Jumping into Historic with Jumpstart
- Gianluca Aicardi
The allure of the peculiar Arena format is stronger than ever — both in digital form and in the real world, where Historic playing groups have started to emerge. The debut of Jumpstart, which was made Historic-legal on Arena, is yet another reason to have a look at this now suddenly supercharged format.
Historic was born on the fringes of Magic, as an expediency format to give MTG Arena users a place where to play their untradeable cards once they rotated out of Standard. Since its inception, though, Historic has been unexpectedly cultivated with specific additions that pushed it beyond its initial "ersatz Pioneer" feel, crossing into mini-Legacy territory.
Historic is unique among non-rotating formats in that it doesn't have a fixed starting point. When it was first implemented in November 2019, the oldest legal set was Ixalan, but Historic wasn't conceived as a format encompassing cards from Ixalan onward, the way Modern was with Eighth Edition and Pioneer with Return to Ravnica. In fact, everything that comes to Arena is by default Historic-legal, regardless of its origin. Later, the Historic Anthology series added cards that aren't even legal in Modern, let alone Pioneer. And once Amonkhet Remastered releases on August 13, those cards will be part of the format too, despite predating Ixalan.
Now Jumpstart, which released digitally on July 15, represents the latest, and most impactful, of these additions to Historic. Many of its 495 non-M21 cards enter the format for the first time, shaking the meta and opening up an unprecedented amount of deck-building possibilities. What follows below is meant as just a quick showcase: five monocolored tribal decks that happen to be presented almost, but not quite, in increasing order of power level — from mostly casual to decidedly bannable.
White: The Dogs Get New Toys
New from Jumpstart:
Going white weenie with Dogs exclusively is clearly the expression of a specific passion for the canine, but our furry friends make for a functional enough aggro build. Isamaru is the best one-drop such a deck could aspire to, and Release the Dogs nicely fills the board to better exploit all the anthems and +1/+1 counter distribution. The deck has a large number of early plays and a strong lord in Pack Leader, which comes complete with a practical way to be rescued from most removal thanks to Selfless Savior's heroism.
Other white goodies that enter Historic via Jumpstart: Emiel the Blessed and Cloudshift are the power tools with which to assemble a brand new blinking archetype; Kor Spiritdancer has come to claim all Aura decks as her own; Linvala, Keeper of Silence is mostly a sideboard card, but a worthy one, able to shut down even mana abilities; Emancipation Angel is a cheap flier that can retrigger an enter-the-battlefield effect or free a trapped creature; Mikaeus, the Lunarch serves all "+1/+1 counters matter" strategies; Archon of Justice could pique the interest of some of Vannifar's most value-oriented builds; Blessed Sanctuary and Cathars' Crusade are expensive yet valuable enchantments that might find a home, if perhaps not one located in a competitive neighborhood.
Blue: The Spirits Get New Tactics
New from Jumpstart:
Of course the correct way to build Historic Spirits is by splashing white — with some help from Unclaimed Territory — for the second anthem lord, Empyrean Eagle. But even staying in monoblue, the new line-up looks promising. Rattlechains grants the whole team flash, synergizing perfectly with countermagic. Lofty Denial feels like the tribal counterspell of choice, given that every Spirit flies. Nebelgast Herald complements nicely Core Set 2021's Shacklegeist, creating an ectoplasmic web that's bound to slow down most aggro decks. Essence Flux is another interesting card, a way to dribble removal while also retriggering the tapping effect from the Herald and enhancing the future damage output of one of our Spirits — not bad for one mana. And since this is a tempo deck at heart, and all our creatures are evasive, we may well make use of Curiosity, even if we won't exploit its ability to trigger off of noncombat damage, which sets it apart from its most recent imitators. We can leave that pleasure to the likes of Electrostatic Field and Niv-Mizzet, Parun.
Another Jumpstart-gifted Spirit worth considering is the protective Kira, Great Glass-Spinner. However, it doesn't feel impactful enough as a three-drop, possibly better suited for sideboard duty in best-of-three matches against removal-heavy decks.
Other blue goodies that enter Historic via Jumpstart: Bruvac the Grandiloquent amplifies the effectiveness of mill decks; Corsair Captain is a new Pirate lord; Serendib Efreet is a classic beater with an amazingly long career; Vedalken Archmage has some combo potential in artifact builds.
