Innovations In Historic From SCG Tour Online $5K Kaldheim Championship Qualifier #2

This past weekend’s SCG Tour Historic events saw plenty of deck innovation. Bryan Gottlieb highlights notable decks and gives his verdicts.

Forsaken Monument, illustrated by Piotr Dura

A couple of weeks ago, I penned a sprawling love letter to my favorite archetype: Other. The return of the SCG Tour Online brought with it a rebirth of creativity in Standard, and my research for the article was some of the most fun I’ve had producing Magic content in a long time. Players stepped up with unique and promising decks and gave the format lots to think about in weeks to come. Even in the absence of the SCG Tour, Standard has continued to churn and looks to be the healthiest it’s been in a long time.

With this week’s SCG Tour Online events turning towards the Historic format, I wasn’t sure that a second attempt to highlight fringe decks was going to bear quite as much fruit. Sure, Historic ostensibly has a lot of options, but the extreme power outliers limited creativity in Standard for a long time. Many of those same power outliers are still present in Historic, and we’ve even piled on some new ones for good measure. Uro, Titan of Natures Wrath; Witch’s Oven; and Muxus, Goblin Grandee suck up a lot of oxygen in the room. There was also the looming specter of Kaladesh block entering the fray, and Kaladesh’s time in Standard was fraught with issues around power outliers.

I’m happy to report concerns were misplaced. Not only does Historic look healthy after the addition of Kaladesh Remastered, but I also think it’s the best format in Magic right now. Games are interesting and interactive, with a few Muxus-based exceptions. The format feels mostly balanced. And most importantly, there is ample room for creativity. I chose to highlight a whopping thirteen decks from this weekend’s qualifiers and finals, but I could have easily added ten more. There are just so many interesting paths worth pursuing, and there are viable options to limit the power of the format’s boogeymen.

Of course, not every innovation will ultimately evolve to be an important part of the metagame. I’m here to let you know who the contenders and pretenders are from this week’s crop of new Historic decks. Again, all credit to the deckbuilders for a fine finish, and even if I don’t love your deck going forward, I’m still impressed with your work and result.

You may not be familiar with Tristan Wylde-LaRue’s name yet, but I’m convinced that’s going to change very soon. Tristan recently crushed an Arena Qualifier Weekend to punch his ticket to the big dance, and almost picked up another huge result in his very next outing. He also routinely sits in high Mythic and has a keen sense of metagame trends. He leveraged all of these skills to put together a second-place finish in this weekend’s Kaldheim Championship Qualifier (KCQ), and while his deck might not be the most “Other” entrant we’ll see today, its certainly a meaningful evolution of an established archetype.

The addition of Scrapheap Scrounger means that Rakdos Sacrifice has yet another angle through which it can punish opponents. Recursion and resiliency have always been present in some amount, but Scrounger solidifies that plan while also opening up the possibility of pure aggressive draws. When added to the disruption of Thoughtseize, the creature control of Priest of Forgotten Gods, and the comboish kills from Mayhem Devil, there is just nothing this deck can’t account for at this point. Yasharn, Implacable Earth remains the best card against the strategy, but even that card is starting to wane due to an increased number of Chandra, Torch of Defiance floating around. While Tristan skipped out on the powerful planeswalker, adding it to the 75 would probably be my first alteration.

Indeed, if I have a criticism of Tristan’s list, its probably that it’s a little too clean, even if I do like building a deck with all four-ofs out of the gate. Tristan identified his core plan and maximized it, and in an unsettled metagame it’s usually correct to be linear when you think you’re stronger than everyone else.

Going forward though, I’d be looking to trim some of the three-drops, as my worst games are when I’m flooded with Midnight Reapers and Woe Striders. I also think Stitcher’s Supplier is solid fodder, but not the focal point of the deck as in something like Rakdos Arcanist. Four seems like a lot. Gerry Thompson sent me a similar looking list that picked up some Bomat Couriers and sideboard Chandras, and I really like the idea.

I’m not trying to take anything away from what Tristan did right out of the gates in a new format though. Not only did he bring a great deck to the table Week 1, I think he laid the blueprints for what might just become the best deck. Impressive stuff.

Verdict: Contender (and maybe the best deck in the format)

Speaking of players you should get familiar with… In any other era of Magic, the buzz around Piper Powell would be deafening. Piper has crushed a bunch of events featuring top-tier competition recently, and usually does so with a deck that looks quite different from the rest of the field. This tournament was no exception, as it was basically only Piper playing Azorius God-Pharaoh’s Gift.

