A Historic Introduction: Archetypes

It’s really strange to me that no one’s really talking about Historic…

As fatigue mounts from the frequency of bannings in Standard, Pioneer, Modern, and Legacy lately, some players find themselves wondering what a new approach to a “broken meta” might look like.  Historic experiments with a new concept (notably, one that still includes bans) which involves a curated set of cards being introduced to the format with the release of each anthology.  While these cards are not specifically included to deal with the “problem decks” in the format, they absolutely could, and cards like Virulent Plague in the latest anthology suggest that this is an approach that WoTC may be willing to take.

Following the release of the first two Anthologies, including 45 impactful additions to the most recently released sets, Historic looks considerably different than Standard or Pioneer and a slew of unique archetypes provide tons of ground to explore.

For reference, here is what is included in Historic Anthology I:

And here is what was included in Historic Anthology II:

And, in addition to the two anthologies, there are two cards released in Brawl events that are also legal in the format:

It always feels a little overwhelming to parse through what a new anthology could mean for the format.  For someone entirely new to Historic, I’d imagine that feeling is even greater.  Since there aren’t any curated events to publish results, we have very little information on what is even out there without playing hundreds of games and learning from experience (the old fashioned way).  If you do that, you’re sure to run into some really cool stuff.

In fact, one of my opponents beat me by casting Neoform sacrificing a three-drop creature while making a copy of it with Expansion//Explosion to find Naru Meha, Master Wizard.  Naru entered the battlefield and made a copy of the original Neoform effect to find four consecutive copies of Spark Double (choosing Naru to make additional copies of Neoform) and finally, Shalai, Voice of Plenty to protect the army.  Fancy!

But if you’re looking to find something a little more on the competitive side of things, look no further.  In the remainder of the article, I’ll visit some of the most popular and effective archetypes in the history of constructed Magic and share some starting places for those styles.  This format clearly has been designed with these strategies in mind as a lot of the needs of Standard-legal versions are supported by new inclusions from the anthologies.  What’s most exciting is that the archetypes that fall short at this point have enormous potential to be improved with future editions as seemingly any card in the history of the game has reprint potential in this digital-only format without needing to consider impacts on paper magic prices and availability.

Soul Sisters

This archetype seems to be the most represented in the early stages of the format as a large majority of its most important pieces were featured in the first anthology.  Soul Sisters is a mono-white midrange strategy in which many of its creatures (Ajani’s Pridemate, Serra Ascendant) synergize with the lifegain provided by others (Soul Warden, Daxos, Blessed by the Sun).  This strategy can make great use of Heliod, Sun-Crowned without the infinite combo between it and Walking Ballista but, unlike Pioneer, has access to Serra’s Ascendant to win by “fair” means.  You know…with a one-mana 6/6 flying lifelinker.

Here’s a look at the core to this type of strategy:

Creatures (28)
Soul Warden
Healer’s Hawk
Serra Ascendant
Ajani’s Pridemate
Daxos, Blessed by the Sun
Heliod, Sun-Crowned
Resplendent Angel
Linden, the Steadfast Queen

Planeswalkers (2)
Ajani, Strength of the Pride

Abzan Midrange/Maverick

The introduction of Thalia, Guardian of Thraben in the latest anthology opens up the potential for a value-based creature strategy backed by some of the strongest removal spells in the format.

What Historic Abzan decks lack are the discard spells that are so crucial to Modern versions or the efficient curve that plays such a big role in Legacy Maverick decks.  The good news is that there are tons of tools to explore.  As the format takes shape, it will become easier to develop a reactive strategy that is appropriate to the most common offenses but at this point, it’s just so vast that it’s hard to prepare for an unknown opponent’s gameplan.

That said, cards like Fauna Shaman and Finale of Devastation do a good job of providing selection that parallels Green Sun’s Zenith‘s utility in Legacy builds which will prove helpful in pinpointing silver bullets against a wide meta.

Here’s a look at an Abzan core:

Creatures (24)
Gilded Goose
Elvish Reclaimer
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Fauna Shaman
Knight of the Reliquary
Knigt of Autumn
Questing Beast
Gitrog Monster
Lyra Dawnbringer

Spells (6)
Maelstrom Pulse
Assassin’s Trophy
Finale of Devastation

Sultai Explore

On the other hand, the old Sultai Midrange decks of Standards past are made even better by the presence of Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath and Maelstrom Pulse.  Some versions run a Nissa, Who Shakes the World ramp strategy while others opt for a Command The Dreadhorde/Tamiyo, Collector of Tales plan instead.

In my testing, Command the Dreadhorde versions have proven to be the most effective since the deck packs lots of lifegain to offset it the cost of Command.  As an added bonus, there are tons of Uros floating around on both sides of the board and you basically get to draw a free card for every Uro in either graveyard when Command resolves.

