Historic Set Review: JumpStart Historic Horizons

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Historic Set Review: JumpStart Historic Horizons

Historic Horizons comes out on August 12th, exclusively for the Magic Arena. Today, we review the cards in the set for the Historic format, and what we can expect from the future.

By Romeu, 08/07/21, translated by Romeu, with help from our readers

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The full spoiler of JumpStart: Historic Horizons is finally out. The set, exclusive to Magic Arena, has 372 cards that are new additions to the platform, including 31 cards with unique mechanics that will only exist in Magic Arena, and today I will be dedicating this article to review it and comment on its interesting additions to the Historic.

Exclusive Cards

The great controversy of Historic Horizons was the announcement that the set would have some cards which will only exist in Magic Arena, leading to many discussions in the community about the possibility of existing two distinct “Magic” game between the real world and the digital game.

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I've made a article explaining point by point of what is happening and what we can expect in the future of Magic Arena and what Historic Horizons means to the digital platform. That said, Wizards has been cautious with the exclusive cards, with none of them initially looking broken or with mechanics that alter much of the game's dynamics outside casual games.
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The Planeswalkers, for example, are well-built and look fun for Historic Brawl, but they don't seem to have game-breaking elements, they're great cards to build around, as if they were dedicated cards from a real-world Commander product, but possess unique abilities and a nature that makes them interesting, but probably not competitively viable.
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Conjure

isn't even close to being as good as it could be, although its two main cards may see play in some decks, as Shoreline Scout serves as a good manafixing for Merfolks and Tome of the Infinite generates value every turn, albeit in a completely random manner.
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The ability with the most potential to be abused is

Seek

, which allows you to randomly search your deck for a card with specific conditions. I believe the mechanic can be abused in the future if there are combos that fit the specs of their respective cards because of the possibility of manipulating deckbuilding to get the obvious result with the ability. Suppose there is a two-card combo involving Elf-type creatures costing 2 or less, you could use both Freyalise and Manor Guardian to “tutor” the cards, while making room for other means of interaction in the game. Currently, that doesn't seem to be the case, but

Seek

is the mechanic that Wizards needs to be meticulous not to break.

The Tribals

Historic Horizons has several packs dedicated to tribal decks, which brought several additions for Goblins, Merfolks, Vampires, Slivers, Humans, among others.
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Starting with the new tribal, Slivers received several additions, but there is a chronic problem with the cards received: There were only four creatures that increase the power of the other creatures, which is much less than the 12 to 16 used in competitive Slivers lists in other formats. Because of that, I can't imagine the archetype becoming a Tier 1 in the format, even if I choose to use cards like Glasspool Mimic to "enlarge" the number of lords, but with Sliver Hive and Ancient Ziggurat in the format, I can imagine the archetype approaching a Tier 2.
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Merfolks, a deck of which many players try to make work in Historic since its inception, has received relevant cards that can help build the deck, especially Master of the Pearl Trident, who joins Merfolk Mistbinder as yet another lord, and Svyelun of Sea and Sky as a card advantage and protection engine for its creatures. In general, I think these are important additions to the archetype, but much like Slivers, the lack of certain Staples for the archetype that exist in other formats still seems to hurt it when compared to decks like Goblins.

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Vampires also received good additions that add to Knight of the Ebon Legion, Adanto Vanguard, Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord, Gifted Aetherborn, Champion of Dusk and Legion's Lieutenant to broaden the range for Vampires, a deck which occasionally makes some results. Given that the archetype already works well in Pioneer, and Cordial Vampire is a great addition to decks looking to be aggressive with their creatures, punishing opponents' removal and interacting well with Indulgent Aristocrat, it wouldn't surprise me to see the archetype rise a bit in the Metagame
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Zombies was a deck that received additions of which were essential to the deck during its time at Standard, plus Undead Augur as another card that punishes the opponent for removing creatures. The format features Cryptbreaker, Lord of the Accursed, Death Baron, Gempalm Polluter, Grave Marshall, Liliana's Mastery and Liliana, Untouched By Death as cards that interact with Zombies, so it's possible a tribal deck will emerge. And Champion of the Perished was announced in Innistrad: Midnight Hunt, the perfect One-drop for the archetype to have even more chances of being competitively viable in the future.
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Skyshroud Lookout will most likely see plenty of play on Elves, as this is an Elvish Visionary with significantly better ability for a deck that hardly wants to draw a land. Freyalise, Skyshroud Partisan is an interesting option for the archetype, but I can't imagine the deck opting for it over Collected Company or removing more creature slots to put it in the deck.
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Although we didn't receive Champion of the Parish, I believe a Humans deck can emerge in Historic with the addition of Thalia's Lieutenant, which along with cards like Meddling Mage and General Kudro of Drannith, among several other powerful humans of the format, can take the archetype to become a contender in the future Historic.
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Goblins received two additions that I consider quite strong to the archetype, with Munitions Expert serving as a removal while Sling-Gang Lieutenant allows the deck to have reach and win games without attacking, as well as producing two bodies when it comes into play. Both cards are interesting additions, and the splash to black would give the archetype access to much-needed interactions in the format today, such as Thoughtseize.

