One of the cool new signatures of War of the Spark is Amass. Amass is a somewhat counterintuitive (but potentially exciting) new way to play Magic. When you Amass, you either create an Army (a kind of Zombie token) or you make an existing Army bigger. What's kind of weird about it all is that if I were talking about making Armies I would think I could have more than one token working, but Amass just makes the one bigger and bigger. As far as I can tell you'll not often have multiple Armies on your side (though it is possible), even though - to me anyway - "Army" smells go-wide rather than go-tall. Not quite a flavor fail, but like I said, counterintuitive.
Vorthos Flavor Victory: Herald of the Dreadhorde
He's a herald, get it?
When Herald of the Dreadhorde dies, the Army of the Dreadhorde shows up, due to the Amass mechanic. Flavor, see? Name meets function, all of it.
Well not entirely all: No one is mistaking this card for Constructed Staple material. But I do appreciate its aesthetic.
But is there an Amass / Army card that plays like Herald of the Dreadhorde, but maybe with a little more playability? What about...
8. Grim Initiate
Hunted Witness is a 1/1 vanilla creature that leaves behind a 1/1 White Soldier with lifelink. A 1/1 Soldier with lifelink is much better than the average random 1/1 Zombie Army... But you're not playing the Grim Initiate to only ever end up with the 1/1.
This is a cheap, low curve, card that can give you fodder for scratching your Aristocrats itch; or bodies to rumble in the Red Zone for when Judith, the Scourge Diva wants to get the party started.
Not for nothing: The Hunted Witness might leave behind an on-average better token; but Grim Initiate will kill both the Witness and its Soldier leave-behind without giving up a single point to lifelink. The Initiate itself is a better 1/1 than the Witness.
But is it good enough?
A 1/1 first striker for one mana in Red is not exactly something we've seen burning down any formats in the past... But that extra death value is something that has historically produced well for the White analogs... And this creature is in a linear.
I think there is value in just getting a body down early, getting a few shots in, and then opening the door to your first Army. Many of the even more exciting cards down this list can add to its size and combat efficacy later; so just having an Army - any Army at all - can serve as a kind of pseudo-haste for a future, bigger, one.
7. Toll of the Invasion
Voodoo | Mirage Block Constructed| Mark Justice, 2nd Place Pro Tour Paris 1997
- Enchantments (1)
- 1 Necromancy
- Artifacts (1)
- 1 Snake Basket
Now granted this was twenty-two years ago, but Mark Justice finished second in the first foreign Pro Tour ever with four copies of Coercion in the main of his Rakdos "Voodoo" deck. Coercion has been at least a card in consideration for many formats... At least until they started to give us one mana options like the contemporary Duress, Thoughtseize, or Inquisition of Kozilek.
Toll of the Invasion challenges us with a different model. This is a card that does something we generally want - one-for-one discard, with no real limitations - and gets the Army started.
Is an Army worth a card? A 1/1 Army might not be worth a card; if a 1/1 is not worth a card, a +1/+1 counter certainly isn't. But tacked onto a card that would otherwise be close to good enough? I think it is, in fact, pretty close. This one is not a slam dunk like the next card on this list (and almost every one thereafter), but I do think that a deck that wants to make an Army might want it, especially out of the side.
Perhaps more importantly for a shifting metagame: Not only can Toll of the Invasion rip a Planeswalker out of the opponent's hand, it can make a body to attack one later... Perhaps vital in creature- and creature removal-poor matchups.
6. Enter the God-Eternals
Bituminous Blast could Cascade into another Cascade card (say a Bloodbraid Elf) or another card advantage card (say a Blightning), sure; but it could also flip over a Terminate that had no target or a late-game Rampant Growth, too.
Bituminous Blast was a superstar in both Block and especially Standard.
Enter the God-Eternals is similarly costed: five mana.
The "fail state" version of this card reads as follows:
- Deal four to a target.
- Gain four life.
