Historic Format Guide – December 2020

Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger - Historic

What is Historic?

Historic is my favorite format on MTG Arena. Similar to Pioneer in power level, Historic has many viable competitive decks, with many different styles and archetypes at the top of the metagame. Historic rewards format knowledge, and its metagame tends to remain more stable than Standard as the cards do not rotate. I especially like Historic because it acts as a stepping stone from Standard to an older format like Modern, and offers variety when the Standard metagame leaves something to be desired. If you have not yet tried out Historic, I highly recommend you do, and if you have, great! I hope you’ve enjoyed it so far; I certainly have. If you have no idea what Historic is, or how it came to be, then this next part is for you.

Historic is one of the two constructed formats on Arena with a ranked queue and consistent support in terms of events and tournaments. Historic is also uniquely Arena-only, meaning there is no official queue for it on Magic Online, nor any WoTC-supported tournaments on tabletop. It allows the use of all the cards on Arena, excluding cards on the Historic banned and suspended lists. Historic also gets supplemental sets tailor-made for the format at least every two months. The Historic Anthology sets were the first of these and were followed up with Amonkhet Remastered and Kaladesh Remastered, both of which came with supplemental cards that were not in the original sets. Historic Anthology 4 is scheduled to come out sometime in 2021, and future remastered sets consisting of two sets are expected to continue coming as well as we get closer and closer to Pioneer on Arena.

The History of Historic

Historic was officially announced on June 27, 2019 and added to the game in November 2019. The purpose of Historic was to give use to cards that players owned that had rotated from Standard. At first, Historic did not have a permanent ranked queue and did not get the attention of many content creators, nor was there any incentive to find the best deck, making the format an unsolved brewers paradise. Historic gradually gained relevance, until it got a permanent ranked queue and became the competitive format it is today.

Deck Building Rules

  • Your deck must be at least 60 cards and there is no maximum deck size.
  • Up to fifteen cards may be included in your sideboard, if you use one.
  • Include no more than four copies of any individual card in your main deck and sideboard combined (except basic lands and unless specified on the card).

Historic Legal Cards

The list of all the cards legal in Historic can also be found at Scryfall.

ExpansionSupplementary
Ixalan
Rivals of Ixalan
Dominaria
Core Set 2019
Historic Anthology 1
Historic Anthology 2
Historic Anthology 3
Guilds of Ravnica
Ravnica Allegiance
War of the Spark
Core Set 2020
Jumpstart
Throne of Eldraine
Theros: Beyond Death
Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths
Core Set 2021
Amonkhet Remastered
Kaladesh Remastered
Zendikar RisingArena Base Set (BO1 ONLY)

The following cards are outside of any sets in MTG Arena but are also legal for Historic, introduced via the Brawlidays and Brawler’s Guildhall events:

  • Rhys the Redeemed
  • Talrand, Sky Summoner
  • The Gitrog Monster
  • Bladewing the Risen
  • Hanna, Ship’s Navigator

Suspended Cards

Suspensions are cards that are not legal for Historic play, but may be removed from the list or moved to the banned list after review as new cards are introduced in Historic via expansions and supplementary sets. Wildcards are not refunded when cards are suspended. Below is a list of cards that are currently suspended in Historic and previously removed from the suspension list:

Card NameSuspension DateUnsuspension Date
Field of the DeadDecember 10, 2019March 9, 2020
Burning-Tree EmissaryJuly 13, 2020October 12, 2020
Omnath, Locus of CreationOctober 12, 2020

Banned Cards

When cards are fully banned in Historic you will receive Wildcard reimbursement as normal, with the caveat that you won’t receive multiple reimbursements for the same, individual card. The following cards are banned in Historic, after being initially suspended:

Card NameSuspension DateBan Date
Nexus of FateJuly 13, 2020
Oko, Thief of CrownsDecember 10, 2019March 9, 2020
Once Upon a TimeDecember 10, 2019March 9, 2020
Veil of SummerDecember 10, 2019March 9, 2020
Fires of InventionJune 1, 2020July 13, 2020
Agent of TreacheryJune 1, 2020July 13, 2020
Winota, Joiner of ForcesJune 8, 2020July 13, 2020
Field of the DeadAugust 24, 2020
Teferi, Time RavelerAugust 3, 2020October 12, 2020
Wilderness ReclamationAugust 3, 2020October 12, 2020

The Current Historic Metagame

The Historic Metagame resembles that of many other eternal, or non-rotating formats. There are several tier-one decks or archetypes, and the specific best deck at any moment is dependent on small shifts in the meta. New decks don’t tend to rise and fall as fast as they do in Standard, and the metagame tends to be more stable than Standard’s, but often more erratic than an older format like modern. Post-Kaladesh Remastered there were no new breakout decks, but many of the reigning tier-one decks got significant upgrades with Fatal Push, Scrapheap Scrounger, Chandra, Torch of Defiance, and more, all of which play very important roles in their specific archetypes. The current best decks in Historic are Sultai/4 Color Midrange, Sacrifice/Cat-Oven decks, and Goblins, with UW Auras, UW/UB Control, Rakdos Arcanist, and Red/Gruul Aggro (in no particular order) as some of the more fringe, yet still competitively viable archetypes.

How Do I Decide on a Deck to Play?

To succeed in Historic, or best prepare for an upcoming tournament, it is important to settle on a deck and get in a lot of practice with it. This format rewards people who know their deck well, and it is far more useful to get in an extra week with your deck than to test many archetypes and find the deck that’s going to be a percent or two better that particular weekend. There isn’t such a thing as a “best deck” in Historic, so when you are deciding on which deck to play, look for a deck that suits your playstyle and you feel comfortable playing.

Sultai / Four-Color Midrange: Sultai, with or without a white splash for Yasharn, Implacable Earth, eschews synergy in favor of just playing a lot of very good cards. Thoughtseize, Fatal Push, and black board wipes give the deck a wealth of efficient removal. Growth Spiral and Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath mean that the deck can ramp without falling prey to the traditional downsides of a ramp deck. Drawing all acceleration and no top end is much less of an issue since Growth Spiral cycles, and Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath is an insane threat in addition to ramping and gaining life. Finally, Nissa, Who Shakes The World, and Hydroid Krasis round out the top end of this deck and ensure that it is very hard to beat in the late game for most decks. Sultai Midrange plays like a traditional midrange deck, curving cheap interaction into powerful midrange threats, but adds a ramp sub-theme, which lets Sultai rival even more controlling decks in the late-game. 

Sacrifice Decks: The macro-archetype that currently has the largest metagame share in Historic. This category contains not only the more aggressive Rakdos Sacrifice decks, but also both the Korvold, Fae-Cursed King/Trail of Crumbs, and the Collected Company versions of Jund Sacrifice. This archetype is one of the hardest to play in Historic, and requires intimate knowledge of the stack and how all of its cards interact together to be played optimally.

  • Rakdos Sacrifice: Rakdos Sacrifice is the fastest of the three, playing with more aggressive two-drops like Scrapheap Scrounger and Skyclave Shade, and opting for the more consistent two-color manabase to ensure that the deck curves out as consistently as possible. Rakdos Sacrifice loosely resembles other synergy-based aggressive decks like Modern Prowess or Legacy Elves, in that the deck is trying to set up specific synergies with cards like Claim the Firstborn combined with sacrifice outlets, or Mayhem Devil shenanigans. However, the deck also has many midrangey elements, and can grind fairly well through the late game with card advantage from Priest of Forgotten Gods and Midnight Reaper, as well as the Cat-Oven combo. 
  • Jund Company: Jund Company is very similar to Rakdos Sacrifice, splashing green mostly for the powerhouse Collected Company as its top-end. The same core of sacrifice cards appears here as well, and this deck trades slightly worse mana for a stronger top-end. 
  • Jund Food: While many of the same cards like Cat-Oven and Mayhem Devil appear in Jund Food as well, this deck is even more synergy focused than the first two. Trail of Crumbs is an incredibly strong card advantage engine, especially when combined with the Cat-Oven combo, or even Cauldron Familiar all by itself. Rather than rely on its three-drops or a playset of Collected Companies to end the game, Korvold, Fae Cursed King fills the role as an enormous, flying, card-drawing beater. Trail of Crumbs also gives the deck a lot of late-game staying power, as it can draw a ton of cards. Trail of Crumbs is also the reason why this deck plays so few non-permanents, as missing on an early turn with Trail of Crumbs can be crippling, and not being able to dig for a card with Trail of Crumbs makes that card actively worse. This deck plays like an aristocrats deck, and generally produces more triggers and decisions than Rakdos and Jund Company, making it one of the most challenging, yet also most rewarding decks to play in Historic. 

