With Explorer coming to MTG Arena and Pioneer being revitalized as a tournament format, there has naturally been a lot of hype around both formats.
However, Modern and Historic still exist!
I've been a huge fan of Historic since its inception. There was an obvious need on MTG Arena to have a format to play cards in after they rotated out of Standard, but because this didn't line up with any paper format it made a lot of sense to do have Historic just sort of do its own thing.
In order to help differentiate Historic from other Magic formats, cards would enter a number of different ways. The most straightforward is the Historic Anthologies, 25 curated cards added directly to the format, but there was also Jumpstart Historic Horizons as well as the Mystical Archive subset of Strixhaven.
These curated releases allow Wizards of the Coast to add cards to the format without any pretense of a normal set, meaning they can populate the format with whatever they like, giving it both a unique identity, while also showcasing cards that are awesome but aren't necessarily good enough for Modern or Legacy.
The only issue is that we haven't gotten a new Historic Anthology in a long time. The format has been pretty stable for a while, with Izzet Phoenix, Food, Azorius Auras, and various flavors of Control, and is well due for a shakeup.
This is especially important due to the introduction the Explorer format (which will eventually become Pioneer), as there is now a strong desire to heavily differentiate Historic from Explorer. With Explorer taking the Pioneer role of "the place to play old Standard cards," it makes a lot of sense for Historic to lean more into the Modern/Legacy side of things and really amp things up. Historic can be the place to really touch on Magic's history in a new light.
As such, today I want to go over my picks for what I'd love to see in the next Historic Anthology which we should be getting this summer. This release is going to be a defining one, as not only does Historic need the support, but it also needs a shot in the arm to keep up with Explorer as well as a clear statement of intent as to what the future holds for Historic as a format. As a note I've intentionally (mostly) not included cards that are legal in Pioneer, as I feel like some sort of Pioneer Anthology or other method of distribution is probably better for them.
With that said, let's jump right in to all 25 cards sorted by color!
There's a lack of good 1-drops in the format overall and Mardu Woe Reaper checks off a lot of boxes. Most importantly it's a Human for tribal synergies, but providing maindeckable graveyard hate in such a graveyard centric format is awesome. It also has interesting play patterns of making you decide if you want to wait to play it or not as well as prioritizing other warriors in deck-building.
Simple, but effective.
On the opposite side of the coin is Monastery Mentor.
Monastery Mentor is a huge card in Vintage and a pretty big card in Legacy, but doesn't make the leap to Modern very often at all. The effect is very powerful and it asks certain things of you in deck-building, which makes it a fun build around that could find a new home in Historic. It's also pretty different than a lot of the Auras or Humans things that are going on in White which creates some interesting diversity across the color.
Speaking of cool Modern cards that aren't really good enough for the format, Timeless Dragon is a really fun callback to Eternal Dragon that is actually pretty solid, but just isn't enough to make it into a very powerful Modern format.
Would Timeless Dragon be powerful enough to make a splash in Historic? It's not entirely clear, but Historic being a home for fun cards that just can't make it anywhere else feels like an excellent goal for the format to have.
Every Anthology should have a few fun cards, and while Battle of Wits would certainly not be a competitive staple, it is a very popular and nostalgic card that always makes for great stories. Battle of Wits was the meme card before meme cards were meme cards and it's too fun not to include.
Also, from a purely pragmatic standpoint for Wizards of the Coast, I'm sure it would have some of the whales straining their wildcards to build decks which is something they're interested in. And before you ask, there is a maximum deck size on MTG Arena, but it's 250 - which is perfect!
Speaking of cards that aren't quite there in Modern, Fact or Fiction is an all-time classic card that was a mainstay in many formats back in the day. Aside from the nostalgia and power level however, it's also just an extremely fun and skill testing card that every Magic player should get the chance to play with.
A very good card on rate that creates tension and a fun sub-game that both players are involved with feels like an easy winner.
Quench isn't good enough to see play, but as we've seen from Make Disappear recently, if you're able to increase the utility just a little bit into the mid and late game you can have a winner. Lose Focus scales up well and gets the job done as a role player. It's also pretty nice in Artisan.
One of the most classic Blue 6-drops ever, Consecrated Sphinx is an absolute monster that still sees play in Vintage Cube to this day.
This one would be more for the Historic Brawl and Cube crowd, but it's a worthy addition of big, swingy, and fun card. Not every card needs to be a tier one competitive Constructed card, and Consecrated Sphinx hits well in a lot of other places.
Our first real banger, Dark Confidant was long considered one of the best creatures of all time. A cheap and efficient card advantage engine that offered greatness at the cost of a little life, Bob has waned in popularity in Modern in large part to the ubiquity of Wrenn and Six, but it's still a great card.
