pioneer guide how to play magic the gathering 2023

Magic the Gathering has a selection of formats to play the game in. New MTG players often struggle when deciding which format they should start with. There are several factors to consider when making that decision.

Budget is always an important consideration. It is pointless to start with a format where the average deck is outside your budget. Some players prefer longer games while others enjoy fast-paced games, so the speed of the format should also be factored into the decision-making process. There is also the stability of the format to consider. Unlike rotating formats where meta changes regularly, nonrotating formats are usually stable. Pioneer strikes a nice balance between those elements, making it an optimal format for those who don’t like either extreme.

Pioneer - The best new format since Modern

When talking about the best MTG format, the decision of which format is the best will always depend on what kind of games you enjoy the most. People who love wild interactions and chaotic combos will enjoy EDH. Some players prefer the brutal efficiency of eternal formats, while others love the ever-changing nature of Standard.

modern staples mtg pioneer vs modern

Pioneer is based on the same ideas that were the foundations of Modern at its inception. It aims to give players a nonrotating format that isn’t as expensive and brutal as eternal formats. Modern was filling that niche for a long time, but with the addition of many new sets since Modern’s inception, it became as powerful as Legacy. Pioneer is still fresh, but undoubtedly in the future, it will also become extremely fast and efficient, and we will need a new format to take its place. 

Modern vs Pioneer - Which one is best for you?

Modern is a fast and efficient format that brutally exploits any opening. Some players enjoy the fast-paced games of MTG. When you are learning how to play Magic the Gathering, it is usually better to stick to a format that is a bit slower. Pioneer has a large enough card base to stay diverse while lacking some Modern staples like Lightning Bolt, Serum Visions, and Mishra’s Bauble. The absence of such cards reduces the power level of Pioneer decks. A lower power level slows games down and makes more room for experimenting with suboptimal cards.  

Another important consideration is the budget. Modern decks aren’t as expensive as Legacy and Vintage decks, but they still come with a much bigger price tag than Pioneer decks. There are archetypes that are strong in both formats, but the Pioneer version has to use weaker versions of some cards, making the deck cheaper.

For example, Azorius Control relies on Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and The Wandering Emperor in both formats. March of Otherworldly Light and Supreme Verdict are used as removal spells in both versions of the deck. However, the most expensive cards in the deck like Solitude, Chalice of the Void, and fetch lands can’t be used in Pioneer, reducing the price of the deck by $800. If you intend to start with Pioneer and move to Modern later, it might be a good idea to build such a deck.

azorius control modern vs pioneer mtg magic the gathering

Listing all these benefits of Pioneer over Modern makes it look as if I am telling you not to play Modern, but Modern isn’t without merits either. The higher power level of cards in Modern makes it more stable than Pioneer because a smaller number of cards from Standard is good enough to be used in Modern. Player-base is another element to consider. Modern is the most popular competitive format, which means you can find games and tournaments much easier in Modern.

Modern vs Pioneer – pros and cons

Modern pros:

  • One of the most stable formats
  • Big player-base
  • One of the best competitive formats
  • Diverse

Modern cons:

  • Pricier than Pioneer
  • Too fast and brutal for some players

Pioneer pros:

  • One of the cheapest formats
  • Stable but changing faster than eternal formats
  • Diverse

Pioneer cons:

  • Playerbase is still not as big as some other formats
  • Some Magic the Gathering staples don’t exist in Pioneer

What makes Pioneer unique? Meta and restrictions overview

Out of all nonrotating formats in Magic the Gathering, Pioneer is the one where meta changes most often. Pioneer’s fluid meta comes from power level, which is low compared to other non-rotating formats. With a lower power level, many cards from new sets are used in the format. For example, currently, the most popular deck in meta is Rakdos midrange and half of the deck is legal in Standard. This is good for players who enjoy playing Sealed formats and opening booster boxes, and players who are transiting from Standard to Pioneer, as they will easily build Pioneer decks from cards they already have.

pioneer staple cards 2022 magic the gathering

Another element that makes Pioneer unique is that some cards banned in more powerful formats like Mystic Sanctuary and Tibalt’s Trickery didn’t make it to the Pioneer ban list. This might seem weird to new players, but those cards are not powerful on their own. Instead, they are powerful when combined with other cards that exist in Pioneer.

In conclusion, Pioneer is a unique format where lots of cards that aren’t legal or good enough for other nonrotating formats find their place. Another important factor that makes Pioneer unique is the pace at which it is changing. A format that is stable enough for decks to last a long time while not so unchanging to become stale is a breath of fresh air in MTG.  

Budget deck lists to get you started

Unlike Standard, you can’t play Pioneer in Arena. Pioneer is slated to release on MTG Arena in a few years, but until then, you will have to learn to play Pioneer with real cardboard cards. If you are new to Magic the Gathering, you will probably want to construct a budget deck until you get the feel for the game. Don’t worry, budget doesn’t equal boring in Magic the Gathering. Budget decks are less competitive than their full-priced equivalents, but they can still be played in a competitive environment with a decent success rate.

Mono Red Chandra - Budget Planeswalkers Deck

mono red pioneer budget deck list guide

It doesn’t matter whether we are talking about Pauper, Modern, or Pioneer, no budget deck list is complete without mono-red. Red decks are good at dealing damage to both players and creatures, and this one is no exception. However, it comes with a twist, this deck is the best budget option for players who want to experiment with planeswalkers. By playing this deck, you will learn when to go for the throat and when to protect your planeswalkers. It will also teach you how to decide which planeswalkers to prioritize when you can’t protect them all.  


4x Chandra’s Regulator
4x Mazemind Tome
1x Mirror Box


4x Chandra’s Triumph
3x Flame-Blessed Bolt
4x Spikefield Hazard
1x Valakut Awakening


2x Anger of the Gods
4x Light Up the Night


4x Chandra, Acolyte of Flame
2x Chandra, Fire Artisan
2x Chandra, Flamecaller
2x Chandra, Heart of Fire
1x Chandra, Pyromaster
3x Chandra, Torch of Defiance


19x Mountain


2x Abrade
2x Damping Sphere
2x Fry
4x Legion Warboss
3x Soul-Guide Lantern
2x Staff of the Flame Magus

Sultai Emerge - Sacrifice weak creatures to cast strong ones

emerge sultai budget deck list pioneer magic the gathering

The previous deck on the list has no creatures inside. This one is the complete opposite, it is all about creatures. The core mechanic of the deck is Emerge. Emerge lets you sacrifice a creature to reduce the cost of a spell cast with its Emerge ability. The deck has a good ramp through creatures, some reanimation, and a tutor that searches for your Eldrazi win conditions. 


4x Biolume Egg
4x Colossal Skyturtle
4x Distended Mindbender
4x Elder Deep-Fiend
4x Elvish Mystic
3x Elvish Rejuvenator
4x Fierce Empath
4x Llanowar Elves


3x Abrupt Decay
3x Fatal Push


3x Barkchannel Pathway
3x Darkbore Pathway
1x Forest
4x Llanowar Wastes
4x Opulent Palace
4x Sanctum of Ugin
1x Swamp
4x Yavimaya Coast


2x Damping Sphere
4x Duress
3x Go Blank
1x Infernal Grasp
1x Legion’s End
2x Noxious Grasp
2x Scavenging Ooze

Author - Ante Radoš

Magic the gathering


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