It’s been over a year now without paper tournaments, and the entire community is counting the days until they return. For me personally, I miss the days when the SCG Tour would set the metagame in a new format for a Pro Tour. That first weekend would pare down a wide-open format by showing which decks were all hype and which were true contenders. And then it would be the pros’ turn to attack a semi-established metagame. Would they simply tune the best deck, find a unique way to attack the existing metagame, or completely break it with a new deck that everyone else missed?
It seems like all that’s best about tournament Magic was contained in those couple of weeks. From brewing to tuning to devising novel sideboard plans, it was a great skill-tester in a short time frame.
Fortunately, we’re getting a taste of this again with a current stretch of Historic tournaments. Following the recent bans, Historic hit somewhat of a lull, as players and tournaments were focused elsewhere. As a result, the metagame widened and no one was exactly sure which decks were the best, a tough proposition for those preparing for this weekend’s Kaldheim Championship.
But, with the SCG Tour Online delving into the format last weekend along with the latest Hooglandia Open, there’s now plenty of data for those players to utilize. We’ve had our metagame-setting week, and now it’s time for the best in the world to set their sights on the target and attack.
Public Enemy No. 1
Coming out of last weekend, it’s pretty clear what the current best deck is. Jund was all over the satellites for the SCG Tour Online $5K Strixhaven Championship Qualifier, comprised nearly 30% of the metagame for the main event, and left with the trophy. There’s no question for the competitors this weekend that it will be the most popular choice again, and so they have to ask themselves a critical question: do I try to beat them or do I join them?
With quality hate cards like Yasharn, Implacable Earth and Grafdigger’s Cage available, trying to beat them is attractive. But it’s not like the players last weekend weren’t aware of Jund decks or didn’t take them seriously. These hate cards weren’t enough to contain the Jund players last weekend, and we already saw the ways that they are successfully adapting, with many players moving away from Bolas’s Citadel and even Collected Company, instead adopting a Food engine that still offers overwhelming card advantage while dodging Grafdigger’s Cage.
But I’m still inclined to look for non-Jund options. Historic still isn’t that well-explored, and having such a large target on your back is never a great place to be when going up against the world’s best players. We’re also seeing the metagame narrow as formerly successful archetypes fail under increased scrutiny. And a narrower metagame makes it easier to target the top deck without worrying that you’re going to lose too much ground against the rest of the field. You’re going to play against the decks you prepared for more often and can safely bet on not playing against the decks you choose to ignore.
So looking at the results from last weekend, here are the three decks that I think have the best shot of breaking Jund Sacrifice’s stranglehold on Historic.
1. The Anti-Jund
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 3 Scavenging Ooze
- 3 Fairgrounds Warden
- 1 Knight of Autumn
- 4 Lovestruck Beast
- 4 Skyclave Apparition
- 4 Yasharn, Implacable Earth
- 3 Luminarch Aspirant
- 4 Kazandu Mammoth
- 3 Reidane, God of the Worthy
Jund decks may be able to dodge Grafdigger’s Cage effectively, but when your entire strategy is to sacrifice permanents for value, it’s hard to dodge the card that says you can’t sacrifice permanents. Korvold, Fae-Cursed King’s triggered ability is about all you get. And while Jund decks have removal spells like Binding the Old Gods and Noxious Grasp to answer Yasharn, it’s an uneasy proposition to need an answer to one of your opponent’s cards so that your deck can function.
Normally, those hate cards don’t come out to play until after sideboarding, so you get one game without having to worry about them, but Selesnya Company can easily play Yasharn in the maindeck. Michael Braverman went all out by including the full four copies on his way to a deep run on Sunday. Braverman has a long history of success with aggressive and midrange creature decks, so this is where I’d start.
In addition to the maindeck hate, this deck is a lot more powerful than you might expect a Selesnya creature deck to be. There’s more than enough quality creatures to make Collected Company work, and it’s hard to overstate how powerful Skyclave Apparition is. Collected Company has always been at its best when it can find quality interaction, because playing enough creatures to make it reliable makes finding space for removal spells difficult. In its Standard heyday, that piece of interaction was Reflector Mage. For Jund decks in Historic, it’s Mayhem Devil. Skyclave Apparition elevates the card for this deck.
With that interaction, Selesnya Company can set up to play a long game while retaining its aggression. Without it, you’d be forced to take a more linear approach and end games quickly, before your opponent produces powerful, unanswerable threats. Skyclave Apparition does miss Korvold, and Fairgrounds Warden is a risky proposition, so having a clean answer to the powerful flyer is definitely a priority. Elspeth Conquers Death in Braverman’s sideboard is a solid answer, though you could also play Devout Decree or Vivien Reid depending on what other threats you’re worried about.
