While I may be banging my head against the wall trying to figure out what to play in Modern for the Mythic Championship, I decided to focus on War of the Spark Limited. I was getting a little frustrated early, but knowledge of the format and what’s happening in games has improved my ability to draft and play each game. Each game has a lot of play to it in my experience, which I really enjoy about the Limited format.
Here’s a few of the things you may want to know about the format that I picked up preparing for the Mythic Championship:
The Speed of War of the Spark
While the format can be fast, it is generally quite slow. There are some elements of incidental life gain, a ton of strong removal, and the amass mechanic makes it difficult to bust through on the ground. The 2-drops in the format don’t hit very hard, and are generally easy to block. All of this adds up to a format where you’re likely going to need to play and have a plan to win in the longer games, even if you’re an aggressive deck.
They’re almost all good in Limited. Yeah, there are a couple like Teyo, the Shieldmage and Huatli, the Sun’s Heart that have very specific uses and outside of that won’t see much play, and then some like Ashiok, Dream Render, which is quite bad against aggro but can be absolutely devastating in a control mirror. All in all, the planeswalkers, even those that look bad, are much better than they look. They often become focal points in games, and direct combat in specific ways.
You often have to plan on how to get out ahead of planeswalkers and how you’re going to protect your own. Saving your removal that can interact with planeswalkers like Spark Harvest and taking some extra damage from a creature until you set up defenses is often worth it. You may have a free opportunity to pick off an uncommon planeswalker that has run out of loyalty, and your instincts will tell you to kill it. Keep in mind that Aid the Fallen exists, and by killing it for them you may be giving them an opportunity to recur it. At the same time, there’s plenty of stuff that sacrifices planeswalkers for value, such as Heartfire or Spark Reaper, so manage those situations knowingly.
As a general rule, if the planeswalker has a plus loyalty ability, it’s probably very good. One exception to this rule is Karn, the Great Creator. Other than that, they all provide continuous value throughout the game if left unchecked, and that type of advantage in board stalls can take over the game.
The Power Level
The power level in this format is outrageously high. With so many planeswalkers in the format, snowballing happens frequently. Specifically, rare planeswalkers have the ability to go up or down, and play out much like planeswalkers did in old Limited formats. Since planeswalkers got introduced at rare instead of just mythic, this happens much more frequently. I know it’s a trope at this point to say this format is all about bombs, but this one has certainly felt that way. Not only are these rare planeswalkers snowball-y, the mythic rares almost all are as well. The God-Eternals and the Finales all have the ability to end the game on the spot. If I open a bomb I’m likely not budging, hoping to accumulate more of them and get whatever fixing I need. One thing that seems out of the ordinary to me is just how many good rares there are as well. Not only are the good rares and mythics incredible, but there’s an abundance of them.
There’s quite a bit of fixing in this format at common. Between Gateway Plaza, Guild Globe, and Mana Geode, any color combination has the ability to splash. In faster formats it’s not recommended to do so, but this format is much more about power level in my experience and picking some of these up on the cheap later in pack one can pay dividends. Green has access to cards like Centaur Nurturer and New Horizons at common, as well as Paradise Druid at uncommon that can really enable some deep splashing. 5-color green is definitely something you can do and scooping up all the high powered cards that others pass on. I’ve been splashing a good deal in a lot of my slow decks and as usual, avoiding splashing in my aggressive decks.
Keep in mind that cards like Guild Globe and Firemind Vessel tap for 2 mana of different colors, enabling splashing well, but not double splashes well, while New Horizons will give you 2 mana of any single color. If you’re playing two or three New Horizons, this will be better for enabling a double splash like a Finale or God-Eternal, while you may need to do more work with the colorless fixing.
Aggro decks need evasion in this format. With the amass mechanic and low-power-level 2-drops, the aggressive decks can’t push damage without some form of evasion. Flying is better than menace of course, but you need to push damage early and then have some way to close late. Another way to get over the hump is with proliferate decks. Green has Bloom Hulk and Pollenbright Druid at common, which allows the color to go very big very quickly by making massive creatures that can break board stalls as well. Combat tricks are playable, but be wary of casting them into open mana because there’s a lot of cheap instant-speed removal all across the board in this format.
