Welcome Week: Finding Success in Pioneer

A lot has happened to Pioneer during the pandemic era of Magic, so it can be a little daunting to try and jump into or play catchup. Ruckman is here to help!

New Player Orientation

Hey there everyone, and happy Welcome Week! Ruckman here to give some helpful tips for those aspiring Pioneer players out there looking to find their start in the format. Of course, let me preface this piece by saying the purpose of this article isn’t to tell you what cards you should or should not be playing. If you want cards to play, be sure to check out our weekly tier list(updated every Tuesday morning) and compare the card selections there. Instead, I’ll be taking some time to go over some general tips and best practices that will help newer players find their footing when starting their Pioneer journey.

Information is Out There

A lot has happened to Pioneer during the pandemic era of Magic, so it can be a little daunting to try and jump into or play catchup. But, you found your way here and that’s already a step in the right direction to start preparing for whatever level of competition you want to engage in. As the Playing Pioneer content library continues to grow, there’s always going to be something new and exciting going up every week for all kinds of players. So please poke around and take a look at everything else we already have available. Of course, our team members also make some great Pioneer focused content on their own so be sure to browse our affiliated content page. Another great information source is of course Discord! Plenty of Discord communities have sprouted up focusing on specific decks if you’re looking for specialized information on an archetype that interests you, several pioneer content creators have much more broad discord communities that are full of friendly and help faces, and, of course, we just recently launched our own Discord for members of our Patreon to give a little more direct access to the Playing Pioneer team outside of their normal contact spheres.

Try Before You Buy

After spending hours going through our Weekly Tier List and deck pages, you’ve finally settled on a deck choice, placed that big order on TCGplayer using our affiliate code, and sleeved it up, but for whatever reason something just doesn’t click and you don’t like it. This can happen to any of us, and with Pioneer card prices currently in flux (check out our Budget Hub to keep it wallet-friendly), it can really suck to go all in on a deck and then just not like it. So take some time to proxy up a deck to play with your local play group and give all the decks you’re looking at a few test games. Don’t have a local playgroup you can easily practice with? Well hop onto one of those Discord servers I previously mentioned and join an LFG channel for some webcam magic, or there are multiple free alternatives to MTGO such as Xmage or Cockatrice. Please note that Xmage and Cockatrice are relatively unmoderated and come with their own learning curves so mileage may vary. Regardless of what you decide to do, there are plenty of options available to find a deck that best suits your preferred playstyle without breaking the bank.

The Art Of Playtesting

Practice makes perfect, but how do you get the most out of that practice? Here are some helpful tips when it comes to playtesting and learning the ins and outs of your deck:

  1. Don’t be afraid to ask your partner’s opinion on plays or see what choices they would make. For example talk through Thoughtseize target options, or discuss lines of play when you have multiple spell options.
  2. Playtesting is a collaborative effort, so make sure your partner is getting the most out of it too. Remind your partner of missed triggers, suggest lines of play, and openly provide constructive feedback.
  3. Play most of your games post-sideboard. In a best-of-three game you’ll be spending most of your time playing post sideboard games. So it’s very important that’s where you spend most of your time testing. And while you’re doing that, be sure to test out different deck configurations.

Risky Business

Magic is a game about risk, and it’s important for players to know their deck’s risk tolerances.  Obviously, it’s easy to avoid playing a deck when a given meta isn’t too friendly to it at the moment. Meanwhile, card selection and a well tuned sideboard can help mitigate unfavorable matchups. And while transferring risk isn’t much of an option in Magic, risk acceptance certainly is. Pioneer is a very diverse format, from Izzet Phoenix to Mono-White Book, there’s going to be at least one deck out there that just thrashes your deck of choice. It’s important that players don’t focus all their energy on beating that one awful matchup. Let me be clear that I’m not saying to take a defeatist stance here, what I’m saying is don’t start overly increasing the risk in other matchups in order to turn a 10-90 matchup into a 15-85 matchup. For example, I have multiple players in my usual play group that enjoy Lotus Field. So I tend to play decks that are favored in that matchup. At the same time, when playing online I’ll occasionally bump into someone playing Selesnya Angels and that matchup feels nigh unwinnable. Could I change my deck to tackle that matchup? Probably. But when the odds of running into that deck are at best one in fifty, why would I? Analyze the meta around you, determine the risk tolerance for your deck, then avoid/mitigate/accept the risks.

The Great Balancing Act

For those of you looking to brew your way to success in Pioneer, here are a few suggestions on what you should be looking to include:

  1. Card Advantage: To me, one of the worst feelings in this format is being limited to the top of your deck. I’m not saying you need to be playing a bunch of card draw or cantrips, but you should be going out of your way to play at least four cards that either replace themselves, dig deeper into your library, or are recurable. Pioneer is full of cheap ways to help with this, so look for the ones that best fits your deck. There’s a reason aggressive white decks play Thraben Inspector, in a format where Treasure Cruise is castable you can’t afford to be left behind.
  2. Pack an appropriate amount of interaction: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say decks like Winota are just too good and need to be banned, only to look and see the player has ZERO ways of interacting with Winota. Just like there are plenty of forms of card advantage, Pioneer plays host to some of the best removal spells in magic. From wraths like Supreme Verdict, to instants like Fatal Push, to creature based removal like Skyclave Apparition you can find an answer that best fits your deck. It might not always work out and be there to answer something like Winota, Joiner of Forces or Thing in the Ice, but by not giving yourself an out you’re only hurting your chances.
  3. Cut the fluff: Despite being relegated to MTGO the last two years, the top minds of the format have been tuning the best decks and making them as lean and focused as possible. They did this by taking a look at every card in their decks and asking the question, “Does this deserve to be here”? We all have our pet cards that we love to play with, but do they actually help forward our game plan? It’s going to take a lot of time to really accel at this, but with time and effort it’s going to take your game to the next level.

Class Dismissed

I know I’ve only just scratched the surface, but at risk of overloading our readers I’m going to stop here for today. While not all of our audience will find these tips immediately helpful, I hope they start pushing all of you to start questioning what aspects of your magic abilities can be improved on. Thanks again for reading, and be sure to keep checking back the rest of this week for more “Welcome Week” content.

  • Ruckman


    Having started playing Magic shortly before the release of Return to Ravnica, Ruckman’s Magic lifespan covers the breadth of the Pioneer format. Despite not being a stranger to the Top 8 tables of the old IQ and PTQ systems, most of his competitive experience comes from the other side of the event space, where he served more than five years as a level-two judge, only hanging up the black shirt for good at the beginning of 2022. Currently, you can find him making Pioneer content for Crew3 on your favorite podcasting platform or on Twitch/YouTube.

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