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Strixhaven First Impressions: Historic

Which Mystical Archive card made the biggest first impression on SCG’s creators? They sort through Brainstorm, Faithless Looting, and more.

Brainstorm, illustrated by Justin and Alexis Hernandez

Welcome back to Strixhaven First Impressions week!

All week long, various members of the SCG Staff will share their thoughts on the Top 5 Strixhaven cards in each format. Yesterday, we kicked things off with Standard. Today we’ll knock out Historic, Wednesday will be Pioneer, and Thursday will be Modern. To add a little fun to the mix, a scoring system has been put in place so that we can get an idea of what card ranked in what place in the aggregate to close out each article. The scoring system is as follows:

  • 1st — 5 points
  • 2nd — 4 points
  • 3rd — 3 points
  • 4th — 2 points
  • 5th — 1 point

Let’s start things off with Alabama’s favorite son! #RollTodd

Todd Anderson

  1. Faithless Looting
  2. Inquisition of Kozilek
  3. Memory Lapse
  4. Brainstorm
  5. Lightning Helix

Faithless Looting Inquisition of Kozilek Memory Lapse Brainstorm Lightning Helix

It is no secret that the Mystical Archive contains some of the most powerful cards in Magic’s history. Seven have been pre-banned in Historic on Magic Arena, but the rest are fair game. Among those are some of my favorite cards to play in Legacy, so it’s fair to say that many of them will be excellent in Historic given the right deck to put them in.

Faithless Looting is my #1 for a host of reasons, but mostly because I want to play Izzet Phoenix and I believe Faithless Looting to be the solitary card that can make that happen in such a robust, powerful format. Faithless Looting was banned in Modern for power level concerns, but I’m not too worried about its effect on Historic just yet. While Izzet Phoenix will put Faithless Looting to great use, it won’t be the only archetype that wants in on the action. Faithless Looting is the type of card that will generate new archetypes. It will be the centerpiece for so many strategies that I’m genuinely excited to see what it can do. I just hope it isn’t too much for the format to handle.

Inquisition of Kozilek will see about as much play as Thoughtseize, if not more. In all the formats where both are present, the split usually depends on factors like “average mana value of opposing spells,” or perhaps “relative damage output of opposing decks.” Having both means you get to build your discard suite to whatever fits the bill. I expect Inquisition of Kozilek to hit most of the same cards that Thoughtseize hits without dealing you damage, but there are some obvious downsides when you face off against Collected Company, Bolas’s Citadel, and Muxus, Goblin Grandee. The format doesn’t stop at three mana, but Inquisition of Kozilek is efficient enough that it will easily help shape the format for years to come.

Memory Lapse is not a card I’ve gotten to play much in my career, but I have fond memories of using it alongside Pscychatog for one Extended season a very long time ago. It’s Time Walk. It’s one of the best counterspells ever printed. It’s so absurdly powerful and I’m not sure why it’s being added to the format other than just boosting the power level of blue. Memory Lapse will shine in archetypes that apply pressure well, like Spirits or other tempo-based aggro decks. It will slam the door closed often, and will be a fine tool to buy time in other instances. Unlike Mana Leak and its ilk, your opponent can’t just pay a cost to have their spell resolve. For two mana, it’s getting stopped in its tracks.

Brainstorm should be a role-player in a number of decks, but only having Fabled Passage as a free shuffle means you’re going to have to work a bit harder to truly make it work. Izzet Phoenix or other decks that don’t mind spinning their wheels will want Brainstorm, but I don’t know if this goes into every archetype. If you want to play Brainstorm, that’s great. You just need consistent ways to reset the top of your deck. Otherwise, an early Brainstorm on a land-light keep might lock you out of the game. It will see plenty of play for sure, but I expect many folks to adopt this relic without understanding just how dangerous it can be if cast incorrectly or if you just get a little unlucky.

