Last updated on January 11, 2021
Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger | Illustration by Michael Komarck
Whenever WotC releases a new set, we get plenty of new and returning mechanics to mess around with. But for now, let’s take a step back and talk about old sets.
You’ve probably heard the Historic format being mentioned before. 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’ve talked about Standard rotation before, 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 September or October. But where do the older sets go? Are they exiled into nothingness?
Exile into Darkness | Illustration by Pete Venters
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. Originally that meant Ixalan to the most recently released set.
Since then, however, they’ve released a few Anthologies and remastered sets that have brought back some older cards. Historic has quickly become one of the most played competitive formats on Arena thanks to these inclusions.
Playing Historic on MTG Arena
If you’re itching to try out this format, then dust off your old collection and let’s get right into it!
You can find the Historic queue in the “Play” menu where you can pick between the BO1 and BO3 queues, called “Historic Ranked” and “Traditional Historic Ranked” respectively. You could also play Historic decks in the unranked play queue by clicking on “Historic” in the deck selection menu before picking your deck. And then there’s also Historic events that pop up every now and then.
When it comes to these events, though, MTG Arena has two basic options for you that emulate the Standard Event and the Traditional Standard Event. Special Historic events come around every so often, one of the biggest ones being the Historic Challenge. 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.
If you’re not familiar with any of these, here are the details:
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:
1. Open your “Decks” tab and then click on the white plus icon to start a new deck
2. Select either “Historic” or “Traditional Historic” from the format drop-down menu
3. 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
- 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:
4. If you’re planning on playing Traditional Historic, open the “Sideboard” tab and then repeat the steps for adding cards here
5. Return to the Deck tab to return to the main deck and then click “Done”
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.
(Wild)cards, Suspensions, and Sets, Oh My!
If you’re a newer player who hasn’t been on Arena for a long time, then you probably don’t have a lot of cards from older sets. Until the next rotation, sets released before Throne of Eldraine are no longer Standard legal. This means that getting cards from any of those older sets is limited to special events, opening packs from the set, or getting the cards individually with wildcards.
Dosan’s Oldest Chant | Illustration by Tim Hildebrandt
Getting a complete Historic deck can be somewhat of a challenge since there are so many older sets out there. It would cost you a fortune to buy enough packs of every set to build a deck that can also win you games. On top of that, some Historic-only additions have come out that aren’t available for purchase anymore. So what’s the easiest way to get those cards?
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.
“New” Historic Cards
In November 2019, WotC launched the History Anthology event and released 20 “new” cards for the format with it. The Anthology was available for purchase in Arena’s store for a short time for gold or gems. 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.
Since then, we’ve had two more Anthologies as well as Jumpstart and two remastered sets.
The Historic Anthology I bundle was fairly expensive at 3,400 gems, but you could also use wildcards to craft the ones you wanted instead. The bundle contained a play set (i.e., four copies) of these cards:
Soul Warden x4
Distant Melody x4
Treasure Hunt x4
Tendrils of Corruption x4
Goblin Matron x4
Kiln Fiend x4
Elvish Visionary x4
Mind Stone x4
Burning-Tree Emissary x4
Kinsbaile Cavalier x4
Hypnotic Specter x4
Imperious Perfect x4
Fauna Shaman x4
Darksteel Reactor x4
Captain Sisay x4
Phyrexian Arena x4
Hidetsugu’s Second Rite x4
Serra Ascendant x4
Next up, the Historic Anthology II was first released on February 28, 2020 and there are 25 new Historic cards to play with. The bundle cost either 4,000 gems or 25,000 gold (ouch) and contained four copies of these cards:
Ancestral Mask x4
Barren Moor x4
Bojuka Bog x4
Brain Maggot x4
Dragonmaster Outcast x4
Forgotten Cave x4
Ghost Quarter x4
Goblin Ruinblaster x4
Inexorable Tide x4
Knight of the Reliquary x4
