Strange Tales #1 - War of the Spark

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Posted on Sept. 13, 2020, 8:59 p.m. by DeinoStinkus

Strange Tales #1

Hello everyone. I’m DeinoStinkus, TappedOut’s resident crocodile and ultimate master of jank and underappreciated strategies. This is the article series Strange Tales, where we’ll be exploring everything custom, from the craziest custom cards and user-made formats to wild speculation and analysis of sets.

Today, we will be looking at the wonderful world of War of the Spark. Is it underrated? Yes. Is it brilliantly designed? Yes. Were there issues regarding communication between the story and card design? Unfortunately, the answer is also yes. War of the Spark was a letdown in some respects, but many overlook the fact that it not only contributed massively to Standard archetypes but it also introduced many unique and underestimated cards.

To take a look at War of the Spark, we must first examine the mechanic known as amass. Amass, found on cards like Dreadhorde Invasion and my favorite, Eternal Skylord, is a mechanic that allows you to emulate the creation of an army. Flavorfully potent and a decent mechanic, although unfortunately it probably won’t be reprinted as it was a very specific ability that fitted War of the Spark very well, but not much else. The most likely plane for amass to return to is Innistrad, but even that seems very improbable. Amass as a mechanic is fairly powerful, especially when compared to mechanics like trample or first strike. It generates a creature or makes it stronger. Its interaction with cards like Doubling Season or The Ozolith is interesting and makes for a neat and fun way to play. Unfortunately, amass did not have any cards that are sufficiently powerful enough for competitive play, except Dreadhorde Invasion in niche decks. Lazotep Plating is decently powerful, but Heroic Intervention beats it in every way, unfortunately. Amass as a mechanic needed better support in my opinion, and cards that helped amass synergies rather than simply having amass would have helped. The Grixis-colored cycle of “Zombie Armies have {insert keyword}” was a good try, but only Eternal Skylord really stands out. Deathtouch is counterintuitive for a massive army to have, trample is kind of decent, but only flying is a powerful enough evasion ability to be worth the mana investment of the creature. Amass isn’t very powerful when combined with blink effects, mostly due to the highest amass X being printed on a creature being 2. Overall, despite amass’s potent effect, it did not make it very far due to a general lack of support. Widespread Brutality was too underpowered, Enter the God-Eternals had it as a side thought, and even Invade the City was simply a big creature. Amass, while an amazing and well-built mechanic, did have shortcomings in the long run.

The return of proliferate, however, was much better in this set. The strangest thing about this is that despite proliferate being a very-well supported mechanic there is not a single rare in War of the Spark that has the word proliferate on it. Roalesk, Apex Hybrid is the only mythic with the ability. While this is strange, there are many synergies that exist within the rare slot to be supported by proliferate, a few examples being Krenko, Tin Street Kingpin and Awakening of Vitu-Ghazi. Proliferate even adds its own power to amass, despite a small discontinuity between their colors (proliferate was in GWU in this set while amass was in UBR) and this synergy is part of the reason why War of the Spark Limited is painfully easy to draft.

Let’s talk power level.

Teferi, Time Raveler, Finale of Devastation, and Liliana, Dreadhorde General stand out as the three most powerful cards from the set. Teferi defined Standard for a long time, giving control decks a (rather annoying) tempo play that allowed them to execute their game strategy without delay. Devastation actually did not hit Standard very hard. Its power level (and by association its price) have been mainly due to Commander players. In Commander, this Finale is better than Green Sun's Zenith in every way except mana cost. It searches graveyards, it doesn’t have the color limitations, and let’s be honest, the “final” cost of the spell essentially says “I win the game”. Dreadhorde General is an incredible enabler for Aristocrats. Her passive is generous, her +1 is fodder for her -4 which is bonkers and breaks parity very easily, and her -9 is a pretty decent ultimate, but not super beneficial for her passive. These three cards have each stayed at around $20 recently. They are the face of War.

However, we must not forget that War of the Spark introduced quite a few cards that people still use today, even if they are not equipped with $20 price tags. They include Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God, an amazing flavor win and a really neat planeswalker, Arboreal Grazer, a cute ramp card that sees play in a lot of Commander and Standard decks, and Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner, a neat Elemental Bond/Kiora's Follower crossover that makes Simic stompy players feel jiggy.

Overall, War of the Spark was a set that was really good. People often take it for granted, and look to sets such as Double Masters or Throne of Eldraine as the best sets of recent times. But War of the Spark not only managed to end an era of Magic: the Gathering lore, it also created some really neat cards in the process, and brought many amazing characters together in a unique way. It’s hard to pull off something like that.

Thanks for reading my article! Feel free to leave some feedback below or contact me about any ideas you have for future articles, I plan them one in advance. My email is [email protected] if you want to reach me that way. If not, have a good day, be cool and kind to everyone, and GIVE ALL YOUR WORLDLY POSSESSIONS TO Omniscience_is_life, a cool and funny deckbuilder whom I have had a lot of fun times with on the site. See you next time where we will talk about a subject that often generates some controversy in the MTG community: custom cards! See you then!

Flooremoji says... #2

All of my worldly possessions?

Hmmm...

Probably not :)

September 13, 2020 9:27 p.m.

Hey there friend, thanks for the mention! Glad to see you taking a crack at writing on this site, you seem to have a knack for it. I would love to have this be a series...

September 13, 2020 9:30 p.m.

DeinoStinkus says... #4

I'll be mentioning a different person each time! And I'll be doing it once a week. Glad you enjoyed it.

September 13, 2020 10:05 p.m.

RiotRunner789 says... #5

I loved War. The last standard deck I built, before leaving standard, was a janky amass deck. It ran around with Dreadhorde Invasion and Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God with his general, lily. I loved building it but ending up only playing it a couple times which led me to just leave standard.

Regardless, there are plenty of fun cards for commander and I ended up with a foil sheet of all the rares/mythics (stupid, stupid mythic edition). Good article Deino.

September 13, 2020 10:29 p.m.

I think you forgot about Commence the Endgame when talking about amass. The card draw is nice but both elements are required in order to really round out the card nicely. Personally, I think it's an underused and under-appreciated card that really had potential in standard, especially considering the dominance of bant ramp/midrange decks in recent months.

September 14, 2020 10:17 a.m.

DeinoStinkus says... #7

Honestly, I did not include Commence because despite its seeming power level it's not a very powerful card. By the time that you'll be able to cast Commence, you will not get a whole lot of value out of it. It unfortunately got overshadowed by better cards of the time. Its mana cost is prohibitively high and its effect while potent was just too little for the mana cost.

However, I definitely should have at least mentioned it.

September 14, 2020 10:30 a.m.

DeinoStinkus says... #8

And I forgot Planewide Celebration has proliferate on it, and Karn's Bastion

September 14, 2020 10:39 a.m. Edited.

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