Innovations In Historic From SCG Tour Online $5K Strixhaven Championship Qualifier #8

Strixhaven’s Mystical Archive shook up Historic in the SCG Tour Online last weekend. Bryan Gottlieb shares top tech from the Qualifier and Satellites.

Indomitable Creativity, illustrated by Deruchenko Alexander
Indomitable Creativity, illustrated by Deruchenko Alexander

After a few tournaments that hinted at but never completely unlocked the full potential of Strixhaven’s Mystical Archive, the Historic shakeup has officially arrived. Sure, the event was won by Jund Food. Again. With no Mystical Archive cards. If anything, don’t take this as proof that the Mystical Archive cards missed the mark. Take it as proof that Jund Food is, and always has been, a messed-up deck. Seriously, there’s no way it should have been legal pre-Mystical Archive.

The effect of the Mystical Archive has been to bring a bunch of other stuff up to Jund Food’s level. Not only did the pre-existing decks start to integrate the new cards in more meaningful way, but brand-new archetypes also announced their arrival loudly and clearly by occupying a whopping 33% of the SCG Tour Online $5K Strixhaven Championship’s Top 12 slots.

My column this week looks to make note of both those sides of the evolving metagame and, as usual, plumb a little deeper and try and find out what decks are just waiting for their moment of metagame dominance. There’s a lot of lists today, so let’s not waste any more time.

Huh, it is absolutely shocking to me that when players started playing the most broken cards from the Mystical Archive this deck started putting up serious results. Are we done with the absurd narrative that Brainstorm isn’t going to be good in Historic? Are you starting to see how easy it is to get Mizzix’s Mastery to do powerful things? Also playing a huge role in advancing this deck towards degeneracy here is a *blinks disbelievingly* regular Strixhaven card, Magma Opus.

No longer are control decks stuck playing 2010 Magic in 2021. Now the deck has a powerful and proactive play in Turn 3 Mizzix’s Mastery flashing back Magma Opus. It can also accelerate to a Turn 5 Torrential Gearhulk, flashing back Magma Opus. Four assignable damage, nine power, two cards, a mini-Mistbind Clique, and a partridge in a pear tree, all at the end of an opponent’s turn. Add in the reach from Lightning Helix, and this deck regularly will end games in short order. The condensed games mean that Memory Lapse is ready to step up as the counterspell of choice and wow, does it feel good to just be able to counter everything.

Fellow control mages, I know you’ve been waiting a long time to hear the words I’m about to say. Jeskai Control is the best deck in Historic. You just had to stop the nonsense and play the overpowered goodies.

Poor Lutri, the Spellchaser. The little Otter was so close to shrugging off the title of “Most Irrelevant Companion,” and only second copies of Tainted Pact and Thassa’s Oracle denied it a glorious moment in the sun. Well, that and the fact that Lurrus of the Dream-Den is somehow still the better companion even when this is built as a singleton deck. I’m starting to think Wizards of the Coast may have overshot the mark with ol’ Lurrus.

Very old jokes aside, this is the story coming out of this event. Tainted Pact is here, and now that Arena players have overcome the sheer technical limitations of playing the deck on the platform, expect this to be an archetype in Historic for as long as Tainted Pact and Thassa’s Oracle remain legal. Four different players in the Top 12, multiple variants, the highest win rate in Sunday’s field, and the best single Satellite performance I’ve seen with an astonishing 80%-win rate on Friday—these stats all combine to illustrate that this deck is no fluke.

One of the best applications of the combo-control framework we’ve seen in an awfully long time, this deck tolerates slightly worse card quality to have a fearsome finishing setup. Meanwhile, Mastermind’s Acquisition alongside Fae of Wishes gives the deck game against basically everyone so long as you find the right mix of sideboard cards. And people are starting to find that mix. I don’t think this is the best deck in Historic yet, but I am positive one day it will be, either through additional prints or fine-tuning. This is Historic’s answer to Pioneer’s now-banned Dimir Inverter decks.

Speaking of Pioneer, I’ve spent a lot of time arguing that with the rapid expansion of Historic, Pioneer really doesn’t need to exist anymore. I wanted to see Historic take its place as a paper format and be played alongside Modern and Standard when the SCG Tour returned. This is the deck that has officially changed my mind. (This stance is totally not related to the fact that the coverage team, broadcasters included, have to arrive hours early on Day 2 of SCG Tour events to hand-type every single decklist into our deck database, and I’m offended you would suggest I’d change my opinion for such a trivial reason.)

Brainstorm really stretched its legs this week. Not only did it enable the best control deck in Jeskai Control, the best tempo deck in Izzet Phoenix, and the best Combo deck in Dimir Pact (well, once), it also showed off what it could do for some previously discarded combo decks.

I think Neoform currently finds itself in a bit of an odd spot. Its combo has some chance of failing to kill, it doesn’t have a whole lot of interactivity, and it doesn’t consistently win all that much faster than anything else in the format as presently built. There’s a lot of wheel-spinning that goes on when you don’t put together the perfect draw. Therefore, you’re giving up a lot that the format has to offer to rarely win a game on Turn 3, and while there’s no question that feels great, I don’t know that we should expect players to skip interacting on the first few turns as the format powers up. Brainstorm made Temur Neoform a much better deck. The problem is it just had too much ground to cover, and I think it settled somewhere behind the format’s best options.

