Budget Brews: Zendikar Rising Enters Historic

Scott Cullen Historic

Zendikar is the latest land to fall into Standard, and it’s really come crashing through. The format has been tumultuous for months now, and the Roil’s presence seems to be only adding to the problem. That’s why today, I’ll be taking you on an adventure through the wild world of Historic on a budget. I’ll show you three very different decks — each a unique beast in its own right.

To me, a budget Arena deck is one that contains no more than ten rare wildcards, and up to four mythic rares (avoiding these altogether, if possible). This means that someone who’s just joining Arena should be able to craft a decent deck after a few strategic drafts and pack openings, and long-time players should have very little to do in order to get a brand new deck.

For this article, I’ve made three completely different decks with one thing in common: they all have companions. Having guaranteed access to a rare that compliments your deck’s game plan is invaluable, especially in decks with lower rare count than most. Decks with companions also feel much more focused, and allow for greater exploration of themes and mechanics.

It’s also worth noting that Historic decks are currently running a large number of main-deck hate cards like Grafdigger’s Cage and Aether Gust to cope with cards like Muxus, Goblin Grandee, Collected Company, Mayhem Devil and Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath. These would be good inclusions right now, but will likely be unnecessary in time. For this reason, I’ve omitted them from the main board of these decks.

So, let’s start with my favorite deck right now: Spider Party!

Spider Party

5 Rare, 38 uncommon, 18 Uncommon

4 Ahn-Crop Crasher
4 Ardent Electromancer
4 Collateral Damage
4 Fireblade Charger
4 Forgotten Cave
4 Grim Initiate
4 Heraldic Banner
2 Kazuul’s Fury
2 Light Up the Stage
14 Mountain
4 Ramunap Ruins
4 Relic Robber
2 Spikefield Hazard
4 Tin Street Dodger

Sideboard

2 Act of Treason
3 Flame Sweep
1 Obosh, the Preypiercer
3 Redcap Melee
3 Soul-Guide Lantern
3 Tibalt, Rakish Instigator

Arachnophobes, look away now. 

Have you ever looked at a Mono-Red Aggro deck and thought, “I like this, but it’s not weird enough”? If so, then I’ve got the deck for you. The main goal is the same as any other aggressive deck — reduce your opponent’s life total quickly — but this deck achieves that goal in a more synergy-driven way than your typical red deck.

This is an Obosh, the Preypiercer deck, meaning you can only use cards with odd converted mana costs. The reward for this is that you can double your damage output when Obosh is in play, which helps you make great use of more budget-friendly creatures. Heraldic Banner helps get Obosh out a turn earlier while also pumping your team, which is another excellent way to squeeze more value from your threats.

Ardent Electromancer is a common from Zendikar Rising that has gone mostly unnoticed, and I feel it’s a real sleeper. Every other creature in the deck is either a warrior or rogue, meaning if you control any other creature, this is essentially a 3/2 for one mana. And the other creatures in the party are no slouches, either! Most of them either provide value (Grim Initiate, Relic Robber) or make blocking next to impossible (Ahn-Crop Crasher).

There’s also a small sacrifice synergy package, with Collateral Damage and Kazuul’s Fury providing a lot of damage. Fireblade Charger and Grim Initiate give you some extra value with their death triggers, making them excellent sacrifice fodder. Where this gets really out of hand is when you have Obosh, the Preypiercer on board, which will also double the damage output from these Fling-esque spells. Sacrificing any creature to Collateral Damage while Obosh is out is a whopping six damage for one mana! 

The mana in this deck is really astounding; there’s a total of thirty mana sources in the deck (thirty-four if you include Ardent Electromancer). Not only will you get to five mana with ease, but you’ll almost never flood thanks to the new modal double-faced cards. This deck tends to play off-curve on turns two and four, so it’s better to run four copies of Forgotten Cave to either play tapped on “off” turns or cycle to find more gas. Finally, a playset of Ramunap Ruins will help you finish opponents off when your party falls just short.

Upgrades

If you’re looking to upgrade the deck, there’s not much that can be added without changing the game plan entirely. The entire Obosh package can be removed and replaced with cards like Embercleave and Torbran, Thane of Red Fell, and the party creatures can be replaced by Bonecrusher Giant and Anax, Hardened in the Forge. And yes, adding a demigod that gives you actual revelers makes this less of a party.

Cat Control

10 Rare, 39 Uncommon, 9 Common

3 Baffling End
3 Cast Out
4 Censor
1 Disdainful Stroke
1 Essence Scatter
4 Evolving Wilds
2 Felidar Retreat
4 Field of Ruin
9 Island
3 Narset, Parter of Veils
4 Neutralize
8 Plains
1 Settle the Wreckage
3 Shark Typhoon
3 Wrath of God
2 Silundi Vision
2 The Birth of Meletis
3 Thirst for Meaning

Sideboard

3 Aether Gust
1 Baffling End
2 Dovin’s Veto
1 Kaheera, the Orphanguard
3 Mystical Dispute
1 Seal Away
2 Soul-Guide Lantern
2 Timely Reinforcements

To me, control decks have always felt like the “cats” of Magic; they decide when you can play with them, and they’re always destroying your stuff by knocking them off the table. Based on that, this deck is already a flavor win.

This is a pretty standard control deck for the most part, and there’s a slew of fantastic options available at the common and uncommon rarities to make a pretty effective build.

Censor and Neutralize are both excellent counterspells, with the added benefit of being a redraw when they’re not relevant. Disdainful Stroke and Essence Scatter are particularly good at taking care of many different problems, like Bolas’s Citadel and Muxus, Goblin Grandee.

