Last updated on June 21, 2022
Shark Typhoon | Illustration by Caio Monteiro
WotC’s goal is now to push Pioneer play on MTG Arena, but they’ve got quite a ways to go. There are whole blocks of sets that aren’t on the digital platform yet, including Return to Ravnica, Theros, Khans of Tarkir, and Shadows over Innistrad. So in the meantime, we have Explorer.
Today I’m going to talk all about the best cards in Explorer. If you’re interested in playing Explorer on Arena, then chances are most of the cards you’re looking to craft will be on this list.
Let’s just jump right in!
What is Explorer?
Winota, Joiner of Forces | Illustration by Magali Villeneuve
Simply put, Explorer is a Constructed format on MTG Arena that will eventually become Pioneer as more cards become available. These are the sets we’re missing right now:
- Return to Ravnica
- Dragon’s Maze
- Magic 2014
- Born of the Gods
- Journey Into Nyx
- Magic 15
- Khans of Tarkir
- Fate Reforged
- Dragons of Tarkir
- Magic Origins
- Battle For Zendikar
- Oath of the Gatewatch
- Shadows Over Innistrad
- Eldritch Moon
Although sets like Kaladesh and Amonkhet had their remastered versions on MTG Arena, WotC said that this approach may not happen with the rest of the sets for Explorer. There’s also the Anthology approach to introduce cards that are needed on Arena, where a bundle of cards is released and can be acquired with in-game resources or wildcards.
The Early Metagame
Greasefang, Okiba Boss | Illustration by Victor Adame Minguez
Since Explorer is proto-Pioneer, the early metagame can be defined by what’s good in Pioneer minus what isn’t yet available in MTG Arena. Tier 1 decks are pretty much identical to their Pioneer counterparts while tier 2 decks are a few cards away from an ideal build.
Tier 1 Decks
- Rakdos Midrange
- Rakdos / Jund Sacrifice
- Mardu / Esper Greasefang combo
- Azorius Control
Tier 2 Decks
- Mono-Black Aggro
- Mono-Red Aggro
- White Aggro
- Blue flash/tempo flyers
- Izzet Arclight Phoenix
Let’s Talk Lands
It’s impossible to talk about a Constructed format and the metagame without discussing lands. The mere existence of a cycle of lands (or an incomplete cycle of lands) can make or break certain decks and color combinations. After all, consistency is king.
Explorer offers the following cycles of lands:
- Enemy fast lands from Kaladesh
- Allied cycling lands from Amonkhet
- Check lands from Ixalan and Dominaria
- Shock lands from Guilds of Ravnica and Ravnica Allegiance
- Scry lands from Theros Beyond Death and M20
- Castles from Throne of Eldraine
- Pathway lands
- Manlands from Forgotten Realms
- Slow lands
- Channel lands
These lands will make the bulk of any given deck in the format. If you’re building a mana base, start with shock and check lands. Add a few on-color Castles, channel lands, and manlands to start.
With all that out of the way, let’s get into the best cards in Explorer!
#60. Skyclave Apparition
A multiformat white staple, Skyclave Apparition is a catch-all answer. I don’t know if it has a home outside of Winota decks or if Winota decks push Skyclave decks out of the format, but this card is too good to pass.
#59. Chandra, Awakened Inferno
#58. Gilded Goose
#57. Niv-Mizzet Reborn
A card that will have more support as the format expands, Niv-Mizzet Reborn can generate insane amounts of card advantage while also being a 6/6 flier for five mana. Cards like Chromatic Lantern will help cast this on curve.
#56. Karn, the Great Creator
Karn, the Great Creator is interesting because of its tutor ability. It comes equipped against against aggro, midrange, and control. Cards to stash in your sideboard include Portable Hole, Sorcerous Spyglass, and God-Pharaoh’s Statue, each of which serve different purposes.
Karn is already good in Pioneer, so it’ll be good in Explorer.
#55. Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger
Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger’s escape mechanic means that it keeps coming back and making your opponent lose life or cards. It gives Rakdos () decks that long-term inevitability it loves so much.
#54. Chandra, Torch of Defiance
A planeswalker with four abilities is often good, and Chandra, Torch of Defiance’s abilities cover a whole range of possibilities. You can get card advantage, damage, mana, and removal. Oh, and a game-winning ultimate.
Chandra is a great card in virtually every stage of the game and functions especially well in red-based midrange decks.
#53. Oni-Cult Anvil
#52. Kolaghan’s Command
Each of the four modes on Kolaghan’s Command is bound to come in handy at some point, and combining two of them in one punch is devastating for your opponent.
#51. Hullbreaker Horror
Although weaker in Pioneer than it is in Standard, Hullbreaker Horror is still a very nice threat in blue control mirrors and even against midrange since it generates a good tempo advantage and closes games quickly.
#50. Torrential Gearhulk
Torrential Gearhulk has flash on a decent body, which naturally serves as a good control deck finisher. You also get an instant for free which can be card draw, a counterspell, or removal depending on the situation.
