The Many Faces Of Combo In Historic

Michael Majors wants to say one word to you. Just one word. Combo. Okay, he actually has a lot more to say about Historic combo decks!

Song of Creation, illustrated by Noah Bradley

Hopefully now that you’re up to date on the dirty details of what is actually available to you in Historic, you’re excited to get down to business following the release of Jumpstart.

An influx of new cards into a format plus the opportunity to actually battle for some stakes in the upcoming Arena Open is all the reason I need to take interest, so I’ve been scrapping away for the better part of the week.

So What’s Historic About These Days?

Combo, basically.  Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean the old-school Splinter Twin-esque flavors of “I assemble A+B and win” (although there’s a hint of that), but many of the strongest decks in the format are interested in assembling their namesake engines and riding them to victory — with the ability to fall back on multiple plans.

The good news is that despite the printing of Explore, Field of the Dead is a fairly manageable deck in Historic.  The implication here, for better or worse of your enjoyment of what’s going on, is that traditional ol’ ground combat with a few creatures is side-steppable by many strategies.  Further, I wouldn’t be looking to sleeve up any generic midrange decks right now, and in particular I’d need to feel like I was really on the pulse of the metagame to play cards like Teferi, Hero of Dominaria.  Despite these macro-archetypes’ strengths and outliers, Historic is really about robust linear decks and you want a similarly powerful gameplan if you can’t nail exactly what is needed to cover them on a week-to-week basis.

Additionally, there are several “old favorites” ported from Standard that have rightfully taken their place on the mantle as premier strategies in Historic too (we’ll be covering them later).  That said, Jumpstart and the Anthologies series have given plenty of room to both innovate and sidestep engaging with these decks if you’re sick of them.  

Today we will be covering a healthy mix of decks that I’ve engaged in and have thoughts and suggestions, as well as giving brief overviews of strategies I’ve seen and heard people talk about it.  

To be clear, there’s still a wealth of uncovered ground — a huge influx of powerful cards alongside a format that hasn’t received a lot of competitive love is a breeding ground for folks to really hit it big over the next couple of weeks, even leading into the Players Tour.  Historic is one of the best examples in many years of an environment laden with potential for anyone who wants to put their brewer’s hat on.


I’m going to start with Goblins since it’s the deck I’ve played the most (currently residing in ~100 Mythic), it’s popular, and generally folks have things to say about it. It will be the most in-depth section.

You might be thinking something along the lines of, “Isn’t this article about combo decks?  Goblins is just an aggro deck with Skirk Prospector.” Not to put words in Sam’s mouth, but I think he and I disagree slightly about what Goblins is about in Historic.  I’ll continue with an aside:

A key part of transitioning into work at Wizards of the Coast (WotC) is shedding some of the jargon and general vernacular that’s rampant throughout competitive Magic culture.  If someone says that a card is “broken,” what does that really mean when you’re trying to convey power level, play pattern, general “funness?”  You may have noticed that I’ve avoided these types of subjective and broad terms since my return to this website as communicating about Magic, whether you’re trying to make the cards or discuss them in objectivity, requires succinct language to deliver precise points.

Well, Muxus, Goblin Grandee is busted, broken, and whatever other silly “B” words you want to use.  

Muxus, Goblin Grandee

The card is obscenely strong and Goblins is really a deck that’s about assembling “six mana + Muxus.”

The Quick Highlights

I want to play Muxus consistently and try to high-roll killing people with him as often as possible.  I’m playing 25 lands to facilitate this and it helps that you have plenty of strong lands.  Fanatical Firebrand is fairly low-impact and there are notably fewer Llanowar Elves running around given the removal of Burning-Tree Emissary from the format.

It’s not that extreme to get Turn 3 kills with this deck — a Turn 1 Skirk Prospector + either Wily Goblin or Goblin Instigator on Turn 2 = a Turn 3 Muxus.  Hitting Goblin Chieftain + Krenko, Mob Boss alone is eighteen damage and many other combinations put you so far ahead that it’s hopeless for your opponent to come back.

For this reason alone I think it’s completely reasonable to swap the Goblin Matron and Muxus numbers, but I haven’t gotten to that point yet due to how powerful it is to actually hit Matron with Muxus (and the swap would ever slightly reduce the hit rate with Muxus).

