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Rhys the Redeemed (Shadowmoor) MTG card art by Steve Prescott

Rhys the Redeemed

Theros: Beyond Death has just released and there’s plenty of new and returning mechanics for players to mess around with. From Escape to Sagas and all those shiny enchantments, we’ll take a look at the set soon so keep an eye on our blog for a strategy article coming your way. But before any of that, let’s take a step back and talk about old sets.

You’ve probably heard the Historic format being mentioned before. If you’re not me and didn’t forget to enable all game modes on the main menu, you saw it among the game modes in MTG Arena as well. If you’re wondering what Historic is or where the format is going, then you’re in luck! That just so happens to be exactly what we’re gearing up to talk about today.

So, sit down and buckle up while we take a ride through this old and exciting format.

What the Heck is Historic?

We talked about standard rotation a little while ago, but here are the basics that you need to know for now: WotC releases four new sets every year, one per quarter (i.e., every three months), and the four oldest sets are removed from standard play when the last set is released around October. But where do the older sets go? Are they exiled into nothingness?

Exile into Darkness MTG card art by Pete Venters

Exile into Darkness

The answer is no, they do in fact still exist. Cards from rotated out sets can still be played outside of Standard, but it wasn’t that long ago that MTGA didn’t have any formats to support that. This is where the Historic format—not to be confused with Historic spells from Dominaria—steps in.

Back in September 2019, Wizards announced the new MTG Arena Historic format. This format is unique to MTGA and allows players to build their decks from the older sets on the client, starting from Ixalan to the recently released Theros: Beyond Death.

Playing Historic on MTG Arena

If you’re itching to try out this format, then we’ve got some good and some bad news for you. The good news is that you can play Historic in the non-ranked Play queue. The bad news is that if you do, those games only count towards daily quests and won’t advance your daily/weekly wins (more info on that here if you’re confused).

MTG Arena Historic Play Queue

When it comes to Historic events, though, MTG Arena has two basic options for you that emulate the Standard Event and the Traditional Standard Event. If you’re not familiar with these, here are the details for the Historic versions:

WotC launches new events every month, so keep an eye on our Events Calendar to stay up-to-date on what events are current, what’s coming up, and what you’ve missed. The last we heard from them was pretty recently in their January 2020 State of the Game announcement, where they confirmed Historic Ranked would be returning closer to the release of Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths and they also name dropped Historic Anthology II. So, we’ve got both of those to look forward to.

The Making of Historic Decks (A Step-by-Step Guide)

Before we move on to some of the most popular and most successful decks of the format so far, let’s take a look at the actual mechanics of making a Historic deck in MTG Arena. It’s fairly simple: all you have to do is select either “Historic” or “Traditional Historic” when selecting the format for a new deck, and then you can either filter by specific sets or just select your little heart away.

If you’re not familiar with MTGA’s UI and need a bit more guidance, fear not! We’ve got your covered:

  • Open your “Decks” tab and then click on the white plus icon to start a new deck
MTG Arena create new deck
  • Select either “Historic” or “Traditional Historic” from the format drop-down menu
MTG Arena deck building format selection
  • Select the cards that you’d like to add to your deck (if you need to use Wildcards, check out this tutorial on how to do that)—you can either use the search bar on the top right to find specific cards or the advanced filters to sort by card type, cost, rarity, set, color, and if you’ve collected them
MTG Arena deck building advanced filters and search bar

Quick note: Suspended cards will be faded and have a red tint to them. When you hover over them, a big “Not Legal” notice will show up, and when you try to finish a deck with suspended cards you’ll get this message:

MTG Arena Banned Cards in Deck Notice
  • If you’re planning on playing Traditional Historic, open the “Sideboard” tab and then repeat the steps for adding cards here
MTG Arena deck building Sideboard tab
  • Return to the Deck tab to return to the main deck and then click “Done”
MTG Arena deck building Done button

And that’s it! Congratulations, you’ve now got your very own Historic deck. If you’re looking for inspiration for new decks or just aren’t sure what you want yet, take a look at some of the most popular options below.

Will Historic be a Competitive Format?

When it was first announced, Wizards said that Historic would only be available to play on a BO1 queue and that there weren’t any plans to add events, older sets, or ranked queues at all. However in their State of the Beta released in August 2019, they announced that most of this had changed. Among other things, they announced the addition of Ranked queues and one Historic event per month starting in November.

