Welcome to another edition of Fact or Fiction! Today, Todd Anderson, Shaheen Soorani, and Patrick Sullivan are here to render their verdicts on five statements about War of the Spark preview season and Mythic Championship London. Don’t forget to vote for the winner at the end!
1. Gideon Blackblade is a format-defining planeswalker and War of the Spark Standard will revolve around him.
Todd Anderson: Fiction. Gideon Blackblade is not a format-defining planeswalker. He’s nothing like Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, whose strength came from how he could generate bodies while maintaining loyalty economy or just get burned to create a Glorious Anthem emblem. This Gideon is a full mana cheaper and serves a different role entirely: a solid top-end of a low curve.
Gideon Blackblade is definitely a good Magic card. Hell, the static ability is basically the same as all the other Gideon loyalty activations that turned him into a creature, which means you essentially get one “free” activation a turn. The trick is making one of your creatures gain a special ability worthwhile. Of those abilities, I think lifelink and indestructible are best in various situations, but having one medium or large creature with vigilance both attack and defend Gideon on your opponent’s turn is nice.
But at the moment, the three-drop slot in white aggressive decks is heavy. Benalish Marshal rewards you for shoving all-in, and History of Benalia is the gold standard for aggression mixed with efficiency, so it’ll be hard to replace either of those, and so I’d be more willing to look for a different type of deck to fit Gideon Blackblade into.
Shaheen Soorani: Fiction. I feel like my colleagues may take Gideon Blackblade and run with it, noting the bump in power Mono-White Aggro will receive. Before any War of the Spark cards were previewed, Mono-White Aggro was arguably the best aggro deck in the format, which now has access to a planeswalker that fits perfectly into the shell. It shares a competitive mana curve but offers a resiliency to battlefield sweepers that History of Benalia did not.
The reason this statement is Fiction is because Gideon Blackblade will not be a format-defining planeswalker, but instead an effective new cog in the Mono-White Aggro machine. War of the Spark Standard will not have to adapt to this powerful threat from the top aggro deck because it is on par with History of Benalia and Benalish Marshal. Both three-drops pack a heavier punch than Gideon Blackblade but aren’t as versatile. Battlefield sweepers are useless against Gideon Blackblade but destroy its competitors. The card is great and will see immediate play, but it will not be format-defining.
Patrick Sullivan: Fiction. There’s a lot to like here. Gideon Blackblade is a three-mana planeswalker (a historically underrated class of card) with a lot of play against decks both with and without creatures, a ton of loyalty, and a powerful way of cashing in loyalty that warps opposing play even if it doesn’t get activated. White aggressive strategies have been among the better Standard decks for the past few months, and Gideon is at least comparable (probably better) on raw rate than History of Benalia and/or Benalish Marshal. Aggressive decks always have an incentive to diversify their card types to ameliorate sweepers and the like. If white aggro is still part of the metagame upon release of War of the Spark, I have a hard time imagining Gideon Blackblade not being a foundational part of it.
Still, two concerns give me pause. One, War of the Spark is so loaded on power, in so many different directions, that I don’t know how easily prior archetypes will port over into the new world. The second is how the best planeswalkers (Jace, the Mind Sculptor; Liliana of the Veil; Gideon, Ally of Zendikar; etc.) play “both sides of the ball”, and that Gideon Blackblade, for all the rate and splash, is almost exclusively an offense-only card. That lowers the floor on the card and narrows the range of decks it can appear in, and that combined with a much more powerful Standard format has me leaning against Gideon being one of the best five cards in Standard, or the best planeswalker. It could easily go that way, but I’d bet against way more often than not.
2. Izzet Phoenix will win Mythic Championship London.
Todd Anderson: Fiction. In Modern, when everyone knows a thing is good, that thing rarely continues to be good for very long. With that said, Izzet Phoenix has lasted far longer than I would have expected given the hostile nature of Modern, but there are still some shining lights in the format that could potentially best Izzet Phoenix while also keeping pace with it against the rest of the field.
The “best deck” is often called that because it has the best matchups across a variety of decks. But in any given metagame, especially one as volatile as Modern, the matchups you play against can vary wildly. That’s why we saw stuff like Grixis Death’s Shadow struggle for so long, as it usually has trouble against the random side of the format. But when one deck rises to the top and everyone else tries to beat that deck, you’ll regularly see Death’s Shadow start to pick people apart.
