We’re knee deep in a broth of Magic goodness, and this week I’m reviewing the standout constructed cards in War of the Spark. Evaluating cards is the most challenging and rewarding aspect of Spoiler season, and controversial discussions of popular cards can reflect the complex context that establishes formats. With little merit in a comprehensive discussion prior to the unveiling of the entire set, I’ve established guidelines for this article that can narrow the discussion.
- This list is not comprehensive and may include cards from prior weeks.
- This list focuses on Competitive Constructed. I’ve largely ignored Commander or Limited with this list, though some cards may make the list based largely on Modern.
- 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. Krenko, Tin Street Kingpin
The natural successor to the defining Goblin Commander, Krenko offers a combo potential his predecessor lacked. Krenko turns incidental power boosting effects into onboard value while encouraging the use of more pump spells than ordinary. Cards like Collision/Colossus or Integrity/Intervention can combine with Krenko to create an intimidating board presence, and the curve of Krenko into Aurelia threatens many Turn 5 kills. This explosive potential of Krenko encourages unique approaches to deckbuilding and can further increase the playability of fringe archetypes.
9. Davriel, Rogue Shadowmage
Exciting both Modern and Standard players alike, Davriel’s first appearance as a Planeswalker card subtly lives up to his imposing image. While somewhat disappointing to see him sporting the characteristic grey of the Uncommon rarity, Davriel makes up for it with Constructed potential. The linear nature of Davriel leads to a somewhat low granularity of play patterns, but the power of recurring discard is rarely low. Slotting easily into 8-Rack lists for Modern, Davriel adds flexibility to the archetype often lacking. Serving as an additional payoff, Davriel also acts as an additional source of discard. When compared to format mainstays like Liliana of the Veil, Davriel’s continual discard is much less potent, but the consistency provided with his static effect more than makes up for it.
In Standard, the most applicable use for Davriel is with the discard portion, as Esper Control and Reclamation decks are vulnerable to multiple discard spells. While the static effect is of less relevance in this version, the incremental advantage provided by Davriel may allow decks without access to Blue or Red to sport less polarized Reclamation matchups. An effective method for attacking Reclamation decks is to assemble a critical mass of disruption alongside a clock, and while Davriel rarely threatens the opponent with damage, the continual discard can slow down decks that would otherwise use all of their resources.
8. Massacre Girl
Stapling a unique effect onto a competitively costed body often makes for Standard playable cards, but Massacre Girl establishes an exceptionally powerful effect in a Standard format lacking such efficiency. Similar to Ravenous Chupacabra, Massacre Girl acts as a removal spell attached to a creature, providing utility for Vivien’s Arkbow and Find/Finality. Massacre Girl also gives midrange decks a powerful sweeper that isn’t dead against Planeswalkers, while giving fair decks an additional answer to Adanto Vanguard. The chaining trigger of Massacre Girl affords it playability in archetypes ordinarily weak to White aggressive strategies, such as Mardu Aristocrats. This deck often wants to remove its own creatures but can benefit from powerful catchup cards.
While Massacre Girl may make the sideboards of most Black decks, she can revitalize underperforming midrange strategies, and slots into Golgari Midrange as a sweeper you can find off of Vivien Reid. Massacre Girl also combines with Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord to manage troublesome board states. We have very rarely seen creatures with this much board presence in Standard formats, and I’m excited to see how the format shapes up with Massacre Girl.
7. Bolt Bend
Redirection effects can be some of the most powerful effects available when costed appropriately, and Bolt Bend delivers in this regard. Like Ricochet Trap, Bolt Bend has a conditional cost that serves as the primary incentive to play this card. It does deviate in function from Ricochet Trap, which often is used to mitigate counterspells, as Bolt Bend is best used to change Teferi minuses or removal spells. While Bolt Bend can be used on counters, it requires that you already have a threat in play — while not exceptionally difficult, this aspect of the card may relegate it to the sideboard. The part that gets me the most excited is the interactions in Legacy. Cheap 4 power threats are easy to deploy in that format, and Stifle has shown the power of mana denial in a streamlined deck. Bolt Bend can redirect cards like Thoughtseize or Wasteland, and this huge upside warrants consideration.
6. Ral’s Outburst
Prophetic Bolt proved one of the more iconic cards in Cube for a long time, and Ral’s Outburst is the latest addition to the burn spell that cantrips lineage. While doing less overall than Prophetic Bolt, Ral’s Outburst costs one less mana and fills up the graveyard to enable Enigma Drake and Search for Azcanta. This potent interaction allows these decks to play a reactive game without sacrificing midgame damage. The most exciting part about Ral’s Outburst to me is the potential revitalizing of the fringe Jeskai Control archetype while expanding the card pool of Niv-Mizzet Reclamation decks. In addition to being a removal spell, Ral’s Outburst allows these decks to have even more answers to Planeswalkers, as chaining a couple of these can mitigate the advantage of even problematic planeswalkers like Vivien Reid. Casting Outburst on Turn 6 and copying it with Expansion/Explosion is likely to be a game-winning play.
