Is Phyrexian Tower The Most Broken Card To Build Around In Historic?

What We’d Play goes big for Historic! Ten SCG creators give their picks for the deck to run in the SCG Tour Championship Qualifier and beyond.

Phyrexian Tower, illustrated by Dimitar Marinski

Welcome to What We’d Play! With another SCG Tour Championship Qualifier taking place on Monday, 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 the event! Be sure to vote for what deck you would play at the end!

Autumn Burchett — Mono-Red Goblins

With a few days of testing left on the horizon, I’ve not yet decided what I’ll be registering for the upcoming Mythic Invitational but I absolutely know what my fallback choice is. Mono-Red Goblins has some of the greatest raw power in the format; it can kill on Turn 3 with the dream draw, and Turn 4 kills are pretty common occurrences if your opponent doesn’t have interaction at the ready.

Meanwhile, whilst forcing your opponent to interact, interaction on its own is pretty unimpressive against you. Eventually you’ll just cast a Muxus, Goblin Grandee and all the Terminates in the world won’t have meant anything, and you have so much card advantage that the first sweeper rarely spells game over. Grafdigger’s Cage is a common hate card against Muxus but your opponent had better either be killing you or be ready to deal with every Krenko, Mob Boss you cast; otherwise that Cage just won’t do enough.

Whilst the deck is inherently resilient, you can still hate it out if you really want to. This takes dedicated effort, though, so unless Goblins has crushed some recent tournament, giving people reason to be particularly prepared for it, it feels like a safe, respectable deck choice that I’m always happy to have at the ready.

Sam Black — Simic Jolrael

I’ve been exploring various approaches based around Growth Spiral; Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath; and Pact of NegationNissa, Who Shakes the World is the best thing to do with Pact of Negation because you can still cast spells on the following turn when you Pact to protect Nissa. Hydroid Krasis is the best top-end when you have a lot of Nissas. 

To support that, I’ve liked having a lot of cantrips so that I’m able to escape Uro with regularity. Cantrips allow the payoff support cards of Jolrael and Teferi’s Ageless InsightNeutralize is a cantrip that gives my deck a bit more power than other options. Add some business in the lands – Cascading Cataracts is just there to make an indestructible 3/3 with Nissa – and we’re good to go.

I was playing Sultai, but I didn’t really like removal and Thoughtseize isn’t great when everyone has Uro and the top of every library is really strong.  My biggest concern with not having black has been that I’m short on answers to Narset, Parter of Veils, but most of my sideboard is devoted to fighting that card specifically with Shark Typhoon, Questing Beast, Mystical Dispute, and Brazen Borrower.

Michael Majors — Mono-Black Aggro

I’ve been pretty effortlessly tearing up the ladder with this list of Mono-Black Aggro and I’m just a few minor details away from being completely satisfied.  I’m potentially off by about a card in the maindeck, with a Gifted Aetherborn competing with a third Tymaret, Chosen from Death or Heartless Act (likely the former as Bant Control seems like the most questionable matchup).

The sideboard has been in flux, but I think I’m close, with Phyrexian Arena being the latest experiment to help flip the Bant Control matchup.  Otherwise, this is just a great aggressive deck and a great Thoughtseize deck. You have natural resiliency, flyers are extremely strong right now, and you can get a bunch of free wins while having the ability to interact.

If you’re looking to beatdown in Historic I heavily endorse this deck.

Shaheen Soorani — Azorius Control

Azorius Control keeps getting better and better in Historic.  The more players lean on the graveyard for salvation, the heavier the punishment from Azorius Control will be.  Rest in Peace is the best hate card in the format by a country mile, completely shutting down a chunk of the metagame on Turn 2.  The graveyard-obsessed metagame is not going anywhere for a while since it easily feasts upon the ramp and aggro decks.

