Following last week's article on my Top 10 Modern Cards of 2022, it only seemed right to highlight my favorites for Pioneer as well. While there will be some overlap with the Modern list, Pioneer is an ecosystem all its own with a plethora of powerhouse cards worthy of a shout-out. As with last week, I will preface this article with a disclaimer that these are just an opinion. If there's a card you were expecting to be on the list or ranked differently than you expected, let me know in the comments below.
10. Liliana of the Veil
Liliana of the Veil was the face of the early days of Modern, serving as the centerpiece of nearly every black-based deck for almost a decade. It was grindy and difficult to answer while taking advantage of the lack of card draw available in the format. With its new-to-Pioneer reprint in Dominaria United, Liliana once again has somewhere to shine.
Pioneer is no stranger to card draw. It's the only competitive format where Treasure Cruise remains legal. However, Liliana's utility goes beyond setting up a one-card soft lock. She is the best recursive discard outlet in the format and punishes control players' reactive draws. Drawing out an Absorb in order to resolve a Greasefang, Okiba Boss or being able to discard Parhelion II to bring back later are common, yet powerful lines. Black midrange decks can combine Liliana's discard with the taxing ward ability on Graveyard Trespasser to keep the opponent from being able to interact with the Trespasser.
9. Giada, Font of Hope
Giada, Font of Hope is an interesting inclusion because it's not as flashy as some of the other cards on this list, but it's an important role player. Historically, angels have been big, bomb-y creatures at high mana values like Akroma, Angel of Wrath and Baneslayer Angel. They have all the payoffs for a wow-factor finish, but not a lot of support to get to that point. A trend in recent years has been to print powerful angel creatures at lower mana costs like Righteous Valkyrie, Inspiring Overseer, and Resplendent Angel. Despite a surprisingly deep pool of three-mana angels, prior to Giada, Youthful Valkyrie was the only two-drop.
Giada provides a highly important curve filler, mana acceleration, and a powerful lord effect on an already above-rate body. Its printing has made GW and Bant Collected Company Angels decks something to be feared in the format. For pushing this fan-favorite creature type into the upper echelons of competitive play, Giada earns herself my ninth-place spot.
8. Misery's Shadow/Tenacious Underdog
Including both Misery's Shadow and Tenacious Underdog as my eighth-place card feels a bit like cheating, but the two serve the same function. One of, if not the top deck in Pioneer currently is RB Midrange. The deck features Thoughtseize, a bunch of spot removal, and more three-drops than the opponent can shake a stick at. Graveyard Trespasser, Bonecrusher Giant, Go Blank, et. al. are powerful but clunky. Giving the deck not one, but two powerful two-drops to complement a playset of Bloodtithe Harvester (which has been doing a lot of heavy lifting) brings RB from a dinky pile of good stuff to a top deck with an excellent curve.
Tenacious Underdog shines as a hasty revenge killer against planeswalkers like Liliana of the Veil and the occasional Teferi, Hero of Dominaria that gets value out of discarding or trading off.
Meanwhile, Misery's Shadow hedges against opposing Underdogs as well as popular cards like Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger, Arclight Phoenix, and Old-Growth Troll by exiling them when they would leave the battlefield. Given how often RB Midrange makes its way to the late game, Shadow gets to shine as a bear on curve or a massive beat stick down the line.
7. Oni-Cult Anvil
It definitely says something about the Pioneer card pool that two separate Rakdos decks are able to co-exist while fighting on different axes. Oni-Cult Anvil was a major pick up for Caldron Familiar-Witch's Oven decks. This RB Sacrifice deck utilizes various artifact and sacrifice synergies to generate massive board states and card advantage, slowly chipping away at the opponent.
Oni-Cult Anvil is the complementary engine that makes the Cat-Oven plan purr, but the archetype also received support in the form of Ob Nixilis, the Adversary, Experimental Synthesizer, and Mishra's Research Desk this year. It's clear an aristocrats-style deck was a priority for the folks at Wizards, and you don't hear me complaining.
6. Fable of the Mirror-Breaker
What a surprise! Adam is talking about Fable of the Mirror-Breaker in yet another article. Here's the thing, Fable is that good. For three mana, it comes with two must-answer creatures, mana acceleration and fixing, and card selection. It does everything for a surprisingly accessible mana cost and no singular removal spell deals with the value generated from this saga. In most situations, it's going to pull its caster ahead or slam the door shut if they're already winning.
Fable shines both as a midrange card in the Rakdos decks as well as a combo piece in Indomitable Creativity shells, providing ramp, filtering, and fodder to facilitate Torrential Gearhulk casting Magma Opus from the graveyard. If left unchecked, it can even make token copies of Gearhulk to really grind the opponent into the ground.
I don't know who signed off on this card, but I wouldn't be surprised to see it on the Pioneer ban list this time next year.