5. Grim Initiate
Following the successful trend of one-drops that replace themselves when they die, Grim Initiate is the latest addition to a fledgling archetype in Standard — the “Aristocrats” style deck. Combining naturally with Judith and Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord, Grim Initiate gives redundancy for these decks by acting as an additional Hunted Witness. The first strike is relevant against other one drops, but notably, the ability to “jump” a Dreadhorde Invasion token up to six power unexpectedly gives Grim Initiate a surprising amount of depth for an otherwise simple creature.
4. Vivien’s Arkbow
Green card advantage often cares about creatures, and Vivien’s Arkbow fulfills this requirement in spades. Like Lifecrafter’s Bestiary before it, Arkbow converts one resource into another and provides a large advantage the more creatures you play. The true potential in Vivien’s Arkbow is in the mana cost. Being two mana means that it can often resolve under countermagic, and the instant speed nature of the activation leads to more opportunities for counterplay. In many ways, Vivien’s Arkbow can function as a repeatable Chord of Calling, and the ability to create Carnage Tyrant at the end of the turn can prove problematic for Esper Control. Vivien’s Arkbow can also be used in existing midrange shells as a value engine, turning dead lands into additional explore creatures like Jadelight Ranger. Mana creatures and extra land drops can turn otherwise useless mana into lategame power, and this aspect of Vivien’s Arkbow gives it more power than nearly any other sideboard option in the format.
3. Ral, Storm Conduit
Receiving hype for his potential combo kill, Ral opens up space in deckbuilding for Izzet decks. With the power of Crackling Drake and Arclight Phoenix, slower Blue and Red decks are left behind, as the most effective way of building a deck in these colors is to just play the Drake package. Ral allows these decks to take a different approach — you can build a combo/control deck in Standard without having to play the same thirty or so cards that Izzet Phoenix or Drakes play. While Ral does little on his own, the unique Static effect creates a deckbuilding puzzle that may open up the format. The combo plays cards that many decks are already playing — Expansion/Explosion and Opt, but explores this package in a shell that isn’t dominated by the uninteractive game plan of Wilderness Reclamation. This combo is also fewer colors when compared to Reclamation, resulting in the potential for Grixis or Jeskai archetypes.
2. Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord
As with many planeswalkers in this set, Sorin’s static effect contributes significantly to his impact. While his plus does not manage most board states, it can remove either Teferi after they minus, and can win the game given enough time. Providing lifelink to your entire board state is an effect we haven’t had in Standard in quite awhile, and this effect often proves powerful when attached to other cards. Vault of the Archangel saw play alongside Lingering Souls, and Whip of Erebos established entire archetypes during its time in Standard. While Sorin allows Midrange decks a copious amount of lifegain, his strongest ability is in reanimating creatures from your graveyard. Returning a Goblin Chainwhirler or a Jadelight Ranger can often end the game, but the ability to recur even larger creatures like Carnage Tyrant or Massacre Girl gives Sorin an inevitability rarely seen on versatile planeswalkers. While he pairs less well with many controlling strategies in Standard, the utility provided to Mardu Aristocrats showcases once again the potential of this archetype. Mitigating Midnight Reaper damage or giving Amass tokens lifelink forces opponents to prioritize Sorin. This immediate board swing makes Sorin a high priority in my testing, and I can’t wait to see the configurations that ensue.
1. Dreadhorde Invasion
Drawing a comparison to former Standard all-star Bitterblossom is rarely a minor feat, and Dreadhorde Invasion showcases and powerful twist on the iconic enchantment. Trading the ability to go wide for “going tall”, Dreadhorde Invasion is better against individually powerful creatures, while affording counterplay by being vulnerable to removal spells. While this alone may prove an important criticism of Dreadhorde, the upside of mitigating the life loss is no inconsequential portion. As discussed last week, Widespread Brutality is a maindeckable sweeper that can combine with Dreadhorde to function as a Find/Finality. Amass effects gain extra value when paired with Dreadhorde, as they can “jump” the zombie token up to the critical 6 power turns ahead of schedule. This ability to mitigate the drawback of Dreadhorde showcases the unending value in creature matchups while proving problematic for conventional removal spells. Typically cards that provide recurring board presence are Standard playable, and the ability of Dreadhorde Invasion to dominate board states is a real consideration for its playability. The synergies and payoffs for playing cards with Amass makes this a card I am incredibly excited to play with.
That’s it for this week’s Spoiler Article, and let me know what cards you are most excited about. Next week we’ll have our Week Three article, before dropping some sample decklists for the upcoming Standard format.
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