Two Weeks In: War of the Spark Tech Review

It’s been half a month since War of the Spark went live on Magic Online, and we’re already seeing the myriad effects it’s having on Modern—heck, on all non-rotating formats. But of course, being Modern Nexus, we’ll focus on just the one!

While I enjoy the Friday writing slot, it occasionally has its detriments. In this case, other content creators have gotten to the Online decklists first, and mostly covered the breakout decks. They’ve understandably omitted some of the finer details, or smaller tech updates to existing strategies. We’ll cover those and a few under-the-radar brews in today’s piece.

Standout War Decks

For those of you not up on their reading, yesterday’s article from Adam Yurchick does a great job of reviewing the new strategies that have Modern buzzing. They are, in list form:

  • Coretapper Control
  • Mono-Red Prison
  • Mono-White Legends
  • Niv-Mizzet Reborn
  • Finale Vizier*
  • Finale Phoenix*
  • Immense Arcanist
  • UW Narset*
  • Pitch Blue
  • Time Raveler Tempo*
  • Vivian Pod*

The decks marked with an asterisk denote strategies that have not quite proven themselves yet, or aren’t so different from existing decks in Modern. I’ve still included them in the list so as not to omit anything from Yurchick’s piece.

Pitch Blue strikes me as the most exciting deck in the collection, wielding both Disrupting Shoal and Day’s Undoing alongside Narset, Parter of Veils to refill on cards while stripping opponents of their resources. You’re welcome, Modern Nexus readers!

Finally, two higher-profile strategies from War are Neoform Griselbrand and a new spin on UW Control featuring the Teferi-Knowledge Pool combo. I don’t think the former is close to as format-warping as early pundits always seem to claim when a new combo deck rolls around, and the latter seems to me like a worse version of straight UW Control, although 1-2 Pool could become a solid tech option should the deck, for some reason, decide it wants 4 Teferi, Time Raveler at some point in the future.

Tech Updates

While less flashy, the subtle tech upgrades received by many existing Modern decks are just as critical to the metagame’s new shape. Blast Zone stands out as the most splashable War card, finding its way into Mono-Red Prison, Dredge, GR Eldrazi, and UW Control among the less obvious homes. And Izzet Phoenix continues its apparent cooldown, putting a single copy in the most recent Modern event’s high placings and occupying a mere 4 slots in the last Challenge’s Top 32. Innovation hasn’t totally escaped that deck, either, with some lists adopting Finale of Promise and others running Dovin, Hand of Control in the sideboard.

Ashiok, Dream Render as Multi-Purpose Role Player

I slammed the new walkers as being pulled in too many strategic directions to see much competitive play, and continue to eat my foot as case-in-point example Ashiok, Dream Render continuously pops up in blue decks. Its two abilities are apparently relevant enough in Modern that combining them makes it a potent tool for many matchups.

Grixis Shadow, by ANDREAS_MUELLER (6th, Modern Challenge #11861754)

Creatures (15)
Death’s Shadow
Gurmag Angler
Snapcaster Mage
Street Wraith

Artifacts (4)
Mishra’s Bauble

Instants (16)
Dismember
Fatal Push
Lightning Bolt
Stubborn Denial
Temur Battle Rage
Thought Scour

Sorceries (8)
Faithless Looting
Inquisition of Kozilek
Serum Visions
Thoughtseize

Lands (77)
Blood Crypt
Bloodstained Mire
Island
Polluted Delta
Scalding Tarn
Steam Vents
Swamp
Watery Grave
60 Cards
Sideboard (15)
Ashiok, Dream Render
Fatal Push
Abrade
Ceremonious Rejection
Collective Brutality
Disdainful Stroke
Kolaghan’s Command
Ravenous Trap
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UW Midrange, by GODS_SHADOW (8th, Modern Challenge #11861754)

Creatures (6)
Snapcaster Mage
Vendilion Clique

Planeswalkers (6)
Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Teferi, Hero of Dominaria
Teferi, Time Raveler

Enchantments (4)
Detention Sphere
Search for Azcanta

Instants (12)
Cryptic Command
Logic Knot
Path to Exile
Spell Snare

Sorceries (6)
Oust
Serum Visions

Lands (26)
Blast Zone
Celestial Colonnade
Field of Ruin
Flooded Strand
Ghost Quarter
Glacial Fortress
Hallowed Fountain
Island
Plains
Sideboard (15)
Ashiok, Dream Render
Dovin’s Veto
Gideon of the Trials
Rest in Peace
Stony Silence
Supreme Verdict
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A repeatable Tormod’s Crypt is nothing to sneeze at against graveyard decks, and Ashiok even boasts self-mill capabilities, as the exile clause only affects opponents. But the real winner is its static ability, which affects most Modern decks by virtue of everyone utilizing searching; the decks without fetchlands tend to be digging up critical components like Urza’s Mine anyway.

