War of the Spark Limited Lessons

Two weeks ago, I shared a very early pick order list for War of the Spark. This first-pick-first-pack list was based on an aggregate of my own grades and the first impressions of thousands of other players.

Now that we’ve all had a chance to do multiple Drafts with the new set—I’ve done about 20 of them myself by now—some of the early evaluations stand out as inaccurate. Today, I will discuss which cards I feel were initially overrated or underrated. I grouped them to easily convey general insights into the format. I’ll conclude with an overview of sweet interactions.

Underrated: Answers to Bombs

The number of rares/mythics that are slam-dunk first-picks is unusually high in this set. According to the early pick order list, War of the Spark contains 24 rares/mythics that you should first-pick over any common or uncommon. By contrast, in the preceding four expansion sets, the average number of such rares/mythics was 13. By this metric, War of the Spark contains nearly twice as many bombs than we are used to.

To make matters worse, many of those bombs are planeswalkers or Gods that are outrageously powerful and difficult to deal with. Exiling the Gods doesn’t even work. It can even be correct to first-pick a rare and hang on for dear life, rather than trying to identify the colors that are open. As a result, the few reliable answers that are available have overperformed for me.

Role ReversalToll of the InvasionNo EscapeCrush Dissent

Normally, I hate playing countermagic or discard in Limited because I just want to curve out and get on board. But this format is different. As much as I hate to say it, I’m not only starting Toll of the Invasion in my main deck, but I’m actively happy to do so.

I didn’t list Kasmina’s Transmutation in the above group of underrated cards because I felt like its place in the early pick order list was approximately accurate. I love having access to Kasmina’s Transmutation as a sideboard card—it’s one of the better answers to Gods—but as a main deck inclusion the card has been narrow and underwhelming. There are too many armies and +1/+1 counters around, and Kasmina’s Transmutation doesn’t help against opposing planeswalkers. Countermagic and discard do.

Overrated: Aggressive Ground-Based Strategies

In most Limited formats, I like to curve out with high-power creatures and close out games with a pump or burn spells. In this format, I have been unable to find success with such all-out aggro strategies. Red-white in particular has underperformed. As a result, I have to move down a number of cards.

Tenth District LegionnaireOb Nixilis, the Hate-TwistedGiant GrowthDevouring HellionPouncing LynxRising PopulaceHeartfire

I think there are three reasons why I haven’t been successful with ground-based aggro decks in this format:

  • You often have to send some damage to planeswalkers, which slows down the game and lets your opponents effectively start at 25 rather than 20 life. This makes it more difficult for all-out aggro decks to close.
  • There are few good aggressive 2 mana creatures in the format. Many formats have at least as many common 2-drops as common 3-drops, but War of the Spark has fewer. Moreover, many of the 2-drops are mediocre. A Grizzly Bears with no relevant ability is not a good main deck inclusion.
  • There are a lot of high-toughness blockers around that are hard to get past. From Burning Prophet to Spellkeeper Weird to Centaur Nurturer, everything has so much toughness. What’s more, amass and proliferate mean that you’re running into big blockers practically every game, making it more difficult to push through damage.

Some games are even won by decking. The number of times I’ve been decked by Ashiok, Dream Render recursion exceeds the number of creatures I’ve killed with Nahiri, Storm of Stone, so the initial ratings on those planeswalkers were off as well.

Underrated: Flying and Evasive Creatures

Even though the format is slow, you still need some early board presence to pressure planeswalkers and some plan for breaking the high-toughness board stalls. For me, evasion has been the key.

Sky Theater StrixAven EternalThunder DrakeAshiok's Skulker

Although I’m highlighting only the blue evasive commons, literally every single flyer should move up in my early pick order list. Even mediocre ones like Saheeli’s Silverwing.

The reason for highlighting the blue creatures is because they make for a perfect curve and they have brought me the most success in this format. I managed to call Thunder Drake the “common Thunderbreak Regent,” which is obviously an exaggeration, but I’m always happy to have it.

Underrated: Blue Spells

It’s not just my own experience. At Mythic Championship II in London, blue was the best-performing color. Adding up the colors of the decks that went 3-0 in the first Draft and the ones of the 6-0 players in the second Draft, I got the following breakdown:

  • Blue: 36
  • Black: 33
  • Green: 30
  • White: 28
  • Red: 27

Given that blue has the most evasion, which is key to pressuring planeswalkers and breaking board stalls, it’s not a surprise that the color came out on top. But there’s more to blue than just the flyers. Several other blue cards overperformed as well.

