PREP FOR SATURDAY STANDARD: What War of the Spark brings to the table of an already diverse metagame. By Todd Grindle

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Rewind the clock to the year 2017. In the space of a year, Emrakul, the Promised End, Smuggler’s Copter, Reflector Mage, Felidar Guardian, Attune with Aether, Rogue Refiner, Ramunap Ruins, and Rampaging Ferocidon are banned. This is the peak of non-diversity within Standard, and arguably one of the darkest moments since the days of slapping Skullclamp, and Arcbound Ravager on to the battlefield, while your opponent cried hot violent tears of dismay at their mediocre hand of Deathcloud and Ravenous Baloth.

Each time Wizards tried to correct the metagame to allow for diversity, yet another problematic and powerful deck would rear it’s head, to take the place of the last problematic and powerful deck that proceeded it. Like a multi-pronged hydra of god-awfulness, Standard, for all intensive purposes, was killing Magic .
Lets fast-forward to the current Standard meta. In the last year or so, the number of individual and unique strategies available as Tier 1 options to take down a tournament, have been myriad. With the printing of equally powerful cards for different color combinations, and fueled by access to full suits of shocklands and checklands, Standard has founded a metagame that has been argued by many professional players, to be the best format they have ever played in. In essence, Standard has evolved from Donald Trump stuffing his orange molted lips with as many “hamberders” as one can fit in one’s tiny little hands, to Jason Momoa cooking up a nice hot stew of molten gold for his whiny little white haired excuse for a brother-in-law. Wait. What was I talking about? I got lost in the imagery.

Oh yeah…

Last standard…bad. Current standard…BADASS.

War of the spark, by all appearances, continues the trend of adding diversity, to what is already an incredibly diverse and dynamic format. Before this weeks Standard tournament held at Pixels and Bricks this Saturday, lets take a look at what it has added to our personal lists of 75.

1: Tamiyo, Collector of Tales and Blast Zone

                           

Hang on to your butts, Simic Nexus is a back a swinging. Tamiyo single handily causes the deck to become uber consistent in it’s draws, while blast zone shores up the matchups that Simic Nexus fears the most, namely, little weenie aggro decks that scoff at taking extra turns for the cost of exactly 1 billion mana, while just going under Nexus’ costly game plan. The two synergize quite nicely too. Sack blast zone, then return it from the yard to your hand. Rinse and repeat. Add to this, the synergy between Tamiyo’s +1 with search for azcanta, and you can see why all the buy a box promo fandom are a raving. Nexus is going to be a definite threat in the meta in the coming few weeks. I would recommend being prepared for it by either sleeving up Teferi, Time Raveler, (a real pain in the nether regions for a deck that wants to untap at end of turn with Wilderness Reclamation and cast pesky things) or sleeving up a bunch of cards that work well with the next two War of the Spark offerings I want to talk about.

2: Chandra, Fire Artisan, and Tibalt, Rakish Instigator

         

That’s a nice Lyra Dawnbringer you have there. Would be a pity… if you couldn’t gain any life with it!! Finally, we get a good Tibalt. One, that although relegated to a few sideboard slots, has a profound effect against the go-to answer for mono red matchups. Lifegain? I think not. Try again. But I wont actually give you time to try again.
If Tibalt had no other abilities other than it’s static effect, it would be certainly worth considering for mono-red. Add to this it’s effect of creating 2 mogg fanatics that work the way mogg fanatic used to work when damage on the stack was a thing, we have one heck of a winner for an uncommon planeswalker.
Chandra is another beautiful card for mono-red to consider. Perhaps not as explosive as experimental frenzy, it is still quite powerful, and has the added bonus of being a planeswalker, and not an enchantment. In a world where main deck enchantment hate is indeed quite common,(thanks wilderness reclamation) Chandra is a decent alternative that can deal out a boat load of damage and card advantage to boot. One small caveat to consider, however, is that Chandra has a very unsatisfying interaction with an opposing Shalai, Voice of Plenty. Because you can’t target the players planeswalkers or their lifetotal while Shalai is on the board, and you can’t target your own life total, due to the wording, Chandra will deal damage to either itself or another of your planeswalkers if it gets smacked around. This sometimes means they hit Chandra once, and it just dies to its own ability. Annoying in the extreme, and something to watch out for.

3: Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God

Mmmmhmm, the big daddy. Single handily bringing Grixis back to the spotlight after suffering under, first Jeskai, and then Esper control’s shadow. Lets look at a list that took first in the Starcitygames classic Standard tournament last weekend.

