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Arena Championship 2 Historic Metagame Breakdown

March 17, 2023
Frank Karsten

It's almost here: Arena Championship 2 runs this weekend, March 18–⁠19! In this tournament, which will be streamed live starting at 9 a.m. PT each day on, 31 top MTG Arena players have brought their best Historic decks and will battle it out for $200,000 in prizes and two Magic World Championship XXIX invitations.

What is the Arena Championship?

The Arena Championship, a thrice-yearly event, is the pinnacle of competition on MTG Arena. The first installment, Arena Championship 1, was won by Sam Rolph, and the upcoming second edition invites players who earned the most wins across Qualifier Weekend Day Twos held in September, October, November, and December of 2022.

To earn a spot in these monthly Qualifier Weekends, as described in more detail on the MTG Arena Premier Play page, a player first needs to show their skills by placing highly at Qualifier Play-In events, an Arena Open, or the Mythic ladder. To subsequently qualify for the Arena Championship, they need to reach seven wins on Day One of a Qualifier Weekend, followed by a good performance on Day Two. An invitation to the Arena Championship is a big achievement, and the payoff is worth it.

Drawn in by a prize pool of well over $6,000 per player, which is more than a Pro Tour, the list of qualified players for Arena Championship 2 is stacked with talent, featuring numerous Magic superstars. Consider, for example:

  • Streamer Vincent "Deathsie" Chu
  • Innistrad Championship winner Yuuki Ichikawa
  • Former Rivals league member Matti Kuisma
  • Pro Tour Phyrexia finalist Benton Madsen
  • Zendikar Rising Championship Top 8 competitor Luca Magni
  • Pro Tour champion Jan-Moritz "JMM" Merkel
  • Kaldheim Championship Top 8 competitor Noriyuki Mori
  • Two-time Grand Prix champion Simon Nielsen
  • 2020-21 Magic Pro League competitor Ondřej Stráský
  • World Champion and Faerie Mastermind Yuta Takahashi

Given the whole list of invited players, available on MTG Melee, I'm hyped to watch the event. This will be high-level Magic featuring some of the best players in the world, tackling a fresh Constructed format!

Simon Nielsen, who reached seven wins at the November Qualifier Weekend, explained that despite the difficulty of spiking a top performance at a Qualifier Weekend, the effort is worth it: "The payoff is through the roof. Not only is it a way to qualify directly for the Pro Tour, it also gives an invite to the Arena Championship, a tournament that's almost like a mini Worlds. With just 32 players and a huge prize pool, it certainly feels like it. Also I realized that you only need 5-6 wins on Day 2 to get there because of the leaderboard. This made it feel a lot more achievable."

Nielsen took the Qualifier Weekends seriously and "put in an amount of preparation like I would for a Regional Championship. For the November Historic Qualifier, Team Handshake spent a week trying out the many deck options in Historic, eventually finding the broken Goblin Trapfinder deck that rocketed Matti Kuisma, Stefan Schütz, and myself to a qualification." Although Goblin Trapfinder has been rebalanced since then, the team's track record in Historic makes them early favorites for Arena Championship 2.

Historic Metagame Breakdown

Day 1 of Arena Championship 2 leads off with Phyrexia: All Will Be One Draft followed by three rounds of Historic Constructed. Day 2 features three more rounds of Historic Constructed with a cut to a Top 8 Historic Constructed playoff to determine the champion.

Historic is MTG Arena's largest Constructed format, filled with both old and new Magic cards. Historic never rotates, and digital-only cards are legal, including rebalanced versions of existing cards. With over 7,800 cards to choose from, many unique strategies and wild synergies are possible. The metagame of the 31 Historic decklists submitted to Arena Championship 2 breaks down as follows.

Deck Archetype Number of Players Percentage of Field
Jund Midrange 7 22.6%
Kethis Combo 5 16.1%
Mardu Reanimator 5 16.1%
Rakdos Midrange 4 12.9%
Azorius Artifacts 2 6.5%
Izzet Wizards 1 3.2%
Jeskai Creativity 1 3.2%
Rakdos Goblins 1 3.2%
Esper Pact 1 3.2%
Izzet Phoenix 1 3.2%
Hammer Time 1 3.2%
Grixis Midrange 1 3.2%
Mono-White Auras 1 3.2%

Decklists from all competitors will become available on MTG Melee after the event gets underway.

The last major Historic tournaments with live streaming coverage were last year's Neon Dynasty Championship and New Capenna Championship. In those events, Izzet Phoenix and Golgari Food had the largest shares of the metagame, but rebalances like A-Cauldron Familiar and A-Unholy Heat have weakened those decks since then. Moreover, many new sets have been added to the format, and the resulting metagame looks nothing like last year's.

Fatal Push Thoughtseize Fable of the Mirror-Breaker

The most-played non-land cards overall are Fatal Push; Thoughtseize; Crucias, Titan of the Waves; and Fable of the Mirror-Breaker. Indeed, black-red midrange decks, possibly with a green or blue splash, make up a over one-third of the metagame at Arena Championship 2. This is similar to Pioneer or Explorer, except that digital-only cards like Crucias, Titan of the Waves are legal in Historic.