Tamiyo's EpiphanyCallous DismissalSpellkeeper WeirdContentious PlanJace's TriumphNarset, Parter of VeilsBond of Insight

In most Limited formats, I dislike card draw spells. I rarely put them in my deck, as I generally prefer to spend my mana to affect the board. But the speed of War of the Spark Limited enables me to take a turn off for a card draw spell.

Moreover, these effects are the best way to keep triggering Sky Theater Strix and Thunder Drake, as they get you closer to the next noncreature spell. Callous Dismissal may not draw a card, but if you reset your own planeswalker, you also get to keep triggering your flyers.

Somehow, the entire color blue works well as a coherent synergy package. Even though I still won’t take card draw spells particularly highly, which may be stubborn, I would move up the above cards a bit.

Underrated: Mana Fixers

Among the above-mentioned Draft decks that went 3-0 at the Mythic Championship, 31% played three or more colors. Splashes make sense when the format is slow and when you can splash powerful bombs.

But outside of green (which has Paradise Druid, Jiang Yanggu, New Horizons, and Centaur Nurturer, as well as Deathsprout and Leyline Prowler if you are green-black) there are not many mana fixers around. There are no Guildgates, for example. There are only a few artifacts and one prismatic land. So if you want a consistent mana base, you have to put these mana fixers at a premium.

Gateway PlazaGuild GlobeMana GeodeFiremind Vessel

These cards deserve to be ranked a bit higher than the early pick order list indicated. Even if I start out with only 2 colors, I’d rather take a mana fixer over a medium playable because I might open a splashable bomb rare later.

Underrated: Repetitive Proliferate

Proliferate synergies have overperformed for me. Indeed, among the available 3-0 decks at the Mythic Championship, the most prevalent non-blue archetype was white-green. Cards that can proliferate multiple times over the course of a game can dominate in particular.

Evolution SageGrateful ApparitionKarn's BastionMerfolk SkydiverFlux Channeler

I still prefer to start my Draft with one of the best hybrid planeswalkers (Kaya, Vraska, or Angrath) because they keep my color options open, but Evolution Sage and Grateful Apparition should be right below them.

In addition, since all Bant archetypes are best with a proliferate theme, I would move up many support cards as well. Most notably, Bloom Hulk, Aven Eternal, Mowu, Loyal Companion, Wanderer’s Strike, Spark Double, Huatli’s Raptor, Ugin’s Conjurant, Pledge of Unity, Ajani’s Pridemate, and Kronch Wrangler. All of them deserve a slightly higher grade than in the early pick order list.

Also, Battlefield Promotion, Makeshift Battalion, Iron Bully, and Courage in Crisis are not mediocre—in the right deck, they are perfectly fine playables.

Underrated: Expensive Rares

Bolas's CitadelCommand the Dreadhorde

At first, I didn’t think much of these 6 mana black rares that tax your life total. In many formats, you’d be into single-digit life totals by the time you get to 6 mana, in which case these spells wouldn’t be impressive.

But, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, War of the Spark Draft is different. The format is slow, filled with high-toughness blockers, and life gain spells. Also, opponents tend to attack your planeswalkers first. As a result, you can easily untap on turn 6 while you’re still at 20 life and then take over the game with one of these 6-drops.

I would still first-pick some of the top commons over them, but they are definitely better than mediocre playables—they are powerful build-arounds. Once you’ve drafted them, prioritize cards like Centaur Nurturer, and reap the benefits.

Several other rares also did better than I expected, specifically Commence the Endgame, Soul Diviner, Krenko, Tin Street Kingpin, and Planetwide Celebration. Finally, practically every single rare planeswalker with a plus ability is better than the original pick order list indicates. It’s easy to get lost in all of the sweet abilities, but having that plus sign instead of a minus sign in front of a loyalty ability is a world of difference. Games go long, and you’ll have plenty of turns to exploit them.

Overrated: Several Rares

Storrev, Devkarin LichDreadhorde InvasionNicol Bolas, Dragon-God

Storrev, Dreadhorde Invasion, and Nicol Bolas are all great. But after getting some extra experience drafting the set, I wouldn’t peg them as “better than any common or uncommon” great.