Synergies

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The artifact theme is very present in the set, and these cards can make the Tempered Steel decks resurface in the format or create a new archetype focused on artifacts with cards with the above cards, in addition to Blinkmoth Nexus, Ingenious Smith, Karn, Scion of Urza, among other options.
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The set also has a strong theme of discard shenanigans or the importance of specific cards in the graveyard, a mechanic that can easily be powered up with Faithless Looting, a card that's still legal in the format today. I don't consider the Madness additions on their own to be enough for the archetype to work, although cards like Blazing Rootwalla and Asylum Visitor are good creatures, while Fiery Temper is a functional removal to the format today and Chainer, Nightmare Adept is too powerful to ignore. These cards may be individually good, but they don't look so good together that they can make a deck on their own. In the case of Delirium, the archetype faces the challenge of not having cards like Mishra's Bauble or Street Wraith to speed up the number of cards in the graveyard for free, but I believe with the use of cards like Soul-Guide Lantern, Faithless Looting and cards from the Madness package, cards like Bloodbraid Marauder and Dragon's Rage Channeler might see play in the format. I'm particularly excited about playing Dragon's Rage Channeler in Historic, as we don't have Delver of Secrets, The most interesting part of discard pack are surely the enablers: Bone Shards already sees play in Modern and Legacy in decks dedicated to discard-themed archetypes, Seasoned Pyromancer is a Modern staple and Insolent Neonate is a great outlet that can also serve as an aggressive creature in early-game, while Faithless Salvaging can be used along with Faithless Looting in Phoenix decks. At a glance, probably graveyard and discard themed decks can see play in the format, as they've received good enablers and payoffs, while they already have great cards in the right colors, like Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger and Hollow One, but I'm not certain if there are enough ways to make these archetypes better than the decks in the current Historic Metagame.

Card Analysis

There are several cards in Historic Horizons that deserve individual attention or doesn't fit into the above categories, but have some potential for specific archetypes in the format.
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Benalish Partisan is an interesting addition to Cycling decks, although it costs two mana, as it benefits from the deck's theme while also being a card that can be cycled to other creatures' ability, though it grows from way significantly worse than the other creatures in the deck.
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I consider Esper Sentinel as the best card in the set. Esper Sentinel allows aggressive decks to make favorable 1-for-1 trades as the opponent will have to pay an additional mana (or more if Esper Sentinel is equipped or enchanted) to prevent these decks to draw a card, thereby maintaining the card advantage over the opponent. I can imagine this card entering Company decks and possibly Auras, and it is yet another card that can leverage Tempered Steel decks back into the Metagame.
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Ranger-Captain of Eos can be used in decks such as Humans, Mono-White Aggro, Selesnya Company, and Orzhov Shadow to search for a card of mana cost 1 creatures while disrupting opponents' interactions. In particular, the fact that it prevents the opponent from casting spells for a turn can be a critical point in a game to avoid a sweeper or removal on the turn you intend to make a more explosive move.
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Serra, the Benevolent hasn't had much success in Modern due to a relatively low-power level, but the card might see play in Historic if there's a right combination of flying creatures that can be used on-curve with the Planeswalker.