Mono Red Goblins: This deck is part a traditional, synergy-driven tribal aggro deck with cheap creatures that can flood the board combined with lords and goblins-matters cards, and part a combo deck, with an explosive and powerful singleton card in Muxus, Goblin Grandee. The primary gameplan of this deck is to cast Muxus as soon as possible. Once Muxus, Goblin Grandee hits the battlefield, very often it’ll just end the game on the spot, usually hitting several random dorks with a haste-lord like Goblin Chieftain or Goblin Warchief, potentially even with a Krenko, Mob Boss thrown in to create even more goblins. In matchups with too many counterspells to rely on going all-in on the big six-drop, the secondary plan of curving out with goblins into a Goblin Chieftain, or landing a hasty Krenko, Mob Boss to make a bunch of tokens and attack is very much viable as well. Some newer additions like Herald’s Horn, as well as Conspicuous Snoop, give the deck the ability to grind with a consistent source of card advantage and run the opponent out of cards in certain matchups. Goblins plays like a cross between being a combo deck like Storm and a tribal aggro deck like Modern Humans or Merfolk.

Budget Decks

One often overlooked thing about Historic even more so than Standard is that it takes a lot of wildcards. Many players who were not on Arena in the early days of Ixalan or even Ravnica, or  don’t play every day and can’t keep up with each new anthology and remastered set. Each new meta Historic deck can be 30 or more rares and mythics if you don’t already have playsets of many of the staples, especially in the manabase, which can be intimidating for newcomers to the format. However, there are several wildcard-light Historic decks that provide a good stepping stone to try out the format, that fall in the tier-one to tier-three category.

The most budget deck in Historic has to be Mono Blue Tempo. Even better, it is a solid deck, around the tier-three range. The goal of the deck is to enchant an evasive 1-drop with Curious Obsessionon turn two, and then protect the creature and overwhelm the opponent with card advantage, staying ahead by countering or bouncing everything relevant the opponent plays, and winning by beating down with a motley crew of cheap creatures. It’s a challenging deck to play, as most tempo decks are, and plays similarly to Dimir Rogues in Standard.

The second-most budget deck in Historic is, unfortunately, a lot more wildcards, but has a very respectable metagame share. UW Auras has around 22 rares fully optimized, but can be cut down to as little as 16 or less if you’re willing to play Bo1 or make some slight downgrades in the sideboard and manabase. UW Auras is a very strong deck and is easy to play, ideal for a first Historic deck. This deck is trying to land either Kor Spiritdancer or Sram, Senior Edificer, then draw a bunch of cards while casting auras and kill the opponent with a massive beater. This deck is fast and linear and plays similar to Modern Bogles.

Past this, most of the decks in Historic begin to require upwards of 30 wildcards. Mono Red Aggro can be made budget if you’re willing to skimp on lands and downgrade some creatures, but it still won’t be cheap. The silver lining is that a lot of the reason why decks require so many wildcards is the manabase or format staples, and many of the manabases overlap, so after an admittedly big initial expenditure, you’ll find yourself needing less and less wildcards for each new deck. 

