There are only a few cards in Magic that bring me great joy.
This list of favorites is dominated by blue spells, one of which was directly integrated into Historic with the release of Strixhaven, Brainstorm. I thought I would never cast it in competitive Magic outside of Legacy. It’s one of the most iconic blue spells in Magic’s history and has defined Legacy as long as I’ve played the game. Playing decks without Brainstorm in that format automatically drops you to a lower-tier strategy, an opinion that may sound biased until you poll the Legacy community and check the consensus.
Brainstorm is busted in Legacy because of fetchlands, a set of cards that aren’t legal in Historic. Since we don’t have easy ways to manipulate the library, Brainstorm does not have a home in every blue deck without exception. This has been hard for me to come to grips with because I believed that the fetchland restriction would not stand in the way of it being a four-of staple in every deck that can cast it. My blue decks in Historic still start with the full set of them and eventually trim them down if there are only a few ways to remove the dead cards placed back on top of my deck.
I have been playing a few decks in Historic that have more creative ways of manipulating draws after a Brainstorm. Emry, Lurker of the Loch was instrumental in my combo decks, allowing me to ditch unwanted cards without much effort. These natural effects of library manipulation have shown off the power of Brainstorm, especially the decks that also incorporate Faithless Looting.
Faithless Looting is another surprise card from Strixhaven that I thought was lost from competitive play and sentenced to banned purgatory. It has returned, partnering with Brainstorm, to revitalize the Izzet Phoenix archetype, as well as effectively drawing through your deck for a low mana investment. These types of interaction with Brainstorm make it a viable cog of the format, and even though it does not fit as well in the control decks of the format, it will eventually make its way in there.
This Dimir Rogues (Lurrus) list that won the Insight Esports Historic Open has four Brainstorm, like most Dimir Rogues decks in the format, with only Fabled Passage to shuffle away unwanted cards. This is a prime example of Brainstorm doing its thing with the absolute bare minimum deck manipulation to back it up. The roadblock it’s hitting with the current, leading control decks is that minimum bar isn’t being hit.
The manabases of control decks in Historic are questionable at best in the three-color decks. These control decks are required to play a pile of shocklands, modal DFCs, Triomes, and a pile of other nonbasics that make it nearly impossible to use Fabled Passage. The two Jeskai Control decks that have already taken the competitive scene by storm boast a usage of one basic Island for good reason. The color requirements of the early-game spells directly contradict those of the mid and late-game spells. Brainstorm pulls its weight in the mana fixing department but may be only possible in two-color decks. At this point in the new Historic, Jeskai Control has shown its ability to dominate the competition, as we have seen in the first couple events.
Out of the three lists I have seen, the first one by Orihika is best-suited to taking on the aggressive world of Historic. When the Top 8 of these events are dominated by Mono-Red Aggro, Mono-Red Goblins, Selesnya Company, Dimir Rogues (Lurrus), Gruul Aggro, Orzhov Humans, and Boros Wizards (Lurrus), the format metagame is clear. Aggro is the big winner from the changes to the format, with decks utilizing the most powerful one- and two-drops that are available from all colors. Luckily for the control team, Strixhaven delivered us a magnificent removal spell that has singlehandedly saved control’s viability.
This list has four copies of Lightning Helix, while the others run two and three. Lightning Helix is a Modern staple for control, offering that exact lifegain-to-removal-quality combination that we need to survive. Control decks can often fall behind due to the very nature of new aggressive spells. Creatures come in quickly and hit you, your life total drops, and then they’re typically removed by the traditional one-for-one spells. This leaves the control user with a net-negative when the dust settles, vulnerable to the final quick attacks the aggro player has in store. Lightning Helix throws a wrench in that plan, taking out the threat and gaining enough life to offset the entire turn, or even end up higher in some cases. It’s the one removal spell that strikes fear into the hearts of aggro players and I excitedly volunteer to deliver this pain to them in Historic.
Control had a giant deficit in the early-game removal category before the arrival of Lightning Helix. If you’re not playing black in your control deck, the best the format had to offer was Glass Casket and Seal Away. Although these have been widely used in the past, their power level ranking is stuck at Standard. Historic has some very powerful spells, making these enchantment removal spells laughably bad in comparison. Without a card like Azorius Charm, the Azorius Control decks were stuck in Tier 2, until a miracle printing came their way. Lightning Helix has put the archetype on its back, taking a white and blue dominated deck, tossing a few red cards in it, and making it into one of the best decks of the format.
There are a few other differences between the two lists. One has a second Wrath of God in the maindeck, while the other has a second Anger of the Gods. All these changes are very minor, but I do think Orihika has the superior build for its omission of Rip Apart. Rip Apart is a sweet card from Strixhaven but doesn’t belong in the maindeck while Lightning Helix is around. The artifact and enchantment removal is better out of the sideboard, with Teferi, Hero of Dominaria being the lifeline against something that must be removed. The maindeck Soul-Guide Lantern in both decks are a necessary evil with the amount of problematic graveyard-based decks out there; however, it replaces itself, where Rip Apart can rot in the hand as a clunky sorcery.
