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Arena Historic Preview Discussion: Brewing with Hondens

Historic Metagame 
By: Intrepid_Tautog - 20 May 2020

Long ago, in the time of our ancestors, there existed two neighboring kingdoms. One was prosperous, adorning it's city walls with banners of gold. The other was poor, with city walls cracked and in dire need of repair. But despite these differences, the kingdoms existed in peace for generations, with each king extolling the virtues of the other.

"You see that struggling kingdom, my subjects? They lack resources, yes, but they are strong in faith and tenacity. They persevere, despite their poverty, because they believe in a better tomorrow. Let us always remember where we came from, how our nation is only so glorious today because of all the hard work involved."

"You see that shining kingdom, dear people? Their golden walls and full bellies may spark resentment in your minds. I warn against such jealousies, for they will only leave you wanting. Instead, let their success serve as an example of what we could become. Our struggles define us. One day the gods shall smile on that. Just as they did for our neighbors."

And so while the wealthy kingdom could've easily conquered the impoverished one, and thus expand its empire, no word of war was ever raised.

That is, until the day an ambitious prince sought to carve his name into Kamigawa's history. A royal golden child, he had been granted all he ever desired from birth. In his mind, the poorer kingdom was no example, no reminder of ancestral toils, but a prize to be won. And won easily.

Ignoring the pleas of his elder council, the prince raised the grandest army the land had ever seen. Each soldier was given a tachi of pure silver and shoto of gold. They were symbols, literal shining tributes to a victory already won. The weapons would certainly crumble against steel, but the poorer kingdom would be fighting back with only farming tools. 

On the day of the invasion, the prince and his army found no opposing battalion. Only poor nation's king sitting quietly in his garden. As the troops poured in, the old lord did not stir, for he was locked in prayer. Prayer to five dusty shrines standing silent before him. The soldiers paused. This was no enemy. Only an old man chanting to his gods. But the prince wouldn't hear it. With a sneer, he ordered the attack.

And the gods answered back.

To be continued in Part 2...

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The release of Arena's Historic Anthology 3 is nearly upon us. On May 21st, we get a brand new set of tools to add to our kits. Well okay, not new, but you get the idea. Some of these cards are sure to power up current archetypes, like the one discussed in our previous article. Others seek to create entirely new decks. And that, my adventurous readers, is the journey we'll be taking today. Unrefined, mildly tested, and extremely experimental, today's tale is about brewing with the Honden Cycle: Honden of Cleansing Fireimage, Honden of Seeing Windsimage, Honden of Night's Reachimage, Honden of Infinite Rageimage, Honden of Life's Webimage.

Our challenges are many. Arena's Historic format offers up a powerful assortment of opposing decks. These decks are fine-tuned and tested, with strong individual cards and accompanying synergies. Can our humble shrines beat back the shining armies of an ambitious prince?

 Step 1: What's our Objective?

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Why hello there, win-cons!

Okay, simple enough to answer this one. The five Hondens are at their best when grouped together (Hmm...), so in order to win with them, we'll need access the majority. Like Gates (Boros Guildgateimage,Golgari Guildgateimage, etc.) and their respective payoffs (Guild Summitimage, Gatebreaker Ramimage, Gates Ablazeimage, etc.), the Honden reward us for having critical mass. Unlike the Gates, the Hondens have their payoffs built right in. If we can live long enough to assemble them, the advantage they provide should be enough to take the game.

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We'll first need access to as many enablers as possible, be they mana fixing (Dryad of the Ilysian Groveimage), cheating them into play (Fires of Inventionimage), or combing off (Dance of the Manseimage). Each strategy requires different elements to make work. And those elements are in-part defined by...

 Step 2: What obstacles stand in our way?

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The current Historic metagame is not kind to a deck that needs time to develop. Gruul and Mono-White Lifegain start attacking with big creatures quickly. And those threats only grow bigger ala the likes of Embercleaveimage and Heliod, Sun-Crownedimage. First thing we'll need to focus on is surviving long enough to get all the Honden together. Honden of Cleansing Fireimage helps a bit in this regard, but at four mana, it's slow. In fact, all the Honden are, which means we'll need to clear a path.

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Push the shiny red button

Like any good control deck, say for example the third most popular one in the Historic meta, mass-removal is vital to clearing away opposing armies. Our Hondens need time to take over the game. In that time, we'll need to carefully assess how much damage to take before dropping a Wrath. We'll also have to consider versatile answers like Banishing Lightimage, Dovin's Vetoimage, or Desparkimage to take care of opposing planeswalkers and fellow wrath-proof permanents.

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Once we figure out survival, we'll next need to determine how to assemble the Hondens. The big challenge: they're Legendary. This drawback severely hinders the number of copies we can run of each, and also necessitates the need for multiple colors of mana (Paradise Druidimage), ramp (Gilded Gooseimage), or an alternative way to cheat our Hondens into play (Fires of Inventionimage).

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Lastly, if we can survive long enough and get the resources necessary to play our Honden, we still need to find the damn things. We'll then need to successfully resolve as many as possible. Against Control decks like Bant, once they figure out what we're trying to do, you can bet the counters will aimed squarely at our Hondens.

