Historic at the Innistrad Championship

Posted in Event Coverage on November 30, 2021

By Mani Davoudi

Throughout the last competitive season, we watched as Standard and Historic took the spotlight, being featured throughout the League Weekends and Championships. The formats evolved with each set release, presenting new opportunities and challenges for players while still being somewhat familiar for viewers as things never really changed too drastically after a single release. It was a stable pattern that held true all the way up to the 2020-21 postseason.

Historic was absent from both the MPL Gauntlet and Rivals Gauntlet, as well as Magic World Championship XXVII. With Draft and a rotated Standard taking the spotlight at the final event of the season, this created the longest break period for Historic from premier play leading up to its return at the upcoming Innistrad Championship.

To prepare for seeing Historic again, I thought it best to take a look at the releases we've missed and how they can impact the format.

Catching Up

In the four months since we've last seen Historic, major changes occurred. Although the current focus is the double-feature release of the Innistrad: Midnight Hunt and Innistrad: Crimson Vow, the biggest story came back in August with Jumpstart: Historic Horizons. Like its predecessor the previous year, Jumpstart: Historic Horizons introduced a mix of new and existing cards to shake up the format, including some exclusive digital-only cards that explore mechanics made possible by a digital format like Historic.

This is the most exciting thing to happen to Historic since the inception of the format in my opinion. Taking full advantage of MTG Arena has allowed for new design space like card changes that can be tracked across all zones and the creation of new objects during a game that can function as full cards rather than just tokens.

As with any innovation, getting it exactly right is difficult. Fortunately, there is a new solution for this as well: Rebalancing. Rebalancing is the ability to alter digital-only cards that may have missed the mark upon original release without the need to suspend/ban a card and allows for more dynamic control from the MTG Arena team to end up with the best possible gameplay.

As part of the most recent Historic ban announcement, we saw Memory Lapse suspended and Tibalt's Trickery banned. Alongside these, we saw rebalances to five of the new digital-only cards: two were nerfed to remove a powerful combo interaction, while the other three got buffs in order to increase the possibility of them seeing play.

All of that in four months. Three product releases, some bannings and rebalances, and the beginning of a new era for the format.

The "New" Historic

With all the recent changes, Historic is looking better than ever, and I have never been more excited to see it play out. Let's take a closer look at just some of the many playable decks in the new format and what tools they've gained recently:

Izzet Phoenix

Izzet Phoenix

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When Brainstorm was banned, there was a question as to whether Izzet Phoenix would remain a deck in Historic. It dropped off for a while after that, seeing reduced popularity and success for a time, until Jumpstart: Historic Horizons breathed new life into it.

There's no current consensus as to the best way to build the deck, but one thing is clear: the missing piece of the puzzle was Dragon's Rage Channeler. The incredible one drop that is already the mainstay of multiple formats fit perfectly into the deck as both a cheap and aggressive threat as well as a way to filter your draws and feed your graveyard. The addition of Unholy Heat as an answer to nearly any threat in the format did not hurt either, and Izzet Phoenix has bounced back to its former position as one of the strongest decks in the field.

Azorius Auras

Azorius Auras

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Azorius has long grappled with Orzhov to see which is the more popular Auras deck of the format, and often lost. The cheap disruption offered by the black mana in Orzhov was too good, and by comparison blue's card drawing enchantments were not as appealing. It was not until Innistrad: Crimson Vow that a truly compelling reason to be Azorius was finally printed.

The Auras deck had already been rising in popularity thanks to Esper Sentinel slotting in perfectly as a one mana creature that gives you an early body to threaten both pressure and card advantage with. Enter Stormchaser Drake as another creature that wants to be targeted by your many spells, and suddenly the Azorius Auras deck is seeing new levels of consistency.

Selesnya Humans

Selesnya Humans

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Selesnya Company is another deck in a long trend of Historic decks that has been picking up more pieces with each set release, waiting for the day when it hits critical mass. That day finally came when the release of three powerful Humans pushed the deck in a new direction.

With Esper Sentinel, Thalia's Lieutenant, and Ranger-Captain of Eos joining the party, Selesnya Humans was born. Featuring a fleshed-out curve, disruptive creatures, and more explosive power, Selesnya Humans was finally beginning to replicate the potential of Humans decks from other formats. The deck started rolling and has not stopped since, picking up new friends like Brutal Cathar and Hamlet Vanguard from both Innistrad sets on its path towards becoming one of the top decks of this Historic format.

Azorius Affinity

Azorius Affinity

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Perhaps the deck I'm most excited to see, Azorius Affinity is a sweet take on Artifact-based aggressive decks. This type of deck holds a special place in my heart, so to see it be viable in Historic makes me extremely happy.

