Hello again! The second Arena Open is knocking on our doors, starting on August 1st at 8:00 AM PT, and the format is going to be Historic! The rules are the same as the first Arena Open which spans over two days, so be sure to check out the links for a rundown on how the tournament works. In this article, I’m going to address deck choices, help you choose from the many options, and go over what you should be considering as you prepare.
Let’s get to the preparation
Day 1 vs Day 2: The Deck Choices
If I want to explain to you why only playing 1 deciding game of Magic makes certain Decks stronger or weaker, I can’t avoid the topic of Linearity of Deck. The concept of linearity is a big subject in itself but here is my short takeaway for this topic: Linear decks have a clear, proactive gameplan that will win against you if you don’t have enough interaction, and it is harder to interact with that sort of deck in best-of-one since you’re trying to prepare for the field. To illustrate, let’s take the most recent example of a linear deck:
Goblins in Historic just want to jam all their pieces and ramp up to Muxus, Goblin Grandee as quickly and consistently as possible. Their whole gameplan is based around it: you can use Skirk Prospector to sacrifice your whole board to get Muxus on the battlefield, or play Goblin Matron (a 3 Mana 1/1) to fish your pieces out of the deck – Goblins is happy to play weak individual pieces to enable one exceptionally strong piece, because it works! Slamming Muxus just ends games when he enters the battlefield, and if you don’t remove Skirk Prospector early enough or counter Muxus, you’re probably just going to lose on the spot.
You don’t care about their Wilderness Reclamation, Teferi, Time Raveler or Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. You don’t care about them drawing one million extra cards with Hydroid Krasis.
With this type of deck, you want to be as proactive as possible and make your opponent react to you and not vice versa, because you are just going to win if they don’t.
That is one of the reasons why i highly encouraged people to not play Goblin Chainwhirler or Gempalm Incinerator in their mainboards: because those cards don’t help your gameplan at all and just hinder your proactivity.
That strong proactive plan comes with a price though: interaction spells like Aether Gust, more Sweepers like Flame Sweep, or even counterspells like Disdainful Stroke, all cripple this deck. Post-board, it becomes very clear that you’re going to have a hard time just slamming your Muxus after sacrificing your whole board to Skirk Prospector: they’ve got tons of interaction now, they are prepared, and if you just jam and get your Muxus countered or Aether Gusted, you’re in trouble. Playing the “fair” game by trying to attack their life total on the ground is usually pretty hard, especially post-board, as Goblins sacrifice raw power for synergy – e.g. Goblin Matron is not a card well-equipped for beating down.
As with most linear decks, there is not much Goblins can do about that in games 2 and 3. Being a mono red deck, you don’t have anything to stop your opponents from countering your threats, sweepers will always be strong against you, and cards like Goblin Ruinblaster will merely make you not lose the game on the spot rather than win you the game.
That is one of the reasons why Winota (example deck here) in the first Arena Open was so popular for Day 1: it was such a strong proactive Deck that would have those unbeatable draws if you didn’t interact with them. The deck was much more fragile to removal, but that didn’t mean much when your enemies weren’t able to adjust to that with a sideboard.
The weakness of Goblins or Winota in best-of-three shows the strength of other decks though: The ability to adapt your gameplan for powerful interaction. Let’s take another recent example to illustrate:
Control decks by nature are much more reactive and generally benefit from sideboarding more than decks like Goblins, for example. Game 1, they will try to cover all various kinds of match-ups, from aggro decks like Mono-Red to combo-ish Decks like Reclamation or Goblins. They will play Shatters for the creatures, Dovin’s Veto for the spells, and so on. Their weakness lies in the fact that it’s hard to balance being good against everything and so you sometimes end up in a spot where you have no real good matchups, but rather all are 50/50 (not saying that this is the case here, just trying to make a point) – in some games, you just won’t draw the right cards for that match-up. Luckily, this only applies to the first game.