I’ve been low on God-Pharaoh’s Gift throughout its time in Historic. The Mono-Black versions have basically never posted promising win-rates, and they’ve always felt a step behind the other more powerful options in the format. The wide proliferation of effects like Abrade and Wilt certainly hasn’t helped matters. However, Piper’s plan without God-Pharaoh’s Gift looks much stronger than the anemic beatdowns of the Mono-Black versions. Seasoned Hallowblade does a great job bridging aggressive plans to God-Pharaoh’s Gift plans. Same with Skyclave Apparition, which continues to prove itself as one of the best creatures in all of Magic.

In sideboard games, Piper gets to shift to pure midrange when doing so makes sense. Much like the aforementioned Rakdos Sacrifice, Azorius God-Pharaoh’s Gift can truly play every form of Magic, and gets to do so with access to four Grafdigger’s Cage which might just be the most versatile sideboard card in the format. While any individual aspect of Azorius God-Pharaoh’s Gift might feel a little below typical Historic power levels, I believe Piper’s deck is more than the sum of its parts.

Verdict: Contender

In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve got a bit of a thing for Forsaken Monument. I’m often the type to look at things in terms of raw potential output. If something generates enough of a particular resource, I’m not really interested in what the support pieces look like. Some things are powerful enough that you’re supposed to jump through hoops to make them work. Forsaken Monument falls in that category.

Linear approaches to Forsaken Monument have been around the format, but I really like the decision to take things in a more controlling direction with the addition of the best sweeper in Historic, Extinction Event. Guardian Idol is also an adorable find that adds real closing power when you find and stick a copy of Forsaken Monument.

All of this comes together to create a deck that feels like something resembling Modern Mono-Green Tron when it has its best draws. The problems come when the draws aren’t at their best. Your deck is basically all mana and huge payoffs, but you lack the cantrips and filtering of Mono-Green Tron. This means you’re incredibly vulnerable to something like Thoughtseize taking your sole threat, or even just countermagic if you’re unable to quickly get to Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger mana. Add in a lack of spot removal and the potential for Extinction Event to occasionally leave behind a big threat against aggressive decks, and I think you’ve got a deck without any real positioning advantages.

This means your leaving your tournament fate up to your ability to high roll, and we should always be looking to do better. The core engines here are good, but this deck desperately needs tools to execute its plan more reliably against disruptive decks. A Tron deck that can’t beat up on midrange doesn’t really have a home.

Verdict: Pretender, for now

Poor, poor white mages. It’s so hard to find a reason to justify the inclusion of the color into the format. Skyclave Apparition is starting to make some space for white to come back into the metagame, but it’s really hard to sell me on the idea that we’re supposed to sabotage our manabase strictly for access to Gideon Blackblade, Toolcraft Exemplar, and a worse 3/1 than Skyclave Shade in Veteran Motorist.

If you need the three-mana planeswalker to make Heart of Kiran good, just play Chandra, Acolyte of Flame. Or leave Heart of Kiran at home and pick up the superior Rakdos Sacrifice deck. This deck is living on nostalgia and is a step behind other options right now.

Verdict: Pretender

There was a lot of fear around Aetherworks Marvel going into this weekend, and while I think there’s a good argument to be made for excluding it from Kaladesh Remastered regardless of its ultimate power level, I think Week 1 proved that the fears around this card were way overblown.

It’s kind of silly we went down this road again, because the same thing happened with Aetherworks Marvel at the start of the Pioneer format. Here’s the core problem with Aetherworks Marvel in 2020 — it requires you to play cards from 2016. Rogue Refiner and Servant of the Conduit do not match up well with Uro and Llanowar Elves.

I do really like the way Tulio built his take on Marvel though. It’s not reliant on the namesake artifact as evidenced by having only two copies, and it isn’t trying to get all the way up to Ulamog. Instead, its largest hit is Kiora Bests the Sea God, which realistically can be hardcast.

If Aetherworks Marvel is going to make a dent in Historic, builds will have to find midrange plans that are accentuated by Marvel, not all-in on it. I think these efforts are still going to leave card quality too low to compete though.

Verdict: Pretender

Okay, look. I said my part on the color white in the Historic format. It’s obviously lacking. However, if you were to ask me the reasons to play the color, I think I could make a strong case for two cards. The first is Skyclave Apparition. Four copies here, love to see it, good start. The second card I’d say deserves a home is Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. So when I first started perusing this 34 creature / 4 spell list, I was sure Thalia was just around the corner.

Nope. Zero copies in the 75.

If you told me that Scott simply forgot that Thalia is in Historic I wouldn’t bat an eye or blame Scott at all. Afterall, I do this for a living and I promise you I learn about a new card that’s legal in Historic every time I play. You can’t really blame me, it’s not like you can actually search for the format on Gatherer or anything.

