Meme or Meta: War of the Spark Edition

by Simon Nielsen on 29 May 2019, Wednesday

Simon Nielsen


I’m your host Simon Nielsen and today I’ll take you through the jungle that War of the Spark Standard has become. MTG Arena has lit a giant bonfire under the metagame development, and popular decks get switched out by the week. As always, I look into some new promising decks, play some games with them and determine whether they are memes or cutthroat metagame competitors.


Teferi, Time Raveler has proven to be an absolute staple of this format, which has created some weird wrinkles. For example the initial most powerful deck Simic Nexus has been driven out of the format and wild expensive sorceries can reign in a world where you are easily punished for playing counterspells.


This means that there are tons of sweet decks to dive into from the MCQs, Magic Online results and successful Arena decks that have been spread through Twitter. Seriously, if you are not already on Twitter, get an account. It has become the primary hub for Magic strategy. (And Magic drama too.)


Bant Vannifar


Will Erker’s Bant Vannifar”


4 Llanowar Elves

1 Incubation Druid

2 Fblthp, the Lost

4 Paradise Druid

2 Deputy of Detention

2 Knight of Autumn

2 District Guide

3 Militia Bugler

4 Prime Speaker Vannifar

4 Elite Guardmage

2 Spark Double

1 Shalai, Voice of Plenty

3 God-Eternal Oketra

1 Trostani Discordant

1 Tolsimir, Friend to Wolves

3 Neoform

2 Hinterland Harbor

4 Breeding Pool

1 Plains

1 Island

4 Forest

4 Temple Garden

1 Sunpetal Grove

4 Hallowed Fountain


3 Negate

1 Vivien, Champion of the Wilds

2 Vivien's Arkbow

3 Frilled Mystic

1 Disdainful Stroke

2 Teferi, Time Raveler

1 Kraul Harpooner

1 The Wanderer

1 Knight of Autumn


While Bant Midrange put two copies in the top 8 of SCG Richmond, Will Erker put together this different take on God-Eternal Oketra and took down his MCQ with it.


I found this approach to be very interesting compared to other attempts at making Prime Speaker Vannifar work I’ve seen in the past 4 months. Most of the creatures cantrip, ensuring that you can keep the steam flowing and find the solution to whichever situation you find yourself in.


This deck integrates God-Eternal Oketra so well that Vannifar almost seems like a plan B. Note that Spark Double can copy legendary creatures and have both stay in play. It’s rather unfair to your opponent to play with two Vannifars or two Oketras in play.


I decided to change Will’s deck a little bit and add an Incubation Druid to the maindeck. I think that sometimes it can be strong to have the option to get it with Neoform on turn 2 from a Llanowar Elves so that you have 6 mana on turn 3. I’ve done it against Simic Nexus for example so that I could both develop my board and keep up countermagic.


The deck struggles a lot against sweepers, so Esper Control is naturally the nightmare match-up. I also thought Simic Nexus would be quite tough, but I beat it both times I faced it. You can pretty easily get rid of all their enchantments turn after turn, and postboard you get a pseudo transformational sideboard plan.


I think the deck has game against most other decks, and it’s also quite a treat to pilot, but given the popularity of Esper Control right now, I can’t recommend this. However, this metagame fluctuates, and I can see spots in the future where you actually want to pick this one up over other Bant versions. As it stands though, I think we will often have too hostile metagames, or ones where this deck simply doesn’t go over the top enough, that my final verdict has to be a very close:




Command the Dreadhorde: The second coming of Rally the Ancestors?


