War of the Spark: A Standard Survival Guide by Kirsty McIntyre

A judge's guide to playing War of the Spark Standard penalty-free.

Narset, Parter of Veils (WAR)

We’re well and truly in the thick of War of the Spark Standard, and the unique nature of the set is presenting challenges.

Complex sets don’t just give the judges a lot to do on the day. Games with multiple judge calls, penalties and the time extensions needed to accommodate these also have an effect on player experience. There are far more opportunities to pick up a Game Rule Violation (GRV) for something innocuous than in a usual competitive environment – and with stakes as high as a potential spot in the Mythic Championship, the last thing you want is a game loss for an upgraded warning after a day of picking up penalties.

With some help from the judge programme, I’ve compiled a handy guide of things to watch out for in your Standard (and Limited) games, to ensure your tournament experience is as straightforward as possible – and to avoid putting yourself at a disadvantage through penalties.

Teferi, Time Raveler (WAR)

Planeswalker Static Abilities

Good news: Planeswalkers now have static abilities! This is causing no end of consternation, as it’s significantly upping the number of penalties for GRVs. Casting an instant speed card on your opponent’s turn while they have a Teferi, Time Raveler on the field for example will net you a GRV warning.

The issue is that as players we’re not used to having static abilities on Planeswalkers.

We’re used to looking at what loyalty they’re on and that’s about it. Creatures? Hell yeah, those things have had static abilities since Alpha. Planeswalkers? Not so much.

You’re allowed to make notes in-game, as you might have seen players doing when their opponent reveals cards in their hand. Writing down the Planeswalkers and a quick word to represent their ability (like TEFERI – SORCERY for Teferi, Time Raveler) can act as a memory aid. If it’s on the same page as your life totals you’ll likely be looking at them regularly, which will help it stick in your memory.

Narset, Parter of Veils (WAR)

Narset, Parter of Veils

The recent MCQs in Sheffield were the first events I’ve attended where the head judge has called out a specific card as being an issue in the announcements. It was Narset, Parter of Veils.

Narset, Parter of Veils is a problem.

The static ability – “Each opponent can’t draw more than one card each turn” – has tripped up more people in the past few weeks than any other single card in the time I’ve been playing.

The advice given by the judges was to verbally confirm every time you draw a card. Even if you’re the one controlling Narset, and therefore exempt from the restriction, announcing your draws helps your opponent to remember to do the same. It takes a bit of practise to get into the habit, but it’s worth it. You can also leave a die on top of your library – the visual reminder every time you go to draw will prevent you from accidentally seeing any cards in your library you shouldn’t!

Different face-down exile zones

Vivien, Champion of the Wilds (WAR)There are currently a lot of cards in Standard that exile cards face-down and then allow you to play them. Thief of Sanity and Vivien, Champion of the Wilds, for example, are seeing Standard play.

The problem is that every time one of these cards exiles another card, it’s tied only to the ability on the card that exiled it.

Which means, in theory, you could have three or four exile zones which are all tied only to certain cards. Trying to represent this on the board, particularly if you have three or four of these cards, can lead to confusion.

The most obvious way to get around this is the age-old trick of putting cards that have been exiled by a permanent underneath that permanent. Unfortunately this puts you right back to square one the moment that permanent leaves the battlefield. Using specific counters to mark which pile of cards was put face down by which permanent is useful – or if you want to be really precise, little labels with the name of the permanent on them.

Slow Play

Slow play is the hidden menace of this format.

The line between slow play and genuinely analysing the board state is a very, very thin one.

Generally the guidance issued is that 20-30 seconds without making a play is considered sufficient to issue a caution (usually in the form of “you need to make a decision), and anything further results in a warning for slow play.

The issue with this philosophy is that it doesn’t account for the format.

There are a lot intricate, interaction-heavy board states, and there’s a lot to try and keep on top of while you’re analysing what your best line is. The result is that slow play penalties are being given out with more frequency, and with the penalty for two Tournament Error infractions a game loss, you don’t want to be putting yourself at a disadvantage.

Unfortunately there’s no hard and fast method for avoiding slow play, other than trying to plan your turns ahead of time and being aware of how long you’re taking while you’re making decisions – but combine both of these and you should be able to avoid penalties.

It’s going to take time for people to acclimatise to the interactions in this new Standard environment. Most, if not all, of the frequent issues that come up can be solved by clear communication and verbal confirmation of triggers. Hopefully by being aware of some of the issues that occur over and over again at competitive events, you’ll be able to prevent yourself (and your opponent) from making any mistakes that will affect your day.

Happy spellslinging!

Editor’s note: thanks Kirsty, another useful article. Read more of Kirsty’s articles on developing a good gaming environment for all.

Tell us in the comments your own tips and tricks for playing penalty free.

For specific rules and judging queries, check out our dedicated Facebook group.

For more War of the Spark articles, read Oliver Law’s analysis of War of the Spark for Modern, and a-fish-ionado’s set review from a tribal perspective!

Remember you can order your War of the Spark singles and sealed here at Manaleak.com.

WAR Standard Survivial Guide
WAR Standard Survivial Guide
Kirsty McIntyre gives judge tips on how to play War of the Spark Standard penalty-free.
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