There’s a lot of great cards in War of the Spark. Thirty-six all new planeswalkers, mechanical complexity not seen arguably since the days of Time Spiral, and high powered cards abound have excitement levels to an all-time high. For Pauper, we’re getting the first set with some stronger than normal common cards and boy does it show!
While I’m skipping some of the cards that come across as more blatant draft chaff, there’s still plenty of cards to discuss, and certainly more than I’ve discussed in the last few sets. War of the Spark has tons to offer so let’s jump right in!
Normally I wouldn’t look twice at this card. It’s overcosted and doesn’t do a whole ton. With Tron being a player in the format currently, particularly in a prominently White version, I’m inclined to give it some more thought. 6 mana isn’t much when you’ve got Tron lands and the massive life swing and big butt make it a huge boon against aggressive decks. You can also use Ghostly Flicker with it for some wild value, almost ensuring you never want to bother with Fangren Marauder variants ever again.
I saw a few people talking about this card so I feel inclined to discuss it, but it doesn’t seem as interesting as it would be in formats where you can clone it numerous times. If you’re able to drop three by turn two then yes, it’s not a bad deal, but if you’re looking for that kind of power why not just play Stompy?
This card is really interesting. While we’ve seen a select amount of damage redirection abilities, it’s never really been on this scale before. The fact that this takes all damage to everything on your side for a single turn and throws it all at one creature is pretty big game. Throwing this on Guardian of the Guildpact (note that this card says “choose” and not “target”) can nullify entire attacks or burn spells. I don’t expect Gideon's Sacrifice to make huge waves or anything, but it’s almost certainly going to show up every now and again.
For the most part, this card is pretty boring. Hill Giant with vigilance in White isn’t exactly something I’m over the moon excited about or anything. That said, a solid body and giving your whole team vigilance for the turn is a solid rate. It’s probably just a bit too pricey for the format, but is a neat top end option for lists that might want it.
Makeshift Battalion is a really sweet card. Obviously calling back to Gatecrash’s Battalion mechanic, this is already a reasonable rate as a 3/2 for 3 mana. Couple that with the fact that often times you’ll be attacking with at least two other creatures in a lot of weenie decks thanks to the likes of Raise the Alarm and a 4/3 for three looks a lot better. Weenie decks don’t usually want much in the top end unless it’s something like Ramosian Rally, but this one could be good enough to make the cut on sheer power level alone.
This is the first card we’re seeing in this review with Proliferate on it. I’ll be honest: most of the cards with this mechanic don’t really excite me much. Unlike other formats where many uncommons, rares, and mythics use a variety of counters you can multiply, Pauper doesn’t have all that much. Even +1/+1 counters are pretty rare, making it an effect that will often have little to no impact on the game overall.
Tapping permanents randomly isn’t something we normally see. Usually these abilities are Blue or else they just tap creatures if they’re in White. As such, the versatility here is great, especially since it draws you a card and can destroy artifacts. In the worst case, since it’s an instant you can use it on an already tapped creature in Mono-White Heroic, so it could have potential there, but I’m unsure it could be quite viable for other decks based on what we currently have.
In Limited, this trusty companion is excellent. A White Wind Drake that jumps your other creatures in the air? Yes please! In Pauper, however, the rate is probably still too slow when you consider the similar Pegasus Courier sees no play. However, this card does have more power, which makes the potential at the very least there, even if it doesn’t quite make it.
Speaking of Wind Drakes, this bird is pretty much an actual Wind Drake but with the upside of making another creature. Amass is really sweet and this card is a great example why. Eldrazi Skyspawner already sees some play and this card is already better if only in the sense of the power it puts on the board. Unlike the Skyspawner, however, this creature dies to Pyroblast and the token can’t be sacrificed for mana. As such it isn’t necessarily strictly better but it’s definitely great to have the option for various metagames.
Did you ever think we’d get a 1/1 Man-O'-War for 2 mana? I sure didn’t, but that’s exactly what Callous Dismissal is. It may be fighting for slots with the likes of Vapor Snag and Snap, especially being sorcery speed, but it’s a really powerful card that gets even better with recursion using cards like Mnemonic Wall and Archaeomancer. I definitely expect this one to show up.
