Unless you’re a hermit crab busily finding a new rock to hide yourself under, then you’ll know that War of the Spark has loomed into full view, burning a Planeswalker-shaped hole into our retinas.
If you’re anything like me (best to keep it secret if you are) then you’ll have been addicted to the story lead reveals, keeping your eyes peeled for the next big thing to fit your tribe.
For tribal players, finding a new on-type card that is competitively playable is like trying to fetch your house keys out of a jar of salt and razor wire, then pouring lemon and tequila on the wounds. For every good card spoiled that isn’t on-type, you know two things.
One, you can’t play it. And two, it’ll be smacking you upside the head from the other side of the table.
Whether you’re playing Elves, Goblins, Spirits, Merfolk, or Vampires, I have just the article for you!
Elves currently see play in Vintage, Legacy and Pauper. For now they only see fringe play in Modern – the classic ramp into Crater – “Hoof there it is!” – Behemoth is significantly better when you have access to Glimpse of Nature, Sylvan Library and Quirion Ranger – but we all have our fingers crossed for Modern Horizons.
Whether Paradise Druid will see play in Legacy Elves or not rather depends on how useful hexproof becomes.
“Bolt the Bird” has been the motto of control players since time immemorial; hexproof means you’ll get at least one activation. But it comes at an awkward cost. 2-mana misses the Llanowar Elves et al. turn two 3-mana play. It would almost be better at 3-mana with more durable stats. Legacy Elves plays so many one drop mana-producers that I think they’ll give this a pass – all these work so much better with Glimpse of Nature.
Standard’s pace is a few turns slower.
It is entirely possible not to draw your Llanowar Elves and therefore need a consistent turn two play like Paradise Druid. There are now six 2-mana Elves that tap for mana, as well as multiple elves that search for lands. Beast Whisperer and Vanquisher’s Banner do their best impression of Glimpse of Nature to provide ramping targets. The edible pansy on top of this Botanical G&T is that End-Raze Runners is a poor man’s Standard-safe Craterhoof Behemoth. With the right configuration, I could see a slower version of the Legacy deck compete in Standard.
Finale of Devastation
I’m particularly excited by Finale of Devastation, rated by many to be one of the best cards from WAR [Editor’s note – including Paul Palmer, in his rundown of the best WAR cards for your Commander deck].
Tutoring for toolbox 1-offs and then crashing through for the win at the right time will allow Elf decks to really sing, giving BO1 decks flexibility and BO3 decks consistency.
Vivien, Champion of the Wilds
Obviously, we couldn’t talk about War of the Spark without talking about Planeswalkers. Tribes don’t use Planeswalkers often, but with so much mana Standard Elves could reasonably take advantage of them, especially in a Standard environment where everyone else will likely be taking turns off to play them too.
Vivien gives Paradise Druid vigilance when it matters and gives it the chance to abuse Blanchwood Armor. But it also offers all your creatures the ability to dodge sweepers, land on end-step and immediately tap for mana.
Ajani, the Greathearted
Right now Standard has enough mana fixing and elves-matters cards with White and red splashes, or blue and black that you could take Elves in a variety of directions. I think Ajani could be an excellent hedge against aggressive decks; giving you a chance to stabilise before turning the corner, putting counters on every mana dork out and suddenly raising a huge, vigilant elfhorde.
Although Pollenbright Druid is a common, I imagine its impact on the Pauper scene will be like blossom falling on the forest floor – silent. It has some interaction with Elvish Vanguard, but unless you put counters on something else then the ability will read like so much blank text.
Neither do counters matter in Standard. Not yet anyway. Disappointingly, Elvish Clancaller, End-Raze Forerunners and Vanquisher’s Banner don’t interact with proliferate at all. Its opportunity to shine might be in EDH where access to multiple Wirewood Symbiote effects allow you to bounce it back to your hand for repeated triggers. Great in decks like Rishkar, Peema Renegade or Yeva, Nature’s Herald.
Speaking of repeatable proliferation, Evolution Sage is the sort of build-around-me card that gets the EDH deck building juices flowing. It’s not Legendary, so it has to work as part of the team.
Given the huge amount of mana elves can generate it might be possible to lean on counter- rather than anthem-effects to benefit from proliferation in Standard – though its hard to call if this will be the winning design. My personal take is that a Red Green, or White Green deck that is dedicated to either Banefire kills or End-Raze Runner combos respectively, will be the more consistent in Standard. But Scapeshift is inexplicably legal in Standard right now so… go brew!
Goblins are competitive in all Eternal formats to a greater or lesser extent.
