Recently, Arena Championship 4 showcased an intriguing format for all the world to see at the highest level. Historic was the format of choice, one that is completely Arena-centric. While Standard exists both on Arena and in Paper, Historic as a whole is made up exclusively of all cards available on Arena, outside of a handful of cards that are banned in the format. This means that, for players that are newer to Historic, it can sometimes be difficult to know what cards and decks are the strongest. After all, there are a limited number of decklists from major events out there to go off of.
Not only that, but the Lord of the Rings MTG set introduced a multitude of elite cards into Historic, completely altering the landscape of the format. This was quite apparent at the Arena Championship as well. For anyone looking to get involved in this unique format but having trouble knowing where to start, we’ve got you covered. Today, we’re going over the best cards available in Historic, many of which are sensational build-around cards that can help get you started on the right path.
Of note, both The One Ring and Orcish Bowmasters have very recently been nerfed on Arena. While we don’t have a ton of information on how these nerfs will shift the metagame moving forward, there is plenty of room for speculation, so these rankings reflect what we believe to be the top Historic cards moving forward. We will make sure to keep you updated as the format continues to shake out. With that out of the way, here are the best MTG cards in Historic.
#5 The One Ring
For those that have played or followed Modern since the release of Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth, it’s probably not too surprising to see this card on the list. The One Ring was a staple of Rakdos Midrange in Historic and showed up in some other strategies such as in the sideboard of decks with Karn, the Great Creator and Golgari Yawgmoth from time to time.
Still, the card wasn’t quite as dominant in Historic as in Modern. This was, in part, due to the fact that, without free spells like Solitude or Force of Negation to abuse, tapping out for a four-mana card at Sorcery speed that doesn’t ultimately affect the board in a big way isn’t always easy. This is especially true given how combo heavy Historic has been.
Yet, there’s no denying the power of The One Ring when left unchecked, and the synergy between it and Sheoldred, the Apocalypse which gains you life when you draw cards is quite powerful.
I do expect the nerf of The One Ring to affect its playability to a certain degree moving forward, however. While forcing players to pay an extra mana to put burden counters on it may not sound like a big deal, for decks like Rakdos Midrange that would normally slam the card turn four, the extra mana can be a big deal.
From now on, if you play the card turn with no mana left open, you will not be able to draw any extra cards until your next turn. That being said, the “Protection from everything” clause still applies, and waiting until you have five mana available to play and activate The One Ring is still likely to be a strong option. This card wasn’t nerfed quite as significantly as Orcish Bowmasters. For these reasons, the card still makes the list, just not quite as high as it would be otherwise.
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#4 Fable of the Mirror-Breaker
Fable of the Mirror-Breaker is a very powerful card, and one that gravitates players towards playing midrange decks. Both Rakdos Midrange and Jund Midrange were heavily supported by the strong three-drop. While Rakdos in its current form played both Orcish Bowmasters and The One Ring, which have since been weakened, Fable is still a great card that can hold these decks together.Bloodtithe Harvester is still a great card to copy with Fable and going back to running cards like Bonecrusher Giant alongside Fable seems like a perfectly reasonable option. Fable decks may still have their hands full with the multitude of combo decks in the format, but there’s no denying how good Fable is on rate, and I expect Fable decks to still be a pillar of the Historic format.
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#3 Yawgmoth, Thran Physician/Kethis, the Hidden Hand
We decided to group these two cards because they play quite similar roles in their respective archetypes. Both cards are the primary combo pieces in which their archetypes are built around. Golgari Yawgmoth decks rely on using Yawgmoth in conjunction with Undying Creatures, such as Young Wolf, and Zulaport Cutthroat, to draw a plethora of cards and drain the opponent for a ton of life all at once. The combo can be executed 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.
Kethis combo relies on using multiple copies of Mox Amber alongside Kethis and Jace, the Perfected Mind to eventually mill your opponent’s entire library. With two copies of Mox Amber between your hand and your graveyard, you can use one to float mana, activate Kethis to cast the other from your graveyard causing the tapped copy to go to your graveyard via the “Legend Rule,” and repeat. With Jace in the mix, you can repeatedly mill yourself for a bunch via Jace’s last ability, then start targeting your opponent once your graveyard has enough cards in it to keep activating Kethis.
Both of these combo decks are quite strong, and both Yawgmoth and Kethis are robust value engines, even without the full combos intact. The importance of both cards to the format earns them a spot on this list, even if neither card shows up in other strategies.
#2 Expressive Iteration
Expressive Iteration is an extremely strong source of card advantage. There’s a reason the card is banned in both Legacy and Pioneer. On turn three, assuming you hit a Land as one of the three cards see with Iteration, you can put a card into your hand and exile the Land to play during the same turn. For two mana, you got a decent mix of card selection as well as an advantage on total resources.
The best way to maximize Iteration, however, is to fill your deck with cheap spells. This way, you can cast Iteration and reliably exile a spell instead of a Land to cast until the end of your turn. The archetype where this card shines the most is certainly Izzet Wizards. Not only is Izzet Wizards filled with cheap spells, but cards like Soul-Scar Mage and Balmor, Battlemage Captain benefit from casting cheap spells as well. Izzet Wizards won the Arena Championship, and Iteration is a big reason why the deck is so strong. With Orcish Bowmasters heavily nerfed, we expect this deck to grow even more in popularity, and possibly move to playing even more cantrips.
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#1 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
Similar to Yawgmoth and Kethis, Nykthos is relatively dependent on a specific archetype to make it super strong. This archetype is none other than mono-green Devotion. This deck is not much different than mono-green Devotion in Pioneer. Both decks use mana dorks, cards that add lots of devotion like Old-Growth Troll, and ways to find Nykthos, such as Cavalier of Thorns. With enough Devotion, Karn, the Great Creator and Storm the Festival become reliable win conditions. Notably, the Historic version gets to use Utopia Sprawl and Delighted Halfling in the one-drop slot, which are decent upgrades.
This deck is even capable of generating infinite mana and infinite life thanks to the backside of Pestilent Cauldron. This requires two copies of Karn and two copies of Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner between the battlefield and graveyard, as well as enough Devotion. This combo is relatively convoluted though, so for simplicity’s sake, we will not explain it in full here.
The explosive turns that Nykthos helps create showcase why the card is high up on this list. The deck itself was relatively unaffected by the nerfs. With the amount of mana this deck generates, searching for The One Ring with Karn is still a viable strategy. This archetype was already excellent, and that is unlikely to change.