The idea here is simple: play cheap artifacts early, then use them to reduce the cost of Thought Monitors/pay for improvise costs to get cheap card advantage. By drawing lots of cards, you are able to overwhelm the board with artifacts and make Nettlecyst a massive equipment that can quickly end the game on any creature.

This deck may not have the explosiveness of the classic Modern format Affinity decks, but it has a powerful gameplan and is able to consistently execute it. This is an incredibly cool archetype with a lot of potential and powerful cards, and I hope to see it make an impact at this tournament.

Mono-Red Madness

Mono-Red Madness

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The mono-red deck of choice in Historic had been Goblins for the longest time, with no other deck being able to match the explosiveness or power the deck offered up until now.

Named after the madness ability that appears on Blazing Rootwalla and Fiery Temper, this deck's game plan is cool: maximize value and explosiveness by discarding cards that either have madness or can be recurred from the graveyard to quickly grow your Dragon Rage Channelers and Magmatic Channelers.

This deck also features the first appearance of a digital-only card in Managorger Phoenix. A cheap recursive flyer that is bigger each time it returns thanks to perpetually growing is nothing to scoff at and gives this deck its primary way to grind into the late game if needed.

Unlike many of the other archetypes in this article, Mono-Red Madness did not experience a slow burn over time of having pieces added. The deck burst onto the scene when it received five cards in Jumpstart: Historic Horizons. It's easy to see why it is appealing, considering it's a blast to play: A first turn Faithless Looting to draw two cards and put two Blazing Rootwalla into play should make a believer out of anyone.

Simic Merfolk

Simic Merfolk

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Perhaps the tribe that was most missed in Historic, Merfolk have been on the outside looking in as decks like Goblins, Elves, Shamans, and even Angels started seeing play. The deck always felt like it was just a little short of being a contender in the format, something that finally changed earlier this year.

Merfolk was really looking to get another two-mana lord like Lord of Atlantis or Master of the Pearl Trident to be viable. Not only did they get their wish, but they also got an incredible one drop in Shoreline Scout and a powerful curve topper in Svyelun of Sea and Sky.

Shoreline Scout being able to smooth out your draw by conjuring a Tropical Island and attacking as a 2/1 was exactly what the deck needed, and access to the reliable green mana finally gave the deck the consistency it needed to play Collected Company.

I've been a fan of Merfolk for a long time, and I'm glad to finally see them get their time in Historic after so long.

Selesnya Enchantress

Selesnya Enchantress

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Enchantress was a tough archetype to crack in Historic. It was clear that a purely value-based deck around Enchantress's Presence was not good enough, and a more controlling mono-white build based around the Nine Lives + Solemnity combo was also lacking. It was the arrival of Sterling Grove that allowed the deck to find direction in combining the two ideas.

After Jumpstart: Historic Horizons, this deck has card advantage in Sythis and Enchantress's Presence, a combo finish with Nine Lives + Solemnity, and Sanctum Weaver to give you the mana to do it all. The entire package is held together nicely by Sterling Grove. When trying to get set up, Sterling Grove can tutor for your missing combo pieces or silver bullet answers. When ready to combo, Sterling Grove can be protection by giving your Enchantments shroud. It was the perfect card for this archetype and has helped push it from niche status to a real part of the metagame.

Jeskai Control

Jeskai Control

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Formerly the top dog in Historic, Jeskai Control fell quite a bit in popularity with the suspension of Memory Lapse. The deck still has some legs thanks to recent inclusions like Archmage's Charm and Hullbreaker Horror, but success will require a good prediction of the Championship metagame and bringing a list that properly answers the field.

Jund Sacrifice

Jund Sacrifice

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As the popularity of creature-based decks in Historic has gone up, so has the interest in Jund Sacrifice. The archetype is still extremely powerful and even got a new potential addition in Ravenous Squirrel. A scaling one-drop that is also a sacrifice outlet and a source of card advantage is a perfect addition to the deck. As usual there are many ways to build the deck, but I wouldn't be surprised to see a decent chunk of classic Jund Sacrifice like the list below at the Innistrad Championship.

The Innistrad Championship

I feel like I've barely scratched the surface on a Historic format that feels fresh, healthy, and wide open. Jumpstart: Historic Horizons has impacted every deck in the, and I can't wait to see it on full display alongside the two newest Innistrad sets at the Innistrad Championship.

You can catch me and the rest of the commentary team this weekend at twitch.tv/magic. Join us as we watch the best players in the world kick off the new competitive season and begin their journey toward the next World Championship—all happening live December 3–5 beginning at 9 a.m. PST each day!

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