How the M21 Reprints Impact Pioneer
- Gianluca Aicardi
Pioneer debuted as a nonrotating format inserted between Standard and Modern and featuring all cards stretching back to Return to Ravnica. Each new premier set adds a number of cards that see print for the first time, but also some reprints that predate Pioneer's starting point, sometimes with unexpected results.
Core Set 2021 is filled to the brim with blasts from the past. Among others, there are twenty cards that already existed in the game, yet only now enter the Pioneer pool, thus conceptually creating an influx from two directions: the future, with all the brand new cards that were never printed before; and the past, with all these familiar faces that Pioneer didn't have access to.
A review of the latter is in order. But first, a clarification: when analyzing how many times these twenty cards have been previously reprinted, the following list only mentions sets that were Standard legal at the time of their release — or "premier sets", in current parlance — since reprints in supplemental products are irrelevant for Pioneer legality.
As the only permanent that grants a double Exploration effect, Azusa is a big deal in ramp and combo decks, and is still a part of the Amulet Titan archetype in Modern. Pioneer doesn't yet have an established shell into which to slot Azusa, but it has Courser of Kruphix and Experimental Frenzy, and the lost Monk can ally with junior explorers Wayward Swordtooth and Dryad of the Ilysian Grove. There might be something cooking in this particular kitchen.
Pioneer acquires an iconic piece of Magic history. Alas, in the era of high-tech tempo battles played to the beat of Teferi, Time Raveler and Brazen Borrower, the old Walletslayer is not the same supreme finisher it was ten years ago. Lyra Dawnbringer might even be considered a better 5-drop if there's at least one other Angel in the list, and still doesn't see much play in Pioneer, aside from an occasional appearances as a sideboard card against Monored Aggro. We now might see Baneslayer Angel used in the same way, an aged movie star relegated to cameos.
An aggro-oriented card that's too slow at 4, even for tribal lists.
Albeit not extremely relevant within the Pioneer meta right now, Containment Priest is an important piece of hate in the fight against Reanimator, but also Arclight Phoenix, Winota, Lukka, and whatnot. The card used to be really expensive, so this reprint is mostly aimed at easing the financial burden of Eternal formats' players. But it never hurts to have specialized answers available when needed.
A Commander staple, it's been reprinted constantly over the years in all kinds of multiplayer products. Yet it was curiously absent from Standard since its inception in 2010, despite its original design making it a more generic version of Kodama's Reach that could appear on every plane. It's still good ramp at 3, even if it faces fierce competition these days, chief being Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath.
An Oblivion Ring variant that doesn't retrigger enter-the-battlefield effects or resets loyalty — but also doesn't outright get rid of tokens and creatures made of counters— and has some lifegain attached. At 4 mana, it's not really Constructed material nowadays.
This kind of tutoring is always valuable to have on a creature, since every enter-the-battlefield effect on legs is easy to abuse via recursion or blink. This said, it's not clear what 6-drop you might want to search for in Pioneer. The only one that comes to mind is Ghalta, and the Empath could double as an enabler for Lovestruck Beast if you lost its Belle.
The boost is substantial for 1 mana. But current Red Deck Wins iterations in Pioneer aren't interested in Auras, so I'll go out on a limb and name this a pretty irrelevant addition.
Despite being unconditional, the only deck that could use this effect for double white is White Weenie itself. Now, Honor of the Pure, the very card that obsoleted Glorious Anthem elsewhere, is not in the Pioneer pool. But in the 3-mana slot, I'm confident White Weenie would rather run Benalish Marshal or Unbreakable Formation, let alone the fact that this style of white aggro has already been supplanted by the Heliod shenanigans. So I give the very card after which the Anthem effects are named zero chances to find a home in in the format.
10. Goblin Arsonist
This little fella has been emulated several times, most recently by cards like Footlight Fiend and Serrated Scorpion. The Fiend is more or less strictly better, because it can be dropped on turn one with either black or red mana. (The Arsonist's trigger is not mandatory, but the circumstances where you're forced to target yourself or your permanents are so rare as to be entirely negligible.) Still a potentially useful 1-drop in sacrifice decks in need of redundancy, or for Goblin tribal lists.
