War of the Spark is nearing the end, and while we see an intense battle of story icons, the third week of spoilers pulled no punches with marquis characters. Showcasing the vast array of planeswalkers and legendaries in the set, Week Three highlights some of the most exciting additions to an already diverse Standard format. To give some indication of the criteria for inclusion, I’ve set forth some guidelines for this article below.
- 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. Ilharg, the Raze-Boar
Immediately grabbing the watching world by storm, Ilharg offers a unique take on the Sneak Attack/Through the Breach design space populating many of Magic’s most powerful formats. Trading the immediacy of other options for a body, Ilharg promises to see play in a hyperfocused Modern format. While less effective than Through the Breach, Ilharg can offer redundancy to decks looking to utilize his ability. In addition to cheating large creatures into play, Ilharg returns those creatures to your hand. When compared to his ilk, this offers a benefit over the traditional sacrifice portion of these cards.
Aside from Modern potential, Ilharg gives Gruul Midrange decks a huge threat that speeds up the velocity of this archetype. By effectively putting multiple large attackers into play at a discount, Ilharg gives players the ability to cheat on mana in ways not often seen in Standard. Putting a Demanding Dragon or Carnage Tyrant into play attacking is a huge damage swing, but even putting something like Impervious Greatwurm or Ghalta into play can give Ilharg a “combo kill” of sorts. This mana advantage conferred by everyone’s favorite Boar God mitigates the drawback of multiple expensive threats, as he can let you use two six mana creatures in one turn.
9. Domri, Anarch of Bolas
Not nearly the Gruul icon that Ilharg promises to be, Domri’s power is reminiscent of his original incarnation from Gatecrash. The ability to fight with creatures is a significant portion of gameplay and gives otherwise removal light Gruul decks the ability to interact over multiple turns without losing damage. While also functioning as a ramp spell, Domri showcases his power in multiple matchups due to the disabling of countermagic. Perhaps the most powerful function of Domri is his passive ability (also referred to as a Static ability). Giving each creature you control an additional power may seem relatively tame when compared to Benalish Marshal or Venerated Loxodon, but attaching this ability to a versatile planeswalker without a restrictive mana cost may prove stronger than players are prepared for. The interaction with Hero of Precinct One opens up explosive midgame turns and can act as an additional payoff for generating huge amounts of tokens.
8. Karn, the Great Creator
Instantly receiving hype due to the interaction with Mycosynth Lattice, Karn, the Great Creator creates problematic board states for eternal formats, while offering a unique twist on deckbuilding for Standard. The only card on the list for primarily eternal applications, Karn allows for a toolbox sideboard of sorts for Standard decks looking to pack a low impact four drops into their deck. While no deck currently exists that could play Karn, the potential interactions with The Antiquities War open up the potential for an Artifact oriented deck in Standard. Regardless of Standard impact, I’m always excited for cards that have toolbox effects or that care about Artifacts, and this uniqueness contributes to Karn’s inclusion on this list.
7. Saheeli, Sublime Artificer
With Young Pyromancer showing the power of this effect, Saheeli, Sublime Artificer builds upon the historic U/R history of noncreature spell payoffs. While three mana is worlds apart from two mana, Saheeli’s interactions afford her extra consideration. Resistance to conventional removal spells gives her survivability that such creatures as Young Pyromancer or Monastery Mentor commonly lack while losing out on the scaling nature of multiple copies. The flexible casting cost along with perhaps her most notable feature — the noncreature nature of the trigger — contribute to potential in Modern and Legacy. In Standard, the minus ability on Saheeli can turn newly minted Servo tokens into hasty Arclights or turn Servos from the prior turn into a Crackling Drake with pseudo-haste.
6. Tamiyo, Collector of Tales
Deviating from the expected color combination of Tamiyo by many accounts, this newest version is more a spiritual successor to Tamiyo, Field Researcher. Characterizing Tamiyo as a researcher and gatherer of knowledge is a flavorful knockout, and this recent iteration is reflective of that success. Flavorability (it’s a word, I swear!) aside, Tamiyo boasts modest potential for Standard play, due to the unique role she assumes. Shutting off Duress is the most impactful portion of her static ability, but protecting a Carnage Tyrant from Liliana’s Triumph or Liliana herself showcases the niche impact. Tamiyo is a natural inclusion into Wilderness Reclamation decks, as it fuels Search for Azcanta and can dig for Reclamation. In many post-board games, Simic Nexus and other Reclamation decks want access to more card advantage to mitigate the disruption of Cindervines and Duress, and Tamiyo’s recursive minus ability gives these decks a unique tool for overcoming hate. Tamiyo also showcases potential in Sultai Midrange, as she gives the deck the ability to pivot into a control deck after sideboarding while mitigating the drawback of Golgari Findbroker. Buying back a Vraska’s Contempt to deal with a planeswalker, or an early threat binned by Jadelight Ranger is a powerful play in the mid-game and ensures that sultai never runs out of steam.
