Reality Check: War of the Spark spoilers


At long last, spoiler season has begun, and I can finally partake in my favourite pastime: getting extremely mad at people for trying to put every single new card in a Modern deck, regardless of its power level. Unfortunately, it seems that, despite it being quite early in the cycle, we have a non-zero number of cards that might actually have homes. Looks like I’ll have to leave some of my habitual cynicism at the door. Too bad. Oh well, let’s get to work dissecting the new cards.

First, a couple broad statements before introducing individual cards. Many, myself included, were worried when it was announced that every pack would contain a Planeswalker, as these (potentially) infinitely recurring value engines are typically very powerful in Limited. However, they did something simultaneously very clever and very boring with the design of the uncommon Planeswalkers in War of the Spark. You see, they behave in a very similar way to the Sagas in Dominaria, with only minus abilities ensuring that they can only generate value a few times before they’re left in play with only their often-middling static abilities. This is a good way to keep them in check and maintain the Limited format’s balance, but it’s also honestly just retreading past design space. Luckily, Dominaria Limited was excellent, and Sagas were fun, so I’m hyped regardless. I should also mention that, despite what I just said, I’ll be discussing mostly Constructed, and mostly Standard, for that matter. I’m no expert on Limited Magic, and people far better than I will have much better takes on these cards in that context.

This card is quite interesting, in that it fulfills the role of two different kinds of cards in an 8 Rack deck — both the win condition and the discard. Unfortunately, it competes on curve with the infinitely more powerful Liliana of the Veil and Ensnaring Bridge, both able to interact with the board in some way. I can’t pretend to know 8 Rack deckbuilding like the back of my hand, but I’d imagine that this card doesn’t quite make the cut. Maybe it has a home somewhere in the 75 over cards like Delirium Skeins but I wouldn’t bet on it. As far as Standard goes, that format just plays to the board too often for this card to be effective.

Three mana planeswalkers — genuine ones with plus abilities — are always worth looking at closely. This Vivien is a unique one, in that while she has three abilities, two of them are considerably more marginal, in that they neither generate card advantage nor interact with the board. The only one that does is narrow in two ways: it requires you to play a rather high creature density, and depending on that density, can be potentially very high-variance. If you happen to be playing some kind of Ghalta deck that’s extremely dense on creatures, then Vivien is probably where you want to be. The static ability is quite nice, and the plus ability, granting vigilance and reach, might be very relevant in a format that plays to the board.

This card is trash. There’s been some conversation about it being an easier-to-cast Leyline of Sanctity for Modern, but this is nonsense. Leyline is good against exactly two things: burn spells and discard. This is not a lock piece against burn spells because those very burn spells can remove it from play, and it’s bad against discard because it hits play after discard spells have already been cast in the early turns. You wouldn’t put walls in your deck for no reason, so don’t play this card either.

Ah, the second “fixed” Birthing Pod in as many sets. Honestly, I could see this one being playable as a powerful sideboard card in green creature decks, so long as the format’s control decks continue to struggle to beat artifacts. But probably not.

Wow, this kills a lot of different things for only two mana. I’m into it. The primary drawback on this card, much like Bedevil, is its mana cost — there’s not much incentive to play reactive Rakdos strategies so long as Teferi, Hero of Dominaria is legal.

A potential two-for-one with a solid floor of being an early removal spell is nothing to laugh at. So far, Seal Away is a superior card in most situations if there isn’t a Gideon in your deck, but it’s entirely possible that the set’s Gideon sees significant play.

Another piece for the Aristocrats-style decks that have thrived on the margins of Standard ever since the release of Ravnica Allegiance. While adding power to the deck in the form of a second Blood Artist effect, it doesn’t really solve any of the strategy’s fundamental problems. It’s still weak to the popular Cry of the Carnarium, and doesn’t really help generate card advantage or aggression, two fronts on which the deck, forced into a midrange role, is currently quite weak.

Talk dirty to me. A three-mana planeswalker that interacts with the board and doesn’t leave you behind on cards? That lets you end step — or even combat step — a Kaya’s Wrath if your opponent lets you untap with it? Yep, that’s the stuff. The ability to bounce artifacts and enchantments is just outrageous on this card, given how common cards like Treasure Map, Cindervines, Search for Azcanta and Experimental Frenzy are in the Standard landscape these days.