Lonely Sandbar x4
Maelstrom Pulse x4
Meddling Mage x4
Merrow Reejerey x4
Nyx-Fleece Ram x4
Pack Rat x4
Platinum Angel x4
Ranger of Eos x4
Secluded Steppe x4
Sigil of the Empty Throne x4
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben x4
Tranquil Thicket x4
Virulent Plague x4
Waste Not x4
Finally we’ve got the Historic Anthology III, which introduced 27 cards for Historic with four copies of each, as usual. It would’ve set you back 25,000 gold or 4,000 gems if you wanted to add these to your collection from the store. Take a look at what you got:
Akroma’s Memorial x4
Ancient Ziggurat x4
Body Double x4
Chainer’s Edict x4
Devil’s Play x4
Enchantress’s Presence x4
Gempalm Incinerator x4
Gempalm Polluter x4
Honden of Cleansing Fire x4
Honden of Infinite Rage x4
Honden of Life’s Web x4
Honden of Night’s Reach x4
Honden of Seeing Winds x4
Krosan Tusker x4
Maze’s End x4
Mirari’s Wake x4
Momentary Blink x4
Phyrexian Obliterator x4
Ratchet Bomb x4
Roar of the Wurm x4
Silent Departure x4
Swan Song x4
Tectonic Reformation x4
Tempered Steel x4
Timely Reinforcements x4
Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger x4
Unburial Rites x4
When Wizards originally announced their intention to release “new” cards for Historic, they mentioned having a goal to release cards each quarter after the first one in November 2019, but it seems like that was too good to be true. Instead, we got something even better: Jumpstart and two remastered sets, Kaladesh and Amonkhet. These brought back a ton of favorites from older sets plus a plethora of new competitive cards.
Banned and Suspended Cards
While other formats have ban lists for cards that can’t be used, Historic has that plus “suspended” cards. Long story short, cards that land on Historic’s suspended list are temporarily banned and may be unsuspended in the future. You also won’t get wildcard refunds for suspended cards like you do with banned cards.
Even banned cards get unbanned sometimes, though, so it seems like this is just to avoid prematurely giving out wildcards. If you want the long story, check out WotC’s announcement on this.
- Once Upon a Time
- Veil of Summer
- Oko, Thief of Crowns
- Agent of Treachery
- Field of the Dead
- Winota, Joiner of Forces
- Fires of Invention
- Nexus of Fate
- Wilderness Reclamation
- Teferi, Time Raveler
Historic, Decks, and You
Historic has become a self-balancing competitive format thanks to all the answers available in the newly released sets and anthologies. 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
Decks updated by Kugane
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?
There are some popular and successful decks floating around as you’ll see in a minute. The format is flexible and there are plenty of decks that are extremely strong and capable of carrying you into the top 1200 of Mythic, even if they’re not tier 1. We’d be here forever if we went through every one of them, so instead let’s focus on the six most popular.
One of the most successful decks in Historic is Gruul aggro, which is built around a strong curve that ends in backbreaking finishers like Embercleave. Your goal is to play powerful creatures faster than your opponent is capable of setting up, catching them utterly off-guard with the brutal firepower this deck provides.
Questing Beast | Illustration by Igor Kieryluk
Next is Sultai midrange. This deck plays around ramp cards like Cultivate, Growth Spiral, and Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath. While the number and combinations vary, the deck generally wants to ramp as quickly as possible to start putting down cards like Nissa, Who Shakes the World, a massive Hydroid Krasis, or any other top-end five or higher CMC cards. Seeing a large concentration of mana dorks is also pretty common in this deck, resulting in high CMC cards coming down as early as turn 3.
Llanowar Visionary | Illustration by Cristi Balanescu
This is a recent tier 1 deck. It was always strong in Historic, but it’s become a powerhouse now that we have Forsaken Monument and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon in the format. Just like Sultai, this deck wants to ramp its mana for a few turns to start pushing out some high CMC threats. The difference, though, is that staying colorless means that Ugin’s minus ability doesn’t harm our permanents so we can easily wipe our opponent’s board.
You’re also going to care less about mana fixing as a colorless deck. Instead, we can run utility lands that generate colorless mana and our Monument can double the mana that each of these lands produces. We even have access to semi-board wipes through cards like Blast Zone thanks to these utility lands.
