8 Must-Know Interactions for MTG Pioneer Players

In Pioneer, there are a lot of sweet combos to assemble, corner-case interactions to explore or nonobvious plays to make. This short article highlights eight of them. All weird interactions are based on cards from popular decks, so they could come up in competitive matches.



Witherbloom Command Won’t kill Unlicensed Hearse If Crewed in Response

Witherbloom CommandUnlicensed Hearse

Witherbloom Command is a staple in Abzan Greasefang, where it doubles as a combo enabler and as a piece of interaction. Unlicensed Hearse is one of the most-played sideboard cards in Pioneer, largely because it can exile Parhelion II in response to a Greasefang, Okiba Boss trigger.

A naked Unlicensed Hearse can be destroyed by the second mode on Witherbloom Command. However, if you control Unlicensed Hearse, then you would often do well by leaving a two-power creature untapped. If the Vehicle is crewed in response to Witherbloom Command, then it is no longer a noncreature permanent, so Witherbloom Command fizzles and Unlicensed Hearse survives. Just make sure that the Hearse has exiled cards before turning into a creature, as a 0/0 creature would die right away.

Abrupt Decay Cleanly Kills Graveyard Trespasser

Abrupt Decay (Timeshifted)Graveyard Trespasser // Graveyard Glutton

Graveyard Trespasser is a staple in Rakdos Midrange, and removing it normally costs two cards. But Abrupt Decay (a popular inclusion in Abzan Greasefang, Niv to Light and various other decks) is different because it literally can’t be countered. 

When you cast Abrupt Decay targeting Graveyard Trespasser, ward triggers, saying “counter Abrupt Decay unless its controller discards a card.” You’re allowed to discard a card, perhaps because you want Parhelion II in the graveyard or because you miss the interaction. But if you don’t discard, then Abrupt Decay won’t be countered, and it will kill Graveyard Trespasser without having to spend extra resources.

Karn Can Rebuy Exiled Cards

Karn, the Great CreatorLeyline Binding

Karn, the Great Creator is a staple in Green Devotion, where its main role is to grab artifact cards from your sideboard. However, Karn can also take artifacts that are exiled face-up.

For example, suppose you as a Green Devotion player got Esika’s Chariot earlier in the game, it died and now you want it back. Then if you have multiple Karn activations available, you could grab Tormod’s Crypt from your sideboard, exile your own graveyard, then grab the exiled Esika’s Chariot. Of course, this is a bit convoluted. 

However, rebuying cards that your opponent exiled is realistic. For example, if your opponent exiled this Esika’s Chariot with Leyline Binding, then remember that you can simply -2 Karn to put the artifact into your hand.

Spell Queller Can Exile Spells for Good

Spell QuellerOtawara, Soaring City

Here’s how Bant Spirits players can put rules knowledge to good use.

Step 1: Flash in Spell Queller and target an opponent’s spell on the stack.

Step 2: Holding priority, respond to this enters-the-battlefield trigger by bouncing Spell Queller with Otawara, Soaring City.

Step 3: Spell Queller’s “leave the battlefield” trigger resolves, and it does nothing because it hasn’t exiled a card yet.

Step 4: Spell Queller’s “enters the battlefield” trigger resolves, exiling the spell with no opportunity of ever getting it back.

A similar trick works with Skyclave Apparition too.

For Spell Queller specifically, there are two additional things to remember. First, Spell Queller can exile Rending Volley just fine – it doesn’t counter the spell, it exiles it. Second, if Spell Queller exiled Bonecrusher Giant and subsequently dies, then the red player can choose between casting Stomp and Bonecrusher Giant.

Thing in the Ice Won’t Always Bounce Everything

Thing in the Ice // Awoken HorrorUlvenwald Oddity // Ulvenwald Behemoth

Thing in the Ice regularly occupies one or more flex slots in Izzet Phoenix. When you transform it into Awoken Horror, usually all other creatures are returned to their owner’s hands.

