Last updated on February 28, 2024

Shark Typhoon - Illustration by Caio Monteiro

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!

Table of Contents show

What Is Explorer?

Thoughtseize - Illustration by Aleksi Briclot

Thoughtseize | Illustration by Aleksi Briclot

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
  • Gatecrash
  • Dragon's Maze
  • Magic 2014
  • Theros
  • Born of the Gods
  • Journey Into Nyx
  • Magic 15
  • Fate Reforged
  • Dragons of Tarkir
  • Magic Origins
  • Battle For Zendikar
  • Oath of the Gatewatch

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 like gems or wildcards. We’ve already had important cards released for the format through Explorer Anthology 1 and 2.

The Metagame

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

  • Abzan Greasefang
  • Azorius Spirits
  • Mono Green Devotion
  • Rakdos Midrange
  • Rakdos Sacrifice

Tier 2 Decks

  • Azorius Control
  • Indomitable Creativity Combo
  • Lotus Field Combo
  • Mono Red Aggro
  • Mono White Humans
  • Selesnya Angels

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:

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!

#55. Faerie Mastermind

Faerie Mastermind

Faerie Mastermind is a nice 2-mana flash threat that applies pressure and preys on your opponent’s card draw. It’s a nice addition to rogues/mono blue tempo decks, and in the late game you can spend mana to draw extra cards of it.

#54. Ossification


Providing a quick answer to a planeswalker or creature for only mana is very powerful. Ossification is quickly becoming the go-to removal spell in white-based decks.

#53. Illuminator Virtuoso

Illuminator Virtuoso

Illuminator Virtuoso is one of the scariest cards to face in heroic-based decks. It’s a double-strike threat that grows via conniving with every spell pointed at it. It allows the heroic player to loot through their deck, adding this aspect of hand-management and speed that the deck didn’t have previously. It’s a strong combo with Monstrous Rage, too.

#52. Leyline Binding

Leyline Binding

Six mana is a lot, but with some trilands like Jetmir's Garden around, Leyline Binding is usually cast with 1-2 mana. You’ll then have an excellent cheap flash removal spell that combines very well with Up the Beanstalk.

#51. Up the Beanstalk

Up the Beanstalk

Up the Beanstalk is getting traction across multiple formats. It replaces itself, and in the late game, you’ll draw a bunch of cards from this 2-mana enchantment.

#50. Anger of the Gods

Anger of the Gods

A good sweeper in red that also exiles. Mass removal doesn’t get much more efficient than Anger of the Gods.

#49. Light Up the Stage

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.

#48. The Meathook Massacre

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.

#47. Oni-Cult Anvil

Oni-Cult Anvil

One of the engines behind Rakdos sacrifice decks, Oni-Cult Anvil wins the game slowly but surely. There will always be plenty of Treasure, Blood, and other artifacts to sacrifice and make 1/1s.

#46. Jegantha, the Wellspring

Jegantha, the Wellspring

Jegantha, the Wellspring is a beefy 5-layer mana dork that ramps you in a strange way, with only colored mana. Multiple top Pioneer decks use the Wellspring and sometimes as a companion.

#45. Yorion, Sky Nomad

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.

#44. Field of Ruin

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.

#43. Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger

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.

#42. Monastery Swiftspear

Monastery Swiftspear

Monastery Swiftspear is one of the best red 1-drops available for many formats. It frequently attacks as a 2/3 or more with the right support.

#41. Kolaghan's Command

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.

#40. Deadly Dispute

Deadly Dispute

A key card in sacrifice decks, Deadly Dispute lets you save your sacrifice fodder from removal or combat damage while drawing two cards and making a Treasure.

#39. Brutal Cathar / Moonrage Brute

Non-humans used to be very important for Winota decks that don’t exist anymore since the card got banned. Still, Brutal Cathar is important in white weenie and tempo decks, and it’s a hell of a card to be found with Collected Company.

#38. Witch's Oven

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.

And yes, Cauldron Familiar stacks well with multiple copies of Witch's Oven.

#37. Cauldron Familiar

Cauldron Familiar

Not much else to say for Cauldron Familiar given the whole explanation for why Witch's Oven is good.

#36. Absorb


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.

#35. Supreme Phantom

Supreme Phantom

If spirits tribal is a thing, that award goes in part to Supreme Phantom. You’ll give +1/+1 to all your little spirits, and it’s part of the aggro-control deck that can hold protection in hand at the same time that it becomes a bigger threat. Suddenly your opponents are on the defensive.

#34. Farewell


Yes it’s mana-heavy, but there are few cards that will save your bacon like Farewell. You can even select which permanent types to exile if you want to preserve part of your board.

#33. Go for the Throat

Go for the Throat

This instant black removal should replace Heartless Act or Infernal Grasp as the format evolves. Unless you're facing lots of artifacts I'd recommend playing Go for the Throat instead.

#32. Rattlechains


Rattlechains is an interesting spirit as a 2/1 flash for two. You’ll protect a fellow spirit from removal while growing your board and continuing to attack.

#31. Shark Typhoon

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.

#30. Mayhem Devil

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.

#29. Arclight Phoenix

Arclight Phoenix

Arclight Phoenix is a staple across several formats. Unfortunately the format revolves heavily around Greasefang, so expect maindeck graveyard hate and more coming from the sideboard and that ends up hosing.

Still, you never know when Arclight Phoenix decks will become top tier, so don’t count this important card out.

#28. Chandra, Torch of Defiance

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.

#27. Liliana of the Veil

Liliana of the Veil

Multi-format all star Liliana of the Veil comes to Pioneer and Explorer. The planeswalker doubles as discard, removal spell, and win condition, plus it’s a great reinforcement to Rakdos midrange strategies.

