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Strixhaven Championship Historic Metagame Breakdown

June 03, 2021
Frank Karsten

It's here tomorrow: the Strixhaven Championship begins Friday June 4 at 9 a.m. PT, featuring all members of the Magic Pro League and the Magic Rivals League, as well as top players from qualifying events held on MTG Arena and Magic Online, and will broadcast live at

This weekend, there are 250 competitors battling in both Standard and Historic formats. Yesterday, I provided the Standard metagame breakdown. Today, I'll go over the Historic metagame. I'll cover the most-played archetypes and the most-played new cards at the Strixhaven Championship. For a more in-depth introduction to the format, check out Mani Davoudi's article from earlier this week.

Historic's Constant Flux

Tainted Pact Thassa's Oracle

Before getting to the metagame breakdown, allow me to set the stage. Two months ago, at the Kaldheim Championship, Jund Food and Orzhov Auras were the most popular archetypes, and Thoughtseize and Binding the Old Gods were the most-played nonland cards. Since then, the release of Strixhaven: School of Mages has shaken up the format, and over the past month the Historic metagame has been in constant flux.

Strixhaven introduced many powerful cards to the format through both the main set and the Mystical Archive—a supplemental set containing some of the most iconic instants and sorceries of all time. Amongst them was Tainted Pact, which dominated the May Strixhaven League Weekend. Half of the field in that event utilized the two-card combo of Tainted Pact and Thassa's Oracle. Due to the power and dominance of that combination, Thassa's Oracle was banned effective May 20, completely shaking up the format once again.

Soon after, on May 27, Historic Anthology 5 was released, featuring 25 new-to-Historic cards. That was only one week ago, leaving a frantic week of exploration for the Strixhaven Championship competitors to figure out the new format. Where did their deck choices end up?

Historic Metagame Breakdown

At the Strixhaven Championship, the first three rounds on Friday, the first four rounds on Saturday, and all Top 8 matches are (best-of-three) Historic. The metagame breaks downs as follows.

Deck Archetype Number of Players Percentage of Field
Izzet Phoenix 88 35.2%
Jeskai Turns 45 18.0%
Jeskai Control 24 9.6%
Jund Food 18 7.2%
Mono-Black Aggro 13 5.2%
Selesnya Company 12 4.8%
Gruul Aggro 11 4.4%
Five-Color Niv-Mizzet 5 2.0%
Dragonstorm 4 1.6%
Azorius Auras 4 1.6%
Dimir Rogues 2 0.8%
Boros Midrange 2 0.8%
Mono-Red Aggro 2 0.8%
Dimir Pact 2 0.8%
Grixis Control 2 0.8%
Elves 2 0.8%
Dimir Control 1 0.4%
Orzhov Auras 1 0.4%
Atarka Red 1 0.4%
Temur Marvel 1 0.4%
Neostorm 1 0.4%
Boros Magecraft 1 0.4%
Orzhov Shadow 1 0.4%
Azorius Control 1 0.4%
Temur Turns 1 0.4%
Temur Ramp 1 0.4%
Colorless Ramp 1 0.4%
Sultai Ultimatum 1 0.4%
Simic Turns 1 0.4%
Mono-Blue Spirits 1 0.4%

The two most-played deck archetypes from the Kaldheim Championship, Jund Food and Orzhov Auras, have fallen by the wayside. The two most-played nonland cards from that event, Thoughtseize and Binding the Old Gods, have even fallen out of the top 20 most-played cards overall. And while the dominant strategy at the May Strixhaven League Weekend, Dimir Pact, is still viable—you can win with Jace, Wielder of Mysteries instead of Thassa's Oracle—only two players opted for that.

Instead, in this exciting new Historic format, over half the field opted for base blue-red decks.

Steam Vents Is the Second Most-Played Card

Brainstorm Steam Vents Expressive Iteration Faithless Looting

At the Strixhaven Championship, the most-played nonland cards are all red or blue: there are 647 copies of Brainstorm, 483 copies of Expressive Iteration, and 374 copies of Faithless Looting across all Historic main decks.

What's more, the most-played land is not even a basic land or Fabled Passage. It's Steam Vents, at 627 total copies. In fact, Steam Vents is the second most-played card overall, just behind Brainstorm.

Steam Vents fuels both Izzet Phoenix and Jeskai Turns, which together make up over half of the field. Yet the two archetypes play out completely differently. Decklists are not public until they are published on the Strixhaven Championship event page at the beginning of Round 1 on Friday, June 4, but I can still give you a rough idea of what to expect.

By analyzing decklists submitted to various MTG Melee events over the last week, I compiled a representative aggregate for these two archetypes.

Arclight Phoenix was legal before Strixhaven, but it was difficult to reliably get it in or out of the graveyard. The introduction of Expressive Iteration, Brainstorm, and, in particular, Faithless Looting changed all that. Faithless Looting gets the Phoenix into the graveyard. Brainstorm adds consistency, protects you against discard spells, and synergizes with Fabled Passage. Finally, Expressive Iteration provides a lot of fuel in the mid-game.