Lightning Helix is close to my heart. I played it in the first PTQ I won as well as the first Pro Tour that it invited me to. It’s such a boon for decks that are soft to aggro, often acting as a removal spell and negating their first few attacks. In a Burn strategy, it will be one of the easier ways to race opponents who are just trying to crack back for small to medium chunks of damage. Without more Lava Spike-type cards, it will be a while before we reach a critical mass of cheap burn, but we currently have many of the tools necessary to play a watered-down version of the powerful Modern archetype. Lightning Helix just gives you a little breathing room against opponents who can actually race the slower burn draws.

Bryan Gottlieb

  1. Brainstorm
  2. Faithless Looting
  3. Inquisition of Kozliek
  4. Time Warp
  5. Mind’s Desire

Brainstorm Faithless Looting Inquisition of Kozilek Time Warp Mind's Desire

If you read Strixhaven First Impressions: Standard yesterday, it probably doesn’t surprise you that zero cards from the actual set made it into my list of Historic heavy hitters. The Mystical Archive is as strong as core Strixhaven is weak. The cards here will not only be Historic players, they’ll redefine the entire format.

Mind’s Desire still has the word “Storm” on it. Historic is basically devoid of traditional Rituals, and for that we should be thankful. However, there are still decent artifact mana and plenty of reasonable setups built around Paradoxical Outcome and Inspiring Statuary. Also, Mind’s Desire is entering a format with Brainstorm, meaning any deck playing it will have access to dramatically increased consistency.

I’ve stated my position around Time Warp-type effects several times since the release of Alrund’s Epiphany — Time Warps are always good if the conditions are correct, regardless of cost. In Historic, the conditions are absolutely fine, this is the cheapest of these effects available, and it also takes off the safety wheels of exiling itself. In addition, Time Warp is entering a format with Brainstorm, meaning it’s going to be far easier to both chain these types of effects and find them when they’re most effective.

Inquisition of Kozilek contends for the title of best discard spell ever printed. It’s been an important card in every format it’s ever appeared in. The only reason it can’t creep up this list a bit more is because its impact on the format will be somewhat mitigated by Brainstorm.

Faithless Looting might be the card in the set that inspires the most new decks. Be it traditional reanimation strategies, Mizzix’s Mastery-fueled cheating on spell costs, or just good old fashioned Mardu Pyromancer-style midrange decks, there’s no question a lot of archetypes were missing the glue of Faithless Looting. I’m quite excited about the potential of Izzet Phoenix in this new format, given that it’s going to have one of the most powerful card draw/filtration setups imaginable with access to both Faithless Looting and Brainstorm.

And then we get to Brainstorm.  It’s Brainstorm.  We’re done here.

Corey Baumeister

  1. Brainstorm
  2. Faithless Looting
  3. Time Warp
  4. Tendrils of Agony
  5. Elite Spellbinder

Brainstorm Faithless Looting Time Warp Tendrils of Agony Elite Spellbinder

Standard doesn’t look like it is going to change too much with Strixhaven. Historic on the other hand is in for a huge shakeup, as the Mystical Archive is giving a ton of decks new life as well as improving many existing decks. Let’s get started!

Number 1 for me is a no-brainer (pun intended) — Brainstorm has been a staple in Legacy since I started playing Magic. We don’t have a ton of fetchlands to really make the card broken but we still have ways to shuffle your library (Binding the Old Gods; Fabled Passage; and Tamiyo, Collector of Tales are the big standouts to me that I want to explore with Brainstorm). I think Brainstorm is going to send Izzet Phoenix, Sultai Ramp, and Simic Taking Turns straight to Tier 1 when it hits on Arena.

Faithless Looting is another card that makes Izzet Phoenix very appealing. The card got banned in Modern — that’s really saying something about the power level of this card. Not only will this card be a staple in Izzet Phoenix but I think it slots right into Rakdos Arcanist as another way to fill the graveyard for Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger.

