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By: olaw, Oliver Law
Apr 29 2019 12:00pm
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Hello!

Welcome to another Modern Musings!  It's that time of the year again where we get a new set to dig into.   War of the Spark spoiler season has been really exciting set so much so I've had to break this down into two articles.  The set is rather impressive and there are lots of cards that could be viable in Modern.

STORY, THEMES & MECHANICS

Story

The story to War of the Spark is an epic culmination of the Gatewatch's adventures so far.  Nicol Bolas is putting together his master plan for total domination and has drawn nearly all the planeswalkers in the multiverse to him to enact his plan.  Bolas plans to ascend to godhood by harvesting planeswalkers' sparks while the Gatewatch are the leaders of the fight back against the Elder Dragon.

Themes

War of the Spark is the first planeswalker focused set which makes it a fascinating set in terms of card design.  There have been creature, enchantment, artifact, colour and multi-coloured themed sets before now but this a first for planeswalkers, and perhaps the last depending on how this set goes.  Historically, Planeswalkers have been very powerful cards so a set filled with them is a slightly scary but intriguing prospect.

The solution to this problem on the whole has been to give planeswalkers static abilities, like enchantments, and fewer activated abilities.  There a number of planeswalkers that can only tick down their loyalty and not tick it up.  So, on average we are less likely to be seeing these types of planeswalker remaining on the battlefield long-term.  It's an interesting balancing act and it remains to be seen how well this will play out in the War of the Spark Limited environment.

Mechanics

There are two mechanics in War of the Spark, one new mechanic and another one that is being revisited.


Relentless Advance
Amass

Amass resembles Nicol Bolas' zombie hordes, led by Liliana.  The ability, like Living Weapon, generates a 0/0 black Zombie Army token and put X +1/+1 counters on it equal to the number following the Amass ability.  If you already have an Army token then additional +1/+1 counters get added to the existing army to make it bigger.

Amass seems like a mechanic that is largely geared towards limited.  There are a few pushed cards that uses Amass but nothing I think that makes this likely to be a heavily played mechanic in Modern.

Bloom Hulk
Proliferate
This is a returning mechanic which is being revisited for the first time since its debut in Scars of Mirrodin.  Proliferate allows you to add extra counters, of any type, to permanents or players who already have counters on them.  In Scars of Mirrodin, this worked with the various -1/-1 counters you could generate within Scars Block, planeswalkers and adding poison counters to opponents thanks to the Infect mechanic.

Proliferate works nicely in the set as it's a way of boosting Planeswalker loyalty, growing your Zombie Army and pumping things through the various ways that +1/+1 counters can be obtained in the set.

Proliferate wasn't really pushed for Constructed playability in Scars Block so it's compelling to see some more powerful Proliferate cards here.  I'm not sure it is viable for Modern but it at least has some thought-provoking applications.  Hardened Scales Affinity and Infect are both real decks in Modern that could justifiable use Proliferate abilities to power themselves up but perhaps they are win-more cards rather than real roleplayers.

THE CARDS

White

Gideon's Triumph
Gideon's Triumph
An interesting removal spell for white.  It's very strong if you have a Gideon in play but probably pales in comparison to the versatility of Blessed Alliance in most other circumstances.  Along with Liliana's Triumph there are a few more Edict style effects within this set.

Grateful Apparition
Grateful Apparition
Possibly hardly worth mentioning but a cheap evasive threat that allows you to Proliferate repeatedly is at least somewhat appealing.  It's a white Thrummingbird, which is hardly making waves in Modern, but the colour shift and a tribal shift to a more relevant tribe could make this more playable than Thrummingbird.

Ignite the Beacon
Ignite the Beacon
Ignite the Beacon is a convincing, if expensive, planeswalker tutor.  The instant speed makes it much more viable a card as you can still fit it into a Control shell and play it at the end of turn.  While not likely to be a major player in Modern I actually think this could be a useful card in future.  It is also likely to become more powerful as time goes on with more planeswalkers being printed.  It seems like a good tool if a strong planeswalker-based combo comes about.  I guess it is quite similar to Thalia's Lancers in that it could be rise in prominence in the future.

