J:HH Combos – Infinite Death Triggers in Historic

See also: New Turn 2 Kill in Historic

Jumpstart: Historic Horizons has been generating quite a buzz in the Magic: Arena community, both because it is bringing a ton of cards from Modern Horizons and Modern Horizons 2 into the Historic format, and also because it will be adding 31 cards that are new to Magic and designed to function only in digital play.

One of the new, digital-only mechanics from the set is perpetually– a keyword which makes a permanent change to the targeted card, regardless of whether it changes zones, leaves the battlefield, or anything else.

A new combo has emerged that will be legal in Historic when the set releases on August 12, featuring a card from Modern Horizons as well as a card with the new perpetual mechanic. Davriel's Withering perpetually gives a target creature -1/-2, and it turns out that this has a potentially broken interaction with Vesperlark, a card entering the format from MH1.

Vesperlark has the text, “Whenever this creature leaves the battlefield, return target creature card with power 1 or less from your graveyard to the battlefield.” Normally, Vesperlark isn’t able to target itself with this ability since it has power of 2. However, if Vesperlark is targeted by Davriel’s Withering, the permanent -1/-2 effect will both cause it to die (because of toughness less than 1) and also keep its power at 1 even in the graveyard.

Since Vesperlark goes to the graveyard before its ability resolves, this means that it can now target itself with its recursion ability. When it does, it returns to the battlefield but dies again immediately since it is still affected by the perpetual -1/-2. This now creates an infinite loop which can be repeated as many times as its controller wishes (or until they time out on Arena).

This interaction does not win the game on its own, but there are many other supporting cards which can do the job. The infinite enters-the-battlefield triggers can gain infinite life with cards such as Soul Warden and Gate to the Afterlife, or can do infinite damage thanks to aristocrats-style effects including Blood Artist and Bastion of Remembrance.

Orzhov seems like it might be a solid shell to support this combo even in the highly powerful Historic format. Cards like Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek are extremely powerful support for any kind of combo deck, and black has many other powerful tools in the format such as Fatal Push and Legion's End. White also has access to cards that seem quite good in this shell, including Thraben Inspector and hate pieces like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and Elite Spellbinder.

It’s also worth noting that this combo will be quite difficult to interact with. The Vesperlark would have to be removed in response to Davriel’s Withering, or Davriel’s Withering could be countered on the stack. Once the Withering resolves, however, the only way that the combo can be stopped is by countering the triggered ability of Vesperlark when it tries to return itself to the battlefield. There are some cards in the format which are capable of countering a triggered ability, such as Repudiate // Replicate, but none see play as of now.

Various aristocrats decks are popular across many formats in Magic, and I suspect that if this combo ends up being at all consistent, this deck will be popular on Arena as well. It seems likely that this combo will be able to find a shell that works in Historic to some extent, although how powerful it will actually be in the context of the format remains to be seen.


Dude from Vermont who likes to play Magic and Escape from Tarkov. Musician, writer, and gamer. Submit feedback or corrections to @Paul on the Discord.

16 Responses

  1. Boy151 says:

    Doesn’t the vesperlark trigger before it is in the graveyard so that it can not target itself.
    Also this would be a pain in the ass in arena because resolving this 20 or even more times would take forever in the client

    • Paul says:

      It should work. The Vesperlark goes straight to the graveyard first and then you choose the target. It’s already in the yard by the time you select a target

  2. IvI says:

    This does not work, the second it dies it is no longer effected by the -1/-2, meaning it can’t return itself, and also even if it did it wouldn’t die once it returns because it’s a new creature no longer effected by the -1/-2.

    • Paul says:

      Ah but that’s exactly the thing about Davriel’s Withering and other cards with the “perpetual” mechanic. Once Davriel’s Withering resolves targeting the Vesperlark, that copy of Vesperlark will ALWAYS have -1/-2, even if it changes zones. That means if it goes to the graveyard and returns to the battlefield, it keeps the -1/-2 effect. This is something that we have not seen before in Magic, and it is specific to MTG: Arena.

      • darint says:

        When I first saw the pertetual (perpetuality?) mechanic my immediate reaction was there could be game-breaking effects like this. While there are ways to short-circuit this one, it still makes me wonder if we could see the first card nerfs in MTG Arena (possible since this is a virtual-only format).

  3. NeoShinGundam says:

    This is precisely why the “perpetually” mechanic is a terrible idea. The game NEEDS the kind of refreshes that this mechanic prevents and creates these auto-loops. I’m definitely not looking forward to this format 😠

    • Paul says:

      It’s definitely new ground for MTG and I’m not sure I love what they’ve done with the perpetual thing. I actually like the idea of Historic having some mechanics that wouldn’t work in paper but perpetually doesn’t seem like a great idea if I’m being honest. That being said, this probably won’t break the format even if it is a viable deck. Historic is already a very fast and powerful format, and a combo like this requires setup which can be disrupted.

  4. David says:

    So what happens if you do this Vesperlark/Withering combo on turn 3 with nothing else in play? It would keep auto-triggering endlessly… So would your turn eventually rope out and end after 5 minutes with Vesperlark in the graveyard?

    • Paul says:

      I believe so yes. Since the ability doesn’t say “may” you are required to return the Vesperlark to the field each time if there are no other targets. In paper, an unbreakable infinite loop like this would trigger a draw but as far as I know MTG Arena doesn’t support draws in any way. So the controlling player would rope out and that would be the end of it.

    • Last Tap says:

      Actually, it would result in the game ending in a draw, if it was the only creature in your graveyard. You would get a warning about ‘choose a different action or. If there were two creatures in your graveyard and you had to select them, it might rope your turn.

  5. Jeffrey says:

    Versperlark is going to get banned. The new Davriel also gives a perpetual toughness reduction and I expect we’ll see a couple more cards that do it too. They aren’t going to ban the cards with the new mechanic so that leaves Versperlark. Even if the combo isn’t good., players are going to get stuck in an infinite loop and lose games because they time out. The other option would be to errata it to a “may” ability or an “up to 1 target” ability but a universal change due to an MTGA-specific combo is unprecedented. (it is worth noting that “up to 1 target” would be consistent with the wording on Reveillark)

  6. RainbowPenguin says:

    This unironically seems pretty reasonable. A 3-card combo to slot into various aggro decks, that might be closer to a 2-card combo in a dedicated ‘aristocrats’ deck. It can be stopped by removing the payoff or by graveyard hate like rest in peace, leyline, scavenging ooze etc. Since it’ll likely slot into a creature aggro/midrange shell, it’ll be a lot more interesting to play against than a pure combo deck, even in best-of-one (imo of course). If it isn’t overpowered, it seems like it could be a nice addition to the format.

  7. Quin says:

    “Once the Withering resolves, however, the only way that the combo can be stopped is by countering the triggered ability of Vesperlark when it tries to return itself to the battlefield.”

    this seems incorrect? How about a card like cling to dust? You can exile the vesperlark at any point in the combo and exile it right?

    • Matthew T Pumphrey says:

      Cling to dust would effectively counter the ability, since the lark would no longer be in the graveyard. More accurately, it would stop the loop. You are correct.