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Magic: The Gathering boots two format-dominating cards out of Pioneer

Expressive Iteration joins the Joiner of Forces in cardboard prison.

Card art for Winota, Joiner of Forces, by Magali Villeneuve, which was recently banned from Magic: The Gathering's Pioneer format by publisher Wizards of the Coast
Image credit: Magali Villeneuve/Wizards of the Coast

Magic: The Gathering publisher Wizards of the Coast said it would take a more active hand in curating the Pioneer format, and players saw the fruits of those labours yesterday when the company handed down a sentence banning two cards, Expressive Iteration and Winota, Joiner of Forces, that proved too capable at sweeping away the competition.

Play designer Michael Majors and principal game designer Ian Duke announced the bans in a blog post on MTG’s official website, where they offered some in-depth explanations for booting both offenders out of legal decklists. For the unaware, the Pioneer format is composed of cards from 2012’s Return to Ravnica block up through the present, with each new set expanding the pool of possibilities in a format meant to contrast the extremely competitive and expensive Legacy and Vintage formats.

The first of the two bans, Winota, Joiner of Forces, brings the paper game in line with an earlier ban in MTG Arena’s Explorer format. The red and white-Mana, four-cost legendary creature served as the centrepiece of a lightning quick beatdown deck that uses Mana dorks (cheap creatures that tap for Mana) to activate Winota’s ability to search for chunky human creatures as early as the third turn. According to WotC, the card’s brutal consistency and prevalence in the Pioneer metagame made it a prime target for the ban list.

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As mentioned earlier, Winota was already banned from Arena’s Explorer format. WotC mentioned at the time that the digital card version would occupy a provisional space and would be reassessed once Dominaria United released later this year. The thought was that a fresh batch of cards, mechanics and strategies might mitigate her dominance. That’s no longer the case, as WotC said “we plan to leave it banned in Explorer going forward.” RIP to big human beatdown.

Expressive Iteration might not be as flashy as Winota, but it has shaped the current Pioneer meta landscape with a similar level of influence. The red and blue two-mana sorcery allows the caster to look at the top three cards of their library, putting one in their hand, one at the bottom of their library and exiling one more. That exiled card can then be played for the remainder of the turn.

Besides acting as a cantrip (a cheap card that lets you draw another card), the Strixhaven: School of Wizardry card provides a lot of card advantage and knowledge that WotC said simply isn’t available in other competitive strategies. Expressive Iteration’s pure value has earned it the cornerstone slot in several Izzet decks and fueled their rise in popularity. Rather than banning the star players of those decks, such as Dig Through Time and Treasure Cruise, WotC opted for removing one extremely versatile tool from an already broad kit.

Card art for Expressive Iteration, by Anastasia Ovchinnikova, which was recently banned from Magic: The Gathering's Pioneer format by publisher Wizards of the Coast
Image: Anastasia Ovchinnikova/Wizards of the Coast | Image credit: Anastasia Ovchinnikova/Wizards of the Coast

The Pioneer format first launched in October 2019 and made its competitive debut in early 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic stymied its growth at physical events and weekly LGS gatherings, and many feared the immediately popular trend would wither on the vine. Wizards of the Coast has made some solid efforts to push its support now that the company is once again hosting public events (even though the pandemic rages on across the globe), as evidenced by the active pruning of troublemakers.

Those looking for more MTG news and lists should check out Dicebreaker’s coverage of the latest set, Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur’s Gate. The second Dungeons & Dragons-themed set is designed for Commander drafts and offers plenty to appreciate for fans of both games.

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