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The Pillars of Historic

September 03, 2020
Mani Davoudi

Hello, I'm Mani Davoudi and I will be your Desk Expert for the 2020 Mythic Invitational. With the event coming up next week, now is the perfect time to take a closer look at Historic as a format and some of the top decks we may see in the upcoming tournament.

What is Historic?

Historic is Magic's newest competitive format, and in many ways, the most interesting one. Originally introduced with MTG Arena's first set rotation, Historic was created to fill a need: players need a format where they can play with their cards once they have rotated out of Standard. Eternal (non-rotating) formats are nothing new to Magic: Vintage, Legacy, Modern, and Pioneer are all examples of the various implementations of this concept. What makes Historic unique is that it is Magic's first entirely digital format, only playable on MTG Arena. This opened new doors for what the format could become over time.

In the year since Historic's inception, we've seen the format evolve beyond the original card pool of "Standard Plus". With supplemental products like the Historic Anthologies, Jumpstart, and most recently, Amonkhet Remastered, we're seeing the potential of a format that can be molded with more freedom. The ability to hand-pick cards from Magic's past and combine them with new cards gives the format its own identity, featuring a diverse metagame of new decks as well as familiar decks with new twists.

Now that we know what Historic is, let's take a closer look at some of the top decks in the format and the roles they may play in the Mythic Invitational.

Sultai Midrange

It is fitting to start a list of top decks with Sultai Midrange, one of the scariest decks in Historic. This deck takes the already powerful Growth Spiral; Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath, and Nissa, Who Shakes the World shell and combines it with black mana, gaining access to some of the best answers in the format like Extinction Event and Maelstrom Pulse.

Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath Extinction Event Maelstrom Pulse

The printing of Thoughtseize in Amonkhet Remastered pushed Sultai Midrange to the next level. Let's take a look at Andrea Mengucci's build of Sultai Midrange.

The game plan for Sultai is a dance weaving together card advantage with efficient answers and powerful threats. You want to progress your board state while making sure your opponent does not get a foothold in the game. This game plan is best facilitated when Sultai is leads off with an early Thoughtseize. Not only does this remove the most problematic card from your opponent's hand, it also gives you more information about what you'll need to play around, and how to sequence your next spells.

The following turns will likely consist of developmental spells like Growth Spiral and Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath putting you ahead on mana but not down on cards, allowing you to still represent mana for your cheap instant speed answers like Eliminate, Heartless Act, and Negate. If Sultai is able to navigate the early game to a position where they can play a fourth-turn Nissa, Who Shakes the World without being too far behind on board, and leave up 2 mana by activating Nissa on one of their nonbasic Forests, it will be very difficult to lose.

Growth Spiral Heartless Act Negate

The strengths and weaknesses of a deck like Sultai will come from the specific build of the deck. Given that you are an answer-oriented deck, having the right answers to the threats being presented at the right time will be integral to your success. This is why Sultai can struggle against decks that pack game-ending threats like Bolas's Citadel, God-Pharaoh's Gift, and Muxus, Goblin Grandee, as they can be difficult to interact with at times.

Sultai Midrange is the definition of flexibility. With the right card choices across the main deck and sideboard, it can be tweaked to have a good matchup against almost any deck in the format, making it a formidable threat and one to keep your eyes on heading into next week.

Bant Control

Bant Control is another deck that utilizes the combination of Growth Spiral and Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath—this time alongside a suite of counterspells, board wipes, and planeswalkers like Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. As the name suggests, this deck is taking a more patient and measured approach to the game than Sultai Midrange, something that is evident in this recent list:

Bant Control derives its power from being consistent. Most of the cards in the deck either cycle or cantrip and can be played at instant speed, allowing the deck to minimize stumbling and execute its game plan. Combine this with the most iconic board clear of all time in Wrath of God to deal with fast creature decks and you have a recipe for success.

Wrath of God Shark Typhoon Sphinx's Revelation

Much like Sultai Midrange, Bant Control wants to spend the early turns of the game developing its mana. Hitting the second turn ramp spell is important, which is why two copies of Explore are included in this list alongside the four copies of Growth Spiral. Starting with one of these spells enables you to curve into a third turn Wrath of God if necessary, or begin ramping further into your Planeswalkers while still leaving up mana for a counterspell.