With the current build of the deck, a typical game might involve casting Sprite Dragon turn two and Faithless Looting on turn three. Depending on the contents of you hand, you could simply discard two cards and follow up with a discounted Stormwing Entity. Or you could discard Arclight Phoenix, cast two more one-mana instants or sorceries, and return the Phoenix for a hasty attack in the air. With the right follow-up, a turn-four win is certainly not out of the question. And thanks to all of the one-mana cantrips, the deck can find its key threats with startling consistency.

So, the archetype is fast and consistent, and it posted impressive win rates over the course of the last month. It does not surprise me that it's the most popular strategy at the Strixhaven Championship, although I hadn't expected a metagame share as high as 35.2%.

While Izzet Phoenix is powerful and well-rounded, one weakness is that it doesn't have all that much disruption in the first game of a match, especially in matchups where Pillar of Flame is useless. The second most played archetype aims to exploit that.

Jeskai Turns is an Indomitable Creativity deck that aims to cheat Velomachus Lorehold onto the battlefield and hit a string of Time Warps and Mizzix's Mastery to take multiple turns in a row. Ideally, once Velomachus Lorehold attack trigger goes on the stack, the opponent will never get another turn.

Dwarven Mine Prismari Command Indomitable Creativity

Dwarven Mine, Prismari Command, Magma Opus, and Shark Typhoon can all create a creature or artifact for Indomitable Creativity. More importantly, none of these cards have the word "creature" or "artifact" in their typeline. This means that a turn-four Indomitable Creativity is guaranteed to hit Velomachus Lorehold (provided you didn't accidentally draw all copies of the legend) and that will often spell game over.

Dwarven Mine puts heavy restrictions on the mana base: You would like to play Dwarven Mine untapped on turn four so you can cast Indomitable Creativity for X=1, but this means that you can't run too many non-Mountain lands.

So, to get enough blue sources, the deck heavily relies on Fabled Passage and Raugrin Triome. If it weren't for Raugrin Triome, I might have called the deck "Izzet Turns," but since Raugrin Triome makes it possible to hardcast Velomachus Lorehold in the late game, "Jeskai Turns" it is.

In any case, the deck contains a rather large number of enters-the-battlefield-tapped lands that can sometimes get in the way of early-game development, but those are the sacrifices you must make.

Magma Opus Mizzix's Mastery

As I explained, it's not trivial to have untapped lands on both turn two and turn three. But when you do, a potentially very powerful opening is to chain Magma Opus into Mizzix's Mastery. On turn two, you discard Magma Opus to create a Treasure. Then, on turn three, you sacrifice the Treasure, play Mizzix's Mastery, and cast Magma Opus for free. Especially against creature decks, this is an absurdly powerful turn-three play.

With multiple explosive synergies and a game plan that is unlike anything else in Historic, Jeskai Turns makes up 18.0% of the field. I expect that it will become the breakout deck of the event. It has the right combination of speed, power, and threats to prey on Izzet Phoenix and—bold prediction—it will put two players in the Top 8.

The most impressive aspect is that Jeskai Turns is basically brand new. Just a few weeks ago, at the May Strixhaven League Weekend, Matias Leveratto was the only player to register Indomitable Creativity. But it makes sense that it took some time for the right build to be found. When you look at it, the deck is almost solely comprised of Strixhaven additions. The sample list above has 28 of them, which is nearly the entire nonland part of the deck!

While Jeskai Turns could not exist without all of these newly released cards, it was not the only archetype that benefited from the new set releases. Let's zoom in on the impact of these new releases in a bit more detail.

The Impact of the Mystical Archive

Brainstorm Faithless Looting Memory Lapse Mizzix's Mastery Time Warp Lightning Helix Inquisition of Kozilek

I already mentioned the 647 copies of Brainstorm and 374 copies of Faithless Looting, but 299 copies of Memory Lapse are quite impressive as well. Jeskai Turns, Jeskai Control, Dimir Rogues, Grixis Control, and various other decks have eagerly picked up the cost-efficient unconditional Counterspell to disrupt the opponent and buy time.

Meanwhile, Lightning Helix has boosted decks like Jeskai Control and Five-Color Niv-Mizzet, while Inquisition of Kozilek has improved decks like Mono-Black Aggro or Dimir Rogues. To a lesser extent, Day of Judgment and Abundant Harvest are also seeing a bit of play, but in the end it's mainly the blue and red spells from Mystical Archive that have had the largest impact.

Taken together, the total number of copies of new-to-Historic cards from Mystical Archive registered for this event (which is excluding reprints like Shock or Negate) is larger than the corresponding number for any other Historic-legal set. That says it all.