Cheaper sorcery speed Steady Progress is great, but probably won’t do much currently. The rate is fantastic and in the worst case it’s just a two-mana cantrip. Watch out for this one as we get more higher power cards in the future.
A Miscalculation or Quench for 4 mana seems pretty bad at first glance, but getting a guaranteed creature as part of the deal is fantastic. Couple this with Flicker decks or Devious Cover-Up Control decks and you have yourself a win condition.
Making creatures into tiny Thanos frogs is great. Curse of Chains and Narcolepsy have seen play in Delver decks and this fills a similar role. While it doesn’t tap the creatures down, it makes big creatures weak and creatures with abilities worthless. If you put a Curse on a Wellwisher or Timberwatch Elf, they can still use the abilities in response to the aura’s trigger going on the stack. That’s not the case here and will shut it off completely. As such, I expect Kasmina's Transmutation will see play in specific metas but not be a regular staple.
Unless you really want their creature exiled, playing this over Exclude is just wrong. Most decks don’t even play a full four of that so this is going to be a pass from me.
On its face, this card doesn’t seem like much. It’s effectively a Hill Giant in spell form, but the fact that you can loop it with Ghostly Flicker shenanigans means you turn it into a regular source of damage for your opponents to deal with.
Elusive Spellfist, is that you? Flying isn’t quite unblockable, but it’s the next best thing and the rate is certainly solid. As unlikely as it may be, it’s entirely possible we see a new shell around both of them together. We’ve already seen variations of Dimir Delver that use Spellfist to benefit off the myriad of free spells in the deck, after all, so this just seems like the next logical step to try with that package.
I want this card to be good enough, but it probably isn’t. Just play Mnemonic Wall and be done with it.
Unblockable spells are always great, especially for Izzet Blitz. Putting some extra counters down as well seems like some solid value. Distortion Strike doesn’t see play, so I’m unsure on this but I like the idea. Taking a Kiln Fiend out of Lightning Bolt range while giving a power boost and unblockable in the process seems mighty tempting and if nothing else is worth trying out.
This card is just a functional reprint of Foresee. That card saw play rarely so now if you do find yourself wanting to have the effect, you have your choice of that card or this one.
I have only three words for this card: hello Acid Trip. Otherworldly Journey already existed in White, but that explicitly targets creatures. This hits anything, including Reality Acid, making for some excellent shenanigans.
Normally I wouldn’t look twice at a card with these stats for Pauper, but the ability is pretty sweet, allowing the Drake to get gigantic fast. It’s still almost certainly too slow for the format in its current state, but it’s a cool build around option for all the brewers out there.
Remember when I said Barrier of Bones seemed like one of the coolest cards for Pauper out of Guilds of Ravnica? Well here we are again, this time in Blue. The difference with the ol Wall of Text is that this card has 4 toughness as opposed to the Barrier’s three. That means this wall survives Lightning Bolts, making it a more versatile blocker to stonewall aggressive decks. As long as Blue has access to Augur of Bolas, I feel this card won’t be played very much if at all, but it’s a great addition to the color’s suite of options available to it.
Banehound was one of those cards that made people go “wow this set is pushed for commons.” I’d be looking at this card a bit more eagerly if it had deathtouch, but as is it doesn’t seem too exciting for current Black builds. I hope it does, though, because this hound just seems too neat to pass up on.
We’ve certainly seen cards like Kaya's Ghostform before, but not really as an aura at this rate. One-time effects like Supernatural Stamina were the norm before, and this having staying power and the ability to return it from the graveyard more easily in Orzhov lists is quite enticing. It’s not quite as good in Pauper since the planeswalker line isn’t relevant like it is in other formats where this card becomes much better, but it’s still worth checking out.
A Squire is unexciting in any color but stapling a free additional creature to it is effectively a ? for 3 which IS a great deal. In Zombies it’s really sweet too as it fuels up your Shepherd of Rot activations that much faster.