Time Warp is a card I could be wrong about but I think a Simic Taking Turns deck could be really strong right now. We have Nissa, Time Warp, Brainstorm, Mystic Sanctuary, and Alrund’s Epiphany to work with. Then to tie the room together, we can play Growth Spiral and Explore. This deck seems nice to me!

Tendrils of Agony is the card I choose for number 4 but it really could have been Mind’s Desire as well since I think those two cards will go hand in hand. These were such powerful cards in their time that I would be shocked to not see a great Storm deck pop up and be a player in Historic.

Last, but not least, is the only actual card in Strixhaven — Elite Spellbinder. I think this card is a great hit off Collected Company and slots into a ton of decks that have one-mana accelerants. Seems like a slam dunk in Selesnya Company as well as Azorius Spirits.

Ari Lax

  1. Faithless Looting
  2. Brainstorm
  3. Tendrils of Agony
  4. Inquisition of Kozilek
  5. Memory Lapse

Faithless Looting Brainstorm Tendrils of Agony Inquisition of Kozilek Memory Lapse

I think if you made a Top 10 list for Historic, you might get a couple of cards from Strixhaven proper, but even the unbanned cards from the Mystical Archive overpower everything else. Honestly the best card from the actual set might be Test of Talents because these spells are so absurd.

Faithless Looting and Brainstorm are a clear first and second place. They won’t last long in the format, so get your Arclight Phoenixes into combat while you can. I have Faithless Looting in first place because I expect it to be the clear first ban, but Brainstorm might be better and only survive because it’s broken in a more insidious way.

From there, the rankings get a bit interesting. While Mind’s Desire is the most inherently broken of the storm cards, I don’t know how much it adds relative to the other six-cost engine cards of the format like Bolas’s Citadel and Thousand-Year Storm. Tendrils of Agony on the other hand is such a clean win condition and combines with Bolas’s Citadel for lower-resource kills so easily that I think it gets top billing.

After that, I think you have to talk disruption. I don’t buy the “we already have Thoughtseize” arguments about Inquisition of Kozilek and expect to see six to eight discard spells as the format standard. Memory Lapse is a bit of a stretch to put this high, but it just isn’t the kind of card you see in 2021 sets. To use Sam Black’s recent paradigm, it’s the Elderfang Disciple to Remand’s Elvish Visionary, and basically every control deck wants Memory Lapse to push the game forward and eventually steal your opponent’s ability to take relevant turns.

Gerry Thompson

  1. Brainstorm
  2. Faithless Looting
  3. Inquisition of Kozilek
  4. Time Warp
  5. Memory Lapse

Brainstorm Faithless Looting Inquisition of Kozilek Time Warp Memory Lapse

It’s not uncommon for Historic to get the occasional shake-up but Strixhaven’s Mystical Archive is something else. There are easily fifteen cards that could make a massive difference.  Brainstorm and Faithless Looting are both incredible filtering tools that will fundamentally alter how decks are built in Historic. They’ll lower the mana curves and add consistency to any deck they’re in. Although Brainstorm will see more play than Faithless Looting, both are exceptional. 

Inquisition of Kozilek is excellent and will also be popular. For the most part, it will bolster decks that already played Thoughtseize and not contribute to the founding of new archetypes as much as the new cantrips. 

Of all the cards capable of causing problems on this list, Time Warp is up there and wildly underrated. Using it alongside Nissa, Who Shakes the World is obvious, but there are other applications that are far less fair. Recurring it with Mystic Sanctuary, finding it with Velomachus Lorehold, and including it in Emergent Ultimatum packages are potentially format-defining. 

Finally, we have Memory Lapse. There’s no stronger tempo tool in the format, especially if the format trends toward more expensive spells. It’s also one of the few two-mana counterspells that will always stop its target. It will take some time before people catch on, but Memory Lapse will eventually be one of the most important cards in the format. 

Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa

  1. Brainstorm
  2. Faithless Looting
  3. Inquisition of Kozilek
  4. Lightning Helix
  5. Magma Opus

Brainstorm Faithless Looting Inquisition of Kozilek Lightning Helix Magma Opus

I tried really hard to put more actual Strixhaven cards on this list, but in the end I couldn’t bring myself to do it — it’s just too hard for a weak Constructed set to compete with a curated list of Magic’s best cards specifically hand-picked for the format. This is a bit disappointing, all things considered, but it is what it is.

Brainstorm is an extremely powerful card and it should be no surprise it’s #1 on my list — I already wrote at length about how good it is and I think it’ll be a mainstream of basically all blue decks.

Faithless Looting is my next option and it’s another extremely powerful card. It can singlehandedly originate a deck like Izzet Phoenix or revitalize Rakdos Arcanist; it can also be an important piece in any deck that’s interested in reanimating things (such as a Mizzix’s Mastery deck).

I believe Inquisition of Kozilek will be a bit overrated in Historic. It’s a good card, but there’s a limit to how much discard you can play. In Modern, Jund decks that are playing seven or eight of these cards have Dark Confidant and Liliana of the Veil to break parity (or they used to, who knows what’s happening in Modern these days), and in Historic you don’t have easy access to a card like that. Still, it’s an extremely powerful card, and putting it third might be conservative — it can see play in Orzhov Auras, Rakdos Arcanist, Abzan Blink (Yorion), and so on.

The next two slots on my list are a bit speculative. They don’t currently have homes but they could create homes for themselves. Lightning Helix is an excellent burn spell that can see play in aggro decks or control decks — it’s a perfect card in Boros Burn as well as Jeskai Control. In Modern it used to compete with Lightning Bolt, but there’s no such thing in Historic.

Magma Opus is the only actual Strixhaven card on my list and a bit of a wildcard, but I think it can see play because it easily puts itself in the graveyard while adding mana for whichever card you want to use to reanimate it. A curve of Turn 2 discard Magma Opus, Turn 3 cast Mizzix’s Mastery is pretty strong — you kill a creature, draw two cards, and make a 4/4. However, it does also cost two cards and two turns’ worth of mana, so you’re not getting that much out of it. Another possible application is Torrential Gearhulk, where you also get to accelerate that onto the battlefield and get something very meaningful out of it (CEDitor’s Note: check out Michael Majors’ article today for more on doing exactly that). I’m not sure this is going to see play, but a powerful spell that puts itself in the graveyard seems strong enough to include on the list.

Shaheen Soorani

  1. Mind’s Desire
  2. Brainstorm
  3. Faithless Looting
  4. Inquisition of Kozilek
  5. Time Warp

Mind's Desire Brainstorm Faithless Looting Inquisition of Kozilek Time Warp

Strixhaven is about to turn competitive Historic play upside down.  This earthquake will not be caused by the traditional cards of the set that are legal in Standard, but by the Mystical Archive spells that become legal in Historic when the set is released.  I love this being the new norm, as it requires a small cost in wildcards to recreate amazing interactions that I initially thought were lost to history long ago.

At the top of the list is Mind’s Desire since it will be legal for a microsecond.  There’s no upside to this card and the storm mechanic in general.  I already have some silly brews with a bunch of free spells from my previous combo attempts in the format and I cannot wait to hit people with the power of 2003.  I did not add Tendrils of Agony or Grapeshot, because the kill is less important than the vehicle.

Brainstorm and Faithless Looting are next up.  What a pair to make legal! Both cards have layers of controversy around them.  “Format destroyers,” “boring gameplay,” and “too good” are just a few phrases used to describe them.  All these descriptors are justified and both will see heavy play.  For those who think Brainstorm is not great without fetchlands, they’re sorely mistaken.  Brainstorm is a broken draw spell, one of the best of all time, and will increase the effective win rate of all blue decks in Historic.  Faithless Looting is more of a role-player, but it’s the best in the business.  I was on the complaint committee to have it banned in Modern and will voice the same concerns for its Arclight Phoenix nonsense in Historic.