Control decks shine when they bring their sideboard and are able to take advantage of their flexibility: if the opponent plays Aggro, then bring in all those Sweepers, Removals, and Lifegain Spells. If the opponent plays Field of the Dead, which you struggled against in game one, bring in Blood Sun and suddenly it’s pretty hard for your opponent to win the game. Because your deck is more reactive than proactive, it’s not a problem to just board in half your sideboard because you’re not risking messing up your synergy, because frankly there isn’t as much synergy involved in these decks. You try to control the board and then overpower them with Planeswalkers later. As a result, you will not just lose to your opponent playing great sideboard cards because you have tons of interaction for them.
Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa, our current World Champion, really demonstrated the power of a Control deck in the right environment: He knew the metagame of a World Championship in Theros Beyond: Death was going to be Mono-Red Aggro, Temur Reclamation, and Jeskai Fires. As a result, he created a perfect list that already had a good game 1 plan against them, and only got better post-board (here is the list if you want to check it out). There were only 16 players at the tournament, which meant that the chance of him getting an upset in Game 1 from an unknown deck was fairly low.
Okay, what does this mean in our context of the Arena Open?
- Linear Decks go up in rating in BO1 (Day 1). Having a proactive plan is key, and being reactive will require you to have a strong meta read.
- The flexibility in a Deck is more important for B03 (Day 2). Having an okay-ish Game 1 could be totally fine when your match-up gets significantly better post-board.
Rating the Decks
Historic is a huge format with tons of cards in it – it is impossible to cover every popular deck, let alone be prepared for everything. You can also have a great read on the meta and still do poorly because you just didn’t face the right match-ups. You also have to add in the fact that this tournament is literally open to everyone, not just high% mythic gamers – not everyone will play the “best decks” and it is very much possible that you will get surprised by decks that flew under your radar, especially Day 1. I will only cover the most “important” match-ups, meaning “popular” for the most part.
If you don’t want to play any of the Decks listed here and come with a home-brew, always remember this rule of thumb: be proactive Day 1, be flexible Day 2.
If you feel great with a Deck even though I deem it suboptimal, play it. Always play the deck that you feel the most confident with, and do not let anyone tell you otherwise. Suboptimal decks can always win in the right hands and suboptimal is far from unplayable”.
I can’t tell you what exactly you should play, what exact cards you need to have in your maindeck, or what your 60 (or 75) should look like exactly. But I can tell you what decks I think lose or win the most and why. With all of the above in mind, let’s evaluate all the Decks i think you should definitely expect and have on your radar:
Day 1: Strong and solid choice. Even though it has gained a huge rise in popularity and people will be prepared for it, the nature of it being so proactive will still give you a good shot to win. They will play some cards like Aether Gust and Magmaquake main-deck which are good against you, but as long as they don’t dedicate their whole deck to beating you, you will have a decent shot. Note that you can expect a lot of goblins too – so even if my Guide says that you should not play Chainwhirler or Gempalm Incinerator main-deck, you can consider it here; those cards definitely help in the mirror and could give you a much better shot to beating their strong curves, especially on the draw.
Day 2: I personally would pass on this one. Goblins are too easy to interact with and have a huge target on their head. If they already play interaction Game , and even more in Game 2, you’re gonna be in a lot of trouble.
Day 1: Okay so technically Kethis, or Combo decks in general, are pretty good in a B01 setting, because they are proactive enough and require some sort of interaction by the opponent. My problem would be that it struggles against aggressive Decks because they are simply too fast – and even Goblins can sometimes combo faster than you do. If you can find your own version that beats those decks with more copies of Shatter the Sky for example, you could try that, but bear in mind that more interaction also means less pro-activity and could leave you open to being too slow for Field of the Dead decks, for example.