Forsaken Monument | Illustration by Piotr Dura
Mono Red Goblins
This deck is immensely popular right now. It revolves around sacrificing goblins as mana resources with Skirk Prospector to have a turn 3 or 4 Muxus, Goblin of Grandee. Muxus then fetches as many goblins as it can from the top six cards of your library and puts them right onto the battlefield.
With a bit of luck, you hit something like Goblin Chieftan plus Krenko, Mob Boss to go wide and attack in with a swarm of hasty goblins. The deck is so powerful and consistent thanks to its built-in tutors that many players favor it over good ol’ mono red aggro. Don’t worry, though, that deck also has a spot on our list!
Muxus, Goblin Grandee | Illustration by Dmitry Burmak
Our fifth pick is Azorius auras, also known as “UW enchantments.” This deck plays around cheap auras and cards like Kor Spiritdancer and Sram, Senior Edificer to keep drawing more and more auras. The endgame is to get All That Glitters on a creature and protect it with cards like Selfless Savior and Karametra’s Blessing.
This deck is extremely explosive. A turn 1 enchantment creature into a turn 2 Spiritdancer can lead you to pumping your Spiritdancer to eight power by turn 3 and closing the game on turn 4.
Kor Spiritdancer | Illustration by Scott Chou
Mono Red Aggro
Our second mono red list that made it to the top is here. You can’t have a meta without a proper mono red burn deck, after all. This deck, like pretty much any iteration of red deck wins, revolves around cheap aggro creatures and burn spells. It can pull off some exciting combos thanks to its plethora of wizards like Soul-Scar Mage. Think casting Wizard’s Lightning into Skewer the Critics by turn 2. And keep in mind that Soul-Scar has prowess, which means nine damage by turn 2 and up to another thirteen damage by turn 3.
While mono red aggro is a bit dependent on the draw to have the right cards for an explosive start, it’ll likely spike the meta for as long as the game exists in pretty much any format. While ramp decks are more consistent than these types of aggro decks, the games you play with these are shorter so you’re likely to have a much easier time getting to Mythic playing aggro like this.
Soul-Scar Mage | Illustration by Steve Argyle
Other Deck Options
Aside from these, most mono aggro decks seem to be doing well (no surprise there), but there are tons of different builds you can try in Historic.
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 fifteen sets instead of five to eight in Standard, which brings plenty of new opportunities. Except for the suspended/banned lists, you can combine cards from these sets any way you want and you can probably come up with some wild play that will allow you to get at least a couple of wins.
Where to Get Deck Builds
If you’re stuck, though, there’re lots of streamers trying out new builds on YouTube. ConvertGoBlue 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.
Draftsim has a deck database, and you can grab sample Historic lists here.
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.
At the time of the announcement, Pioneer was remarkably similar to Historic which caused quite a bit of unease among fans since WotC said that Pioneer would never make its way to Arena. Luckily they’ve retracted that statement thanks to the community and it’s now in the works.
Jungleborn Pioneer | Illustration by Scott Murphy
Pioneer includes sets from Return to Ravnica forward, which as of now are not featured in MTG Arena. Of course, this would mean adding dozens of new sets to the client, which is no small feat.
WotC has done a great job releasing several remastered sets so far, and is working their way back towards Return to Ravnica. It’ll take quite some time before they get there, though. We’ve traveled back to 2016 so far, so there’s only four years worth of sets left. Additionally, a Pioneer Masters set is supposedly in the works for MTGA at some point.
It’s pretty clear that WotC wants Historic to be of a much higher power level than Pioneer. The latter is played more like a watered-down version of Modern without fetch lands. Historic, on the other hand, is already pushing towards Legacy levels of power.
Weird | Illustration by Hideaki Takamura
Historic, Heading Out
WotC will always be focused on selling as much Standard product as possible. It’s MTG’s primary source of income, after all. They were originally pretty reluctant to give us full competitive access to Historic out of fear of players ignoring Standard entirely. It seems like their view on the matter has shifted considerably, though, considering all the Historic-exclusive content they’ve been pushing out.
With Standard being in somewhat of a subjectively stale mess right now, lots of players are flocking to Historic instead. The format boasts a variety of decks and some explosive fun for players to fulfill their daily MTG cravings. That said, having Pioneer added to the mix will offer a new middle ground between the current formats.
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 | Illustration by Gary Ruddell