The Antiquities War is one of those sweet build-around cards that never quite gets there. Despite offering a huge amount of bang for a relatively small buck, the problem is that the buck is a weird currency that is only accepted in far-flung corners of the galaxy and so you have to do a lot of work in the first place just to get the buck resulting in a meaningful amount of bang. In other words, building around The Antiquities War is pretty difficult, because you invariably end up playing some pretty bloody bad cards.
But playing bad cards is what we’re all about at Arena Boys headquarters, and so when Josh Bickle sent in a sweet Izzet Historic list featuring The Antiquities War, we snapped it up. With a bunch of cheap artifacts and some sick payoff cards, Izzet Historic makes good use of some very powerful and overlooked synergies. After a few tweaks here and there to Josh’s original list, this is what we ran through the gauntlet on this week’s episode of Arena Boys!
First things first—this deck isn’t only playing garbage like Navigator’s Compass, oh no. We held our noses and dived right down to the bottom of the 1-mana-artifact-draft-chaff barrel, and extricated some real stinkers. Explosive Apparatus, Prying Blade, and even Sentinel Totem all got the nod, purely because you need a critical mass of enablers for the huge payoff cards. One important thing to note, however—Fountain of Renewal is an exception here, as the card actually really overperforms. Slam it on turn 1 against mono-red and it does a ton of work.
Playing all this 1-mana junk is both important and necessary, however, as it enables some absurdly powerful synergies with the top-end. You can largely ignore the printed text of the 1-drops, because as the game progresses they tend to gain alternative abilities such as “draw a card” and “untap target 7/7.”
Traxos, Sai, Jhoira, and Karn all get juiced up good and proper when you’re dumping Compasses and Totems into play. Even the tragically underplayed Skilled Animator can make a turn-1 Explosive Apparatus into a very quick and difficult-to-answer clock that smashes in for 5 on turn 3. So despite all the junk, you can see fairly easily the reasons for its inclusion.
Finally, the deck is rounded out by some removal and card draw. Lava Coil is the best removal spell at that price point, and Treasure Map is a legitimately excellent card that just so happens to synergize terrifically with the rest of the deck. Apart from these two cards, however, it’s a pretty clear division between enablers and payoffs.
Your opener should have at least one business spell, so as to help you decide how you’re going to proceed. Game plans can be heavily draw-dependent. For example, if you have Skilled Animator or Karn in hand, you definitely want to deploy artifacts nice and early, whereas if you have Jhoira or Sai, you’ll want to sandbag them.
In the blind, it’s definitely better to hold onto random Prying Blades and Navigator’s Compasses, as they are so valuable when used to draw cards, create Thopters, or untap Traxos. Besides, even if you’re on the Karn plan, dumping your hand of sandbagged artifacts to juice up a Construct is easy enough, as they’re so cheap. Generally, don’t run out the 1-drops “just because”—the exception to this, once again, is Fountain of Renewal in aggressive matchups. Get it out there, and start bathing in its sweet waters.
The Antiquities War can and will win games all on its own, and despite what you’d think, you don’t have to run too many artifacts out before you play it. You can use your turn 5 to dump your hand and get in for 20 or more next turn, but, of course, it doesn’t hurt to have stuff on the board beforehand. Just be careful to avoid the trap of playing a card for the sake of it—find the right balance between enabling as many payoffs as possible, prioritizing the ones you have access to at any given moment.
Finally, the great diversity of payoffs ultimately offers a huge number of different paths to victory. You can take to the skies with Sai and chip them down slowly but surely, you can grind them out with Karn or Jhoira’s card advantage, or you can blast them for a million with Traxos or The Antiquities War. It might not seem like it, but there’s some very pleasing flexibility with this deck.
You don’t want to sideboard too heavily with this deck. Messing with the core components will power down the enablers, so don’t fall into the trap of sideboarding out too many of the garbage cards. Instead, look for incremental ways to improve matchups by a few cards here and there. It’s the classic combo approach to sideboarding—don’t dilute your deck’s game plan too much.
Against aggressive decks, bring in the extra removal in Lava Coil and Shivan Fire, as well as Fiery Cannonade. Jhoira and Karn are far too slow for this matchup, so they hit the bench (Jhoira is also incredibly fragile, dying to even a slight gust of wind from mono-red). Despite the seemingly bad interaction between Sai and Fiery Cannonade, it’s actually a very potent combo—flood the board with 1/1s to the point that they have to overextend, then clean things up with your 1/4 surviving to rebuild.
Midrange decks tend to be the best matchup for this deck, as it is able to keep pace with value engines like Jadelight Ranger thanks to the grindier cards. Vivien Reid is a big problem when facing Golgari, as she kills almost every single payoff card (even Jhoira!) so use Sorcerous Spyglass to contest her. An extra Karn is always useful, and Disdainful Stroke will do work against their big spells. Traxos and Skilled Animator both hit the bench—black removal is usually too efficient against these one-trick ponies.
When faced against control, the critical thing is to choose your moment to resolve a haymaker. Generally, a single “big” card can get you across the line, so forcing a threat through is all you need to do. Negate is very helpful in doing this, and you should bring in extra threats like Karn and Traxos to up your threat density. Lava Coil is a bit useless against most control decks, as is the low-impact Skilled Animator, which enables their cheap removal. Get in quick with Traxos or grind ’em into the dust with Karn—simply land a threat and ride it to victory.
Next week we’re playing more historic spells, but of an entirely different kind. It’s time to get it done with Jeskai Legends! Zero non-legendary creatures and plenty of legendary sorceries—it’s going to be a blast!