I even have success with these happy-go-lucky greenskins on Arena. Whenever I want to hurl cards at the opponent’s face and get in the red zone as often as possible without being a netdecker, I pick up my Goblins deck.
Krenko, Tin Street Kingpin
Krenko is already a legend in EDH circles. Though very similar to several other 3-mana rabble makers, Goblin Rabblemaster seems to be the default and Legion Warboss didn’t dethrone it. Being the kingpin of Tin Street, might count for very little outside of Ravnica, I’m afraid. Unless Mox Amber makes this cheap Legendary creature valuable enough, I doubt Krenko will upseat Rabblemaster.
The potential combo with Collision // Colossus, is where this card shines in Standard and is my new favourite Alpha threat. It’s so much more explosive than Legion Warboss. If you generate a bunch of tokens over a couple of turns you can combine it with Skirk Prospector and Banefire to win the game out of nowhere.
Domri, Anarch of Bolas
During Ravnica Allegiance, there was some talk of Goblins splashing Black for Gruesome Menagerie and Judith, the Scourge Diva. But after lots of testing, I found Rhythm of the Wild and Cindervines much more important against bad match ups. On top of those great sideboard cards, Domri, Chaos Bringer became Gruul Smash incarnate. Every time I resolved Domri on Arena, I thought “why don’t I splash out on another mythic wildcard?”! The benefit to Goblins cannot be overstated. Domri, Chaos Bringer helped grind, ramp and smash! What more do you want!
Now that WAR is here, Domri, Anarch of Bolas does an even better job than Rhythm of Wild, giving you mana the turn you cast it, and activating Mox Amber (my pet card). The dream is Skirk Prospector turn 1, land drop, Domri, Mox Amber, with two mana open for whatever you want. That’s 5-mana to spend on turn 2!
Goblin Assault Team
Goblins are fast.
Leveraging Skirk Prospector to shoot for the dome with something like Banefire, you can swing turn four, for lethal. Despite haste, Goblin Assault Team is too slow. This will definitely not see play outside of Standard, but even then, 4-mana is a lot when the very best Goblins are just 3-mana. And Goblin Chainwhirler this is not.
Over the last year Spirits has become one of the biggest decks in Modern. Since Core 19 saw the printing of a second 2-mana lord (who do they think they are? Merfolk?), the combination of pressure, evasion, cheap interactive creatures and Supreme Verdict-crushing Spell Queller has made Spirits a powerful force.
Whether you play UW or Bant Spirits, Dovin’s Veto is a powerful upgrade on Negate. Yes, it doesn’t hit creatures, but let’s be honest, most creatures are either cheated into play via Arclight Phoenix and friends, or they play Cavern of Souls or Aether Vial and wag their finger at your Unified Wills.
No, Dovin’s Veto is for the counter-war. It’s for the Storm player that has thought of every eventuality. It’s for the control player that has back up counters for their Supreme Verdict as they think they can play around Spell Queller. Dovin’s Veto allows you to have the last word. You’re already hexproof’d up the bedsheets. You don’t need more protection against spot removal, you need answers to combos: they can’t Pact of Negation this. Dovin’s Veto allows you to maintain your board state and keep applying pressure.
For anyone on my Instagram you’ll already have seen when I saw Grateful Apparition I nearly threw my phone out the window. It’s not because this is good, because it’s not. It’s because this desperately needed to be merfolk. I saw the new Gaea’s Skyfolk first and loved it. OK, I thought, it’s not competitive, but its on tribe. It could be great in a Tropical Merfolk EDH deck.
Then I saw this.
The proliferate is not a mana activation, which is a downside if that mana activation is 1-2 colourless mana (hello, Training Grounds). But when the activation is 5-mana in two colours, a combat trigger looks ridiculously good by comparison. Standard Tropical Merfolk needs this right now. Deeproot Elite is no Champion of the Parish but with this, Merfolk could get out of hand quickly. Win-more always looks so good but is actually useless.
But what are Spirits going to proliferate in Modern? I know I play Anafenza as a ninth and tenth lord, but that is because I am a mad maverick. Merfolk on the other hand have just had a slew of great but deckless green merfolk printed that are looking for a home. I’ve dubbed this hypothetical deck “Hardened Scales folk”, mainly for the flavour but also, why should a bunch of artifacts get to use Hardened Scales and not fish?
Sorin’s Thirst might help make Spirits a thing in Standard (I sincerely hope so and will be putting my wildcards where my mouth is). Pestilent Spirit gives this deathtouch without needing to splash Red, which means you could build an Esper Spirits deck with excellent removal with at least eight lords and Ethereal Absolution or Radiant Destiny or… both? Favourable Winds might even be better. Let’s make this happen!
