The Meta Strikes Back (Historic, pt 1)
09 Sep 2020 - 10 min read
Welcome back y’all to the second installment of Historically Speaking! History isn’t written overnight and I’ve been taking my time to test many decks from the meta and playing against even more. I came out victorious in many battles, but I also did a lot of losing (hence the title, and also cause I wanted to continue the Star Wars references). It wasn’t all for naught though. After all that struggle, I think I’ve finally come up with a comprehensive overview of what’s out there as well as the strengths and weaknesses of each deck.
I’ve broken down the decks under broad archetypes and then will discuss specific decks within and close out with more broad conclusions. But with so much to cover, I think it’s best to just jump right in!
There are three notable tribal decks in the format, uncoincidentally, some that have had the longest and most successful histories in Magic: Goblins, Elves, and Merfolk. All three have a plethora of good creatures to choose from as well as a healthy selection of lords and can be held together by one of the pillars of the format,
4x Deeproot Elite
4x Kumena's Speaker
4x Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca
4x Merfolk Mistbinder
4x Merrow Reejerey
4x Mist-Cloaked Herald
4x Silvergill Adept
2x Hashep Oasis
4x Hinterland Harbor
2x Temple of Mystery
Merfolk is arguably the weakest at the moment. It does benefit from access to
, but it’s still really just a deck from Ixalan Standard, “a notoriously less powerful standard (especially compared to the last year cough cough”).
are both high quality lords.
helps keep a stream of merfolk to play.
Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca
is a phenomenal payoff as well as a crucial engine to make the deck run. She’s definitely the most powerful card in the deck and luckily with four toughness is harder to kill due to the prevalence of
and three-damage burn spells.
can buff up your merfolk though it takes a bit longer than is acceptable in this format and can get removed quickly.
In the early game, Merfolk lack the explosive mana generation of Elves or Goblins to establish a dominating board presence quickly. While they can build up an impressive army and beat out other generic creature deck, any deck that tries to go under then can either push damage quicker or at least take out key pieces before critical mass is achieved. A Thoughtseize or removal spell (of which there are many cheap ones in the format) can tear you apart and set you back a turn or more in the early game, which is a death sentence.
4x Dwynen's Elite
4x Elvish Archdruid
4x Elvish Clancaller
4x Elvish Visionary
4x Imperious Perfect
4x Llanowar Elves
3x llanowar Visionary
4x Paradise Druid
4x Hashep Oasis
Elves function on a similar game plan to Merfolk; establish a dominating board presence thanks to a low average CMC and a plethora of lords. Where Elves rises above our fishy friends is in its mana generation.
all help your mana explode to deploy your hand at a blistering pace.
keeps the train rolling,
provides another body, and then there are three phenomenal lords:
, all with excellent secondary effects. Tying the Elven menace together is
which can turn your board from unimposing to a major threat in an instant (Editor’s note: …. Was that a pun? 3/10 at best).
Elves have the explosivity that Merfolk lacks, and you can even adjust my list to include honorary elf Craterhoof Behemoth (searched up by Fierce Empath ) to really close games with a thunder of footfalls. Where Elves stumbles is when you draw all mana and no gas. A board full of Llanowar elves is nothing if you don’t have an Archdruid or Clancaller to beef them up. Also, of course, a well timed removal spell can turn an alpha strike into a slaughter of your forces.
2x Gempalm Incinerator
4x Goblin Chieftain
4x Goblin Instigator
1x Goblin Ringleader
4x Goblin Warchief
4x Krenko, Mob Boss
4x Muxus, Goblin Grandee
4x Skirk Prospector
4x Wily Goblin
2x Forgotten Cave
2x Phyrexian Tower
Lastly, we have Goblins, the best tribal deck, and potentially the only “combo deck” in the meta. Goblins only has one true lord,
, but their ability to give haste with either Chieftain or
more than makes up for that. Goblins can strike out of nowhere, which makes them a big threat. They also have healthy mana generation with
making a treasure, Chieftain reducing all your goblins, and
being an absolute all-star when it comes to powering out our high end goblins, especially considering how wide Goblins can go (see
Krenko, Mob Boss
). Plus Goblins can keep up the card advantage with the new addition of
But of course, we have to talk about Muxus, Goblin Grandee . Muxus is what puts this deck over the top and why I call it a combo deck. Often, the best thing to be doing is getting Muxus out there as quickly as possible, using Wily Goblin , Goblin Chieftain , and Skirk Prospector ’s insane mana generation (plus Phyrexian Tower at times). A turn three or four Muxus isn’t out of the question and can even be common. And depending on your luck with the trigger, you can easily end the game right there, or at least mortally wound your opponent giving them a single turn to deal with your army.