Now here’s some spice! Black has always had amazing removal in its colors but it struggled on one specific front: getting rid of creatures in its own colors. You can’t kill a Gurmag Angler with premium spells like Doom Blade, Victim of Night, or Snuff Out, surprising as that may seem. This will definitely see play in all kinds of Black decks in some capacity to deal with the biggest fish around and any other creatures those decks struggle to take down.
This card is basically a strictly better Bone Splinters in that you can opt to pay the extra mana if you don’t have a creature or otherwise don’t want to sacrifice it. Given that Bone Splinters already sees some very fringe play from time to time, I could see this making an occasional appearance in some decks.
Spark Reaper is an engine card. We don’t see many of these in Pauper and we actually got a few in this set! Golgari and Rakdos Aristocrats decks have already been seeing a bit of a rise in popularity and this could be great there. Zombies also doesn’t necessarily mind sacrificing creatures a lot of the time and it has some trouble drawing extra cards so a couple of these would likely be very welcome.
This is basically a giant Phyrexian Rager. That card is great because it’s cheap and a good rate whereas this one is very costly. Tron decks might like it for extra card draw or even just general Black decks for a top end play, but I expect it’s not good enough in either scenario.
A three-mana Thoughtseize generally won’t cut it, but getting a creature out of the deal is an interesting deal. I imagine it’s unlikely to make it still, but it’s a neat option for otherwise creatureless control decks all the same.
We’ve had plenty of cards with this kind of effect on them before and none saw play. I think this has a better stats-to-costs ratio than past ones, which is why I’m even bringing the card up at all, but by and large I think it’s just not good enough.
Red Aristocrats decks have been popping up and this is a sweet creature to feed up on. If it was just the sacrifice ability I wouldn’t look at this card twice, but first strike is some sweet gravy that makes this a great package for a good rate.
Burning Prophet fits in the same category as creatures like Kiln Fiend or Nivix Cyclops. It might not give quite as much power to your creature, but instead it sets up your draws for the best play possible. People have talked about the possibility of it since it was spoiled. Personally, I’m a bit hesitant on it, but then we’ve seen cards like Spellweaver Eternal show up before so there’s definitely a chance with this one.
I wouldn’t normally talk about actual vanilla 2/2s for 2 mana, but I feel obliged to mention this one just on the grounds that it’s a goblin. We haven’t seen an actual Grizzly Bear goblin yet, so this has some possible use for Goblins. Yes, it’s boring and not as good as among Conscripts or Goblin Cohort, but these stats don’t come often, so it could see play yet.
A 1/1 first striker for 1 mana is already an absolute steal. We haven’t seen a creature at that rate in Res hardly ever, if at all. The fact that it also spits out a creature when it dies is just that much better.
Red Deck Wins already sometimes runs Reckless Abandon to help close out games. One extra mana for instant speed can be all the difference sometimes, but being able to throw it at your opponent for a guaranteed easy kill is too good to pass on.
Tormenting Voice is rarely good enough in Pauper, but getting a creature with it is great. I’m not quite sure it’s worth the extra mana to get a creature that small, though, so while it’s neat, I think it’s one I’ll pass on most of the time.
Magma Jet hitting players and scenting deeper is just going to be better in most scenarios, but the three damage here is worth checking out for hitting creatures. Still, I’ll likely leave the excitement over its power level for Limited most of the time.
It’s Kronch time! Three-mana for a 4/3 is just a fantastic deal most of the time. Even if you need to attack with another creature to bring it in for that damage, there’s plenty of options at your disposal. At the absolute worst it can actually block on its own.
Laxa Axe is not that great, let’s be real, but instant speed gives at the very least a little more reason to like this card, even if it’s still incredibly overcosted.
This is a great creature provided you can chain off a number of spells very quickly. Blitz style decks may want this as a backup creature as it gets out of hand fast in that kind of deck, even if it doesn’t give quite the same level of power boost as the other creatures in that deck.
