This set’s prerelease primer is going to be a bit different than previous ones. Most of the time, I haven’t played with the set at all since it hasn’t been released by the time I write these, but I’m currently practicing for the Mythic Championship, so I’ve drafted the set a little already, which means I’m more informed on what I’m writing rather than when I have to rely on guesswork. I still have to adapt what I’m learning to Sealed (since I’ve only done Drafts), but this should be a little more condensed and to the point than it usually is since I’m giving you the conclusions already.
To start, let’s look at the mechanics:
Planeswalkers aren’t a new mechanic, but they are very important to the set and change how you play the games. Most of them are good, though some are deck-dependent (like Narset, or Samut, which is much better in an aggressive deck). The only planeswalker that is truly bad is Karn, the Great Creator, and some of them are better than anything (like Liliana). Don’t overestimate planeswalkers just because they are planeswalkers, but be aware that as a whole they are quite good and you should make an effort to play them if you can. I’ve been particularly impressed by the hybrid ones that cost 2XX (Angrath, Nahiri, Vraska)
There is disagreement on this, but I think that the presence of so many planeswalkers means that you should choose to play, even if your deck is reactive. Playing a planeswalker on an even board or a board where you’re ahead means you get to use it more than once, whereas playing it when you’re behind often means your opponent will attack it to death. There are matches where I’d choose to draw, such as extreme control mirrors, but I would never do so blindly—I’m choosing to play in all my game 1s.
From what I gather, everyone is going to have seven planeswalkers in their pool—one per pack and a promo one. I’d expect most people to play 4-5 of them. If you have a very aggressive deck, then you probably don’t need to play cards that exclusively kill planeswalkers, but if your deck is more normal, then I’d expect cards like Price of Betrayal and The Elderspell to be good in the main deck. Side them out accordingly.
Most of the time, you should attack the planeswalkers by default. The exception is when your opponent is playing a deck that cannot proliferate and when the static ability doesn’t matter. For example, if you’re playing versus black-red, then there’s little reason to attack a planeswalker on 1 if it doesn’t have a plus ability—all it does is put it in the graveyard so that they can bring it back with Aid the Fallen. If you’re playing against a green-white deck, however, then you probably want to kill the planeswalkers before they can be proliferated.
Also relevant is that their static ability is often forgotten, so make sure you read them! Even many days deep into testing we still regularly forget abilities from cards like Tibalt, Narset, or The Wanderer, and it’s usually very punishing to forget, as you cast the spell and then realize it does nothing (as opposed to not being able to cast the spell at all and just getting a warning).
Amass is an interesting mechanic because it has some synergy and some anti-synergy with itself. Sometimes it’s better to create a larger creature but sometimes it’s also better to have more bodies out there, and you don’t get to choose. Amass is featured very heavily in the set (only in the Grixis colors), and its presence impacts a lot of other design choices. For example, there’s no Pacifism in the set (as that would just strand you with an ever-growing army that is unable to attack), and the only tapper only taps cards that cost more than 2 (and therefore can’t tap tokens).
As a general rule, having one amass card does not necessarily mean you want more amass cards—it is most definitely not an all-or-nothing mechanic, and you should not just throw all amass cards in your deck because you have some amass. That said, there are a couple of cards that work particularly well with Zombie tokens, and those do incentivize you go to more all in. For example, if I have Dreadhorde Invasion or Widespread Brutality, then I’m more likely to run a borderline amass card than if I didn’t have them.
The presence of amass also informs how you play, and you have to be careful about what you do. If you have a removal spell, it’s often in your interest to wait and not spend it on the amass token because if it’s in play, then your opponent has no option other than to grow it with future amass cards, and then you can kill it. Similarly, if you’re creating tokens, you sometimes want to trade the ones you already have first. For example, if you are on chump-blocking duty and you have a 1/1 and a Grim Initiate, you have to first chump block with the 1/1 and then chump block with the Grim Initiate. Otherwise, you’re just going to turn your 1/1 into a 2/2 rather than get an extra token.
Proliferate is very multi-purpose in the set. It works with loyalty counters, with amass, and with the +1/+1 counters theme that is present basically all the way throughout (though the majority are in green and white). Most of the uncommon planeswalkers get an extra use if you proliferate once, so that’s a useful thing to keep in mind.
Unlike amass, proliferate is a mechanic that rewards going all-in. The more proliferate you have, the more counter synergies you want, which makes you want even more proliferate. If you have the support for it, then go ahead and play all of your proliferate cards. If you don’t, then don’t feel like you’re forced to play them.
There is a lot of removal in this set: Jaya’s Greeting, Ob Nixilis’s Cruelty, Wanderer’s Strike, Divine Arrow, Spark Harvest, Chandra’s Pyrohelix, and Band Together are all common and range from good to very good. Normally, this would mean that bombs aren’t worth as much and are not often worth distorting your deck to play—you shouldn’t play red just because you have a card like Shivan Dragon, for example, because a lot of the commons just kill it. In War of the Spark, however, most of the bombs are immune to removal—they’re either planeswalkers, or spells (like some of the Finales), or Gods. This means you should be drawn more towards your bombs than the removal would indicate, and they’re even better than normal because they are the only cards that don’t die to the removal. If I open something like a Sarkhan, the Masterless, God-Eternal Oketra, or Finale of Eternity, then I’m going to make a huge effort to play them because they are so powerful.
