Adventures In The Forgotten Realms First Impressions: Historic

Which cards from Adventures in the Forgotten Realms made the biggest first impression in Historic on five SCG creators? They sort through Burning Hands, Demilich, and more.

Demilich, illustrated by Daniel Zrom

Welcome back to D&D: Adventures In The Forgotten Realms First Impressions week!

All week long, various members of the SCG Staff will share their thoughts on the Top 5 Adventures In The Forgotten Realms cards in each format. Yesterday, we kicked things off with Standard. Today we’ll knock out Historic, Wednesday will be Pioneer, and Thursday will be Modern. To add a little fun to the mix, a scoring system has been put in place so that we can get an idea of what card ranked in what place in the aggregate to close out each article. The scoring system is as follows:

  • 1st — 5 points
  • 2nd — 4 points
  • 3rd — 3 points
  • 4th — 2 points
  • 5th — 1 point

Today, we begin things with Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir champion, Ari Lax!

Ari Lax

  1. Demilich
  2. Werewolf Pack Leader
  3. Hall of Storm Giants
  4. The Blackstaff of Waterdeep
  5. Hobgoblin Bandit Lord

Demilich Werewolf Pack Leader Hall of Storm Giants The Blackstaff of Waterdeep Hobgoblin Bandit Lord

Honest question: how the hell am I supposed to rank new Standard cards for a format where Brainstorm is legal? Like, do I just make a list of blue cards? Does the list start with “a Brainstorm ban” in first, second, and third place? Whatever, Demilich first place, I’ll let you fill in the rest there.

Werewolf Pack Leader is a similar exercise for the Collected Company portion of the metagame. The rate isn’t amazing, but drawing cards with the rate is.

Hall of Storm Giants means your control decks get to skimp on win conditions. And it casts Brainstorm, a topic I’m seriously over-discussing.

I think Standard is a bit shallow for The Blackstaff of Waterdeep, but Historic is where I start to get really excited about it. A repeatable Ensoul Artifact that also boosts your other artifact-counting synergies is good stuff.

Hobgoblin Bandit Lord is where things get marginal, but it’s the kind of card Goblins can use to pre-sideboard some removal without losing too much linear value. I don’t think it changes much about the deck’s construction, and it might be overkill since durdly creature decks are rarely the issue for Goblins, but it does good work against those decks.

Shaheen Soorani

  1. Den of the Bugbear
  2. Hive of the Eye Tyrant
  3. Cave of the Frost Dragon
  4. Treasure Vault
  5. Demilich

Den of the Bugbear Hive of the Eye Tyrant Cave of the Frost Dragon Treasure Vault Demilich

New cards that are likely going to be strong in Standard get my first consideration when crafting a Historic Top 5 list.  Adventures in the Forgotten Realms is a powered-down set, a much-needed one for Standard, but that gives little solace to the floundering format of Historic.  The legal sets are too powerful, without even considering the old cards that were haplessly injected into the format.  Brainstorm plagues Historic, which is the sad reality I do not want to face.  If it remains there, these new powered-down sets will struggle to have an impact.

The spells of Adventures in the Forgotten Realms may be weak for Historic, but the lands are great.  There’s a giant competitor in the creature-land department there, with Faceless Haven assisting monocolor aggro decks to top the charts week in and week out.  These new creature-lands may cost a bit more to activate on average; however, they have significant advantages that aggro decks can use.

Each creature-land on my Top 5 list for Historic is plug-and-play for aggro decks, with Cave of the Frost Dragon and Hall of Storm Giants more on the fringe.  The Castles of Throne of Eldraine, with a focus on Castle Ardenvale, take that creature-land spot in most cases.  I’m not sure that a weakened Celestial Colonnade will be an adequate substitute, but I’m confident that the aggro decks claim first dibs. 

These lands enter the battlefield untapped for them in the crucial early turns, while tapping for colored mana.  That’s a huge benefit over Faceless Haven, which can make some spells trickier to cast when used as a four-of.  It’s likely that both these creature-lands and Faceless Haven see play, often simultaneously as a split in the aggro decks of the format since both add threats without taking actual deck space.