Maindeck:

Instants
2
Bedeck
4
Bedevil

Legendary Creatures
4
Nicol Bolas, the Ravager

Legendary Planeswalkers
2
Liliana, Dreadhorde General
2
Narset, Parter of Veils
4
Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God
1
Ugin, the Ineffable

Sorceries
2
Angrath’s Rampage
2
Cry of the Carnarium
4
Discovery
2
Enter the God-Eternals
2
Ritual of Soot
4
Thought Erasure

Basic Lands
2
Swamp

Lands
4
Blood Crypt
4
Dragonskull Summit
4
Drowned Catacomb
3
Steam Vents
4
Sulfur Falls
4
Watery Grave

Sideboard:
4
Legion Warboss
2
Moment of Craving
2
Vraska’s Contempt
1
Cry of the Carnarium
3
Duress
1
Enter the God-Eternals
2
Unmoored Ego

Gross, gross, gross. So much value. With an extra special trip to flavor town, Bolas is back baby!

4: God-eternal Kefnet. God-eternal Oketra

   

These, in my mind, are the two most important gods of the five, for the current standard format. Kefnet requires a bit of deck building around it, requiring a good amount of instants or sorceries in the maindeck in order for it’s effect to not whiff, but the payoff is ridiculous. To put it succinctly, Kefnet is one dirty birdy! Oketra on the other hand is a midrange backbreaker. It should just read, “win target game against midrange strategies. Ie. I will always have more critters than you.” Notably, it’s use in Bant Midrange is especially powerful, being able, thanks to new vivien, to cast everything at instant speed, triggering Oketra, and producing a horde of 4/4 blockers while your opponent watches spells frizzle to frilled mystic shenanigans. “Counter your spell, get a 3/2 and a 4/4 for my trouble?” Sounds like a solid deal to me.

5: Ral, Storm Conduit

Mmm Mmm, Combo city. I think at least in the local meta at Pixels and Bricks, this is the one card that has the most people excited. One of the main combos a few people are trying is looping expansions on each other infinitely, while Ral’s static ability kills their opponent outright, triggering for each copy on the stack. I have another combo, that I just learned about, for those who enjoy winning games in interesting ways. This one also involves Ral as a key component, and you may find… pretty spicy. It involves these three cards

.

This is how the combo works.

  • Minus Ral, Storm Conduit, leaving it alive.
  • Cast Finale of Devastation, X at least four.
  • Find Naru Meha, Master Wizard with the Finale copy.
  • It enters the battlefield, copy the original Finale again.
  • Find another Naru Meha, repeat.
  • It legend-rules the first, which you can Reanimate with the Finale copies.
  • Repeat until Ral triggers run them out of life.

Not too shabby, eh? I honestly hope someone brews something around this for Saturday. Innovation is the name of the game, and this set allows for a whole heck of a lot of innovation.

6: Feather, the Redeemed

The card that inspired Matt Gustafson to get back into Standard. For that alone, Feather gets the seat of honor at the War of the Spark banquet. All minor kidding aside, I can see why it got Matt back into Standard. It is absolutely a blast to play, and is a new and incredibly powerful way to approach aggro. It quickly begins to steam roll out of control after turn 3, and it can change a board state from a losing proposition, to one that is unimaginably hard for your opponent to come back from.

Allright, I could keep going on forever it seems on all of the interesting cards floating about for us to try abusing in our profane imaginations. There is Teferi, Time Raveler, Liliana, new Ugin… all cards Esper Control, and Tristan Brown, are interested in. There is Dreadhorde Arcanist, Sarkhan, and Ilharg, for our red mages. There is Rhonas, Nissa, Viven, and her trusty bow for the green mages out there. Narset is a beating for anyone playing control or combo. The list goes on and on. Instead, I will leave you folks with another spicy list, one that took second in a Mythic Qualifier Championship last week. Without further ado, may I present… (drumroll please) Jeskai Super Friends!

Creatures (4)

Spells (17)

Planeswalkers (14)

Lands (25)

Sideboard

Feast thine eyes! Well, that’s all from me. I hope to see a bunch of your awesome faces on Saturday, and I am equally excited to see what ya’ll bring the proverbial table! Until then, may your mulligans treat you well, and your top decks always be in your favor!
Todd.

About Todd Grindle     

Todd is a former hobby store owner and long time magic the gathering player. His modest claims to fame playing Magic include, 2 GP day 2’s, 2 Regionals top 8’s, and a TCG player 5k top 8. (those were the glory days!) Currently he enjoys playing at his LGS, Pixels and bricks, where he feels some of the best people and community in the state can be found in one awesome game store.