5 Explorer and Pioneer MTG Decks On My Watchlist

I just got through playing a ton of Explorer to practice for the World Championship on MTG Arena. At this point in time, I’d say that Explorer and Pioneer have at least 90 percent strategic overlap. The biggest single difference is the absence of Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx and therefore the weakening of Green Devotion in Explorer. While the precise Power Rankings between Explorer and Pioneer might change, almost any deck that’s competitive in one format will also be competitive in the other. 

In this piece, I’ll discuss my Worlds prep as regards the Explorer format, and five decks that I considered submitting. Then, I’ll look ahead to the upcoming United States Regionals tournament in Atlanta, and offer five decks that I’m considering playing. You’ll see that there’s some overlap in the two lists!


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Mono-Blue Spirits

Explorer Mono-Blue Spirits by Reid Duke


This is the deck I actually played, and boy do I love it. People have asked me about this deck so much that I’ve developed a scripted answer which says it all: “Every card is great and costs one or two mana!” Really, what more could you ask for?

I find Mono-Blue to be an underdog against hateful versions of Rakdos Midrange and Rakdos Sac. However, these matchups aren’t even as bad as people make them out to be, and you’re still in good shape when you have a decent draw on the play. At the same time, you’re very heavily favored against most people who are trying to assemble a combo or resolve expensive spells.

I went 4-2 in the Explorer portion, and would happily play Blue again if we were to rerun the tournament.

Enigmatic Incarnation

Explorer Enigmatic Incarnation by Yimin Zhi

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For a while, Enigmatic Incarnation was our “team deck.” I think all of Logan Nettles, Jan Moritz-Merkel, Zhi Yimin and I would’ve played it if we didn’t have alternative options that we really liked. As it happened, only Zhi registered Enigmatic in the end. 

This deck is awesome, and I said that for a large, open-field tournament it would’ve been a slam dunk. Why the distinction between a large, open field and a small, elite field? Enigmatic is heavily favored against “obvious” decks like Rakdos Midrange, but I thought there wouldn’t be a ton of Rakdos at Worlds, and that people might be a step or two ahead of what we’re seeing on the Arena Ladder.

Our team also did a lot of work on the deck list, cleaning up a messy-five color mana base into a tight, consistent, four-color version.

Rakdos Sacrifice

Explorer Rakdos Sacrifice by Logan Nettles


Logan and Jan played Rakdos Sacrifice. This was sort of their pet deck, and I never felt attached to it personally. However, I did play a lot with it and can’t deny its power. Particularly since I knew Logan and Jan had tuned versions of the deck, it would’ve been a fine decision for me at any point to put my trust in them and pick up Rakdos Sac.

Rakdos Midrange

Explorer Rakdos Midrange by Jean-Emmanuel Depraz


Rakdos Midrange is indeed a great deck, and it’s also right in my wheelhouse. I love a lot of the cards – like Thoughtseize, Fatal Push and Liliana of the Veil – and it makes for exactly the type of games I want to play. I also enjoy the process of tuning a midrange deck to perfection and having the perfect plan for every matchup I expect to face.

Once again, there was just this background fear that the small, elite field would be a step ahead, and that people would come with decks that beat Rakdos.

Fight Rigging

Explorer Fight Rigging by Reid Duke


One thing that surprised me at Worlds is that not one person registered a deck powered by Llanowar Elves and Elvish Mystic. I love these decks! I also love the card The Great Henge.

My favorite deck in this vein was Golgari Fight Rigging, which gets to maindeck the full four copies of The Great Henge guilt free. This is probably the most explosive creature deck in Explorer. And because it touches into black, it gets much better sideboard options than something like Mono-Green.



Looking ahead to Pioneer, here are five decks I’m considering. I’ll start with the ones that overlap with Explorer.

Mono-Blue (Again)

Playing Mono-Blue again is my current front-runner. I’d be lying if I said it was purely a metagame consideration. The fact is that I enjoy this deck, I’ve already practiced a ton with it, and it’s cheap to buy – which is a consideration for me since I don’t have much of a Pioneer collection in paper. 

Enigmatic Incarnation (Again)

I said before Worlds that Enigmatic would be a slam-dunk pick for a larger, more open field. Should I put my money where my mouth is?

One consideration is that this deck seems a little weaker in the transition from Explorer to Pioneer. This isn’t any fault of the deck itself, but rather the opposing strategies being slightly different and more powerful. For instance, there are dedicated combo decks like Lotus Breach. Plus, there’s a big difference between a Nykthos Green deck that can combo off with The Chain Veil and Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner compared to one that’s simply looking to cast some big, dumb creatures.

Rakdos Midrange (Again)

When push comes to shove, I might not be able to resist submitting Liliana of the Veil in Atlanta.

Green Devotion

Pioneer Mono-Green Devotion by rastaf



I said I liked Llanowar Elves decks, and here’s my chance to play one when it’s actually the best deck in the format. I’m confident that if I sleeved up Green Devotion, played well and won a lot of my die rolls, I’d end the event with a good record. 

Izzet Phoenix

Pioneer Izzet Phoenix by O_danielakos


The other deck that’s substantially powered up in the transition from Explorer to Pioneer is Izzet Phoenix. While I’m definitely more of a Golgari mage, this is actually the deck that got me to Worlds. I played it to strong records in the Historic portion of two different Set Championships last year.

In addition to the explosiveness, I really like playing with card selection spells like Consider and Chart a Course. They give you extra control over the direction of the game and minimize the risk of mana screw and mana flood.

Izzet Phoenix has a lot of intangible qualities that I really like in a deck.

What do you think? What should I have played at Worlds, and what should I play in Pioneer?


1 thought on “5 Explorer and Pioneer MTG Decks On My Watchlist”

  1. Thank you for working so hard on the Enigmatic list! Its been my favorite deck since the card was released and I’ve been waiting for so long for a team to tune the list. This one is bomb on the ladder, and so much fun to play. Personally, I will be adding the 3 mana Zur, and hornet queen to the sideboard.

    Zur is an excellent fetch against spirits and other aggro decks as both a way to make/keep blockers and gain life, and also ends the game very quickly with leyline binding. Furthermore the 1/4 flying body rocks

    Hornet queen is also for blue spirits lol

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