Magic: the Gathering
The Pioneer's dilemma and how to fix it
"Pioneer is dead" is something we often read on social media on the last few weeks. In today's article, I theorize what's wrong with Pioneer and what can be done to fix it.
Pioneer, a format that would cover all sets from Return to Ravnica onwards, where fetch lands were banned for facilitating too much the creation of multicolored goodstuff decks and where the banlist would be gradually created with weekly updates. The format was intended to give the Standard player a place to use their cards after they rotate out. After all, Modern had been around for more than eight years and the price tag of many cards in the format was increasing significantly, making the entry barrier for players much higher, since the investment in cards would be much more significant and possibly with the value equivalent to building 4 or more Standard decks.
What's wrong with Pioneer?
allMagic Online's other eternal formats, and it's obvious that this drove Pioneer players away from the format when they wanted to try out the new features of Modern, Legacy and Pauper. There is still no broad commitment to the format. There is no such player base fully dedicated to Pioneer. You can see this even from the lack of content regarding the format in articles and content from major Magic websites. And this is because Pioneer, unlike other formats, is very young and failed to create engagement due to the suspension of in-store games and the unbalance of the format that lasted seven months that hindered much of the interest that the players could have in the format. Unlike Modern, Pioneer did not cover an already existing player base. No one expected it, and I honestly suppose no one really thought about wanting it until it came to exist. I say this because a story that few remembers is that the creation of Modern was not a sudden act, there was significant planning in it: Extended, which was in a relatively negative state due to the rise of decks like Hexmage Depths and Thopter Sword, had just become a format that now encompassed far fewer sets, basically starting from Lorwyn and going all the way to Scars of Mirrodin, a decision that was extremely sudden and unwelcome by the community, essentially killing the format.
onlyin Pioneer. It basically looks like a weaker version of other formats. It may even be the format's identity and Wizards' goal that Pioneer basically becomes a space for players to adapt their decks of other formats, but that also makes the format seem like it doesn't have a difference, something that really motivate gamers to opt for Pioneer over other formats. All of this together makes Pioneer a format too uninteresting for content creators and unexciting for players that are not dedicated to the format. Pioneer lacks a differentiator, something that attracts players to play the format.
1 – The format was made for tabletop, and the pandemic disrupted all planning Wizards could have for Pioneer.
2 – Without a consolidated player base and with seven months of a polarized Metagame, the format has lost popularity.
3 – Its Metagame has been stagnant in the same decks since August of last year. Which would be nice if the format were played in store games, but makes it less exciting than other formats on digital platforms.
4 – Pioneer significantly lacks a nature of its own and something that defines it as a unique format. It looks like a jumble of nerfed decks of other formats together in one place.
What can be done to fix Pioneer?
Pioneer Masters? It would be a set to be released at Magic Arena in late 2020 and would basically introduce Pioneer to the digital platform. In September, it was announced that the set was postponed to 2021 and since then, we haven't heard anything about it. I'd love to say that bringing Pioneer to the Magic Arena would be a viable solution, but the platform has been so disheartening to play and its economy is so absurdly predatory that I don't particularly see players on the platform choosing not to play their favorite formats to play Pioneer and I don't believe most Pioneer players are dedicated to spending the money necessary to have a viable pool on Magic Arena. But what if we brought Pioneer Masters into paper Magic? Of course there are no $150 cards in the format as was the case with Tarmogoyf when, in simpler times, the first Modern Masters was announced. But the set came out two years after Modern's sanctioning and collaborated a lot, with significant reprints of large format Staples such as the aforementioned Goyf, Dark Confidant and the then-still staple Vendilion Clique, helping to not just make the format more accessible but also spread it to new players and popularize it in stores that didn't host Modern events before.
1 – The return of sanctioned in-store games, including large circuits where the format is present, and this solution will probably only be widely applied in 2022.
2 – The creation of products aimed at the format, to promote it to a higher number of players who are currently not interested in or even unaware of Pioneer.
3 – The proposal to create a Pioneer's own nature or characteristic so that it becomes something more than just a bunch of decks of other formats in weaker versions.
4 – The work by the Pioneer community to promote the format in their stores and local communities, creating a friendly environment and playing games that demonstrate that the format can indeed be interesting.