Last updated on October 28, 2022

Linden, the Steadfast Queen - Illustration by Ryan Pancoast

Linden, the Steadfast Queen | Illustration by Ryan Pancoast

Getting into Explorer from scratch can be daunting. There are so many sets with powerful cards, and most of those will be missing from your collection if you haven’t been playing on Arena since its release.

But there’s hope. You can always upgrade some of your Standard decks into Explorer versions, and for that you need to know the staples and where to find them if you opt for the pack-cracking route.

Ready to level up? Let’s get started!

Which Sets Are on MTG Arena?

Shark Typhoon - Illustration by Caio Monteiro

Shark Typhoon | Illustration by Caio Monteiro

Explorer is basically Pioneer restricted to sets found only on MTG Arena. For that, we’ll need to list all the sets that are legal for Explorer. Here they are:

As more and more sets are added to MTG Arena, they’ll also be legal in Explorer. WotC already signaled their plan to converge Explorer and Pioneer by releasing the remaining sets on Arena. Until then we’ll address only the sets and cards that are already on Arena.

So, which of these sets have the most important staples that you must have in order to enjoy the format?

Honorable Mention: Historic Anthologies 1-5

The Historic Anthologies deserve their own separate mention because these cards can only be crafted by spending wildcards. They aren’t available for drafting or opening in boosters. Older cards were systematically added to the game in sets called “Historic Anthologies” over the course of Historic‘s existence on Arena.

Since we’re talking Explorer, there are some cards that interest us that come from these anthologies:

Of all these cards I’d highlight Burning-Tree Emissary and Kolaghan’s Command, which are already seeing play in top-tier Explorer decks. But the only option if you need one of these cards is to craft it using wildcards.

#21. Core Set 2019

Core Set 2019 is maybe the weakest set for Explorer, and one that doesn’t offer very much. Aside from Supreme Phantom and Stitcher’s Supplier, which both see moderate play, the cards themselves are weak and there isn’t really a reason to open M19 boosters.

Alpine Moon also sees some play in the sideboard against decks that want to cheat with nonbasics like Lotus Field. I love Nicol Bolas, the Ravager, but it doesn’t have a home… yet.

Here are my top cards from Core Set 2019 for Explorer:

#20. Strixhaven: School of Mages

I haven’t seen much from the Strixhaven set. The lesson/learn package, which is certainly playable in Standard, didn’t make the jump to Explorer so well, and the cycle of dual lands from this set are among the worst possible to play.

Here are my top cards from Strixhaven:

#19. D&D: Adventures in the Forgotten Realms

Sadly for fans of D&D and its MTG mashup, this set doesn’t offer a lot. It has some useful tools in the form of Portable Hole and Deadly Dispute. Green has its staples with Prosperous Innkeeper and Werewolf Pack Leader, and each color gets its manland, which you usually don’t need more than one of per deck.

Here are my top cards from Forgotten Realms:

#18. Rivals of Ixalan

Rivals of Ixalan has support for tribes like vampires and dinosaurs, but that’s about it. Top-notch vampires come in the form of Skymarcher Aspirant, Dusk Legion Zealot, and Champion of Dusk. There are some important dinosaurs here too, and cards that are not only good in dinos but in other green decks too.

My top cards for Rivals of Ixalan are:

#17. Ixalan

Ixalan wasn’t a good set on a power level basis, even during its time in Standard. The set doesn’t offer much for Explorer aside from some dinosaurs and vampires.

The reason why it’s better than Rivals is that it offers the allied cycle of check lands, which see guaranteed play in almost any deck you want, including top tier decks. And important cards for control like Search for Azcanta and Settle the Wreckage are here, as well as blue staples like Dive Down, Chart a Course, and Siren Stormtamer.

Here are my top cards from Ixalan for Explorer:

#16. Core Set 2021

Core Set 2021 continues the trend of Core Sets having low power in the Explorer format, but there are some interesting cards here. Powerhouses like Ugin, the Spirit Dragon and Elder Gargaroth for decks interested in big mana spells, Peer into the Abyss for the mono-black devotion deck, and eternal format staple Scavenging Ooze.

In terms of lands, besides Fabled Passage, Core Set 2021 offers the cycle of enemy color Temples, which aren’t very good but can function as replacements for dual lands if you have one or more of them.

Here are the best cards from Core Set 2021 for Explorer:

#15. Dominaria

Dominaria’s power level has aged poorly. There isn’t much to see here aside from Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and the enemy check lands. And this set has wizard, goblin, and knight support, so Dominaria can support them well if these tribes ever become a thing. Green staple Llanowar Elves is here, but that’s a common and can easily be crafted.