Neoform, but Not for Griselbrand

While Neoform’s loudest applications thus far have been with the 7/7, the card is starting to pop up in different shells.

Neoform Vizier, by ZIPPIESTBARD (5-0)

Creatures (27)
Birds of Paradise
Devoted Druid
Duskwatch Recruiter
Eternal Witness
Ezuri, Renegade Leader
Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy
Llanowar Elves
Noble Hierarch
Scavenging Ooze
Shalai, Voice of Plenty
Tireless Tracker
Vizier of Remedies
Walking Ballista

Planeswalkers (1)
Vivien, Champion of the Wilds

Sorceries (12)
Eldritch Evolution
Neoform
Postmortem Lunge

Lands (20)
Breeding Pool
Dryad Arbor
Forest
Horizon Canopy
Misty Rainforest
Plains
Razorverge Thicket
Temple Garden
Windswept Heath
Sideboard (15)
Burrenton Forge-Tender
Chameleon Colossus
Deputy of Detention
Eidolon of Rhetoric
Path to Exile
Reflector Mage
Unified Will
Worship
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Eldritch Evolution and Postmortem Lunge are no strangers to Vizier combo, as they both put combo pieces into play. But generally, they are run in smaller numbers alongside sets of Chord of Calling or Collected Company. Neoform Vizier maxes out on each sorcery and supplements them with Neoform, an Eldritch Evolution that’s one critical mana cheaper.

That mana’s a game-changer when it comes to casting multiple spells in a turn. Neoform can tribute a creature to search up a combo piece, then pilots can cast Lunge their tributed creature with the spare mana to go off early. This play is also possible with Eldritch, and even works with multiple creatures of the same mana cost in that case. But as it costs more, it’s slower to execute. In any case, the Postmortem plan becomes hyper-reliable with so many functional evolutions in the deck, so maxing out on each piece makes sense at this stage in the deckbuilding process.

UG Evolve, by CAVEDAN (5-0)

Creatures (29)
Cloudfin Raptor
Experiment One
Pelt Collector
Young Wolf
Sidisi’s Faithful
Strangleroot Geist
Voice of Resurgence
Avatar of the Resolute
Deputy of Detention
Evolution Sage
Renegade Rallier

Instants (6)
Pongify
Rapid Hybridization

Sorceries (4)
Neoform

Lands (21)
Botanical Sanctum
Breeding Pool
Dryad Arbor
Forest
Hallowed Fountain
Horizon Canopy
Misty Rainforest
Temple Garden
Windswept Heath
Sideboard (15)
Aven Mindcensor
Damping Sphere
Eidolon of Rhetoric
Evolutionary Leap
Gaddock Teeg
Geist of Saint Traft
Kataki, War’s Wage
Knight of Autumn
Lavinia, Azorius Renegade
Path to Exile
Reflector Mage
Scavenging Ooze
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From the man who brought us the Niv-Mizzet Reborn deck mentioned above comes UG Evolve, a strategy format newcomers have wanted to work for as long as I can remember. The only War creature here is Evolution Sage, which increases the counter count on controlled creatures. Evolve’s other buggers either come down cheap and grow larger as the board develops, or create large bodies to enable the evolving threats. Undying creatures work especially well for this, including honorary Undying creature Voice of Resurgence, and especially alongside Pongify to blow them up at will and net a beefy 3/3 in the process. Following Raptor with Young Wolf and hitting Wolf with Pongify, for instance, grows Raptor to 3 power for its first attack.

The new set primarily contributes to Evolve via Neoform, which unlike similar cards such as Eldritch Evolution, is cheap enough at two mana to wield aggressively. Instead of trading creatures for a 3/3, as Pongify does, Neoform chains them into in-deck creatures, giving the deck a toolbox aspect and helping it access Evolution Sage. This new piece of tech may be what the deck needed to at last become a solid Tier 3 contender in Modern.

Meta Slayers

We’re also seeing some decks that take advantage of the direction Modern’s metagame has been heading lately by employing surgical plans of attack.

Just Two Goyfs for Me, Thanks

Zoo is far from a new strategy in Modern, but it doesn’t have close to the pedigree it used to. JUANPABLOALCALDE had something to say about Zoo’s fall from grace, fleshing out a suite of Wild Nacatls with some of Modern’s most potent hosers, tension with Tarmogoyf be damned.