Historic could be Dark Confidant's new place to shine, while also bringing enough star power to the release to drum up excitement for the anthology and the format while also helping to define its identity and potentially draw in paper players.
People love to play their favorite cards and Historic can be the place that happens, especially for those disillusioned with how Modern Horizons 2 has changed Modern (for better or worse).
Much of what was said about Mardu Woe Reaper applies to Carrion Feeder as well, although Carrion Feeder is a bit more synergistic and self-serving rather than an answer to the many graveyard decks of the format.
Carrion Feeder just checks off so many boxes; it's a zombie for tribal stuff, it attacks reasonably well, and most importantly it's a phenomenal sacrifice outlet. From Cryptbreaker to Claim the Firstborn, there are plenty of paths for Carrion Feeder to walk, which is exciting from a deck-builder's perspective.
Echoing Decay is a simple little common that is functional as a removal spell (although occasionally awesome against your opponent's best draws), but has one real purpose - exterminate all of your opponent's small creature tokens.
Whether it's a host of Scute Swarms or zombie tokens, Echoing Decay sends them all packing at instant speed and a very reasonable mana cost. The fact that it's maindeckable as opposed to something like Virulent Plague is very nice, and as such it has seen fringe play in Pauper for a long time.
A big question about this new Historic format ideology would be what to do with the Strixhaven Mystical Archive cards that are banned in Historic for power level reasons, like Swords to Plowshares, Counterspell, and perhaps most importantly Lightning Bolt.
As there are major drawbacks to unbanning Lightning Bolt (mostly having to do with homogenization), I think at first leaning toward leaving it on the banlist is prudent. If you're going to go wild and let folks play with tons of powerful cards, it could be eventually be reasonable, but trying the format with these new additions but without it feels safer.
That being said, Galvanic Blast could a nice addition to fill that void for artifact decks, while also providing a nice deck-building payoff with a high floor.
Are you looking for an awesome Red card that isn't playable in any format but Legacy? Let me introduce you to Anje's Ravager!
Anje's Ravager has a lot going on. It can be a card draw engine, a discard outlet, or even a madness payoff, and that's all in the context of a solidly on rate 3-drop. There's already a good Red Madness deck in Historic, and I'm sure Anje's Ravager could find other homes as well. It's also just a really fun and powerful card.
When Astral Drift was printed in Modern Horizons, it was a super fun callback to Astral Slide, once a king of Standard and Extended. These unique cycling-based control decks relied on both Astral Slide and Lightning Rift to control the board and eventually win the game.
There's something very novel about a Boros-based control deck and the synergy and deck-building elements are super fun as well. They've already introduced cycling lands as well as a number of interesting cycling cards in Historic Horizons and Lightning Rift may be just what is needed to push them over the top. It's also just a nostalgic and enjoyable build around that isn't currently playable in any format it's legal in.
Veteran Explorer is a very quirky card that actually has a very solid competitive pedigree in Legacy. When played with cards like Cabal Therapy, it can lead to a big mana boost that allows cards at higher mana costs to be playable in more powerful formats, while also taking advantage of players who are skimping on basic lands or only playing the cheapest and most efficient spells.
Would Veteran Explorer see play in Historic? It's hard to say, but it's a super interesting deck-building puzzle to have around that has some other positive effects.
Ah yes, the other of the big two.
Like Dark Confidant, Tarmogoyf is one of the most classic 2-drops of all time. Unlike Dark Confidant, it's got no fancy abilities or keywords, it just big at a cost that doesn't usually get you very big. When it comes down to pure rate and numbers, Tarmogoyf usually takes the cake.
Historic is a very interesting place for Tarmogoyf, as there are no fetchlands and less cantrips like Mishra's Bauble, but it's certainly still a very good card. It ends up being a little more of a build around card than a pure rate card, but that's a feature not a bug.
This may surprise some newer players, but Wild Nacatl was once banned in Modern!
A 3/3 for one mana is still pretty great, even if it can't compete with many of the other 1-drops in Modern. There aren't a lot of great Aggro decks in Historic, nor are there a lot of good 1-drops, and furthermore it would be very fun to see how Wild Nacatl would play in a world without fetchlands.
Lightning Angel was part of Magic's many steps toward making creatures not awful, providing a powerful creature that hit hard, defended well, and was hard to block all in a neat little package. That forth toughness occasionally would even be a benefit over Mantis Rider despite the higher cost based on the sizing of the removal or creatures in the format.
Lightning Angel is legal in Modern but just doesn't have the chops to make it there, and honestly it may not be good enough for competitive Historic play, but gosh darn it's a classic.
If it seems like this is just a list of outdated boomer cards, that's kind of the point. Many of these cards have had many days at the top, but the game eventually passed them by, and Historic could be the new home for them.
