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Get Ready for Historic (and Standard) at the Kaldheim Championship

March 23, 2021
Mani Davoudi

The last time we saw Historic at the top level, it was at the January Kaldheim League Weekend. Things had not changed much in the metagame since the Zendikar Rising Championship, with Sultai Midrange and Jund Sacrifice leading the field in both leagues. The big surprise of the weekend was Gruul Aggro coming out of nowhere to take over Goblins in the third most-played slot, while the Championship-winning Azorius Control deck was nowhere to be found.

Even with a wide variety of decks showing up in small numbers, Historic looked to be solved and stable at the very top without anything on the horizon to take down the format titan.



Kaldheim and "The Ban"

Kaldheim brought a lot to Historic, something that is not often the case for new sets into Eternal formats. Established and fringe archetypes got new tools to push them into relevance, and some brand-new archetypes became possible. Despite all this, nothing looked to be changing Sultai Midrange's status as the king of the format. Nothing, that is, until the announcement on February 15.

"Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath is banned."

A simple sentence, but one that holds so much weight when it comes to the state of a format. Just like that, Historic was ready for change.

Since January, Historic has seen a new set release, a major banning, and most recently, the addition of Historic Anthology IV. As we head into the Kaldheim Championship, let's look at some of the prevalent archetypes in the new metagame that may show up at the tournament.

Jund Sacrifice

With Sultai Midrange gone, Jund Sacrifice is the new king of the format. Although this archetype has not gained anything new from the last few releases, its consistency and power has not changed. Its existence will likely play the biggest role in players deck making choices for the Kaldheim Championship.

Elves

Elves as an archetype in Historic has had a very similar evolution to Goblins. Each product release has added more cards to the available pool, but like Jumpstart did to Goblins it was Kaldheim that gave Elves the pieces it needed to move from fringe deck to format mainstay. Jaspera Sentinel, Elvish Warmaster, and Realmwalker plugged many of the previous weaknesses of the deck, making Elves one of the two new powerful Collected Company decks in the format thanks to its new-found explosiveness and consistency.

Angels

The second new Collected Company deck is one I never expected to see at a competitive level and am very excited for: Tribal Angels! Thanks to Kaldheim newcomers Youthful Valkyrie and Righteous Valkyrie, the deck has crossed the threshold of cheap synergistic creatures needed to be a Collected Company deck. Being able to make many tokens using Speaker of the Heavens and Resplendent Angel while protecting your board thanks to Linvala, Shield of Sea Gate means games with this deck can get out of hand very quickly.

Azorius Control

Despite winning the Zendikar Rising Championship in the hands of Brad Barclay, Azorius Control was not really considered a mainstay of Historic before Kaldheim. The deck has since gained a powerful new board wipe in the form of Doomskar, and with the rise of Collected Company decks in the format, perhaps the control deck capable of maindecking Grafdigger's Cage is worth another look.

Sultai Ultimatum

With the loss of Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath the Sultai Midrange we knew ceased to be a deck in Historic. Rising from the ashes of that shell is the Historic version of the Sultai Ultimatum deck from Kaldheim Standard.



This ramp deck's primary purpose is to find and cast Emergent Ultimatum as quickly as possible. The main Emergent Ultimatum package introduced in Kaldheim (Alrund's Epiphany, Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider, and Valki, God of Lies) puts your opponent in a position where they will either have to give you an extra turn and a powerful threat, or a Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor that can use its ultimate ability immediately—as long as Vorinclex is around.

The real power of Emergent Ultimatum comes in being able to search for different cards to answer different board states, which is why the deck features a variety of other singleton mono-colored board wipes and threats. Given the open nature of Historic, finding a build of Sultai Ultimatum that targets the metagame may prove difficult, but it is certainly a deck with the potential to do well under the right conditions.

Rakdos Arcanist

Since the introduction of Death's Shadow in Historic Anthology IV, many different existing and new shells have tried to make use of the black one-drop. One such build is the Rakdos Arcanist deck that Luis Salvatto took to a second-place finish in the 2020 Mythic Invitational. The deck has evolved a lot since then with cards like Agadeem's Awakening, Bloodchief's Thirst, Scourge of the Skyclaves, and now Death's Shadow giving it more possible avenues of attack—and more resilience to graveyard hate.

One of the coolest decks I have seen pop up since the release of Kaldheim has been an Enigmatic Incarnation midrange deck. This deck features a primary engine of the newly released In Search of Greatness from Kaldheim alongside the namesake Enigmatic Incarnation to compound card advantage from utility enchantments and fetch a toolbox of powerful creatures. This deck is capable of some awesome and crazy curves, and I would love to see a tuned build for the current metagame at the Kaldheim Championship.

Gruul Aggro

Gruul Aggro is another archetype that did not gain anything from Kaldheim, but it is still strong enough to be a part of the metagame. Being able to play cards like Llanowar Elves and Burning-Tree Emissary enables Gruul to have some ridiculously explosive draws and having the ability to morph out of a Collected Company deck to play a sideboard card like Grafdigger's Cage can be quite important in the right matchup.

Goblins

As seems to be the trend with the existing "top decks" in Historic, Goblins has not received any new cards since the Zendikar Rising Championship–and was already almost non-existent at the January Kaldheim League Weekend. I would not completely write off Goblins, but I do think it has fallen quite out of favor.