I’m not as high on Conspicuous Snoop as others, and my primary inclusion for the full four copies is a card that I’m extremely high on compared to others:

Krenko, Mob Boss

Krenko is one of the best hits with Muxus, can effortlessly kill opponents with Goblin Chieftain, and is a completely unreasonable reveal with the Snoop.  Activate for some Goblins, and then activate the Snoop again in your upkeep before drawing the Krenko puts you extremely far ahead.  Krenko is also an incredible mana engine with Skirk Prospector that can frequently enable you to backdoor into more Goblin Chieftain kills the turn you play Muxus (often aided by Goblin Matron).

I waffle between playing one Ringleader or two, but I keep coming back to the notion that Krenko abruptly wins games and I believe you just want to be focused and hard-hitting in Historic right now.  Goblins is capable of being a passable aggro deck, but it’s simply passable.  It is, however, a strong combo deck and I want to build the deck as such for now.

The Black Splash

I’ve been unimpressed with most sideboard cards other than Goblin Ruinblaster, so I’ve come full circle from black splash to mono-red and back, simply because Call of the Death-Dweller plus Goblin Chainwhirler gives you a very reasonable plan against aggressive strategies.  If this wasn’t my sideboard plan (in a very strangely unintuitive approach), I’d probably play a third Phyrexian Tower.  A “free Prospector activation” is that powerful for enabling Muxus or accelerating out a Krenko.  I still might end up back at three.

No Gempalm Incinerator

Gempalm Incinerator

Nothing too insightful here — I just think it’s weak.  I don’t want to play more low-impact one-drops to help enable it, and taking my turn off to essentially Bonecrusher Giant something (you draw a random card, not a 2R 4/3) is not how I want to be playing my combo deck.  

Again, if there’s some weird metagame shift where folks are playing Llanowar Elves and a lot of interaction, perhaps you want to move back towards a traditional interaction-based style of Goblins where you’re drawing cards with Ringleader and trading off material, but I don’t think that time is now.

The Brief Section on How to Play with Skirk Prospector

Magic is weird, so you announce spells and then pay costs.  Skirk Prospector allows you to play the top card of your deck by sacrificing Conspicuous Snoop, or lets you cast a Goblin with its cost reduced by Goblin Warchief while simultaneously sacrificing the Warchief.  

The Goofy Idea I Haven’t Played a Game With

Irencrag Feat is just a Seething Song (that does have the bonus of helping out Castle Embereth with one extra mana).  It appears to be the best way to get a huge surge of mana in the format, and this deck is singular in its gameplan.  Perhaps you want to cut the Snoops for Siege-Gang Commander or Goblin Trashmaster to enable more high-rolling with Muxus?  It isn’t clear to me, but I wouldn’t be shocked if this was a reasonable way to build Goblins.

Temur Song AKA “Cheerios”

This combo deck is my current frontrunner for the Day 1 portion of the Arena Open.  

The way this take on Cheerios (In Modern, a Puresteel Paladin deck) works is to cast Song of Creation and then cast a bunch of zero-mana cards to tear through your deck, resulting in a kill with Thassa’s Oracle.  This can sometimes get more complicated and involves Underworld Breach and looping Mox Ambers to sufficiently generate the mana you need to keep going.

To be clear, this version is not the most “all-in” you can go — there are builds that eschew Sai, Master Thoperist and even some of the pieces like Chromatic Sphere for pure goldfishing power with Chamber Sentry and/or Ugin’s Conjurant to max out on the number of “zeroes” you can play.

Sai, Master Thopterist

I’ve been impressed with this build for a few reasons. Sai absolutely dunks on many of the linear aggro decks in the format, as they can simply never  hope to get through him.  Secondly, it gives the deck a Plan B through disruption or if you don’t find a Song of Creation quickly, and largely mitigates the risk of ever fizzling if you untap with a Sai and a Song (his draw ability makes it extremely hard to miss).  Finally, he’s another Mox enabler, which can be important for developing the game, hitting four mana for Song, and starting successful Breach loops.

Don’t underestimate getting scrappy with Sai, Emry, and Stonecoil Serpent.

