War of the Spark Spoilers | Week One

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War of the Spark spoilers are in full swing, and with over fifty cards already previewed, many players are trying to gain a sense of what is good and what’s simply hype. I’ve pulled the Top 10 cards spoiled so far that I’m most interested in, but there are a few things to keep in mind.

  1. This list is not comprehensive. With more cards spoiled every day, this list is merely a springboard for discussion, and while I have played games with many of these cards, there is little data supporting any conclusions.
  2. This list focuses on Competitive Constructed. I’ve largely ignored Commander or Limited with this list, and have focused mostly on Standard. With no upcoming Standard rotation until the Fall, there exists a backlog of relevant Standard data from the current format.
  3. I’ve limited the list to 10 cards, rather than the 15 or so I want to talk about. 10 cards allow me to develop my thoughts more on each one, as opposed to very brief but comprehensive lists. I will get to every card I feel has potential eventually, and saving cards for later allows for consistent list sizes in the event of a slow week.

10. Time Wipe

Time Wipe

Exploring design space for sweepers is a deliberate change on Wizard’s part, with a shift away from unconditional 4 mana sweepers towards 5 mana sweepers with upside. Time Wipe represents the newest in a line of such cards but offers enough upside for Standard viability. Combining Time Wipe with powerful “enters the battlefield” effects such as Augur of Bolas or Hostage Taker can allow fringe archetypes like Esper Midrange to have access to game-changing removal spells. Time Wipe also shows promise with its interaction with Hydroid Krasis and Frilled Mystic, potentially revitalizing the fledgling Bant Midrange archetype.

9. Tibalt, Rakish Instigator

Tibalt

Following in the iconic footsteps of his predecessor, Tibalt showcases unique card design. Following the format of War of the Spark’s uncommon cycle of planeswalkers, Tibalt lacks any sort of conventional accrued advantage. Lacking the ability to gain Loyalty counters or a powerful ultimate, Tibalt is more similar to enchantments or sagas. Despite this deviation from the expected planeswalker model, Tibalt allows for more sideboard depth among archetypes. Being able to shut off life gain makes Tibalt a natural inclusion into sideboards, but the ability to create tokens allows for potential main deck space. Unlike traditional answers to life gain, like Skullcrack or Leyline of Punishment, Tibalt allows the opponent to interact with this ability. This uncommon cycle allows for varied play patterns and brings a natural tension to deckbuilding.

8. Emergence Zone

Emergence Zone

Set to persist as a consistent Commander staple, Emergence Zone has potential applications in competitive constructed formats. Alchemist’s Refuge saw minor play in its Standard environment, held back in part due to color requirements. Emergence Zone trades a stringent color requirement for a one-shot activation. Without an effect like Crucible of Worlds, most decks would only be able to Emergence Zone once, likely abandoning this effect. Emergence Zone is most interesting for the tension involved in the card design — typically low-cost utility lands are best in the late game as players start to flood out, but Emergence Zone is worse when lower on resources. The tension between putting yourself down on land drops for a midgame blowout creates decision trees in gameplay otherwise not available.

Emergence Zone certainly has its share of drawbacks but may have a home in Standard. Opening up deckbuilding space for fringe two color archetypes, Emergence Zone can allow for instant speed Kaya’s Wrath or Hydroid Krasis, and can combine with Wilderness Reclamation to flash in Niv Mizzet.

7. Widespread Brutality

Widespread Brutality

Showcasing War of the Spark’s marquis mechanic, Widespread Brutality serves as a conditional sweeper that acts similarly to Ravenous Chupacabra. Instead of removing a single potent threat, Widespread Brutality removes small creatures and gives the caster a 2/2, though in multiples it can function as a Rakdos version of Finality. It’s important to note the inability of an opponent to stop the damage as the token created immediately deals damage. Widespread Brutality lacks the immediate board impact of similar sweepers like Deafening Clarion but can slot into Midrange decks more effectively. Pairing Widespread Brutality with Dreadhorde Invasion can create a board state that quickly snowballs. Ultimately the impact of Widespread Brutality will depend on the number of playable Amass cards, but with a bevy of options currently spoiled, it is a card I will certainly be trying.

6. Liliana, Dreadhorde General

Liliana

Liliana, Dreadhorde General is the latest 6 mana planeswalker to join the cast of available options, and in many ways draws comparisons to Elspeth, Sun’s Champion. Both planeswalkers come down on Turn 6, can minus to clear a couple of creatures or plus to generate board presence. The primary difference is in the function of each planeswalker. Elspeth created three tokens every turn, a huge board presence that prevented most threats from damaging her, then ulted fairly quickly to win the game with those tokens. Liliana lacks the overwhelming board impact of Elspeth but makes up for it with more loyalty and a powerful card advantage option. While Liliana’s ultimate lacks an immediate game-ending impact, destroying your opponents’ lands should end the game soon enough.

The static ability of Liliana contributes to most of her power. Ensuring that you always end up ahead in exchanges while encouraging the opponent to attack Liliana puts you in situations where there are no clean answers to her. Barring a Vraska’s Contempt, Liliana will ensure at least a 2-for-1 with the potential to snowball board states. It is important to play Liliana alongside other threats as her effectiveness is proportional to the number of creatures in play. With this context in mind, Liliana is likely to find a home among Golgari or Sultai Midrange, though she does compete for late game plays such as Hydroid Krasis.