MTG Arena Historic Challenge Event

In fact, the Historic Challenge event took off at the beginning of January with incredible rewards for those who could best it. Getting eight wins is incredibly difficult but, if you could manage it, the rewards were more than worth it.

At this point, we’ll just have to wait and see if Wizards keeps up on their end with new events and opportunities for Historic as a competitive format. Right now, we only have the two basic Historic events we mentioned above, and nothing so far has been scheduled or announced for February.

(Wild)cards, Suspensions, and Sets, Oh My!

If you’re a newer player who didn’t participate in MTGA’s beta, then you probably don’t have a lot of cards from older sets. During the closed and open beta, players were able to get cards from Ixalan, Rivals of Ixalan, Dominaria, and Core Set 2019. These were rotated out as part of standard rotation with the release of Throne of Eldraine in October 2019.

Dosan's Oldest Chant MTG card art by Tim Hildebrandt

Dosan’s Oldest Chant

This means that cards from these sets can now only be obtained by using Wildcards or buying packs. Keep in mind, though, that you can’t use cards you get from these sets in Standard, so it’s an investment just for Historic (and Pioneer, if the format ever finds its place on MTG Arena).

Wildcard Crafting

Initially, the crafting cost for Historic cards was going to be 2:1 but, as I’m sure you would expect, the player base was beyond not happy with this announcement. Developers said that they wanted to “find a balance for the long-term health of MTG Arena”, but they eventually reverted back to the normal 1:1 cost.

Many players still think this should be dropped down further to 1:2, since Historic is meant to be a mostly casual game mode. As of yet, though, we’ve heard nothing more on this from WotC.

“New” Historic Cards

In November 2019, WotC launched the History Anthology event and with it, released 20 “new” cards for the format as they had previously mentioned. This event and the new cards were introduced as a way to spice up Historic deck building and encourage players to use the new format.

MTG Arena Historic Anthology Event

The event rewarded players with one card style per win and didn’t count losses, allowing you to play as many games as you wanted until the event ended. The bundle for the new cards was fairly expensive at 3,400 gems, but you could also use Wildcards to craft the ones you wanted instead.

When Wizards originally announced their intention to release “new” cards for Historic, they mentioned having a goal to release more cards each quarter after this first one in November. We have yet to see if this will pan out, but here’s hoping a second anthology is on the way.

Banned Suspended Cards

While other formats have ban lists for cards that can’t be used, Historic has “suspended” cards. Long story short, cards that land on Historic’s suspended list can’t be played just like cards on a ban list but they may not be there forever, unlike cards that are banned in other formats. If you want the long story, check out WotC’s announcement on this.

Otherwise, here are the four cards currently suspended in Historic:

Historic, Decks, and You

Despite all its problems, Historic is still a fun game mode and there are lots of players trying out new and interesting decks. Whether you’re a new player looking to build your first Historic deck or a more experienced player gearing up to use an old favorite, read on for some insight into the current meta in this format.

Historic Meta Decks

When it comes to deck building, usually you’ve got to look at the bigger picture. What kind of decks are performing well in the format? What deck types are popular at the moment? What’s the most powerful strategy with the available cards?

With Historic, all of this is a bit up in the air at the moment. There are some popular and/or successful decks floating around (as you’ll see in a minute), but the format is still fairly new and we have yet to see what new cards will be added in future anthologies. But for now: decks!

Let’s Start a Riot!

One of the most successful decks in Historic is Gruul Aggro, which is built around riot mechanic and hard to counter. If you can manage to control the board quickly, it’s fairly hard to counter since you’re able to land your creatures on board with either haste or a +1/+1 counter.

Frenzied Arynx MTG card art by Filip Burburan

Frenzied Arynx

Bore (or Frustrate) Your Opponent to Death

Another popular option is the Simic Nexus deck, which requires a significant amount of patience to play and requires that you let go of your humanity. We talked about what kind of things you can report players for a little while ago, and Simic Nexus is right on that line. Basically, this deck’s win condition is to not lose and keep your opponent from doing anything long enough that they concede. But with the addition of Mind Stone, it’s a bit easier to ramp up mana and draw when necessary.

