As previews pour in, my excitement for War of the Spark soars!
I find myself scouring through the card list early on, looking for powerful common and uncommon removal, disruption, and card draw to add to the control family in Standard. Usually I am disappointed in that department, but not this time, as there's an abundance of card advantage options in Standard already, so that wasn't the highest priority on the docket. The addition of Absorb rocked the balance of the format, somehow singlehandedly making Mono-Red Aggro a good matchup for control decks. There's a slight upgrade to Negate in Dovin's Veto, but countermagic is just fine without new toys from War of the Spark.
The removal package that control has access to in Standard does not disappoint. Prior to rotation, I wrote sonnets dedicated to the power of Cast Down. Calling a removal spell "as good as Doom Blade" is a bold statement, but I'm happy to announce that it held water. Cast Down is where we want to be in the black-based control world, while other colors are still figuring out which combination is most effective in the early-game. Even though we basically have Doom Blade in Standard, I'll never turn down supplemental options.
Liliana's Triumph has received much praise from the SCG team for good reason. Adding a Diabolic Edict effect is just what the doctor ordered for certain matchups. There have been mediocre imitators, but we need the real deal to stick around for a bit. With Liliana's Triumph added to the Esper Control team, Cast Down receives some welcome assistance. Although black is the removal king for control, red isn't too shabby either. Lava Coil is a card that will see increased play, especially from this veteran spellslinger.
I have been eyeing other control shells outside of Esper just to be sure nothing is being missed, and Teferi, Time Raveler has reopened the Jeskai Control gates for me as another possibility in the new Standard format. This was made possible by the addition of Time Wipe and Solar Blaze, both of which are potential replacements for Kaya's Wrath in alternative deck choices outside of Esper Control. Still, there must be some new win condition that would assist Niv-Mizzet, Parun in the early-game, which may have just been previewed to us.
Do not let the masses sway you on this card, my friends. Control decks will have to incorporate creatures in this new, post-War of the Spark world we live in. Due to Time Wipe being an option, decks that opt for it over Kaya's Wrath will expand their control shell to the world of powerful creatures. God-Eternal Kefnet is one powerful possibility. Normally I would get this powerful soldier into Esper Control right off the bat, but I'm confident that Kaya's Wrath isn't going anywhere in my favorite shard. This leaves Jeskai Control as a possible home for this new wave of creatures that belong to the control family.
There were some key missing elements that pushed Jeskai Control down on the tier spectrum. Not only are those pieces present in this upcoming set, but they're strong enough to change the control balance. Before these previews, Esper Control was the clear top dog of the format, not just the control realm. With the addition of the following cards, I am at a loss on what to build:
I can't remember the last set that had this many gems for the control coffers. It's a wonderful problem to have, incentivizing me to brew on a wider scale than I have in quite some time. Typically, I will see the cards that immediately boost the current control kingpin, but that isn't the direction I'll go with War of the Spark. I want to focus on God-Eternal Kefnet as a possible boost to the win condition department of control decks, specifically Jeskai Control.
Jeskai Control already has its eyes on upgrades to its sweepers, the early-game, the planeswalker package, and removal. God-Eternal Kefnet doesn't fit the mold on what I typically look for from a new set to boost control, but it's so unique in design that the rule must be broken here. The obvious trait that will draw me to a creature like this is the card advantage attached. The main ability allows us to reveal the first card drawn, and if it's an Instant or sorcery, put a copy on the stack for two less mana. Copying spells has always been a strong effect, but this may take the cake for Standard power level.
The most interesting aspect of the unique God-Eternal Kefnet ability is that it works on your turn or the opponent's turn. Usually cards like this limit abilities to the draw step, but we are entering new territory. The design of this card and many others is phenomenal, making this one of my favorite Constructed sets in recent memory. I was hyped for the Azorius and Orzhov guilds to arrive last time around; however, they fell flat in terms of options provided for control. War of the Spark will have me brewing shell after shell, trying to find the perfect fit for these one-of-a-kind cards that we are seeing.
The spells we're copying can be devastating for our opponents, regardless of matchup. Control and midrange opponents do not want to see card draw spells copied at a discount rate, nor can they handle the onslaught of a high-power, evasion creature. Against aggressive opponents, copying removal spells for a fraction of the cost is also quite strong. From the Jeskai Control shell, casting a revealed Ral's Outburst for two mana would sicken the average player, but even a Time Wipe for three mana can lead to a devastating turn.
Due to the wording, powerful sorcery spells can be cast on the opponent's turn as well. This can be achieved by a cheap cantrip like Opt or casually in the late-game with Chemister's Insight. With Teferi, Time Raveler and now God-Eternal Kefnet, casting sorcery spells on the opponent's turn will become commonplace. This does not bode well for our enemies and I look forward to applying the pressure with this new and improved blue God.
The body of God-Eternal Kefnet is also impressive. One big issue with Seraph of the Scales is how puny the toughness was. If it were five like God-Eternal Kefnet, it would have seen more play in control decks. This mythic has the evasion, strong body, card advantage ability, and durability that we demand in creatures that have the privilege of joining the team. God-Eternal Kefnet is one of the most difficult win conditions to remove that we've seen. If our opponents aren't playing blue, good luck!
This allows an easy one-of copy in our control decks to start, maybe increasing the number in the sideboard if they play out as well as I hope. Jeskai Control could make a comeback in War of the Spark Standard on the back of new creatures as support and win conditions.
The gameplay for this deck will change with the release of War of the Spark. Augur of Bolas will be integral to handing the wielder low-cost spells, while offering its services as a defender in combat. Search for Azcanta is still the preferred play against non-aggro decks, but this is a wonderful addition that gives Jeskai Control six outs for glory. Once these cheap stall cards dig their heels in, the countermagic will present itself on the third turn. This is typical for control decks in Standard now, having either a counterspell or a removal spell plus a tapped shockland. Turn 4 is where it gets interesting.
The wisest Izzet Dragon hasn't gone anywhere and is about to awake from its hibernation. Niv-MIzzet, Parun is still just as powerful, ending games swiftly upon resolution if no answer is immediately deployed. It was a four-of world in the Standard of old, but Ral's Outburst allows three copies to do the trick. Having additional ways to dig for the win condition gives us the opportunity to maximize our non-instant/sorcery count.
Missing with Augur of Bolas is going to be a reality we must accept but it's not the end of the world. Jeskai Control has enough card advantage ammunition at its fingertips to bounce back from an Augur of Bolas embarrassment. God-Eternal Kefnet will only absorb one slot in the maindeck for now, allowing us to still maximize our instant and sorcery spells in Jeskai Control. The success of Augur of Bolas; God-Eternal Kefnet; Teferi, Time Raveler; and Niv-Mizzet, Parun all depend on a high instant/sorcery count. I'm excited to play with the numbers once the set is fully revealed to ensure smooth gameplay from these sweet new cards.
With all the power coming from this set, it's very difficult to settle on a strategy. Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God; Angrath's Rampage; and many Izzet staples from Jeskai Control can join forces to make Grixis Control an option in War of the Spark Standard. I didn't write about Grixis Control in this piece because it is third on my list, but not too far off from second. Grixis Control has been close to viable for so long, and War of the Spark could be the savior for the archetype. There are a lot of scary cards out there to amplify Esper, Jeskai, and Grixis Control, making the world a dangerous place for those who are not on our side.