As the deck I played the most, and my favorite during testing, I can say that this deck can live or die by variance. A Muxus flip of only one or two goblins can lose you the game and even if you get a veritable army, no haste can leave you vulnerable to
Wrath of God
which is running rampant in midrange and control decks. Also, with a six mana Muxus that you’re striving to get to, this deck runs a reasonable number of lands, but that can translate into flood if you get to a quick start and then get wrathed or dismantled which can stagnate and catch you an L.
Overall, tribal decks are fun for their explosiveness and the potential to attack with a thick board of pumped up creatures. Also, the ability of all three of these decks (yes I even saw some goblins decks splashing) to play Collected Company is a boon. However, these decks generally lack the interaction to prevent an opponent’s game plan and are very weak to opposing interaction, especially in the early game when attempting to build a board state and a single stumble can crumble your whole plan.
Aggro decks is a wide label, which arguably includes tribal decks, but I’ve identified a few distinct archetypes that stood out: Rakdos Arcanist, Lurrus Auras, and everyone’s favorite… Burn!
Alseid of Life's Bounty
4x Kor Spiritdancer
3x Selfless Savior
All that Glitters
3x Cartouche of Knowledge
3x Cartouche of Solidarity
4x Curious Obsession
4x Staggering Insight
4x Hallowed Fountain
2x Temple of Epiphany
Lurrus Auras is an Azorius Bogles-esque deck. Boasting a ton of one mana or zero mana creatures (hello
) it can quickly suit up something harmless into an intergalactic menace (“Call Voltron to save us! Wait, our enemy is Voltron? Nooooooooo!”). By far the most important cards in the deck are the
. Being able to draw with every hit (this deck does not block, that’s for cowards) keeps the advantage snowballing. Stack up multiple of these on an
and your opponent will be hard pressed to catch up.
The cherry on top is Kor Spiritdancer . A veteran from Modern Bogles, she was introduced with Jumpstart and can get oppressively big while continuing to rip through your deck. Playing your final aura onto a Spiritdancer, drawing another aura, rinse and repeat until you run out of mana, is an easy and common line. This deck also plays Lurrus of the Dream-Den because why not, so of course it can grind and return any auras for a second run, just when your opponent thought they’d gotten rid of the pesky things.
The weakness of this deck is you can get X-for-one’d if your opponent removes your Megazord, especially if they remove your creature out from under an aura on the stack.
Alseid of Life’s Bounty
provide protection at key chokepoints, especially against decks heavy with removal or if you aren’t off to a blistering start (which can be common). The other weakness of this deck is of course going all in on a creature can make it hard to rebuild. Spiritdancer and the
effects are crucial for keeping a full grip so you can continue applying pressure.
4x Ghitu Lavarunner
2x Grim Lavamancer
3x Rampaging Ferocidon
4x Soul-Scar Mage
4x Viashino Pyromancer
4x Wizard's Lightning
Light Up the Stage
1x Pillar of Flame
2x Skewer the Critics
4x Ramunap Ruins
Burn has been a red mage’s ace in the hole since
got printed, which if you aren’t an MTG history buff, was in the first dang set. Another deck imported from Modern, Historic Burn is a powerful and wildcard-inexpensive deck (Budget players rejoice!). Burn, like a lot of these decks, wasn’t a viable option until Amonkhet Remastered was released.
make a nice start for a deck with cheap threats and direct damage…but
allow the deck to hum like a finely tuned, mach-speed, machine.
Ramunap Ruins is just extra reach for the late game, but it can really allow you to push damage and be a little reckless with your attacks when you know you have four to six damage waiting on the field to close out an opponent. In a similar vein, Earthshaker Khenra also allows this deck to last a lot longer than normal mono-red decks. Khenra pushes damage early with its ETB and then when you’ve flooded out or have been slowly ground to a minimal board state, eternalize that bad boy and smash face out of nowhere. No one expects the Spanish Inquisition and no one expects a 4/4 in a burn. Lastly, Soul-Scar Mage functions as our Monastery Mentor with its 1/2 body for one mana and prowess. Its pseudo-wither ability is also far from negligible. With the amount of burn spells, most prominently Wizard’s Lightning (aka Lightning Bolt because most creatures in this deck are incidentally wizards), Soul-Scar can reliably be a 3/4 or 4/5 hitting unobstructed because you’ve removed any blockers.
