Understanding the Pioneer Ban List

IslandGoSAMe is here to talk about why your favorite card probably shouldn't come off the Pioneer ban list.

A History

If you’ve been playing Pioneer for as long as I have (that’s only about three years, even though it feels like it’s been much longer), I’m sure you sometimes like to look at some of the older decks. Whether you built them yourself or they were old top decks — you might reminisce of what this format used to be. Kids these days are always complaining about how the spells in Pioneer are so underwhelming, but they seem to forget that the midrange three drops of choice used to be Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath, Oko, Thief of Crowns, and Teferi, Time Raveler, cards that were clearly too powerful for a format as young as this. 

This does, however, lead you down the rabbithole of the other banned cards in this format that to a person viewing this format with close to zero background knowledge — wouldn’t be able to figure out why they’re banned. But we know. We all remember the horrors of week one Saheeli Oko Teferi mirror matches, and when Mono Green easily cast an Ulamog on turn 3 of the game. So therefore, it is my duty to teach the players of this format who were not here why these cards can not come off the Ban List anytime soon.

Wilderness Reclamation

This card was banned in February of 2021 along with Teferi, Uro, and the “Oops all Spells cards”, so people can sometimes forget that this card was once a dominant card in the format — being kept in check ONLY by Teferi. This card was dominant in UGx shells, using Wilderness Reclamation and Growth Spiral to generate a mana advantage, and to control the board with counterspells, sweepers, and finish the game off with either Shark Typhoon, or a very large Expansion // Explosion.

It may seem slightly underpowered, but it was a very powerful deck that was (and still would be) strongly suited to beat up on any control or midrange deck, and it pushed them out of the format almost entirely. Rakdos Midrange would not stand a chance against this deck.
“Fable of the Mirror Breaker? That’s cute. I’ll play a second Wilderness Reclamation and make a 6/6 Shark. You’re dead to Explosion on the following turn.” Rakdos has no real way of interacting with this gameplan, and not many other decks in Pioneer stand a chance — especially without blue decks having access to Teferi, Time Raveler. This, however, isn’t even the scariest thing this card did in this format. 

This deck was piloted by a friend of mine, and this list was created by myself. The World Tree would have completely broken Pioneer in half, if it wasn’t for the fact that Wilderness Reclamation would be banned mere days after this event. Not only was this instant-kill combo uninterruptible with removal spells and even counterspells, even Teferi couldn’t stop this! While with stock Reclamation decks, all you could do against an opposing Teferi was scry with {c]Castle Vantress or make a Shark token; in this version, you just won the game. This level of un-interactibility would have most likely been too much for this format, and even though I debatably created one of the scariest decks in the format, I am very glad this deck will be staying six feet under for the time being. 

Smuggler’s Copter

At the beginning of the format, Smuggler’s Copter was THE format-defining card. One of the best aggressive decks at the time was Mono Black Aggro, an aggressive deck that got to play the best interaction in the format in the form of Fatal Push and Thoughtseize. This deck was sleek, powerful, and had some real aggression that the format was maybe not ready for at the moment. 

The rest of the format at this time consisted of Field of the Dead ramp decks, UR Phoenix decks, and various other black-based midrange decks. Mono Black Aggro had a really fun time crushing all of these slow value decks, while casting aggressively slanted creatures, efficient interaction, but most importantly, a full set of Smuggler’s Copter. Aside from Parhellion II and Esika’s Chariot (which don’t really play like traditional vehicles), we don’t see too many vehicles in Pioneer, so it’s a bit hard for people to wrap their head around how powerful these are, especially one as efficient as this, with a crew cost of only one. In an aggro deck without a lot of creatures with the Haste keyword, Copter can act like a Haste enabler, allowing your creatures to do something relevant the turn they come into play, so that you always feel like you are advancing your aggressive gameplan, while also generating pseudo-card advantage. Even when we choose to not consider the fact that discarding Scrapheap Scrounger and Bloodsoaked Champion is just raw card advantage, Copter helps to smooth out your draws, whether that be discarding extra lands, or your interaction spells that don’t line up well against your opponent. This card was a powerhouse, and it was clear it was the best card in this deck, and every other aggressive deck in the format. One of the best creatures in Mono Black was Night Market Lookout, solely because it was a great creature to use to crew Smuggler’s Copter with, and it allowed you to use Copter in board stalls to chip away at your opponent’s life total, similar to what Pioneer has right now with Witch’s Oven and Cauldron Familiar

Once it got to a point where every aggro and midrange deck was playing this card, ranging from Gruul Beatdown, to Mono White Weenies, to even Simic Eldrazi, we knew it’s time was up. This card was banned along with Field of the Dead and Once Upon a Time in early December of 2019. This is one of the cards that comes up in discussions about unbans in Pioneer a lot, and frankly, all one needs to do is watch some old gameplay with this card, and you can see how one-sided every creature mirror feels when only one player drew their Copter, while also being one of the best cards to slam against UW control on turn two or three.

But Wait, There’s More

Pioneer is a format that is always growing and evolving. No one here is arguing that this format has been solved, and it seems like every new face that picks up Pioneer changes something about it. There are a few cards on the Ban List that have the potential to come off and cause little damage to the format, such as Kethis, the Hidden Hand and Nexus of Fate, but I would love to cover those in the future and pose my arguments as to why this new format is perfectly safe for these two favorites of mine to come back. 

  • IslandGoSAMe

    Pioneer Competitive Guide

    Sam is an OG Pioneer player, brewing decks with his team since day one of this format, fleshing out the early metagame with the rest of the MTGO grinders. He knows the ins and outs of the format and spends way too much time playing it. He is known for creating Jeskai Lukka Fires, World Tree Combo, and Omnath Turns, and continues to create new and awesome decks while providing video content for all to consume.

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