The major issue facing Selesnya Company is that it’s weaker against the rest of the field. However, as I noted earlier, the metagame for this weekend should prove much narrower than last weekend. So this issue isn’t as severe, and the ability to play both short and long games ensures that you’re never without options. I’d be worried about control decks, but those are on the decline since they haven’t been performing well, and Reidane, God of the Worthy is a great disruptive creature against them.
2. Go Over the Top
Sultai Ramp (Yorion) is one of the most successful decks in Kaldheim Standard, and that’s not a bad place to start when preparing in Historic. There aren’t a ton of gains here, but with Explore and additional copies of Migration Path, this version of Sultai Ramp (Yorion) is taking on more of a ramp strategy than its Kaldheim Standard counterpart. That makes sense given how aggressive the current metagame is. With control decks on the decline, there aren’t many counterspells around either, so it’s rare you get punished for racing to Emergent Ultimatum as quickly as possible.
Normally I’d be worried about a deck like this getting run over, but Jund decks have been forced to slow down when moving to the Food engine to dodge the hate. Food-based lists don’t have cards like Dreadhorde Butcher that can close games quickly, nor do they play Bolas’s Citadel, which can trump Emergent Ultimatum. Right now they’re situated firmly in the middle of the aggro-control spectrum, and midrange decks are exactly what ramp strategies prey on.
Moreover, Shadows’ Verdict is an excellent sweeper against Collected Company decks of all stripes, giving this list a powerful piece of interaction to cast along the way to its payoff. Even with 80 cards, ramp decks don’t play a ton of interaction, so having one that can swing a game by itself is a huge benefit.
If you’re looking to play Emergent Ultimatum this weekend, I’d be less worried about control decks, which have consistently performed poorly, and build my sideboard with aggro in mind. As is, this deck is reliant on finding an early sweeper to beat something like Gruul Aggro or Orzhov Auras, and could use some more cheap interaction, early blockers, and/or lifegain to help those matchups.
But as far as the Jund matchups goes, this deck really takes advantage of where the hate cards have pushed the Jund players. You’re much more scared of Bolas’s Citadel than Korvold and are one of the few decks that doesn’t have to worry about Trail of Crumbs, because the power of Emergent Ultimatum will overcome their incremental card advantage.
3. Old Faithful
- 4 Goblin Matron
- 4 Goblin Warchief
- 4 Skirk Prospector
- 4 Goblin Chieftain
- 4 Krenko, Mob Boss
- 4 Wily Goblin
- 1 Goblin Trashmaster
- 4 Conspicuous Snoop
- 4 Muxus, Goblin Grandee
Once among the most-feared decks in the format, Mono-Red Goblins had a quiet weekend, failing to crack the Top 8. At this point I think everyone knows this deck is less of a true tribal deck and more of a one-trick pony. Muxus, Goblin Grandee is a pretty good trick, but a lot of players are turned off by a deck that is so linear. Things get even worse when your strategy is stopped cold by one of the most-played sideboard cards in the format in Grafdigger’s Cage.
So it seems as though Goblins has fallen victim to splash damage suffered by the emergence of the various Jund builds as the format’s top deck. It’s not as resilient due to its linearity, and there’s only so much stacking your sideboard with Abrades can do.
That said, I think this deck’s fortunes are set to turn around soon. Last weekend was the time for Jund players to move away from cards like Bolas’s Citadel and Collected Company in order to dodge the hate, and indeed Jund Food variants saw more success than others. At this point, I’d be looking at my sideboard and wondering why the Grafdigger’s Cages are even there. And if I’m thinking that, I’d wager that many others are thinking it, too. It’s a natural metagame progression, where the hate becomes a liability once its targets have either adapted or died off.
You could go back to a more traditional Jund Sacrifice list in order to stay ahead of the metagame, but if you’re going to take that risk of running into hate, you might as well get paid off as much as possible. Muxus is one of the most powerful cards in Historic, and if the field isn’t prepared to answer it you will rack up the wins.
When it comes to playing linear decks, you want to pick your spots carefully. In particular, you want to be playing linear decks when they’re under the radar. In order to do this, you have to be willing to play them right as the hate is dying down, since the window closes quickly once the hole in the metagame gets torn apart by those who were bold enough to take the risk. I’d heavily consider taking that risk this weekend.
I think all three of these decks are solid choices for this weekend. Of them, I’d say Selesnya Company is the safest choice because of its varied gameplan and clear advantages against Jund decks of all stripes. Goblins is of course the riskiest, but it comes with the highest reward. And if you just don’t want to play 35 creatures, then Sultai Ramp (Yorion) attacks from a completely different angle.
So just because Mayhem Devil is on top now doesn’t mean it’s there to stay. Historic may not be as big as Pioneer or Modern, but there are plenty of options to combat the top decks, and I expect the players this weekend to find some creative plans to exploit the established metagame. And whatever they decide on, I’ll be enjoying this weekend as a throwback to how metagames evolved in paper Magic.