11. Grim Tutor
Possibly the most unpredictable reprint of Core Set 2021. A card only familiar to Commander players, it was printed in paper only once before, in the first of the two Starter sets from the late nineties that were created as a follow-up to the similarly short-lived Portal series. Like its predecessors, Starter 1999 would create equivalent versions of preexisting cards — in this case a nerfed Demonic Tutor — with a different name as well as templating and graphic design meant to ease new players into the game, but bizarrely ending up more confusing. The original art by the great Mark Tedin was also uncharacteristically weak, but luckily M21 gives us new artwork in two different versions, both striking. As to what Pioneer players are supposed to do with this thing, well, it's worse than Demonic Tutor but better than Diabolic Tutor. The day a combo deck absolutely needs one of several combo pieces to execute its endgame, now it can go get it for 3 mana and three life. It's probably not going to happen; this reprint was definitely for Commander's sake.
12. Lorescale Coatl
This Snake might not be impactful enough on turn three, especially in the face of a Shock. But if it sticks around, it can grow to alarming proportions very quickly. With the Pioneer meta being in large part about aggro strategies enhanced by card advantage, the Coatl may still find a home. Can Simic Aggro become more of a thing?
13. Massacre Wurm
Pioneer doesn't have too many monoblack 6-drops to ramp into — Noxious Gearhulk, maybe Tetzimoc — and Massacre Wurm is one of the all-time greats, so perhaps another target for Fierce Empath in Golgari. Field of the Dead is banned, but the Wurm is the bane of any go-wide strategy, and a hard counter to sacrifice combos. A welcome addition.
14. Palladium Myr
Surprisingly enough, this is going to be the first Myr in Pioneer, so we can forget any tribal synergy, at least for now. What Palladium Myr does is to provide every color with a double mana dork for 3 mana. It could have applications, even if the colors that most care about this kind of thing won't need its help.
15. Quirion Dryad
This Dryad was a successful beater back in the day, and the potential to shine is still there. The card could go in the same Simic Aggro list that's interested in Lorescale Coatl, and whose curve might end up being sculpted by these very reprints.
Pioneer gets a small bit of Modern Horizons! Rain of Revelation is a solid card-draw spell for permission and flash decks. It gets you one fewer card than Chemister's Insight after the jump-start, but you have to cast it only once, so it's a tempo gain. Also, you discard right away, which might be important in the right deck. Of course, Insight works even if milled, so the two spells don't always go in the same deck.
In Pioneer, you can't use Rewind to untap Tolarian Academy or Gaea's Cradle, but there might still be a few interactions to exploit. (Castle Vantress is one.) At the very least it's a hard counter that leaves your mana open afterward, allowing you to counter and enact some alternative instant-speed play at the same time. In a format with no Cryptic Command, the 4-mana slots in permission decks aren't necessarily taken, so one or two copies of Rewind could make their way into the most control-obsessed lists.
18. Runed Halo
This is a nice little card that should see more play than it does. Worst case scenario, it's a way to deal with the greatest threat on the battlefield, but it excels at stopping interactive spells and even endgames, once they're known. In this sense, it's absolutely a sideboard card, but its flexibility is enough to warrant a degree of main-deck consideration.
Another Commander classic, Solemn Simulacrum ramps, fixes your mana, prevents some combat damage, and replaces itself — the perfect workhorse, accessible to everyone. If colorless ramp ever gets more prominent in Pioneer, this guy is bound to have a role in the proceedings. And it'll look good while performing it. Born as the "sad robot" bearing the likeness of former pro player Jens Thorén — who helped design it as the seventh winner of the discontinued Magic Invitational — Core Set 2021 reprints the Simulacrum with the ornate Kaladeshi look from Commander 2019, as well as in a novel liquid form for the alternate borderless version.
20. Turn to Slag
Oh yes, this destroys Embercleave and probably the creature brandishing it, too. But almost always too late, and too clunkily for Constructed.
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