This one is pretty underpowered, but any land with a repeatable value effect is worth keeping in the old memory bank. It’s unlikely that we’ll ever want to play this while Field of Ruin is legal, but who knows what the future will bring.

“I see you’ve learned nothing, Chandra.” Is Negate being uncounterable worth not being able to cast it off of two UB lands? So long as there are powerful planeswalkers for you to counter, and, well, I hate to spoil War of the Spark for you, but there are, then yes, it’s probably worth it. In Modern, where Field of Ruin is actually good, Negate is probably still king, but that definitely won’t stop people from jamming this in their control decks for no good reason.

Yes, please. Thank you.

Edicts are somewhat awkward in Standard right now, thanks to the above-average number of tokens and Llanowar Elves, but a strictly-better Diabolic Edict will definitely see play across formats. There was some excitement about Diabolic Edict at last becoming Modern legal, but I wouldn’t recommend going too hard on it. Edict is very important in Legacy for a bunch of meta-specific reasons. Cards like True-Name Nemesis and Dark Depths are uniquely answered by Diabolic Edict, but similar threats are less common in Modern.

I suppose I can’t avoid talking about Limited forever. This is a unique card in that it lets you recur your value planeswalkers. But it is almost completely useless without rare ones in your deck. You see, the loyalty abilities on the uncommon planeswalkers mostly line up so that they don’t leave play without interaction from your opponent. Presumably, your opponent won’t walk into on-board tricks, so this is much more of a blank than it seems.

This is a powerful card with a good stat line that will inevitably be important in Standard for its ability to pressure planeswalkers as well as fix mana in a way that Incubation Druid cannot. That inevitability will come to play in Fall 2020, when the scourge of Goblin Chainwhirler is finally put to rest.

This is a cool card for various Drakes and Phoenix decks in Standard, but it lacks the superior Ral, Izzet Viceroy’s ability to kill problematic creatures like Thief of Sanity and Lyra Dawnbringer out of Esper. While the value of recurring Thought Scours certainly has potential, its difficult mana cost will keep it out of three-colour decks, probably the norm so long as excellent mana persists in Standard.

As much as I want to lock out creatures with this and Salvager of Secrets, that will remain a pipe dream. Kaya’s Wrath is simply a stronger card thanks to its reduced mana cost, but this is likely to find a home in something like Standard Jeskai, if people are brave enough to keep playing Crackling Drakes in their Teferi decks.

This card is either broken or unplayable, and I’m not enough of a brain genius to figure it out. I’d bet on unplayable, though.

Oof, these are some big abilities. The static one is a huge midrange mirror breaker without the life total drawback of Midnight Reaper, and having this card in play for multiple turns will likely win you the game. The minus is uniquely very powerful, and the ultimate all but ends the game — expect to see this card do work in Standard.

A Pyroclasm on a 2/2 is a pretty reasonable effect. While this card is definitely very, very powerful in Limited, it’s unlikely that there’s much going on in terms of Standard-playable Amass, and so this card probably peaks rather early.

Speak of the devil, it’s Standard-playable Amass! That said, this is no Bitterblossom. Recurring value on an enchantment is always something to keep in mind, and maybe, just maybe, there’s a Rakdos midrange shell featuring this, Widespread Brutality, Angrath’s Rampage, Liliana, Dreadhorde General and what not. Relying on enchantments to break open control matchups will be quite awkward going forward, however, thanks to both Teferis and the ubiquity of Mortify.

This card is quite powerful. Anyone who remembers Ajani Goldmane or Always Watching in Standard will know to respect a vigilance-giving Glorious Anthem. That said, this card appears to be for the most part weaker than Goldmane, and certainly isn’t the kind of card that I’m particularly interested in playing with. The tokens decks were often playing Huatli, Radiant Champion, however, and I’d be doing the noble art of the understatement a disservice if I merely called this card an upgrade to that nonsense.

Certainly the game-breaking passive is the most powerful ability on this card, but on a 6-drop, it’s unlikely that this ends up breaking very many games. To be honest, I’m glad that this card looks bad, as I would desperately like to avoid another Nexus of Fate foil-only proxy card fiasco. Nothing makes me more unhappy than losing a tournament to a basic Mountain scribbled on in Sharpie. Nasty.

Join me next week as I go over another fresh batch of brand new Magic cards!