Last weekend was the War of the Spark Prerelease, and while I didn't make it out to a local store, I had my own prerelease experience of sorts on Magic Online. While I did play a couple sealed deck events and had a blast getting familiar with the new cards, my most memorable experiences were playing with, or more accurately against the new cards in Constructed. War of the Spark doesn't technically become Constructed legal in paper until its official release on Friday, but it has already been legal on Magic Online since last week. I spent my weekend playing Modern, Vintage and Legacy, and apparently I missed the memo on the new cards. Every time I came up against new cards they trounced me, and in fact I was eliminated from Top 8 contention in two of these events directly by War of the Spark cards. It was a rude awakening, but also a valuable first-hand lesson in how these powerful new cards fit into Eternal formats and a preview of the impact they will have for years to come.
My first event of the weekend was the Modern Challenge, and I thought I would try the latest tech by registering an Urzatron deck from the Mythic Championship. Switching from Izzet Phoenix, which I know very well, to a deck I haven't played in a while was a poor choice from the get-go, and things only got worse when I ran into Karn, the Great Creator. Despite being drafted at the Mythic Championship last weekend, War of the Spark was not legal for the Modern portion, and that meant these decklists were already behind the times. I was completely unprepared for the realities of the new cards, and I quickly found out the hard way that they will have a big impact everywhere they are legal.
I faced Karn, the Great Creator in the mirror match, and it single handedly won my opponent the match, even despite them mulliganing to four in game two! Karn's static ability is a one-sided Null Rod, and that's an impressive effect against Urzatron decks that play a dozen or more artifacts. It will be similarly crushing against various other artifact-based decks in the format, like the Affinity deck that just reached the finals of the Mythic Championship, so having this sort of hoser is of great benefit.
What really pushes Karn, the Great Creator over the top is how this Null Rod pairs with Mycosynth Lattice, which it can wish for for its -2 ability, to completely lock the opponent out of the game. My opponent assembled this combo in games two and three and dispatched me from the tournament. The combo locks down activated abilities from every permanent, which includes lands. That means it is lights out against just about any opponent, because barring attacking with creatures you already have and casting any free spells like Surgical Extraction, there's nothing you can do. Even better, Karn's other activated ability can turn Mycosynth Lattice into a creature, so it also quickly closes out the opponent, making it a completely self-contained way to win the game. What's so impressive is that it's not a combo in the traditional sense, because Karn, the Great Creator's wish ability means it doesn't require playing and finding a copy—reserving just a single space in your sideboard will do the trick. Karn, the Great Creator is something of a one-card combo, and looks to be Modern's most threatening new strategy.
Beyond being a win condition, Karn, the Great Creator is an incredibly versatile card because of its ability to dig for utility artifacts. No matter the situation you are in, there is probably a Modern artifact that can get you out of it, whether it's Ensnaring Bridge, Chalice of the Void, Pithing Needle, Grafdigger's Cage, Damping Sphere, or any number of other hosers we see in Modern. Not only does Karn reduce the need to fill the sideboard with these cards, it even provides access to them in game one.
Karn, the Great Creator left an impression on me, and I can't imagine that it won't have an impact on Modern. It sure was impressive out of Tron, but I imagine there must be other shells for the card. Karn, the Great Creator would be great in some sort of prison deck, for example, since it can dig for hosers, and it's even a hoser in itself with its one-sided Null Rod ability. Used more proactively, it could also help assemble the Thopter Foundry and Sword of the Meek engine, since it can find either or even both parts. I am also very curious about a deck completely dedicated to utilizing Karn, the Great Creator's potential, with ramp and other ways to support the plan of getting it online and locking the opponent with Mycosynth Lattice ASAP.
Karn, the Great Creator is just the tip of the iceberg of what War of the Spark will do in Modern, which feels like a format ripe for War of the Spark to make an impact in. Neoform is currently making waves because of its combo with Allosaurus Rider, which can be sacrificed to find Griselbrand—as early as turn one with the help of Chancellor of the Tangle.
Here's the build "kanister" Glowgowski was streaming this week:
The deck takes pages from the playbooks of other Modern combo decks: Nourishing Shoal technology from Grishoalbrand, which Chancellor of the Annex and Allosaurus Rider feed, and the Lightning Storm kill from Ad Nauseam, powered by Simian Spirit Guide—which the deck can use to enable a turn-one kill when funneled with Manamorphose.
My next foray of the weekend was into Vintage, where War of the Spark is already making a serious impact. Magic's newest set is pushing the power level of Magic cards, and it's found a perfect home in Magic's most powerful format. Unsurprisingly, the standout color is blue. Narset, Parter of Veils works perfectly alongside—and against—the best blue spells in the game. Narset's ability to dig into spells and generate immediate value is potent in a format where spells are so incredibly high-impact. Coming down and at least generating one look, which in a deck designed to support it will reliably produce a card, means at worst it will function as a card selection spell, or at best will create quality two-for-one value over two turns.