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And don't get me started on this guy...

So the obstacles are certainly many. But with the greatest challenges come the greatest stories. Getting "Honden.deck" to work won't be easy, but we're gonna give it a shot. Taking our notes into account, let's put a couple brews together and see what we can come up with.

 Part 3: Let's start brewing!

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Deck #1

Dancin' Hondens

Main 60 cards (25 distinct)
Instant, Sorcery, Enchantment, Artifact (31)
$0.26€0.130.02
$0.26€0.110.03
$0.29€0.130.02
$0.25€0.120.02
$0.26€0.130.02
$7.61€6.710.14
$2.00€0.740.02
$0.64€0.290.32
$0.19€0.060.01
$0.38€0.120.02
$0.64€0.310.05
$0.20€0.080.01
$4.49€3.691.23
$0.20€0.070.01
$0.67€0.390.02
Planeswalker (3)
$18.64€17.9343.54
$6.82€7.433.86
Land (26)
$14.99€6.992.05
$12.57€7.092.13
$8.99€7.382.85
$12.95€7.7410.55
$7.18€6.031.50
$0.200.01
$0.200.01
$0.250.01
Side 14 cards (7 distinct)
$2.17€1.880.14
$1.25€1.220.03
$0.64€0.290.32
$0.27€0.130.01
$0.23€0.100.01
$1.26€0.430.02
$0.38€0.120.02

Simulating MTG Arena Best of 1 starting hand
(Simplified, true algorithm in MTGA not revealed by Wizards yet)
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Our first deck seeks to "combo off" by having all our Hondens return to play a la' Dance of the Manseimage. I'd call it a Combo/Control hybrid deck, as the Control element helps fill our hand and graveyard for long enough until we're ready to start dancing. Cathartic Reunionimage, Thrill of Possibilityimage, and Search for Azcanta // Azcanta, the Sunken Ruinimage are our primary shovels, our tools meant to dig through our deck for graveyard fuel. We're going to want to start pitching Hondens early and hang onto spells that'll keep cards flowing or keep us alive.

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In that vein, we run Deafening Clarionimage and Solar Blazeimage to sweep the board when needed. Shatter the Skyimage is also a contender, and the sole reason it's not included in the deck is Jegantha, the Wellspringimage. True, the Companion isn't fully necessary to make the deck work, so much so in fact that our sideboard runs two copies of Drannith Magistrateimage to lock up potential Yorion, Sky Nomadimage or Lurrus of the Dream Den appearances. However, Jegantha, the Wellspringimage does offer a sizeable body and mana-fixing, giving us both defense and an alternate route to casting off-color Hondens if we need. I felt that was worth swapping out Shatter the Skyimage for Solar Blazeimage, which does handle most of the formats threats, but I could be incorrect.

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The deck also runs a few accessory enchantments. Their inclusion is mostly experimental at this point, so feel free to swap em' out for more sweeper or tools like Dovin's Vetoimage if needed. Shark Typhoonimage helps find us needed cards and has the potential to act as a win condition. If we do start hardcasting Hondens, Sunbird's Innvocation can potentially help us chain the more expensive ones (Honden of Seeing Windsimage) into the cheaper ones (Honden of Cleansing Fireimage). We're also creature-free and thus poised to gain maximum value out of Whirlwind of Thoughtimage.

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Lastly, the deck's Planeswalkers both serve multiple roles. Narset of the Ancient Wayimage provides us ramp, life gain, card draw, and most importantly, card discard that also has removal attached! This is a ton of value that makes Narset a powerhouse in this deck. Teferi, Time Ravelerimage provides counterspell-protection, as it's pivotal Dance of the Manseimage goes off. He also offers defensive bounce, card advantage, and the opportunity to cast end-of-turn Hondens and whatnot.

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Our Sideboard looks to handle two primary antagonists: Aggro/ Midrange (Mono Red, Gruul, Mono White, etc.) and Control (Bant, Azorius, etc.). Against creature-centric decks, I'd recommend bringing in additional copies of Deafening Clarionimage and Solar Blazeimage, as well as Timely Reinforcementsimage, in place of the non-Hoden enchantments. Heartwarming Redemptionimage could also serve a pivotal role here, healing you from an attack, filling your graveyard, and restocking your hand. Versus control, Lazotep Platingimage and Dovin's Vetoimage are key against enchantment removal such as Barrier Breachimage. Also remember, once Dance of the Manseimage goes off, your Honden will likely now be creatures, themselves, opening them up to any creature-based spot removal that's so far sat useless in your opponent's hand. All the more reason for Lazotep Platingimage. Drannith Magistrateimage, as I touched upon earlier, is more than worth sacrificing the ability to cast Jegantha, the Wellspringimage for if he can help shut down nasty Aristocrats-style Lurrus of the Dream Den or Blink decks with Yorion, Sky Nomadimage.

Seeing as our story is already getting long in the tooth, we'll conclude here for the day, but stayed tuned, my fellow crazy-brewers, for Part 2 will explore some additional deck types to make Hondens work in Historic! I hope you enjoyed reading. Have fun brewing!

-Tautog-

@Intrepid_Tautog

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