Elder Gargaroth

One of the most exciting inclusions in this deck is the two copies of Elder Gargaroth. While seemingly out of place, Elder Gargaroth's ability to be ramped out and take over a game single-handedly helps give this deck a different angle of attack, keeping opponents on their toes at all times.

As previously mentioned with Sultai Midrange, the strengths and weaknesses of a deck like this depend on the specific build of the deck and how it answers the metagame of the event. By primarily focusing on having counterspells as answers, Bant Control will have an easier time dealing with decks that rely on resolving a single powerful spell. The tradeoff is having a much harder time dealing with resolved problematic permanents like Planeswalkers.

Like Sultai Midrange, a well-designed list of Bant Control with a good read of the metagame is a force to be reckoned with and should not be taken lightly in Historic.

Rakdos Goblins

Goblins as a deck owes its existence to Jumpstart. Not only did the set bring back powerful reprints like Goblin Chieftain, Krenko, Mob Boss, and Phyrexian Tower, but it also introduced Muxus, Goblin Grandee.

In terms of raw power, Muxus, Goblin Grandee is a card that is in the discussion for Historic's most powerful card, and its explosive game-ending ability is a key component of what makes Goblins a strong deck. Here is a Rakdos Goblins list:

The strength of Goblins comes from being a multi-dimensional aggressive deck. The trio of Conspicuous Snoop, Goblin Matron and Goblin Ringleader not only help you find your important pieces more consistently, they also give you the ability to refuel your hand, making you more resilient to board wipes. Getting access to Thoughtseize out of the sideboard, as well as tutor targets like Goblin Trashmaster, gives you game against even your toughest matchups.

Goblin Matron Goblin Ringleader Thoughtseize

Unlike many aggressive decks, Historic Goblins has two game plans. The first is straightforward, using the power of their two haste-granting lords in Goblin Warchief and Goblin Chieftain to present constant pressure with an army of small creatures. Krenko, Mob Boss gets significantly stronger in this strategy, haste not only allowing you to activate its ability the turn it is played, but also to attack with the goblin tokens you create.

Goblin Warchief Goblin Chieftain Krenko, Mob Boss

The second game plan is simpler, summed up in one word: Muxus. Using cards like Skirk Prospector, Wily Goblin, and Phyrexian Tower, it's possible to cast a Muxus, Goblin Grandee as early as the third turn. While it does cost you multiple resources to do so, Muxus's ability will often create a game-ending board state on its own, making the cost more than worth it.

Skirk Prospector Wily Goblin Muxus, Goblin Grandee

The ideal early game for Goblins begins with a first turn Skirk Prospector. This will enable your most powerful Muxus draws, making it a must-answer threat for your opponent. From there you want to curve out into either a Conspicuous Snoop to accrue card advantage, or a Wily Goblin to further your explosive draw. Between Skirk Prospector, Conspicuous Snoop, Goblin Warchief, Goblin Chieftain, and Krenko, Mob Boss, Goblins can continue presenting must-answer threats turn after turn, making life difficult for your opponent as the slightest stumble can snowball the game away from them very quickly.

Goblins has the toughest time against decks that can slow down your explosive starts, and then go over top of you. Because of this, some of your weakest matchups include Jund Citadel and Mono-Black God-Pharaoh's Gift.

Rakdos Goblins is not an easy deck to play, despite having relatively simple game plans. Knowing how to sequence your spells, when to leverage your resources to become stronger, and when to pivot from one game plan to another all play key roles in the success of a Goblins player. I expect Goblins to put up some strong finishes next week.

Jund Citadel

One of the most surprising inclusions in Amonkhet Remastered was Collected Company, but it was a welcome one as it's one of my favorite cards of all time.

Collected Company quickly found its way into what was already one of the more powerful decks in Historic in Jund Sacrifice, and combined with Blood Artist to shift the archetype in a more combo-oriented direction. Check out this take on Jund Citadel:

Like Goblins, Jund Citadel is a deck that follows the pattern of a fast deck with powerful cards and had the ability to quickly ramp out a six mana spell that often wins the game upon resolving. Collected Company gives you another way to get ahead on cards/mana and put your opponent on the back foot starting as early as your third turn, often allowing you to spend four mana at instant speed for five-to-six mana worth of creatures.