Antimeta Zoo, by JUANPABLOALCALDE (5-0)

Creatures (22)
Wild Nacatl
Narnam Renegade
Grim Lavamancer
Eidolon of the Great Revel
Tarmogoyf
Magus of the Moon
Knight of Autumn

Artifacts (5)
Relic of Progenitus
Smuggler’s Copter

Instants (8)
Dromoka’s Command
Lightning Bolt

Sorceries (5)
Tribal Flames
Declaration in Stone

Lands (21)
Arid Mesa
Blood Crypt
Dryad Arbor
Forest
Mountain
Plains
Sacred Foundry
Steam Vents
Stomping Ground
Temple Garden
Windswept Heath
Wooded Foothills
Sideboard (15)
Knight of Autumn
Magus of the Moon
Relic of Progenitus
Ancient Grudge
Burrenton Forge-Tender
Gaddock Teeg
Ravenous Trap
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Two Goyfs in a Zoo deck? What cruel brew is this? Anitmeta Zoo prefers to disrupt opponents with hosers than rely extensively on the sheer bulk of Tarmogoyf. It still includes the beater in some capacity; there are few better ways to chase a deceased Wild Nacatl, after all, and Antimeta Zoo runs plenty of card types to keep the Lhurgoyf nice and large. But it’s got different priorities, its two-drop slot occupied by other beasts.

In today’s metagame, that beast is Eidolon of the Great Revel. Hosing myriad combo decks as well as the established top dog, Izzet Phoenix, Eidolon puts the hurt on anyone chaining cantrips. Grim Lavamancer is also run at 4 here, providing free wins against small creature decks. Magus of the Moon rounds out the disruptive creature suite by punishing greedy manabases and Tron. Should these creatures prove ineffective in a given matchup, they can be looted away to Smuggler’s Copter, or else used to crew the vehicle.

Besides Tribal Flames making an appearance as a closer and removal spell, Antimeta Zoo packs Declaration in Stone, a good indication that its pilot knew what he wanted to beat. Kitchen Finks, Prized Amalgam, and Arclight Phoenix are all great targets for the instant, and Declaration makes sense over Path given the deck’s many Moon effects.

…And Keep Your Fetchlands, Too

As Modern’s cardpool increases, players discover new color combinations that can work. Fatal Push, for example, enabled midrange and control decks outside of red or white, the other colors housing cheap removal options. This next deck takes that principle to the extreme, making the case that blue already has all the tools it could need.

Mono-Blue Thing, by BENNYHILLZ (5-0)

Creatures (8)
Thing in the Ice
Snapcaster Mage

Enchantments (3)
Spreading Seas

Instants (21)
Cryptic Command
Logic Knot
Mana Leak
Opt
Remand
Spell Pierce
Spell Snare
Surgical Extraction
Thought Scour
Unsummon

Sorceries (6)
Serum Visions
Set Adrift

Lands (22)
Blast Zone
Field of Ruin
17 Island
Sideboard (15)
Surgical Extraction
Ceremonious Rejection
Devastation Tide
Dispel
Hurkyl’s Recall
Negate
Tormod’s Crypt
Vedalken Shackles
Vendilion Clique
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BENNYHILLZ is known as one of UW Control’s earliest proponents, and here he re-invents the wheel again with Mono-Blue Thing. His is a control deck ditching traditional sweepers for the creature that single-handedly allows Izzet Phoenix to tangle with other creature decks, and swapping out fancy manlands for a full set of Blast Zone. The above list marks BENNYHILLZ’s second published 5-0 on this list.

The biggest drawback to mono-blue has always been its lack of removal options; we’ve seen URx, URx, and UWx succeed in Modern for this reason. But between Thing in the Ice and Blast Zone, Mono-Blue Thing has plenty of ways to answer even swarms of ground units. Out of the sideboard, Vedalken Shackles becomes another reliable option to turn the creature matchup on its head and reward players for investing so thoroughly in basic Island. Before all those engines come online, Set Adrift and the decidedly unexciting Unsummon (chosen over Vapor Snag for its applications with one’s own Snapcasters) do in a pinch.

New Harvests in Modern

The format had congealed around Phoenix and Dredge before War dropped, but all that seems to be changing now. Not only have new brews and tech choices surfaced, the metagame as a whole seems to be shaking out differently. Here’s hoping it never stops surprising us!

4 thoughts on “Two Weeks In: War of the Spark Tech Review

  1. In the neoform vizier combo piece you state that “Neoform can tribute Devoted Druid to tutor up Vizier”. Isn’t it so that neoform can only find creatures with cmc+1?

  2. So I got a chance to sleeve up the U/G evolve deck with only mild changes for a local event (mainly I stretched the Mana a bit further to support winding constrictor), and I think the deck might be fairly legit. A couple games I had variants of t1 experiment one, turn 2 voice, turn 3 experiment one, Neoform voice into rallier get back voice, which leaves you with two 3/3 experiments, a voice, a 5/5 elemental, and a 4/3 rallier on turn 3. And that’s not really an insane ask/start for the deck.

    1. This sounds par for the course when it comes to current Modern aggro decks—Hollow One, Vengevine, and Humans routinely pump out similar boards at that speed. Which is good news for the Neoform deck! It means it can hang with the big boys. We’ll see over time if it’s as consistent as the format’s other aggro strategies 🙂

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