Meanwhile, things are starting to get real with Indomitable Creativity. The Sage of the Falls / The Locust God combo has been featured in my column before, but look at how easy it has gotten to produce Treasures after Strixhaven. Prismari Command is just a strong card, unlike the Pirate’s Pillage, Forgotten Friendships, and occasional Hornswoggle that were being asked to do the job of producing fodder previously. Most important though is Brainstorm’s ability to return combo pieces to your deck and find the setup you need in the moment.

If you’ve paid attention over in Modern, you know that Indomitable Creativity decks are now getting by on playing fair…ish. It’s hard to ever cast a fair Indomitable Creativity, but they’re just using it as additional copies of Transmogrify and going to get Primeval Titan. I think there is some version of a Historic Izzet Control deck that can get up to similar shenanigans and just goes to get more Torrential Gearhulks. Of course, we don’t have Mizzix’s Mastery in Modern, so maybe that’s just the better way of skipping ahead a few steps. Either way, I’m long on Indomitable Creativity in Historic. It’s going to keep finding more and more play as both targets and sacrificial fodder get better and better. For instance:

This version really needs Velomachus Lorehold to both attack and hit a Time Warp to impress, and its success will always hinge on how regularly it does both of those things. Still, I love the usage of Dwarven Mine to find some very easy sacrifice fodder, and this deck has a lot more real interaction than a pure combo deck like this usually gets to play. This really sums up the appeal of Indomitable Creativity. You get strong combo finishes at very low deckbuilding costs, and those incentives can create format-defining monsters when the pieces come together.

Of course, Brainstorm has historically been at its best in low to the ground tempo decks, and while Izzet Phoenix does some of that gameplan, it’s also got some weird quirks in the way it operates. The Temur Prowess list here looks closer to classic Legacy Delver lists than anything else we’ve seen in Historic to date. Reckless Rage as removal is an inspired choice, and one that will pay real dividends alongside a creature suite that is all happy to take a bullet for its caster. We’re also seeing new Historic superstar Abundant Harvest doing the work of both triggering magecraft / prowess and clearing the library after Brainstorm.

I’m sure you can guess what my one gripe is with this list. There is no explanation that will let me buy into the idea that we needed our fourth Snakeskin Veil before our fourth Brainstorm. In fact, creature density is probably our biggest Achilles heel. So many of these cards need a body on the battlefield before they really matter, and Brainstorm just makes all of it go smoother.

Partially for that reason, and partially because I just think it’s a good card, I might look at some Decisive Denials as opposed to Domri’s Ambush. Regardless, I like a lot about this deck, and I think it has a lot of room to improve on top of it.

Tiny-freaking-bones. 10/10. Would make opponent discard again.

How good have the white disruptive creatures been lately that they can carry this deck to a solid result?

From an overall gameplan perspective, there is very little I like about this deck. It’s glacially slow. I’m not even sure the removal lines up with the format. And it just seems underpowered in every conceivable way. However, Legacy Death and Taxes players have proven for years that if your disruption lines up well with the format, you can often get by on the most medium of mediums. Reidane, God of the Worthy and Elite Spellbinder are both excellent at slowing down the surprisingly high casting costs of Historic, and the clock here is just enough to matter.

Shout-outs to Flamescroll Celebrant getting its first run in the big leagues, but it’s a little disappointing just how fragile this is against Jund decks. They’re not going to mind taking a point of damage to off your hatebear with their Mayhem Devil. However, the Revel in Silence side of the card finds enough uses in other matchups that I buy it as an annoying speed bump that several decks absolutely must go through before they reach full power.

I’m not inspired to hop in the queues with this deck, but I get why it works, and it’s cool to see this type of approach reaching true viability in Historic. Selesnya Company is likely just a better version of this gameplan though.

The aforementioned Decisive Denial has opened up a path forward for a green-based aggressive deck that harkens back to the early days of Pioneer and its abuse of Stubborn Denial. However, this format is gassed to the gills compared to early Pioneer.

I think this is a case of a guy who could 6-0 with a ham sandwich doing his thing, and dismal results for this deck in Sunday’s main event mostly support that theory. And again, this is probably a worse version of this approach than existing Selesnya Company decks, even if I can buy the idea that the aggression contained here will present an edge in certain metagames.

This is a 21-land tempo-based mono-blue deck that has chosen to play zero copies of Brainstorm. And the messed=up thing is that I think that is the correct deckbuilding decision. But that also makes ever playing this deck the wrong choice. With the elevated power level of the top tier of the format, we’re going to start seeing a lot of Historic decks which are just worse versions of something else. This could be Izzet Phoenix, or a refined version of the Temur Prowess deck we looked at earlier instead. Either of those choices would make a lot more sense to me, especially as long as the specter of Jund Food is looming.

We close with this look at Temur Superfriends, and I can’t think of a better place to wrap up my column.

Because this makes no sense to me whatsoever.

I have no idea how you can expect a bunch of four-mana planeswalkers and creatures to exist in a world of Brainstorm- and Faithless Looting-powered combo, control, and tempo decks. But here we are, looking at a deck that posted a near -sterling 5-1 record in the first qualifier of the weekend.

Yes, the windows are closing in Historic. Power is slowly focusing around the Mystical Archive and the last holdovers from the initial Historic format that somehow dodged a ban. But players are still finding room for creativity, Indomitable and otherwise. I know I’m wrapping up this article and heading right to Arena to build a few decks that have been inspired by these lists.

Next week’s format for the SCG Tour Online is still up in the air as of press time, but I know I’m pulling for Historic again. The format just keeps taking these absurd shots, and somehow hitting. Granted, it’s primarily because the format leaves us all in a perpetual state of whiplash, but still. There’s a reason people love roller coasters, and it’s not because of stability and comfort.