Last week I wrote about the top Historic decks and what I expected out of the metagame. I hit the nail on the head with the expected metagame of majority blue decks interacting with the stack to shut down the best deck in Historic — Dimir Pact Combo.
By the time you’re reading this, Pact and Oracle may be banned, and if not, they should be. If one has to go, I vote for Pact.
Dimit Pact is an oppressive deck. Creature-based decks without interaction can’t keep up with killer attacks for four mana and no interaction.
I played this list last weekend. Flip cards were banned because of a bug’s interaction with devotion, relevant to Thassa’s Oracle with Search for Azcanta. However, you can and should play these cards, and they should soon be fixed.
If you copied this list to play, I’d cut the Anticipate from the main deck for a Search for Azcanta and the Glimpse of Freedom for an Arguel’s Blood Fast in the sideboard depending on how many Rogues you expect.
My biggest mistake was convincing myself I wanted a second sweeper main deck. I did well in the five mirrors. Officially I played 3-2, though I did have a win against Grzeogorz Kowalski that I lost to time constraints with the resolution of Tainted Pact. I didn’t know how much time it would take to combo and didn’t leave myself two minutes to resolve a giant stack and the Pact itself.
I wish I had played something like a Fae of Wishes and used the Folio of Fancies spot for a Jace, Wielder of Mysteries. Everyone knew how good Pact was, and our deck had ways to beat a card like Unmoored Ego or Nevermore, but it cost very little to add a Jace and a Fae. Fae seemed good in the mirror, especially in game 1s.
I was very skeptical of Anticipate initially, but I realized cards that can put Oracle on the bottom of your deck all created “one-card combo” situations. For example, you play Anticipate and see both Oracle and Tainted Pact. That’s what we call Gin. You can set Oracle as your last card. In your opponent’s end step or your own upkeep, Pact can take the card above it from the Anticipate pile, leaving only Oracle in deck. Draw it for your turn and win the game. The same is true for mulligans and Omen of the Sea. You can even create this situation with Brainstorm and these cards or Augur of Bolas.
Oracle is often safer at the bottom of your deck from either discard or milling against decks like Rogues. Keep in mind a shuffle effect will ruin this though, so it’s a tricky situation to balance.
One of the biggest mistakes I think people made before this event was building this deck without Lurrus. We tested Lurrus vs Non-Lurrus mirrors and noticed the Lurrus side was winning a substantial amount of the games. Lurrus provides you various draw engines and a way to close that must be interacted with if you trade off all your cards to discard and counters.This occurs more postboard when you want all your removal out.
We considered, but never tried, a light red splash for cards like Underworld Breach and Prismari Command that would be good in the mirror. If the mana works, and it likely does, I’d probably play exactly those two cards in red. Nothing else jumps out to me as necessary to play.
Folio of the Fancies was the most unique card in my list, and only I and Grzegorz ended up registering it from our team. I had played one game in testing where it was drawn, but I was looking for a low interaction win-con, so I registered the card despite not knowing its effectiveness.
I only drew it once against Greg when he also had it in play, which created a long and complicated game. He was down to six minutes and I was down to two on my final turn. I couldn’t cast all my spells and resolve the Pact in time. This never happened during testing, and we should have timed the scenario. Having a rule that says you need three minutes of time to win or something similar would have allowed us to budget time throughout the game.
I made another mistake when I threw away a game thinking my rope was my timeout rope. I panicked that I’d be decked with my Pact in the last round of the event. Trying to resolve Tainted Pact was not a pleasant experience.
I suggest looking at various lists and finding one you’re comfortable with. The lists are customizable based on various metagame and playstyle factors. It’s best to find what you like, play some games and make changes as you go.
So why does Pact need to be banned?
The first reason is that Pact does not function appropriately on Arena, the only platform we can play Historic. You have to include a timeout to get to the bottom of your deck, creating a stressful situation throughout the game because you have to bank timeouts. Theoretically you should be able to cast Pact on turn two to your second to last card and turn three Oracle, but in practice you can’t resolve your spell in the allotted time, so you have to wait until you pass on turn three to resolve Pact.
This isn’t necessarily a reason for a ban, but it eases the dev team’s worries about it being used in this manner. The stress and tension make it a non-starter for some people, as even people playing in our competitive league stated they didn’t want to play the deck because of its issues and felt bad about declining. This isn’t what Magic Arena should be about.
The other option is Thassa’s Oracle, which is a problematic card. However, Jace still exists, and while the deck would be more balanced, I’d rather Pact didn’t exist even though I think both should be taken out.
The power level reason is it’s too punishing to non-blue decks. Match-ups against non-blue decks in all forms are favorable. It’s draining when everyone is forced to play instant speed Magic. Some people want to play creature decks like Gruul, and not everyone likes to have every game come down to one specific counterwar. Historic has always been liberal with bans and suspensions, which is a trend that should continue.
The deck is still incredible when everyone knows about it too. This is a two-card combo deck where one of the cards is an instant speed Demonic Tutor. The deck-building restrictions are close to non-existent. There are so many different versions of every kind of card these days that the best option isn’t that much better than the third or fourth. The real cost is in your mana where you play more taplands than typically preferred.
Tainted Pact is beatable, but it takes a lot to beat it, as shown by the Jeskai deck piloted by players like Luis Scott-Vargas. They did well enough against Pact for me to say it’s got a solid Pact match-up, but every game I was a part of and that I watched came down to the wire. A single draw step one way could have turned a lot of wins for the Jeskai deck into losses. The match-up is just incredibly close.
On top of all of this the deck is just obnoxious to play with and against. You’ve just finished casting your Gruul Spellbreaker and you don’t get to untap dead to two 2 mana cards. That’s not a healthy format.
However this little experiment did teach me one thing. Singleton Magic is super fun, and I almost consider it a better constructed game. Even if the cards are close, the decks are more fun to tune, test, and play. You constantly have unique scenarios that give it a strong replayable factor. If there were more ways to incentivize Singleton deck building at a competitive level then I’d be all about it. It feels like playing cube decks and that is as fun as Magic gets.
This weekend I went 8-4. 3-3 with Dimir Pact Combo playing five mirrors, once against Jeskai, and 5-1 with my metagame call of Mono Red Aggro. This was a solid finish leaving me in ninth place in Rivals, seventh of the remaining players, and in position to make a run at a slot for Worlds with a strong Set Champs finish. I’m trying to reach that goal. If you are reading this and can still play Tainted Pact, you should, if not, c’est la vie.