But that's really all gravy, because the real draw to Narset, Parter of Veils is its ability to impersonate Leovold, Emissary of Trest with its passive ability. Shutting down the opponent's ability to draw cards cards is simply crushing in Vintage where card draw spells are so common. Stopping Ancestral Recall, Brainstorm and the like is great, but it might be best specifically as a way to hose Paradoxical Outcome, which unlike most card drawing spells in the format isn't restricted.
Narset, Parter of Veils gives blue decks a useful tool against Paradoxical Outcome decks, which I was wielding when I ran into the card. I actually faced Narset, Parter of Veils in the mirror match, where my opponent easily took a game with it. Its ability to dig into noncreature spells it likely at its very best in this deck, which plays every broken artifact mana in the format and an incredibly low land count. I was able to dodge or counter Narset in the other games and go on to win the match, but that wouldn't be the last I saw of it.
I also came across Narset, Parter of Veils from an Izzet Young Pyromancer opponent, which is the format's premier non-Paradoxical Outcome blue deck, built in the mold of the typical midrange blue deck that seems to be successful in every format. Had I been able to counter it I would have survived, but the card advantage it produced for the deck, which is designed to out-grind and out-control its opponents, was unbeatable. I was able to out-juke the hoser in game three with the Managorger Hydra sideboard plan, which exposes the one weakness of Narset, Parter of Veils (creatures) but the beauty of Vintage and the typical Eternal format is that they revolve around spells, not creatures, and that means Narset, Parter of Veils can be nearly impossible for some opponents to remove.
My eventual exit in the semifinals was not against War of the Spark cards but rather a more all-in Paradoxical Outcome deck designed to abuse the London Mulligan rule with draw-seven effects like Wheel of Fortune, but it fell in the finals to—you guessed it—Narset, Parter of Veils, two in the maindeck of the Izzet deck.
My grind the next day began with Legacy, where I came face-to-face with the most new cards yet, and they ultimately brought my demise. Again, Narset, Parter of Veils was my first exposure to War of the Spark in the format, but this time I was not as fortunate. I was playing a Stoneblade deck, the winning list from Niagara Falls a couple weeks ago, but my opponent was Miracles expert and streamer Anuraag "AnziD" Das, and he was on the newest tech, which he put to great effect en route to his eventual Top 4 finish. Like the Izzet deck in Vintage, Miracles is very dense with spells, and it's designed to grind out opponents with card advantage. Between the cards it finds and those it stops the opponent from drawing, there's no better way to win an attrition war than Narset, Parter of Veils.
The icing on Narset's cake was Teferi, Time Raveler which also has an incredibly potent passive ability in Eternal formats. Forcing the opponent to play at sorcery speed completely shuts down their countermagic, which renders them mostly helpless and with no ability to win a counter war. Being forced to play on their main phase means they will run right into your countermagic, so the total effect is to make the game softball. Teferi, Time Raveler's ability to bounce a permanent isn't quite card advantage like Narset, Parter of Veils, but it has immense value as a tempo play to help stabilize a game, and it's even better in a deck like Miracles that can use countermagic to stop the card on its way back down to the battlefield. Its + loyalty ability allowing you to play your own sorceries at instant speed is also valuable, especially so in decks that can draw into Terminus. That's exactly the play my opponent made with the help of Ponder, a card he otherwise wouldn't have been able to play on my turn to stop my lethal attack.
Eliminated from Top 8 contention, I ended up facing Teferi, Time Raveler again the next round, but this time from a more unlikely place. My Infect opponent brought it in out of their sideboard, and it was obviously quite effective for helping the deck connect pump spells to its creatures unmolested and win the game with ease. Gitaxian Probe used to help the deck by showing the way, but Teferi, Time Raveler helps by simply making many opposing cards irrelevant. It doubles as a one-time piece of removal for problem permanents (say, Ensnaring Bridge) which opens the window Infect needs to K.O. the opponent. I've heard that Teferi, Time Raveler could have applications in all sorts of Legacy combo decks for this dual purpose of acting like a Defense Grid and Chain of Vapor in one, such as Sneak and Show or Storm. At worst, it pitches to Force of Will!
I should also mention that I faced another War of the Spark card in Liliana's Triumph, which is simply a strict upgrade to Diabolic Edict, which is actually a staple of the format, and will now be even better because these decks also tend to play Liliana, the Last Hope or Liliana of the Veil.
When decklists from the event were published, it was revealed that even more War of the Spark cards could be found, and actually played a part in winning the event! A single copy of Ugin, the Ineffable could be found in the Eldrazi Post deck that won the event, and as this video shows, it can do some pretty disturbing things in the deck:
Two other War of the Spark cards also showed up in decklists. Tomik, Distinguished Advokist is a strong new hatebear option for Death and Taxes against land decks, and Dovin's Veto fits as a sideboard card for Miracles. With so many new cards showing up already, I imagine there will be more to come as players begin to figure out more complex cards like Bolas's Citadel.
My final Eternal foray of the weekend was into Pauper, where I didn't run into any War of the Spark cards but instead lost the old-fashioned way—playing terribly—but I am sure it's only a matter of time. Wizards has explicitly said they are pushing the power level of common cards with War of the Spark forward, and that will inevitably bring new playables to Pauper.