Command the Dreadhorde stock list”


4 Merfolk Branchwalker

4 Wildgrowth Walker

4 Jadelight Ranger

2 Paradise Druid

2 Massacre Girl

4 Teferi, Time Raveler

2 Teferi, Hero of Dominaria

3 Vraska, Golgari Queen

4 Tamiyo, Collector of Tales

4 Command the Dreadhorde

1 Sunpetal Grove

2 Watery Grave

3 Hinterland Harbor

4 Woodland Cemetery

4 Interplanar Beacon

4 Overgrown Tomb

3 Temple Garden

1 Godless Shrine

1 Drowned Catacomb

3 Breeding Pool

1 Isolated Chapel


2 Cast Down

2 The Elderspell

2 Narset, Parter of Veils

2 Thrashing Brontodon

2 Ritual of Soot

3 Duress

2 Kraul Harpooner


This spicy number was brewed up by Ivan Floch and Stanislav Cifka, popularized by their roommate Ondrej Strasky. Essentially this deck aims to reanimate as much as possible with Command the Dreadhorde, fall to a low life total, but then gain it all back immediately through Wildgrowth Walker.


Teferi, Time Raveler makes sure your expensive sorcery resolves and even lets you cast it at instant speed. This one has shown to be one of the pillars of standard. Tamiyo, Collector of Tales lets you both dig for Command the Dreadhorde and conveniently fill up your graveyard. Even if the opponent manages to deal with your board, you can just buy back Command the Dreadhorde with your Tamiyo!


This deck is unsurprisingly powerful but also surprisingly competitive. You see enough cards that it’s relatively easy to enact your game plan in most games, and when you do get to bring back a mob of planeswalkers and creatures it’s often to go over the top of whatever your opponent is doing.


Mono-Red is one of the toughest matchups, but you still have the Wildgrowth Walker engine which they have to be able to answer. I also can’t imagine Simic Nexus as a good matchup despite 4 maindeck copies of Teferi, Time Raveler.


My biggest issue with this deck is the manabase. It only has 13 black sources among the lands, which are not many for a deck with plenty of double black spells. Of course the explorers help, but it’s very awkward that you have to run 27 lands to make the mana work, because you are trying to use 4 Interplanar Beacon in a deck that also needs to produce double black and double green. This means that you often flood out or have to keep land-heavy hands while still failing to cast your spells some amount of the time.


I wonder if the deck should cut white and just be a bigger version of Sultai. You could probably cut lots of lands, play Llanowar Elves and possibly Hydroid Krasis to pat your life total even more. Maybe it’s too big of a blow to lose Teferi, Time Raveler to protect your big spell, but I certainly wouldn’t miss Teferi, Hero of Dominaria.


I think this deck has lots of potential, and I will leave it as:



Mass Manipulation in standard: And 4 of them in the main deck even!


Sam Black’s Mass Manipulation”


4 Llanowar Elves

2 Paradise Druid

4 Incubation Druid

4 Hydroid Krasis

4 Growth Spiral

3 Entrancing Melody

4 Mass Manipulation

2 Finale of Revelation

2 Tamiyo, Collector of Tales

4 Nissa, Who Shakes the World

1 Ugin, the Ineffable

4 Hinterland Harbor

9 Forest

4 Breeding Pool

9 Island


2 Biogenic Ooze

3 Arboreal Grazer

3 Thrashing Brontodon

1 Entrancing Melody

3 Negate

1 Narset's Reversal

2 Narset, Parter of Veils


This deck was revealed on Reddit after its creator had surged at Mythic rank #1 for almost a week straight. The concept was very simple: Green ramp creatures with blue X-spells. Mass Manipulation hasn’t seen much Standard play yet, but in this deck it’s not hard at all to steal two things turn 5 and far more than that later in the game. Note that it also steals planeswalkers which is extremely important in this era.


The original list had Frilled Mystic and Chemister’s Insight. Those cards weaken the power level of the deck, but they build a nice bridge between your early manadorks and lategame bombs. Having some sort of middle ground, especially for when you don’t have your nut draw, is very welcome in this deck, so I’m not quite sure that this is the right way to go.


I haven’t been too impressed with Tamiyo, Collector of Tales in this deck, but it’s another card that does bridge the gap and lets you grind better against interaction. This deck isn’t exactly great against discard.


Nissa, Who Shakes the World is the real MVP here which is why it has been upped to the full playset. It pressures planeswalkers very well and even though you often have to jump through hoops to get to untap with it, you can do very busted stuff once you do. Especially in combination with Finale of Revelation you can pretty easily just end up with half your deck in your hand.


