There’s a certain kind of “midrange” deck I’m really drawn to. Not the “cheap disruption and strong threats”/”generic pile of good cards” decks that people are usually talking about when they say midrange, but proactive resilient decks with cheap threats and some persistent card advantage that play a value/attrition game against aggro decks and a hard to disrupt aggro game against control decks. Mardu Vehicles might be the strongest deck that’s existed in this space, and I think these decks are very often based in some of Mardu’s color pairs.
This Boros Tokens deck is another great example of this kind of strategy:
- 3 Eidolon of Countless Battles
- 3 Heliod's Pilgrim
- 4 Wingmate Roc
- 4 Seeker of the Way
- 1 Monastery Swiftspear
Something possessed me to try to make a deck like this in Historic. The result is pretty sweet, but unfortunately, this kind of Magic just isn’t what 2020 Magic is about. These decks excel against traditional aggro and control decks, but struggle against other midrange and ramp decks. The way that these decks prioritize attrition doesn’t really work against super-high-impact cards, especially when those cards incidentally say “draw a card” for no discernable reason.
Anyway, if you’re willing to accept a bad ramp matchup in order to play some fun games against the rest of the format, this deck does some cool things.
Nahiri, Heir of the Ancients is a really powerful planeswalker if your deck includes Equipment. +1 to make a token is a strong baseline, but if you have an Equipment that turns that token into a real threat, it completely changes the way this plays. The -2 ability’s decent when you’re running out of cards, but most of the time it’s better to just make another token, but if the -3 ability is also a real removal spell then Nahiri really starts doing everything you want a planeswalker to do.
The question is how you can build a deck with enough Equipment to really make Nahiri work. This is hard to do because Equipment doesn’t play well in large numbers both because you need creatures to equip the Equipment to and because each piece of Equipment is its own mana sink, and you don’t generally want a lot of different mana sinks, since you only have so much mana to work with. Nahiri itself helps with both of these issues by providing a body and saving on the equip cost by automatically equipping things, but we need more than one four-mana planeswalker to solve this problem.
The answer is the Historic version of living weapons, the uncommons from Core Set 2020 that come equipped to a token.
These function as their own creatures that can hold Equipment while their presence powers up every ability of Nahiri. Both are reasonable cards in their own right and a little added synergy makes them feel very strong. It’s particularly easy to use Mask of Immolation to finish off opposing creatures when Nahiri offers both the token and the mana to equip it, essentially turning Nahiri’s +1 into “deal one damage to any target” if you want it. Also, Mask of Immolation lines up really well against Lotus Cobra in particular.
Another Zendikar Rising card becomes excellent once we have eight of those cards in our deck:
If we curve either Equipment into Akiri, Akiri will immediately draw a card, and these are both reasonably cheap to equip, which allows us to take advantage of Akiri’s activated ability as the game proceeds. If Mask of Immolation plays a little better with Nahiri, Ancestral Blade plays a little better with Akiri, since it’s only one mana to equip, so it’s easy to attach it to Akiri on Turn 4 or later and hold up a white mana to protect your legend.
Mask of Immolation and Ancestral Blade allow us to include unusually large numbers of Equipment in a deck, but I don’t think we want to stop with just these. They’re very low-impact as Equipment, so they offer fairly little value from Nahiri’s free equipping.
I think the best “real” piece of Equipment for this deck is Maul of the Skyclaves. It equips itself for free once in exchange for a relatively prohibitive equip cost, which we don’t mind because Nahiri makes sure someone’s always holding it. Embercleave has similar text, but it’s a lot harder to cast and doesn’t work as well on a 1/1 token, which is what will usually be holding the Equipment in this deck.
So the core of the deck I’m looking at is four copies each of Mask of Immolation, Ancestral Blade, Maul of the Skyclaves, Akiri, and Nahiri. From there, I need more creatures to take advantage of the Equipment. There are a few creatures that are explicitly good with Equipment in various ways, but I’ve opted for resilience:
This is a Warrior, which means it decreases the likelihood that I fail to find a card if I want to use Nahiri’s -2 ability, but more importantly it replaces itself if it dies to help make sure I’ll always have a creature to hold my Equipment. There are a number of white creatures that function similarly, but I think the Warrior status is the best tiebreaker here.
This is just the best resilient creature when I’m looking for something to equip things to. I tried Seasoned Hallowblade because it’s a Warrior and the cards are pretty similar, but Adanto Vanguard is just a stronger card. I do want both of these when I’m trying to attack against slower decks, so I’ve just relegated Seasoned Hallowblade to the sideboard.
