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Seriously…What’s Even Legal In Historic?

Feeling confused about Historic? You’re not alone! Patrick Chapin sorts through set legality and the format’s top decks.

Explore, illustrated by John Avon

I love new formats.

A wide-open landscape, brimming with chaos – but what order might be buried underneath? In time, more and more folks would find their way in the mess of tunnels beneath this surface, but if we were savvy and if we were lucky, we just might find a diamond in the rough.

While Historic isn’t technically a “new format,” it sure feels like it is. Not only was its initial unveiling quickly overshadowed by Pioneer, there also haven’t been the same kind of high level competitive tournaments with it. With the Coronapocalypse upon us, competitive play has moved to digital, so it’s not surprising to see the Arena-only format really picking up steam. What’s more, a new kind of set (product?) just dropped, bypassing Standard but adding hundreds of new cards to Historic (and this is pretty far from a normal distribution, with an awful lot of legendary bangers making appearances).

With so many powerful and potentially archetype-defining cards getting added to the mix, it really is a brand-new format. I’d like to take a look at the top ten most impactful to Historic Jumpstart cards; but first…

What’s Even Legal in Historic?

To really wrap our heads around the list of Historic-legal cards, let’s first consider some other major formats:

What’s Legal in Standard?

You can play with all the Standard-legal sets since the fall before last, minus a few cards on a Banned List. Yeah, saying the Standard-legal cards are the cards from the Standard-legal sets is kind of some weasel talk, but it’s pretty easy to follow, since it’s just the four main sets every year, about once a season. 

Half the format changes every year, but it’s not too bad to keep track of, aside from the bonus card they do each set that you can only get from buying boxes and a dozen or so special onboarding theme deck cards each time around that, unlike the Buy-a-Box cards, are thankfully not very impactful for the most part. Technically, all of these cards are also legal in the formats that follow (well, except for one that isn’t), but that makes sense, since they are kind of part of Standard-legal sets.

What’s Legal in Pioneer?

Okay, so you can play with all the Standard-legal sets since Return to Ravnica, minus a relatively short Banned List. It started out with just the five fetchlands, and then as people played the format, some more cards got added.

What’s Legal in Modern?

This one is a little weird. To start with, you can play with all the Standard-legal sets since Eighth Edition minus the Banned List. What’s a Standard-legal set? There are four main sets a year, every year, so it’s not too tricky. That said, Modern also has this one other special set called Modern Horizons that just sort of counts as being legal, even though it wasn’t Standard-legal. Except that one of those cards is banned too.

What’s Legal in Legacy?

Every card in the game, except those appearing on a special list. That list features the same kind of power-level Banned List as other formats, but with such a wider pool of cards available, it also features some particularly offensive designs incompatible with competitive play (Chaos Orb, Falling Star, Shahrazad, ante cards, conspiracies, planes, etc). 

You also can’t play certain promotional or vanity cards, like 1996 World Champion, Shichifukujin Dragon, Proposal, but come on, those are obviously not real cards.

What’s Legal in Vintage?

Like in Legacy, you can play every card in the game, save the same sort of a banned list which, I guess, at least for now, also includes Lurrus of the Dream-Den. Vintage also has another list that is quite long, of cards you can only play one copy of.

Okay, So…What’s Legal in Historic?

Just as these other formats are defined by their start point, we can also begin by looking at Historic’s start point.

  • Standard – Two falls ago (2 years ago)
  • Pioneer – Return to Ravnica (8 years ago)
  • Modern – 8th Edition (the Modern card frame, 17 years ago)
  • Legacy – Alpha (27 years ago)
  • Vintage – Alpha, but almost anything goes

Historic has a pretty logical start point, when Arena got made. Okay, I’m with you so far. That makes sense. Why not have a format where you can play all the cards on Arena?

Okay, so when did Arena come out?

Two falls ago…

So it’s just Standard, starting with Guilds of Ravnica?

