Artifacts have always been one of the most powerful and beloved types in Magic. There have been tons of different synergies and ways to use them, which always leads to a satisfying feeling of putting the pieces together. While they don't typically affect the smaller formats like Standard unless there's an artifact set currently in print, pretty much every larger format has at least one major artifact-centric deck.
Well, it's time to count Historic among them!
Historic is MTG Arena's non-rotating format and while it's made up primarily of the old Standard sets on MTG Arena that have rotated, extra sources of cards like the Historic Anthologies and Historic Horizons have helped get it up to speed with some sweet artifacts and payoffs. Add this to a surprising number of great artifact cards from Adventures in the Forgotten Realms and we've got an excellent looking Historic deck that I took recently to Top 8 of a Historic $1k tournament:
Azorius Affinity | Historic | Jim Davis | 7th place MTG Arena Zone PSCQ $1k
- Instants (4)
- 4 Metallic Rebuke
- Sorceries (2)
- 2 Reverse Engineer
- Artifacts (17)
- 2 Barbed Spike
- 2 Shadowspear
- 2 The Blackstaff of Waterdeep
- 3 Relic of Progenitus
- 4 Nettlecyst
- 4 Portable Hole
- Lands (22)
- 2 Island
- 2 Plains
- 2 Deserted Beach
- 4 Hallowed Fountain
- 4 Hengegate Pathway // Mistgate Pathway
- 4 Spire of Industry
- 4 Treasure Vault
The deck as able to seem together an impressive mix of both synergistic power as well as interaction, which is not a common trait of Affinity decks in other formats. Typically decks that are high on synergy are low on interaction, as every interactive card is one less synergy card for the overall power level of the deck, but this deck has some excellent tools to mitigate this.
The first question that any artifact deck needs to answer is "why do I want to put the work in to play so many artifacts?" You need to be paid off appropriately for putting Ornithopter, a fundamentally "bad" card in a vacuum, into your deck and Historic doesn't have anything like Arcbound Ravager, Cranial Plating, or Urza's Saga.
However, it does have some nice cards thanks to Historic Horizons!
Nettlecyst is the deck's primary threat, a card that in a lot of ways is even better than Cranial Plating. It's not hard to have Nettlecyst come down as a 4/4 or 5/5 the first turn you play it, nor is it uncommon for it to have double digit power and toughness as the game goes on. But what makes the card so good is that it's not all-in like something like All That Glitters would be. If they are able to kill the initial Germ token that it creates, it's very cheap to just pass it off to a random Ornithopter or Esper Sentinel that's just hanging around. You almost want them to kill your Germ token as it's pure card advantage, whereas if they kill your creature enchanted with All That Glitters you are extremely unhappy.
The other big artifact payoff is the immensely powerful Thought Monitor.
Thought Monitor is everything Thoughtcast ever wanted to be. Thoughtcast is a solid card, but its major issue comes from the fact that it is not an artifact itself. It's important to keep your artifact count high for all your cards to function properly, which means that every non-artifact you add to your deck is one less artifact card you're playing. Thought Monitor flips the script on this by not only being an artifact that can get picked up by Ingenious Smith or reduce the cost of the next Thought Monitor, but also being a threat as well to ensure you have enough threat density.
However, it's not all on Thought Monitor's back. While Reverse Engineer fails at both of these tasks, being a non-artifact pure card draw spell, it is still decent enough to make the cut as three cards for two mana is a good deal. Reverse Engineer also has the issue of needing early and not always having it available, making it only a two of. Ingenious Smith is perhaps the real prize, offering both card advantage and a threat together in one neat, two-mana little package.
There's no doubt that this deck isn't nearly as explosive as some of its counterparts in older formats like Modern. You're not likely to be dumping your entire hand on turn two or attacking for double digit damage on turn three. However, what makes this deck so unique is how much great on-theme interaction it has.
Portable Hole has been almost completely overshadowed by Prismatic Ending in Modern, but there's no denying that it is a phenomenal and flexible card. The larger the format, the greater density of lower cost cards (and that's not even accounting for the popularity of Lurrus of the Dream Den), which means that Portable Hole almost always has a good target. Furthermore, it's just a cheap artifact in a deck that really wants cheap artifacts! A one mana removal spell that also acts as a synergy piece is an amazing tool for a deck like this to have.