There are a lot more sweepers than normal in this set: Single Combat, Massacre Girl, Time Wipe, Solar Blaze, and Widespread Brutality, which means you really have to be mindful of them as you play. You shouldn’t build your deck differently because there are so many (they are all rare), but you should keep them in mind as you play and try to not overextend into them if possible.
There is a pretty high amount of fixing in this set. At common we have Mana Geode, Guild Globe, Gateway Plaza, and Prismite, and then at uncommon there’s Firemind Vessel, plus a lot of fixing in green. On top of that, all the fixing is very flexible—you don’t have cards like Guildgates or Lockets, but instead everything adds all colors of mana and you aren’t even locked into the same color (for example, if you have something that searches for a land, then you have to choose then and there, and that fixer is never going to add another color again). In a scenario where you have, say, four mana fixers for a splash color in your 2-color deck, it’s very likely you also have four fixers for the other 2 colors for free, which makes splashing multiple colors easy to do. This is something we didn’t have when guilds ruled the world. This makes it much more likely that you can play all of your great cards, and that’s something you should aim to do, especially the gold cards since they are nearly all very powerful and often worth splashing for.
I think the combination of “the good cards are really good,” “there is a lot of removal,” and “there’s plenty of fixing” really lends itself to a slow Sealed environment, where you should go to great lengths to make sure you play all of your best cards. In this regard, it’s similar to Hour of Devastation. I expect that the people who have a strong, streamlined 2-color aggressive deck (such as R/W, B/R, or some U/R builds) will be able to play them, but medium aggressive decks will not be very successful, and random 2/2s and 3/2s are unlikely to get there. Of course, this is true for everyone, so if you have no bombs then you might be forced to try an aggro deck (as you will lose the slow games to people who do have them), but I think it’s early enough in the format that not everyone will go to such great lengths to play their removal/powerful cards. Even an average control deck should be good enough, and I would rather have an average slow deck than an average aggro deck by a lot.
In this set, white is mostly an aggressive color, and it manifests mainly in the form of +1/+1 counters and their synergies. Red-white decks don’t have a ton of proliferate, but can use combat tricks very well, as well as sacrifice effects to make cards like Rising Populace more effective. Green-white decks really want to go all-in on proliferate and get a huge board very quickly. Black-white and blue-white are viable decks, but don’t have particularly great synergies and are more just “good stuff” or creatures.
As a rule, I suspect that you don’t want to be B/W or U/W, unless you have a specific reason (such as bombs in both colors), as they don’t have enough synergies to drive me away from the more colorful archetypes that I predict will be better in Sealed. The better G/W and R/W decks should be quite good, though.
Blue in this set can go in all directions. U/R can be aggressive with early prowess-like creatures, pump effects, and ways to push through damage, but it can also be a control deck with cheap removal and a lot of card advantage, depending on what you have. U/B is usually a very controlling archetype and you don’t want the aggro cards in it. Ideally you play this deck with a lot of removal, card draw, and some bombs. U/G is not nearly as common as G/W but plays out similarly: counters and proliferate.
Black is also multiple archetypes. B/R is usually aggro and uses sacrifice synergies very well. U/B is usually control, B/G is usually 5-color green (meaning you want removal/ramp and then all your powerful cards in the other colors), and B/W is the good stuff deck you should probably avoid unless you have a reason to play. Black has two very good removal spells at common and a lot of bomb rares, and it plays well in all styles of decks (aggro, control, 5-color), so it’s a color that you should pay particular attention to.
For splashing, Ob Nixilis’s Cruelty is a very good choice, and you can sometimes splash Price of Betrayal out of the sideboard against a planeswalker-heavy deck (but I would main deck it if I had enough sources).
Red-blue can be aggro or control, but all the other red archetypes are on the aggro side: W/R on the more traditional side, B/R as the sacrifice archetype, and R/G as the Monsters style, with big undercosted creatures. There are a lot of good removal spells in red too (Jaya’s Greeting and Chandra’s Triumph, for example), and though they are not as splashable as Ob Nixilis’s Cruelty (since they don’t kill stuff that late in the game), they can still be pretty good.
Green decks are the basis for the 5-color green archetype, which I think is very good in Sealed. You basically throw in all your fixing, removal, and bombs, and call it a day. You’re not literally 5 colors necessarily (though sometimes you are), but often two main colors with two splashes. These decks are control but aim to end the game with big spells, rather than the traditional grindy style of the U/B decks. Past that, you have the aggressive G/W decks that rely on proliferate, and then the more traditional aggro decks in R/G.
TL;DR for the War of the Spark Prerelease
This is not a fast format and it’s full of super powerful cards across all rarities. Try your best to play as many powerful cards as you can, including splashing and double-splashing, and only play an aggro deck if your deck is very good/synergistic or if your pool is so bad that you really have no hope of winning a long game against other decks. Most of the decks in the middle should aim to be slow and overpower the opponent, at least at the prerelease.