Storrev and Nicol Bolas are a little too demanding on your mana base, and Dreadhorde Invasion is not only risky but also a poor late-game topdeck. Don’t get me wrong, I would still first-pick these cards quite often, but there are several uncommons that I prefer over them.

Two other rares that I would move down a bit are Finale of Devastation and Mizzium Tank. They were rated as good to great playables, but I’ve found them to be mediocre and inefficient in practice. There are many commons that I would now take over them.

A War of the Spark Bucket List

Before describing sweet options, I have to mention that this format is dominated by unusual static abilities on planeswalkers that lead to numerous misplays. For example, casting Jace’s Triumph when your opponent controls Narset, Parter of Veils. That’s an error you make only once, but it has surely happened to thousands of players all around the world. Or casting Band Together into The Wanderer—just as bad. Or Liliana’s Triumph into Tamiyo, Collector of Tales.

And did you realize that Tomik, Distinguished Advokist turns off casting New Horizons? Or that Dovin, Hand of Control increases the cost of Saheeli’s Silverwing? Or that Ugin’s Conjurant doesn’t automatically die to deathtouch? There are just so many weird abilities that are easy to forget about. If you have made some misplays in War of the Spark Limited, then rest assured that you are not the only one. If you have not messed up yet, then put “missing an on-board interaction” on your personal bucket list.

But a bucket list is nicer when it contains sweet combos, decks, or interactions:

  1. You can put Kasmina’s Transmutation on your own army token to give it +1/+1. That’s already fun, but it’s even better to enchant your own Ugin’s Conjurant. Not only will this grow its power and toughness by 1 but it will also remove its disadvantageous ability.
  2. For optimal sequencing, play Huatli’s Raptor, put the proliferate trigger on the stack, and cast Pledge of Unity in response. The end result is two +1/+1 counters on each creature you control, including Huatli’s Raptor. To pull this off on MTG Arena, you need to hold control to respond to your own spells and abilities.
  3. Sometimes, it’s best to decline to proliferate. This could come up when you need to block Duskmantle Operative, for example. Or when you need to kill off your own planeswalker to trigger Rising Populace. Conversely, you sometimes want to proliferate an extra +1/+1 counter onto an opposing 3 power creature so that you can exile it with The Wanderer.
  4. I have not yet been able to do so yet, but I’d love to draft a deck with 5+ Charmed Stray and 2+ Ajani’s Pridemate. The probability that there are at least that many copies of these Cats in a Draft, assuming independent packs, is merely 1.9%, but it’s not impossible.
  5. If your opponent has Chandra, Fire Artisan, then be sure to board in Lazotep Plating. If Chandra takes a point of damage when you and your planeswalkers have hexproof, and your opponent has no other planeswalkers, then Chandra is forced to ping herself to death.
  6. The Wanderer enables two sweet combos. The first one is with Command the Dreadhorde. If you control The Wanderer before casting Command the Dreadhorde, then you get to return everything at no cost. The second combo is with either Solar Blaze or Widespread Brutality, which can turn into one-sided Wrath of Gods when The Wanderer protects your team.
  7. If you control Narset, Parter of Veils and kill one of your opponent’s creatures with Ob Nixilis, the Hate-Twisted, then they only draw one card. Every bit of value matters.
  8. There’s one card in the set that reads ”you win the game”: Jace, Wielder of Mysteries. So a Jace win definitely needs to be on the War of the Spark bucket list.
  9. You haven’t durdled until you have cast Aid the Fallen targeting Saheeli, Sublime Artificer and Spellkeeper Weird. You can then turn a Servo into the Weird, sacrifice it to bring back Aid the Fallen, and set up a mana-intensive, convoluted, but powerful recursive loop.
  10. With Totally Lost, you usually want to target planeswalkers during your opponent’s draw step. This way, they won’t have access to the planeswalker’s abilities for an entire turn. But against Ugin, the Ineffable, it can be even better to put him on top in response to his +1 ability. Ugin would then get captured in a Spirit token. Even Fblthp never got that lost.
  11. If you control both Challenger Troll and Angrath, Captain of Chaos, then the combination of their abilities make all your 4+ power creatures unblockable. Enjoy attacking for the win.

There’s still plenty to learn about War of the Spark as a Limited format. What are your main lessons so far?


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