A Historic Format Field Guide (Part 1: Blue, Black, White)

MTG Arena’s Historic format seems to be the vehicle by which WoTC will catch up on a quarter century backlog of cards predating the release of the latest digital client in order to provide an environment for cards rotating out of Standard formats to maintain their value.

For a player like myself who enjoys the ease of access and fast-paced play that Arena has to offer but isn’t a big fan of the monotony that is Standard, this has been a lot of fun.  I’ve enjoyed playing some of my favorite cards in the game (like Knight of the Reliquary, Captain Sisay) in this sleek new client that makes me feel a lot less like I’m running Windows 95 than MODO does.  But I have to say, my head is spinning…

With Ikoria’s release in April, Historic Anthology III in May, Jumpstart in July, Amonkhet Remastered in August, and now Zendikar Rising around the corner in September, it seems that the format is, and will continue to be ‘constantly evolving’ until we’ve caught up to the WoTC’s goal of what is to be included in Arena’s library.  Though it is unlikely that anything beyond Pioneer/Modern may be a part of Arena, Historic Anthologies and Jumpstart have included pre-Modern era cards, making this format uniquely different than anything else.

Beyond that, the release of paper-only sets that bypass the Historic format and frequent Banned and Restricted List updates have made it rather difficult for many players to keep track of what the hell is even in Historic.  Given that building a deck takes about three week’s worth of wildcards, you’d better be sure you’ve got your deck sorted out before you hit “craft”.  To help, I’ve put together this “field guide” that should help to serve as a reminder of what we’ve got access to in Historic.

On a semi-related note, this experience has made me realize how brewing plays into an Arena-only format.  With the wildcard/crafting system being so limiting, even for those willing to spend money on the client, it’s difficult to justify using wildcards on an ‘experiment’ when you could instead cash in on a deck with proven results.  The pace at which new sets have come out this summer makes it very difficult to keep up with and for a player to just happen upon playsets of cards is very unlikely.  I’d imagine this will lead to even MORE ubiquity in the format than something like Pioneer or Modern where testing can be done on MTGO and cards that are unproven can be acquired for very affordable prices.

In this series, I’ll list the most likely competitive playables for each color grouping categorized by their role within a deck or specific archetype.  I’ve made some comments on what I expect to see happen with some of the latest inclusions from Amonkhet Remastered (which includes some additional all stars like Wrath of God and Collected Company that were snuck in despite not being a part of the original Amonkhet block) and I’ve made a note of what is seemingly missing from each color group when compared to Modern or Pioneer.


White

*Indicates NEW from Amonkhet remastered.

Removal

Wrath

Noncreature

Sideboard

Bogles

Soul Sisters

Taxes

Other Creatures

Amonkhet’s Impact

Though Wrath of God wasn’t a part of the Amonkhet block originally, it is one of the cards that has been slotted into the set to be infused into Historic and for limited considerations.  It’s not a huge upgrade from Shatter the Sky but seems strictly better in the sense that leaving your opponent with no creatures AND nothing in hand puts you in a far better situation than if your opponent can draw a card to potentially recover from a boardwipe.

Rest in Peace is the grandaddy of all graveyard hate.  There haven’t been any decks in the format that have abused the yard to the extent that Modern Dredge has but this will certainly police them if they try.  That said, it will certainly help against decks like Kethis combo and Arclight Phoenix builds.

Anointed Procession is an explosive card.  Watch out for this one.  We may not have the pieces for the tokens deck yet but this might be a thing down the line…

What’s Missing?

Compared to Modern/Pioneer, the largest differences in white options include the lack of the following:

  • Cheap removal spells.  Obviously there is no Path to Exile but there aren’t many strong two-mana options either.  Baffling End? Seal Away?
  • While we have a lot of options for Taxes-style creatures, this style of play isn’t nearly as effective in this format that doesn’t include fetch lands (Mindcensor) and has much less of an emphasis on cheap non-creature spells like Modern does (where Thalia shines).  With the format evolving as quickly as it is due to the influx of new sets, we’ve hardly had an established metagame for more than two weeks in a row.  This makes it rather difficult for this style to succeed.
  • There are a few cards in the format that incentivize Humans (General Kudro of Drannith, for example) but the lack of something like Champion of the Parish or Thalia’s Lieutenant leaves the deck with a few holes.

