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By: Cheater Hater, Vincent Borchardt
Aug 24 2021 12:00pm
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Well, this came out of nowhere! Yes, Jumpstart was likely a bigger success than Wizards expected, but I didn’t expect them to capitalize on it so quickly. However, there are two giant concerns here. First of all, the top end Modern Horizons cards are a massive increase in power level for Historic, (comparable to the non-banned Mystical Archive cards), though most of the picks were on the lower end. Second, digital-only cards is a massive slippery slope, especially when people already have problems with the exclusive “beginner” cards like Inspiring Commander—and now you’re going to add Hearthstone-style mechanics. On the good side, Conjure is interesting (though it means you need more outside knowledge), and Seek is an actual good use of digital (though not shuffling is dumb). However, Perpetually is a huge can of worms, between power level (Davriel’s Withering is way too small of a downgrade to Disfigure to permanently shutdown stuff like Cauldron Familiar) and unnecessary functionality (most of the conventional uses could be replicated by auras or stuff like Elite Spellbinder). I just hope Wizards understands how much of a rubicon this is to cross.

 

This also puts my article series in a strange space. Since neither a Limited Review nor a predictions piece makes sense we have the rare report card without a corresponding predictions piece. I could have done one of these for the original Jumpstart, but that was focused on simpler cards, and I covered the high points in my Magic 2021 article. But now I have the time (and the lead time) to dedicate some time to looking at reprints that will presumably be at least as important to Arena as the last set, if not more so. I am going to focus on the Pioneer cards, since that’s what this is essentially replacing and I’m most interested in seeing how it does on that front. Finally, I’m going to look at the cards by packet, which makes the most sense. Onto the list!

 

Packets:

Above the Clouds:

A shockingly boring deck, though Ojutai's Summons and Tightening Coils are new Pioneer cards (and Mulldrifter is neat).

 

Animated:

It’s strange Wizards chose Rise and Shine over Ensoul Artifact, but it should be interesting to get that effect in Historic after we just got an artifact land.

 

Bears:

Technically Runeclaw Bear, Awaken the Bear, and Incremental Growth are new Pioneer cards, but it’s mostly a fun deck. The first modern border versions of Bear Cub and Striped Bears period are neat though.

 

Cycling:

A strange choice, as it’s mostly reprints with Benalish Partisan propping it up. We do get Winged Shepherd and Djeru's Renunciation as a bit of catch-up at least.

 

Davriel:

Ignoring the problems with Davriel proper and his sixteen abilities, this is a pretty bland packet overall. Subversive Acolyte feels like it should be printed in paper though.

 

Delirium:

Ignoring my concerns with putting Dragon’s Rage Channeler and Bloodbraid Marauder into Historic, this has fewer Pioneer cards than you would think (just Manic Scribe and Scour the Laboratory) since the MH2 Delirium archetype is Izzet, which doesn’t align well with the primarily Golgari cards in Shadows Over Innistrad block.

 

Enchanted:

Wizards really wants Enchantress to be a thing in Historic apparently. Surprisingly there aren’t any Pioneer additions despite Theros just sitting there.

 

Energy:

This is similar to the Cycling deck as it’s built around the new Longtusk Stalker, but with even fewer interesting reprints (just the skipped-over Aetherstream Leopard).

 

Evolving:

Another strange pick, though at least it fills out Pioneer with seven random Simic cards from Gatecrash/Dragon’s Maze. Granted, none of them are good or important, but still.

 

Flickering:

As neat as Restoration Angel and the various flicker cards are (even if balancing probably took out Mulldrifter), the only new Pioneer card is Sandsteppe Outcast—and we’ll be seeing that a lot in these packets.

 

Freyalise:

Tajuru Pathwarden is the only new Pioneer card, so we can get to the real issue: who at Wizards is mandating that Elves must be a thing in Historic? First, Skyshroud Lookout is essentially a strictly better Elvish Visionary (which Historic also has) in Elf decks, as Seek means you can’t hit a land and Reach is definitely relevant. Then Freyalise, Skyshroud Partisan herself draws immediate comparisons to Jace Beleren, except pushed to modern power levels. I am wondering what happens when the big finishers join the format like Shaman of the Pack (which is a Pioneer card and thus has to come eventually) and Ezuri, Renegade Leader, to say nothing of the combo enablers (Beck/Call is another Pioneer card, even if Heritage Druid and/or Nettle Sentinel are a long way off).

 

Humans:

Thalia's Lieutenant is the big get for Pioneer, though it also has a surprising number of other cards with Hanweir Militia Captain, Abzan Battle Priest, and Valorous Stance (and as I said, Sandsteppe Outcast).

 

Goblins/Goblin Fodder:

Did this really need a double-up? The Fodder version gives it a bunch of Black cards, while the vanilla Goblins deck is a blander deck with more interesting reprints (Hordeling Outburst, Foundry Street Denizen, and Goblin Dark-Dwellers). More importantly, Reckless Ringleader is an interesting card to put in the format beyond Goblins for creature combos that would normally take a turn to go off.