#49. Korvold, Fae Cursed King
One of EDH’s most popular commanders and a key piece in Jund () sacrifice decks, Korvold, Fae-Cursed King is one of the main reasons to splash green in Rakdos decks. It becomes a massive flying threat that draws extra cards when sacrificing other permanents.
#48. Flame-Blessed Bolt
#47. Nissa, Who Shakes the World
A key card in green ramp decks, Nissa, Who Shakes the World was ban worthy during its time in Standard. It generates a lot of mana, pressures enemy planeswalkers, and can be a win condition all by itself.
#46. Play with Fire
Play with Fire is a good burn spell to hit your opponent’s face. What else is there to say?
#45. Mystical Dispute
Bring a Mystical Dispute to a counter-war matchup. One mana to counter a blue spell feels like cheating, and sometimes you need to resolve a key spell against blue-based control and tempo decks. You can also prevent Narset, Parter of Veils or Teferi, Hero of Dominaria from coming down on the other side of the table.
#44. Experimental Synthesizer
#43. Skewer the Critics
#42. Anger of the Gods
#41. Light Up the Stage
If you’re attacking your opponent or burning their face down, Light Up the Stage provides the necessary card advantage to keep going.
#40. Burning-Tree Emissary
Burning-Tree Emissary is responsible for a lot of fast starts in Gruul () aggro decks. It’s common to see red players dump their hand on turn 3 with multiple copies of this followed by another 2-drop.
#39. Dovin’s Veto
#38. Bloodtithe Harvester
Bloodtithe Harvester is a solid creature as a 3/2 for two mana that makes a Blood token. Considering that it can offer removal, flood insurance, and vampire-tribal synergy to boot makes it a potential Explorer staple.
3-mana counterspells are considered below rate, but that lifegain can make all the difference. Absorb is basically a 2-for-1 against fast aggro decks, especially burn.
#36. Prosperous Innkeeper
Prosperous Innkeeper is a non-human for Winota decks that also ramps and gains life. It’s also a worthy consideration if lifegain decks become a thing in Explorer.
#35. Tenacious Underdog
I’ve been impressed each time I see Tenacious Underdog on the other side of the battlefield. It’s a good recursive threat to be sacrificed to Ob Nixilis, the Adversary and keeps coming back and drawing cards (unless you exile it, that is).
#34. The Meathook Massacre
One of black’s better sweepers, The Meathook Massacre sees play in midrange/control and sacrifice decks, combining the -X/-X ability with the lifedrain to help stabilize against aggro. Aggressive decks should always be mindful of The Meathook.
#33. Collected Company
4-mana instant-speed Collected Company has the power to turn games around. You’ll want a lot of creatures in these decks, usually 2- or 3-drops with relevant ETB or tribal abilities. It’s an awesome tool in tribal and creature decks, usually landing five to six mana worth of creatures to rebuild from a wrath.
CoCo decks will get more toys to play with as the format evolves.
#32. Agent of Treachery
Agent of Treachery is one of the best targets to cheat into play be it from Winota, Joiner of Forces, Transmogrify, or even Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast. It can be blinked by Yorion, Sky Nomad and other effects since it’s a creature with an ETB ability.
#31. Knight of the Ebon Legion
Knight of the Ebon Legion is a great 1-drop aggro card that scales with the rest of the game.
#30. Omen of the Sea
#29. Deadly Dispute
#28. Ob Nixilis, the Adversary
Although probably not a main deck threat because Ob Nixilis, the Adversary can be attacked in aggro/Winota matchups, the impact coming from the sideboard is huge. Two or three copies of Ob Nixilis can ruin your day and it’s very difficult to deal with, providing powerful discard and damage.
This card has the potential to raise Rakdos decks to a higher tier.
#27. Brutal Cathar / Moonrage Brute
#26. Portable Hole
#25. Field of Ruin
An excellent main deck answer for manlands and the Castle cycle, every mono- or 2-colored deck should run one or two Field of Ruins.
#24. Memory Deluge
One of the best card advantage engines available for control decks, Memory Deluge provides card advantage and card selection, which is essential to beat control and midrange decks.
#23. Sorin the Mirthless
Dark Confidant is powerful for a reason, and Sorin the Mirthless‘ +1 reflects that. It’s good against control thanks to the card advantage, and it’s good against aggro because it makes a 2/3 flying lifelink token.
#22. Graveyard Trespasser / Graveyard Glutton
#21. Bonecrusher Giant
A 4/3 body for three is already good, and toss in the Stomp ability and you have one of the better red creatures available. Bonecrusher Giant is a card that fits in a lot of decks, from aggro to control.
#20. Witch’s Oven
Cauldron Familiar’s partner in crime, Witch’s Oven and the cat create a combo where you sacrifice the Familiar every turn to make a Food, which then returns the cat to the battlefield, draining for one. This apparently slow combo can become a real threat with sacrifice synergies or lifegain.