Well, no, you see, when Arena came out, it had been in beta for a year…

Ahh, okay, so those cards are legal, too. That makes sense. So Ixalan was the earliest set on Arena?

Well, no, actually Kaladesh block and Amonkhet block were both available during Arena’s beta.

Okay, so Kaladesh block is the first legal set?

Actually no, they pulled all of Kaladesh and Amonkhet from the game when they went to full release.

What, why?

Presumably because they weren’t Standard-legal anymore, and losing Amonkhet was a small price to pay to avoid being saddled with the legacy of some of Kaladesh’s balance problems.

So, Ixalan?

Well, until next month, when they are releasing Amonkhet Remastered, a special made-up set for Arena, with some of the cards from Amonkhet and Hour of Devastation, so those will be legal.

Made-up set? As opposed to all those sets we see in nature? But okay, Ixalan in general; but soon, also maybe half of the cards from the two sets just before that?

Plus three Anthologies that came out at various times, each containing like twenty cards or so from older sets that are just being allowed because they are being added in Anthologies that are allowed.

What are in the Anthologies? Anything good?

Yeah, actually they are basically nothing but bangers. For instance:

Okay, so the cards in the Anthologies are also legal?

Well, except for Burning-Tree Emissary.

Burning-Tree Emissary is banned?

Well, no, it’s suspended, but there’s a Banned List, too.

What’s the difference between a suspended card and a banned card?

Well, when cards are banned, they get refunded wild cards of that type. Fires of Invention; Agent of Treachery; and Winota, Joiner of Forces had all been suspended since March, but now they’re banned.

So cards are suspended before they are banned? Kind of a watch list?

Well, no. Nexus of Fate was just kind of banned right out, and Field of the Dead had been suspended, but now you can just play with it if you want (and it’s quite good).

Weird. I’m not totally clear on the suspended versus banned thing, but I get that you can’t play with them. Okay, so Ixalan forward, plus three Anthologies, minus banned/suspended cards, and soon some of the Amonkhet block cards?

There are also five cards you’re just allowed to play with after they were introduced from Brawlidays and Brawler’s Guildhouse events:

Errr, okay, so…

Oh yeah, also apparently these are Magic cards and they’re legal, as long as you only play Best-of-One:

Oh, also in Best-of-One, you can play some miscellaneous stuff like:

Serra Angel used to be one of these cards that was only allowed if you played Best-of-One, but it was reprinted in Dominaria.

But yeah, those cards are the ones you can play with, except now you can also play with Jumpstart, which came out last week.

Oh, like Modern Horizons, except for Historic?

Well, no, and there is a paper analog, sort of.

Sort of?

Well, I guess they decided that twenty of the cards would be undesirable to allow on Arena for power-level reasons.

Okay, I can buy that. Those cards do seem pretty distorting…

Oh, um, sure, I guess I could see how those…

Err, wait…

What? What’s going on right now?

You’re joking, right?

No, Scrounging Bandar and Fa’adiyah Seer were power-level concerns, so they, along with the other cards on this list, have been replaced by some other cards, like:

Oh, err, so Doomed Necromancer over Scrounging Bandar? Okay, I guess, whatever.

Wait, they included Explore, but Scrounging Bandar was a power-level problem?

Yeah, but whatever. Obviously, they’re trying to go for something, and Explore is part of what they are going for. Get over it. Spoiler, Explore is one of the top ten.

I guess “power-level concerns” is kind of a nebulous label. It’s not like they have to have concerns with just the twenty most powerful cards in the set. You can have concerns for other reasons. Also, did I read that right?

There are Modern Horizons, Commander, and Eternal Masters reprints here, too?

Yeah, because Historic needs its own special Splinter Twin.

If you cast Quasiduplicate or the Replicate side of Repudiate // Replicate, you can respond with Dualcaster Mage, copy the copy spell copying your Dualcaster Mage, and then repeat. For instance:


Ummm, Thragtusk?

Yeah, Thragtusk is one of the top ten, too.