Plus, there are also Amulet Titan and Dredge, two decks I suspect will be out in high numbers. For me, those represent the four best decks in the format, and I think any one of them has just as good of a shot to win as Izzet Phoenix, but I might just as well be better off taking the field. Modern is crazy and just about any deck can win.
Shaheen Soorani: Fiction. This may give away my hand some, but I do not believe that Izzet Phoenix will win the Mythic Championship. I earned my first individual GP Top 8 with this top deck in Modern; however, it has lost favor for me over the last month. I have tested too many matches against very good opponents to believe that it will take down the Mythic Championship. Izzet Phoenix is still the most consistent, proactive deck with consistency you can choose, but that may not be enough.
Since the professionals are all aware of this nightmarishly strong deck, the first step is to develop a deck that defeats it in order to take down the highest-level tournament. In doing so, many have found multiple decks that are favored to defeat Izzet Phoenix, making the deck more beatable than it seemed initially. I’m part of the crowd that believes the Modern champion is due to fall this weekend by the blade of my deck. The biggest giveaway for the demise of Izzet Phoenix is its sudden disappearance from Magic Online. Not only are those qualified for the Mythic Championship jumping ship, so are average grinders that enjoy the format for the sport of it.
Patrick Sullivan: Fiction. I’ve answered some variation of this question multiple times over the years and always give the same response – bet the field. Izzet Phoenix isn’t catching anyone by surprise and the deck has some exploitable weaknesses. 25% of the field seems like an ambitious estimate and even at that high of representation the smart money is to bet elsewhere.
It’s worth mentioning that this will be the debut tournament for the London Mulligan, a new set of parameters for every Modern archetype, and I think Izzet Phoenix is noticeably weaker in that context – no high-leverage cards to mulligan for, no lights-out sideboard card to go find. Its matchup against Tron and Dredge were already right on the line and I think those matchups, and many others, get a lot worse in the new world.
3. The London Mulligan will be a hit at Mythic Championship II and will eventually replace the Vancouver Mulligan.
Todd Anderson: Fact. This rule sucks. I hate it. I hate that you can win on a mulligan to three with Mono-Green Tron or Dredge. I hate that you’re given incentive to mulligan a reasonable hand because your deck can do so much better. But most of all, I hate the amount of time it’s going to steal from me every single round I play because my opponent thinks their six-card hand could be a gem.
I’ve gone back and forth on the London Mulligan a few times, but my gut says it will be a hit. It creates some perverse incentives for decks like Tron, Dredge, and a few others to continually mulligan to near-perfect hands, but the upside is many more people and decks will actually get to play Magic instead of just sitting on their hands. And if we have to ban a few things along the way to keep it from getting out of control, maybe those decks shouldn’t have been allowed to stick around in the first place.
I’m curious if the London Mulligan is the best option for the new mulligan rule, but I am certainly fine with it considering the implications for both Limited and Standard. Giving those formats a bit of relief is important, and especially so when you start delving into the implications of the best-of-one format.
Shaheen Soorani: Fact. The London Mulligan has been an amazing addition and has significantly improved gameplay. Not only has it helped prevent games from ending with a player unable to hit land drops early, but it has significantly helped control strategies flourish. The downfall for Modern control decks has been drawing the wrong side of your deck, with multiples of Terminus and expensive cards in the opening hand that can’t be cast. We all want to play many copies of Jace, the Mind Sculptor, but are punished into keeping hands with an average converted mana cost of 4.5. The London Mulligan has helped prevent poor gameplay for those of us who enjoy the occasional expensive sorcery.
The Vancouver Mulligan was a great step for Limited, helping avoid the same non-game situations that plagued the 40-card format. Going down to five cards in Limited, even with the London Mulligan, would not be advisable. Limited is all about positioning and card advantage, both of which are hamstrung by having fewer starting cards than the opponent. Although the London Mulligan rule will be just a slight improvement on Limited, it will drastically improve all Constructed formats. There was a great deal of fear from my control colleagues at the start, worrying that this would allow Mono-Red Aggro players to go down in cards to achieve the perfect hand. I can tell you from significant testing that the London Mulligan rule will substantially assist the control enthusiast at the end of the day, putting that extra Teferi, Hero of Dominaria on the bottom.
Patrick Sullivan: Fact. I believe the rule is superior to previous mulligan rules. It’s more elegant than getting an arbitrary scry and is more effective at ensuring that people get off the ground at least a little bit. If you’re going to pour millions into Arena, I wouldn’t want to risk having six-figure matches resolve with one person taking no game actions. I think the London Mulligan serves Magic better, from the finals of the Mythic Championship to the back tables of FNM.
