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Magic Arena’s new Explorer format will eventually evolve into Pioneer

Hear that? It’s the sound of pitchforks and torches being lowered.

Image credit: Anato Finnstark/Wizards of the Coast

A dream many Magic Arena players thought lost has come true - the online platform for Magic: The Gathering will now support Pioneer. Well, sort of. Publisher Wizards of the Coast announced a plan to eventually create a “true-to-tabletop” format beginning with the introduction of a game mode the company has dubbed Explorer.

Part of a spree of news regarding Magic Arena and the newly revamped Pro Tour competitive scene, Explorer will be a non-rotating format that all standard sets will eventually rotate into. Wizards of the Coast said it will spend the next several years gradually adding cards from other sets into the Explorer pool until they feel confident changing the name over to Pioneer. The paper format accepts all cards from the 2012 Return to Ravnica block forward to the present, minus some select bans.

“Our goal is ‘all the Pioneer cards that matter,’ so when we eventually embrace the Pioneer name on MTG Arena, you should expect us to be at a point where the decks you want to play will be available,” a post on their website reads. “[That] means we'll be working toward all of the cards that are regularly played in Pioneer decks, much the same way that Vintage on Magic Online doesn't contain every 2/2 for two ever printed, but it does contain all the cards needed to mimic the paper Vintage format.

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Their path to mimicking the tabletop version of Pioneer will reportedly begin later this summer when Magic Arena will introduce Historic Anthology 6 - the long running series that backloads cards from older sets will now support both the fledgling Explorer and Historic formats. Speaking of that, the post seemed to imply that Historic is now a “digital-first” set akin to Alchemy, forming a neat parallel with Pioneer and Standard where cards can be rebalanced and digital-only mechanics can shape the environment.

The post very explicitly states that Wizards of the Coast will be using the tabletop Pioneer ban list for Arena’s equivalent, and cards in Explorer will never be rebalanced or suspended. The trading card game company might have felt compelled to not mince words on this issue given players’ generally negative reaction to Alchemy and the swath of cards rebalanced in its wake.

Explorer was officially added to Magic Arena today, and will be available as a best-of-one and best-of-three match setup, in both ranked and unranked queues. That puts Explorer on equal footing with Standard Constructed modes, and players will be able to increase their Constructed rank and earn the same rewards when playing the new mode.

Introducing Explorer makes good on a feature that once existed on Arena’s roadmap all the way back in 2019, when the format was first introduced. The COVID-19 pandemic seemed to kill any momentum for it to take off in-person, and many players invested their hopes in Arena picking up the slack. Now, it’s even a featured format in some upcoming competitive events. Fans may not be able to joke about Wizards’ inability to say the word “Pioneer”, but they’re too busy queuing up to care.

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