Baffling End is excellent against aggro, and Cast Out is a handy catch-all answer that cycles. Wrath of God is the best sweeper in Historic, though if you plan to play Standard, too, you should craft Shatter the Sky instead. The difference is very real, but not so much that it’s a dealbreaker. Settle the Wreckage is also worth including as a one-of, particularly against Goblins.

The card draw package in this deck is quite powerful, with Narset, Parter of Veils and Silundi Vision letting you dig deep to find answers. Thirst for Meaning is great, as there are quite a few enchantments you can discard to it, and you can cast it if you don’t end up using a Neutralize on their turn.

Shark Typhoon is a card that needs no introduction by now. It’s seeing play as far back as Legacy, and for good reason. It’s an uncounterable creature that replaces itself and scales into the game. You can also cast it on occasion and turn every spell into a threat.

The sweetest win condition in the deck, however, is the namesake of the deck: Felidar Retreat. This enchantment rewards you for making land drops, an essential part of simply playing the game; when you play a land, you can make a cat or grow your existing creatures. This works ridiculously well with Shark Typhoon on the battlefield, as you’ll get rewarded for every card you play.

Kaheera, the Orphanguard is usually a free include for control decks due to the lack of other creatures, but it’s especially powerful here. Kaheera pumps your Felidar Retreat tokens, allowing you to close games a turn faster. Once you’re ahead, Kaheera further closes the window for your opponents to recover, making the cat beast the perfect companion.

The mana base is all basics, outside of playsets of Evolving Wilds and Field of Ruin. These fix your mana while being able to trigger landfall twice, making twice as many cats with Felidar Retreat. Field of Ruin is also great at destroying problematic lands, like Phyrexian Tower.

Upgrades

The mana base is the first place you’ll want to upgrade; Hallowed Fountain, Glacial Fortress, Irrigated Farmland, and the Castles from Throne of Eldraine are all worthwhile additions. Teferi, Hero of Dominaria is another great win condition to add to the deck, and sideboard cards like Rest in Peace are especially useful.

Ominous Fox

9 Rare, 31 Uncommon, 19 Common

4 Blitz of the Thunder-Raptor
4 Censor
4 Forgotten Cave
4 Frantic Inventory
4 Hieroglyphic Illumination
2 Improbable Alliance
9 Island
4 Lonely Sandbar
7 Mountain
4 Neutralize
4 Ominous Seas
2 Shark Typhoon
2 Spikefield Hazard
2 Sweltering Suns
4 Valakut Awakening

Sideboard

3 Abrade
2 Flame Sweep
2 Improbable Alliance
2 Mystical Dispute
3 Redcap Melee
2 Soul-Guide Lantern
1 Zirda, the Dawnwaker

Lastly, we come to the deck that can satisfy even the most discerning card draw aficionado: Ominous Fox. It’s a control deck but with a sweet, almost combo-like twist.

The idea of this deck is simple: draw cards. All of them. Ominous Seas will take care of the rest. The two-mana enchantment is a cheap win condition that many fail to respect until it’s too late. 

Improbable Alliance is a great way to stall your opponent’s advances enough to stabilize and take control. It’s also a nice back-up win condition, but it’s generally better for slower match-ups since it only makes one token per turn. It can have a similar effect to Ominous Seas, though; most opponents will only start to respect it once it’s garnered you more value than they can deal with.

Censor and Neutralize show up in this deck, too, as a way to prevent key spells from resolving. Just like in Cat Control, they can become another card (and 1/8th of a kraken, technically) when they’re not needed.

We’re also spoiled for choice with removal in this deck. Spikefield Hazard helps snipe problems like Young Pyromancer or Skirk Prospector, and Blitz of the Thunder-Raptor can answer virtually anything your opponents throw at you. Because you’re cycling and casting so many spells, your graveyard will always be well-stocked. Finally, Sweltering Suns is the perfect sweeper, allowing you to cycle it if you don’t need it.

Once again, Shark Typhoon is here to rain on your opponents’ parade. Whether you use it to make a single token, or you cast it to truly embrace the storm, it’s a potent card that’s well worth the wildcards.

It’s no surprise that the card draw options in this deck are incredible. Hieroglyphic Illumination is nice to cycle early or cast later, and Frantic Inventory is a real powerhouse. You’ll draw so many cards that you’re bound to find several of these in any given game, providing absurd levels of card advantage.

The real all-star of the deck, though, is Valakut Awakening. This pseudo-Wheel of Fortune effect works incredibly well with Ominous Seas, often making a kraken every time you cast it. The fact that it puts the cards back into your deck rather than in the graveyard is key, as it helps prevent you from accidentally decking yourself.

I could make a joke about what the fox says, but I’d rather talk about what it does. Zirda, the Dawnwaker’s impact on the deck is minimal, but it still makes this deck as efficient as possible. Zirda reduces the cycling costs of many cards, most notably Shark Typhoon. Our furry friend also reduces the cost of Improbable Alliance’s loot ability, making it much more affordable.

The mana base is a huge part of the deck’s game plan — you can’t draw cards without lands! The modal double-faced cards really help here; they help to give you a total of thirty mana sources. Playsets of Forgotten Cave and Lonely Sandbar are another eight cards that help enable Ominous Seas, giving the deck a frightening level of consistency.

Upgrades

While the mana base may be powerful, it’s also a weak spot. The deck requires double blue and double red for different spells, and there could be times where the current mana base will let you down. The best upgrade for the deck would be to add Steam Vents, Riverglide Pathway, and Raugrin Triome to increase consistency. Once your mana is upgraded, Niv-Mizzet, Parun may also be a worthwhile card to consider.

Historic is a great format that often feels a lot like Modern: once you know the format and your deck, you can play almost anything. I hope these three decks helped to showcase the unique strategies available to you in Magic’s newest format, and how a companion can really help to boost the power of budget decks. It’s dangerous to go alone, so be sure to bring a friend!