God-Eternal Oketra
God-Eternal Oketra
The new Oketra is a solid creature with the potential to create huge armies.  It plays very nicely with Oketra's Monument, which is a card that has seen some play in Modern, a favourite of fellow PureMTGO writer Marcus Brunstetter.  Generating a 4/4 vigilant Zombie for each mana you have each turn seems super fun.  Probably not a hugely competitive option but certainly a card you can have a lot of fun with in Modern.

Sunblade Angel
Sunblade Angel
Not a great card by any stretch but could be useful to Soulflayer decks as a way of granting a lot of abilities from one card.  Sadly, none of the abilities are protective, like Hexproof, and the Double Strike granting of Drogskol Reaver or Zetalpa are likely to be more useful options.

Tomik, Distinguished Advokist
Tomik, Distinguished Advokist
Tomik is a slightly bizarre hatebear or anti-hatebear in some ways.  It takes some reading to actually understand what Tomik does and what it is trying to combat.  Melissa DeTora spoiled the card and helped explain some of the thinking around the design of the card.  Tomik is designed to be a substantial flying threat for Standard, a flying 2/3 for two-mana, and also handy in Legacy.  In Legacy, Tomik protects lands from Wasteland and it also prevented Deathrite Shaman's life gain ability, which is no longer relevant due to Shaman now being banned in Legacy.

In Modern, Tomik's main applications are as anti-land destruction, protecting your lands from Ghost Quarter and Field of Ruin.  It also shuts off Crucible of Worlds in a very bizarre and narrow application.  It can also protect lands in your graveyard from Surgical Extraction, which could be important if you were Tron or Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle.  All of these are very narrow applications and unless the format changes considerably it doesn't feel like it does enough.  If it were to see play I would put it in Humans as an above curve evasive threat, adding to the already slightly odd number of flying humans in the format.

Blue

Callous Dismissal
Callous Dismissal
A bounce spell for any non-land that generates a creature to boot.  That's a solid deal but the sorcery speed certainly holds it back.  It's hard to see an ideal home for this card but it is a combination of two strong abilities.

God-Eternal Kefnet
God-Eternal Kefnet
The Gods are all worth a mention because of their exciting effects.  Kefnet is a very solid creature as a 4/5 flyer for 4-mana and also gives you the ability to play discounted copies of instants and sorceries.  The best application I can think of is in the Taking Turns deck, where you can play Kefnet to make sure you don't fizzle by copying budget Time Warps.

Narset's Reversal
Narset's Reversal
This is a crazy card.  It's a very efficient copy effect combined with a temporary counter, though technically it doesn't counter anything which means it can rebuff even uncounterable spells like Abrupt Decay.  The format already has Remand, which honestly doesn't see much play these days, and it's questionable how regularly this would be better than Remand.  That said it's still a very cool card that can do some very mean things with your opponent's spells.  Also, note that you can cast it on your own spells to get an extra copy of the spell or in response to countermagic.

Spark Double
Spark Double
Spark Double is a powerful Clone creature which does something different than the norm.  Spark Double can copy Legendary creatures and also copies planeswalkers allowing you to have two copies of a planeswalker on the battlefield at once.  To my knowledge that is a unique effect and one that is likely to be exploitable, if not now then probably in the future.  Double also has the benefit of coming into play with an extra +1/+1 counter or loyalty counter.

As a creature, Double can be tutored up with Chord of Calling or the new Neoform which makes it a solid option in Creature Toolbox decks.  Sadly, at 4-mana it cannot be put into play with Collected Company which is a downside.

Teferi's Time Twist
Teferi's Time Twist
Blink effects are nothing new but this one is a little interesting because it is more flexible than what has come before.  Teferi's Time Twist not only blinks creatures but also other permanents as well.  Perhaps the most impressive application of this, particularly in the context of the set, is that it can be used to reset planeswalkers - though note that the walker does not come back until the next end step so if you cast it on your turn you cannot immediately use any loyalty abilities. 