Nexus of Fate MTG card art by Mike Bierek

Nexus of Fate

It’s all About Control

Esper Control is the final deck we’re going to mention here. As you already noticed, two of these three decks in meta are control decks. It’s pretty easy to imagine why. Usually, control decks are more balanced in standard since there are counters designed for each of them, but when they come together, it’s difficult to play against a solid control deck.

This one is built around Teferi, Time Raveler and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria plus lots of counterspells. Using Thought Erasure to know what your opponent has in hand and planeswalkers to control the board, you can easily mill your opponents to death.

Dovin's Veto MTG card art by Izzy

Dovin’s Veto

Other Deck Options

Aside from these, mono-aggro decks seem to be doing well (no surprise there), but there are tons of different builds you can try in Historic. The player base is returning to play the format after seeing the rewards of the Historic Challenge, so the meta can easily change in future.

If you’re a player that likes to try new things, the best thing about Historic is that you can use cards from a total of nine sets instead of five (for now) which brings plenty of new opportunities. Except for the suspended list, you can combine cards from these sets any way you want and, adding the 20 anthology cards, you can probably come up with some wild play that will allow you to get at least a couple of wins.

Wink Wink meme

Where to Get Deck Builds

If you’re stuck, though, there’re lots of streamers trying out new builds on YouTube. Noxious and Merchant have solid decks that you can use and they also explain how they play them, so it might be a good idea to check them out to get a better grasp on Historic. There are also lots of players discussing new strategies on Reddit and posting their successful decks, so you can easily find a solid strategy lurking around there.

And, as always, sites like Aetherhub, MTGArena.Pro and MTGgoldfish are an awesome resource to check out other player’s decks and see what’s out there. Maybe get some inspiration, maybe try out something new. Take your pick!

Historic VS. Pioneer

Just like some other formats announced by WotC, Historic didn’t arrive without its own bit of (even more) controversy. Just after it was implemented and the first events launched, a new paper format was announced: Pioneer.

Jungleborn Pioneer MTG card art by Scott Murphy

Jungleborn Pioneer

It includes sets from Return to Ravnica forward, which as of now are not featured in MTG Arena. Wizards has also since announced that Pioneer will eventually be introduced to MTGA as well. Of course, this would mean adding dozens of new sets to the client, which is no small feat.

However in their most recent state of the game, Wizards announced that Pioneer Set Remasters are planned for this year. Amonkhet will be among these, along with others as Wizards looks to introduce the most relevant cards/sets for Pioneer to MTG Arena.

As great as it is to have more formats to play around with, Historic and Pioneer are almost identical. The only real differences are the number of rotated out sets available and the ban list, which makes the fact that Wizards wants both on MTGA a bit… weird.

Weird MTG card art by Hideaki Takamura

Weird

The truth is that they’re only different because Historic was introduced for MTG Arena, which has a limited number of old sets since it hasn’t been around that long. And if they’re adding old sets so that Pioneer can join digital Historic on Arena, there’s really no point in having Historic at all. And there lies the root of the issue.

Add the fact that Pioneer gets sponsored tournaments while the free-to-play Historic queue is basically hidden, and it really seems like Historic is Pioneer’s failed first copy that Wizards made before they were ready to. But we’ll just have to wait and see what happens, whether Historic and Pioneer fuse into one format on MTG Arena, or they both (somehow?) stay, or Historic just gets bowled over by Pioneer.

Historic, Heading Out

Although WotC lost its initial enthusiasm for Historic, it seems like they’re going to at least try and find a balance while evaluating if Historic is a worthwhile investment on their part.

In their January 2020 State of the Game announcement, they confirmed Historic Ranked would be returning closer to the release of Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths and they also name dropped Historic Anthology II. Wizards’ February announcement mentioned ramping up their intention to bring older cards to MTG Arena including Historic anthologies and (again) Pioneer-focused remastered sets for this year.

We’ll likely hear more on Historic, Pioneer, and all of that in the next State of the Game in February very soon. What’s left now is for players to keep playing the format; if more people play Historic then the queues will get shorter, meta will change, and—instead of seeing just a couple of different decks—we’ll have a whole new format just for MTG Arena that allows us to try old and exciting things.

What’s your take on Historic vs. Pioneer? Are you looking forward to new Pioneer sets paving the way for the format on MTGA, or would you prefer Wizards focused on Historic? Let us know in the comments down there. Thanks for your support as always, and we’ll see you next time!

Mercadian Lift MTG card art by Gary Ruddell

Mercadian Lift

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