It’s hard to go wrong with Bonecrusher Giant, but here it’s a way to get some removal into my deck while keeping my creature count up to have things to equip.
Running 25 lands is a little high for this curve, but Equipment is deceptively expensive even if the deck is designed to pay equip costs as little as possible, and more importantly, this deck really wants to cast Nahiri or Karn on Turn 4, not later. It’s possible that I’m supposed to play more DFCs over some of the lands, but tapped lands hurt a deck like this and I’m afraid of cutting into the Mountains and Plains for Clifftop Retreat and the Castles.
While the maindeck doesn’t have any dedicated removal spells, between Bonecrusher Giant; Mask of Immolation; and Nahiri, Heir of the Ancients, it can generally answer utility creatures quite well, and uses Maul of the Skyclaves to power through creatures that are intended to attack and block. I started with Giant Killer in my deck, but cut it due to a lack of opposing Giants I was interested in killing.
The sideboard is pretty straight forward. Rest in Peace is a high-impact sideboard card that only turns off Grim Initiate in my deck. Additional Karns come in when I want to be more controlling, but that might be overkill compared to other planeswalkers or something like Mazemind Tome. Seasoned Hallowblade is there when I want to shift more aggressive, and then I have a variety of sweepers for opposing creature decks.
I previously had a more aggressive and Warrior-centric version of the deck with a lower curve that used Fireblade Charger, Fervent Champion, Kor Blademaster, Kargan Intimidator, and Embercleave, all of which are other cards that are reasonable in this kind of strategy.
That deck was able to win games pretty quickly by curving Kargan Intimdator into Maul of the Skyclaves and then playing Kor Blademaster, but I think the resilience of Adanto Vanguard is better, still, if you’re trying to beat ramp decks, as you might need to bias toward explosive damage over creatures that are hard to kill.
As for the lands, I think they’re roughly where they want to be. Crawling Barrens is a good extra threat and the deck has plenty of good uses for colorless mana, so it can definitely afford a colorless land and I think this is the right one. Shatterskull Smashing and Emeria’s Call both seem too expensive to really add a lot to the deck, but I could see playing a few copies of some combination of Spikefield Hazard, Kazuul’s Fury, Kabira Takedown, or Sejiri Shelter.
Archon of Emeria and Skyclave Apparition don’t have any explicit synergy with this deck, but either could be strong enough to play as a generically good card that fits the strategy well enough. Similarly, given that this deck wants a relatively high land count anyway, it’s possible the curve should be a little higher and it should just include some Glorybringers to increase its closing power over something like Karn, especially if we’re being realistic about the fact that Historic isn’t really about messing around with 1/1s and is more about killing the opponent.
If you wanted to lean further in this direction you could probably cut Grim Initiate and replace some lands with DFCs while maybe going up to 26-27 total lands and add a couple of Archon of Emerias or Skyclave Apparitions.
Blackblade Reforged is kind of appealing because Nahiri can get around its prohibitive Equipment cost, but I’d want more legendary creatures to make it work, and I just don’t think the options in Historic are quite good enough.
This deck didn’t show up at the Grand Finals, and wouldn’t win if it did, but I think there’s room to tune it and it’s strong enough to play good matches on ladder if you’re looking for something different, and there’s a good bit of room to customize it around the core of Equipment synergies.
I’d like to leave you with one last completely unrelated observation — Concerted Defense is a great way to protect a creature with Curious Obsession, provided you have deck that can assemble a party reasonably easy. As it happens, Mist-Cloaked Herald is a Warrior, Slitherblade is a Rogue, and Siren Stormtamer is a Wizard, which is a remarkably convenient start. I’ve been messing around with an Azorius deck that rounds the party out with Archpriest of Iona (a Cleric) and Kor Spiritdancer (a second Wizard) and it’s a nice small twist on Azorius Auras:
Since the deck draws so many cards and the creatures are so cheap, it’s not very hard to get a full party for Archpriest of Iona, and I think it has three power most of the time it’s attacking. Concerted Defense is the real draw to this deck though, as it’s exactly what this kind of deck is looking for.
It’s not as novel, but if you’re looking for a deck that can compete with ramp decks in Historic, this might be a good way to get under them. This would be especially appealing if Yasharn, Implacable Earth ends up pushing Mayhem Devil out of the format, or at least making it see less play.