a lot of constructed playables, and from my view, Wilds of Eldraine takes that concept and runs with it. I hope we see even half of the cards I mention on this list show up in Pioneer, and I’m excited to see how the format shakes out.