Control decks are good in this format, but one thing you need to keep in mind is that the power level in this format is outrageously high. You’ll think you’ve established control and have one or two powerful finishers you can lean on to close out games, only to find your opponent draws one of their extremely powerful rares or mythics and you never really had inevitability to begin with.
On top of that, there are no real counterspells in this format. There’s No Escape, which counters specifically creatures and planeswalkers, and Crush Dissent, which is a soft counter and obviously poor later in the game. Dovin’s Veto is tough to play, but even if you are a Dimir Control deck splashing something off cards like Mana Geode and Gateway Plaza you may want to pick this up late as a sideboard card. I’ve had plenty of games in this format I thought I couldn’t lose, then my opponent draws a Finale and I go from what I thought was 100% to win to 0% immediately. Closing out games is a little more important in this format since you can’t have every angle covered.
One thing that punished me in this format early was that I thought I could draft a high density of spells and use a lot of the cards that amass as my creatures. This way I didn’t need too many noncreatures in my deck and cards that rewarded me for having and casting more instants and sorceries would get better. I learned very quickly that this often left me with one creature in play, and it was quite easy to go wide against one big token, or kill the one army periodically with whatever removal and push a ton of damage. You need to have a mix of amass spells and actual creatures to create a board presence.
Strength of Colors
I personally prefer the Grixis colors as I like to play longer games, but green and white are two of the most aggressive colors, especially when combined into a counters and proliferate strategy. Overall the colors are fairly balanced, but if I had to choose I’d say that white is the worst color and black or red is the best. I believe Ob Nixilis’s Cruelty and Jaya’s Greeting are the best two commons, and both colors have other solid removal at common as well. Black has Spark Harvest, which is another versatile and important removal spell, and there’s often fodder around to sacrifice with the amass mechanic. If I had to order the colors, I’d say black, red, blue, green, white.
As far as color pairs go, one thing I love about War of the Spark Limited is that all the color pairs seem viable. There’s a balance of gold cards and strong incentives that push you into specific color pairs, and reward you when you find the open colors. Since the power level of the format is so high, I prefer playing slower decks that allow me to splash and play a higher density of them, rather than focus in on a 2-color aggro deck that will likely have me passing up on power for curve considerations. I’ve seen aggro decks do well though, so I think it may be just a matter of preference at this point.
My picks for best commons for each color
Estimations for Sealed Deck
While I haven’t played Sealed Deck yet, I can imagine the format will be a lot of splashing and pushing bombs into your deck. If the Draft format lends itself to that, Sealed Deck should be even more pronounced. The colorless fixing is going to be important, and I’d recommend getting greedy. I imagine it’ll be a lot of green-based decks branching out into 3 or 4 colors to play more rares.
The aggressive decks in this format rely on synergies, such as spells-matter or proliferate, and those decks will be much more difficult to build in Sealed Deck.
I’d avoid playing combat tricks, but would recommend playing both common blue counters spells Crush Dissent and No Escape. I think Toll of the Invasion will be an auto-include. Dark Inquiry and Never Happened were fairly playable in Sealed Deck and this one tacks on a free army that can be used to sacrifice as a chump-blocker or to any number of sacrifice outlets. Occasionally, just having a 1/1 army in play can enable a haste attack from a bigger amass from a card like Relentless Advance as well.
There are not enough high impact targets for enchantment and artifact removal. Sure, you can blow up Mana Geodes, but outside of that there’s no Luminous Bonds or high impact creatures to snipe with Return to Nature so I’d avoid including it.
Overall I’ve found War of the Spark Limited to be an excellent Limited format. I always enjoy playing interesting games with high powered cards, and War of the Spark threw me for a loop initially as I just didn’t realize how high powered it could be. So far I’ve been able to triumph with three planeswalkers and combo kill one of my opponents, sacrificing all of my permanents except a God-Eternal Bontu and Jace, Wielder of Mysteries to draw more cards than were in my deck. I’ve had so many extremely complicated games in this format and while I was punished for not knowing the format early, I’ve been rewarded more and more as I’ve learned more interactions in the set. If you were on the fence about going to a prerelease I highly suggest you do, as I think this is one of the more exciting Limited formats in quite some time, and might end up as an all-time great.