Magic The Gathering Arena: Everything You Need To Know About The Explorer Format

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  • What Is Explorer?
  • How Is Explorer Related To Pioneer?
  • What Cards Are Legal In Explorer?
  • Is It Worth Playing Explorer?
  • When Does Explorer Launch?

Explorer is Magic The Gathering Arena’s latest format, offering players a ‘true-to-tabletop’ experience that has been absent from the game since the launch of Alchemy in December 2021. Based on the popular tabletop Pioneer format, Explorer allows you to play with your old decks long after they may have rotated out of Standard.

But what makes Explorer different from other Arena formats, like Historic? And what exactly is its relationship to Pioneer? Here is everything you need to know about Arena’s Explorer format.

What Is Explorer?

Introduced in April 2022, Explorer is a nonrotating, nondigital format exclusively found in Magic The Gathering Arena.

A nonrotating format is a ruleset for Magic that doesn’t remove cards from legality after a few years. This is in contrast to rotating formats like Standard, Alchemy, and Brawl, which all push cards out of the format approximately two years after they launched. In other words, unless a card is specifically banned, it will never fall out of Explorer.

Meanwhile, a nondigital format is one that doesn’t use the digitally-exclusive mechanics and rebalances that were introduced with Historic Horizons and the Alchemy format later last year. Cards in Explorer will only use cards they are printed in the tabletop game, and it won’t ever see mechanics like conjure, seek, or peptuality.

Other than these two properties, Explorer plays the same way as most other formats on Arena. It is a competitive (one-versus-one) format with 60-card decks and either seven or 15-card sideboards, depending on whether you’re playing best-of-one or best-of-three rounds. It’s available in ranked and unranked modes as well.

How Is Explorer Related To Pioneer?

Pioneer is a popular format in tabletop Magic. Like Explorer, it is a nonrotating format, though it currently has a much larger card pool that features almost every card released in a Standard-legal set since 2012’s Return To Ravnica.

Despite being a tabletop format with no current presence in Arena, it is going to have a big impact on Explorer, because Explorer is merely a temporary ‘Pioneer-lite’. The long-term plan for the format is to gradually transform Explorer into an actual Arena-based Pioneer format through curated card updates and set releases. Though Wizards of the Coast has not yet said when it expects to be able to swap from Explorer to Pioneer, this likely won’t come for at least a few years after launch.

You can see the influences Pioneer has on Explorer already, though. From day one, the two formats use the same ban lists. Explorer will usually defer to Pioneer on its ban list decisions, however certain cards may be banned or unbanned individually to ensure each can maintain its own balance.

What Cards Are Legal In Explorer?

Like Pioneer, Explorer only uses cards that were once legal in Standard. Other cards will be directly injected into it over time as well through Wizards’ attempt to catch it up with Pioneer. However, any cards released specifically for Alchemy (such as cards in the regular Alchemy sets) or Historic will not be legal.

The sets that are legal in Explorer are:

  • Ixalan
  • Rivals of Ixalan
  • Dominaria
  • Core Set 2019
  • Guilds of Ravnica
  • Ravnica Allegiance
  • War of the Spark
  • Core Set 2020
  • Throne of Eldraine
  • Theros: Beyond Death
  • Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths
  • Core 2021
  • Zendikar Rising
  • Kaldheim
  • Strixhaven: School of Mages (and any Mystical Archive cards that are already legal in Pioneer)
  • Dungeons & Dragons: Adventures In The Forgotten Realms
  • Innistrad: Midnight Hunt
  • Innistrad: Crimson Vow
  • Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty
  • Streets Of New Capenna

As Explorer follows Pioneer’s banlists, there are some cards from these sets that have been explicitly barred from play in it. These are:

  • Field of the Dead
  • Kethis, the Hidden Hand
  • Leyline of Abundance
  • Lurrus of the Dream-Den
  • Nexus of Fate
  • Oko, Thief of Crowns
  • Once Upon a Time
  • Teferi, Time Raveler
  • Underworld Breach
  • Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath
  • Veil of Summer
  • Wilderness Reclamation

Is It Worth Playing Explorer?

It is absolutely worth playing Explorer, because it’s two beloved formats at the same time: old Historic, and Pioneer.

Although it was hit hard by the pandemic and the suspension of in-person play, Pioneer has been gaining more momentum over the last year. Between the release of the Pioneer Challenger decks and the announcement that it would be part of the upcoming Pro Tour, excitement for it is at an all-time high. Compared to other popular formats like Modern, Commander, and Vintage, Pioneer is still in its early days, which makes Explorer a great way to get in at the ground floor.

It’s also a return of the pre-Alchemy Historic format, which was incredibly popular. There are a few differences between the old Historic and Explorer (mostly in its ban lists), but they both serve the same role as being Arena’s non-rotating formats. If you miss what Historic used to be, or didn’t get into Arena until after it had been Alchemy’d, Explorer is a good way to revisit that time.

When Does Explorer Launch?

Technically, Explorer is already in the game. You can build your Explorer deck right now, choosing it as the format in the dropdown menu in the deckbuilder (which still, annoyingly, defaults to Alchemy).

However, you can only prepare for Explorer right now, just actually play it.. The queues for it will be added in the update that introduces Streets of New Capenna to Arena on Thursday, April 28 2022.

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