 

In the Machine:

No Pioneer implications, but this does seem very dangerous for Historic with multiple Affinity cards to go along with Treasure Vault, along with more good artifacts like Esper Sentinel to pair with Tempered Steel.

 

Junkyard:

This deck gives us three Pioneer cards, but only Bonded Construct is new, while Implement of Combustion and Treasure Keeper both could/should have been in Kaladesh Remastered.

 

Kiora:

More Limited filler gets filled in for Pioneer with Coralhelm Guide (and Tightening Coils), and there isn’t much excitement otherwise—even Kiora, the Tide’s Fury herself is pretty boring.

 

Legion:

Even though Ranger-Captain of Eos and Doomed Traveler are the bigger impacts for Historic, Devouring Light, Return to the Ranks, and Fortify are good additions for Pioneer that would be tricky to print in other ways (though that doesn’t explain Boros Elite showing up here).

 

Lost and Found:

The discard-matters deck doesn’t get much new for Pioneer, but along with Just the Wind there are two important ones: Stitchwing Skaab and Haunted Dead, both of which will fuel graveyard decks in the near-future in both formats.

 

Madness:

Here’s a deck that has a good overlap between Modern Horizons 2 and Shadows Over Innistrad, resulting in five Pioneer reprints, including the combo-enabler Insolent Neonate. Static Discharge is another card that doesn’t need perpetually though—just stack the counters on an experience counter equivalent.

 

Many Faced:

It’s neat Modern Horizons’ Changeling theme got a packet, even if the actual Changeling-focused cards are overshadowed by Blade Splicer.

 

Merfolk:

I’m not sure Merfolk needed Master of the Pearl Trident, Svyelun of Sea and Sky, and Shoreline Scout to be competitive in Historic (remember, it already has Merrow Reejerey and Silvergill Adept), and annoyingly the packet doesn’t give any new Pioneer reprints (other than the repeated Coralhelm Guide).

 

Modular:

More help for Tempered Steel, as well as an archetype spurred by a surprise reprint we’ll get to in a bit, but the only Pioneer card is Ainok Bond-Kin.

 

Ninjas:

A neat choice with no Pioneer impact, though it’s strange that not everyone gets Ninja of the Deep Hours. I’m surprised Wizards bothered with Split Second just for Sudden Edict though, especially since Morph is likely coming eventually.

 

On the Draw:

Was there really nothing interesting you could have put in this deck other than Seasoned Pyromancer? Maybe Scour All Possibilities will do something when Brainstorm and Faithless Looting get banned?

 

Plague:

Yawgmoth, Thran Physician aside, this packet seems very “filler”-y—even the new Pioneer cards Eyeblight Assassin and Death Wind feel like filler.

 

Pumped Up/Scaled Up:

I’m not sure why both of these are packs, since Pumped Up has no new rares and only Abzan Falconer is a new Pioneer card. On the other hand, Hardened Scales may be the biggest Pioneer reprint of the entire set. It’ll also make waves in Historic, since most of the shell is already there (and you even add Servant of the Scale to go along with the modular cards).

 

Rats:

Another mostly fun archetype that doesn’t seem fun either in the reprint sense (though it catches up Ruin Rat) or the Limited sense—it looks really bad.

 

Reanimated:

Technically Thraben Standard Bearer is a new Pioneer card, but really, you’re going to put Priest of Fell Rites in a format that still has Faithless Looting for at least a bit longer?

 

Relentless:

Unsurprisingly, the underwhelming Modern Horizons 2 archetype results in an underwhelming packet. No important rares and no Pioneer cards means this is one to pass on.

 

Sarkhan:

On the Pioneer side, Thunderbreak Regent is a big deal, but don’t overlook Dragon Mantle in a format that’s pushing Auras already. However, Sarkhan, Wanderer to Shiv is 90% a paper-printable card, especially that first ability (yes, granting it to the cards is different than an emblem, but not by enough it can never be played in paper).

 

Scavenger:

Strangely there are two Madness packs, though this is more control-focused. On the Pioneer side, it gives us four more Madness-adjacent reprints from Shadows over Innistrad block (as well as the catch-up Reckless Racer), though mostly Limited cards. However, Managorger Phoenix seems extremely good with both the base stats and the relatively easy recursion.

 

Scorched Earth:

This is extremely boring, especially since the support isn’t there for Territorial Kavu to be good in Historic. You really couldn’t get any Pioneer cards to go with the theme either?

 

Serra’s Realm

It’ll be neat to see if Serra the Benevolent can do something in a weaker format than Modern. Angelic Purge and Angel of the God-Pharaoh as new Pioneer cards is a bonus too.

 

Sliver Assault/Sliver Hive:

This is the reason this project exists. Slivers would have been extremely hard to fit into a Masters set (especially the non-Naya ones), and “Pioneer Core Sets Remastered” was always going to be a pretty bland set. The way Wizards did it was good too, as Sliver Assault gives you most of the Masters Slivers in Boros that will make it interesting in Historic, while Silver Hive has both The First Sliver and most of the good core set Slivers like Sliver Hive, Manaweft Sliver, and Predatory Sliver. There are twelve Pioneer Slivers in the batch with mostly rares missing (Galerider Sliver, Syphon Sliver, and Sliver Hivelord among others), and those can now be filled in through Historic Anthologies.

