Has Zendikar Rising Changed The Landscape In Historic?

Zendikar Rising has reached Historic, but is it shaking up the format or providing incremental change? Seven SCG creators say what they’d play.

Agadeem’s Awakening, illustrated by Dmitry Burmak

Welcome to What We’d Play! With the recent introduction of Zendikar Rising, many are unsure what they’d play in Historic. That’s where we come in and let you know what we’d play and why we’d play it. Hopefully this advice aids in your decision making for your next Pioneer event! Be sure to vote for what deck you would play at the end!

Bryan Gottlieb — Rakdos Arcanist (Lurrus)

Everyone’s all excited about their shiny new toys, and I’m over here jamming the same deck I’ve been telling people about for weeks. Luis Salvatto was one of five players wise enough to register Rakdos Arcanist at the Mythic Invitational and was rewarded for his bravery with a nice pile of cash. In Luis’s case, he relied on the value of open decklists to understand his opponents’ sideboard plans and shift towards Hazoret the Fervent when it made sense to do so.

However, we don’t have the same luxury on the ladder, and that’s why the arrival of Feed the Swarm is such a big deal. In Game 2 we get to hedge a bit against the possibility of Leyline of the Void, and if we actually see it, we bring in a pile of enchantment removal for Game 3 (we always win Game 1). Also arriving from Zendikar Rising is Agadeem’s Awakening, which has only further solidified my decision to play four copies of Archfiend’s Vessel.

People have been far too low on this archetype throughout its existence in Historic and it’s only gotten better. Plus, the games are some of the most fun Magic I’ve played in ages. What’s not to love?

Ryan Overturf — Mono-Red Goblins

Zendikar Rising is undoubtedly shaking up Historic, but I just can’t quit the six mana “I win” button in Muxus, Goblin Grandee. My list differs some from Emma Handy’s (which she wrote an excellent guide for) and I’m not here to argue with her work or her results. She told me about the Torch Courier before the Mythic Invitational and she makes a solid case for it, but I’m just too afraid of the prospect of actually drawing the card to register it. 

I was really cold on Goblin Trashmaster before I saw her argument regarding how much the card does against Mono-Black God-Pharaoh’s Gift. I generally don’t care for the card due to its inefficiency, but it’s nice to have better game against Massacre Wurm. 

I haven’t liked Magma Spray, or just removal spells that can’t kill a Mayhem Devil generally. Our approach to the mirror is pretty different for this reason, with her sideboarding heavily on removal spells and me only bringing in Gempalm Incinerators while generally just aiming to Muxus faster and harder than my opponent. This approach has worked very well for me to this point, though if the queues get heavily populated by Lotus Cobra decks, then I’m more on board with cheap removal spells. 

Herald’s Horn is one that I saw Eric Froehlich tweeting about, and it’s a strong sideboard option for matchups where you want to sideboard out Gempalm Incinerator and generally settle in for longer games. I like it quite a bit better than siding in extra Ringleaders given that it gets around Aether Gust and Essence Scatter. The cost reduction element is also nothing to scoff at when it comes time for Muxus turns or even just Goblin Ringleader shenanigans. 

Dom Harvey — Four-Color Ramp (Yorion)

Four-Colour Ramp with Omnath, Locus of Creation has already taken over Zendikar Rising Standard so quickly that a ‘format update’ (whatever that means) is on the horizon. It made a splash in the Pioneer Challenges on Magic Online, winning the confidence of our pundits. Why not Historic next?

The competition in Historic is much stronger — powerful, proactive strategies like Jund Sacrifice and Goblins as well as better disruption like Thoughtseize. Thankfully, Lotus Cobra’s colleagues in this format are much stronger too — the one-two punch of Explore and Growth Spiral that made Temur Reclamation a ban-worthy threat as well as this century’s best Mox Diamond impersonator in Arboreal Grazer. These make it trivial to cast a Turn 3 Omnath or Felidar Retreat and immediately put the opponent to the test; with the eight Explores + Uro replacing themselves, eight Triomes, and seven strong payoffs attached to modal double-faced cards (DFCs), you rarely miss a land drop while rarely flooding (previously a contradiction, but scarily easy to achieve in 2020 Magic).

Four-Colour Ramp also gains access to some of Historic’s best sideboard cards. An interesting dynamic seen at the Mythic Invitational was that Grafdigger’s Cage was strong against most of the format’s top decks but its symmetry meant that none of them could afford to play it themselves. However, Four-Colour Ramp gets to make great use of it. Anger of the Gods is the ideal sweeper against Jund Sacrifice or Goblins while Aether Gust and Mystical Dispute cover most of the rest, including mirrors or the new Neoform combo (another deck that hates to see a Cage!).

These flashy ramp strategies are the hallmark of modern Magic and it’s hard to believe they won’t define Historic too. Get on the right side of that history!

Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa — Mono-Black God-Pharaoh’s Gift

Zendikar Rising shook up Standard pretty badly, but a large part of that was the fact that a lot of very strong cards rotated out as well, paving the way for the new stuff. In Historic, nothing is rotating, so I expect the set to have a much smaller impact, which means I think players should mostly be trying to add small updates to their existing decks rather than building new things from scratch. 

To me, this means sticking with the Mono-Black God-Pharaoh’s Gift deck that Matt Nass took to a Top 8 finish at the Mythic Invitational and that I wrote about last week. I think Agadeem’s Awakening is quite a strong addition to a deck I already felt was very strong before, and after playing more with the card I would just jam the full four copies. I think if you have four of those you can add a land (or only cut three lands, I guess), and the worst card in the deck is probably the fourth Ravenous Chupacabra, so that goes to the sideboard.

The one potentially new wildcard in the format is the Neoform + Sea Gate Stormcaller deck (Michael Majors did a nice job of covering that). That deck is almost certainly decent, but it’s unclear whether it’s just decent or actually busted. If it somehow becomes the most popular deck, I imagine you want a lot of Grafdigger’s Cages to fight it, but at that point I might not be too interested in this deck anymore. 

Autumn Burchett — Mono-Red Goblins

I played Mono-Red Goblins at the Mythic Invitational and largely loved the deck. I enjoy the gameplay of the deck a lot more than most people seem to, as every game you’re forced to figure out whether you want to be a Krenko, Mob Boss deck; a Muxus, Goblin Grandee deck; or a Goblin Chieftain deck, with each avenue offering a pretty different path to victory.

I also just found the deck felt incredibly powerful. Goblins may not have had the best results at the Mythic Invitational, but this was partially due to the dramatically worse Rakdos variant of the deck dragging the numbers down, and partially due to the deck being about as hard-targeted as any deck can be.

I don’t really expect Goblins to be so heavily targeted again for quite a while, which will help a lot, but on top of that the Mythic Invitational both taught us important lessons for tuning Goblins and presented some sweet tech too. The biggest lesson was that you should absolutely not splash black for Thoughtseize in Goblins.

I can’t believe I actually have to say that adding the inconsistency of a second colour to your aggressive deck, with both the low black source count and the introduction of taplands being punishing, is a bad idea, but a lot of good players were very on-board with doing this and it certainly feels nice to be proven right. Please don’t put Canyon Slough in your deck that rarely runs out of things to do with its mana and often uses all its available mana every single turn.

In terms of tech, Irencrag Feat is an amazing find that some players added to Mono-Red Goblins for the Mythic Invitational. This is the mirror-breaker you want. Feat certainly isn’t great in every matchup, looking very unappealing against decks that can lean into Aether Gust in sideboarded games, but if a matchup is primarily about resolving Muxus as soon as possible, then Feat will make you much more consistent at presenting those terrifyingly explosive openings.

Meanwhile, Herald’s Horn is everything we wanted Goblin Ringleader to be. The card advantage comes in a more tame fashion, but this is made up for both by Horn being hard to remove for decks not playing Abrade and by the cost reduction effect Horn provides allowing you to quickly deploy a new battlefield of Goblins in the wake of a sweeper.

Patrick Chapin — Four-Color Ramp

Gotta be honest with you; I’m playing Omnath, Locus of Creation in every format (though haven’t gotten there yet with Vintage).

Yeah, it looks a lot like the Zendikar Rising Standard deck, but honestly, the Standard deck is broken and won’t be a legal Standard deck for much longer. The biggest pickups are the Growth Spirals and Explores, though Deafening Clarion is also invaluable both for the sweeping and sometimes even the massive lifegain swings. What’s more, Golos, Tireless Pilgrim helps reduce our reliance on so many seven and eight-cost cards, while still having plenty of ability to go over the top of people.

Shaheen Soorani — Sultai Midrange

It’s tough to justify sleeving up control in this volatile format.  In Modern and Pioneer, control can put up a good fight because of the tools it has from older sets.  In Historic, the problematic cards are the same from Pioneer and Modern, but the answers are terrible.  Instead of Azorius Charm helping us stave off early creatures, Seal Away must be used. 

That might not sound too bad, having a flash removal spell on Turn 2 still; however, the lack of cycling can cause losses against decks like Sultai Midrange that have no early threats to pressure.  This is just one example of many where the control cards of Historic cannot step up to the plate to deal with the fastest aggro cards while simultaneously handling Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath.

This Sultai Midrange deck, piloted by my boy Seth, is the real deal in Historic.  While Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath remains legal, I find it difficult to play a deck in this format without it.  Sultai Midrange does the best job housing this monster, maximizing its mana ramp with the payoffs that just left Standard. 

There is very little chance that Uro survives some upcoming bannings, but as you will see in my article dropping Friday, Standard is where Wizards of the Coast will strike first.  In the meantime, let’s make the best of it and play the best deck out there.