Wizards of the Coast has revealed Magic’s newest format: Explorer. It is available to play on MTG Arena starting next week and will eventually evolve into the tabletop Pioneer format over the course of the next few years.

“Explorer is a Constructed, non-rotating, ‘true-to-tabletop’ format using all the Pioneer-legal cards available on MTG Arena,” Wizards said in its announcement. The 60-card format will begin with the same ban list as Pioneer—though if Explorer-specific bans are required before the format reaches parity with Pioneer, Wizards will ban problematic cards form Explorer rather than suspending or balancing them. (These Explorer-only bans will not result in wildcard refunds.)

The new format will “be available in Best-of-One and Best-of-Three matches for both ranked and unranked play, Explorer-format Constructed events, and specialty events like the upcoming Explorer Metagame Challenge,” they continued. “Explorer ranked matches will contribute to your Constructed rank and you can earn Play-In Points through the evergreen Explorer Constructed events,” and will be featured in upcoming tournaments.

A Continuation of the Journey to Pioneer on MTG Arena

“Consider this the first leg of our Pioneer journey, where one day Explorer will be ‘retired’ as a format, and we simply call it…Pioneer,” Wizards stated.

But that journey “will take several years to accomplish,” they continued, and won’t result in every single Pioneer-legal card being added to MTG Arena. Instead, Wizards will focus on “all the Pioneer cards that matter,” which Wizards defines as having all of the cards for “the decks you want to play” available in the game. They will gradually add those “cards that matter” to MTG Arena via releases like Historic Anthologies—the next of which, Historic Anthology 6, is scheduled to be released this summer.

“[W]e’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,” Wizards said. “[C]ards that have a high development cost with little or no play in the Pioneer format, are low on our priority list” and probably won’t make it into MTG Arena.

The Prince Format that was Promised

Wizards may say that Explorer is the first leg in their journey to bring Pioneer to MTG Arena, but it could more accurately be seen as the second, third, or even the fourth leg.

Pioneer has been high on the list of most-requested additions to MTG Arena ever since the format was first announced in October 2019. A few weeks after the format’s introduction, Wizards said that they “begin adding ‘remastered’ versions of older sets” to MTG Arena starting in 2020 with the intent of eventually supporting Pioneer.

Wizards ended up releasing two “remastered” sets—Amonkhet Remastered and Kaladesh Remastered—and even promised a Pioneer Masters set by the end 2020 to push towards full support of Pioneer on MTG Arena. “We’ve danced around this one a little bit, so let’s just come out and say it—the next Pioneer-focused set remaster will be a Pioneer Masters set,” Wizards said at the time. The set was intended be be a digital release that, similar to the Modern Masters series, would take cards from the various Pioneer-legal sets and combine them into one, cohesive, draftable set.

Unfortunately, Pioneer Masters never materialized. It was eventually delayed until 2021 and then put on an indefinite pause in July 2021 so that Wizards could focus on the new MTG Arena-only Historic format, which was introduced just a few months before Pioneer in June 2019. “Some steps toward Pioneer will come as part of Historic’s growth, but we have paused work toward the Pioneer Masters sets for the time being,” Wizards said in their final announcement about the set, and they did “not anticipate a Pioneer Masters release in the next year.”

The introduction of the Explorer format is the first indication of renewed interest from Wizards in supporting Pioneer on MTG Arena since July 2021. It is unclear if this means that a Pioneer Masters-like set is back in the cards but the likelihood that it eventually sees the light of day has definitely increased now that there is an(other) official plan to bring Pioneer to MTG Arena.

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