Day 2: I think it’s a solid choice here if you’re well practiced with it. The strength of Kethis Combo is the fact that discard spells, counter-spells and even cards like Grafdigger’s Cage are mediocre against it, because all this deck needs is one good turn, one Teferi that bounces a Cage, or just some Diligent Excavator triggers, making it hard to attack even post-board. Add to the fact that Game 1 most decks will lack interaction against you (the best kind being graveyard hate), go nuts! I will not play it, because I am bad with it :^)
Day 1: Reclamation is very proactive with Wilderness Reclamation and Expansion//Explosion while also having good safety valves in the form of Magmaquake and play tons of interaction in general. Look, this Deck is busted and we all know it. You will not be making a mistake in playing it for sure. One problem I could see is in finding the balance between beating creatures and beating the mirror.
Day 2: Yeah, talk about proactive decks being flexible. Reclamation has insanely strong sideboard pieces to combat aggro decks in the form of more removal and sweepers, and can just board infinite different types of counter-spells to combat mirrors or other instant-speed match-ups. This deck is Tier 1 for a reason, and will be one of the best decks you can play (if not the best).
Day 1: It’s a pretty good choice, alongside most other aggro decks due to their proactive nature. It can also play a lot of Bonecrusher Giants and some copies of Domri’s Ambush, which will help you fight all the Goblins in the world. If you’re in for this, go for some Gruul Smash SMorc.
Day 2: I still think it will be a solid choice, but the fact that everyone and their mother will play 4 copies of Aether Gust somewhere, as long as they play blue, will make it tough to punch through. Gruul has tons of haste creatures who will give you some sort of resiliency against sorcery-speed sweepers, and has a good power level overall. Personally not my favorite choice, but still decent enough to recommend it to you: if you’re into this kind of deck, you should have no regrets.
Mono Red Burn
Day 1: Mono Red will always be a deck that you can consider playing in a BO1 environment. It is fast, punishes slow starts, and its access to an ungodly number of burn spells will always make it solid against other creature decks too. Aggro is always expected, so people will bring more removal, but just like with Gruul, proactivity is king.
Day 2: Nah I’ll pass. Gruul seems stronger and can punch through Sweepers a little bit better. Mono Red also seems to have troubles in beating Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath, and while that is true for every Aggro Deck, it hurts Mono Red way more, because of its lack of powerful individual cards like Questing Beast and Gruul Spellbreaker.
Mono Blue Tempo
Day 1: It’s proactive, that’s always good, and I believe that we will not see as many Teferis in this format. That being said, Mono-Blue Tempo struggles against aggro and those decks are always pretty popular in best-of-one, so I’d rather not risk it.
Day 2: This might be at least worth the consideration since, at least in game 1, you should be well equipped to beat Reclamation, with a good clock, interaction, the fact that Magmaquake does little to nothing against your fliers, and Aether Gust is just a dead card. I am a bit worried that the overall power level is a little bit too low and it’s also not super consistent in my eyes. Still, the right version could definitely stir things up and would at least be a reasonable choice.
Day 1: Proactive: Check. Good power level: Check. Conclusion: Solid Choice! I would definitely advise you to play more sweepers than the 4 copies of Shatter the Sky though, because you don’t want to open yourself up to dying to aggro. I’ve basically won all the games against aggressive decks with an early Sweeper and then closing up the board with zombies. Bant Scapeshift also plays 4 Teferi, Time Raveler, who help you combat Reclamation. My only concern would be that your deck is a bit slow sometimes and you lack interaction to make up for that. It’s a very solid choice though and you should definitely play it if it suits you.
Day 2: This is kind of the same as for day 1: there are not too many cards that absolutely kill you, as even cards like Blood Sun are beatable because you can simply ramp into Ugin or Ulamog, and sometimes bounce it with Teferi too. Annoying card, but beatable. Also, while you still remain a ramp deck at heart, you can always bring in good interaction spells like Dovin’s Veto and Aether Gust. It’s not super flexible, but also doesn’t die too hard against other interaction, so it’s definitely a decent choice.
