Last updated on May 1, 2023

Selvala, Explorer Returned - Illustration by Tyler Jacobson

Selvala, Explorer Returned | Illustration by Tyler Jacobson

It seems like once a year we get a new Arena format that’s meant to be the latest in a long line of what-ifs surrounding if Pioneer will ever end up on the digital platform. We finally have a concrete answer with the latest announcement and the birth of the Explorer format. Explorer will serve as the roadmap to getting Pioneer fully realized on MTGA. No longer is it an “if” but a “when” regarding Pioneer on Arena.

Using Pioneer as both a basis and an end goal, Explorer is a format with plenty of guidance to work from but also freedom to take shape in its own image as staples of Pioneer wait to make their Arena debut. Will these changes to the metagame spawn new decks that translate over to Pioneer, or will we just see nerfed version of top Pioneer decks sit atop the Explorer metagame?

While we can’t know for sure how Explorer’s metagame will shake out, let’s dive into this new format that is a partial translation of Magic’s latest premier format for now!

What Is Explorer?

Veteran Explorer - Illustration by Steven Belledin

Veteran Explorer | Illustration by Steven Belledin

Explorer is the latest Constructed format on MTG Arena that takes all the cards that are on Pioneer-legal on MTGA as a basis for the format. Explorer will eventually become Pioneer once all Pioneer-legal cards have been added to the platform.

Who Is Explorer for?

Explorer is the on-ramp for Arena-only players to start wading into the waters of Pioneer. With the Organized Play announcement featuring Pioneer as a premier Constructed format for the next year, a lot of players have flocked to the Magic Online queues to test the format.

While paper events continue to return, the Arena player base didn’t have a way to learn this important premier format. Explorer enables as close a replication of Pioneer as is possible on MTGA right now. This new format aims to eventually become Pioneer as all the cards make their way to Arena.

While competitive players will want to play Explorer to work on their understanding of Pioneer, the benefits of having an analogous format to Pioneer on MTGA is that a whole new swath of players will be able to experience and enjoy Pioneer-like gameplay. This will act as another step in increasing the player base in Magic’s latest premier and introductory paper format with the format’s continued growth.

Explorer-Legal Sets

All Pioneer-legal sets are legal in Explorer. Here’s a full list of all sets that will be legal in Explorer once they’re added to Arena:

Explorer Banlist

The Explorer banlist started with the same cards that are currently banned in Pioneer and will change based on the needs of the digital-only format. Since not all cards that are legal in Pioneer are on Arena there may be format imbalances that need correcting that can be reverted as the full list of cards are implemented on the platform.

Here’s the current Explorer banlist:

Where to Play Explorer

The only place to play Explorer is on MTG Arena since it’s a digital-only format.

Explorer Decks

Decks updated for 2023 meta by Chris Reay

Explorer is closing the gap on Pioneer as more cards are being added to the format. This means that the meta is closing the gap it has with the Pioneer meta, but there are still a few differences between the two. Here are the current top contenders in Explorer!

Azorius Control

Teferi, Hero of Dominaria - Illustration by Chris Rallis

Teferi, Hero of Dominaria | Illustration by Chris Rallis

One of the premier control decks of Pioneer, Azorius () control packs some strong planeswalkers like Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and The Wandering Emperor, as well removal and board wipes with Supreme Verdict and Farewell. Any good format needs a control deck to keep things from getting out of hand, and this is the premier one in Historic.

Rakdos Midrange

Graveyard Trespasser - Illustration by Chris Rallis

Graveyard Trespasser | Illustration by Chris Rallis

A really solid deck, Rakdos () midrange didn’t lose anything from its Pioneer version when Explorer first debuted, and it was powerful out of the gate. The other decks have caught up since then and it isn’t quite as far-and-away powerful in the Pioneer meta as it was a few months ago, but it’s still a powerful and popular deck.

Chock full of really powerful individual cards like Fable of the Mirror-Breaker and Graveyard Trespasser, it often feels like everything in this deck is a threat.

Rakdos Sacrifice

Cauldron Familiar - Illustration by Milivoj Ceran

Cauldron Familiar | Illustration by Milivoj Ceran

Another Rakdos deck that’s popular in Pioneer, Rakdos sac comes in a couple of different flavors.

It’s usually either built around Oni-Cult Anvil and artifacts, or Cauldron Familiar and Witch's Cauldron. Either one is difficult to deal with if you’re running a deck that wants to attack in on the ground since they have chump blockers that they actually want to die for days.

Mono Blue Spirits

Mausoleum Wanderer - Illustration by Kieran Yanner

Mausoleum Wanderer | Illustration by Kieran Yanner

Chock full of small fliers, flash threats, and counterspells, mono blue spirits is the tempo deck of the format. More popular than the Azorius and Bant () versions that we see in Pioneer, this version still follows similar play patterns as the full Pioneer decklists.

It tends to have some great matchups (Greasefang or any combo deck) and some difficult ones (mono red or angels), but generally it’s a deck that can use fast aggro starts to keep your opponent on the back foot, or keep them at bay with those counters.

