War of the Spark spoiler season has begun! You know a set with a planeswalker in every pack is going to be exciting, but it's clear the set has a lot more going for it than just that. Long gone are the days of printing filler and outright bad cards in sets—in 2019 an incredible amount of care goes into each and every card. Magic R&D has many mouths to feed, so to speak, and must satisfy all of Magic's hungry fans. From Standard grinders to Commander players, drafters to collectors, sets are designed to fulfill the need of everyone, and War of the Spark looks like it will deliver in a big way. Today I'll review what we know about the set so far, and what it offers. I'll focus on the Standard implications and the decks it opens up, but also identify some cards that people are already talking about for Eternal formats.
War of the Spark introducing 36 new planeswalkers originally led me to believe we could be thrust into a world where planeswalkers were the center of the universe. With a planeswalker in every pack, that might end up being the case for Limited, but those new planeswalkers represent only a drop in the Standard bucket. There are bound to be some great planeswalkers within those 36 that will become Standard staples, but the majority will not be Constructed material. The introduction of uncommon planeswalkers has created a new style of card, and they just aren't as strong as a typical planeswalker. With no ability to add loyalty, they are capped in their utility, and lack the same ability to take over a game with endless value, and so far none of them look like Constructed stars.
With some potential strong new planeswalkers in Standard, dealing with opposing planeswalkers might be more important than before, so I do like the prospects of cards like Sorcerous Spyglass and The Immortal Sun, but these are likely to be useful sideboard hosers, not maindeck staples needed against everyone. Vraska's Contempt and Bedevil will excel, but they have found some steep competition in Angrath's Rampage, which combine flexibility and efficiency to create a fantastic card and sure staple because of how well it deals with planeswalkers.
The Magic-playing community's collective Hive Mind is pretty good at figuring out new combos and synergies quickly, and have identified that a freshly-spoiled card has added a powerful new interaction to Standard, potentially leading to a turn three kill with just three cards.Dreadhorde Butcher interacts well with pump spells, which will get twice as much from the effect if it can can hit the opponent and then die. Thud enters the picture as the perfect way to sacrifice the pumped creature and unlock the damage, while adding more damage of its own by essentially triple-dipping on the pump spell. Uncontested, Dreadhorde Butcher on turn two followed by Collision // Colossus and Thud on turn three adds up to 21 damage. Of course things aren't usually that simple, but that might be powerful enough to make a real deck around. Dreadhorde Butcher is a pretty solid card, it's just a matter of finding the right pieces to support it all. That means an aggressive deck that can take advantage of pump spells, and War of the Spark happens to provide a creature that seems almost tailor-made for the strategy.
Dreadhorde Arcanist boils down to a repeatable Snapcaster Mage, which is quite a powerful effect. In fact I think Dreadhorde Arcanist is one of the best cards in the set, and could change the way red decks are built in Standard. Even without pump spells, the ability to cast one-mana cards like Shock or Warlord's Fury for value seems great. Getting the most from Dreadhorde Arcanist, however, means pumping it, and Trample ability goads its controller to do so. Once pumped, it will have the ability to case a wider selection of spells, but perhaps none more useful than recasting the pump spell that pumped it in the first place. Targeting Dreadhord Arcanist with Colossus and attacking leads to a 9/7 trample creature, for the investment for two cards and four mana. The potential is incredible, and it makes Dreadhorde Arcanist seem almost broken. It will be the perfect secondary creature in the Thud deck, where it can grow large and then be thrown at the opponent.
Dreadhorde Arcanist will be really fun with Samut's Sprint, which can give it haste for a kill out of nowhere. Scrying is also a nice ability for a combo deck, and efficient cost of just R makes this one of the best red pump spells yet. We've also seen the reprint of Giant Growth, which will fit right into the deck as another efficient pump spell.
With Thud playing a central role in the strategy, it makes perfect sense to run a playset of Kraul Harpooner. Its Undergrowth ability has the potential to give it massive power, even without pump spells. This interaction even spawned some fun decks in the past, but things are starting to look serious. Kraul Harpooner is now one of the best creatures in Standard, where it has helped keep the Mono-Blue Aggro deck in check, so it will be fantastic here. Gruul Spellbreaker also looks like a good addition, since with hexproof on your turn it's a nice safe target for pump spells. The deck also has to be able to win playing more of a fair game without Thud shenanigans, and Gruul Spellbreaker helps accomplish that by being a hard-hitting threat by itself.