Day 1: Jund is the kind of deck which routinely draws well and still loses, because it’s the wrong half to counteract the match-up. Your Gilded Goose / Trail of Crumbs draw can be really good against a large variety of decks, but will most of the time be too slow against Aggro or Goblins. On the other hand, you can play against Control or Field of the Dead, just to find out that your Claim of the Firstborn and Priest of Forgotten Gods just don’t do anything, or not enough. Jund is a typical B03 Deck to me so I would not recommend it here.
Day 2: Powerful choice, although i have to say that Reclamation seems pretty hard to beat. Even though your match-up against Goblins should be good in theory, sometimes they just get you with that Muxus if you don’t draw a lot of interaction, and with a lot I mean multiple Claims, Cat+Oven+Mayhem Devil, and such. It’s a powerful deck though, so I could see it having good results in the right hands, though it’s not my cup of tea.
Azorius Control / Esper Control
Day 1: It’s pretty hard to make a good Control list if you have such a large variety of decks (and there are a lot of contestants, so be prepared) flying around, and trying to cover every match-up will leave you with no very favorable ones, which is always pretty bad. It’s also our reactive Deck example, so that speaks for itself. I would not recommend it.
Day 2: Yeah, this is a whole different story. I expect the decks to have way less variety here, since most under-the-radar decks will be gone by now. If you have a solid grasp on the meta and find a version that wins against Goblins and Reclamation at the same time, you’re in great shape. I believe the right Control version can be very good, and if you’re a control wizard, then go for it!
Mono White Auras
Your goal is to power up some cheap creatures with auras like All that Glitters and Solid Footing (works well with Sentinel’s Eyes) and protect them with Karametra’s Blessing, Alseid of Life’s Bounty, and Selfless Savior. This deck can be very explosive while also out-grinding the creature match-ups because of Kor Spiritdancer (creature decks will also struggle against a huge lifelinker). Kor Spiritdancer is amazing and is basically the reason why you can stay Mono-White and don’t have to go green for Setessan Champion. It also gets huge quickly and usually wins in a few swings. You should definitely have this Deck on your radar – not just as a match-up you can face, but also as a super valid deck choice for you. Its aggressive nature is already good against slow decks, but it also happens to absolutely farm Temur Reclamation, because their Aether Gusts, Mystical Disputes and Magmaquakes do little to nothing against you. I’ve tried this deck just today and was very impressed by it; it can be a bit inconsistent because you need a creature, auras, and protection to win, but it’s almost unbeatable if it does its thing. Kor Spiritdancer makes it a lot more consistent than it would otherwise seem, but you do want to be quite aggressive in your mulligans.
You can also try the fresh Azorius version of the deck, splashing Blue for other Auras such as Curious Obsession and Staggering Insight. Pykapower has reached #1 Mythic in the new August 2020 ranked season, only a few hours in!
Day 1: I have not tried playing this Deck in B01 yet, but it should be pretty good in theory: You will farm Reclamation decks and your game plan is proactive anyway. A lot of removal in Historic these days is Red, and they can almost never kill your big chonky aura creatures, making it also good enough in aggressive match-ups.
Day 2: Also a very good Deck choice here. Removal is great against this deck, but not great enough to make a matchup tilt in their favor. Selfless Savior and Karametra’s Blessing go a long way here, and because of those cards you can really feel invincible sometimes. Sweepers are also not even that great against you because of exactly those cards. What your opponent will need are tons of very cheap Removal spells and most Decks cannot afford to just flood their Sideboard with Removal. One matchup that should be horrible would be Sacrifice, but people are less inclined to play that when it has such a bad matchup against Reclamation.
That’s it for me, and I hope I covered just enough match-ups to impart a bit of understanding in you all for this Arena Open. This kind of tournament is a great incentive to keep grinding on Magic Arena and is just great in the harsh times of Covid-19. I hope you learned a thing or two from this article, and I hope each and every one of you goes home with the 2000$.
Thank you for reading; as always, leave some comments below if you didn’t like something or just want to give me tips to improve all my future articles, as there will be many more!