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

Bryan Gottlieb surveys the weekend’s Historic results. What rose above the Uro decks to catch his eye?

Bomat Courier, illustrated by Craig J Spearing

This week’s edition of Innovations From The SCG Tour returns its attention to Historic, and this will go down in… history (sigh) as the week we finally admitted that this format has a problem.

Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath

I don’t necessarily want to spend even more words talking about the obvious fact that Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath is a messed-up Magic card. Still, for better or worse, we now know with a high degree of certainty the process we must go through to generate actual change in a format.

Step 1: The talking heads of Magic reach their breaking point and make an “I tried, but this card is legitimately problematic” post that is carefully worded to avoid any potential fines or reasons to be uninvited from the next Mythic Invitational.

Step 2: Memes.

Step 3: Twitter tone turns to despair. People begin “giving up on the format” which means playing a match or two of their side game before reopening Arena.

Step 4: Some idiot like me who takes things way too seriously feels the need to put forth a detailed point by point breakdown that could just be summed up by stating “good card too good.”

Step 5: Bans.

Step 6: We Tweet about how the format feels the best it has in a long time.

Step 7: Go back to Step 1.

Anyway, the case for removing Uro from Historic hinges around three points. First, in terms of pure representation, the birth of Simic Paradox Engine means that Uro is beginning to occupy approximately 40% of the Historic metagame.

This week is only the start of the Paradox Engine problem and I expect Uro to grab even more metagame share in the coming weeks. The deck is far closer to Ironworks Combo than anything we’ve seen recently. It’s got a consistent goldfish and a solid B-plan, and it does an excellent job playing through hate. A huge portion of this comes from Uro.

Second, the win rate for Sultai Midrange is just too high. Granted, Four-Color Control suffered a down week, but the fact that both options exist and can have their moments just points to the obvious. There’s an Uro deck for absolutely every occasion. Prior to bans, Uro propped up Wilderness Reclamation decks. There have been strong Bant Control decks. There are no meaningful ways to punish someone choosing to play Uro. That’s not a format problem. That’s a reality of the card. It’s a design mistake, plain and simple.

You can make the case that Uro can exist in Modern and Legacy because it’s a design mistake in a sea of design mistakes within those formats, and I’m somewhat receptive to that argument. Moving either of those formats towards a fairer win condition seems like a net positive, but even in those spots, I don’t think Uro overcomes its third and final flaw.

Uro is simply a horrifically unfun card to play with and against. It is repetitive. It makes the game only about Uro and the surrounding resource battle. It makes games feel hopeless but unending. It prevents resource scarcity from ever being a thing and removes the excitement that the top of the deck can provide. Games with Uro just feel far too similar, and when similar games occupy 40% of a format, it’s time for a change.

I think, going forward, Magic would benefit from thinking less about format health and more about card health. If elevated power level will continue to persist, then mistakes will continue to happen. I don’t begrudge missteps on the part of Design, and I think the freedom to make a mistake will help the game grow over the long term. But the review process for problematic cards has to be better.

Facially broken cards that derive their power from their own card text (as opposed to format interactions, a la Wrenn and Six plus Wasteland) like Once Upon a Time; Oko, Thief of Crowns; and now Uro have gotten to hold multiple formats hostage for far too long. In the case of Once Upon a Time and Oko, we’ve seen slow reactions harm Historic, Pioneer, and Modern health. Now Uro is repeating the same pattern, and I just don’t see the upside. #UnprintUro before it makes things worse.

Thankfully, the news coming out of this week’s SCG Tour Online is not uniformly disastrous. In a sea of Uro, there were a few shining beacons of hope.

With the virtual printing of Sram, Senior Edificer, it seemed clear to me that Historic’s Aura decks would start to mimic Pioneer’s, and Orzhov was ready to take over the mantle from Azorius. This change didn’t materialize though, and Azorius was absolutely obliterated at the Zendikar Rising Championship.

Fast forward a week, and Bolun Zhang singlehandedly made the case that it’s time to put Azorius Auras away for good. Every deck needs a reason to exist, and Azorius Auras mostly played as a bad evasive aggro deck that couldn’t compete with the clock of combo, and didn’t have the resiliency to play through Sultai’s disruption. The addition of Thoughtseize to the archetype addresses both of these weaknesses, pinching key combo pieces and sweepers via proactive expenditure of mana. I also love the fact that there is a real control engine you can lean on in sideboard games based on the combination of Hateful Eidolon plus Mire’s Grasp and Dead Weight. The gameplans here just look so much better than Azorius given the context of the format. Make the change.

Verdict: Contender

Not only did Adam Snook play the most criminally underrated deck in the whole format, he added the most underrated card in the format in Bomat Courier to the mix as well. Talk about standing up for the underappreciated.

Bomat Courier just makes sense here. In a deck that is extremely happy playing resource-light games and forcing both itself and its opponents to live off the top of the deck, Bomat Courier is a resource-positive engine to play beautifully alongside the resource-negative engine of Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger. It’s a bit of hyperbole, but in some ways Bomat Courier is this deck’s Uro. It creates problems at all stages of the game and will quickly snowball out of control if unanswered.