Besides Crucias, the most-played Historic cards that are not legal in Pioneer or Explorer are Inquisition of Kozilek; Jarsyl, Dark Age Scion; Fragment Reality; Molten Impact; Tarmogoyf; Chromatic Star; Unburial Rites; Priest of Fell Rites; Serra's Emissary; etcetera. These cards, which stem from Historic Anthologies; Strixhaven: Mystical Archive, The Brothers’ War: Retro Artifacts, Jumpstart: Historic Horizons, and Alchemy sets, give the Historic format a unique identity.

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The most important additions to the format from the latest set, Phyrexia: All Will Be One, are Blackcleave Cliffs; Jace, the Perfected Mind; and Atraxa, Grand Unifier. Jace has led to a resurgence of Kethis Combo, while Atraxa has boosted Mardu Reanimator.

To explain all the deck compositions and strategic diversity in Historic, let's take a quick look at a brief summary of each individual archetypes.

Jund Midrange (7 players): Jund Midrange puts together the most efficient interactive spells and value creatures available in black, red, and green. It will punch a hole in your strategy with Thoughtseize, destroy your early drops with Fatal Push, and then do it all over again with Jarsyl, Dark Age Scion. Most lists include Tarmogoyf as well, bringing back memories of the Jund Midrange deck that dominated Modern ten years ago.

Kethis Combo (5 players): Kethis Combo relies on self-mill cards like Emry, Lurker of the Loch to fill the graveyard for Kethis, the Hidden Hand, allowing legends to recast from the graveyard. These legends can include Mox Amber, which fuels big combo turns. An important new addition is Jace, the Perfected Mind, which sets up your graveyard, enables Kethis activations, and can even mill the opponent to win the game.

Mardu Reanimator (5 players): Mardu Reanimator is a midrange deck that aims to put Atraxa, Grand Unifier onto the battlefield via Unburial Rites or Priest of Fell Rites. By curving Priest of Fell Rites into Bloodtithe Harvester, a turn-three Atraxa is even possible! Alternatively, since discard outlets can be the bottleneck, we might see a player target themselves with Thoughtseize this weekend.

Rakdos Midrange (4 players): Rakdos Midrange has the best threats and answers in its colors, featuring a cleaner mana base than Jund. With Fable of the Mirror-Breaker on turn three and Sheoldred, the Apocalypse on turn four, it's reminiscent of a Standard or Pioneer deck. However, Crucias, Titan of the Waves adds a unique angle in Historic.

Azorius Artifacts (2 players): Azorius Artifacts aims to flood the board with cheap artifacts to make the most out of Michiko's Reign of Truth. It can also create a 4/4 as early as turn one by combining Retrofitter Foundry and Ornithopter. Although I would like to refer to this archetype as "Affinity", I had to settle for "Artifacts" because one of the two players does not actually use Thought Monitor or other Affinity cards.

Izzet Wizards (1 player): The key Wizards are Soul-Scar Mage, Dreadhorde Arcanist, and the rebalanced A-Symmetry Sage. They are supported by a smattering of cheap instant and sorcery spells, including Expressive Iteration and Wizard's Lightning, which is basically Lightning Bolt in this deck.

Jeskai Creativity (1 player): Indomitable Creativity can turn tokens from Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, Hard Evidence, or The Wandering Emperor into Serra's Emissary. Most opponents are unable to get past the Emissary's protection from creatures effect, especially if a second Emissary stops their instant-speed removal spells.

Rakdos Goblins (1 player): The Goblin horde is driven by Rundvelt Hordemaster and Muxus, Goblin Grandee, which can be cast as early as turn four thanks to Skirk Prospector. The black splash is for Munitions Expert and Sling-Gang Lieutenant.

Esper Pact (1 player): This deck is all singletons except for Jace, Wielder of Mysteries and Tainted Pact. When you have one copy of each in your hand and all singletons remaining in your library, you'll cast Tainted Pact, draw your entire deck except for the bottom card, untap, and cast Jace, Wielder of Mysteries for the win.

Izzet Phoenix (1 player): Faithless Looting and Consider put Arclight Phoenix into the graveyard, trigger A-Dragon's Rage Channeler and/or Ledger Shredder, and find any interactive spells you might need. Also, Historic is one of the few formats where Expressive Iteration remains legal.

Hammer Time (1 player): This deck uses Kemba's Outfitter and Kemba, Kha Ensuring to cheat the equip cost of Colossus Hammer or Belt of Giant Strength, creating an enormous creature for a low cost. With the perfect hand, a turn two kill is even possible—turn one Cacophony Scamp, followed by Colossus Hammer, Resolute Strike, an attack, and a sacrifice.

Grixis Midrange (1 player): It's basically Rakdos Midrange splashing for several interactive cards like Spell Pierce and Drown in the Loch.

Mono-White Auras (1 player): Kor Spiritdancer and Light-Paws, Emperor's Voice will trigger when you're suiting up your creatures with Ethereal Armor, Sentinel's Eyes, and so on. Although the deck contains several off-color Auras for Light-Paws, Emperor's Voice, it's essentially a mono-color deck with enough basic Plains to support Ossification.

On the whole, Historic at Arena Championship 2 looks fun and diverse. The metagame features midrange, aggro, and various combo strategies. There is no dedicated control deck, as it's difficult to show up with control in a wide-open field where no one knew what to expect, but the various graveyard-based and synergy-driven decks all look pretty spicy.

Don't miss the livestream of Arena Championship 2, which begins 9 a.m. PT each day, March 18–⁠19, at! More details can be found in the viewers guide.

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