Mazemind Tome has been similarly impressive and is excellent for ensuring your fourth land drop on time and also contributes to playing a fair game. The life total buffer is welcome against red decks when you aren’t able to find Song exactly on schedule.

I have less confidence in this deck for traditional play, but I’d look to try to incorporate white into the deck to sideboard Teferi, Time Raveler and leaning into cards like:

Teferi, Time Raveler Brazen Borrower Ratchet Bomb Mystical Dispute Dovin's Veto Timely Reinforcements

The better version for traditional play is likely Jeskai Breach:

This is another Mox Amber-looping win-by-Thassa’s Oracle combo deck, but it has the benefit of playing a lot less air, which naturally translates to more competitive sideboard games.  There are a bunch of micro-synergies here. Operating at full power, you’ll be looping Mox Amber and milling yourself with Diligent Excavator, but there are a lot of backdoor ways to accomplish this with Teshar and Lurrus as well.  

If your heart is set on killing folks with Thassa’s Oracle on Day 2 of the Arena Open, I’d look towards developing and practicing with this list.  I believe both of the aforementioned options to be stronger than Kethis Combo which sports a similar end state but worse mana and more expensive cards.

Craterhoof Tokens

Similar in some ways to Goblins, this is a “normal deck” that often has a combo finish that your opponent must constantly respect:

This deck is also quite straightforward, though I’ve seen some lists that incorporate Glorious Anthem into the maindeck.  Remember that this deck can be “fizzled” with interaction in response to its various Polymorph effects.

The Elephants in the Room

Although on the surface this looks like it has minimal changes from Standard, the addition of Explore is a big deal.  Standard Reclamation’s best draws always involve Growth Spiral, and Historic Temur Reclamation gets double the shots at those draws.  

Creator JS2mtg states that this list is particularly slanted for Goblins, and it looks the part.  Aether Gust is nothing new, but the addition of Magmaquake makes it exceptionally difficult to ever “combo kill” this list with Muxus once they’re set up.  If this becomes more the norm and/or the consensus best deck in Historic, Goblins should likely look to incorporate Duress or some more individually powerful threats like Legion Warboss.

Similarly to Temur Reclamation, Jund Sacrifice is another combo deck that receives large upgrades in Historic that look minor.  A good manabase is a big starter, but Phyrexian Tower to turbo out Bolas’s Citadel and Stitcher’s Supplier to locate your engine cards that use the graveyard are huge boons to the deck’s speed and consistency.

Both of these strategies are nothing new, but they still attack from difficult angles and are big Level 0 contenders early on, so expect to face them at the Arena Open next weekend.

Going Off the Wall with Jumpstart 

In closing, here are a couple of aggressively slanted combo decks. pet projects of mine you might enjoy, both incorporating one of my favorites — Kiln Fiend.

There’s a lot to like here.  You’re good at covering other creature decks between your removal spells and ways to rebuy them, but you aren’t sacrificing in goldfishing speed, especially now with the additions of Ghitu Lavarunner and Kiln Fiend.

The former is likely the strangest at first glance, but Boros Feather is essentially a mix between a “big turn deck” and a “protect the queen strategy.” Sometimes you want to ride a threat to victory and protect it, and other times you just want to jam your spells and kill your opponent.  Ghitu Lavarunner in particular is another effective Human target to power up Fight as One as well as being a great Gird for Battle target, allowing you to deploy a hasted Wild Nacatl.  Essentially, it’s the best we’ve got in the absence of something like Monastery Swiftspear, and having eight haste creatures helps give the deck another dimension.

Kiln Fiend when unanswered just dump-trucks people, especially if we already have incentive to put protection spells in our deck.  I’ve had a lot of fun working on this, so I expect to continue to develop it.

This list is a little less refined but has even more potential.  You’ll notice plenty of parallels between the Modern version of Mono-Red Phoenix that was one of the key decks in the format when Faithless Looting remained legal.  Again, although we don’t have the strong prowess threats that exist in Modern, Jumpstart‘s inclusions of Kiln Fiend and Young Pyromancer open up a lot of potential for red spell-based aggro to exist in Historic going forward.

The Arena Open is just a little over a week away, and I highly recommend that you pick the combo deck that suits you and practice it.  We don’t get many good opportunities for high-stakes competition these days, so I’ll certainly be participating.

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