Black: The Vampires Get New Blood
New from Jumpstart:
Much like their spiritic colleagues, the Vampires wouldn't mind a little splash of white for Legion Lieutenant and select other Orzhov cards. But monoblack remains the tribe's core, which Jumpstart significantly boosts with some neat members that Historic was missing, starting with the excellent two-drop Gifted Aetherborn, a staple of any Vampire deck with access to it. Drana, Liberator of Malakir is another exciting reintroduction and doesn't even need to be in a tribal build, happy to augment any kind of attacking creature — and let's not miss the fact that the combat trigger happens during the first strike step, so it's an immediate gain for everybody slower than our Zendikari heroine. Blood Artist is a well-known "death parasite" that makes the absence of Cruel Celebrant negligible, while Sangromancer is sort of his big sister, if limited to the part where you gain life.
This constant stream of lifeblood — twenty cards in the proposed deck have some kind of lifegaining capability — could also suggest the use of Oathsworn Vampire. It nicely dovetails with M21 legendary bloodsucker Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose, a card that interacts in turn with Jumpstart's Exquisite Blood. That's an instant combo kill that might certainly deserve a dedicated list, but it's incidentally easy to enable in this deck. Even when Vito is not around to suck the opponent dry, the enchantment's lifegain rarely goes to waste. For one, it grows Bloodthirsty Aerialist, but it also keeps bringing back another vamp from Core Set 2021, Silversmote Ghoul. The Ghoul has already become the fodder of choice for Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord's sacrifice ability, since this very act will cause it to come back from the graveyard at the end of turn. It's a good time to be a vampire.
Other black goodies that enter Historic via Jumpstart: Gonti, Lord of Luxury is a great midrange card that steals something from the opponent and then trades for a creature; Languish is a solid alternative to the existing four-mana sweepers; Entomber Exarch is another fine candidate for a one-of position in Vannifar decks; Harvester of Souls will probably become a Historic Brawl staple; Kels, Fight Fixer is up for the role of Dimir commander with a sacrifice theme; Oona's Blackguard makes a case for Rogue tribal; Phyrexian Reclamation is an old-school recursion engine; Rise of the Dark Realms is a larger-than-life finishing move for ramp/control decks that include self-milling, or just for a reborn iteration of Monoblack Control; Zombie Infestation is a tool for reanimator and Treasure Hunt decks; and Ghoulcaller Gisa is simply cool.
Red: The Goblins Get New Leadership
New from Jumpstart:
With the fourth featured deck, we reach the pinnacle of our monocolored tower. The Goblins received the once-in-a-lifetime gift of a trio of incredible centerpieces, two reprinted and one entirely new, which propelled the tribe to the very top of the Historic metagame. The refurbished Goblin deck is now one complex synergy machine, with Goblin Chieftain raising the number of haste-granting lords to eight. Thus the original Krenko can immediately flood the board with tokens that Skirk Prospector will turn into mana, accelerating the advent of the fabulous Muxus, Goblin Grandee. Muxus is essentially Goblin Ringleader on steroids. Turn-one Prospector into turn-two Instigator or Wily Goblin gives us a turn-three Muxus, with a good chance of cheating three to six more Goblins onto the battlefield, one of which has an even better chance of being one of the haste providers, allowing Muxus to immediately attack. Of course Muxus also got a Goblin Piledriver-like ability, because why not? Except it also boosts toughness and the other Goblins don't even have to attack. Though be assured, they will.
The meta was already affected a few hours into the Jumpstart release. Will it last? It seems strange to introduce a new formidable cheater that works off the top of the library right after the ban of Winota. However, it must be noted that Muxus is one of the new cards from Jumpstart, making the idea of replacing him for Arena a hard proposition. The product would lose part of its appeal. So for now the Goblins get to reign supreme over all the other Historic tribes. It's grand indeed.
Other red goodies that enter Historic via Jumpstart: Grim Lavamancer and Young Pyromancer are high-profile stars of burn and spellslinging archetypes across all formats; Hellrider is an extremely powerful curve-topper for red aggro; Dualcaster Mage is a combo card that's only waiting to be launched into the infinite; Lightning Axe is removal and discard outlet rolled into one; Pillar of Flame is a sorcery-speed Shock that exiles; Magma Jet is a two-mana Shock with scry 2; Volcanic Fallout is an uncounterable instant sweeper that's been a staple of red-based control for a long time; Magmaquake is an instant-speed Earthquake that affects planeswalkers instead of players; Sethron, Hurloon General is a functional Minotaur lord; Dragonlord's Servant and Dragonspeaker Shaman are casual cards, but they surely make Sarkhan happy, as well as any other fan of Dragons.