I think this deck has some issues. The manabase is sometimes quite awkward, as you often either don’t have enough Forests for Nissa or enough blue sources for Mass Manipulation. You also pretty much have to mulligan towards ramp, preferably more than one piece, and your ramp cards are quite vulnerable. There’s not much you can do with your turns if your manadorks die and once you can play Nissa, it often just gets attacked to death.

There’s a lot of power in the card Nissa, Who Shakes the World, and I think building around Nissa has lots of merit. I’m not sure if this approach is exactly right, and I could see that just going mono green (maybe with a tiny blue splash for Hydroid Krasis) is actually the best direction for the deck. You’ll have so much mana every time you untap with Nissa, and you can power that into a big Finale of Devastation.

For now, I think the deck is close to good enough, but it needs tuning, and I’m not sure it will actually get there. So my verdict is:




John Rolf’s Jeskai Planeswalkers”


4 Fblthp, the Lost

2 Spark Double

3 Lightning Strike

4 Spell Pierce

2 Urza's Ruinous Blast

4 Sarkhan the Masterless

4 Narset, Parter of Veils

4 Teferi, Time Raveler

3 Dovin, Hand of Control

2 Kasmina, Enigmatic Mentor

1 Karn, Scion of Urza

4 Steam Vents

4 Sulfur Falls

4 Interplanar Beacon

2 Island

4 Glacial Fortress

4 Sacred Foundry

4 Hallowed Fountain


1 Karn, Scion of Urza 

4 Dovin's Veto

1 The Wanderer

1 In Bolas's Clutches

2 Lyra Dawnbringer

1 Sorcerous Spyglass

3 Deafening Clarion

2 Prison Realm


Okay, I must admit, I do not like this deck. It’s a hefty clunkfest filled to the brim with card choices that don’t make sense to me.


Why are we running 4 maindeck Spell Pierce in our deck that is already filled with situational cards and bad at catching up from behind?

Why do we play Urza’s Ruinous Blast as our sweeper of choice when we could just play the less risky and certainly less expensive Deafening Clarion?

What’s up with all those Fblthp, the Lost when we only run a single Mox Amber anyway?

Zac Elsik built the Blue-White Superfriends core that John Rolf has expanded upon with the red addition of Sarkhan, the Masterless to superpower all your planeswalkers. Honestly, I’m somewhat unimpressed with Sarkhan in this deck. What often happens is that they just kill the dragon token then kill Sarkhan.

I think that in a clunky deck like this, I’d prefer my 5-drops to have more immediate impact. But it has also swung some games around fairly quickly, so I might just be in the wrong about it.


As much I might dislike the deck, however, I can’t deny the fact that it wins, even in my hands while I trash talk it. I think there’s a lot to improve upon. For instance you could just run Treasure Map instead of Fblthp, and I’d certainly prefer the cheaper sweeper option and fewer Spell Pierce.


I also saw a list from the 5-0s that was very interesting, splashing black instead of red. You have to give up on Interplanar Beacon, but you get access to Liliana, Dreadhorde General, Kaya’s Wrath which is a more fittingly costed sweeper for the curve of the deck and Oath of Kaya which I can only assume is a pain in the neck for the opponent when you play planeswalkers turn after turn. I know this sounds a lot like regular Esper Control, but with 16 Planeswalkers and Soul Diviner I do think it’s significantly different.

Anyway, the planeswalker based superfriends decks are here to stay. We already see a pushback from the format with an increase in The Elderspell and Immortal Sun, so beware. Regardless, this deck is:





I think all four lists here are close to the competitive barrier, which is a sign of a really cool Standard format, because you don’t often get to do so many different crazy things and still come out ahead.


I have had my eyes on Izzet Phoenix instead, a deck that came out of nowhere on the wings of Finale of Promise and took down 5 MCQs in the first two weekends. I believe there’s lots of tuning to be done with this one.


Or maybe if people are really resigning themselves to cast expensive sorceries in an attempt to go over the top, maybe it really is a good time to just infinite combo some poor souls with Teshar, Ancestor’s Apostle...


This article was written by Simon Nielsen in a media collaboration with


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