Jund Citadel relies on having a mana-ramp creature on the first turn of every game, and should mulligan aggressively to find that start. From there, you are able to leverage your extra mana into a three-mana creature on your second turn, and a Collected Company on the third. Your best draws involve Phyrexian Tower allowing you to cast a Bolas's Citadel on the third turn, which will often be game over given how high your life total will be at the time.

Gilded Goose Phyrexian Tower Bolas's Citadel

The reason why Bolas's Citadel is often game-ending is the powerful synergy between Woe Strider and Blood Artist, creating an engine that allows you to continuously scry to find more spells to cast from Bolas's Citadel while draining your opponent using Blood Artist, giving you the life necessary to keep casting spells.

Woe Strider Blood Artist

Jund Citadel presents your opponent with an aggressive sacrifice deck capable of large bursts of damage quickly while staying ahead on card advantage, all backed by the omnipresent threat of Bolas's Citadel. This gives the deck an edge in most creature matchups like Goblins, and staying power against the control/midrange decks.

Jund's biggest weaknesses come from its own fail rates—missing on Collected Company, consecutive lands on Bolas's Citadel, and a dubious three-color mana base—as well as how vulnerable it is to Grafdigger's Cage, something Thierry has tried to address with multiple answers in his own sideboard.

The power and potential for Jund Citadel is there, and if other players cut down on copies of Grafdigger's Cage, or if a list is made that can overcome the powerful sideboard card, I would be wary of this deck.

Mono Black God-Pharaoh's Gift

The latest arrival on the competitive scene, Mono-Black God-Pharaoh's Gift—or GPG for short—is already making an impact with impressive back-to-back finishes over the past weekend, including an undefeated run:

God-Pharaoh's Gift is one of the most powerful cards from Amonkhet Remastered, and I'm glad to see it finding a home in Historic. Putting it in a mono-black sacrifice-meets-Zombies shell is genius. There are so many cool interactions here making GPG the cherry on top, rather than the entire focus of the deck. Cryptbreaker, Fiend Artisan, Priest of Forgotten Gods, and Woe Strider all provide you with individual cards that threaten to take over the game through card advantage and creation of further threats if unchecked.

Cryptbreaker Fiend Artisan Priest of Forgotten Gods

Your ideal game begins with a first turn Stitcher's Supplier, setting you up for either a large Fiend Artisan on the second turn or a fast Gate to the Afterlife. There are also other powerful curves like a first turn Cryptbreaker followed by a second turn Lazotep Reaver to give you three Zombies, quickly enabling your card advantage engine. Phyrexian Tower is one of the most important cards in the deck as it will repeatedly allow you to get extra mana from your expendable creatures, making it a key part of your early game strategy in trying to get ahead of your opponent.

Being a Mono Black deck gives you access to the best removal and interaction in Magic. Since it can both search for creatures using Fiend Artisan and take advantage of them using God-Pharaoh's GiftWoe Strider, this deck primarily plays removal attached to creatures, with copies of Ravenous Chupacabra, Cavalier of Night, and Massacre Wurm in the main deck. Looking to the sideboard gives you even more creature options, as well as the premium interaction spell of the format, Thoughtseize.

Ravenous Chupacabra Cavalier of Night Massacre Wurm

Resilience, card advantage, interaction, and getting ahead on mana all play an important role in why Mono-Black GPG is such a strong well-rounded deck. The ability to attack from multiple angles is a recurring theme we've seen in many of the top Historic decks. Right now the format isn't prepared for this deck, allowing a card like God-Pharaoh's Gift to take over a game unchecked, even through a Grafdigger's Cage. As the metagame evolves over the next week to include more (different) graveyard hate/artifact destruction, I look forward to seeing how the Mono Black GPG deck adapts.

A Historic Mythic Invitational

The 2020 Mythic Invitational is just a week away, and we are closing in on the debut of Historic in Magic Esports. Without other Historic format professional tournaments leading up to this event, there is an air of mystery around the metagame. I'm excited to see what the top players come up with in both deck and card choices.

I'll be on the coverage desk bringing you all of the Historic action, so join me at beginning September 10 as we watch 161 of the world's best players battle it out live in a bold new format!

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