Black

Bolas's Citadel
Bolas's Citadel
Bolas's Citadel is a card that feels like it could be pretty broken in the right shell.  In the right deck you can go off once you cast Citadel and just instantly win the game, provided you don't hit too many lands on top of your library.  The Lantern Control/Whir Prison decks seems like the best home for Citadel but at 6-mana it seems like it is just too expensive to be attractive to those decks.  Potentially a very fun card but sadly not one that I think is majorly viable.

Davriel, Rogue Shadowmage
Davriel, Rogue Shadowmage
A card that seems tailor-made for the 8-Rack deck in Modern.  It has the potential to bump us up to 12-Rack alongside The Rack and Shrieking Affliction.  That said, it has some competition from Liliana of the Veil in the three-mana slot and I don't think it necessarily wins that competition due to Liliana's Edict effect.  I can see the deck running some copies of Davriel but I am not sure it can accommodate a full playset.  That said maybe 12-Rack can be thing and the sheer volume of Rack effects makes it worthwhile.

Dreadhorde Invasion
Dreadhorde Invasion
Dreadhorde Invasion is somewhat akin to Bitterblossom but unfortunately significantly worse in most circumstances.  At least initially Invasion gives you a 1/1 Zombie token, however, after that it just grows the token, which can be good but generally isn't as good as giving you another token.  It's still potentially good in Zombie deck as a perpetual threat but I think Bitterblossom seems better in most scenarios.

The Elderspell
The Elderspell
A cheap and powerful planeswalker removal spell.  If a future exists where multi-planeswalker decks exist then this could become a card to come back to.

Eternal Taskmaster
Eternal Taskmaster
Eternal Taskmaster gives Zombie decks a new two-drop option.  It competes with Relentless Dead in that slot though and probably isn't quite as good most of the time.  It's possible there might be room for both cards though.  Certainly being able to restock on your Geralf's Messengers and similar cards is a nice ability to have.

God-Eternal Bontu
God-Eternal Bontu
Potentially a huge draw engine but the cost in terms of mana and permanents seems like it would Bontu back from being a powerful card in Modern.  That said, it's still a substantial creature and one that can draw you a ton of cards if you have enough permanents you are willing to sacrifice.

Lazotep Reaver
Lazotep Reaver
Two-mana for two bodies is a sweet deal.  With a new Blood Artist on the scene this could be a solid companion for a sacrifice-themed deck.

Liliana's Triumph
Liliana's Triumph
Diabolic Edict is not in Modern but it appears we won't be seeing it in Modern Horizons as Liliana's Triumph is strictly better.  Liliana's Triumph does not target so it cannot be prevented with a Leyline of Sanctity or similar shenanigans.  Also, with Liliana in her various guises being one of the most popular planeswalkers in Modern the additional instant-speed discard option is far more likely to be relevant than on the other cards in this cycle.

I don't think the power of this card should be overstated.  It is not superior to one-mana removal like Fatal Push and non-targeted removal is a disadvantage in various situations.  That said it is still a powerful removal spell with considerable upside and is awesome against Bogles to boot.

Spark Harvest
Spark Harvest
A one-mana creature and planeswalker killer is insane, sadly it's not quite that simple.  However, in a deck with a sacrifice theme this could be a solid removal spell with a tasty planeswalker killing upside.

Red

Bolt Bend
Bolt Bend
This card is worth mentioning as it is akin to Stubborn Denial and so could be playable in Death's Shadow or Hollow One decks as a would be counterspell.  It is less reliable though - sometimes you will come off better than a counterspell (such as redirecting a removal spell onto an opponent's creature)  and sometimes you will come off worse (you cannot redirect a spell if there are no other valid targets).

