For much of Pioneer’s existence as a format, players have dominated with a wide variety of combo decks. Since the days when Inverter of Truth and Underworld Breach were extremely dominant, there have been a multitude of different combo decks that have emerged over that stretch. From Indomitable Creativity combo to five-color Rona, Herald of Invasion combo, it’s quite clear that Pioneer has remained a synergy driven format over the years.
While The Lost Caverns of Ixalan is an extremely new set with plenty of room for innovation, it appears that the release of the set is only increasing the percentage of combo in Pioneer. For instance, in recent events on Magic Online, Abzan Greasefang, Okiba Boss decks have risen in popularity with the addition of Bitter Triumph. Perhaps no combo has more people talking than the new Explore combo featuring Amalia Benavides Aguirre, though.
Given that actually executing the combo only takes two Creatures and both of them are quite efficient, it makes sense that players would be interested in building around it, especially in the first couple weeks. The question is, what is the best shell to maximize this combo’s potential? So far, we’ve seen multiple different builds have decent success. Before we take a look at the variance within the combo’s supporting cast, it’s important to go over exactly how the combo works.
Pioneer Explore Combo
The key to executing this combo is to have two specific cards in play. These cards are none other than Amalia Benavides Aguirre and Wildgrowth Walker. Amalia states that, whenever you gain life, Amalia Explores. Wildgrowth Walker, on the other hand, gains you life whenever you Explore. As you might expect, this will cause a chain reaction, where Amalia will continuously keep Exploring and you will gain a ton of life.
This combo does not actually go on forever, though, thanks to an important part of Amalia’s text box. Once Amalia reaches 20 power, all other Creatures in play will be destroyed, including Wildgrowth Walker. Amalia can easily reach 20 power, since every time you reveal a non-Land card from Exploring, Amalia gets a +1/+1 counter. Once you have destroyed all Creatures in play, you just need to attack with Amalia to end the game. This does mean that Amalia needs to not have Summoning Sickness for you to cross the finish line.
As you might expect, this combo does take a bit of work to achieve. Additionally, because the combo requires attacking with Amalia to win, it can absolutely be broken up by the opponent. Fortunately, Amalia and Wildgrowth Walker aren’t the only cards in the deck. We’ve already seen two different versions of the deck have success on Magic Online, one with five wins in a league and another with an undefeated record in a Pioneer Preliminary event. Let’s take a look at these combo variants and where each build might shine.
Maximizing Collected Company
As mentioned, there are a few different avenues players can take when crafting a deck around this combo. One of them is to go all-in on the power of Collected Company. Rather than divert to cards like Chord of Calling that can find a specific piece of the combo at Instant speed, the player in the Preliminary event decided to play a naturally more powerful card, but one that isn’t guaranteed to find your missing combo piece.
In order to make sure Collected Company was reliably castable, this list is playing a playset of both Llanowar Elves and Elvish Mystic. Notably, these cards don’t help further your combo gameplan as much as some other one-drops, such as Lunarch Veteran. However, they do help accelerate you towards Collected Company. Prosperous Innkeeper fills both roles, allowing you to cast Collected Company ahead of schedule and also start the chain reaction between Amalia and Wildgrowth Walker.
From there, this deck plays a handful of extremely powerful cards that can be hit off of Collected Company. The most important of these, by far, is Extraction Specialist. Extraction Specialist can return either piece of the combo from your graveyard to play, helping you fight through removal. Between playsets of Extraction Specialist, Collected Company, and Thoughtseize, this list seems to be focusing on resiliency and overall card quality. Both Collected Company and Extraction Specialist help immensely against decks like Izzet Phoenix and Rakdos Midrange, and Thoughtseize helps ensure that the coast is clear when going for the combo.
Speed and Redundancy Versus Resiliency and Raw Power
While Collected Company and Thoughtseize are extremely powerful cards on rate, some players have chosen to focus more on speeding up the combo and making it as reliable of a win condition as possible. Rather than running premier mana dorks in the one-drop slot, cards like Lunarch Veteran and Cenote Scout provide cheap and easy ways to get the combo started. These one-mana Creatures still help enable Chord of Calling regardless, so with Collected Company out of the picture, mana dorks play a less important role.
Without the presence of Collected Company, there’s also more wiggle room to play very specific tutor targets. One of the more intriguing targets for a more all-in combo shell is Dina, Soul Steeper. Dina helps make sure you can win the game without actually needing to enter combat at all. See, with Amalia, Wildgrowth Walker, and Dina in play together, when you gain life, not only does Amalia Explore, but the opponent loses life, too.
Assuming the opponent didn’t gain a bunch of life during the game, this is a kill condition that works even if Amalia is affected by Summoning Sickness. Dina can also allow you to sacrifice Amalia before it would reach 20 power, if necessary. This helps make Dina an enormous attacker while preventing your board of Creatures from being wiped.
Further, this version of the deck can utilize Tyvar, Jubilant Brawler over Extraction Specialist. While Specialist can be hit off of Collected Company, that is not a priority here. Tyvar can return Amalia or Wildgrowth Walker in a similar fashion, but it does a bit more towards helping you assemble the combo. First of all, letting you mill three cards before returning a Creature to play helps dig for combo pieces. Second, the fact that you can activate abilities of Creatures as though they had Haste makes Fauna Shaman an elite tutor option.
Adjusting to the Metagame
By emphasizing the ability to reliably combo quickly instead of fighting a war of attrition, you make your matchups against opposing combo decks better. This comes at the cost of being able to fight through lots of interaction. If anything, this showcases how players can adjust within this strategy, depending on the Pioneer metagame as a whole.
If you expect a lot of removal-heavy strategies, it may be best to not rely on a card like Chord of Calling that requires board presence to maximize. Collected Company’s ability to put multiple Creatures into play becomes more appealing as a result, especially with Extraction Specialist in the mix. If you expect more Creature-based decks and combo decks, Chord can truly shine, essentially letting you dig for a combo piece at Instant speed with no mana input needed. This shell has a lot going for it, so it’ll be interesting to see how players adapt even more.