One of the most exciting things about a relatively new Magic: The Gathering constructed format like Pioneer is the chance to play your favorite creatures from previous Standard metagames. Cards like Siege Rhino, Courser of Kruphix, and Monastery Mentor are all fondly remembered playables that players wish they could make work in Modern.
Unfortunately, Modern has become such a fast environment that it's difficult to play any creature that costs more than two mana. After all, many Modern decks are looking to end the game by the fourth or fifth turn. If you've got Standard favorites that you've been waiting for an opportunity to sleeve up in constructed one more time, there's no doubt that Pioneer is the place to do it. Let's take a look at some of the creatures that are already returning to prominence.
8 Mausoleum Wanderer
The crux of the Mono-blue Spirits deck, Mausoleum Wanderer offers protection for your other creatures thanks to its ability to turn itself into a counterspell. Furthermore, Wanderer's ability to temporarily grow in size every time you play a Spirit makes it a good one mana threat that your opponent can't afford hanging around on the battlefield.
Tribal players should be elated to try their hand at Pioneer where the tribal decks once dominant in Modern have found a new home. There might not be any access to Aether Vial in Pioneer, but it turns out tribal strategies are competitive enough without it.
7 Thalia's Lieutenant
Thalia's Lieutenant is the other popular tribal deck enabler in Pioneer, providing you with a good incentive to put together a deck full of Humans. The power of Lieutenant comes from its ability to be played at any point in the game and still provide an impressive effect to your side of the battlefield.
Whether you've got one other Human on the battlefield and play her on turn two or have three to four Humans in play and cast her on turn four, Thalia's Lieutenant will boost your forces to a size that's difficult to deal with. Furthermore, she herself grows each time you play another Human. Good luck blocking that.
6 Cavalier of Thorns
Cavalier of Thorns is the premier creature of the Mono-Green Ramp (fast mana) deck. While it's a good creature, you may be wondering what's so great about a big monster with reach and the ability to bring a land from your graveyard onto the battlefield. The key here is to look closer at the land card Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx.
Cavalier of Thorns features three green mana symbols in its casting cost making it a perfect creature to pair with this land. Furthermore, its total mana value of five makes it a viable target for Storm the Festival. When Cavalier of Thorns dies, you can grab a Storm the Festival from your graveyard and set yourself up to play it again on the very next turn. At the end of the day, Cavalier of Thorns is an example of how a good card can turn into a great card when put in the right deck.
5 Eidolon of the Great Revel
If a creature is good enough to see play in Modern, it should come as no surprise that it's seeing play in Pioneer. Eidolon of the Great Revel is a staple for any aggressive red deck, costing your opponent life each time they cast a spell with a mana value of three or less.
In other words, your opponent will be forced to pay life for the majority of the cards in their library. If Eidolon of the Great Revel isn't answered the turn it comes down, it becomes very, very difficult to beat. Even if your opponent does remove it, chances are that they had to pay two life to cast the removal they used to kill it. Considering this, it's easy to see why it's such a popular creature.
4 Monastery Swiftspear
Speaking of popular aggressive creatures, Monastery Swiftspear is yet another card that sees play in Modern Burn lists. Haste and prowess are dangerous abilities to put on the same creature already, and Monastery Swiftspear has shown that one point of extra toughness makes all the difference.
Thanks to its big butt (higher toughness), Swiftspear can attack in with prowess triggers and survive against most creatures that would block it. For blockers with higher power, it's simple enough to point a burn spell at the would be blocker and still get face damage value from it thanks to Swiftspear's prowess. If you want to build Mono-Red Aggro, Swiftspear and Eidolon are a good place to start.
3 Thing in the Ice
Perhaps one of the most criminally underused cards in its Standard time, Thing in the Ice has finally found a home in Pioneer. This Horror creature provides an incredible payoff for playing a deck full of sorceries and instants and is one half of the reason Izzet (blue/red) Phoenix is such a popular meta deck.
Thing in the Ice has to be answered before its ice counters fall off. Otherwise, it will likely bounce every creature on the battlefield back to your opponent's hand and then start swinging in for a staggering seven damage. Additionally, its four toughness benchmark makes it difficult for many removal spells to take care of it. Horrifying, indeed.
2 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
While it's far from the main reason that Rakdos (red/black) Midrange is currently regarded as the best deck in all of Pioneer, Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet sure does put a lot of icing on the Rakdos cake. Like Thing in the Ice, its four toughness makes it difficult for many aggressive decks to remove. Furthermore, the fact that it has lifelink makes it necessary for most aggressive decks to remove.
Finally, the fact that Kalitas spits out Zombie tokens every time a nontoken creature an opponent controls would die turns him into an absolute beating for any creature based strategy. The presence of this card in Rakdos Midrange mainboards alone should cause Aggro players to second guess themselves before deciding to go ahead with an Aggro deck. Really, Kalitas is just that good in the matchup.
1 Arclight Phoenix
Considering the presence of Thing in the Ice, it should come as no surprise that Arclight Phoenix is currently the best creature in the format. After all, it's the namesake card of the deck that it's played in. Like haste and prowess, haste and flying are also two abilities that are dangerous to put on the same card.
The presence of cheap draw spells like Consider, Opt, and Strategic Planning alongside cheap removal like Fiery Impulse, Flame-Blessed Bolt, and Lightning Axe makes it very easy to cast enough spells to trigger Phoenix's return from the graveyard clause. Consequently, this is a flying threat that's impossible to remove permanently unless it's exiled or you delete your opponent's graveyard with a card like Rest In Peace. For Historic players who miss the days of Arclight Phoenix's dominance across the Arena format, you should be happy to know that your favorite Phoenix has found a very suitable home in Pioneer.
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