Pioneer—a new nonrotating format featuring cards from Return to Ravnica and forward—is coming to tabletop and Magic Online events very soon!

Why a new format, and why now? And where and when will you be able to play it? Excellent questions, all!

This Thursday, October 24, Aaron Forsythe and Max McCall will be on Weekly MTG on at 2 p.m. PT to answer any and all questions about Pioneer. In the meantime, read on to learn a bit more about the format and the ideas behind it.

The story of Pioneer starts with Modern. Years and years and years ago (in 2011, to be exact), Modern was created as an in-between point for players not yet ready for the deep dive of Legacy but looking for more ways to use their collection once cards rotated out of Standard. It was eighteen years after the first Legacy-legal set was released—that would be Limited Edition (Alpha)—and the gap needed filling.

Fast forward to now, and Modern has become what we wanted it to be—a nonrotating format players enjoy and feel free to explore. Standard, meanwhile, is thriving and being introduced to a new generation of players through Magic: The Gathering Arena.

But there's a gap. A sizeable one. The oldest Modern set came out in 2003—sixteen years ago. And now that Modern's card pool is this large, it no longer serves the needed role of "format where you can use your Standard cards after rotation." For players who started more recently and still want to play with their favorite cards after rotation, Pioneer, like Modern before it, bridges that gap while providing a fun experience for both tabletop and Magic Online. Currently, there are no plans to add it as a format to Magic: The Gathering Arena.

Before we go further down the Pioneer trail, let's make one thing crystal clear: Modern isn't going anywhere. We love Modern, and players do as well. Pioneer isn't a replacement in any sense. It is, instead, a recognition of a diverse, growing, and stratified player base. As we discussed when we launched our updated esports programs, tabletop play is growing, and that growth means we need to provide not just more opportunities to play, but more ways to play. We view Pioneer as additive.

Pioneer Infographic

Pioneer will utilize sets from Return to Ravnica forward. One goal in creating Pioneer was for the format to be large enough to have cross-block synergies to give the format its own unique characteristics. Starting with RTR gives the format that is the most different from Modern, since Modern launched right before RTR. For more on why that set was used as the format's inception point, be sure to tune in to the Weekly MTG stream on October 24.

Additionally, the initial banned list will include just five cards—the fetch lands: Bloodstained Mire, Flooded Strand, Polluted Delta, Windswept Heath, and Wooded Foothills.

We'll talk more about the B&R philosophy on Thursday, but the gist of the banning decision is as follows: mana bases with fetch lands and shock lands are very strong and make playing three or four colors too easy. Decks can become more homogenous and the format becomes more defined by how many of the strongest cards players can squeeze into one deck. More constraints on mana bases add diversity to the format and make decks play differently from one another.

The format will be available to build and test on Magic Online starting October 23, with premier and qualifying events starting soon thereafter. On the paper side, the format will be available for high-level play soon! Pioneer will be one of the formats at the first Players Tour Series of 2020 occurring February 1–2 and February 8–9. Additionally, the Players Tour Finals the weekend of April 25, 2020 will also utilize the format. Then, starting March 21, some tabletop qualifying events for Players Tours will start using Pioneer.

In the interim, as this is a new format, we'll be watching it closely at its inception and banning cards on off-cycle dates. We'll be using Magic Online for data gathering and will be willing to ban cards if they are problematic early on. Watch @Wizards_Magic and @MagicOnline, as well as the News section of this very website.

Pioneer will have the following support on Magic Online, beginning on October 23 when the game comes up from downtime:

  • Play Lobby support on the level of Standard or Modern (i.e., super visible), including a League
  • Weekly Format Challenges on Sundays, but no Format Playoffs for 2019
  • PTQs on the following dates:
    • Friday, November 1
    • Friday, November 8
    • Friday, November 15
    • Friday, December 6
    • Saturday, December 7
  • A MOCS Preliminary event will be run Saturday, November 23

The launch of a new format is always an exciting time, and we can't wait to see what players think and what they come up with!