Speaking of one mana utility pieces, this is also a deck that can maindeck copies of Relic of Progenitus and feel very good about it. Considering the prevalence of graveyard strategies across many of the format's top decks, this is an almost free way to pre-sideboard against them. And against any deck that doesn't care about graveyards? It's just a cheap artifact to help with your synergies that can be cycled away when not needed. Earlier versions of this deck have played Tormod's Crypt just to add more zero mana artifacts, but Relic of Progenitus excels in synergy decks because of how it can be cycled into another resource; Tormod's Crypt is just a much worse card with a slightly higher ceiling but a much lower floor.
Lastly, and perhaps most excitingly, is the wonderful Metallic Rebuke. Having a cheap counterspell in your aggressive deck to counter a key spell is extremely useful, and this is perhaps the best Metallic Rebuke deck I've ever seen. With plenty of cheap artifacts to tap like Portable Hole and Relic of Progenitus, as well as equipment that never needs to tap anyway, Metallic Rebuke often will only cost a single mana and be ready to go on that key turn that will allow you to swing the game in your favor.
It's amazing we've gotten this far without mentioning Esper Sentinel, but the card is just a great roleplayer in the deck as well as a cheap artifact. Barbed Spike may draw the oddest looks, but the reality is that it's a 2/1 flier for two that provides two artifacts at once and leaves behind an artifact if it dies. Without artifact lands or other really broken ways to up the artifact count sometimes you need more modest options. The Blackstaff of Waterdeep, Ornithopter, and Shadowspear all round out the deck, providing various utility on cheap artifacts. It's also important to note that Treasure Vault is a sneaky artifact land!
Your opening hand is very important in this deck, as it's very important to reach a critical mass of artifacts as soon as possible. At the same time, the deck also has a good amount of interaction so don't feel like you're in a huge rush. It can often be correct to pump the brakes a bit and leave up Metallic Rebuke rather than just play everything out first.
Sequencing-wise the trickiest card is Ingenious Smith, as you really want to be able to play it and then play an artifact immediately to grow it in the same turn. It can only gain one counter per turn, so getting this ball rolling as soon as possible is paramount. This often means holding Ornithopter for turn two, because you can almost never do anything with it on turn one anyway. It also may mean playing a different 2-drop and looking to cast Ingenious Smith alongside a one-mana artifact on turn three. Treasure Vault can also grow Ingenious Smith on your opponent's turn or at instant speed too!
Shadowspear on a Nettlecyst equipped creature is often game over for many decks, but don't forget that you can move the Nettlecyst off of the Germ if you need to. Sometimes you play Nettlecyst and just dump the germ immediately to get it going on a flier for a huge swing. Pumping Esper Sentinel with either Nettlecyst or The Blackstaff of Waterdeep also makes it very hard for your opponent to pay the tax.
Aside from the excellent maindeck interaction, the deck also features a very nice sideboard.
Perhaps the most important card in the sideboard is Glass Casket, which doubles up alongside Portable Hole giving you an amazing eight removal spells that play right into the synergy of the deck. Killing your opponent's first few plays and then reloading with Thought Monitor or Reverse Engineer on the cheap is incredible.
There's additional graveyard hate in the board, as when Relic of Progenitus is good it is really good. Grafdigger's Cage comes in for some extra graveyard hate, while also just filling the quota for another cheap artifact. While you normally would bring in Grafdigger's Cage against a deck that only had something like Collected Company to stop, in this deck it's perfectly reasonable if you have things to take out because you just want cheap artifacts to get the synergies going.
The last two cards are the oddballs. While you might look at Containment Priest and think "wow that's a ton of graveyard hate," you usually aren't bringing it in against Izzet Phoenix or other graveyard decks. Instead, it's one of the better cards you can have against blink decks that are leaning on Soulherder and Ephemerate. Karn, Scion of Urza comes in as an extra sticky threat against control decks.
As far as what to take out, the easiest cuts are among the one-mana spells.
Esper Sentinel can come out against any creature heavy deck as long as there are cheap artifacts to replace it with, the same goes for Relic of Progenitus against non-graveyard decks and Portable Hole against decks without targets. You can shave down on Shadowspear and Ornithopter against removal heavy decks and control decks as you want more actual threats, while Metallic Rebuke can come out against extremely aggressive decks that you may fall behind against.
This deck is a blast to play and has some serious legs.
Being able to play maindeck Relic of Progenitus with zero downside is a huge boon, while Portable Hole is phenomenal against Lurrus of the Dream Den decks like Golgari Food and any sort of Auras deck. You've got a good proactive gameplan, but can also interact when needed, and Metallic Rebuke is flexible enough to be good against almost everything.
So dust off those Ornithopters and get to work!