 

Spellcasting:

Strangely this isn’t a Prowess-style deck (though there are synergies), but instead the Shaman deck, headlined by Harmonic Prodigy and Rage Forger. It does allow us to pick up the skipped-over Renegade Tactics at least.

 

Squirrels:

Unsurprisingly, the packet based on a tribe that was only recently reintroduced to Magic doesn’t have anything for Pioneer, though Verdant Command will be a neat addition to Historic, and there might be something token-related.

 

Storm:

Wizards really isn’t going to stop trying to make Storm a thing. Again, no Pioneer cards is a bummer, and I doubt Chatterstorm is going to make the deck better (though Strike It Rich will get a chance to shine in a format without Manamorphose). It doesn’t even seem good in Limited since you’re relying on Rebound spells for the extra storm (since Wizards understandably didn’t want to bother coding Suspend).

 

Teyo:

I’m not sure what to think about Teyo, Aegis Adept yet, as it could do something, but that mostly depends on how good Lumbering Lightshield is. It also strangely has barely any variation, which means no Pioneer cards that haven’t already been mentioned.

 

Tinkerer:

The token archetype is an interesting one to port to Historic, since tokens are already a big part of the format. Pioneer also gets Ulvenwald Mysteries as a good tie-in, and Khalni Garden is always neat.

 

Undone:

Concerns of a mono-blue control deck in a casual format (that gives Historic both Archmage's Charm and Dismiss) aside, it does give us the Pioneer reprint Breaching Hippocamp for some reason.

 

Vampires:

I may be biased a bit here, since Cordial Vampire is one of the Modern Horizons cards I wanted reprinted most. The deck also gives Pioneer Indulgent Aristocrat, Markov Crusader, and strangely Carrier Thrall. Now if only it brought along Viscera Seer

 

Zombie:

Hooray for Undead Augur in Historic, though Putrid Goblin means the First Day of Class combo that’s playing a big part in Pauper is now in the format as well. More interestingly, Dark Salvation and Diregraf Colossus were picked from Shadows over Innistrad block to go along with Fleshbag Marauder (as well as Accursed Horde, which could have been in Amonkhet Remastered).

 

Zoologist:

Sadly we’re ending on a whimper, as this token deck has a ton of reprints, no interesting cards other than Glimmer Bairn, and no Pioneer cards—apparently Populate was a bridge too far (though it wasn’t in either Horizons, just Modern Masters 2017).

 

Overall Review:

For “let’s bring Modern Horizons cards into Historic” this could have been a lot worse, as most of the blatant problem cards like Ragavan, Urza (and his Saga), and the free spells are nowhere to be found, and instead it focuses on the main Limited themes and the “b-tier” rares. More interestingly is that there are 150 new cards that aren’t from either Horizons (and only a fifth of those are the digital-only cards), and more than half of them are new Pioneer cards. Considering the last major Historic infusion (the Mystical Archives) was a mess, this is a win, and while it’s an obvious power increase, it’s hopefully one in the right direction.

 

Conclusion:

Clearly this is a big step for Arena, and the bigger surprise is how much Pioneer it’s still going to help with, between most of the mechanics being implemented and the large number of reprints. However, the bigger news comes from Weekly MTG: Pioneer Masters is not only still in development, it’s being actively worked on as we speak! It was even referred to as Pioneer Masters 1, pointing towards my guess that two are eventually coming to fill out the majority of Pioneer. Arena needs an old paper format now that Historic is going full digital, so hopefully official support for Pioneer is coming sooner rather than later, even if it’s just setting up a deck filter and maybe running an event or two ahead of the full launch with Pioneer Masters.

 

As for updating my design, surprisingly there isn’t that much overlap, mostly since I wasn’t using Madness or Slivers in this build, and a bunch of the cards are Limited filler I wouldn’t use (or are from Kaladesh/Amonkhet, which I left out). Importantly, neither of those major themes are ones I was planning on using in either set (the black/red themes are sacrifice and colorless aggro, and as I mentioned Slivers don’t fit well into a Masters set), so it fits rather well overall. The main hit was to Simic, which could be tricky (while there are plenty of Evolve/counters cards left, the backup Simic themes are Morph and a ramp deck using Emerge, neither of which is great or an easy fit).

 

In other reprint set news, the slow rollout of the recent Commander cards on MTGO has begun, with sixteen additions (along with a new Monarch card for Pauper) to the Treasure Chests. We’ll see how quickly the cards can come, though a lot of that will depend on how complicated the Innistrad sets are—the mechanic on the leaked Commander card doesn’t seem groundbreaking on the level of Dungeons and Flashback was already programmed, but there’s obviously a lot more to come. Now can I say the next set I’ll cover is an Innistrad set? Until then.

 

Vincent

@VincentSIFTD on Twitter