It may make some of you sad that most of these cards on the list are lands.  That sadness increases further since they will mostly help aggro fans out.  The only creature-lands that did not make the cut are Hall of Storm Giants and Lair of the Hydra, because they’re simply not good enough for the format.  Instead, I have Treasure Vault, which can potentially open more artifact-based strategies with Emry, Lurker of the Loch and company.  This archetype is underwhelming now but has potential to blow up with a few more pieces added. 

There are a few cards that are either a ten or a zero in the format.  Demilich is one of those cards that could be absurd in an Izzet Phoenix shell but can also end up in the bulk mythic binder.  It has all the keywords that excites fans of that archetype and will likely be on my Top 5 list for Pioneer and Modern.  I may get some flak for not having any true control cards on this list, but even with this blasphemous set, it’s hard to complain as a blue mage casting Brainstorm.  I will continue to enjoy tossing scraps to my Dread Wanderer colleagues, while putting two cards back on top after.

Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa

  1. Demilich
  2. Guardian of Faith
  3. Werewolf Pack Leader
  4. Ebondeath, Dracolich
  5. The Book of Exalted Deeds

Demilich Guardian of Faith Werewolf Pack Leader Ebondeath, Dracolich The Book of Exalted Deeds

Adventures in the Forgotten Realms is not a very powerful set, which means it’s going to be a tall order to slot many cards in Historic. However, I would argue that, even Mystical Archive cards aside, Strixhaven actually had a bigger impact in Historic than it did in Standard, so it’s possible that the bigger card pool makes some of the new cards better.

Right now, I would consider the Historic Tier 1 to be Izzet Phoenix, the blue control decks (Dimir/Jeskai), and Temur Indomitable Creativity, with Azorius Auras and Selesnya Company as the best of Tier 2. The only card that I think slots in a Tier 1 deck is Demilich, so that’s my pick for the best Historic card of the set. It’s not clear to me how good the card actually is in Izzet Phoenix just yet, but it has enough broken words in it that it wouldn’t surprise me if it was actually the best card in the set, so it seems like a good pick. If you want a more in-depth explanation of what I’d do with Demilich (and with each of the cards I talk about here), check out my article from last week.

Next is a card that I’m almost sure is good, but only in sideboards, which diminishes its value — Guardian of Faith. I think it’s the best “anti-sweeper” card we’ve ever had for Collected Company decks, and I imagine it will see play in Selesnya Company and Bant Angels.

Then comes Werewolf Pack Leader. If there is a Mono-Green Aggro deck this card will almost certainly be good in it, and it’s very easy to trigger on Turn 3 in Gruul decks if you have Ahn-Crop Crasher or Gruul Spellbreaker. It’s a bit of a nonbo with Burning-Tree Emissary, but I think it deserves a spot, especially because having three toughness in this format is actually huge right now. 

Next there’s Ebondeath, Dracolich. The best deck to play it in is almost certainly Mono-Black God-Pharaoh’s Gift, as it has a variety of synergies including self-mill, discard and four copies of Phyrexian Tower, but that deck hasn’t been making a lot of waves lately. That said, you can still play it in decks like Jund Sacrifice where it’s very easy to bring it back basically at will.

The last card, The Book of Exalted Deeds, is a departure from my original list. I’ve seen it pop up in some Bant Angel decks and it can be quite strong there, because it’s really easy to gain three life per turn in that deck. It’s not a creature, which makes it awkward for Collected Company, but there are also some decks that simply cannot beat the activated ability (such as Azorius Auras or decks like Elves), so I believe it could help revitalize the archetype a little bit. 

Corey Baumeister

  1. Burning Hands
  2. Werewolf Pack Leader
  3. Portable Hole
  4. Divine Smite
  5. Hunter’s Mark

Burning Hands Werewolf Pack Leader Portable Hole Divine Smite Hunter's Mark

Historic is an extremely powerful and fast format that demands the correct answers at the right stages of the game or you lose. So it’s not too much of a surprise that most of my cards are sideboard cards. That’s a product of the set being a bit underpowered, but also the answers in Adventures in the Forgotten Realms are quite good.