I have seen iterations of Mono-Black with God-Pharaoh’s Gift, a more traditional Golgari version that finishes with Bolas’s Citadel, and the stock Jund decks that utilize Mayhem Devil with their Blood Artist pal.  Each falls hard to Rest in Peace.  That, along with the return of Wrath of God, makes Azorius Control one of the big contenders of the format.  Rest in Peace also hits big threats outside of the black-based recursion, like Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath.  The application of this hate card is wide and continues to push Azorius Control higher up on the food chain.

The rest of the deck operates in the traditional sense.  The sweepers are strong and the combination of Gideon of the Trials and Pact of Negation is too much for some decks to handle. With the removal and counterspells, I am still playing with the numbers. The quantities of Dovin’s Veto, Essence Scatter, and Syncopate change day-to-day, depending on the rest of the metagame. 

As it stands, I believe this is the best control deck to tackle the format with.

Corey Baumeister — Rakdos Pyromancer (Lurrus)

I was just getting beaten up constantly by Rakdos Sacrifice while practicing for the SCG Tour Online Championship Qualifier this coming Monday, so I finally decided to give it a go even though it isn’t normally the type of deck I usually play.

Holy cow was this deck a breath of fresh air! It’s not only incredibly powerful but it’s a blast to play as well!

I have been playing Rakdos Pyromancer (Lurrus) for about three days or so and I am still learning new interactions every match. These types of complex decks really reward deck mastery, and while I’m nowhere near that yet, I do think this is what I will be playing come Monday as long as I can get a ton of reps in with the deck. 

Rakdos Pyromancer is pretty close to the Rakdos Sacrifice deck in Core Set 2021 Standard except we have some huge upgrades in the form of Claim // Fame and Phyrexian Tower. Both of these cards allow you to have some really degenerate turns. Whether it is Claim // Fame targeting Dreadhorde Arcanist to immediately get back another spell or casting Claim the Firstborn on a creature and sacrificing it to Phyrexian Tower to net a mana, these cards really open up the deck and almost makes it feel like a Modern deck in a sea of Historic decks.

I could go on and on about the sweet interactions for the deck, but this segment would be 1500 words. Why not just take my advice and give it a shot?

Carmen Handy — Bant Control

As we get closer and closer to the Mythic Invitational, Historic decks are going to start looking more tuned.  Last weekend, Bant Control was the biggest winner in Historic and it’s time people started taking notice of what it does right.

Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and Nissa, Who Shakes the World are the big five-drops in the format that decks are being built around, and this deck is built with Teferi in mind.  That means a higher emphasis on two-drops and sweepers.

But the biggest bit of technology in this deck is the inclusion of a pair of Teferi’s Ageless Insight.  The card has a larger impact on games than one would assume, and specifically allows the deck to maximize its Explore variants without getting punished.  Normally this isn’t possible because Growth Spirals have diminishing returns, but when Teferi’s Ageless Insight turns them all into Divinations, that flips things on its head.  Teferi’s Ageless Insight also turning Censors into Inspirations is an upgrade that can’t be understated.

We’re at the phase in the format where I’m interested in finding the best ways to push the proven archetypes, and going into this weekend, Teferi’s Ageless Insight is a great way to go over the top of what other decks are doing by simply burying them in cards.

Bryan Gottlieb — Rakdos Pyromancer (Lurrus)

Recently I’ve noticed a lot of folks sharing Historic decks on social media with a tag line like “this deck has incredible matchups across the board… except against Rakdos Pyromancer.” Friends, there’s a reason for this caveat. Rakdos Pyromancer is the best deck in Historic when built properly. It’s disruptive, consistent, and powerful, and has the right sideboard options to attack the other top dogs in the format.

The main change in my list from some others I’ve seen floating around is a move away from Priest of Forgotten Gods in the maindeck. Priest just doesn’t make a ton of sense to me in the context of what this deck is trying to achieve. You don’t have ample mana sinks, and you don’t have recursive threats that will fuel a Priest throughout the length of the game. If you’ve got a Young Pyromancer humming, you’re fine anyway and don’t need a Priest to kick things into high gear.

My list instead picks up some generally powerful removal in Bedevil and Innocent Blood, and provides some welcome reach in the form of Collateral Damage. I also play the full four copies of Archfiend’s Vessel, as games where a copy is present in your graveyard tend to be far easier than those where you fail to find a copy.