I wanted to make an honourable mention of Vampires. Vampires are not at the top tables in Modern, Legacy or Vintage. But I have two vampire decks on Arena right now and Cruel Celebrant might be the card that helps push this tribe into competitive Standard.
Vampires have an abundance of token generation and there are so many ways to sacrifice creatures for benefit it’s impossible to list them all. Even chump blocking with lifelinkers might set off enough triggers to drain opponents of their will to “Resolve all”.
Merfolk are currently seeing a renaissance, with many successful results thanks to Merfolk Trickster, Mistcaller and most recently Benthic “Ben” Biomancer. In Legacy and Vintage, Merfolk Trickster has replaced Harbinger of the Tides as flexible creature interaction, capable of shutting down aggressive attacks (ruining Goyro’s Vengeance) as well as dodging sorcery speed sweepers. In Modern, the meteoric-apocalypse of the meta upon the arrival of Arclight Phoenix has been met by Merfolk plays with a cool shrug, thanks to Mistcaller. While everyone else has had to scratch their heads to find new answers (Surgical Extraction, apparently) Merfolk have Stayed Calm and Carried On.
WAR has not been kind to Merfolking players, but a UU version of Smuggler’s Copter might become useful with Master of Waves. The Crew cost seems to give a nod to this application. The worst thing about this card is that Islandwalk has fallen out of favour with the mothership and yet for Merfolk Players it is an integral part of the “fish” identity. As a result, the Submersible is disastrously off flavour-wise and can be blocked by anything.
Vivien has very quickly become the Planeswalker of choice for creature-based decks. Everything with her name on it seems to really benefit tribal strategies one way or another. Vivien’s Arkbow is no different. It’s not as powerful as Aether Vial, but what is?
But imagine this: late game, when you need to draw a creature – anything to put anything on the board – and you draw ANOTHER land. We’ve all been there. You’re flooding out and your blood very nearly boils as your friend points out the irony of a merfolk deck flooding. But Vivien’s bow gives you an opportunity. Ditch the land, then sink all your mana into the bow. You dig four or five deep and stick Zegana on their end-step (do it properly!). Then on your turn you’ve got the extra mana to adapt and out of nowhere hit them for 8 to close the game!
This might be Standard’s equivalent of Aether Vial and I am super excited to give it a try in a Tropical version of Standard Merfolk.
Narset’s Reversal is quite possibly one of the most powerful cards spoiled from WAR. For Tribal decks, this is like a Spell Queller and a Redirect rolled up in one. No, it’s not going to stop Supreme Verdict, but it will stop Banefire, Cyclonic Rift, Path to Exile, Scapeshift or Summoner’s Pact to name just a few. I think this could become a staple in Mono Blue Tempo, if it survives Blast Zone filling up the meta. I also think it might make Merfolk decks: siding this in with Vivien’s Arkbow for the control match ups will make every Chemister’s Insight or Nexus of Fate a risky move, and bow makes grinding that little bit easier.
Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner
Kiora and her pet was the second kick in the teeth for Merfolk players in WAR. Kiora’s Dambreaker is the weediest Leviathan I have ever seen. Leviathans should be like Arixmethes, colossal creatures so big they could be islands. The Real Slinn Voda, showed how merfolk could act as pilot fish to the Leviathan’s Shark. But Dambreaker is no Jaws.
As a merfolk player, Kiora herself is a huge disappointment.
I get it – Kiora is a “Sea Monster matters” Planeswalker.
But in all other iterations, Kiora has given merfolk players card advantage or ramp, strengthening our archetype with Sea Monsters as a topper. She worked in either EDH or spicy Tropical Fish builds on theme. But this version is a lazy amalgam of Kiora’s Follower and Colossal Majesty – which is already Standard legal.
Forget what the Professor says, he may be a merfolk player and we might love Kiora, but this card is not going to help Merfolk decks. The untap ability can be powerful, and yes, 7 loyalty is a lot of activations. It can untap Vivien’s Bow, Itlimoc, Cradle of the Sun, Aether Vial and Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx. But the triggered ability is so hard to trigger in merfolk. You need two lords out and by then you’re already winning.
I’m off to check out some zombies. Update: read what I dug up here!. Let me know in the comments what tribes you’re brewing!
Editor: if you want more on the lure of tribal, and a run down of what to consider in your build, take a look at Just What is a Tribe Anyway?