War of the Spark is like Game of Thrones meets Magic meets a Masters Edition set. Characters dying, powerful card designs at common, and a wonderfully detailed story arc are packed into just 375 cards.
Unlike all that, a quick review of amazing new commons in each Magic release is powered by the wonderful patrons of the Pauper Cube Patreon. The community support is outstanding, and it wouldn’t be possible to keep the cube going without an army of players providing feedback and discussion.
And with the weeks of War of the Spark preview discussion in the Pauper Cube Discord server behind us, it’s time to look forward with some of the amazing new cards available to the cube. But there’s something to consider before we go further:
WAR twitter stories pt.1
Do not adjust your tv screens. Ob Nixilis’s Cruelty is a common. Starting with War of the Spark we are making an effort to have more exciting cards at common. #WOTCstaff pic.twitter.com/plex2kwEVg
— Andrew Brown (@Murk_Lurker) April 2, 2019
War of the Spark kicks off a new era of Magic design where commons get more powerful effects. Not just “sometimes” or “for story reasons” but just straight up “here, some of these commons are way better than in the past.” The effect here is that there’s far more commons than in recent sets to consider, and the likelihood that commons will continue to turn over into (and out of) the cube at a higher rate than in the past.
If you’re a fan of following how design trends shape Magic then you’re going to love how many cards the cube has to consider each set going forward.
First, let’s look at what’s new at a higher level.
There’s basically three mechanics in the set, and only two apply to us.
The splashiest mechanic of War of the Spark is “a Planeswalker in every pack” which is fascinating for gameplay, but irrelevant for us: Planewalkers are printed at only uncommon or higher rarities here.
The second is the returning mechanic proliferate. Proliferate lets you add another kind of each counter on any number of permanents and players. The interaction with infect’s poison counters would matter if we had that here, but it’s most more likely to interact with commons in two mechanics: energy and +1/+1 (or -1/-1) counters.
With so few energy cards printed it would take a dedicated color pair to be rebalanced into energy as it’s draft archetype for it to be standout in the Pauper Cube, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility. What’s much closer to the core of what the Pauper Cube has is +1/+1 and -1/-1 counter effects. Travel Preparations is a strong green-white card in the right hands, and it’s now more than possible to shift that archetype away from go-wide tokens into a more focused plan of caring about pumping up creatures.
One issue with that switch is how white and green overlap with other colors. Red-white and, to a lesser extent, red-green are also token archetypes. White-black and black-green play up the sacrifice effects in black. Green-blue enjoys a few extra tokens as speed bumps in getting to its ramp endgame. That leaves white-blue as the only part of the overlaps that doesn’t really care about tokens.
That leads to the second issue with a change in archetype like that: Caring about counters is parasitic in most cases. A proliferate card isn’t just “mostly” useful in a deck with lots of permanents to proliferate, but almost always only useful in those decks. If proliferate cards need enough cards that make counters to work, then it means white and green and another color or two would need plenty of cards for proliferate to work.
As much as I enjoy fiddling with counters I’m not sure the play experience of the cube improved by moving into counters and proliferate over the status quo. (This is an exercise I’ll be bringing to the community for sure!)
Amass is the brand new mechanic in the set, and it’s fascinating. Making a creature token as something multiple archetypes in the cube appreciate, and many of the ways to amass in the set are attached to spells: That is, they’re like creatures with an enters the battlefield ability but worded the other way around. This makes them play nice with the newer “spells matter” tweaks to blue-red, but not with existing graveyard recursion in black or Momentary Blink effects in blue and white.
Amass is also unique in that it doesn’t create unique tokens but instead piles more and more +1/+1 counters on one token creature. This obviously plays nice with proliferate in the set (for Limited purposes) but interacts poorly with all of the strong targeted removal and Pacifism effects in the Pauper Cube. I actually think this is great: The texture of removal in the cube matters when considering amass, but the likelihood of one deck having “too many amass cards” is irrelevant as there just aren’t enough to swap in at common to make that matter.
We can safely evaluate amass cards on their own merits of including a creature token in the effect, and rest assured it will play very differently than in War of the Spark Limited.
Gideon's Sacrifice is an interesting wrinkle on a combat trick. Unlike most of white’s arsenal of making a small creature stronger or granting “protection from” something, this is damage reflect from the player and all their other permanents to their own creature. (I can’t imagine a universe with Planeswalkers at common though.)
While white has Fog effects, like Holy Day and friends, this redirection ability interacts with burn spells and first strike too. I’m not sure it belongs, but it’s a creative and powerful effect at common for sure.
- A 1/2 body is useful against 1/1 tokens, and as a one-drop itself it makes the Enforcer an ideal early play in slower decks
- A generic one-mana cost to activate the tap ability is convenient
Of course, being only able to tap creatures with converted mana costs of two or greater means just most creatures, but not all, are deterred. Is another tapper needed? Is a “probably slightly worse but still pretty good” tapper good enough?
Aven Eternal is similar to Eldrazi Skyspawner, except an extra toughness and not creating a token that you can sacrifice for colorless mana. It also seems like a fairly strong contender given how powerful the Skyspawner is.
Sometimes it’s an easy call when thinking about how a card might perform in the cube.
Callous Dismissal is fascinating. As a sorcery, it feels closer to Man-o'-War but as a spell it’s a neat riff on a slower Disperse. Making tokens is a valuable way to buy time defensively, but sorcery speed bounce spells aren’t exactly in demand. Maybe it’s time to make bouncing a little more thoughtful.