But sometimes, a Horror remains. Thing in the Ice itself is a Horror, of course, and so is Hullbreaker Horror. That one is easy to remember because it’s part of the name.

What’s easy to miss is that other creatures sometimes have the Horror type as well. After going over the entire Pioneer card list, I found a couple of ones that are seeing fringe play, such as Grakmaw, Skyclave Ravager and Yarok, the Desecrated, but most realistically, you’ll encounter Woe Strider, Ulvenwald Oddity and Obosh, the Preypiercer. All of them are Horrors, and that’s important to know in a matchup between Izzet Phoenix and a deck like Jund Citadel, Mono-Green Aggro or Mono-Red Aggro.

Finally, remember that changelings are Horrors. Realmwalker, Masked Vandal and Orvar, the All-Form have seen fringe play in Pioneer, and sometimes the realization that they won’t be bounced by Awoken Horror can mean the difference between winning and losing.

Embercleave is Sometimes Best at the End of Combat

EmbercleaveKolaghan's Command

As an Embercleave player, the trickiest part of the combat phase is the end of combat step. This happens after combat damage is dealt, but when creatures still count as attacking creatures. Note that you’ll need to set manual stops online.

One scenario where the end of combat step can be relevant is when you fear that the opponent has a removal spell and you don’t want to act first into it. The worst case scenario is if it’s Kolaghan’s Command, as losing both your artifact and your creature is a terrible loss. In such cases, you may not want to cast Embercleave before combat damage is dealt.

Yet you might still want to play Embercleave for its reduced cost, especially if you fear losing your hand to Thoughtseize or Liliana of the Veil on the next turn. In such situations, the end of combat step can be the best time to cast Embercleave. 

Another scenario is when you want to use a reduced-cost Embercleave defensively by attaching it to an untapped creature that intends to block on the opponent’s turn. Then you might also prefer to wait until the last possible moment. This is also rare, but you’re probably not using the end of combat step enough. 

Double-Faced Sagas Exile Themselves

Fable of the Mirror-Breaker // Reflection of Kiki-JikiThalia, Heretic Cathar

Remember that double-faced Sagas exile themselves before returning to the battlefield transformed. In that way, they’re different from Werewolves. When such a Saga’s third chapter triggers, then that’s a new creature entering the battlefield, which means that Thalia, Heretic Cathar will tap it.

When a Saga exiles itself, then this also counts as a permanent leaving the battlefield. This means that it’s a sweet way to enable revolt on Fatal Push.

Protection Won’t Always Save Your Creature

Unchained BerserkerBrave the Elements

In a matchup between monocolor decks, you’ll often see creatures that gain protection from a color. It’s easy to shortcut into thinking that they’re safe from everything, yet there are often surprising ways around protection that you may not immediately see coming.

The channel lands, for example, are all colorless. So Eiganjo, Seat of the Empire will destroy an attacking or blocking Unchained Berserker. Likewise, Sokenzan, Crucible of Defiance creates colorless tokens that can easily foil a Brave the Elements-fueled alpha strike. Finally, Kozilek’s Return is colorless, so it’s a spicy sideboard option.

The Stomp adventure of Bonecrusher Giant is another way to get around protection. If you block with one or multiple white creatures and give them protection from red, then you might walk into Stomp’s damage prevention annulment. Combat damage will then happen as normal.

As a final note: If you play Mono-White Aggro against Mono-Green Devotion with Lovestruck Beast, then remember that the 1/1 token from the Adventure is white. This is obvious on online versions of Magic, but if you’re playing paper Magic and the green player didn’t bring proper tokens, then the interaction against Brave the Elements is easy to miss. Just remember: Lovestruck Beast is how a mono-green deck makes white blockers.


1 thought on “8 Must-Know Interactions for MTG Pioneer Players”

Leave a Reply

Scroll to Top