With the Mythic Championship behind us, we’ve had our first taste of War of the Spark as a Limited format. I learned a lot throughout the weekend as I watched the best players in the world slam and jam with these new cards. Here are nine small lessons I picked up in London.
1) Be Patient and Play Around Everything
So far, War of the Spark seems to be slow and grindy, with good removal and defensive creatures. This means that a lot of the time, you aren’t forced to be proactive and can instead wait for the opportune moment to act rather than open yourself up to a blowout.
In a long, drawn-out game, the best move may to be to play around everything you possibly can, as there aren’t always good ways to punish defensive play. On top of this, it’s very easy to play around certain cards that telegraph themselves from a mile away.
In particular, cards like Vraska’s Finisher and Divine Arrow are easy to see coming, and there’s no reason to play into them. The format just isn’t that fast, and you’re so unlikely to be overrun. Be patient, and don’t give them value with things like blocking their chump attack or by endangering your 4-toughness creature in unnecessary combat.
2) Have a Plan to Deal With Bombs
By now, everyone knows just how good so many of the bombs of the format can be, headlined of course by the cycle of God-Eternals. You need to have a plan to beat an “unbeatable” rare or mythic, and as a result I like picking up and playing cards like No Escape or Toll of the Invasion, especially as they are clean answers to the God-Eternals!
The removal in this format is excellent, but can make it hard to effectively pressure planeswalkers. This means evasion is at a premium, as we’ll discuss, but also means you need to diversify your answer suite. Obviously cards like Prison Realm are incredible—they always will be—but if you’re playing against a bomb-heavy opponent, there are other tools at your disposal.
A card like Davriel can shred your opponent’s hand before they’ve had a chance to deploy their big hitters, while Kasmina’s Transmutation is an answer to any creature your opponent is seeking to ride to victory. Despark is another piece of premium removal, and will deal with almost everything (thanks again, God-Eternals) your opponent can throw at you.
3) Plan for the Late Game
Further to this, given the defensive nature of the format, you should have a good plan for how you’re actually going to win the game. With high-toughness creatures at every spot on the curve, from Burning Prophet to Spellkeeper Weird to Ironclad Krovod, games aren’t often won quickly.
This improves the stock of slow, lumbering cards like Tithebearer Giant and Invading Manticore, and makes cards such as Aid the Fallen look a lot more appealing. There are so many ways to hold off aggressive starts, and so few ways to enact them, that you’ll have the time to make the most of your top-end.
The bomb-heavy rares and mythics will often provide you with a win condition, but failing that, be sure to have another way to get yourself across the line. Value plays like Tamiyo’s Epiphany, or Spellkeeper Weird plus Ral’s Outburst are excellent, or look for late game mana sinks like Vivien’s Grizzly and Vampire Opportunist.
4) Don’t Underestimate Amass 1 Cards
Given the relatively minor impact of many common amass cards, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking they’re not all that great. Toll of the Invasion as a 3-mana Thoughtseize with minor upside doesn’t sound all that great, does it?
But if you shift your thinking to see these cards as 1/1s with an ETB, all of a sudden they become a lot more appealing. 3 mana for a 1/1 that Thoughtseizes? It’s exactly the same card, but all of a sudden it sounds like something you’d want to play.
The same goes for Lazotep Plating and even Honor the God-Pharaoh. Despite seeming like unimpressive spells, they still provide real bodies that can help you through the early turns, or provide incidental value by pumping your army in the late game. In short, they’re better than they first look.
5) Callous Dismissal is Almost Doom Blade
In a format with a heavy-entrenched token theme, bounce spells are always going to be at a premium, and we’ve got an absolute red-hot pistol in Callous Dismissal. Under the thinking suggested by the previous tip, you should see this card as a 2-mana Man-o’-War, which is an insane card in a world ruled by Zombie armies.
