[Pioneer Building] Ixalan through Core Set 2020

Hi everybody, and welcome back to this last installment of my review of the Standard eras that make up the Pioneer format. It’s been a journey down memory lane for me as I have either played with (or against) a lot of the decks I have mentioned. Hopefully that has been the same for you as well, and I hope I sparked some interest in cards or decks that you may have forgotten were Pioneer legal.

As a reminder here is a list of all of the sets legal in Pioneer. The format consists of all sets released for Standard play from Return to Ravnica to the present (which at the moment is Throne of Eldraine), You can read more about the individual sets here.

There is also a list of cards banned for this format. Those cards are:


While the list has not grown for a few weeks, keep in mind that there will be updates every Monday for the time being. Eventually updates to the Pioneer format will align with other formats and follow their schedule for cards being banned or (in the case of the Vintage format) restricted.

This last era of Standard I will review will include the following sets:

  • Ixalan
  • Rivals of Ixalan
  • Dominaria
  • Core Set 2019
  • Guilds of Ravnica
  • Ravnica Allegiance
  • War of the Spark
  • Core Set 2020

Since we have just left this format today’s article may be brief. However, I feel there is still a lot to discover here considering the size of the cardpool for Pioneer. With two stops on Ravnica, a return to other favorite planes, and stops at new locations there are plenty of options for anyone to build quite a few really good decks.

Orzhov Vampires

Creature (25)
Champion of Dusk
Adanto Vanguard
Legion Lieutenant
Skymarcher Aspirant
Knight of the Ebon Legion
Dusk Legion Zealot
Vicious Conquistador

Enchantment (4)
Legion’s Landing

Instant (4)
Cast Down
Moment of Craving

Planeswalker (4)
Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord
Sideboard (15)
Tocatli Honor Guard
Noxious Revival
Vona, Butcher of Magan

How the deck works

Not seeing full development until Core Set 2020 came out due to the inclusion of Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord, this deck finally achieved its full aggro potential before leaving Standard. “You are the beatdown” is a common phrase used to describe what the pilot of an aggro deck should be doing, and it’s no different here. Deploy your threats early, and often, and attack until your opponent can answer your threats.

Pioneer Impact

There have been quite a few vampires across the sets encompassing Pioneer. You could have a line of play that starts out with a turn one Legion’s Landing off of a Concealed Courtyard, followed by a Swamp and Legion Lieutenant, then another land on turn three playing Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord using it’s -3 ability to put Drana, Liberator of Malakir (or any other vampire in your hand into play). Remember that when you activate Mutavault it becomes a vampire as well so any abilities or effects that happen to a vampire happen to it as well.

Tribal strategies can be quite strong in this format. Look for the cards that help your tribe pressure your opponent, and swing away. Vampires, Goblins, Elves, and even Merfolk are some of the favorite tribes among many Magic: the Gathering players, and this format will represent them all in some fashion.

Simic Flash

Creature (20)
Nightpack Ambusher
Frilled Mystic
Brineborn Cutthroat
Merfolk Trickster
Spectral Sailor

Instant (18)
Sinister Sabotage
Essence Scatter

Land (24)
Breeding Pool
Hinterland Harbor
Temple of Mystery
Sideboard (15)
Shifting Ceratops
Growth-Chamber Guardian
Entrancing Melody
Carnage Tyrant

How the deck works

You operate on the opponent’s turn with this deck. Doing everything from countering their spell with Mystic Snake…err…I mean Frilled Mystic, to tapping a creature before it can attack with Merfolk Trickster, and simply adding to your board presence with Nightpack Ambusher there are many options here making the replay value of this deck quite high.

Pioneer Impact

There are a few ways to go about upgrades. You can go up the curve a little playing larger creatures. Elder Deep-Fiend seems like a perfect fit for this deck as you can Emerge with a previous played creature. Perhaps you block with a smaller creature, and flash this in to Emerge with it before damage is dealt. Now your opponent is looking at a 5/6. Other options include Brazen Borrower, which is seeing a lot of play, and Bounding Krasis. Both of these provide you positive tempo keep you ahead of the game without a big mana investment.

Esper Hero

Creature (12)
Hero of Precinct One
Elite Guardmage
Tomebound Lich
Deputy of Detention

Instant (6)
Dovin’s Veto
Tyrant’s Scorn

Enchantment (3)
Oath of Kaya

Planeswalker (6)
Teferi, Time Raveler
Teferi, Hero of Dominaria
Kaya, Orzhov Usurper

Sorcery (7)
Thought Erasure
Kaya’s Wrath
Enter the God-Eternals

Land (26)
Drowned Catacomb
Glacial Fortress
Godless Shrine
Hallowed Fountain
Watery Grave
Isolated Chapel
Sideboard (15)
Hostage Taker
Narset, Parter of Veils
Thief of Sanity
Aether Gust
Noxious Grasp
Dovin’s Veto
Command the Dreadhorde

How the deck works

While there IS an Esper Control deck from this era, I wanted to focus on the Esper Midrange deck of this era instead. You have a lot of spells (almost all of them) that are more than one color. This gives you a lot of value with Hero of Precinct One. Spend your early turns attacking your opponent’s hand, their early threats, and land your Hero. Then start generating tokens every turn with the spells you cast.

Pioneer Impact

This is all up to you, and the direction you wish to go with the deck.

There are a lot of different directions, and these decks are just the tip of the iceberg when looking at what decks were available in the previous era of Standard. While Throne of Eldraine has had it’s…problems…

…don’t discount those cards as it may have some options to offer for your strategy.

In Conclusion

I want to thank you all for going on this journey with me. As we have seen, Standard changed a lot during these years (sometime for the better, sometimes not), and even though a lot of those cards may not see Modern play they may have life in this new Pioneer format.

Your Thoughts

It’s time to hear from you. What are your thoughts on the format overall? What decks are you looking at playing? Have you tried any yet? Let me know by leaving a comment below, and follow me on Facebook as well as Twitter.

Next Time

Is it the end of November already? Well I’ll be back on schedule next week, and with it being December it will be time to visit that month’s favorite tribe: Elves.

Until then…



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