Green: The Elves Get New Dimensions
New from Jumpstart:
The jumpstarted Elves aren't as mighty as their traditional Goblin rivals. But they got the single most sought-after new card of the set in Allosaurus Shepherd, currently priced at almost the same amount as an entire Jumpstart box. The reason for this high evaluation resides in the card's nontribal abilities: it can sneak both itself and one of the many green power plays in Vintage and Legacy — for example Oath of Druids, Channel, Fastbond, Green Sun's Zenith, Natural Order — past Force of Will and Force of Negation. In a tribal shell, on the other hand, it's the mana sink that matters most, doing a reasonable impression of Ezuri's finishing routine, although sorely lacking trample. For that, the Historic Elfball team, now magnified by the introduction of one of its time-honored mana outlets, Elvish Archdruid, can count on alpha-strike grandmaster Craterhoof Behemoth. It has come to Historic and violently displaced End-Raze Forerunners from their own turf. It was fun while it lasted, little Boars. You can rest now, the pros will take over.
There's a few more Elven niceties sprinkled throughout Jumpstart, like two-for-one Dwynen's Elite, big deathtoucher Wren's Run Vanquisher, and group-hug commander Selvala, Heart of the Wilds. No Lys Alana Huntmaster yet, unfortunately. We get to make Elf tokens with Presence of Gond instead.
Other green goodies that enter Historic via Jumpstart: Explore is the original Growth Spiral; Branching Evolution is a discount Doubling Season — minus the planeswalker troubles — that's debuting here and is bound to take residence in all the decks that involve +1/+1 counters hijinks; for their part, defender-based builds get Assault Formation, Carven Caryatid, Wall of Blossoms, and Overgrown Battlement, with the latter two also generally staking a collective claim on a new form of wall-based green ramp; speaking of which, Oracle of Mul Daya is a welcome ramp specialist that can create a silly advantage engine when paired with cards like Vivien, Monsters' Advocate and Experimental Frenzy; Zendikar's Roil is a spicy landfall effect to build around; Hunter's Insight and Momentous Fall are ways for green to draw a massive amount of cards all at once, while Primordial Sage, Soul of the Harvest, and Primeval Bounty are top-end card-advantage engines probably better suited to Brawl; Nature's Way is a trusty bite effect from Kaladesh and Rishkar, Peema Renegade an important accelerator and enhancer from Aether Revolt (Kaladesh block is expected to join Arena, therefore Historic, at some point, but it's not there yet); Ravenous Baloth is not Obstinate Baloth, but it's close enough; Thragtusk is the best of the Beasts, a prime flicker and Vannifar target.
As a final note, I'd like to point out how the digital version of Jumpstart is not exactly the same as its paper counterpart. The team responsible for Arena decided to replace twenty cards. In part they cite technical reasons — it would have taken too much time to implement some of them, for too little payoff — but in some cases they did it out of concern over power level. That the Arena team had concerns about some of these cards is, in itself, concerning. Now, the desire to keep powerful reanimators like Reanimate and Exhume out of Historic feels natural, and the same goes for archetypical burn spells like Lightning Bolt and Chain Lightning. (The latter might have also caused implementation headaches.) One could make the argument that a format roamed by large indestructible threats like Ulamog could use Path to Exile as a counter, but it certainly is one of the most efficient removal spells ever printed.
What about a card like Flametongue Kavu, though? It was at one time very popular, and it's a great tempo gainer. But can it really be denied access when Ravenous Chupacabra is free to kill any creature at the same spot in the curve? Are its different color and higher splashability enough to say no to the good old Kavu? Even worse, who would ever consider Sheoldred, Whispering One a problematic card? This one's pretty much casual fare all the way, an unprotected seven-drop that does nothing the turn it drops, forces a sacrifice in the opponent's upkeep, and has to survive until its controller's own upkeep in order to reanimate something. In the nine years it existed it was never anything more than kitchen table material, and a vast majority of the cards mentioned in this article are much more impactful for Historic than poor Sheoldred would have been.
In the meantime, the Phyrexian theme pack from Jumpstart has been nerfed severely, because the appointed replacement Carnifex Demon doesn't synergize with the rest of the cards the way Sheoldred was supposed to. This is true of pretty much all the switcheroos, so Arena ultimately doesn't get to have the same Jumpstart experience as tabletop. Are these the same designers we should trust with remastering entire blocks in a way that makes sense for both Historic Constructed and standalone Drafts? Here's hoping they asked for help on that front.
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