Here are the best cards for Explorer from Dominaria:

#14. Kaldheim

Here’s where things start to get better for Explorer. Kaldheim finishes the Pathway cycle with four entries, a cycle that sees play in every color combination it fits into. And don’t forget Faceless Haven, which is important in mono color decks.

Speaking of which, green decks have powerful cards here like Esika’s Chariot and Old-Growth Troll, while red decks have Goldspan Dragon, Birgi, God of Storytelling, and Magda, Brazen Outlaw. And this set will be a huge support if snow decks ever become a thing.

These are my top cards from Kaldheim for Explorer:

#13. Innistrad: Crimson Vow

Crimson Vow offers a valuable set of lands: the slow lands. There’s also got cards that see play in lots of red decks, like Voldaren Epicure, Flame-Blessed Bolt, Abrade, and all-star 2-drop Bloodtithe Harvester.

Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is playable in every single eternal format up until Vintage while Sorin and Chandra round out the list.

My top cards from Crimson Vow are:

#12. Zendikar Rising

Zendikar Rising is where things really start to pick up. One of the reasons is the cycle of six Pathway lands. But that’s not all. A lot of decks get better with cards from this set. A lot of the good cards for Dimir () rogues are here, like Soaring Thought-Thief.

White decks got a boost with Legion Angel, Skyclave Apparition, and Luminarch Aspirant. Gruul () aggro decks have some beef with Akoum Hellhound and Brushfire Elemental alongside Wayward Guide-Beast.

The best cards from Zendikar Rising for Explorer are:

#11. Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths

Ikoria has power all over the place. We’ve got powerful cards for human decks, like Dire Tactics and General’s Enforcer. And the tools are all here if cycling ever gets to be a deck in Explorer, from Zenith Flare to all the cheap cyclers and payoffs.

Shark Typhoon is a blue staple, Winota, Joiner of Forces is one of the most powerful cards (currently banned), and all the companions from Yorion, Sky Nomad to Jegantha, the Wellspring are here too.

The cycle of Triomes supports a lot of decks, especially with enemy colors like Jeskai () and Sultai ().

My top cards from Ikoria are:

#10. Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty

Let’s talk power in Neon Dynasty. First there’s the cycle of Marches, from March of Otherworldly Light, one of the most powerful and flexible removal spells, to the blue and black Marches that also pull their weight.

Speaking of flexibility, The Wandering Emperor and Farewell add a lot to Azorius () control, which is already a top deck in the format. Fable of the Mirror-Breaker sees play in every midrange deck, and there’s also Greasefang, Okiba Boss, which spawned its own deck.

My top cards from NEO for Explorer are:

#9. Guilds of Ravnica

Ravnica sets are usually special for MTG players, and one of the reasons is the printing of the shock land cycle. These are the most powerful lands in Explorer. They’re still key in any good Explorer mana base, evne if they don’t have synergies with the fetch lands present in older formats.

Besides that, we can find good Izzet () staples here like Arclight Phoenix, Crackling Drake, and Niv-Mizzet, Parun. There’s also Guild Summit for the gates deck, removal all-star Assassin’s Trophy, and plenty of others.

My best cards from Guilds of Ravnica are:

#8. Ravnica Allegiance

Rounding out the cycle of shock lands, Ravnica Allegiance has its share of powerful cards. Here we have gates payoff like Gates Ablaze and Gatebreaker Ram, plus powerful instants like Growth Spiral, Absorb, and Bedevil.

There are also important cards for black aggro decks, like Gutterbones and Spawn of Mayhem. Rounding up the list is Simic () powerhouse Hydroid Krasis.

My top cards from Ravnica Allegiance are:

#7. Core Set 2020

Core Set 2020 is one of the most powerful Core Sets. One reason for that is it’s sandwiched between War of the Spark and Throne of Eldraine, two of the sets responsible for raising the power level of MTG and Standard overall.

We have the foundations for Simic flash decks in Brineborn Cutthroat and Nightpack Ambusher. If elementals ever become a tier deck you have Risen Reef.

The color hate cards like Aether Gust and Noxious Grasp make for great sideboard staples. And don’t forget the ban-worthy Agent of Treachery, which steals something from your opponent when cheated into play and can be later blinked or reanimated.

Good black cards overall in Knight of the Ebon Legion and Rotting Regisaur round up the list.

My top cards from Core Set 2020 are:

#6. Theros: Beyond Death

Theros: Beyond Death offers us a lot of synergies with enchantments. If there’s a powerful deck in Explorer that wants enchantments, then this set will contribute massively.

We already have the cycle of Omens, which are enchantments that stay on the battlefield and generate value to be blinked by Yorion. There are also other powerful hits like Anax, Hardened in the Forge, which is excellent in red aggro decks.