The Impact of Strixhaven: School of Mages

Expressive Iteration Prismari Command Magma Opus Velomachus Lorehold Elite Spellbinder

The four most-played cards from the Strixhaven base set—Expressive Iteration, Prismari Command, Magma Opus, and Velomachus Lorehold, each with at least 100 copies across all Historic decklists at the Strixhaven Championship—reads like a list of essentials for Jeskai Turns. But they have boosted other, less popular archetypes as well.

Expressive Iteration made combo decks like Neoform more consistent. And alongside Vanishing Verse, Expressive Iteration turned out to be an excellent addition to the suite of spells that Niv-Mizzet Reborn could hit for each color pair. It's nice to see five players choose Five-Color Niv-Mizzet as their Historic deck.

Prismari Command has been incorporated in various Jeskai Control or Grixis Control decks, and it's also a key setup piece for Dragonstorm. (More on that later.)

Magma Opus synergizes not only with Mizzix's Mastery but also with Torrential Gearhulk. Many Jeskai Control decks have adopted this two-card combination as their win condition. If you discard Magma Opus to create a Treasure, then you can cast Torrential Gearhulk as early as turn five and get a 5/6, get a 4/4, deal 4 damage, tap two permanents, and draw two cards. At instant speed. That's really powerful.

There were also 56 total copies of Elite Spellbinder, which greatly improved Selesnya Company. It's one of the better three-drops to hit with Collected Company as it pressures and disrupts the opponent at the same time. The card is also partly responsible for enabling new archetypes like Boros Midrange.

The list of new Strixhaven cards that were registered for the Historic portion includes many more, of course. My favorites, albeit at only four copies each, are Clever Lumimancer, Leonin Lightscribe, and Guiding Voice. Together, they have made Boros Magecraft possible. There's always some spice!

The Impact of Historic Anthology 5

Relic of Progenitus Atarka's Command Dragonstorm Dromoka's Command Kolaghan's Command Into the North

Historic Anthology 5 has not had the same impact that Strixhaven had, but it still added multiple relevant cards to the format. Since the set is brand new, let me give a complete overview of every single Historic Anthology 5 card that was registered for the Strixhaven Championship.

First of all, Relic of Progenitus is the most-played card from Historic Anthology 5. At 35 copies overall, it is a powerful anti-graveyard card that can go into any sideboard, no matter the colors of your deck.

The Command cycle has also found some homes. Across decklists submitted for the Strixhaven Championship, there are 21 copies of Atarka's Command (mostly in Gruul Aggro), 16 copies of Dromoka's Command (mostly in Selesnya Company), and 8 copies of Kolaghan's Command. Atarka's Command even encouraged one player to bring back Atarka Red—basically a mono-red deck with a few token creators splashing for Atarka's Command. Pretty spicy.

But the most impactful card from Historic Anthology 5, because it spawned an entirely new archetype, is Dragonstorm. Four players registered the nine-mana sorcery, for sixteen copies total.

In the most common version, the plan is to discard Dragonstorm and Bladewing the Risen to Faithless Looting or Prismari Command. Then, you play Mizzix's Mastery to cast Dragonstorm from the graveyard, which allows you to search for at least two Dragons. If you fetch Terror of the Peaks and Bladewing the Risen, then Bladewing the Risen will return the previously discarded one to the battlefield, at which point it will die to the legend rule, return itself, and loop to create infinite Terror of the Peaks triggers. With this setup, a Dragonstorm for two can already achieve victory. With a Dragonstorm for three, you of course don't have to discard Bladewing the Risen beforehand; you just need Dragonstorm, a draw-and-discard spell, and Mizzix's Mastery. That's still a lot of pieces, but Solve the Equation and Brainstorm provide much-needed consistency. This deck is awesome and I can't wait to see it in action.

Finally, there are eight copies of Into the North, which seemed to slot nicely into Sultai Ultimatum, and a single copy of Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite, included in a Boros Midrange deck with Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast. All in all, Historic Anthology 5 has offered multiple viable new options.


Historic has been in a state of constant flux over the last month, and the metagame looks completely different than even just a few months ago. Over half of the field is now relying on Brainstorm, Expressive Iteration, and Steam Vents, and Historic is now driven by powerful instants and sorceries.

Another change is that Cauldron Familiar + Witch's Oven is no longer defining the rules of engagement. Instead, you can expect opponents to pummel you in the air. Whether it's with Arclight Phoenix, Velomachus Lorehold, Elite Spellbinder, Niv-Mizzet Reborn, or Terror of the Peaks, most of the key threats in this fresh format all have flying, so get ready to spread your wings.

As I mentioned, I expect that Jeskai Turns will be well-positioned, especially when there are so many Izzet Phoenix players around. But we'll have to see the rounds in action to find out.

Don't miss the live broadcast, June 4-6 beginning at 9 a.m. PDT each day at!

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