Standard has slowly been accumulating cards for a self-sacrifice Aristocrats style deck, and War of the Spark adds more pieces—maybe enough to complete the puzzle. Cruel Celebrant is the quintessential Aristocrats card, with its ability nearly identical to Blood Artist's. Triggering from planeswalkers too is a nice bonus, but not very important. What is nice is the higher power and toughness—surviving Goblin Chainwhirler makes it much more attractive in this metagame. Cruel Celebrant's gold status, which does make it restrictive to cast, becomes an advantage with Hero of Precinct One, which Standard's current Mardu Aristocrats deck uses. That means it has a home waiting and a deck to slot right into, and could help push it over the top.
A self-sacrifice card of note is Ahn-Crop Invader. It's easy to miss, but it might be exactly what the strategy needs. Sacrifice decks are at their best when they have a great sacrifice engine, which is why Nantuko Husk has often been a key part of the strategy when it appears in Standard, as recently as the Cryptolith Rites deck, to Four-Color Rally, all the way back to the Orzhov Ghost Husk deck in 2006, and probably more I am missing. I think Wizards has learned their lesson about printing creatures with so much potential power, and in the days since Nantuko Husk was in Standard we've seen less explosive sacrifice engines. Ahn-Crop Invader offers the same power boost as Nantuko Husk, but reigned in by requiring mana. That's a big downgrade, but Ahn-Crop Invader will often threaten lethal just the same, demanding the opponent throw a creature in front to chump-block. I don't know if it's the right fit in a Hero of Precinct One version, but it seems playable somewhere.
Cruel Celebrant is also a Vampire, which could even earn it a home in a Vampire tribal deck, which has some payoff given that one of Standard's better sacrifice outlets, Pitiless Pontiff, is also Vampire. The tribe was actually a solid tier two deck for a period but never broke through, and time is running out until rotation this fall, so maybe now is the time. Cruel Celebrant is the perfect pairing with Elenda, the Dusk Rose providing fuel.
War of the Spark looks to have some powerful cards, and that means at least some of them will make their way to Eternal formats. I've been paying attention to social media and seen discussion about War of the Spark cards being playable in Modern, Legacy, Vintage, and even Pauper. For example, former Wizards developer Tom Ross pointed out that Davriel, Rogue Shadowmage is a great fit into the Modern 8-Rack deck, a deck he has championed in the past.
The Mono-Black planeswalker from #MTGWAR for 8-Rack players! pic.twitter.com/Cl3SdLGWzN— Tom Ross (@Boss_MTG) April 1, 2019
Davriel, Rogue Shadowmage does two things 8-Rack is interested in: discarding cards with its loyalty ability, and then functioning as a The Rack effect with its passive ability. It might not be as flexible as Liliana of the Veil or as efficient as Shrieking Affliction, but might be even more effective than either because it offers so much from one card.
I've seen Teferi, Time Raveler identified as a potential new staple for Legacy. It makes sense, because the passive ability of stopping the opponent from playing at instant speed could be huge in some matchups, like out of the sideboard of combo decks for stopping countermagic. The planeswalker can also be used as a removal spell against hate cards like Chalice of the Void or Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. This flexibility means it could be really effective in the sideboard of something like Storm, where it fills the role of cards like Defense Grid and Chain of Vapor in its sideboard.
My favorite tweet about War of the Spark came from pro player Yuuta Takahashi, who shared his take on a Mishra's Workshop-powered Bolas's Citadel deck:
Bolas's Citadel is broken on Vintage?— yuta_takahashi (@Vendilion) April 1, 2019
You may search for Tinker.
And great combo for Sensei's top!
(Helldozer is Proxy) pic.twitter.com/2tDRUdgNRd
Paying zero life to cast Mox and Black Lotus will be great, but Bolas's Citadel is best of all with Sensei's Top, which essentially turns it into Yawgmoth's Bargain and allows for drawing a ton of cards. Looks like fun!
War of the Spark also appeals to the other end of the Magic constructed spectrum by adding a very powerful new Pauper staple, Vivien's Grizzly.
Mana sinks that convert to cards are pretty good in a format where games can drag on forever and grinding tends to be the name of the game. Vivien's Grizzly will really shine in Elves, which with Priest of Titania can make a ton of mana and use Vivien's Grizzly to rip through the deck.
Wizards has really outdone themselves with War of the Spark, which looks to have something for everyone. Even the story that ties the cards together has been brought to new heights—the promotional trailer for the set aired during the Mythic Invitational has quickly become the most popular piece of Magic media ever, and shows a glimpse of just how rich the Magic world is. It's exciting to think about what other cards the set will bring, and the part they too will play in telling Magic's story.