Magic players all around the world rejoiced, as we Commenced the Endgame at the War of the Spark Prereleases! 

Brian Holland

by Aaron Graham

Now the set is in full swing, it’s time to have a first look at what worked, and what didn’t work in War of the Spark Limited.

The first piece of feedback from everyone seemed to be all about the bombs! Each of the Mythic Planeswalkers, a lot of the Rare planeswalkers, and of course each of the God-Eternals (Ilharg included) are all insanely powerful and also quite difficult to kill! For a set so focused on Planeswalkers, that’s to be expected, but why did the Gods need to be so hard to get rid of?

On the short list for Best Limited Card in the Set is God-Eternal Oketra. She creates 4/4 Vigilance Zombies just for playing Limited’s most popular card type: creatures. This card contains an army-in-a-can, not to mention combining it with playing creatures with Flash, not to mention the set’s Zombie token synergy creators like Dreadhorde Twins or Eternal Skylord.

This all comes attached to a 3/6 Double Strike, which ends up being even better than a 6/6 a lot of the time as it can take out x/3s and combines better with pump spells.

As a card that is good when you’re ahead, behind or stalled, it’ll be hard to knock this one off the throne. So if regular removal doesn’t get rid of it permanently, and they didn’t include enchantment-based removal in the set (to help Army tokens be relevant), how are you supposed to deal with God-Eternal Oketra and friends?

The answer is one of two things: play Blue, or go around them.

Blue offers a few answers, most notably Kasmina’s Transmutation and counterspells; namely No Escape and the less good Crush Dissent. These options give you at least an out to these cards taking over the board and pursuing you with their giant, zombified bodies, and Kasmina’s Transmutation even stops their death trigger from putting them back into their owner’s deck (as it removes all abilities).

I don’t personally recommend Kasmina’s Transmutation as a great removal spell, but one in the main-deck never goes astray.

Counterspells are the cleanest answer to the God-Eternals, but at the cost of having to leave up a bunch of mana. These are some additional sideboard options that I’d consider after seeing a few targets for them in Game 1.

Going around the Gods is going to be the unfortunate way that non-Blue decks will have to beat them. Removal spells like Spark Harvest and Wanderer’s Strike will hopefully buy you enough time to kill your opponent while Oketra is lounging in their deck.

This does require you to have creatures on the board, or ways to pressure your opponent. God-Eternal Kefnet is the easiest to deal with in this way as their power is in the size of their body, not their ETB effect. Oketra is the hardest to do this with as her 3/6 Double Strike body is massive and she creates extra board presence that survive past her being killed. She doesn’t even die to Ob Nixilis’ Cruelty, what were they thinking?

Cards that have disappointed me so far have been Giant Growth, Ugin’s Conjurant and the Grand-daddy of the War himself, Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God.

Giant Growth has typically been an extremely powerful limited card. It allows 1-2 drops to trade for 4-6 drops with ease, and all for the low cost (opportunity and mana-wise) of one mana. There is a reason we haven’t seen this effect in sets for a few years, it’s slightly too efficient! In this set though, Giant Growth isn’t as strong, due to the fact that a majority of Green and White’s power is in their focus on proliferate. You only have room in your deck for so many +1/+1 counter effects, and ways to proliferate said counters, so Giant Growth doesn’t really tend to either game plan.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a solid playable if you’re light on creature interaction, but there are better things to be including in your deck that can potentially affect the whole board. For example- Courage in Crisis. While a Sorcery, so unable to surprise your opponent, the games in this format so far have seemed more likely to be decided by board presence broadly, rather than winning any particular combat. Stacking counters across your board rather than putting your eggs into one basket is the best way to play around the set’s abundant removal.

Ugin’s Conjurant is also a strange beast, and one that was initially hard to evaluate. While Endless One was a fine playable, either on turn 3 or turn 10, Ugin’s Conjurant has all of that, but with the downside of shrinking but the upside of being in a set with Proliferate.

At first glance it seems like you’d be happy playing a 7/7 that shrinks, but it is quite bad that it can be shrunk by Jaya’s Greeting in the middle of combat, or that First Strike can shrink this substantially. I will not be happy playing this card throughout the format unless I’m desperate for playables, at which point I’ll be hoping for a lot of Proliferate.

The final card in my disappointed queue is Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God! The only three-colour card in the set, and with 5 coloured pips, no less! This card looks and reads absurd, but is it worth jumping through those three-coloured hoops? The answer is… maybe.

If your deck is mostly Black, with blue or red and you pick up a couple of Guild Globes or Gateway Plazas, Nicol Bolas is definitely worth the splash! But going out of your way to make him work is the card’s biggest trap.

He reads a lot more similarly to Planeswalkers of sets past, with a +1 for card advantage, a -3 for board interaction, and a ridiculous ultimate. His shtick of taking all other Planeswalker abilities is cute, but rarely relevant, as his abilities on the card are going to be better in most ways. His -3 leaves him vulnerable to whatever is left on the board, and his +1 will practically startexiling lands from your opponent’s battlefield or hand!

While he’s clearly powerful and playable, I wouldn’t be first-picking this and forcing it to work. Unlike God-Eternal Oketra. Poor Nicol Bolas, will nothing go right for him?

I’ve mentioned the removal in the set quite a bit, so let’s focus on our final suite in each colour.

White’s best common is usually enchantment-based removal, but that’s been relegated to uncommon with Prison Realm, with the common removal being Divine Arrow and Law-Rune Enforcer. Prison Realm and Law-Rune Enforcer are both flexible, powerful removal that I’d be happy taking early, but not so much with Divine Arrow. The creatures in the set get out of range of this card reasonably quickly, and you don’t want to have to keep 2 mana up and trade an on-board creature.

Blue was spoken about before, with the addition of the very important Callous Dismissal. One of the only easy ways to be cleanly get rid of an Army token amassing out of control, the Amass 1 attached is a bonus. Best Unsummon variant ever?

Black has Ob Nixilis’ Cruelty and Spark Harvest, probably the two best removal spells at Common in the set. These are both cheap, never really become irrelevant, and scale well into the late game. You want as many of these as you can get your hands on.

Red is on the smaller end of the scale, with Jaya’s Greeting and Chandra’s Pyrohelix doing most of the heavy lifting at common. Jaya’s Greeting kills pretty much everything you need it to kill before turn 5, while Chandra’s Pyrohelix is better at cleaning up tokens and maybe pinging a Planeswalker left on 1 loyalty.

And a final card that has been very impressive is Aid the Fallen. With the set being so full of bombs and value, the fact that this can get back two of your greatest threats for the low price of 2 mana can be back breaking for your opponent. Keep an eye out for these.

War of the Spark is shaping up to be a Limited set with a lot of power and nuance, and I’ve been really enjoying it so far!

We don’t often get such a unique draft environment, and it’s one of the things I love most about Magic! Next time we’ll be able to focus on War of the Spark’s impact on Constructed, and look at some new decks for these new cards.

 

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You can check out even more content from Aaron over at 7 Land Hand.

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