- Mill for four (could be yourself)
- MAKE A 4/4!
The crappy version deals four, gains four, and makes a 4/4! How spectacular is that? Compare that output to the much-hyped future cosplay centerpiece: Massacre Girl.
I think Enter the God-Eternals is better more often, personally. JUST a deal-four-Drain-for-four would warrant a second look at five mana (folks have paid six for this without complaint); the additional value of a 4/4 Zombie Army is like an absolutely crazy extra. I assume you're Milling yourself but that's beside the four points.
5. Dreadhorde Invasion
Some of you might be scratching your heads at this.
Only fifth among all Amass cards? I have this higher among all cards!
Well for one thing: I'm not writing purely on likely deck design value; I'm writing on excitement. And while Dreadhorde Invasion is unquestionably powerful, it doesn't quite measure up to Bitterblossom. It is also far less exciting than some of the next few.
Amassing an Army every turn isn't quite making a 1/1 flyer. That sentence might be obvious to you, but think about the practical applications a moment. If your opponent, say, plays Pacifism on an Army, you'll just keep making it bigger and bigger (while losing life) rather than spreading across the board laterally like you would with the awesome blossom. Even if you got more tokens every turn, they wouldn't fly.
Clearly the card has some meaningful potential power to it... It's just not the format-defining 2-drop that many people have immediately compared it to.
That lifelink clause though... If you can get that online; now that might be exciting! Just try to get multiple Zombie tokens above 6 power though. See? Less exciting already.
4. Lazotep Plating
- It can "counter" Banefire. Let me repeat that: IT CAN COUNTER BANEFIRE! Not literally, of course; but it can functionally "Negate" a Banefire, despite that card being un-counter-able. It's one of the only cards in the format (or ever) to be able to brag about this.
- You get a 1/1 Zombie, minimum. This is some Toll of the Invasion level math. It's not "just" that you get a Negate for the cost of a Negate: You get a Negate and an Army for that cost. Over the years that War of the Spark is legal in Standard, there may be no more consistent source of Armies than this card.
- You don't actually have to have something on the stack. That's right! You can just give yourself (and / or your guys) Hexproof on demand. That means that you can initiate an Army for no other reason than you would like one on your opponent's end step. Should the opponent be frightened of a 1/1 Zombie? Maybe (are they at one?); maybe not. But simply making a 1/1 isn't what the Amass linear is about. The Blue "flash" here should bring a grin to some faces. Faking haste is a thing, especially if you can make a giant attacker come your own next attack step. How might you do that... ?
3. Invade the City
I'm not 100% on how this card should be rated. But it seems comparable to an Enigma Drake on both casting cost and card power. Enigma Drake is a tournament Staple with an entire archetype named after it. This is a potential "Enigma Drake" that you can go and get with your Augur of Bolas.
Now an Enigma Drake can get bigger and bigger over the course of a game while Invade the City's base size is going to be fixed once (unless modified by other Amass cards). So that, in addition to not flying will be points in favor of Enigma Drake. But an Enigma Drake will only ever have four toughness while you can set up an Invade the City to live through a Lava Coil from the start.
I think most importantly - and most excitingly - you can make a truly enormous Army with this card; or if you already have an Army (thanks to some seemingly innocuous Hexproof on the opponent's end step) you can smash them post-Invade the City. You can Invade the City with Dreadhorde Invasion already in play for the big life swing. You can start the ball rolling with a 1/1 Lazotep Plating at the end of the opponent's turn to get them with a big Fireball-like effect (especially hot if you have two copies of Lazotep Plating). This card can play solid; it can play synergy; it can give your Grixis Control deck a Combo-Control vibe like a pair of Splinter Twins or a couple of Upheavals (if you grok).
2. Widespread Brutality
The worst case on this card is to make a 2/2 Zombie Army and Pyroclasm [for two] for four mana. That isn't bad. In isolation it will often feel quite good (Selesnya Tokens, anyone?) It will sometimes be worse than Ritual of Soot... But often just better.