Doran, the Siege Tower saw a ton of play back in the day as a huge, hard to kill threat out of midrange decks, but also gets to be a great build around card for toughness matters decks. Whether it's in Historic Brawl or even Historic proper, there's already a bunch of cards that care about toughness like Arcades, the Strategist, Assault Formation, and Ancient Lumberknot, which makes for a fun build around.
There was a long period of time in Magic's historic where Psychatog was the best creature of all time, and it wasn't particularly close.
That may seem odd, but Psychatog was sort of like Tarmogoyf before Tarmogoyf existed, a large and cheap creature that could play offense and defense early, while also having the ability to one shot your opponent later in the game with counterspell backup when your graveyard was large enough.
Given that Psychatog isn't legal in Modern and hasn't really seen the light of day in about a decade or so, it's not super likely that good ole Dr. Teeth (original Odyssey artwork is a requirement) would be taking too many chomps out of opponents, but it would be good to have a chance to make it work.
Artifact decks in Historic have always been seemingly just on the edge, but they've been lacking the critical mass of artifacts necessary to truly get there. Without any sort of artifact land besides Treasure Vault, and with both Treasure Vault and Moonsnare Prototype tapping for colorless, getting on the board early and with the right colors can be tough.
Springleaf Drum feels like the final piece of the puzzle, which would also potentially prop up many of the sweet artifact cards in the format like Blinkmoth Nexus and Orinthopter that haven't really found a home yet.
Speaking of one mana artifacts, why not add one of the best?
Aether Vial decks have been a staple in Legacy and Modern for years, while almost always propping up tribal decks that are fun and interactive. Humans, Goblins, Merfolk, and more could all benefit from Aether Vial, and it once again helps to fill that somewhat vacant 1-drop spot in many of these decks while also giving them an added dimension of operating at instant speed at times.
There's not much more to say about Aether Vial; it's a format staple that people love and would be a huge draw.
Adding Emrakul, the Aeons Torn would probably be a bit too much as she's undoubtably the best creature to cheat into play perhaps in Magic's history, but what about her smaller brother Kozilek, Butcher of Truth?
Operating in a similar space to Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, Kozilek could give another alternative for big mana decks that are looking for a powerful card that's also great against control decks. It's also just huge, fun, and very different from most of the big creatures currently available on the platform.
Another huge one. If added to Historic, Prismatic Vista would probably end up as one of the most played cards in the entire format.
Fetchlands are a huge question mark to consider when cultivating a format, as they are the backbone of Legacy, Modern, and every other format where they are legal. Pioneer made the conscious decision to preemptively ban them, to help differentiate itself from the rest of the fetchland dominated formats. There's no doubt that fetchlands break Magic cards, from Deathrite Shaman to Treasure Cruise to Brainstorm, so adding the full set to the Historic would be the most drastic change the format has ever seen.
Even though there's a desire to try and differentiate Historic from Explorer/Pioneer, differentiating Historic from the rest of Magic's Eternal formats feels like a larger priority, which makes fetchlands a non-starter.
However, Prismatic Vista is a way to split the difference. It helps to provide a bit more mana fixing that is on par or below Pathways (at least in two color decks), while also offering some of the synergy that the fetchlands provide but on a less consistent basis. Fabled Passage has seen some Historic play, but Prismatic Vista is the clear upgrade. It also encourages basic lands, which is a good thing.
The darling of Pauper, Ash Barrens is a really clever mana fixing land. Half Evolving Wilds, half Wastes, Ash Barrens also puts a land in the graveyard and shuffles for other synergistic effects, which is sweet.
The card is currently only legal in Legacy, Pauper, and Vintage, so it would be great to see it in a more recent format.
Our last card is sort of an oddball classic, Flagstones of Trokair.
As a White producing Legendary land, the first copy is almost strictly superior to a Plains, but where it gets fun is when you can find effects to sacrifice it for value. Even something as simple as playing four Flagstones of Trokair and four Cleansing Wildfires to turn them into cantripping Rampant Growths is pretty awesome.
Flagstones of Trokair isn't a card that blows you a way, but is often a card you're happy to have in deck-building.
There's no doubt that there's still a lot of cards not get on MTG Arena that are needed to help push Explorer all of the way into being full Pioneer, but if Wizards of the Coast attempts to push them all into one or two 25 card Pioneer Anthology sets, it's going to be very difficult to release all the commons and uncommons that seem small amounts of play and actually line the formats up, because nobody is buying Khans of Tarkir Remastered if they already have most of the good rares and uncommons.
As such, I'm not sure exactly how Wizards of the Coast should handle bringing Pioneer to MTG Arena.
I am sure however that Historic needs a shot in the arm, and I think that a high powered and exciting anthology like the one I've suggested today is the way to do it. Revitalize the format, digging in to what makes it special and different!