Erratic Visionary appears more controllable than Seeker of Insight, if a bit more mana intensive. The most consistent feedback around Seeker has been needing to cast a spell to loot a card (and, well, it’s not Merfolk Looter either), so a mana-based option should make durdles feel dandy while keeping it in a fairer spot for card advantage.
Herald of the Dreadhorde is a slightly beefier Deathbloom Thallid on the death end, but the same size for one more mana on the front end. Ensuring there’s enough inertia and fuel for black-based sacrifice decks is important and a self-replacing creature is tough to ignore, but the four mana slot for black creatures is packed in the cube.
Kaya's Ghostform reminds me of another “insurance policy” card for one black mana: Undying Evil. I love these effects, but I’ve also come to learn they’re much more situational than they appear. I’d love to have these effects in the cube, but crafting gameplay where they’re more than just style points is hard.
Lazotep Reaver makes two creatures for two mana. It’s a total of 2 power and 3 toughness. It’s an amazing defensive card and obvious benefit for black sacrifice effects. Given how powerful similar creatures, like Doomed Dissenter and others, are in decks it’s easy to see how the Reaver would fit in.
Spark Reaper is a unique card at common. There any plenty of spells that, as a one-time effect, let you cash a creature in for some cards. Our Reaper here is repeatable, and best compared to the recent Dominaria uncommon Thallid Soothsayer. That was generally a solid card for slower, token-heavy decks and Spark Reaper is the same stats for less mana. But is three generic mana too much to pay to convert creatures into cards?
I have a hard time disagreeing.
Toll of the Invasion isn’t quite Mesmeric Fiend: It’s, in some ways, better. While Fiend is long associated with Momentary Blink effects for maximum value attacking an opponent’s hand, it’s recent Masters 25 appearance reinforced that giving a card back to the opponent is often not worth it. Toll solves this problem as it’s strictly a discard spell while still giving us a 1/1 creature to work with.
While cutting the less-than-friendly discard spells was worth it, removing almost all of the discard effects wasn’t the best outcome either.
Burning Prophet is another powerful card with careful consideration to make. Repeatable scry is almost as good as card filtering, like Burning-Tree Vandal. But 3 toughness and the ability to get bigger for attacks (or blocks!) makes this an excellent creature for blue-red spells. Red card advantage and selection is something I want to continue increasing in the cube.
Grim Initiate is a one-drop that replaces itself. One-drops are notoriously tough to find for an all-commons cube, and good one-drops are rare. A 1/1 with first strike isn’t impressive (without equipment or Trumpet Blast effect at least) but getting two bodies for one mana is more than relevant.
Heartfire is a slight wrinkle on Collateral Damage and Shard Volley. Burn is great at common, and it isn’t unusual to get into a top deck battle and have the deck running red find the 3 extra damage it needs to close the game out. Heartfire is efficient, and the condition of needing a creature in play to cast it feel much fairer than Fireblast (where you’ll always have two Mountains to use).
But do we need more, and more powerful, burn?
Honor the God-Pharaoh is an obvious riff on Tormenting Voice, with the also obvious addition of amass. (Seeing a trend here!) I’ve been considering Tormenting Voice (or similarly powerful effects) as a way to help slower red decks find the more powerful answers in their decks, but getting a token creature too is delightful: Advancing the game, or providing a small defender, matters.
Spellgorger Weird is like Pyre Hound, but trading trample and a point of starting toughness for a cost one mana lesser. The Hound was a house in the right deck during it’s Limited heyday, but getting on-board sooner matters for decks planning to cast spells to stay alive.
I’d like to believe this kind of creature has a home in blue-red decks, but where else would it see play in the cube?
Turret Ogre is an odd duck. It has reach! It’s has more power than toughness! It has a conditional burn spell to the face?
I’m honestly excited and terrified to evaluate this kind of creature, where it’s combination of a abilities and stats is unique across commons.
Band Together is an instant version of Combo Attack, and a much better version of Ambuscade. When I cut Ambuscade, it wasn’t a critical removal spell for most decks but was obviously more powerful than the slightly more mana efficient fight spell that replaced it. Band Together seems like the perfect opportunity to readjust again.
Kronch Wrangler is one of the many “cares about creatures with 4 or more power entering the battlefield” cards in War of the Spark, and it’s starting to look close enough to a theme we should review for the cube. Should red-green midrange overtake red-green tokens? Do ramping strategies want this kind of early defender, payoff if it sticks around kind of card?
Steady Aim effects has popped in and out of the cube over the years. Untapping into adding reach and +1/+4 until end of turn is as good as it’s ever been. As tempting as these kinds of tricks can be, it’s still probably not good enough for the cube.
Vivien's Grizzly is obviously similar to Duskwatch Recruiter // Krallenhorde Howler. The activated ability to find more creatures costs more, and only look at the top card of your deck, but the ability to dig down to and draw more creatures is an incredible way to pressure opponents. It’s also a signpost for a green-based ramp deck looking for ways to use its abundant mana.
Saheeli's Silverwing is a card I’m bringing up because others in the Pauper Cube Discord server discussed it, but it’s a card I have a hard time seeing the value in. 2/3 flying for four mana is below rate, even as an artifact, and the opportunity to peek at the top of your opponent’s deck provides marginal value. If you could put that card you see somewhere else, say the bottom of the opponent’s library, I’d be much more excited to consider this.