5. Sheoldred, the Apocalypse
For a four-drop creature with no enters-the-battlefield effect, Sheoldred, the Apocalypse has really been getting around. She has mostly replaced Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet as the top end of RB Midrange, and just like Kalitas, is the deck's primary source of life gain. This helps to fuel cards like Castle Lochtwain and Sorin the Mirthless that trade life for resources as well as offset early aggressive plays from the opponent.
Sheoldred benefits from mediocre non-black removal options as well as a highly resilient five toughness, allowing it to typically block in combat without dying, then immediately recouping life with each draw step. Incidental drawing from Fable of the Mirror-Breaker and Blood tokens also help further pad the player's life total against aggressive strategies like Mono-White and Atarka Red.
Most notably, decks like UR Phoenix and the Hidden Strings-Lotus Field draw a ton of cards. Sheoldred punishes these decks for spinning their wheels, and if the opponent doesn't have an immediate answer, she creates a quick clock as they dig for one.
4. Unlicensed Hearse
Everything I said about Unlicensed Hearse in Modern applies to Pioneer as well. After the initial mana cost, Unlicensed Hearse disrupts the opponent's graveyard for no mana. Compare this to similar cards like Lion Sash and Scavenging Ooze which need mana for each activation. Soul-Guide Lantern and Tormod's Crypt can one-shot a graveyard to stop the opponent from doing things once they hit a critical mass, but Hearse prevents them from reaching that mass in the first place. It also threatens to be a "hasty" game-ending creature once the opponent decides to crew it, which must also be respected.
Pioneer is the only format where delve spells like Treasure Cruise and Temporal Trespass are legal and see heavy play. Access to Hearse stops these delve decks from being able to cast their spells for anything short of their full (or nearly full) mana cost, and it does so for zero colored mana required.
With such a low opportunity cost, Hearse gets to wreak havoc on some of the most popular decks and their powerful spells. It's easy to see why Unlicensed Hearse is the most popular card in the format with more than 38% of decks registering at least one copy.
3. The Channel Lands
As with every other format, the channel lands of Boseiju, Who Endures, Otawara, Soaring City, Sokenzan, Crucible of Defiance, Eiganjo, Seat of the Empire, and Takenuma, Abandoned Mire have become must-have staples in every deck that features their respective colors.
These lands tap for colored mana and enter untapped, meaning there is little to no downside in including the first copy. This tracks with their usage as they rank first, second, sixth, tenth, and eleventh in usage for lands respectively, representing 36%-22% metagame saturation. The only other lands to crack the top ten are basics and Den of the Bugbear. I cannot understate how powerful these cards are, or how important the added reach from uncounterable removal, hasty instant-speed creatures, or graveyard recursion in a land slot is.
This cycle is powerful because of its non-existent opportunity cost coupled with providing a free out against mana flood. Never leave home without Channel Lands. For those interested in Magic finance, I strongly recommend picking up as many copies as possible.
2. Greasefang, Okiba Boss
Coming in at number two is Greasefang, Okiba Boss, the namesake card that spawned its own top-tier archetype from the moment it was spoiled at the top of the year. Greasefang reanimates and crews a vehicle from the graveyard and gives it haste. The most potent target is Parhelion II, which either kills the opponent in a single shot or gets them very close to dead and cleans up the following turn.
Greasefang decks have gone through several permutations with the current preference seeming to be an Abzan shell with self-mill cards like Grisly Salvage. The green splash gives the deck a midrange plan of just casting and recurring Esika's Chariot over and over, or occasionally casting Skysoverign, Consul Flagship. Both of these options are hard for the opponent to answer and divert attention away from the usual Parhelion lines.
Is this a cheap way out for me to condense my list to just ten items? Maybe, but the Karn, the Great Creator wishboards are very deserving of my number one spot. Mono-Green Ramp continues to be one of the best decks in Pioneer, utilizing Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx to generate ridiculous sums of mana. Karn acts as a payoff, combo piece, and plan B with its ability to pull artifacts from the sideboard. Thanks to multiple artifact-focused sets in 2022, the range of options for these wishboards has gotten particularly scary.
Finally, Woodcaller Automaton is a wishable ritual effect that untaps Nykthos, reducing the need for either Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner or Teferi, Who Slows the Sunset during the initial stages of a combo turn.
These are just a few of the newest cards to make up the Karnboard. Unlicensed Hearse mentioned above also makes an appearance as well as plenty of 2021 cards like Treasure Vault and Esika's Chariot. Suffice it to say these Karn packages keep getting stronger and stronger. I imagine 2023 will be no different.
That's a wrap on another countdown list for the most powerful cards from 2022. Were there any significant players from Pioneer that I missed? What does your list look like? Leave a comment or shoot me a message on Twitter @AdamECohen and let me know.
Be sure to get hyped for next week too! Explorer Anthology II drops in a few days and I'm excited to see how it'll upgrade the metagame as we inch closer to true-to-Pioneer territory. Be sure to come back next week to check out my Adam Plays Magic article. You won't want to miss it.