Burn’s greatest strength is its ability to get going fast, disrupt anything its opponent might be doing in terms of blocking and then close out with prowess buffs or direct damage. If you’re any kind of creature deck, especially one that focuses on small creatures, burn can run you over easily if you stumble, and sometimes even if you don’t. However, if you’re playing disruption like Thoughtseize and lots of removal or thick creatures, you can essentially brick wall burn. Also, any sort of deck that gains incidental or buckets of life can be an issue, as you might expect.
4x Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger
4x Priest of Forgotten Gods
4x Stitcher's Supplier
3x Young Pyromancer
3x Village Rites
3x Claim the Firstborn
1x Innocent Blood
4x Dragonskull Summit
3x Phyrexian Tower
Finally, we have what I would argue is the best deck in the format right now: Rakdos Arcanist. Also lovingly called “Rakdos, You Can’t Have Any Fun” (at least by me), this deck is brutally fast and efficient at making sure you do everything and your opponent doesn’t do anything. If you can’t tell, I lost to this deck way too many times. I have the empty ice cream containers to prove it.
The name refers to Dreadhorde Arcanist , which is the card that makes this deck so potent. It also hosts a bevy of cheap, powerful spells (I’m sensing a trend), such as Shock and Thoughtseize to stall and dismantle any early gameplan. Then when your Arcanist attacks, they can then get “flashed back” at instant speed. The graveyard can easily get filled by the playset of Stitcher’s Supplier which will happily chump block to continue to keep your yard stocked for Arcanists or to escape a Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger , another effect tool to deprive opponents of resources. And if your Arcanist bites the dust, Claim can get it back for a single mana! Or if your Arcanist is lonely, you can grab them a friend out of the yard! Fame , the back half of Claim can have your Arcanist getting an attack hastily, while boosting its power to increase the range of spells it can hit, if you’ve chosen to include something like Bedevil at three CMC.
Young Pyromancer rounds this deck out and goes wide quickly with how many spells are getting cast per turn. To keep up card advantage, Village Rites often is included, which gets especially dirty when you can Claim the Firstborn to clear the way for your Arcanist and then immediately grave-cast a Rites. Similar to Burn, this deck can move incredibly fast and can disrupt anything an opponent does early to trip them up. Where it excels is its ability to accumulate mountains of card advantage with getting free second casts off of most of its spells and completely stripping its opponent of options through discard. Haste from Fame and “burn” from Kroxa gives just enough reach to finish off a player who thought they had stabilized the onslaught.
Aggro decks are flourishing in Historic. Cheap, powerful spells have always been at a premium and this format is full of them. The clincher is that there is a mix of these that are threats, a la Earthshaker Khenra and Soul-Scar Mage and also answers, both reactive and proactive (things like Eliminate and Thoughtseize , respectively).
The Story So Far…
The name of the game in Historic is to go fast and be disruptive. If you’re a slow deck or if you have no way to disrupt your opponents gameplan, you aren’t going to succeed. Decks like Merfolk and Elves don’t hold a candle to Rakdos Arcanist which can not only go faster, but can stop them at every step of the game. Azorius Auras can thrive because it can protect its threat against this disruption or get big enough to shake off burn spells.
Another key is not trading resources at an even rate with your opponent. Eternalizing an
or flashing back a
is peak card advantage when resources have run dry. A single
turn one can draw three or more cards in a game.
Lastly, prioritize your best cards and what you need to get your gameplan moving. Each deck has a few key cards that are much more important than the rest, proactively and reactively. I think my biggest mistake while testing was not taking enough mulligans. The biggest example of this is in Goblins where cards like Skirk Prospector are key to generating the mana needed to cast Muxus, Goblin Grandee , which should be your Plan A, every single game. A mull to five with one of each of those is probably better than a full grip of seven with four average to good goblins.
Next time we’ll test these tenants again as we look into midrange and control decks! What can these archetypes do to overcome the decks I’ve discussed here? Find out next time in Historically Speaking!
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