Inquisition of Kozilek will join the company of Thoughtseize, making black-based disruption rule the format.  It was already too good with the former, and now black decks of all types will have the best action on Turn 1 in the format.

Rounding out my Top 5 is Time Warp.  This is a great card and will see extended play in Historic.  Taking an extra turn is one of the most powerful effects in the game, which is why Alrund’s Epiphany has taken off in Standard.  Adding another one of these effects to Historic may be enough to see a new deck arise that maximizes their extra turns. 

This list was tough to make, with multiple honorable mentions that didn’t make the cut, but I cannot wait to see Strixhaven rock Historic.

Dom Harvey

  1. Brainstorm
  2. Faithless Looting
  3. Mizzix’s Mastery
  4. Time Warp
  5. Magma Opus

Brainstorm Faithless Looting Mizzix's Mastery Time Warp Magma Opus

Let’s not bury the lede — there is pre-Brainstorm Historic and post-Brainstorm Historic. Contrarians argue that Brainstorm is only good because of fetchlands but Fabled Passage is a perfectly good one and it’s easy to find ways to clear the top of your library. Pauper is often cited as an example of a format where Brainstorm is bad but it has to be — Brainstorm has excelled in basically every other context — and there it competes with Ponder and Preordain while not having good cards to dig for. The nightmare of getting ‘Brainstorm locked’ looms large, but doing the math makes it clear that worse cantrips weren’t rescuing you in those situations either. Those are the (overstated) downsides; the upsides could fill several articles by themselves.

Faithless Looting doesn’t have the same multi-format pedigree and there’s no Golgari Grave-Troll or Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis here (maybe in the next Mystical Archive…) but I still expect it to be a game-changer. On its own it would power up Rakdos Arcanist or bring new decks into the spotlight (God-Pharaoh’s Gift?) but it’s also a crucial companion for other cards on this list like Mizzix’s Mastery.

Mizzix’s Mastery used to exist in limbo with other Commander cards that didn’t meet the high bar set by Legacy and weren’t legal in any smaller format; it finally gets a chance to show its true potential. #4 and #5 on this list are perfect targets but so are other newcomers like Mind’s Desire (Mastery even bumps up the storm count there!) and existing finishers like Emergent Ultimatum. Prismari Command is a useful on-curve addition that digs for Mastery and discards its target but also has other applications (including destroying hate cards like Grafdigger’s Cage).

We all know the power of Alrund’s Epiphany and Nexus of Fate but Time Warp is in its own league and many players are about to learn that the hard way. Costing just five mana means that you can quickly start a Time Warp sequence without taking time off for ramp spells or needing a specific engine like Wilderness Reclamation. Every new extra turn card has an exile or reshuffle clause for a good reason — it’s trivial to cast the same Time Warp repeatedly with Mizzix’s Mastery; Scholar of the Lost Trove; Regrowth / Bala Ged Recovery; and especially Tamiyo, Collector of Tales (now there’s a card that’s great with Brainstorm!).

Controlling a planeswalker is the easiest way to capitalize on an extra turn and Historic has great options there — not just Tamiyo but Teferi, Hero of Dominaria and Nissa, Who Shakes the World. At least Nissa has the decency to end the game quickly so you don’t get to spend a dozen turns wondering why these cards were even added to Historic in the first place.

I’m including Magma Opus because I don’t want Strixhaven itself to be completely absent but it’s a self-enabling Mizzix’s Mastery target that lets you cast it on Turn 3 and it’s intriguing in ‘fair’ decks with Torrential Gearhulk as Michael Majors showed today.

And now, without further ado, the SCG Staff’s Top 5 Strixhaven cards for Historic are…

5. Mind’s Desire — 6 points

4. Time Warp — 10 points

3. Inquisition of Kozilek — 17 points

2. Faithless Looting — 33 points

1. Brainstorm — 35 points

Cya back here tomorrow for our thoughts on Strixhaven’s impact on Pioneer!