Dreadhorde Arcanist
Dreadhorde Arcanist
This card seems pretty insane on its surface.  Whenever Dreadhorde Arcanist attacks you can cast a one-mana spell from your graveyard for free.  It's sort of a repeat Snapcaster Mage provided it survives to the attack step.  It does die to most removal and won't give you any value if you don't attack with it but that is true of a lot of creatures in the format.  As such the main drawback is that you have to send the Arcanist into the red zone to benefit from its effect.  As a 1/3 it has a reasonable chance of surviving combat but sending Dreadhorde Arcanist into a waiting Tarmogoyf or something similar seems less than ideal. 

It's not clear where the Arcanist's home would be in Modern.  It would be very solid in Burn but that is a very tight list and it's hard to see it being better than Eidolon of the Great Revel.  It could also go into Izzet Phoenix or other cantrip heavy decks to flashback the cantrips but again it runs up against stiff competition.  I was very high on this card when I first saw it but the more I think about it the more I feel like it is destined to underwhelm.  I remain cautiously optimistic but I think it might be blocked out of Modern play by superior options in the decks that are most likely to want it.

Finale of Promise
Finale of Promise
This card comes hot on the heels of Electrodominance, which was one of the more influential cards from the last set.  Finale of Promise seems extremely powerful in Modern and I think it's a card that is going to make a real impact.  The card is surprisingly generously worded, allowing you to cast an instant and/or sorcery (meaning you are not required to have two targets which would make it restrictive) and you can cast spells with CMC X or less, meaning you can cast with X=2 and cast a 2-mana instant and a 1-mana sorcery or vice versa.

Primarily you want to be looking at casting low casting cost spells to keep the mana cost efficient.  Finale can cast Suspend spells, such as Ancestral Vision and Living End, or any one-mana spell, such as Lava Spike, Lightning Bolt and Opt

It could easily become the 3-mana spell of choice for burn decks as it potentially deals 6 or more damage.  It is also a mighty enabler for Arclight Phoenix, not that it really needed it, as you cast three spells just off this one card once it resolves with two targets.  The main hindrance to the card is that graveyard hate is very popular at the moment and Finale is a dead card if your opponent has a Rest in Peace or Leyline of the Void in play.

Ilharg, the Raze-Boar
Ilharg, the Raze-Boar
The boar god is a dominating threat with a Through the Breach-type ability.  It's actually a potential playable in a reanimator-style deck as a Through the Breach style threat.  The lack of haste is certainly the worst thing but a 6/6 trampler for 5-mana is still a great deal.

I was playing Hollow End recently which ran Urabrask as a top-end threat in the event the combo plan failed.  I wasn't happy with it but Ilharg could provide a superior option for that deck in the same vein.

Mizzium Tank
Mizzium Tank
Mizzium Tank is an aggressive vehicle that fits into the mold of Monastery Swiftspear and Kiln Fiend.  It's hard to see it seeing out other options in the format but it's still well-powered and the trample means you don't have to completely clear the way to push through a kill.

Neheb, Dreadhorde Champion
Neheb, Dreadhorde Champion
Neheb has some tasty stats and the ability once it hits is pretty insane - a mass draw effect coupled with a ritual effect to let you cast the spells you draw straight away.  I have to say I am not sure precisely sure what shell you would put Neheb in but it could be devastating.  Izzet Phoenix, Storm and Burn seem like the decks that are most likely to be able to take advantage of his ability.  I think the trouble is that you are potentially waiting up to Turn 5 before you get to hit anyone with Neheb, at which point your hand might be considerably diminished and the effect considerably weaker.  Neheb is probably a bit to expensive and slow for Modern but could be a fun card to mess around with.

Green

Arboreal Grazer
Arboreal Grazer
This card has received some attention from Amulet Titan players.  The one-drop provides a substantial body with a one-off effect that can let them stick a bounceland on turn 1 or just other ramp up from the start of the game.  It competes with Sakura-Tribe Scout for its slot, which is a better long-term play but provides no value if it is removed before you can activate its ability.  It's a new option for the deck and one that Amulet players may want to take up.

