When a new set comes out, after looking at all the bling the set provides, I like to take a careful look at the commons and uncommons for the blue-collar workers. These are the cards you need to run in your decks so the superstars can do their thing. The cards that offer removal or protection or add mana to your deck; like I said, the blue-collar cards that open the way for the superstars to shine!
I thought I would take a look at a few of those cards in War of the Spark, see if there is something special tucked away that does the job just a little better than the cards that have come before!
I put Emergence Zone on the list more as a warning. Emergence Zone seems great. Everyone knows the value of flash in multiplayer. You can cast creatures before your turn to imitate haste. You can threaten a blocker from your hand. You can play out mass removal spells that are normally sorceries on opponents' turns. Things you shouldn't be able to do become far more dangerous with flash.
The issue with Emergence Zone is twofold. The first problem is the limited time offer. Your spells only get flash for that turn. Once you use it, the flash threat is gone. This means that it is essentially adding two mana to whatever spell you are planning to cast. This is rarely ever going to be the opening you were waiting for with twenty mana at your fingertips, casting multiple spells and crushing opponents.
The second issue is the cost. To some, it seems like it only costs one mana, but you have to tap the Emergence Zone, so that is another land that you can't use for mana, so it actually costs two. And even that isn't the true cost, since you are sacrificing Emergence Zone to use it. You are giving up a land and the mana that it could provide, for every turn of the game from that point on.
There are times when this is still a good idea for your deck, but keep the true cost in mind when you add it to your deck.
I am notoriously bad about including cards like this in my decks. I rarely have surprises and my decks are often victimized by a large creature assault. The idea of dumping all of the damage being dealt to you onto a token creature or planeswalker can give you extra turns your opponent was not expecting!
Something I'll be harping on with other cards in this list is flexibility. Initially, it doesn't seem like this card has any, but a closer look offers more. You can choose a creature or a planeswalker you control to take all the damage. So it isn't just offering up a single creature as a sacrifice. Perhaps you have a planeswalker sitting at one loyalty that isn't really doing anything anymore.
Gideon's Sacrifice also covers more than just combat damage. Blasphemous Act only kills one permanent, not every creature you've so carefully cultivated into a powerful force ready to strike. Gideon's Sacrifice is the White Fog no one was expecting. Unless your group is particularly old school and still runs Holy Day, in which case I tip my cap to you, for you know true joy.
There are some that dismiss this card, saying that it isn't ramp. I understand the concern, to a point. The idea the lands you get don't go to the battlefield is a strike against the card. For some the idea of ramp is that you are adding land at a rate greater than the single land drop per turn. I can understand the argument, but I don't necessarily agree with it. Nissa's Triumph guarantees you land drops for your next two turns. If you haven't made your land drop for this turn, now you can. So many are paying extra mana for cards that ramp, then don't have a mana the next turn to play. Having a land to play turn after turn is essential. Cards that ramp are important to a deck, but cards that simply put land in your hand have a place in your deck.
Nissa's Triumph definitely has a place in your deck. Ignoring the Nissa planeswalker text for a minute, you are adding two basic Forests to your hand for only two Green mana. This alone is simply great value. Nissa's Triumph and two Forests becomes a hand you should keep. Nissa's Triumph sets up your hand for the next couple of turns, no matter what you draw for those turns. At worst, you are looking at four Green mana on turn four, and that is the worst case scenario!
Now add a Nissa to the battlefield and this card becomes insane! Searching for any three lands means Strip Mine and Maze of Ith and Gaea's Cradle. It means dual lands and Kessig Wolf Run and Throne of the High City. Any three lands is a game changing play, if it isn't game ending!
The key to the card is to decide if it is good enough without Nissa joining the fray. You simply can't rely on Nissa being on the battlefield when you cast this card. You are often going to want to use it simply to get early lands into play and getting two Forests in your hand for only two mana is certainly good enough. Besides, why aren't you playing Exploration in your decks?
Kaya's Ghostform isn't exactly the typical ability you want in every deck, but between the cost and usefulness, it could become one! Enchant a planeswalker that doesn't have a way to add loyalty counters and suddenly you can use up the counters and it will come back with a full set! Put it on Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord and use his -X ability to get a creature back from the battlefield. When Sorin dies, Kaya's Ghostform returns him and you can do it again! It can also work as insurance when your planeswalker is sitting at one loyalty. An opponent could attack it, but you will only get it back with a full complement of loyalty counters!
It also works well for creatures with enter the battlefield triggers, as the creature comes right back! And this works whether the creature dies or is exiled, so those opponents who like to dodge the graveyard recursion don't save themselves from this, as Kaya's Ghostform brings the creature back from exile as well!
The real clincher for me with Kaya's Ghostform is the one Black mana cost. It is so inexpensive to do and offers so much protection it just makes sense to run it. I know that for creatures, Lightning Greaves and Swiftfoot Boots offer better protection, but the cost and flexibility, along with the enter the battlefield benefit, give Kaya's Ghostform an interesting edge!
Virtually everyone who sees this card thinks about how it will add a ton of loyalty counters to your planeswalkers. It is in Green where getting two land drops in a turn isn't exactly difficult or shocking. This may be the easiest way to get proliferate repeatedly on a single card. Obviously planeswalkers are going to love this card.
What about your Simic deck(s)? All those +1/+1 counters all over the place! Surely Evolution Sage can do amazing things there. Simic decks tend to draw cards through +1/+1 counters. They get more mana from creatures due to +1/+1 counters. They have ways to double the counters on a creature and proliferating before that happens is also a benefit.
What about thallids? Decks with -1/-1 counter themes? Infect decks? Evolution Sage may not belong in every Green deck, but it will be in most of mine!
Despark is obviously limited by the Orzhov cost of the card. That is why I'm not going to say that it should be in every deck. But I will say that if your deck can cast it, it should be in your deck!
It checks off every box! It only costs two mana! It is an instant, so you can wait until you absolutely must get rid of a permanent to use it. It exiles the permanent, so there will be no graveyard shenanigans to bring it back again. It targets a permanent! This isn't enchantment removal or planeswalker removal. This is anything removal! The only downside is that it only takes out permanents that cost at least four or more. So the limitation is restricted to only the permanents you most want to get rid of in a Commander game? Run this card!
Acidic Slime shows up in a LOT of decks that can run it because it is so flexible. Destroying an artifact, enchantment, or land is great, and it gives you a 2/2 deathtouch afterward to ward off evil Spirits, and other random creatures that don't fly.
Flexibility is great and it is part of the reason Return to Nature is so good. It offers everything Naturalize does, then tosses in the ability to exile a card from a graveyard as a freebie! When you stop and consider how many ways you have to deal with enchantments and graveyards in your decks, you are going to realize that you probably don't have enough. Given the way most metas are going, I would want at least eight different ways to handle these problems. Return to Nature isn't going to replace Acidic Slime in your decklists, but it doesn't have to. It is a flexible addition that should be replacing the last card in your deck.
War of the Spark is full of great commons and uncommons that can do the dirty work that needs to be done in your deck. Check the whole card list and see what else you may be looking for in your decks!