The most powerful argument against is how exploitative it is with certain cards and decks, to which I say – start with the rules set you want, and then manage the card file and bannings around that. Preserving Dredge or Tron or Goryo’s Vengeance in Modern (or even Bazaar of Baghdad in Vintage) is so much lower of a priority than striving for the ideal rules set, and if it really came down to “best rules” versus “keeping a handful of already-problematic cards legal,” I’m going with the first choice 100% of the time.
4. The God-Eternals will ruin War of the Spark Limited, an otherwise awesome Limited format.
Todd Anderson: Fiction. The Gods are fine, except for God-Eternal Rhonas. It just kills you, and there’s very little to be done about it. Worst-case scenario is a 5/5 for five mana that you can’t ever really get rid of, and the best is that you just kill your opponent in one fell swoop. The others are certainly good, but there’s a real downside to having your expensive creature hit with a removal spell. Sure, it will come down again in a few turns, but that might not even matter by then.
I’m not really much of a Limited expert, but there’s a big difference between being indestructible (the old versions) and coming back in a few turns. One dominates the battlefield for the entirety of the game, while the other leaves you with a few turns of reprieve. And sure, they’ll come back eventually, but you give yourself some time to figure things out.
Shaheen Soorani: Fact (ish). The more bombs in the format that can only be dealt with by narrow means, the worse off it is. The health of a Limited format revolves around the threats being answerable, which isn’t the case for the God-Eternals. It is truly a shame that these Gods join the plethora of tough-to-answer planeswalkers, because normally the mythic rarity would be a strong check against them.
Ethereal Absolution wasn’t a bane to Limited just because of its unbeatable effect, but because it had so few answers. For some odd reason, there was no Disenchant effect outside of white (besides a terrible green rare). This caused Ravnica Allegiance Limited to suffer, even though it was only one card. Each color has the God-Eternals’ representation, hurting gameplay and increasing player frustration due to threats that have too few answers. If you do not have access to discard or countermagic, good luck against these!
Patrick Sullivan: Fiction. A rare treat for me – a question I get to reject on two fronts. They are mythic. Even if they literally read “At the start of your turn, you win the game,” they would create less harm in the aggregate than when a certain style of common is pushed too hard, and that experience isn’t enough to ruin otherwise good formats. And even if they are absurd, which they are, they don’t just win the game if they show up. I also don’t know how “otherwise awesome” the format is going to be. I have serious misgivings about how replayable this sort of saturation of planeswalkers will be, and there are a bunch of outrageous rares. Maybe it’ll end up being dope, but I wouldn’t just assume that to be the case with zero games and drafts under my belt.
5. The Japanese Alternate-Art planeswalkers are the coolest-looking Magic cards of all time.
Todd Anderson: Fact. Personally, I’m a big fan of From the Vault: Dryad Arbor, but these are pretty cool too…
Shaheen Soorani: Fact. Whenever art is changed in a drastic way, people take notice. The enthusiasm of the public is overwhelming, with an urge to obtain these new, shiny trophies and add them to their collection. I am not above this feeling as well. When Expeditions came out, I could not stop checking out the new, beautiful artwork and really taking in the changes that Magic cards have undergone these last twenty years of my career.
The Japanese Alternate-Art planeswalkers will follow that same model for intrigue, with a little extra bonus. Because they are not guaranteed in every Japanese pack, they will be more sought-after and rare. The uniqueness of these planeswalkers is the true beauty, showing us these fabled heroes and villains as if they arrived from an animated plane of existence. The anime look will put these characters on the map, showcasing the coolest Magic cards we have seen printed thus far.
Patrick Sullivan: Fiction. The coolest looking cards are from Alpha, because a large part of coolness is authenticity, of not trying to be cool, and Alpha is unassailable in perpetuity by those metrics. It is literally impossible to compete with it, because the act of acknowledging that you’re trying to compete means you can’t. Nothing concocted in a board meeting can measure up to a Shivan Dragon with the rounded corners.
But the planeswalkers are really cool – a nod to the art style without being fetishistic or indulging in parody, while remaining authentic to the characters being represented. There’s just a cap to how cool you can be when you’re trying to be cool, and these are trying to be cool. No shame in trying, but “trying to be cool” can never beat “cool without trying.”