5. Enter the God-Eternals
Not likely to make the top of anyone’s list, Enter the God-Eternals is a flavorful slam dunk. With my primary gripe being the converted mana cost of five instead of four, Enter the God-Eternals gives Dimir and Grixis control decks a critical amount of life gain stapled onto a 4/4 body. This late-game play can combine with other Amass cards in the set to give slower spell heavy decks tools to quickly close out games. While no immediate deck stands out for Enter the God-Eternals, the ability to play it in the Doom Whisperer slot of Dimir Midrange shows promise alongside Dreadhorde Invasion. Grixis Midrange already plays powerful four drops, and Enter the God-Eternals is an excellent spell to capitalize on onboard pressure, but competing for slots with Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God may be the death of this card.
4. God-Eternal Bontu
Drawing much controversy, the newest cycle of Gods are meant to be nods to the powerful cycle from Amonkhet block. While we have no return of Scarab God to dominate Midrange battles, God-Eternal Bontu provides such decks with an aggressively statted card advantage engine that can act as a catch-up card. With powerful engines like planeswalkers to snowball games to victory, having access to a threat that can reset a resource imbalance changes the dynamic of such exchanges. Beyond just the land heavy slogfest of Golgari or Sultai mirrors, Bontu gives fledgling archetypes like Mardu Aristocrats or Abzan Tokens a payoff necessary for continued success. One of the format specific drawbacks to playing any strategy that goes wide is the prevalence of both Goblin Chainwhirler and Cry of the Carnarium. Bontu somewhat mitigates these cards, as he can cash in vulnerable bodies alongside excess lands for substantial resource advantage. Functioning as a proactive Midnight Reaper of sorts, it can be difficult for decks on the backfoot to fight through a Bontu enhanced board. In addition, the evasive 5/6 body leaves a threat that has to be dealt with.
3. Spark Harvest
Far from the format defining removal of Fatal Push, Spark Harvest is the latest iteration of Bone Splinters. Deviating from the norm by offering a mana cost alternative to sacrificing a creature, Spark Harvest gives aggressive Black decks a cheap answer to many threats in Standard. While constrained by Sorcery speed, Spark Harvest interacts well with Midnight Reaper and Hunted Witness, turning excess creatures into board control. Unexciting to cast for the full mana cost, Spark Harvest gives these aggressive decks a midgame mana sink without the dead early game hallmark of expensive removal. Cards like this rarely…spark…any controversy, but the sign of a great Standard format often lies in the diversity of removal options — when each deck has a myriad of solid options, the overall viability of fringe archetypes improves. For that reason, I’m excited to see the impact of Spark Harvest on Standard.
2. Finale of Promise
Earning praise not just for its Modern applications, this powerful Red mythic shows a lot of…promise in the early days of WAR Standard. Letting slower Izzet Drakes decks double up on spells for Arclight or reuse Lava Coil, Finale of Promise showcases the power of recursive spells. While many players are focused on the ability to trigger Arclight Phoenix on its own, the comparison to Ravenous Chupacabra is also appropriate. Doubling up on Invade the City or Lava Coil gives Standard U/R decks a powerful late game engine while increasing the reach of Ral’s Outburst. Finale of Promise also gives slower U/R decks a late game presence on par with many control decks in the format, opening up space for a true control deck.
1. Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God
By far the defining icon of the set, this newest iteration of Nicol Bolas lives up to his name. With a static ability mostly flavor text, the ability to pair with Jace, Cunning Castaway generates delicious potential. Multiplying Bolas may seem like a pipe dream, but the delicious interactions available from the static ability leave me quite excited for Nicol Bolas. Aside from the likely unusable ability, Nicol Bolas has immediate game warping impact, as he can remove nearly any threat. Coming down and eliminating a Teferi, Vivien, or Chainwhirler showcases the powerful 2 for 1 nature of this newest Grixis planeswalker. While the minus three is obviously powerful, the plus ability of Nicol Bolas continually generates advantage and creates a play pattern reminiscent of Teferi. Slowly restricting the ability of your opponent to cast their spells, a Nicol Bolas on an empty board will quickly snowball into a win. With an ultimate at minus eight, Nicol Bolas can generate an advantage at each turn before methodically winning the game.
Thanks for checking out this week’s spoiler article, and next week we’ll have a special spoiler review. I’ll be testing War of the Spark standard all week, and I’ll back to go over my Top 25 Standard cards from this riveting planeswalker experience. We’re also excited for the release of our State of Modern article detailing all the changes to this popular Constructed format prior to the Mythic Championship.
As always, let me know what you think in the comments section below or on Twitter at twitter.com/PariahPopular.