#26. Bloodtithe Harvester

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.

#25. Sheoldred, the Apocalypse

Sheoldred, the Apocalypse

Sheoldred, the Apocalypse deserves a spot in Rakdos midrange, one of the best decks in the format. You’ll naturally drain your opponents for two along the way, hold the fort with a big deathtouch body, and your opponent will be in trouble if they draw more cards.

#24. Tenacious Underdog

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).

It’s a hell of an answer against Liliana of the Veil too since you can discard the Underdog and attack the next turn.

#23. Giada, Font of Hope

Giada, Font of Hope

Giada, Font of Hope is one of the best 2-drops in Selesnya angels decks. It ramps into your other angels and gives them +1/+1 counters.

#22. Righteous Valkyrie

Righteous Valkyrie

Giving +2/+2 to all your creatures is no joke. Righteous Valkyrie is the best payoff to gain life and play angels. After you have 27 or more life you’ll smash hard.

#21. Collected Company

Collected Company

Collected Company sees play in many creature decks, including white weenie splashing green or angels decks. The more important 2- and 3-drops you have in your deck, the better CoCo will be. After your opponent wrath the board you’ll play it at instant speed and find important cards to progress your game plan.

#20. Portable Hole

Portable Hole

A piece of flexible removal much like Fatal Push, but at sorcery speed. Portable Hole’s flexibility gets any permanent that costs two mana or less and even gets around indestructibility.

#19. Spell Queller

Spell Queller

Spell Queller is one reason to add white to a blue tempo deck. It gets buffs from your spirit lords but it is also one of the best answers to uncounterable spells like Supreme Verdict. Be aware of this guy flashing in during a counterspell war.

Hard to kill (2-for-1 thanks to the ward effect), Graveyard Trespasser also provides lifegain and graveyard hate. It’s even more of a threat when flipped.

#18. Bonecrusher Giant

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.

#17. Shaman of the Pack

Shaman of the Pack

Shaman of the Pack‘s availability gives Explorer a new combo-y deck, and that’s an elf ball that'll finish the game with one or two of these.

#16. Thespian’s Stage

Thespian's Stage

If Lotus Field is powerful, Thespian's Stage allows us to have more copies while going around the downside.

#15. Esika's Chariot

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.

#14. Lotus Field

Lotus Field

Lotus Field is slowly breaking up the format as a way to produce loads of mana quickly, and combined with untap effects, it allows for some strong combo-control builds. In fact, many of the Azorius Control lists adopted the card as a way to cheat on mana and improve the late game.

#13. Fable of the Mirror-Breaker / Reflection of Kiki-Jiki

The saga part of this card is okay since it generates a token that makes Treasure, plus some value in discarding/drawing. The real deal is the transformed part.

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.

#12. Fatal Push

Fatal Push

You can kill any 1- and 2-drop with Fatal Push, and it can do much more together with fetch lands or Blood tokens. A black removal spell that’s a staple of many formats.

#11. Teferi, Hero of Dominaria

Teferi, Hero of Dominaria

Teferi, Hero of Dominaria is the main reason to play control in Explorer. You can play it in Azorius and Esper () as a way to get card advantage, mana advantage, and a flexible removal in its -3 ability. The format’s been harsh to control decks too, but never leave Teferi totally out of the format.

#10. Nissa, Who Shakes the World

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. Nissa will help Nykthos decks generate lots of mana and be one of the win conditions that’s tough to deal with.

#9. March of Otherworldly Light

March of Otherworldly Light

Instant-speed removal that exiles almost anything excluding planeswalkers is very valuable. March of Otherworldly Light is one of the best removal spells in the format, and one that allows you to trade card for tempo advantage.

#8. Elvish Mystic

Elvish Mystic

That’s Llanowar Elves #5-8 for you. Decks that want a 1-mana accelerant really want Elvish Mystic, and it gets better in elf and mono green aggro decks.

#7. Llanowar Elves

Llanowar Elves

Llanowar Elves is playable in green aggro and midrange lists alike, and it’s one of the best turn 1 accelerants. Ramping to a 4/4 on turn 2 or a planeswalker on turn 3 is always powerful. And there’s elf decks in the format too with the presence of Shaman of the Pack.

#6. The Wandering Emperor

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. Karn, the Great Creator

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's stock has only risen with the introduction of Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, and the increased popularity of green devotion.

#4. Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx

Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx

Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx is one of the cornerstones of the format, especially in green devotion decks. The land is capable of generating lots of mana at once, and if you have ways to untap it, even better.

You’ll see Nykthos together with Nissa, Who Shakes the World and Karn, the Great Creator a lot.

#3. Parhelion II

Parhelion 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.  

#2. Greasefang, Okiba Boss

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.

#1. Thoughtseize


Thoughtseize sees play wherever it’s legal, and Explorer is no exception. Paying one mana for information and virtually unrestricted targeted discard will always be good, especially in a metagame that’s so dependent on having engines like Greasefang combo or angels Collected Company/lifegain.

Wrap Up

Greasefang, Okiba Boss - Illustration by Victor Adame Minguez

Greasefang, Okiba Boss | Illustration by Victor Adame Minguez

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. The meta as it is right now is influenced by some fast decks that push others out, but this can change with the printing of new cards and bannings.

I love 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 in the official Draftsim Discord. And if you’re playing MTG Arena make sure you have Arena Tutor installed to boost your gameplay.

Now go craft some cards!

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  • Avatar
    Arthur September 8, 2023 8:17 am

    I believe #35 is intended to be Sheoldred, the Apocalypse

    • Jake Henderson
      Jake Henderson September 8, 2023 11:35 am

      Hi Arthur! I think you’re right, and I changed the article to reflect that change. Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

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