#19. Cauldron Familiar
#18. Esika’s Chariot
A vehicle that makes two 2/2s for four mana is already good, seeing that the problem with vehicles usually isn’t having creatures to crew. Esika’s Chariot has a tendency to snowball the game, copying tokens here and there. There are few cards in Explorer that can properly answer this threat with the exception of Farewell.
#17. Fable of the Mirror-Breaker / Reflection of Kiki-Jiki
Reflection of Kiki-Jiki can recursively make copies of your most relevant creatures, usually threats that have an ETB or death trigger. This makes Fable of the Mirror-Breaker a staple in big red decks.
#16. Arclight Phoenix
Arclight Phoenix is a staple across several formats. Unfortunately Explorer doesn’t have access to the same creatures and cantrips that Modern might have, so it isn’t quite the same. But don’t count the Phoenix out just yet since its namesake deck will only grow more powerful as the format evolves.
#15. Tovolar’s Huntmaster / Tovolar’s Packleader
A massive threat on its own, Tovolar’s Huntmaster is also human to cheat into play with Winota. Or it can be hard-casted. One of the best threats to reveal from a Winota trigger.
#14. Parhellion II
Greasefang puts Parhelion II on the map in Explorer. Discarding this and reanimating with the fang on turn 3 is devastating since it creates two 4/4 angels with flying and is hard to interact with. Be sure to pack removal or graveyard hate against this combo.
#13. Narset, Parter of Veils
Sometimes it’s worth playing Narset, Parter of Veils just for the static ability because it shuts down so many decks in the format. The -2 almost always grants a spell and allows you to dig for the answer you need, be it a wrath or a counterspell.
#12. Fatal Push
A staple removal in lots of formats, Fatal Push kills so many staple creatures for just one mana.
#11. Greasefang, Okiba Boss
The central piece of Mardu () and Esper () Greasefang, Okiba Boss, the power of this card comes from being able to reanimate expensive vehicles like Parhelion II and sometimes Skysovereign, Consul Flagship.
#10. March of Otherworldly Light
Instant-speed removal that exiles almost anything excluding planeswalkers is very valuable. March of Otherworldly Light is one of the few main deck answers that’s good in every stage of the game, and white control decks usually run around three to four of these.
#8. Llanowar Elves
The quintessential mana dork, almost every green creature deck starts the list with four Llanowar Elves‘. Explorer still needs to get Elvish Mystic to add that extra layer of consistency, but we’ll get there. They’re even nonhumans for synergy with Winota too.
#7. Mayhem Devil
The centerpiece in Rakdos sacrifice decks, Mayhem Devil offers tons of synergy each time a permanent is sacrificed. There are now more things to sacrifice than ever, from Food tokens to Clues, Treasures, sagas, and the interaction between Cauldron Familiar and Witch’s Oven. It’s a great time to be playing Mayhem Devil.
#6. The Wandering Emperor
Flexibility is the name of the game, and The Wandering Emperor takes that to a whole new level. You can choose to either build your own army after a wrath or deal with your opponent’s creatures, all at instant speed. Busted.
#5. Yorion, Sky Nomad
Yorion, Sky Nomad sees regular play as a companion for Azorius blink and control decks alike. The downside of playing 20 more cards is often worth it. Permanents with ETB abilities are welcome, like Omen of the Sea and sagas like Binding the Old Gods, and Yorion can also blink planeswalkers to boost their loyalty counts.
#4. Shark Typhoon
Shark Typhoon is good at every point of the game and it’s never dead thank to its cycling ability. You can make a little Shark that cantrips to trade with a small creature, generate a big 5/5 flier with flash to pressure opponents, or hard-cast it to close out the game.
Thoughtseize sees play wherever it’s legal, and Explorer should be no exception. Paying one mana for information and virtually unrestricted targeted discard will always be good.
#2. Teferi, Hero of Dominaria
One of the best planeswalkers ever and the reason to play Azorius control, Teferi, Hero of Dominaria has seen play in almost every Constructed format. Its first ability gives you tempo and card advantage all in one, allowing you to play spells on your turn while holding up counterspells. Its second ability can deal temporarily with almost every threat. Its ultimate is usually enough to win the game on its own.
#1. Winota, Joiner of Forces
Winota, Joiner of Forces is already the centerpiece of one of the best Pioneer decks, and it’s almost as powerful in Explorer. Winota’s triggers usually put powerful cards like Tovolar’s Huntmaster and Brutal Cathar into play, generating tempo and mana advantage that few decks can contend with.
Since this card is still legal in Pioneer, it’s possible that Winota will be unbanned in the future as Explorer effectively becomes Pioneer.
Thoughtseize | Illustration by Aleksi Briclot
If you’re looking to spend some of your hard-earned wildcards, the cards on this list are what I’d recommend. Keep in mind that metagames evolve, and that the power level of certain cards may change over time.
I’m loving Explorer, and I hope the format continues to receive support. If you think I’ve missed any key cards or if you have your own thoughts about this new format, let me know in the comments below or through our official Discord server. And if you’re playing MTG Arena, make sure you have Arena Tutor installed to boost your gameplay.
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