First up we have Burning Hands. Burning Hands is a card that will be excellent in the sideboard of all these Izzet/Jeskai decks. It can kill Koma, Cosmos Serpent; Lovestruck Beast; Korvold, Fae-Cursed King; and basically every creature in the Selesnya Company deck. That’s enough targets for me to think this will see a ton of play.

Werewolf Pack Leader makes it to the second spot on my list because I think it will see maindeck play in Collected Company decks as well as Mono-Green. I don’t think this card is going to change how these decks are built or anything but it’s a powerful creature that doesn’t die to Shock, Prismari Command, or Pillar of Flame.

Portable Hole is another nice sideboard option against all of these Aura decks running around. Being able to actually exile Kor Spiritdancer and Sram, Senior Edificer instead of killing them is a big deal when Lurrus plans on bringing them back. It will also have some application against other aggressive decks like Mono-Red Aggro and Selesnya Company.

Divine Smite will be good against specifically one deck — Mono-Black Aggro. Not only can you phase a creature out to save it against the plethora of removal they have, but you also just get to point and kill anything in their deck outside of Faceless Haven. This will be a very powerful hate card against the best aggro deck in the format at the moment.

Hunter’s Mark is the wildcard for me. I could see it being good against Narset, Parter of Veils and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, but those decks also have a ton of removal, so cards that need your creature to stick around to do something can be a big liability.

Dom Harvey

  1. Werewolf Pack Leader
  2. Demilich
  3. Shambling Ghast
  4. Treasure Vault
  5. Den of the Bugbear

Werewolf Pack Leader Demilich Shambling Ghast Treasure Vault Den of the Bugbear

Werewolf Pack Leader claims the crown in yet another format. Gruul Aggro has been a regular fixture and occasional best deck in Historic, and Werewolf Pack Leader combines well with its existing three-power two-drops like Voltaic Brawler and haste three-drops like Ahn-Crop Crasher or Gruul Spellbreaker while offering a mana sink and source of card advantage that reduces the demand for clunkers like Collected Company (while improving that card if you do want to keep it). There’s some tension with Burning-Tree Emissary but that may be an argument for finally moving away from Emissary rather than an argument against this card.

Demilich is a wildcard that’s more likely to look heavily overrated or underrated in a few months than anything else here. It earns a high spot here for lack of competition but also because Izzet Phoenix is the consensus best deck right now and something like that is the most likely shell for Demilich. The lack of Lightning Bolt or guaranteed revolt for Fatal Push makes it less fragile here.

Paulo wrote about Ebondeath, Dracolich in the Mono-Black God-Pharaoh’s Gift deck but I have my eye on an innocuous common for that shell in Shambling Ghast. As a one-drop that wants to be sacrificed and is a Zombie for Cryptbreaker, it would already be somewhat appealing but I want to use it with Phyrexian Tower to cast four-drops like Rankle, Master of Pranks or Liliana, Untouched by Death on Turn 2 or aim even higher; between Ghast/Tower and Priest of Forgotten Gods, jumping to six mana for Bolas’s Citadel or a large Agadeem’s Awakening looks realistic.

Treasure Vault is Historic’s only artifact land, which encourages building around artifacts in a format that lacks cheap, expendable artifacts like Chromatic Star or Arcum’s Astrolabe.

Den of the Bugbears offers an on-color creature-land for red aggro decks for the first time, which won’t solve their fundamental issues but will be handy when the other missing pieces arrive. Lair of the Hydra may be more successful in the short term, in part thanks to Werewolf Pack Leader.

And now, without further ado, the SCG Staff’s Top 5 Adventures In The Forgotten Realms cards for Historic are…

5. Treasure Vault — 4 points

Treasure Vault

4. Burning Hands — 5 points

Burning Hands

3. Den of the Bugbear — 6 points

Den of the Bugbear

2. Demilich — 13 points


1. Werewolf Pack Leader — 16 points

Werewolf Pack Leader

Cya back here tomorrow for our thoughts on Adventures In The Forgotten Realmss impact on Pioneer!