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Another powerful target for the Indomitable Creativity decks, and one that linear strategies like creature decks can have a lot of trouble dealing with if it hits the board quickly.
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No one has managed to break Vesperlark into any format yet. Will it be possible to break it in Historic?
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4 power in two bodies for three mana was once very relevant in the past, but today it seems somewhat weak compared to what we have in Historic. But since the ability to create a 3/3 Golem is an ETB effect, it's possible to abuse Blade Splicer with Yorion, Sky Nomad, Charming Prince and the newly added Restoration Angel and Soulheder.
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Restoration Angel used to be a staple in Standard and Modern for a long time, mainly because of its interaction with Snapcaster Mage. In Historic, an evasive body with flash that protects your creatures for four mana doesn't seem like the most exciting thing in the world, and the absence of Snapcaster Mage or Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker makes it a weaker card, but I wouldn't be surprised if it started to see play, as it was always a great staple at some point in the formats in which it was present. And who doesn't remember Restoration Angel's frustrating interaction with Thragtusk in Innistrad-Return to Ravnica Standard?
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Archmage's Charm sees a lot of play in Modern on Control decks, but in Historic, at least so far, it's not a format where you can excel at the ability to take control of a permanent costing 1 or less, since there are few relevant cards in this cost.
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While Serra's Emissary is a great payoff for the Indomitable Creativity decks, the deck received a great enabler with Hard Evidence, a card that creates a 0/3 token, which blocks very well against aggressive decks, while also creating a Clue token, both can be used with Indomitable Creativity and this card can even leverage versions of the deck that use the Locust God combo
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Davriel's Withering offers a definitive answer for cards which return from the graveyard that see play in the format, such as Cauldron Familiar, Gutterbones, Scrapheap Scrounger, Skyclave Shade, among others.
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Putrid Goblin can be combined with Good-Fortune Unicorn or Grumgully, the Generous and Blood Artist to create an infinite combo with any free sac outlet like Yahenni, Undying Partisan. We're talking about a four-card combo, which probably makes it difficult for the deck to run within a format as efficient as Historic, but we've seen Aristocrats decks with infinite combos work in other formats at the most diverse formats in the game's history, so... Who knows?
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Yawgmoth, Thran Physician has a deck entirely dedicated to his interactions with Undying in Modern. As creatures with Undying don't exist in Historic, I don't think it's possible to abuse Yawgmoth's abilities as it is done in the other format, but I could see it being a value engine.
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I'm not sure the format can really make good use of Sudden Edict rather than spot removals, as the format doesn't have threats that are difficult to remove and this card doesn't deal with a creature enchanted with Kaya's Ghostform.
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Thundebreak Regent made Dragon decks an option in the Khans of Tarkir Standard alongside Kolaghan, Storm's Fury and/or Dragonlord Atarka. It is possible that, along with Goldspan Dragon, a Dragons deck similar to what we see with Izzet Dragons in Standard becomes a possibility for Historic.

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I'm just quoting Skyshroud Ambush because, in addition to not understanding why it will only exist in Magic Arena, this card would be a perfect addition to Pauper.
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The Minion of the Mighty combo with Terror of Mount Velus becomes a more consistent 3-card combo, as Scale Up enables the ability of Minion of the Mighty all by itself. That said, I still find the combo too inconsistent and fragile for the format.
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There are some cards that interact very well with +1/+1 counters in the format, like Conclave Mentor which can add redundancy to this archetype, while cards like Luminarch Aspirant are powerful cards that put counters on your creatures. So, it's possible that a Hardened Scales deck has some opportunity to become a viable (but not competitive enough) archetype within Historic.
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Perhaps even Eternal Witness would be a safe choice for Historic, as Time Warp is banned and all other extra turns of the format are exiled after being cast. Cards like Mizzix's Mastery and Torrential Gearhulk already do the job of recasting spells more efficiently anyway. Timeless Witness is a nice addition to the format, and it might see play on the Abzan versions of the Yorion, Sky Nomad decks, but it doesn't seem like a big competitor to the format.
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Although we have the manabase of Triomes + Shocklands, I believe that the absence of Fetch Lands in the format greatly reduces the potential of Territorial Kavu, as it makes it impractical for an aggressive deck to use it, and it's not the kind of threat that a Midrange or Control deck like Niv-Mizzet decks wants.
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Finally, like Hard Evidence, Khalni Garden offers Indomitable Creativity decks an enabler for just one mana (since the land enters tapped) and without many necessary conditions other than using a land that is out of the colors normally used by the deck, which can prove a challenge or problem for a deck that needs three red mana to cast its main spell.

Conclusion

That was my review of JumpStart: HIstoric Horizons. Honestly, I confess the set is a bit disappointing in terms of “bringing better creatures to balance and match the spells added with Mystical Archives”, but this is mainly about the management and how both sets were added to the format. While Mystical Archives was admittedly added to the format without planning and in a “let's see where this goes” nature, Historic Horizons' additions appear to be planned, analyzed to fit into one of its packages and without the intent or even the lack of awareness in pulling the pendulum too far for creatures which could help break the format again. Historic doesn't seem to be at one of its best moments since the release of Mystical Archives, and I'm hoping the cards in the new set can balance the format and increase the power level of archetypes to the point where they're paired with the main decks in Metagame today, breathing new life into old archetypes and bringing new options as well. We'll discover the impact of the new set on Historic from August 12th, and you'll be able to follow the evolution of the format in Metagame, my weekly series where I survey and analyze competitive formats. Thanks for reading!
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Romeu

Writer and translator for Cards Realm. Plays virtually Magic: The Gathering competitive formats. Pauper Masters' Organizer.

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