As long as people continue to rely on Grafdigger’s Cage as the default sideboard option against this deck, I love sideboard Bedevils. It lets you keep your engine humming if they draw a copy of Cage, and if they don’t it’s easy to find an appropriate target. I’ve also picked up Rankle, Master of Pranks and Arguel’s Blood Fast in case folks wise up and start packing hard graveyard hate like Leyline of the Void or Rest in Peace. This gives you the option of playing something close to a generic Rakdos Midrange deck, and that configuration is effective against much of the format.

I’ve got my eye on Stitcher’s Supplier as the next bannable card in Historic. As always, I advise you to play it until they take it away.

Ari Lax — Mono-Black God-Pharaoh’s Gift

I have a half-joke, half-truth statement I like to make about Vintage Cube: the pick order is the best 1993-1994 cards, then the best 1998-1999 cards, and then the best 2019-2020 cards just before the best cards from Commander sets. Historic is largely the best of 2019 to 2020 that isn’t banned, but somehow a 1998 card snuck in there and that’s where I’m starting.

Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath gives Phyrexian Tower some real competition, but I think not playing one of those two cards is likely a mistake and I’m sticking with that year-by-year power ranking. I disagree with Michael Majors’s labelling of Bolas’s Citadel as the key pillar there, and endorse Mono-Black God-Pharaoh’s Gift as the version of this deck that dodges Grafdigger’s Cage and provides the best aggro plan. Think of it like the Rakdos Sacrifice of the format.

Honestly, your biggest issue might just be learning when Magic Arena auto-passes due to not understanding how Phyrexian Tower works, so keep an eye on your full control button.

Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa — Sultai Control

Normally, when a format is brand-new, playing a proactive deck is best. Now that Historic is a little more established, I’ve been branching out to more reactive decks. I still like the Golgari Citadel deck I wrote about last week, but I think that we know enough about what’s going on now that I don’t feel like I have to play something proactive, and the blue decks have become more appealing, as there’s a lot of value to playing sweepers right now.

I’ll be honest and say that I’m not confident on which blue deck is best between Sultai, Bant or Azorius. They all have their pros and cons and it’ll take more testing to identify which I like the most, but I do like that group of decks very much as a whole right now. If I were to play the SCG Tour Online Championship Qualifier on Monday, I would opt to play Sultai as sort of a hedge to not fully knowing the metagame; after all, you can’t really go wrong with Thoughtseize, whereas with Dovin’s Veto, Mystical Dispute, Essence Scatter, and cards like that, you definitely can. As the format becomes even more established, though, I could see either Bant or Azorius being better, since you’re better able to tweak it towards beating what you expect to play against.

Ryan Overturf — Mono-Red Goblins

I’m pretty easily walked into Mythic the last two months with this deck, and I still feel like Goblins are underrated in Historic for whatever reason. The Field of the Dead decks were reasonably good matchups that were banned out of the format, but I haven’t found the control decks that took their place to be all that difficult to beat either. You just keep presenting enough pressure to force them to use a sweeper and resetting with Muxus until they die. 

The one change I’ve made from last week is that I have a couple of Blast Zones in the deck now. Amusingly inspired by this tweet:

The more I thought about it, the more Blast Zone made sense. I beat Grafdigger’s Cage too often with Krenko and it’s too random whether my opponent has it for me to want to sideboard against the card specifically, and Blast Zone just hangs out in the manabase and solves the problem if it arises. The Zone also answers Hushbringer and Rampaging Ferocidon on occasion, and is great about the Curious Obsession decks that I’ve found to be somewhat problematic. 

The Blast Zones come at the cost of Phyrexian Tower, which I’ve found to be underwhelming in the deck. They’re redundant with Skirk Prospector and the fact that they’re legendary is a real cost to playing more than one when you just want to hit six land drops in some games. I haven’t missed the Tower since I moved off of it and have had some really good Blast Zones over a small sample of matches.