Blue

Countermagic/Control

Draw/Filter

Mill

Sideboard

Noncreature

Mono-U Tempo

Spirits

Merfolk

Other Creatures

Amonkhet’s Impact

Pact of Negation seems like a big deal but as it has only historically (no pun intended) appeared as combo security for decks like Ad Nauseum, I don’t see it doing much in this format at the moment.  If a spell-based combo deck does arise at some point, this will likely be considered.

Supreme Will has a good chance of seeing play in control decks as the option to use it as an Impulse may allow you to cash it in for a Wrath of God when your three-mana counterspell is too slow to keep up with your opponent’s aggression.  I can imagine some scenarios where it may be completely dead against an Elves player who has an Allosaurus Shepherd in play and the second option makes this far superior to alternatives like Neutralize or Sinister Sabotage.

What’s Missing?

Compared to Modern/Pioneer, the largest differences in blue options include the lack of the following:

  • There are few options for counterspells under three mana that do not rely on certain creatures to be in play (Lofty Denial, Lookout’s Dispersal, etc) or can only target a particular type of spell (Essence ScatterNegate).  This is similar to Modern, however, the difference that something like Spell Snare or Deprive can make is substantial and blue mages will have to rely on other ways to control the board that are less countermagic-oriented in this format.  Keep in mind, this isn’t necessarily a detriment to this format, just a feature of its identity.  The card Counterspell certainly does not belong in Historic.  It’s just worth noticing how far from it we are with the countermagic we can access.
  • Goblins and Elves are making big splashes in the format lately, which is a little ironic, given that our finned Merfolk friends should really be the best at…splashing (I had to).  Early on, Merfolk was a strong deck and was well represented.  Lately, it’s fallen off the grid a bit, likely due to the fact that the tribe has been rather forgotten about in recent sets.  Merfolk is missing a two-mana lord resembling Lord of Atlantis or Master of the Pearl Trident that might allow it some of the evasion that the deck has come to love.  With Collected Company appearing in Amonkhet Remastered, I think it’s only a matter of time before we see the final pieces printed to make UG Merfolk a top contender once again.

Black

Discard

Removal

Draw

Wrath

Noncreature

Sideboard

Sacrifice

Devotion

Other Creatures

Amonkhet’s Impact

Thoughtseize!

This is big!  With Young Pyromancer recently added to the format and Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger already a part of it, a BR Midrange deck is emerging.  Beyond that, this type of disruption is crucial early interaction for the otherwise clunky midrange value decks of the format that typically had little to do on the first turn of the game without one-mana removal like Fatal Push in the format.

What’s Missing?

Compared to Modern/Pioneer, the largest differences in blue options include the lack of the following:

  • Seemingly, Black’s installment of the powerful proactive two-drop play has been put on hold as far as Historic is concerned and we are currently left with resorting to Yarok’s Fenlurker or Kitesail Freebooter when we’d really like to be playing something on the power level of Dark Confidant.  That, specifically, may not be the best inclusion in Mono Black Devotion due to the potential for four points of damage when you find an Obliterator, but there’s got to be something better than Fenlurker out there.  Please?
  • Thoughtseize is excellent and very much in a league of it’s own.  The addition of another one-mana discard spell similar to Inquisition of Kozilek would do wonders to round out that turn one discard package and diversify this type of attack.  IoK is likely too much to ask for in Historic but Duress may not be broad enough to fill this type of role.  Going back to my last point, Black decks (particularly Mono B) don’t have a ton to do in the early turns and can often be overrun by aggression, so providing more options for interaction early on would give these decks a better chance to disrupt decks like Mono R Goblins long enough to resolve a Phyrexian Obliterator in time to stabilize.
  • Without fetchlands and Street Wraith, it would be pretty terrible but that wouldn’t stop me from trying Death’s Shadow in Historic.  That said, I think it would be pretty safe to include it in the format.  There is certainly some fun to be had here!
  • Some type of Extirpate-like effect seems inevitable for Historic at some point.  As the card pool becomes larger, the potential for combo options increases.  While this type of effect would be an effective way to punish the very aggravating Kethis, the Hidden Hand decks that currently exist, it could also hedge against future graveyard-based combo decks.

That’s all for today.  I’ll continue this series with green, red, multicolor, artifact, and land next.  Stay tuned!

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