A Pinch of Spice: Four Off-Meta Historic Tournament Decks
This weekend featured a number of competitive Historic events, putting a spotlight on a meta which has been shaken up constantly over the last month. For those who haven’t been closely following the format, the release of Strixhaven brought new cards through both the main set and also the Mystical Archive, a set of powerful and iconic spells from Magic’s past. The addition of the Mystical Archive spawned the now infamous Tainted Pact combo decks that dominated the format in the first few tournaments before receiving a ban. Not even a week passed from the banning before the next new additions would shake up the format again in the form of the Historic Anthology 5, a collection of curated cards added straight to Historic. That takes us right up to this weekend, when several Historic tournaments took place including the F2K United Invitational and the Hooglandia Open.
It’s always worth watching the tournament scene after a format has been rapidly changing in the way that Historic has in the last month, as things start to settle and the best players in the game strive to find the top decks in the format. While there are some archetypes that have been consistenly strong since the release of the Mystical Archive including Jeskai Control and Izzet Pheonix, the constantly shifting format has made some space for brewers to come up with interesting decks that are still competitive without falling into one of the usual archetypes.
Today, we’re going to take a look at some of the off-meta decks that performed strongly in this weekend’s events for players looking to get their hands on some Historic decks outside of the common archetypes. There were enough unique decks to look at this time around that we’re going to focus on decks that performed very well and pay less attention to the new archetypes that didn’t make it to the top. If you are interested in seeing a wider range of archetypes, we highly recommend checking out the larger meta from the Hooglandia Open, as the event encourages brewing by spotlighting matchups featuring off-meta decks.
As always, a quick note that these decks are all built for best-of-three tournament play. If you’re looking to play any of them in best-of-one, you may find it beneficial to swap in cards from the sideboard or otherwise season to taste for the Bo1 meta. Let’s get started!
Let’s start right out with the deck that took down the F2K United this weekend and put a spotlight on a rising archetype: Historic Boros Midrange. We might not be able to call this new archetype a “brew” for much longer, as it will likely see more heavy play in Historic after performing so well in the hands of Matias Arvigo. Dreadhorde Arcanist has been known since its inclusion as a potential powerhouse in Historic (as well as older formats), and is a central part of this deck. Typically, Rakdos has been the primary home for the Arcanist in Historic, but this may be subject to change thanks to the explosive power of the Magecraft creatures Clever Lumimancer and Leonin Lightscribe.
The deck functions in a way that’s reminiscent of decks that featured Feather, the Redeemed in both Standard and Historic. Small, fairly low impact spells like Defiant Strike and Guiding Voice can be recast with Deadhorde Arcanist and serve to power up the Magecraft creatures for massive damage. Arvigo had a record of 3-1 in the Historic portion of the tournament with this deck.
As of this weekend, the Boros Aggro/Midrange archetype was still fairly new in Historic, but it might well explode in popularity following these good results. Regardless of whether you decide to try out this deck or if you’re playing other decks in the format, this is definitely an archetype to keep an eye on.
Our next deck is a twist on the mono green stompy archetype in Historic, devised and piloted by Maxim Salmin, also known by his online handle Rint, to a 5th place finish in the F2K overall. Rint is known as a master of the mono green archetype, and often chooses green decks even when they aren’t performing well in the meta.
Salmin’s deck did perform this weekend though- branded as Simic Aggro, it’s really mono green with a splash of blue to play protection spells for the deck’s creatures, specifically Spell Pierce and Decisive Denial. These counterspells can either be used to stop an opposing board wipe or removal spell, or to ensure that the deck has a chance at resolving Collected Company against control decks. Beyond that, it’s a fairly typical Stompy deck that features some of the usual threats along with one copy of The Great Henge to potentially take over the game.
Mono Green has been an existing archetype in Historic for a long time, but it rarely performs this well in the competitive scene. Decks that feature Collected Company have been in consideration since the card was added to the format, but typically two color shells have been its primary home- especially Selesnya. If you’re looking for a Collected Company deck that’s a little outside of the norm, or if you just love slamming big green creatures, then this might be a great deck to try. Maxim Salmin has once again proven the viability of this archetype in Historic as well as Standard. Timmys rejoice!