Unexplored Space

Historic now is looks quite diverse, and I believe there are still plenty of cards and interactions just looking for the right home/build to be found for them. Here are a few I would look out for:

  • Flameblade Adept in Cycling
  • Harmless Offering + Demonic Pact
  • Inspiring Statuary + Paradoxical Outcome
Flameblade Adept Harmless Offering Demonic Pact Inspiring Statuary Paradoxical Outcome

We may not see them at this event, but if Historic keeps moving in its current direction of printing/introducing cards to bolster fringe archetypes, it may only be a matter of time before these cards have their day. I love what this means for the format, and I can't wait to see its continued evolution.

What About Standard?

Historic may be looking exciting, but it is only half the battle at the Kaldheim Championship. Players will be bringing both Historic and Standard decks for the tournament, which means we should look at how the Standard metagame has shifted since the Zendikar Rising Championship.

Standard since the release of Kaldheim has been a fast-moving format, with each week seemingly introducing a new top deck to the format, but after the February Kaldheim League Weekend things have finally slowed down to a point where there is a clear picture of the metagame.

A New Ultimatum

With the release of Kaldheim, Emergent Ultimatum replaced Genesis Ultimatum as the most popular member of the cycle in Standard. Although very similar to the Historic counterpart I wrote about earlier, the Standard version of this deck is an 80-card Yorion, Sky Nomad deck. Despite this, the game plan essentially remains the same - ramp up and survive until you can cast Emergent Ultimatum. With very few truly bad matchups in a diverse metagame, Sultai Ultimatum is one of the most powerful decks in Standard.

Let It Snow

Kaldheim reinvigorated mono-color aggressive decks in Standard almost singlehandedly thanks to the power of the new Snow creature land Faceless Haven.

Faceless Haven

Getting a creature that can pressure your opponent while surviving board wipes and sorcery speed removal in a land slot is an extremely strong effect, but it comes at the cost of three Snow mana to use for a turn. These decks mitigate that cost with mana bases made up almost entirely of basic Snow lands, and although they feature a few other cards from Kaldheim (Frost Bite for Red, and a couple of Gods for white), the new additions are enough to keep them competitive in Standard.

The Many Flavors of Naya

Gruul Adventures was the top deck in the previous Standard format, but the printing of Showdown of the Skalds incentivized players to begin splashing white in their Gruul decks. Over the past few weeks, three distinct archetypes of Naya Adventures decks have been popularized, each with their own unique game plans to go alongside the core package of Adventure creatures + Showdown.

Each flavor of Naya has its own strengths and weaknesses, making it important for players to have a correct read on the expected metagame of the tournament before deciding which version they want to bring.

The first build of Naya focuses on card advantage, featuring a full four copies of The Great Henge to help grind out opponents:

The second build of Naya focuses on explosiveness, using Goldspan Dragon alongside Unleash Fury and Kazuul's Fury to put together combo kills out of nowhere.

The final build of Naya focuses on creating tokens using cards like Clarion Spirit, Felidar Retreat, and Esika's Chariot alongside payoffs like Toski, Bearer of Secrets to overwhelm opponents. This build features both the elements of card advantage and explosiveness from the other decks but gets there using different means.

The Return of Cycling

Jeskai and Four-Color variants of Cycling have once again become part of the Standard metagame, a surprising turn of events considering Hengegate Pathway is the only new Kaldheim card to make it into the deck. While the deck does still face issues with consistency and polarizing matchups, it is inherently powerful. If people neglect to respect its existence, Jeskai Cycling will be ready to punish them for it.

Temur, Two Ways

Another archetype that got some new toys from Kaldheim, the updated builds of Temur Adventures have replaced inconsistent cards Genesis Ultimatum and Terror of the Peaks with Alrund's Epiphany and Goldspan Dragon. The addition of the foretell mechanic gave the deck more options for spending mana on even-mana turns, which made running Obosh as a Companion mostly trivial—though there are also builds that forego the Companion for more flexibility in their card choices.

Gone Rogue

Dimir Rogues, once a dominant powerhouse of Standard, did not get much from Kaldheim aside from Crippling Fear as a sideboard card. This, combined with the rise of more poor matchups like the Snow aggro decks, has caused a drop in the popularity of the archetype. The deck is still good and capable of putting up results, but I do not expect numbers anywhere close to what we were seeing from Rogues in the previous format.

Doom For...gotten?

Esper Doom Foretold received a minor facelift with Kaldheim, becoming Four-Color Doom Foretold thanks to newcomer Binding the Old Gods. The new Saga slots perfectly into the deck, providing you with both ramp and a repeatable removal spell.

Binding the Old Gods

Unfortunately, this has not been enough to stop the deck from falling by the wayside in a hostile metagame where the aggressive decks do well against sorcery speed removal and the ramp decks go over top of your game plan. Given the customizable nature of the deck, I do believe there are builds that can be competitive in the current metagame, and I'm curious to see if any players choose to put their faith in the archetype for this tournament.

The Kaldheim Championship

Looking at the different decks in both Historic and Standard, I am filled with a sense of excitement at the thought of how healthy both formats seem. Neither format appears to have a clear-cut best deck now, which will should lead to plenty of variety—and players getting rewarded for smart metagame reads and deck choices.

My personal wish for the Kaldheim Championship is for neither format to have any singular archetype be more than 20% of the field, and I look forward to seeing if that wish comes true.



I will be in the booth all weekend—March 26–28, beginning at 9 a.m. PT at twitch.tv/magic—and I hope you will join me in watching the best in the world take on these awesome looking formats. See you then!

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