We should have been conducting madcap experiments with the new Jumpstart: Historic Horizons cards already. Instead, its release was delayed just long enough for its thunder to be stolen by the announcement of next year’s roster. The Rivals Gauntlet, which could and should have showcased a wild new Historic format, will only feature an obsolete Standard format that players were so sick of that Standard 2022 had to be created to keep Arena users interested. I don’t know if Historic deserved better but its fans certainly did.
Whatever the timing issues, players who head into the Historic queues this week will find a format going through yet another serious upheaval. Last time, I dipped my toe into some of the more speculative decks that may rise or return with Jumpstart, but it’s worth checking in on some of the format’s previous top players.
Winner: Faithless Looting
Brainstorm and Faithless Looting were two of the most startling additions to Historic from the Mystical Archive and worked in tandem to power a succession of the format’s best decks. Looting now stands unrivalled as the best card filtering spell in Historic and is the perfect partner in crime for the best cards in Jumpstart: Historic Horizons.
Izzet Phoenix was the most popular and successful deck in Historic after Jeskai Indomitable Creativity was cut down by the loss of Time Warp. Brainstorm’s entirely predictable ban hit all of the remaining Steam Vents decks vying for dominance but its impact was uneven, as Jeskai Control rose up to take over most of Izzet Phoenix’s metagame share for the Challenger Gauntlet. This wasn’t because Izzet Phoenix was a particularly good Brainstorm deck — it will be much happier to cast Consider when Innistrad: Midnight Hunt rolls around — but it was hard for Phoenix to fill out its starting 60 with cards it actually wanted to play beyond the core that makes it so appealing.
It’s safe to say that problem is solved.
After reshaping midrange decks in Modern, Dragon’s Rage Channeler and Unholy Heat are taking their talents to a new format and each fixes a glaring and long-standing weakness of Izzet Phoenix. The non-Phoenix threats all place their own deckbuilding and sequencing demands on you and these are often in tension with each other. They also all cost two or more mana, making it hard for a threat-light hand to remedy that by chaining cantrips to find and deploy a threat on the same turn and hard for a threat-heavy hand to unload them all in a reasonable time frame.
Dragon’s Rage Channeler is the ideal one-drop to set up later threats (including a spell chain culminating in at least one Arclight Phoenix) or dig for with cantrips when you need to apply pressure; in particular, Expressive Iteration gets a lot stronger when you have strong one-drops to exile and cast immediately. Turn 1 Channeler followed by Turn 2 Sprite Dragon is remarkably likely to lead to a Turn 4 kill, giving the deck a nut draw that can race the linear decks that may pop up and pop off with this set. Adding the surveil rider to every noncreature spell lets the deck mitigate the risk of flooding that comes with devoting so many spell slots to cards that replace themselves (thereby inflating the relative quantity of lands in your deck).
Unholy Heat finally gives the deck coverage against the creatures that dodge the anaemic damage-based removal in Historic. Lightning Axe did this job even better at times as a discard outlet for Arclight Phoenix but discarding anything else was a steep cost and there were severe diminishing returns on additional Axes. Unholy Heat is an even more versatile removal spell that you’re rarely sad to draw or cast.