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Introducing Izzet Control To Historic

Will Magma Opus make Izzet Control the new “it deck” of Historic? Michael Majors unveils his powerful build with a devastating combo finish.

Magma Opus, illustrated by Liiga Smilshkalne

For the first time, I might be more excited for Historic than I am Standard.  Strixhaven’s got a variety of interesting tools and unique cards, but pinpointing what to do with them in the early weeks is a lot more challenging than it has for many of the slam dunks of sets in the past.  This feeling seems to be shared amongst the rest of the staff. 

While that may be true for Standard, I know exactly the type of stuff I want to do in Historic — the degenerate kind.  Strixhaven’s Mystical Archive cards are a big deal, headlined by some all-time bangers, including Brainstorm and Faithless Looting, which have already been discussed at length by my coworkers. 

I already alluded to some of the stuff that I wanted to do last week — involving Velomachus Lorehold, Transmogrify, and Time Warp. I’m still all about that, but I suspect there might be an easier way; using one of my absolute favorite cards in the set.

Magma Opus feels like an Ultimatum in terms of its text, generating upwards of four or five cards in effect, but it has two critical advantages despite not offering the same level of punch of, say, Cruel Ultimatum. 

  1. It’s an instant.
  2. It has a buy-out clause.

The first note is simple and critically effective for propping up Opus’s tapping permanents mode — a rare opportunity in the modern era of Magic to stymie an opponent’s mana with a Rishadan Port impression.  The second, less so. 

What do I mean by a buy-out clause?  In this case, the ability to convert a resource into another.  Magma Opus asks a lot of you on its face — eight mana is a ton of course — but if you don’t think the game is moving in that direction, it also lets you convert the card into a Treasure at a reasonable rate. 

This accomplishes two things. It dramatically increases the floor of Magma Opus, a card that might be useless can be turned into a mana source, a big deal in games where your deck isn’t operating optimally, but the second is that Magma Opus is now a self-solving enabler for itself to be cheated.

We already talked about one of the primary ways to accomplish that last week.

Frankly, I’ve never played with Mizzix’s Mastery before, but it seems to have a ton of Eternal-format applications.  While excellent in conjunction with Time Warp, Mastery still requires you to cast (or discard) the aforementioned card before you can really get off the ground.  With Magma Opus, you simply curve into it; a Treasure on Turn 2 allows you to cast the Mastery on the following turn and dramatically pull ahead in the game.  (A real spew you can’t utilize the tap two permanents mode though – surely Quicken is going to make it into Historic one of these days?)

The other, which allows you to get all the beautiful value, is Torrential Gearhulk.

I guess that “this is an instant” part that I mostly glossed over a few paragraphs ago does actually matter a lot, huh?

Torrential Gearhulk is what really binds Magma Opus together into a true combo / control deck — one of the most historically powerful macro-archetypes in Magic when it can come together properly.  Being able to play normalized and deep games where you’re threatening to dramatically pull ahead can put your opponents into deep squeezes as well as letting a control deck “curve out” in essence with its own powerful proactive draws.

Two powerful ways to “flashback” Magma Opus mean that you’ll be able to execute your gameplan a dramatically consistent amount of the time.  I’m convinced this has legs, so it’s about time to show you a decklist:


So I’ve already talked about the primary components and rationale behind the strategy, but let’s examine some more of the finer details. 

First, this is a Brainstorm deck, so we naturally want as many shuffle effects and similar that we can afford.  To that end, four copies of Fabled Passage are obvious, but Field of Ruin is another shuffle option that’s also critically important against Azorius Control.  While not intended as primary-use cases, Search for Azcanta and Narset can also contribute to some more creative ways to “shuffle” away cards with Brainstorm.  Silundi Vision is the final card of cantrip infrastructure, while also being an excellent tool for finding your deck’s namesake or a Mizzix’s Mastery to flash it back.

Speaking of Narset, the Narset / Memory combo is also present in this deck, mostly because it’s so free in terms of real estate and Gearhulk already naturally plays well with the combination, allowing you to Memory at instant speed.  Further, Mizzix’s Mastery can also generate a discount on Memory’s side, letting you cast “the combo” in one turn far more easily.

The removal suite is largely maximized for the expectation that Brainstorm and Faithless Looting won’t fully replace Cat / Oven and that Izzet Phoenix is likely to be back on the rise — creating another reason for Pillar of Flame to move in as one of the premier removal spells of Historic.  Anger of the Gods has been strong in Historic for a long time, and I expect its stock only to rise in the wake of the Mystical Archive changes. 

Memory Lapse is my pick for the “least buzz relative to impact” choice of this content injection.  Its applications are a bit narrower than traditional countermagic, requiring that a deck have some kind of proactive gameplan rather than the intention to answer all of your opponent’s threats.  Thankfully we have exactly that, making the combination of rate and ability to horribly mana screw your opponent from Memory Lapse precisely what we’re in the market for. This card is extremely strong, and finding more decks for it to fit in is something that I’ll be exploring early in the new format. 

A card that I waffled on for a while before relegating to the sideboard is Torrent Sculptor. 

I have high hopes for this card. It can function as a weaker version of your strongest draw; a third turn 6/6 with ward 2 after Treasure-Opusing is nothing to scoff at and can easily win games in specific matchups, while Flamethrower Sonata is a much-desired answer to planeswalkers.  If the metagame is light on removal and/or has a much larger emphasis on planeswalkers, expect Sculptor to be a big role-player in Izzet strategies based around Opus. 

The sideboard is what you’d expect. It’s still difficult to predict exactly what’s going to happen in the format, but I also don’t believe that everything we know about Historic is about to get tossed out the window.  Shark Typhoon is the card I wish I could easily fit into the maindeck the most. It’s such a potent threat that has largely redefined control mirrors over the past year, but for now our best option is just to fight fire with fire after sideboard. Torrent Sculptor and Brazen Borrower are helping to contribute to the control matchup / Shark rat race. 

Ratchet Bomb is an extremely underplayed card in Historic that can do a lot of things for a two-color deck, busting up Witch’s Ovens and Grafdigger’s Cages easily while also containing swarms of Elves or a stack of Auras.  There could be consideration for going to a third color, likely Jeskai, to fill in some of these potential holes, but for now I’m happy with Izzet, as the best hate card against you is likely to be Grafdigger’s Cage and that can be handled easily enough with Abrade, Prismari Command, and the aforementioned artifact.

I’m really excited about this deck.  So many of the strongest strategies in Historic right now are heavily creature-based — flavors of Elves, Goblins, Enchantresses, Cats, and Collected Companies are all huge components of the format — so having a card advantage-generating removal spell as a normal part of your gameplan is a really big deal.  While not quite as explosive in terms of directly leading to winning the game as, say, Velomachus + Time Warp, Magma Opus encourages playing normalized games of Magic with the added benefit of the ability to go way over the top of your opponent. 

I expect Mizzix’s Mastery to continue to contribute to a boatload of exciting Historic decks and I can’t wait to get my hands on Strixhaven and a brand-new Historic format.