Not only does Callous Dismissal act as hard removal for any armies, which is enough to propel it to a position among the best commons in the set, it also has utility against green and white decks that aren’t amassing anything. Given the preponderance of +1/+1 counters in the proliferate decks, Callous Dismissal is a hard reset button on something like a Makeshift Battalion.
Unsummon isn’t the most spectacular card, but in War of the Spark Limited this effect is at a premium, and if you’re drafting blue you should snap up every copy of Callous Dismissal you see. This card is nuts.
6) Flux Channeler Decks are Either Great or Terrible
The “spells-matter” deck is a mainstay of many Limited formats, and generally has its home in blue and red. This time around, War of the Spark presents an opportunity for you to draft a totally bonkers blue-red spells deck, but only when the pieces come together.
The problem is that many of the best common instants and sorceries—Jaya’s Greeting, Callous Dismissal—are sought after by other players. You might get a late Flux Channeler if no one else is in the spells deck, but that alone isn’t enough.
Payoff cards like Flux Channeler and Saheeli need a good amount of support from instants and sorceries, so be sure to prioritize taking them—even initially unimpressive cards such as Honor the God-Pharaoh and Blindblast! Otherwise your mighty Flux Channeler will be nothing more than a lowly Gray Ogre.
7) Take the Uncommon Planeswalkers
This is something of an open secret by now—almost every single planeswalker in the set is playable, with the power level bottoming out with poor old Teyo and Huatli. And even then, those cards are fine, if unimpressive. If you haven’t played with the set all that much, you’ll be surprised by how much value the uncommon planeswalkers can generate for you.
Many of the planeswalkers are secretly creatures, too: Kasmina, Angrath, Arlinn, Tibalt, Vraska. This means they don’t take away a slot that should be occupied by a creature with which you can contest the board. This means you can play two games at once, and don’t have to make the usual choice between playing to the board or deploying a planeswalker for value.
One final thing to keep in mind is that almost all the uncommon planeswalkers work to slow down the game. The previously-mentioned planeswalkers gum up the board. Jaya, Nahiri, Kaya, The Wanderer, Ob Nixilis—they’re all removal spells. Others, like Davriel, Narset, and Dovin all incentivize you to push for the late game. Plan accordingly!
8) Evasion is Critically Important
Common evasive creatures in War of the Spark are, by and large, a bit pitiful. There are two tramplers, one of which is a 2 power creature, and just one-menace creature in Iron Bully. Of the nine common flyers, only one has more than 2 power!
This makes it easier to beef up your board to protect your planeswalkers, but also means that if you want to get on the front foot you should prioritize evasion highly indeed. This doesn’t just involve taking cards with evasive keywords—look for ways to give your creature evasion with cards like Angrath, Gleaming Overseer, Trusted Pegasus, and Thundering Ceratok.
Finally, there are some non-keyworded evasive creatures worth a second look. Arlinn’s Wolf, Ashiok’s Skulker, and maybe even Duskmantle Operative are all ways to pressure opposing planeswalkers through blockers, and the format may reach a point where Stealth Mission is a good call, just to get damage through this extremely defensive format.
9) Green Multicolored Decks Can be Terrific
We saw some pretty wild decks at the Mythic Championship, branching out into 3 and even 4 colors. Most of them were based in green, and with good reason—the fixing is surprisingly good, and enables some very silly splashes for double-costed bombs or off-color gold cards.
Jiang Yanggu, Mana Geode, New Horizons, Gateway Plaza, and Centaur Nurturer are all excellent ways to diversify your mana output, and it doesn’t end there. In a pinch, cards like Guild Globe and Prismite can help you out, even if they’re not ideal inclusions.
Drafting a 4-color deck enables you to take advantage of the high power level of many of the rares and mythics in the set. If you’ve established a comfortable mana base to support multiple splash colors by pack three, you can start taking the best cards out of each booster as they go around!
There’s still plenty to learn about War of the Spark as a Limited format, but these tips should set you in good stead as you head out to the opening Drafts at your LGS. Good luck out there, and may you open many Oketras!