It would seem to be a testament to the variety and balance of the Historic format that we get to look at the first place finisher from two different events on A Pinch of Spice instead of dredging through decks outside of the top 16. This deck comes to us from René van Hoorn, who managed to take first in the Hooglandia Historic Open with Mono Black Aggro. Mono black decks were actually fairly popular in this tournament, with a number of them performing quite well and two in the top 8. Nevertheless, it seemed prudent to feature the archetype given that it has seen very little play at other major events, including the F2K United.
Players who were involved in Standard during the time of M20 and Ravnica Allegiance may find that this deck looks somewhat familiar. Knight of the Ebon Legion was a powerful enough threat to carry the archetype back in Standard- it’s a creature that comes down as early as turn one and scales beautifully as the game goes on, growing itself naturally and also serving as a mana sink. In the time since Knight of the Ebon Legion was in Standard, other sets have given us more recursive threats such as Skyclave Shade from Zendikar Rising and aggressive threats like Rankle, Master of Pranks from Eldraine.
This deck and others like it essentially combine the best cards from the mono black Standard decks of the recent past and the present, resulting in an archetype that comes out swinging and keeps the pressure on through the mid game. Additionally, black has some of the best removal cards in Historic like Fatal Push in combination with Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek which are two of the best discard spells ever printed. Effective sideboarding has allowed this deck to have teeth against other fast aggro decks while keeping control and combo in check at the same time. It will be interesting to see if this deck sees sustained success at other high level events, or if it turns out to just be a meta call and a flash in the pan.
Historic Spirits is an archetype that many players have been keeping an eye on as more spirit cards join the format, but whether the deck is strong enough with the tools it currently has available to be competitive is an open debate. Many of the lists that we have been seeing so far are either mono blue and feature the powerful-but-fragile Ascendant Spirit or opt for a Bant package so that they can run Collected Company.
Interestingly, Alexander Micklo decided to forego both of those options and go for an agressive Azorius build that doesn’t strictly rely on spirits as its only creatures. In fact, the only card that specifically mentions spirits in its rules text is Supreme Phantom. It might actually be more appropriate to refer to this deck as Azorius Fliers, as it leverages cards like Watcher of the Spheres, Empyrean Eagle, and the disruptive Elite Spellbinder to fill out the somewhat hollow spirit archetype. Apparently this combination of cards worked out well for Micklo, as he managed to finish the double-elmination tournament in 7th overall with a 6-2 overall record.
It’s still unclear whether the spirits archetype has the tools it needs to be competitive in the long-term Historic meta. Other powerful spirits such as Spell Queller may be added to Historic in the coming months, but in the meantime it seems that this hybrid approach that adds cards from the flyers archetype may be a way to keep the deck competitive. Micklo clearly didn’t think that Collected Company was necessary in the deck, but it might be worth playing around with if you’re interested in trying the deck.
As usual, there were quite a few archetypes that I would have loved to include in this article but left out to keep it brief. In particular, there were a number of decks that I specifically excluded because they were not able to put up a good performance. If you want to have a look at some of the other decks that showed up this weekend, I’ve collected a few of the highlights below:
- Five Color Niv Mizzet by Tom Pullinger – Hooglandia Open 9th Place
- Historic Boros Midrange by Alexander Steyer – F2K United 8th Place (A different take on Boros that foregoes Magecraft for resilient creatures and midrange threats)
- Historic Sultai Control by Mystmin – F2K United 6th Place (A focused control build that doesn’t bother with clunky spells like Emergent Ultimatum or Titan’s Nest)
- Four-Color Reanimator by Julien Gehan – Hooglandia Open 72nd Place (This deck was quite popular in the meta at the Hooglandia Open, and I would have loved to cover it here. Sadly, the deck performed quite poorly overall so it had to be omitted.)
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