What if I want to make my own deck?

There are many undiscovered or unrefined decks that could potentially be good, or just fun to play in Historic. One important thing to keep in mind when brewing is the mana. While the mana in Historic is overall very good, with three or even four-color decks having plenty of lands to hit their colors consistently, many of the cycles of lands in Historic are not complete, so pay attention to  whether there’s a triome for your three-color deck, or if there is a pathway in your two-color one. After that, the format is your oyster. Here is a list of some of the most powerful individual cards and build arounds in Historic, but don’t feel constrained by it. Plenty of things have worked, and will work that no one saw coming, so make a deck, try it out, and have fun!

Thoughtseize: The best interaction spell in the format, Thoughtseize sees heavy play in every single format it’s legal in. Thoughtseize is a very efficient way to disrupt the opponent or clear the way for your own haymaker, and any deck with swamps needs a really good reason not to run Thoughtseize. 

Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath: An incredibly powerful card, Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath is both a ramp enabler and a ramp payoff, a way to stabilize against aggro, and a way to grind out card advantage against control. Uro, Titan of Nature’s is often worth splashing a single color in any two-color deck that can fit it in, as this card is an absolute powerhouse, and the mana in Historic makes adding a third color relatively painless. 

Muxus, Goblin Grandee: This card makes the Goblins deck one of the best decks in the format, being one of the best “I win” buttons available, but really only fits in Goblin tribal, so unless you’re going deep with Arcane Adaptation, this may not be the best card to make a new deck with. 

Grafdigger’s Cage: The best sideboard card in Historic, it splits the format into two categories. Decks that play Grafdigger’s Cage in the sideboard, and decks that lose to it. This is more a card to keep in mind when building your deck rather than a build around, so if your deck suffers against Grafdigger’s Cage, make sure you have plenty of answers. 

Paradox Engine: The raw power and potential this card offers is enormous. Largely seeing play in combo decks, Paradox Engine can be built around in many ways and is one of the most breakable cards in Historic. Pairing Paradox Engine with Emry, Lurker of the Loch, or Mystic Forge is level one with this card, but it can  be taken much further. 

Aetherworks Marvel: This card underperformed heavily after it joined the format in Kaladesh Remastered, and it’s in this list is not because it’s in a good deck, even the best Aetherworks Marvel decks are tier three at best, it’s here because of the potential for it to be broken at some point is very high. Aetherworks Marvel enables a lot of different things, and is a card to keep in mind. 

Nissa, Who Shakes the World: One of the best planeswalkers in recent memory, Nissa, Who Shakes the World is a massive, game-ending threat that becomes even better with a way to spend the extra mana, like an x-spell like Hydroid Krasis, or when paired with other expensive finishers. 

Embercleave: The best card for aggressive decks in Historic, Embercleave makes every turn against mountains scary, and can swing games by putting a massive power of effectively hasty power on the board. Anax, Hardened in the Forge and Rotting Regisaur are both great targets for Embercleave, but are by no means necessary in a deck running this card. Embercleave is the biggest reason to be running creatures in your aggressive deck, and a card to be feared. 

Teferi, Hero of Dominaria: Another Standard powerhouse of old, Teferi, Hero of Dominaria is the single reason why UW Control is good. While Teferi, Hero of Dominaria isn’t the same format-dominating card it used to be, it’s a very powerful control finisher and a strong inclusion in many decks.

Conclusion

Thank you so much for reading, and I hope you enjoyed! Historic is a very deep format that caters to many different playstyles and players, with options from the spikiest of spikes to the jankiest of brewers. You can often catch me playing Historic (and other formats) on Twitch and Youtube, or whining about Uro on Twitter. That’s all from me, and have a wonderful rest of your day.

Terence

Korean gamer in Australia. Proud owner of the DotGG and its network of websites. I especially enjoy fantasy worlds, role-playing games, and collecting things! Favorite games include World of Warcraft, Magic: The Gathering, and League of Legends.