Jeskai Control is viable thanks to Lightning Helix, but its source of power is not from the removal side. Magma Opus is a card I found myself eyeing in Standard, while assuming it could be used elsewhere. After seeing it in action with Torrential Gearhulk, I’ve made it a house rule of mine to test every expensive sorcery in that slot for as long as I live. The spell itself is devastating to the opponent, tapping permanents, killing creatures, creating a threat, and drawing cards all in one. It reminds me of the strong Ultimatums of the past, except at instant speed. This, when cast by a Torrential Gearhulk, is a ridiculous deal at six mana, but it gets even better.
Magma Opus can be pitched for a Treasure token. This ability is a reason why I thought it had potential in Standard, giving control that extra mana it desperately needed early on. That line of play has been broken in Historic with this deck, pitching it early and providing an avenue for a Turn 5 Torrential Gearhulk with a giant payoff. Dig Through Time and Torrential Gearhulk have been pals in Pioneer for a while, but this new relationship may be even tighter. The consistency of these cards interacting is mind-boggling, even without the assistance of my beloved Brainstorm.
The only other red card that has come to assist Azorius Control in its time of need is Anger of the Gods. For the same reason Soul-Guide Lantern is in these lists, Anger of the Gods is a crucial piece to the Historic puzzle. Outside of the pesky aggro creatures that plague the format, Arclight Phoenix has risen and requires an exile effect to be removed again. Anger of the Gods is a great one-of in the maindeck to supplement the already-powerful sweepers that are staples of white-based control. I’m still a fan of Doomskar in Historic, so my revised version of this list has that preference as the leader in that role.
Memory Lapse is a Strixhaven exclusive that has strengthened the two-mana disruption slot for all Historic control decks. When a control player has their choice of blue disruption, cards like Memory Lapse fall way behind on the priority list. Control has prioritized hard disruption and cards that take the threat from the battlefield permanently. Cards like Memory Lapse and Remand have rarely seen play in traditional control decks for this reason, delaying the threat from resolving instead of outright dealing with it. That pickiness is fine when the options are there, but we do not have that luxury in Historic. Memory Lapse is a great addition to the format, not powerful enough to ruffle any feathers, but good enough to buy a little time. That two-mana slot has been criminally vacant for white-based control decks and Strixhaven has arrived to save the day.
The rest of this deck, outside of the manabase, is an Azorius Control deck. There are still the same tricks with Commit and Torrential Gearhulk in case desperate times arrive. Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and Narset, Parter of Veils are the hallmark control figures that come as a package deal with the deck. Narset is devastating for many opponents, especially Izzet Phoenix, that depend on card draw and utilize Brainstorm. There are three copies in Orihika’s list, compared to two in Ames’s and Huschenbeth’s lists, which is another strong move against the expected metagame. These planeswalkers, with the support of Torrential Gearhulk, provide Jeskai Control with the strongest win conditions the format has to offer.
It brings me great joy to see Behold the Multiverse and Saw It Coming continue to see competitive success. There were naysayers the entire way on this pair, not seeing their superiority over the competition. When results are not immediately showing sets of the new spells, people write them off as weak. Until control decks get their footing in these formats, cards like Behold the Multiverse and Saw It Coming will not get the respect they deserve. Both competitors saw their value and I suspect that more Strixhaven tournament results will include them as well.
With very few alterations, this is my take on Jeskai Control. I removed Crawling Barrens, a risky creature-land that does not tap for any of our three colors, and a Search for Azcanta for a third Censor. The other changes are in the sweeper department, getting Doomskar back into the fold. This is another card that has not been vetted enough, due to the lack of control representation in Historic over the last few months. As more people play white-based control and try out Doomskar over Wrath of God, similar changes will take place. The difference between the two is minor, but the Turn 3 opportunity creates an additional mind game that yields dividends. With two other foretell spells stock in Jeskai Control, Doomskar is an easy no-brainer here.
I revamped the sideboard based on the decks I saw perform well last week and what I’m currently seeing during testing. Rip Apart and Prismari Command are great sideboard cards that come in whenever an artifact reveals itself Game 1. The Commence the Endgame, Shark Typhoon, and counterspells help against the mirror and other slow decks. Mystical Dispute is the best of the counterspell package in Historic since it works double-time against Dimir Rogues (Lurrus). With an additional Anger of the Gods and two copies of Soul-Guide Lantern, graveyard-based creatures are a huge underdog to this version of Jeskai Control. The last addition, Aether Gust, is a superior sideboard card when comparing it to similar effects. While it may not be the best at dealing with red threats, its crossover against green makes it well worth the small sacrifice in performance.
With this configuration, Jeskai Control is ready to take the top spot of Historic with ease. Good luck!