Has Adventures In The Forgotten Realms Lessened Brainstorm’s Stranglehold On Historic?

Is Historic still a Brainstorm format, or have new challengers risen? Four SCG creators choose their top MTG Historic decks.

Mayhem Devil, illustrated by Dmitry Burmak

Welcome to What We’d Play! With the arrival of Adventures in the Forgotten Realms, many are looking for options 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 your next Historic event!

Autumn Burchett — Jund Food (Jegantha)

“I’d just play the deck I did really well with all over again” isn’t exactly the most surprising take. It’s even harder to resist saying that when Arya Karamchandani and I ended up playing the 74-card mirror-match in the finals of the VML One-Shot: Historic tournament this past weekend after she sent me her decklist the Friday before. She didn’t lose a single match, and with the exception of a brutal loss against Azorius Auras, I otherwise only lost to Arya. Jund Food is kind of just great.

Arya suggested to me that Izzet Phoenix and Jund Food are the two actually good decks in Historic currently, and after playing Jund all weekend long I completely agree. Both decks are fundamentally very powerful, and fairly hard to fight, but importantly they also cover each other’s weaknesses. The sorts of decks Izzet Phoenix struggles against are the ones Jund Food is very prepared to beat (every match I played against Dimir Control and Izzet Control over the weekend felt fairly lopsided), and similarly Izzet Phoenix beats up the decks that are good against Jund Food. It’s a very hard metagame to meaningfully fight. Relatedly, I love playing Five-Colour Niv-Mizzet, and that deck continues to be well-positioned against Izzet Phoenix, but it’s hard for me to justify registering that deck currently because wow is the Jund Food matchup hard.

Some notable details of this Jund Food list include an abundance of graveyard hate (not only with Izzet Phoenix in mind but also to help fight Mizzix’s Mastery decks), a removal suite that’s very prepared for the Phoenix decks with a bunch of exile-based removal in addition to Forced Landings in the sideboard, being light on Woe Strider which has always been one of the weakest cards in the deck, and of course the second copy of Phyrexian Tower; this card is far too synergistic with what you’re doing to not play the two of these, even if it being legendary can be unfortunate at times.

Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa — Dimir Control

I would say that, at this point in Historic’s life, Izzet Phoenix is probably the most popular deck. However, I don’t think it’s truly the best deck. It’s doing things that are fancy but not necessarily overpowered, and I honestly hate the deck’s playstyle, as I feel that if you have two Arclight Phoenixes in your top twenty cards you win, and otherwise you lose. It’s obviously not literally this, as the deck can win with an assortment of different draws, but sometimes it actually is like this and I really don’t like that aspect of it.

As for what I’d play if not Izzet Phoenix, my options are Azorius Auras or a blue control deck. Azorius Auras can be very strong in the right metagame, but I would consider it overall less powerful than the blue control decks in a vacuum. This is an ironic thing to say, because usually control decks are metagame-dependent (you’re choosing whether each slot is a Negate or a Doom Blade and if you choose wrong you’re in bad shape), but Brainstorm goes such a long way towards solving this problem that I think the control decks are just better options for an unknown metagame. Given that I don’t have much confidence of what a tournament metagame would be (outside of maybe “Izzet Phoenix is going to be the most popular deck”), I’d go with the “guaranteed power” of the blue decks.

Then there’s the question of which blue deck. In my mind, there are three options — Jeskai (either Torrential Gearhulk or not, so sort of three-and-a-half options), Indomitable Creativity, or Dimir. I think they’re all good and they all have their pros and cons. I’m relatively confident I would play a blue control deck at this point but I’m really low-confidence on which one; I believe Dimir performed the best in the July Strixhaven League Weekend, and I like the ability to exile individual cards these days (as well as valuing the ability to play more counterspells), so this is what I would go for.

Shaheen Soorani — Jeskai Control

Seeing this deck take down an event made me jump for joy!  Since Brainstorm and Lightning Helix were released into Historic, Jeskai Control has been the go-to for control players everywhere.  With access to some of the best removal, card draw, and planeswalkers of all time, there’s no matchup that I fear in the format.

This take on Jeskai Control is the most interesting I’ve seen, with maindeck Rest in Peace and the return of Niv-Mizzet, Parun.  Niv-Mizzet, Parun is a win condition that can lock down an opponent upon resolution.  It was dynamite in Standard and I imagine it has similar strength in Historic.  The spells surrounding it have significantly improved with the return of Memory Lapse and the addition of Expressive Iteration.

The spells of Jeskai Control make it great, but the minor modifications to the win conditions put it over the top in Historic.  As the metagame shifts, cards like Niv-Mizzet, Parun can dominate even as spell-heavy decks get fully punished.  The core of the deck is strong enough to handle the bulk of the matchups, utilizing Anger of the Gods and Wrath of God when aggro gets too strong, while looking to the powerful blue disruption spells in a slower format. 

Whatever the metagame in Historic, I’m looking to Jeskai Control for the solution.

Dom Harvey — Dimir Tainted Pact

Thassa’s Oracle was always on borrowed time; Tainted Pact was just the final straw. Banning something from Dimir Tainted Pact (Lurrus) was necessary and hitting Oracle over Pact both prevents Oracle from becoming a problem again and leaves the Dimir Tainted Pact shell at least theoretically viable. It won’t ever achieve the same heights of having both a >50% metagame share and the best win rate at the highest level of play, but I think it can stick around as a novel and competitive part of the format.

Removing Thassa’s Oracle has profound implications for the deck. Having to turn to Jace, Wielder of Mysteries as your win condition forces out Lurrus of the Dream-Den, which in turn opens up a register of high-mana-value cards that weren’t worth losing Lurrus before. Adding two mana to your combo means that you have to spread it over several turns and the combo-focused setup cards like Wishclaw Talisman lose a lot of their power. Instead, this version is firmly on the control side of combo-control and the card choices in the maindeck mostly reflect this, with sideboard pivots like Doom Whisperer or The Scarab God now available too.

Recent metagame shifts explain why this might be a good idea. Normal Dimir Control popped up at the July Strixhaven League Weekend as a response to the dominance of Izzet Phoenix and Mayhem Devil-based decks have come back in force as a foil for Dimir Control. The Tainted Pact combo gives you a way to steal wins quickly and guarantee them eventually without having to out-grind Mayhem Devil decks or Izzet Phoenix in longer games. One thing that hasn’t changed is that this deck is an unbelievably cool concept (when it isn’t the only thing you can do in a format) amid the random mess that makes up the rest of Historic.