Arboreal Grazer is actually great. People read this at first (myself included) and said “we already have Elvish Pioneer, so why would we want this card when that already sees no play? The key difference is this card does any land, not just basics. This means you can put in your dual lands, Evolving Wilds, Terramorphic Expanse, Bojuka Bog, and of course your Urza lands. I certainly think it’ll see some play though not as much as I’d like.
Normally I wouldn’t think this kind of card is great. The rate is decent but the effect is somewhat medium. That is until you realize that most creatures in the Pauper format have only 2 power or less. Once you realize that, this creature looks at the very least a little more enticing for something like Stompy.
Fight effects can be great but the fact that this both doesn’t have your opponent’s creature deal damage back and you have two creatures deal damage means this can take down some of the biggest baddest guys around. Stompy may like this over Epic Confrontation, but 3 mana vs two is a big deal.
The rate on this creature is nuts. 4 mana for a 4/4 is great but still, what is effectively vanilla in Pauper isn’t likely where we want to be a lot of the time.
Centaur Nurturer doesn’t seem that great on its face. What makes it interesting is the whole package. Good for blocking against aggro, ramps you, and gains you some life in the process. I don’t think this will be played much, but it seems like it has potential.
Unlike most Proliferate cards, this one seems great for the likes of Stompy. Between Skarrgan Pit-Skulk and Hunger of the Howlpack, it’s not hard to put four or more counters onto your board. It might still be a bit too expensive but is a good rate for ending games.
Pollenbright Druid’s strength is in its versatility but for the most part right now that’s not going to be good enough. Courage in Crisis’s strength is in the fact that at the very least it gives 2 power onto the board. So, it does this in a way, but pumping rather than putting a fresh creature down seems like a big difference. I don’t see this showing up at least now but has future potential.
Naturalize effects have always been good in Pauper. Generally, you’ll still want Gleeful Sabotage or Natural State over this, but the extra versatility of being able to hit problem cards out of graveyards in a pinch makes this extra useful. It won’t be the new gold standard but will show up here and there in some lists.
Netcaster Spider and Deadly Recluse have shown up from time to time in the format for various reasons, usually as a meta call of sorts. Snarespinner acts like a happy medium of sorts between the two. It survives small creatures better than Deadly Recluse and costs less than Netcaster Spider, which is often overkill considering you don’t need much more than three damage to kill most fliers in the format. With a focus on Delvers, Mulldrifters, and Kor Skyfishers, I could absolutely see this showing up where the others haven’t been able to take off quite as much.
Normally what’s largely a French vanilla beatstick doesn’t lend well to playability, but giving trample to everything when it lands has potential play for some decks. I wouldn’t expect this much, but having it as an option in the toolbox is always excellent.
In case you missed it, I wrote a whole article last week on this card. While you can find my more in-depth thoughts on the card there, I’ll TL;DR it here by saying that I’m almost positive it’ll be played in Elves in some capacity and is a notable enough of an engine that it brings new possibilities to many Green decks across the field.
This is another card like Prophetic Prism, Alchemist's Vial, and Ichor Wellspring. I think it’s marginally good and will never see play as a full four-of, rather being limited to a one-of if you really need that extra fixing. There’s potential for Affinity, however, as the deck historically has a lot of trouble fixing its mana, but Prophetic Prism is always going to be better.
So, there you have it. Lots of cards that do lots of things for the format or else offer some sweet tools for Pauper’s repertoire. Ultimately, I foresee only a handful of true role players from the set, but we’ll still see some of these every now and again. You can absolutely expect to see Ob Nixilis's Cruelty, Vivien's Grizzly, and Arboreal Grazer quite a bit in the first few weeks, and I can only imagine which ones will stick the landing in the format for the long run.
This is an exciting time for Pauper especially with Modern Horizons being, well, right on the horizon. It comes in just over a month from now and there will be plenty more to talk about then. In the meantime, what commons are you most excited to jam in the coming weeks? War of the Spark has a ton to offer, after all, and there’s almost certainly something for you somewhere in this plethora of cards.