Then there’s a 4-mana wrath in Shatter the Sky and a win condition in Dream Trawler, while Ox of Agonas and Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger have synergy with graveyard decks.

My top cards from THB are:

#5. Innistrad: Midnight Hunt

This last iteration of an Innistrad set, Midnight Hunt is fantastic. We have the allied slow lands, which are playable in top decks of the format. The quality of the cards is very high and almost all creatures in the Adversary cycle are playable.

Good humans like Adeline, Resplendent Cathar and Brutal Cathar (which happen to be good 3-drops for Collected Company) as well as Tovolar’s Huntmaster see play in a lot of decks. The set also has good answers like Fateful Absence, Fading Hope, Infernal Grasp, and Burn Down the House.

Good flashback spells are bound to see play, as is the case with Faithful Mending and Galvanic Iteration. The set is very strong for Explorer overall, and one that you should definitely go after.

My top cards from this set are:

#4. Kaladesh Remastered

If Temur () energy and Aetherworks Marvel return to top tier someday, Kaladesh Remastered will contribute immensely to Explorer. But I’m rating it solely on the cards printed that are seeing play.

This set has solid cards for Explorer, including removal all-star Fatal Push, control win condition Torrential Gearhulk, and red staples like Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Kari Zev, Skyship Raider. Rounding out the list is the cycle of enemy fast lands, which usually see play in aggro and midrange lists.

My top cards from Kaladesh Remastered for Explorer are:

#3. Amonkhet Remastered

Here we actually have some cheating because there are some cards that were released in this remastered set that don’t belong to the original Amonkhet, and those make this set reach top three.

Pillars of the format like Thoughtseize, Collected Company, and Soul-Scar Mage, along with sideboard stars like Anger of the Gods and Rest in Peace make this set reach the #3 top.

Here are my top cards for the Explorer format from this set:

#2. War of the Spark

Who would’ve thought that a set with 36 planeswalkers, most of them uncommon, would be a strong set? The list I’m going to put here doesn’t do the set justice. There are just too many good cards here to name. Mono green? You’ve got Nissa and Karn. Rakdos () sacrifice? Mayhem Devil himself.

Lots of useful planeswalkers like Gideon Blackblade, Narset, Parter of Veils, and Jace, Wielder of Mysteries make an appearance. What would Greasefang do without its partner in crime Parhelion II? And Feather, the Redeemed decks have Feather and other useful targets.

Here are my top cards from War of the Spark for Explorer:

#1. Throne of Eldraine

Ah, Throne of Eldraine. The set that pushed power level in MTG to the next level. The list of cards that Eldraine contributes to Explorer is massive since lots of adventure cards can be played on their own, and there are plenty of individual power level cards here.

The cycle of Castle lands is excellent, and you should always play one or two from your colors. Cards like The Great Henge and Embercleave can win the game by themselves. Adventure cards like Bonecrusher Giant, Brazen Borrower, and Lovestruck Beast are among the best creatures ever printed. The Cat/Oven combo can be found here, along with Korvold, Fae-Cursed King. You can’t go wrong with good old Throne of Eldraine.

Here are my top cards for Explorer:

Effectively Increasing Your Explorer Collection

Opening packs in MTG Arena will give you a rare in each pack, but also lots of commons and uncommons, which usually don’t go into many Constructed decks. Especially in older formats which are dominated by rares and mythics. But there are lots of uncommons that fit Explorer decks. Rakdos sacrifice and Izzet Phoenix in particular have a lot of common and uncommon cards in their lists.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a good or easy way to get rare dual lands aside from being lucky and opening them in a booster pack. One tip is to build the deck you want to play and then slowly craft the rare mana base as you can. There are also several viable mono-color decks like mono blue, mono red, and mono green, which only require basic lands and a manland or two.

Another tip is to play events on MTG Arena, namely the Explorer BO1 and BO3 events. These events give gems and booster packs from sets out of Standard. It’s a way to play the format, test your decks, and get rewards to increase your collection. Not to mention that opening booster packs will eventually net you wildcards, which will help you to complete your Standard, Explorer, or Historic decks.

Wrap Up

Charming Prince - Illustration by Randy Vargas

Charming Prince | Illustration by Randy Vargas

The top sets for Explorer are the remasters of Kaladesh and Amonkhet along with Standard powerhouses War of the Spark and Throne of Eldraine. After that I’d consider Midnight Hunt and Theros: Beyond Death.

I hope you’re enjoying the format as much as I am right now. And if you are, you should have a powerful ally in Draftsim’s Arena Tutor. It’ll give you useful stats, track your collection, and use AI to determine what your opponents are probably playing.

That’s all from me for now. Thanks for reading!

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