Field of the Dead Can’t Last In Historic Can It?

Assemble a zombie army with just one card?! Patrick Chapin explores different builds of Field of the Dead decks in Historic!

Field of the Dead
Field of the Dead, illustrated by Kev Walker

For reasons not clear, Field of the Dead was unsuspended in Historic. This was widely regarded as a bad move.

Growth Spiral Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath

The unreal engine that is Growith Spiral/Uro was already impressive, but Jumpstart brought us Explore, and now Amonkhet Remastered gets Hour of Promise into the mix.

Explore Hour of Promise

Maybe they just wanted Field of the Dead legal with Hour of Promise at least for a little bit; but I’ve got a feeling this one is going to wear out its welcome.

There’s lots of busted stuff in Historic, and the metagame has been continuing to shift, so like with Skirk Prospector/Muxus, Goblin Grandee, best to give it some time to see if the metagame can full adapt; and if that new metagame is an appealing one.

Skirk Prospector Muxus, Goblin Grandee

Spoiler: Field of the Dead doesn’t make it.

If I could ask three questions of 2021 me… none of them would involve Field of the Dead; but I think the sharp money’s against it.

Like in Standard, one of the most dominant and format defining decks is Sultai Ramp. Picture the Standard deck; but you get to play eight Explores, a playset of Thoughtseize, and you’ve got both Hour of Promise and Field of the Dead.

Yeah, it really is a helluva lot of card quality, now that you mention it…

While a lot of people play Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger maindeck, this past weekend’s champ kept it in the sideboard, packing an Oracle of Mul Daya instead.

Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger Oracle of Mul Daya

While black offers the format defining Thoughtseize, it doesn’t necessarily put it to the absolute best use. If we’re willing to give it up, Temur lets us upgrade our Languishes into Anger of the Gods, as well as giving us Escape to the Wilds as an added dimension to our ramping.

Anger of the Gods Escape to the Wilds

Here’s a high ranked Arena list favoring Escape to the Wilds so much as to play a playset over the third and fourth Hour of Promise:

Elvish Rejuvenator is a nice addition; but I think the jury is still out on it versus Cultivate.

Elvish Rejuvenator Cultivate

I realize Uro has diminishing returns; but I kind of would be interested in trying the fourth copy in place of another three-cost accelerator, whether Rejuvenator or Cultivate from the previous list.

Like with three-cost accelerators, there are more good five-cost accelerators than you can possibly play. In addition to Escape to the Wilds and Hour of Promise, Golos, Tireless Pilgrim is continuing to perform.

Golos, Tireless Pilgrim

Golos does require at least splashing the other colors, but that’s no big deal. It does lead us to potentially making different decisions about how to leverage our mana advantage, though. For instance, we can just abandon interaction entirely and focus on playing more giant threats to try to go over the top of people.

Kenrith, the Returned King Zacama, Primal Calamity

Here’s a list featuring both Kenrith and Zacama, in addition to Uro, Golos, Ugin, and Ulamog (!)

The secret sauce?

Mirari's Wake

Now that is a spicy five-cost ramp spell! I’m not at all sure you can really afford to do it this way; but I guess if nobody is destroying it, you sure do get an unreal advantage when you untap with it.

Pact of Negation

Pact of Negation is actually a really clever way to force through Mirari’s Wake (or even just to stop the other person’s five-mana play, putting you a turn ahead of schedule). If you can stick the Mirari’s Wake, you’re not even necessarily behind on mana next turn, even paying the Pact. Even if you’re just protecting an Hour of Promise, like the aforementioned Temur list, there’s a good chance you’ll still be able to make a solid play, after paying the five.

One of the biggest advantages to playing white is getting to play Wrath of God, one of the latest additions to Historic, since apparently it’s in Amonkhet

Wrath of God

For what it’s worth, as baffling as Historic is, I’d way rather them reprint cards they want to add in this kind of a context, as opposed to the anthologies. Amonkhet Remastered is just it’s own set, and yeah, not all the cards are from Amonkhet, but that’s ok. It’s still just a legit set; and the mix of cards they chose to reprint this way actually make for a really good addition to the vibe of Amonkhet, to the world, the tone, the feel.

While Sidetrack kept Wrath of God (or any dedicated interaction at all…) in the sideboard; lots of players have moved to Bant, with white as their support color, despite the loss of Teferi, Time Raveler.

Teferi, Time Raveler Sphinx’s Revelation

This first list fills the void with Sphinx’s Revelation, in the continued escalation of the “who can go bigger?” arms race between all the Field of the Dead people.

Sandoiche Top 8’d the Hooglandia Open with their Sphinx’s Revelation build, but had been playing a Karn, the Great Creator version to some success.

Karn, the Great Creator

You may not get to completely lock your opponent out from being able to tap mana; but there are lots of great gets, depending on the occasion.

Grafdigger’s Cage; Glass Casket; Sorcerous Spyglass; Thaumatic Compass; Crucible of Worlds; Perilous Vault; Golos, Tireless Pilgrim; Akroma’s Memorial; Platinum Angel

Here’s that version; but can I just say, major props to the folks at mtgazone.com for helping build up Historic as a format.

At a certain point, it might be right trying to duck under the other ramp decks, if they try to go too big. Amusingly, the format has gotten so heavy that Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and Shark Typhoon are considered “ducking under”.

Teferi, Hero of Dominaria Shark Typhoon

David Astrand’s recent Top 16 list features this pair in what might be properly considered a hybrid Ramp/Control deck, featuring eight permission spells and a full set of maindeck Wrath of Gods.

These counters may have a weakness to Ulamog, but they can stack pretty incredible with Teferi, and if you face someone with a different top end, they may just not be able to force it through. 

Approach of the Second Sun

While Approach of the Second Sun can really go over the top of other ramp decks, it’s not really at its best against a list with eight permission spells. Here’s an example of a ramp list using Approach of the Second Sun, which really isn’t much different than the traditional Bant Ramp decks, just passing on Growth Spiral and Uro:

Personally; I think passing on Growth Spiral and Uro is crazy talk; but it’s not like we’re forced to play any bad cards, or anything.

Are these ramp decks broken?

Not necessarily; but long term, I’m not sure how Historic gets to a sustainable place with Field of the Dead as one of the major pillars. It just makes it so hard for any kind of midrange or control strategy to emerge, the format ends up getting pushed into this unusual dichotomy of racing decks, either trying to duck under people, going as fast as possible; or trying to go over the top of people, going as big as possible. Right now, there’s a not half-bad range of speeds and sizes of gameplan; but Field of the Dead puts incredible pressure on the middle of the range, and I think it’s not just that Field of the Dead is going to be overrepresented and over-performing, it’s also going to squeeze more and more people out of the middle. 

It does this by providing an extremely difficult to interact with threat that can completely take over a game, while having very little opportunity cost. The nature of both the quest it asks of you, and the output it provides you, lend themselves well to absolutely demolishing people with one-for-one interaction (such as midrange and control decks). It’s also inherently immune to both Thoughtseize and permission.

The more polarized and extreme the two ends of this spectrum become, without a third dimension, the more stale the format is at risk of feeling, even if there happen to be seven versions of what is basically the same deck, on one side of the spectrum, and seven versions of another deck on the other end.

It might not be today, and it might not be tomorrow; but Field of the Dead is a problematic long term health risk for Historic, and I think it’s days are numbered.