Hopefully, everyone reading this has enjoyed good returns on the initial movers of Pioneer. Last week, I discussed the Pioneer dual land options and included some decent speculative targets. This week, I'll continue looking at the format and potential specs. I realize that the title of this article might seem a bit ambiguous so I think the first thing I need to discuss is my reasoning behind how I speculate for the Pioneer format.
Pioneer as a format consists of sets from Return to Ravnica forward. We saw substantial playerbase growth from Zendikar forward. With the format focused on the more recent sets, it means that the supply of most of the cards in the format is extremely high. In turn, we will likely see much lower price ceilings for format staples. This isn't Modern, so there aren't going to be cards that were printed once 16 years ago; our oldest legal cards were printed September 2012, over 7 years ago. What does this mean?
- Cards with multiple printings will have a much lower price ceiling due to high availability.
- While a few uncommons will have potential, most of the ones that do are likely already played in other formats so demand already exists for them.
- Given the high availability, when cards do spike, their prices will likely retract faster and end up further from the spike price as players quickly flood the market with copies.
Cards that are good in multiple formats might seem like good targets for speculation, but you have to consider who your customer base is regarding these options. It only makes sense that the new Pioneer format will increase demand for staples like Thoughtseize; their price already factors in eternal demand so your customers are only those who didn't already own copies for Modern or Legacy. These targets are much lower risk thanks to additional demand, though the reward is also reduced because the buy-in already factors strong demand into the price. These are also the cards that moved first, as they were the most low-hanging fruit.
The best targets are the cards that don't see play in any other format but become staples in the Pioneer format. They will have very low buy-in prices due to previous lack of demand and very good returns should you be able to sell into the spike. We have already seen some of these cards start to do so. The most obvious choices were the ones that were previously banned in Standard, though anyone who got in on those is best to get out ASAP, as there have already been hints that bannings of certain strategies are likely. These are cards like:
Now I will go out on a limb and guess that cards like Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time are less likely to be banned if only due to the fact that the format lacks a lot of cheap cantrips and no fetchlands filling the graveyard quickly isn't something that most decks can do.
Another strategy that many people are using is to look back at the best decks of Standard since Pioneer began, and see if any of them can be easily ported to the format. One very important thing to keep in mind with this strategy is that oftentimes the "best" deck in standard is heavily influenced by the metagame and by what answers opponents have for that particular strategy as well as the speed of the format.
On the "answers" front there are two potential speculative targets I see that shut down the biggest combo decks of the format and almost always seem to have some targets from opponents decks.
Both of these artifacts can be used to preemptively stop key cards in many standard decks of old. From Aetherworks Marvel to Saheeli Rai to Liliana, the Last Hope, Pioneer seems to be a format with a vast number of activated abilities, and the ability to prevent their use BEFORE they can be activated once is huge. I imagine if we had access to either of these cards during Marvel or Copycat's heyday that bannings may not have been necessary.
Currently, Sorcerous Spyglass is basically a bulk rare, whereas Pithing Needle is actually sitting around $3. As the Pioneer format evolves we will get a better feeling on the speed, so we'll likely learn whether the extra mana to cast Sorcerous Spyglass is worth getting to see your opponents hand or not. We do also have Phyrexian Revoker courtesy of M15, however, being a creature is likely a liability rather than a strength as most decks pack some answer to creatures.
We also know that Mono-Red aggro decks have been the best deck in Standard multiple times during the Pioneer set period, and aggro decks prey on unrefined metagames, which is why we often see them win the first few weeks after set rotations. I think Pioneer is no exception; it wouldn't surprise me to see a lot of Mono-Red decks show up in the MTGO 5-0 decklists. While straight-up aggro is not everyone's cup of tea, there are a few cards that are likely to find a home in most Mono-Red lists.
Legion Loyalist has been above $10 twice AFTER it had rotated out of Standard. The recent guild kit printing definitely crashed its price. However, it still provides two important keywords on a one drop with haste and has a relevant creature type. Copies can be had for under $3 and I could easily see a jump back to $10+ if Mono-Red proves to be a format defining archetype.
Soul-Scar Mage is another powerful red 1-drop with two important keywords. It has prowess, which has spawned a tier 2/3 archetype in Modern, and it essentially gives any source of noncombat damage whither. While one might ignore that second one, one of Mono-Red's biggest problems is when the opponent can stick a big enough threat to act as a roadblock that forces the aggro player to keep losing their best creature each combat. This effect is especially good with a card like Searing Blood helping kill the roadblock AND still deal damage to the opponent.
Lastly, I want to discuss cards that get better with larger card pools. Speculator and MTG Pros alike have often been baffled when cards with seemingly high power levels never materialize into decks. Many times this is because the card pool at hand doesn't support them in a way to maximize their power. This is why cards like Deathrite Shaman, while extremely powerful in eternal formats, saw very little Standard play due to the lack of lands that quickly enter the graveyard.
Birthing Pod is currently banned in Modern after creating a very powerful creature-based combo deck. While Vannifar is certainly weaker than Pod, it's a creature that can be tutored for with Chord of Calling and is in a powerful color combination. The creature card pool in Pioneer is decently large, and while I can't currently come up with any game-winning combos using Vannifar, she offers a ton of value. This is mostly thanks to multiple creatures that can untap her when they enter the battlefield, accelerating out powerful creatures while filling the graveyard. I'll admit that without a specific combo chain in the format, this one does seem a bit more ambitious as a speculation target, but it does have a powerful and desirable ability; it can always be used as a commander too, so the risk is minimal.
After being banned in Commander, this card plummeted in price. It never really found a home in Standard and so far hasn't really found one in Modern yet. Its power level is high enough that it may eventually break out, but we'll see. That being said, Pioneer seems like a great format for this card to shine. The card pool is big enough to allow you to do pretty broken things with it, but small enough that games should hopefully last long enough to reliably cast the 5-mana artifact.