Abzan Greasefang

Greasefang, Okiba Boss - Illustration by Victor Adame Minguez

Greasefang, Okiba Boss | Illustration by Victor Adame Minguez

While Greasefang, Okiba Boss comes in pretty much any color combination that has both white and black in it, Abzan () is the version that’s most popular for now.

A potentially quick combo deck, this can attack with Parhelion II as soon as turn 3 with the right opener. It can also disrupt your own plan, playing removal and, of course, Thoughtseize to help ensure they get to win after they combo off.

CoCo Angels

Collected Company - Illustration by Franz Vohwinkel

Collected Company | Illustration by Franz Vohwinkel

I don’t think it’s possible to have a format on Arena that doesn’t have some kind of lifegain deck. Selesnya () angels is the premier deck currently playing this in Explorer, running a mono white angels package and splashing green for Collected Company to up the tempo.

This basically auto wins against most of the aggro decks in the format, but it can be controlled to prevent it from getting too out of hand.

Mono Red Aggro

Robber of the Rich - Illustration by Paul Scott Canavan

Robber of the Rich | Illustration by Paul Scott Canavan

Are you even playing a real Magic format if a mono red burn variant isn’t viable? This does what you expect: cheap hasty creatures like Robber of the Rich and direct damage spells like Lightning Strike.

Some versions of the deck also run Burning-Tree Emissary which can allow for some explosive turn 2s, especially following Kumano Faces Kakkazan.

Getting Started with Explorer

Section updated for 2023 meta by Chris Reay

If you’ve been playing Standard, there’s likely a similar deck that exists in Explorer. My advice for starting out in any format if you don’t have something similar to start from is to slap together an aggro deck and learn the format with that. Mono red is pretty cheap on the rare and mythic wildcards, so that would be my suggestion.

Explorer Products

Section updated for 2023 meta by Chris Reay

So far we’ve had two Explorer Anthologies to help close the gap with Pioneer. The first of these introduced 20 cards to the format, and the second brought another 24.

While there’s no Explorer Anthology 3 announced we know that Shadows Over Innistrad Remastered is coming in 2023, which will virtually bring us to the Pioneer card pool. Previous remastered sets gave us cards that didn’t originally appear in the block in paper, like Collected Company in Amonkhet Remastered, so we have that to look forward to.

Will Explorer Have Rebalances Like Historic and Alchemy?

Explorer does not have digital rebalances and instead bans cards that become problematic due to the card pool differences between Explorer and Pioneer.

Does Explorer Rotate Like Standard?

Explorer is an eternal format that doesn’t rotate and instead only changes with the printing of new Standard sets or if cards are banned.

What Events and Play Modes Are There for Explorer?

Explorer is available in BO1 and BO3 matches for both ranked and unranked play, Constructed events, and specialty events like the Explorer Metagame Challenge.

How Will Cards Be Added to Explorer?

Cards will be added to Explorer in the same fashion as in Pioneer, through Standard set releases. There may be additional methods like Historic Anthologies to introduce cards to the client, but there won’t be digital-only cards added to Explorer as it approaches Pioneer’s base of cards.

How Will the Explorer Ban List Work?

The banlist for Explorer will start identical to Pioneer and evolve from there and may differ from the Pioneer banlist. But they’ll revert bans made to balance Explorer that aren’t on the Pioneer banlist as all the cards needed to turn Explorer into Pioneer make their way onto the client.

What Will Happen to Explorer in the Future?

The long-term goal for Explorer is to retire the format once all the cards legal in Pioneer are on Arena, enabling it to become Pioneer. Explorer was created with the express purpose of being a temporary solution to bridge the gap between the current state of Arena and the future version of Arena with more cards fully integrated into the client.

Wrap Up

Dramatic Finale - Illustration by Steve Argyle

Dramatic Finale | Illustration by Steve Argyle

We’ve had Explorer on Arena for a few months now, and it’s had some big meta changes in that time mainly thanks to the anthology sets.

While there had been debate since the original announcement of Pioneer if Pioneer would ever make its way to Arena, this should put those debates to rest. Eventually Pioneer will end up on Arena and more players than ever will be able to experience a format that’s becoming more and more popular in the competitive paper scene.

What do you think of the Explorer format? What decks are you most excited to play? Let me know in the comments down below or over on the Draftsim Twitter. And don’t forget to grab Arena Tutor before you foray into this format. It’s free, helps you track your games and stats, and you can even work towards some fun achievements if you like having goals.

Thanks so much for reading, and stay safe!

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  • Avatar
    Steve April 28, 2022 11:42 am

    So what’s the difference between Explorer and Historic?

    • Avatar
      Dan Troha April 28, 2022 12:49 pm

      Explorer is “True to Paper” while Historic is not. That means that all Explorer sets are real (paper) MTG Sets IRL. They also don’t digitally rebalance cards (ie buff and nerf). The sets available in Historic are different than Explorer because Historic starts with Ixalan.

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