Just a couple weeks ago, arguably the most prestigious MTG event of the year, the Magic World Championship, played out in Las Vegas. This tournament showcased the Standard format and was largely dominated by various Esper strategies. This weekend, another major tournament featuring an Arena format is still going on, but this time, the format is Historic. 32 players are competing for cash and glory at Arena Championship 4, which features gameplay specifically on Arena.
It’s interesting to see the Historic format getting the spotlight, especially given how much of a shakeup recent sets have caused within the format. It’s no surprise at this point that the Lord of the Rings set was extremely powerful, but the fact that the cards were added to Arena made for some extreme changes in the Historic metagame. The metagame is extremely combo-heavy, for better or for worse. Let’s start by taking a look at the most played decks at the Arena Championship.
Two decks tied for the most played deck at the Arena Championship. The first of these strategies is mono-green Devotion. For those that closely follow the Pioneer metagame, it’s likely not a big surprise to see mono-green Devotion performing so well. However, there are some key differences between the Pioneer and Historic versions.
Both decks make use of similar win conditions in the form of Karn, the Great Creator, Cavalier of Thorns, and Storm the Festival. Both decks also utilize Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx to pull far ahead on mana.
Perhaps the biggest difference between the two strategies is that the Historic version has access to Utopia Sprawl and Delighted Halfling as upgrades in the one-mana slot. You can also use Karn to tutor for The One Ring in Historic.
In Pioneer, you have access to Oath of Nissa, which is not on Arena, as well as The Chain Veil, which makes producing infinite mana much easier. Many Historic decklists still utilize the backside of Pestilent Cauldron to loop multiple copies of Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner and Karn to generate infinite life and infinite mana, but this requires more Devotion to do so. This combo is rather convoluted, so for simplicity’s sake, we will not be explaining it in full.
Besides mono-green Devotion, Dimir control also had 6 players playing the deck. This deck abuses the fact that Orcish Bowmasters and Sauron’s Ransom are on Arena. Snapcaster Mage and Archmage’s Charm, two more Modern staples, were also added to Arena via special products, such as Jumpstart: Historic Horizons. This archetype is all about generating card advantage and interacting at Instant speed, while maximizing the fact that Lurrus of the Dream-Den is legal in Historic.
As mentioned, mono-green Devotion can function like a combo deck when necessary, but there are a bunch more combo decks featured at the Arena Championship as well. 5 players registered Yawgmoth, Thran Physician combo. Yawgmoth combo uses Undying Creatures, like Young Wolf, alongside Yawgmoth and Zulaport Cutthroat to continuously draw cards and drain the opponent of life. This can be done by using the following steps:
- First, sacrifice a Young Wolf with Yawgmoth’s activated ability. Do not target any of your creatures with the -1/-1 counter. The Young Wolf will come back with a +1/+1 counter thanks to Undying. This will trigger Zulaport Cutthroat, draining your opponent for one.
- Second, sacrifice your Young Wolf that does not have a counter, targeting the Young Wolf that does have a counter. Your counters will cancel out. Your other Young Wolf will come back with a +1/+1 counter thanks to Undying. This, once again, will trigger Zulaport Cutthroat.
- You can repeat step two over and over, sacrificing the Young Wolf without a counter, targeting the one that does have a counter, thanks to -1/-1 counters and +1/+1 counters canceling one another out.
This deck has risen in the metagame significantly with the inclusion of Chord of Calling in Explorer Anthology 3. While not having access to Grist, the Hunger Tide, like the Modern version of Yawgmoth combo, isn’t ideal, the deck is still extremely powerful in Historic nonetheless. Notably, the addition of Agatha’s Soul Cauldron in Wilds of Eldraine was a big deal for Yawgmoth combo in both its Modern and Historic variants, but perhaps even more so for the Historic one since it helps shore up the ease of pulling off the combo with other missing cards.
Beyond Yawgmoth combo, Kethis, the Hidden Hand combo featured 4 players playing the deck. Kethis combo relies on filling your own graveyard with tons of legends. This allows you to use Kethis alongside multiple copies of Mox Amber to generate tons of mana. Jace, the Perfected Mind can mill you for a bunch to help, and you can eventually use Jace to mill your opponent out.
Finally, there were also multiple players to register Samwise Gamgee combo, and lone players playing Goblin Charbelcher and Putrid Goblin combo strategies. The Arena Championship was not overly dominated by one particular archetype, but it appears as though combo decks completely shined.
A Few Non-Combo Strategies
While it’s clear that combo decks were dominant at the event, there were some other non-combo decks registered, including Dimir Control.
Beyond Dimir, 4 players registered Izzet Wizards. This deck uses cheap Creatures like Soul-Scar Mage and Balmor, Battlemage Captain in conjunction with cheap spells like Wizard’s Lightning to close the game in short order. Beyond Wizard’s Lightning, the biggest payoff for not straying from the Wizards theme is that you get to play Flame of Anor. Flame of Anor is a strong and somewhat underrated card in Modern, and it absolutely shines in an archetype like this. The lone undefeated player after day 1 is, in fact, playing Wizards at the Arena Championship.
Beyond Dimir and Izzet, there were a couple players registering Rakdos Midrange. This deck is quite similar to Rakdos Midrange in Pioneer, using cheap interaction in the form of Fatal Push and Thoughtseize to disrupt the opponent. From there, cards like Fable of the Mirror-Breaker could help pull you ahead. With Orcish Bowmasters and The One Ring added into the mix, Rakdos Midrange in Historic certainly has some powerful tools at its disposal.
Still, Rakdos’ inability to close the game quickly may help explain, at least in part, why the deck was both underrepresented and underperformed in day 1. In a field full of combo decks, it makes sense why Dimir Control, a deck with access to Counterspells, would perform better. It’s nice to see the Historic format in the spotlight, though the dominance of combo is definitely something worth monitoring going forward.