I like the elements of disruption that are present here. Archon of Emeria is actually a heck of a Magic card, even if it hasn’t yet shined in Standard. It just seems like all of this gets better with some support from Thalia. Even if you only want to play a couple of copies because you’re concerned about slowing down Collected Company, that’s fine. Historic is too powerful to leave the broken cards at home and try to get by on Selesnya Mediums.

Verdict: Pretender, but will have its moments

I’m not sure Dimir Improvise does anything useful in the format, but it’s an awesome illustration of just how many things are possible. Every discarded engine deserves a second look.

Padeem, Consul of Innovation and Herald of Anguish are the main differentiating points from the Forsaken Monument list we looked at earlier. I don’t think either of those cards offers anything that boosts our win percentage against the format, especially considering most of our artifacts are mana rocks. Passing on this one, but all of the improvise cards need to come back into our memory banks for the right moment.

Verdict: Pretender

This deck is exactly one card short right now, and that card is Spell Queller. I respect the hutzpah to go for it anyway, but I’m going to wait for Shadows over Innistrad Remastered before I get talked into this one.

Verdict: Contender as soon as Shadows arrives

While it was also high on the hype list coming into the release of Kaladesh Remastered, I was pretty confident Torrential Gearhulk was getting ready to disappoint a lot of folks. The bar for a six-mana threat is almost impossibly high in Historic. Add in a vulnerability to Mystical Dispute and a lack of playable instant-speed card draw and all the boxes were checked for another failed nostalgia call back. However, I think people have correctly identified a very niche role for the card to play.

The combination of Torrential Gearhulk and Memory has seen some play in the past, but teaming it up with Narset, Parter of Veils is a whole new can of worms. I love efforts to make Narset into Mind Twist. I’ve done the Echo of Eons thing. I’ve even sung the praises of Teferi’s Puzzle Box in Modern. But this is a really clean, small-packaged implementation of the combo that only uses a bunch of cards you already want to be playing. Control decks in Historic need options like this, otherwise they’re facing potential outscaling from things like Uro or Ulamog. This deck needs tuning, but can compete in the future, especially as targets in the format become clear.

Verdict: Contender

Every single combo piece in the format deserves another look, and this kill looks clean. If you can make the token beatdown plan a little more real, maybe I start believing.

Verdict: Pretender, but points for . . . Creativity (puts on sunglasses)

Branding in Magic is a beautiful thing. If you just declare yourself an “X person” where X = whatever terrible deck you have an inexplicable love for, no one can criticize your deck choices anymore. If you’re one of the greatest players of all time and therefore get to win despite your sub-optimal choices, you’ll probably take a lot of like-minded souls along for the ride with you.

Verdict: Cedric is gonna waste some wildcards

There were so many memes I could potentially post here. Michael Jordan saying “Stop it.” Tobias and Lindsay explaining why open relationships don’t work for anyone, but they might work for us. Smokey the Bear informing us that “Only You Can Prevent Grixis Piles.”

All applicable. All going to be ignored anyway. Let’s go get it out of our system now fellow Grixis-heads.

Verdict: Pretender, but I’m playing a few games with it anyway

No deck’s absence this week surprised me more than Mono-Black Aggro. The deck has been a proven commodity in Pioneer since the format’s outset, and with the arrival of Scrapheap Scrounger, virtually all the pieces are now present in Historic. However, while Pioneer is probably the more powerful of the two formats, a deck’s power level is derived from the surrounding context of the format. Some great Legacy decks could make the jump to Standard and find themselves outclassed based on context (looking at you Death and Taxes).

Atelier’s list represents one of the few success stories for the archetype this past week, and I wonder how much of that is based on some unique features of their list. I haven’t been building around Scourge of the Skyclaves and have instead been focused on more traditional beatdown approaches. But this deck goes as far as giving up on Scrapheap Scrounger, and I kind of like it. Do you really need to build that much resiliency into your deck if the format is removal-light?

I’m taking Atelier’s list as proof that Mono-Black Aggro still has a chance in this format, but simply porting over Pioneer lists was never going to seal the deal. There’s still more work to be done.

Verdict: Contender

If you haven’t yet played any Historic, I really recommend that you find your way into the format. It’s a shame that it remains Arena-exclusive, because so many traditional players may never get the chance to experience it. Obviously, everything surrounding paper Magic is on hold right now, but I hope when things return to normal, the powers-that-be will have a long think about the viability of Historic as a paper format. It’s weird, quirky, and oddly managed. But despite these facts, it has evolved into something excellent that all Magic players deserve the chance to partake in.