Bomat Courier

Rakdos Arcanist (Lurrus) continually puts up solid results despite minuscule metagame percentages. There’s a reason why some of the best brains in the game like Corey Baumeister and Michael Majors have clung to this archetype for far longer than the rest of the field — there’s truly something special here. You have game against the entire format and the customizability of the list is extremely high, especially for the Rakdos color combination.

With the rise to prominence of Paradox Engine decks, a deck that can play Bedevil and Abrade while keeping pace with the raw power of Uro is going to have a good time in the coming weeks. Expect this one to tick up.

Verdict: Contender

Azorius Control is a real Historic deck, and I think it’s fair to start analysis of Jeskai Control by asking what the deck does better. There are two main selling points. The first is the addition of some exiling removal like Anger of the Gods and Magma Spray. If Rakdos Sacrifice were still Public Enemy No. 1, these cards would be excellent, but I think Rakdos has fallen off in recent weeks. Not convinced yet.

The second selling point in this list is a single card — Valakut Awakening. Really? Can a card which has barely sniffed Standard play actually be powerful enough to incentivize a third color and all the trials and tribulations that come with it?

Valakut Awakening Valakut Stoneforge

Surprisingly, I think the answer is yes. I have some real gripes with this list’s selection of removal, countermagic, planeswalkers… basically all of it, but the idea of using Valakut Awakening to fuel a control deck in a format that necessitates playing high-variance cards in your maindeck is kind of brilliant. Not only does it install modality to every other card in your deck, it carries that modality itself by being able to function as a land. Grafdigger’s Cage dead? Send it back to the library. Your hand is perfect? Make a land drop and fuel that Shark Typhoon.

Building a control deck in this fashion is weird, unorthodox, and the type of thing that is often rejected out of hand by old-timers like me. I’m intrigued by the idea though, and I even want to see if it can port the concept over to Standard. The core needs some work, but a big thumbs-up for the concept.

Verdict: Conceptual Contender

Decks like this were all the rage in the early days of the Pioneer format, but they never quite tracked to Historic. I think the creature-centric nature of Historic makes banking on maindeck Spell Pierce tough, but if there was a good time to take a shot, it was following a strong Zendikar Rising Championship performance from Azorius Control.

However, I don’t love the idea of a medium clock with some soft countermagic in a world of Uro. At some point, you’ll just get outscaled by too much of the format, and your cards all look pretty silly against Mono-Red Goblins. If Uro does eventually get the axe, I’m willing to come back to this idea.

Verdict: Pretender

If you’re a midrange-ish Simic deck, you’ve got to have a real good reason you aren’t playing Uro. I guess the full four maindeck Grafdigger’s Cage would qualify. Jeongwoo seems to love the idea of sideboard cards in the maindeck, as Authority of the Consuls is getting in the mix too. This deck obviously needs to play against some very specific things to find success, but as we start contemplating a post-Uro world, it’s worth thinking about what Simic’s new identity might look like. Is Risen Reef the answer?

Risen Reef

If Mayhem Devil remains a focal point of Historic, it’s tough for me to believe that 1/1s can actually carry the day. But the package of Risen Reef; Tangled Florahedron; and Yasharn, Implacable Earth is something interesting. These are all cards I’m pretty happy playing anyway, and they certainly can combine to be something more.

As far as the rest of what’s going on here, I’m passing on Oath of Teferi and a bunch of planeswalkers. I just don’t think it’s high-enough-impact for the format. Still, we’ve found a cool little core to keep in mind.

Verdict: Pretender

Look at how many awesome things there are to blink in the Historic format! Gonti, Lord of Luxury; Renegade Rallier; Vengeful Rebel; Elvish Visionary; Forbidding Spirit… this deck is just beyond cool. It feels more like a 90’s Prison deck than a deck from the modern era and I am absolutely here for it.

But, as dedicated readers know, my love for a deck is not enough to earn it the rank of contender. You’re jumping through a lot of hoops to make your Rube Goldberg machine and the end result is a deck with a lot of individually bad cards. You don’t have to go through all these steps to get a powerful engine in your deck… you just have to register Uro.

Verdict: Pretender

I lived through the Simic Flash nightmare in Standard. In a year defined by unfun play patterns, it’s quite possible that Simic Flash was the worst of them all. It made Teferi, Time Raveler look like the good guy! This leads to a very crucial question for me as a content creator: do I put unbiased journalistic integrity first and talk about how much sense a Flash-style list makes in the present metagame, or am I so self-serving that I would label a deck a pretender just because I really don’t want to have to play against it on ladder?

Verdict: Pretender

The decks in this article illustrate the depth left to mine across the Historic format. However, Uro is just making it too hard. My impression of the format is colored by the unending slogs against Sultai Midrange and Four-Color Control. Soon, I think I’ll be adding the explosiveness and resiliency of Paradox Engine combo to my defining mental impressions.

It doesn’t have to be that way. It’s time to unlock Historic’s rich and diverse undercard and send Uro to the bench. We don’t have to wait until things reach a cataclysmic state to take action.