Here’s a possible core for this style:

Creatures (19)
Llanowar Elves
Wildgrowth Walker
Jadelight Ranger
Merfolk Branchwalker
Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath

Planeswalkers (2)
Tamiyo, Collector of Tales

Spells (8)
Assassin’s Trophy
Maelstrom Pulse
Command the Dreadhorde


Though Ensoul Artifact isn’t quite Historic-legal, Skilled Animator and All That Glitters provide similar effects to make an unblockable Gingerbrute or flying Ornithopter rather terrifying.  Alternatively, we’ve got access to Steel Overseer (which is easy to forget as it has seen no Standard play whatsoever) or Sai, Master Thopterist to go wide.  Also, Emry, Lurker of the Loch provides some much-needed reach for this type of strategy.

Take this core for example:

Creatures (22)
Steel Overseer
Sai, Master Thopterist
Emry, Lurker of the Loch
Skilled Animator

Enchantments (4)
All That Glitters

Planeswalkers (2)
Karn, Scion of Urza


Of all the tribes available to Historic, it seems that Merfolk is the best equipped for success at this point.  A big part of this is the fact that the recently available Merrow Reejerey is just so damn powerful.  This, paired with the fact that we already have access to two other lords in Merfolk Mistbinder and Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca, means that the Merfolk deck can mount a very offensive go-wide attack that features a number of creatures that are unblockable or tap down opposing blockers (Reejerey and Merfolk Trickster).

Many of these decks focus primarily on creatures but can include a number of Wizard’s Retort or Spell Pierce as interaction or to protect your creatures from removals and wrath spells.

A possible core for Merfolk:

Creatures (32)
Kumena’s Speaker
Mist-Cloaked Herald
Merfolk Mistbinder
Deeproot Elite
Merfolk Trickster
Merrow Reejerey
Silvergill Adept
Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca
Kopala, Warden of Waves

Spells (6)
Wizard’s Retort
Spell Pierce

UWx Control

It wouldn’t be an MTG meta without the presence of a Teferi, Time Raveler…er, Control Deck.  These ones tend to look quite a bit like recent Standard Control builds and really don’t stray too far from that.  On occasion, I’ll see a Phyrexian Arena pop up in one of these lists and there are typically some number of Virulent Plagues in the side to combat Field of the Dead strategies, but other than that, Control doesn’t draw too much from the anthologies.

Typically these decks are Esper but UW versions exist.  For a more midrange take, Hero of Precinct One is available as well.

An example of an Esper Control core:

Planeswalkers (10)
Teferi, Time Raveler
Teferi, Hero of Dominaria
Narset, Parter of Veils

Creatures (2)
Dream Trawler

Spells (16)
Kaya’s Wrath
Thought Erasure
Cast Down
Vraska’s Contempt

Enchantments (3)
Oath of Kaya
Search for Azcanta

Oracle Treasure Hunt

As much as I loathe this deck’s existence, I have to acknowledge that it’s a thing.  Three Treasure Hunts plus one Thassa’s Oracle and 56 lands is both incredibly effective against decks with little interaction and incredibly vulnerable to a single counterspell.  It’s really not even Magic…

I won’t insult your intelligence by including an example core for this one.

Green Stompy

Lastly, green-based strategies take many different forms but most of them culminate in Ghalta/The Great Henge or go wide and win with Embercleave.

Since the banning of Once Upon a Time in the format, these styles have lost a bit of luster but the fact remains that having access to Llanowar Elves and Gilded Goose means that a turn two Rotting Regisaur or Lovestruck Beast can lead to a very early Ghalta or Henge and that can be very difficult for many decks to beat.

A possible core for Mono G Stompy:

Creatures (27)
Llanowar Elves
Pelt Collector
Growth-Chamber Guardian
Lovestruck Beast
Steel Leaf Champion
Questing Beast
Ghalta, Primal Hunger

Planeswalkers (2)
Vivien, Arkbow Ranger

Artifacts (3)
The Great Henge


Historic is incredibly fun.  There’s a ton to explore at this point and lots of great brewing going on.  I love the concept of anthologies introducing new cards into the format as it feels like the cards WoTC chooses to include inspire a lot of cool brewing ideas (except Treasure Hunt…thanks, I hate it).

Mono W Soul Sisters seems to be a bit overrepresented at this point and its no wonder — it’s a very powerful deck that is tough for a lot of other builds to beat.  The deck can set up so quickly that playing two mana and three mana removals to keep up seems laughable.  I’d like to see something printed into the next anthology that can reel this in a bit.  Perhaps Fatal Push would help?

I’m sure there are some very powerful lists that just haven’t been discovered yet.  Part of the fun of this format is the fact that there aren’t any competitive events to pressure players into optimizing deck choices at this point and, because of that, people just seem to be playing what they enjoy.  As much as I love this ‘honeymoon phase’ with the new format, my competitive spirit makes me want to take some of these builds to a tournament to see how they fare.  I’d expect those types of events to start to appear in Arena once WoTC is confident that the format is balanced in the way that they like it.  In the meantime, have fun brewing!