5. Liliana’s Triumph

Liliana's Triumph

Efficient removal often proves Standard playable, but showing up in Legacy or Modern requires that extra power. Liliana’s Triumph is an upgrade to Diabolic Edict in nearly every sense but can function as a 2-for-1 when paired with Liliana of the Veil or Liliana, the Last Hope. Both of these planeswalkers have proven their power in older formats, and while Diabolic Edict sees regular play in Legacy, forcing an opponent to discard a card is rarely low impact. In Modern, Golgari Midrange (also referred to as The Rock) is seeing a resurgence — sacrificing the 2-for-1 potential of Kolaghan’s Command for a streamlined mana base. Liliana’s Triumph gives this archetype an additional removal spell in the early game that can cleanly answer Gurmag Angler while inducing profitable exchanges in the mid-game.

In Standard, this will see play merely as an “unconditional” removal spell at two mana. The discard portion might as well be flavor text, as the only Liliana with potential is Liliana, Dreadhorde General. Still, the ability to hit both Emmara and Wildgrowth Walker may prove to be an invaluable asset to Sultai and Esper, while acting as a maindeckable answer to Carnage Tyrant.

4. Cruel Celebrant

Cruel Celebrant

Comparing new cards to those of the past is an easy way to evaluate the impact of a set. With such a storied past of similar cards, Cruel Celebrant represents a fresh take on the templating of Blood Artist and Zulaport Cutthroat, both of which created dominant archetypes in their respective formats. Cruel Celebrant brings this effect back into Standard, but with a twist reflecting a planeswalker heavy environment — Cruel Celebrant triggers off of planeswalkers you control, providing that extra bit of reach when your Kaya dies. Most importantly, Cruel Celebrant triggers even off of tokens you control, combining naturally with March of the Multitudes or Hero of Precinct One to quickly pressure life totals, as well as ensuring damage against every sweeper in the format except Cry of the Carnarium.

3. Paradise Druid

Paradise Druid

As with other spoilers, Paradise Druid is a twist on a former Standard staple — Sylvan Caryatid. This makes conclusions easy, and if the playability of Druid of the Cowl or Incubation Druid is any indicator Paradise Druid promises to see Standard play. Paradise Druid does not fill the same defensive role that Druid of the Cowl of Sylvan Caryatid fill, as the low toughness forces players to lean more heavily on the ramp and mana fixing components. Paradise Druid does allow decks like Sultai or Temur Monsters to ensure extra mana on the following turns, as the resiliency of Paradise Druid helps deploy bigger plays.

Goblin Chainwhirler and Liliana’s Triumph serve as effective ways of removing Paradise Druid, but even ordinary removal spells will work once the Druid has been used for mana. Slotting into decks that already play Incubation Druid may seem obvious, but decks like Simic Nexus or Golgari Midrange are additional decks that can benefit from guaranteed mana. The best home is likely to be in Gruul or Temur Monsters, as an emphasis on attacking makes the 2/1 body more impactful.

2. Augur of Bolas

Augur of Bolas

Our only reprint on this list, Augur of Bolas once again enters a Standard format rife with control decks. Bringing with it an efficient body, Augur of Bolas is a maindeckable creature for many Control decks, while smoothing out the draws of Mono Blue and Simic Nexus. Trading the ability to hit land drops for deeper digging when compared to cards like Elvish Visionary, Augur of Bolas goes into decks with a high spell count. Izzet Drakes/Phoenix, Mono Blue, any Wilderness Reclamation deck, Esper Control, and even fringe archetype Wizards stand to benefit from this impactful Turn 2 play. Keep Augur of Bolas in mind when approaching the format, and don’t forget the sweet interaction with Time Wipe.

1. Teferi, Time Raveler

Teferi

Striking fear into the hearts of many Standard players, Teferi, Time Raveler comes about a year after Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. While the pairing of these two planeswalkers may seem obvious, understanding the impact of this new Teferi is difficult. While Esper Control has been a consistently performing archetype since the legality of Hallowed Fountain, Teferi, Time Raveler immediately solves one of the poorest matchups for the powerhouse archetype — Wilderness Reclamation decks. The first ability on Teferi shuts off end step interaction while ensuring all future spells resolve. This ability also prevents Reclamation decks from using the mana on their end step, or from casting Nexus of Fate on opposing turns. This alone would prove viable for Esper, but Teferi also allows instant speed Kaya’s Wrath or Thought Erasure. Clearly, the potential in Teferi is high, and as a 3 mana planeswalker, he has multiple potent abilities.

Teferi also provides crucial interaction in the early game, bouncing opposing Search for Azcantas or otherwise troublesome creatures. You can also use Teferi to reset your own Augur of Bolas in the mid-game, providing for a consistent stream of cards. With all the hype that Teferi is receiving, many may assume the sky is falling. It is not, and Teferi is not an oppressive planeswalker. Esper can struggle to utilize his plus ability, and the lack of consistent card advantage relegates Teferi to being a supplement to a strategy. In addition, Teferi puts constraints on deckbuilding as he possesses no way to win the game. Common play patterns with Teferi include bouncing the only opposing creature, but a follow up is necessary due to the slow card draw of Teferi. When doing early testing with the card I was impressed with its impact in aggressive matchups but found myself lacking the ability to fully capitalize on the plus. The interaction with your own creatures is powerful, as resetting a Deputy of Detention or Hostage Taker pre-sweeper may be enough to breathe life into the struggling Esper Midrange archetype.


Thanks for checking out our Week One Spoiler talk, and if you have any cards that you felt were missing, let me know in the comments below.

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