Okay, so in a reprint set, maybe what was right to reprint in paper isn’t the same as what’s right to print in Arena (and for the first time)?

True, but also, they made up a bunch of cards, and some of them are busted.

Wait, what?

What the hell?

Yeah, it really is just a much bigger Goblin Ringleader that digs deeper and cascades them all onto the battlefield. Plus, he attacks for a million.


Yeah, this sort of a strategy is kind of unbeatable right now. There’s even an incredible amount of room to customize and evolve, with access to lots of other really great Goblins, too.

There are also some noncreature cards worth considering, like Embercleave and Call of the Death-Dweller.

Call of the Death-Dweller may seem odd, but just picture playing four Blood Crypts and four Dragonskull Summits, along with the full package of Goblin Chainwhirlers.

But anyway, maybe this is only the beginning and decks will be able to adapt before they have to ban Skirk Prospector.

Goblins weren’t the only tribe packing heat this time around. Spirits (and by extension “flyers”) have picked up a familiar package that instantly launches them into the conversation.


Kira, Great Glass-Spinner is kind of nice to see. You’re probably not gonna want to play it here, but there are also plenty of Curiosity-type Auras.

There’s also this kind of blue flyer deck, actually just leaning into the whole Curiosity thing.


I wonder if there’s a way we can incorporate Riptide Laboratory?

Of course, not every flyer is at the top of their game…

Sadly, Serendib Efreet’s day has come and gone. The mono-blue decks have Tempest Djinn, if they even want a non-flash creature, and all the flyers that cost three or more in Izzet decks tend to hit for ten and draw a card, or whatever.

Instead Izzet decks are built around Young Pyromancer and do all the usual “cheap threats and cantrips” action we’ve come to expect.


I love me some Grim Lavamancer, just saying…

One more tribe that sure did all right for themselves were the Elves.

Allosaurus Shepherd has some interesting interactive strengths against permission, but its main jam is letting you pay six to attack for about a million. It also didn’t come alone.

There are just so many options for Elves, there’s actually quite a bit of room to explore and to find other builds.


Craterhoof Behemoth is a helluva Magic card to just add to a format. Speaking of attacking for a million…

Craterhoof Behemoth has instantly changed the Historic landscape, setting a new high-water mark for most powerful creature to reanimate or cheat onto the battlefield, whether with Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast in a tokens deck…


Or in a ramp deck…


Craterhoof Behemoth is just one of the absolute top choice threats that can just reliably win the game on the spot. Who is even the competition? Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger?


Have you ever wondered what it would be like to draw Growth Spiral every game? Just play eight!

Finally, a format where Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath can shine! I guess Field of the Dead wasted no time, either…


It’s not the same thing, but I do wonder if Scholar of the Lost Trove has what it takes to be a game-winning fatty? There must be some Sharuum the Hegemon-style combos out there, right?

Jumpstart really knocks it out of the park with its delivery on the promise of themes.

Here are two more hits for ya. Kor Spiritdancer and Ancestral Mask are both fine additions to the new style of “Hexproof” deck without any hexproof creatures.

Pretty sweet with Kor Spiritdancer, right?


There’s actually plenty of other interesting stuff to try out for such a strategy:

One of the scariest cards to be reprinted in Jumpstart has got to be Phyrexian Tower.

Lands that tap for two are already really high on the dangerous cards list but Phyrexian Tower also has sacrifice synergies, makes colored mana, and is priced to move. While frequently thought of as a combo card or one for green creature decks here it is being put to use by Mono-Black Aggro:


And finally, a mage after my own heart, Mystmin puts Phyrexian Tower to use in a relatively creature-light Grixis Control deck:


Lots of Grim Lavamancer, of course, but Languish also plays a big role here.

So, which cards are legal in Historic, now that Jumpstart just added 500 more cards to the format? Or maybe it has more than 500 cards, 78 of which are new, 417 of which are reprints, plus there’s like 169 Core Set 2021 cards…so maybe it’s…who knows, but that’s a lot of cards.

We just covered that!

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