Awakening of Vitu-Ghazi
Awakening of Vitu-Ghazi
There has been some talk about combining this card with Inkmoth Nexus, which combined with its existing ability gives you a 10/10 flying infect creature for a one-hit kill.  The instant-speed certainly makes this a card that could make a kill out of nowhere but the steep price the main concern here.  That said, even without Infect, making a 9/9 at instant speed is huge and potentially game winning.  This card has some potential if you can bring yourself to be casting 5-mana spells in Modern.

Bond of Flourishing
Bond of Flourishing
Could this end up being our Ancient Stirrings substitute if it ends up getting banned?  I discussed the possible ban at length in my last article, Bond is broader in its scope of cards to select from but sees fewer cards and is an extra mana as well.  The life gain isn't irrelevant but it's a far from a perfect solution.  A solid card but there are better options available in Modern currently.

Evolution Sage
Evolution Sage
Evolution Sage is one of the cheapest sources of repeatable Proliferate, which seems like it could be very abusable.  Seemingly in the right setup this card could be pretty busted.  Proliferate has a number of uses in Modern - it can add additional +1/+1 counters, increasing the number of poison counters an opponent has or power up your Planeswalkers' loyalty among other things.  Sage could do some crazy things alongside a card like Hardened Scales or could be a finisher for an Infect deck as a way of dealing indirect way of poisoning the opponent.

Finale of Devastation
Finale of Devastation
Finale of Devastation is the fixed version of Green Sun's Zenith, which is banned in Modern.  Green Sun's Zenith was banned a long-time ago in Modern for being just too versatile a tutor effect, being able to find a Dryad Arbor. Wild Nacatl or Primeval Titan.  An extra mana in the cost certainly changes a lot but Finale of Devastation remains a very good card.  The question is whether it is better than the other available options. such as Chord of Calling and Collected Company which are instant-speed.  While it doesn't have the instant speed it is capable of tutoring up creatures of any colour (unlike Zenith) and can return creatures from the graveyard rather than the library in the event that is relevant.

I think Vizier Combo decks with be interested in this card, particularly as pouring infinite mana into it is a win condition in itself as it will make your creatures infinitely large to attack and kill the opponent.  Having a win condition and a tutor in one package seems like a handy thing to have but I appreciate that instant speed a very relevant thing to be giving up.

God-Eternal Rhonas
God-Eternal Rhonas
Rhonas makes one hell of an impact when it lands doubling the power of each creature you control.  In the right set up, this could be a devastating deathblow.  However, I think at 5-mana and with the general quality of removal available in Modern it's probably not overly playable in the format.  It feels like it would fit best in Elves but doubling the power of 1/1s is not too exciting unless you already have Ezuri pumping your guys, but in that case you don't really need Rhonas.

Return to Nature
Return to Nature
A superior Naturalize that has an added graveyard aspect.  A versatile sideboard card that tackles multiple potential threats.

Nissa's Triumph
Nissa's Triumph
Modern Belcher is one of my favourite rogue decks of the past and this card seems perfect for it.  It's unlikely to make it substantially better but it does provide a faster way to pull lands out of the deck which is a key part of getting a Belcher kill.

Vivien's Arkbow
Vivien's Arkbow
Vivien's Arkbow is potentially extremely powerful provided you can pour a decent amount of mana into it.  It also allows you to drop creatures into play at instant-speed, much like an AEther Vial.  That said the additional cost of discarding a card is very relevant and the chances of missing on lower values of X is quite high.  It certainly has potential but I think it's a difficult card to build around successfully given the resources you need to activate it.

END OF PART 1

That's all for this article!  I hope you have enjoyed this look at the mono-coloured cards in War of the Spark in Modern.  Please join me for the second part of this article where I cast my attention to the multi-coloured, colourless and land cards in the set.

Let me know if there are any cards you think I missed or that you are excited about in the comments below.

Thanks for reading,

Oliver Law (olaw on MTGO)