Thankfully, this card will not be pegged at its worst rate only. Much like Invade the City, Widespread Brutality can ride having an Army already in play - potentially an attacker if you started the turn with one - to a much bigger Wrath-type effect. For example a mere 2/2 Zombie Army is going to give you a Languish-type effect for a Languish-level cost.... And leave a 4/4! Isn't that much, much more effective than Massacre Girl? How about the fact that you will often be able to attack with the aforementioned 4/4, immediately? Exciting! Yeah?
This card, alone, is one of the biggest incentives to playing multiple Amass cards; it won't, of course, be alone in your lists.
1. Commence the Endgame
Let me tell you a story.
A few years ago I decided I wanted, after about a decade, to try my hand on the Pro Tour again. In 2006 I was the New York State Champion, coming off my best individual Pro Tour performance (had it been an individual event I would have made Top 8), and a seemingly endless stream of tournament-effective deck ideas. The next weekend my second child was born.
It's not that I never tried; but with two kids along with everything else I certainly wasn't focused on getting back on the Pro Tour.
Anyway a decade-ish later, the PPTQ / RPTQ format had come out, and I could at least try to ladder up without the prohibitive travel historically required to try to grind back onto the Pro Tour. I could just show up at a local card shop to win a PPTQ and see what happened next. So I won my first PPTQ.
At that point, I practiced with the greatest focus of my entire life. I got permission to try something I had been talking about for basically decades. "It's really hard to qualify in New York," I always used to say. "What if I travel somewhere else to try to qualify?"
So I flew out to Utah, hanging out with friends like Jack Stanton and Aaron Muranaka (and fellow East Coaster Chris "Meddling Mage" Pikula) for the weekend.
After round one, I was 0-1.
"Oh spit," I said to myself. "Did I really spend HOW MUCH money to fly across the country, take a weekend off of my family, to play a goofball Dragons-theme deck and 0-2 against Mono-Red? What was I thinking?"
I got my head straight after that 0-1, fought back to Top 8 position. Six hours later, I had finished the tournament in first place... And got a write up for the most creative deck of the season on the Mothership!
At the ensuing Pro Tour, I even had my best individual effort ever. I like to say that I was one missed Eidolon of the Great Revels trigger from Top 8, though that's not exactly true. I like to say it though, because it's kind of true. Also I have never missed an Eidolon trigger since.
The deck I played the Utah weekend ran this card:
For six mana, I would get an un-counter-able card draw spell if and only if I had a Dragon in play or in hand. I can tell you I lost a tight game to Temur in the Swiss (game but not match) to not having the Dragon, despite having double-digit Dragons in my deck and sideboard.
But now they give me this?
They even stuck a picture of Magic's most famous Dragon on it!
I was already loose for Amass cards. This card has an even greater ceiling than Dragonlord's Prerogative. Not only is it always Negate-proof, it - by itself - realizes the main focus of my Dragon deck. Can you imagine? End of your turn draw two and make a 9/9? That is a realistic play now! Put another way, would I trade two of the four Dragonlord's Prerogatives for an uncounterable fatty and a Lotus-like effect to get it down? Can I say "yes" any faster?
Not that it has to be a 9/9 to be good. It can be a 5/5 and be good. It can be a 6/6. You just drew two cards as well? Who is complaining? It can be a 2/2 and still be fantastic (especially since you can buff your Army with other Amass cards on your own turn).
As with every other card in this list, Commence the Endgame potentially stacks with... every other card in this list.
Commence the Endgame costs six. Invade the City and Widespread Brutality together cost seven. That is a hell of a one-two (or one-two-three) chain and an utterly believable sequence. You will kill one hundred Carnage Tyrants and swing for your opponent's life total more often than you are currently imagining.
The Spike in me is happy to go Johnny this is so clever; to go Timmy it's all so powerful. All so g-d exciting.