When Onslaught was released around six months ago, I knew immediately that it would prove to be one of the more interesting Limited formats in the history of Magic. While at the time this was a mere assumption, I think you can say it was more than reasonable simply by looking at the base mechanics of the set: Morph and cycling. If there’s one thing Magic players hate, it’s landscrew. These two mechanics (along with the others that were introduced in the rest of the block) greatly decrease the luck factor involved in the game, and give drafters plenty of ways to make their deck more versatile in the late and early game respectively. But we already know all of this.
Unfortunately, everything cannot be completely good news in terms of set design, and as always, a certain something managed to sneak through the cracks. We’re all overly familiar with this illustrious evil – a piece of cardboard known as Sparksmith.
Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? In triple-Onslaught, it was quite apparent that ‘Smith was the complete nuts. Not only was it the best red common by a long shot, but it was better than about 75% of the rares and uncommons as well. Double-‘Smith decks were a fairly common occurrence, and the number of games lost to one on turn 2 is up there with the number of yearly car crashes in the United States. Basically, it was a disaster, as I’m sure you all remember.
The effect was profound enough to make every deck require some form of removal, which led to every deck being obligated to some form of red or black. As if forcing people into colors all by itself wasn’t enough, the ‘smith still won about two-thirds of the games it was deployed on turn 2.
The last reasons for such dominance in the triple-Onslaught format are the flood of 2/2s because of morph – which are incredibly easy for the smith to mow down – and the overall power of the color red, and the blue/red archetype with Mistforms in particular.
Then Legions was released. With it came a few answers as well as one less pack of Onslaught from which the broken goblin could be opened. Some of the answers came to archetypes that didn’t previously have one, such as Willbender for anyone brave enough to forego black and red. Noxious Ghoul serves as another great answer, potentially devastating to a deck that more than likely has multiple one-toughness goblins. Nothing else really helps the problem though, and considering the two cards I mentioned are both uncommon, the best thing about Legions in regard to Sparksmith is the loss of one Onslaught pack, which is pretty sad.
With the coming of Scourge, I think we might have finally come to a point where a turn 2 ‘Smith is not automatically game over if you can’t remove it immediately. This is more of an abstract concept, demanding a look at the format as a whole, but I think it’s safe to say that the king has been taken down a few pegs. While the art on Sparksmith certainly should have included a little crown on his head before Scourge, we finally have the tools to deal, as well as only one pack of Onslaught to worry about.
The first reason for Onslaught’s top common’s decline in power is certainly the existence of four common removal spells that specifically take it out. Scattershot, Spark Spray, Frozen Solid, and Lingering Death are just the tip of the ice in terms of putting a handle on things. Spray and Scattershot are both good cards on their own, but having them in your deck makes you that much more resilient to your opponent’s first pick goblin. Lingering Death hurts on a big creature but is virtually painless in taking out the ‘Smith, and Frozen Solid will usually lock him down after they attack once – or, in the worst-case scenario, kill one of your guys.
It doesn’t stop there, though. Guilty Conscience can be sideboarded in as a cheap, one-mana answer for a Blue/White or White/Green construction. Pemmin’s Aura is a great answer from the uncommon slot that happens to double as a bomb when played on one of your own creatures, boasting incredible flexibility. Bonethorn Valesk is also a fine answer for those times when your opponent is slow at finding the second goblin. Basically, the Sparksmith is lucky if he manages to live to see activation nowadays, let alone win the game simply by being busted out on turn 2.
The second reason for his decline lies in the shifting of the format as a whole in regard to the Landcyclers present in Scourge. Frankly, everything is just huge nowadays, and the ‘Smith finds himself wondering where all of the tasty targets ran off to. Landcyclers make splashing incredibly easy as well as doubling as enormous creatures themselves – and since we all know Scourge is the "Timmy" set, everything else is equally huge.
The last main reasons for the power drop are the incredibly obvious loss of yet another Onslaught booster, and the seemingly lack of good goblins. Granted, some good ones have been printed to replace the lost Skirk Commandos and such, like the Skirk Volcanist, Goblin Brigand, and friends – but for the most part, the goblin tribe has gone downhill in Scourge.
So what does this entire theory mean in regards to actual drafting? When you crack a pack with ‘Smith and another good card like Cruel Revival, Centaur Glade, or Infest, you should consider shipping the goblin along, I think you’ll find it will pay off more often than not.
Remember, though, I’m not saying that Sparksmith is a bad card; it’s still excellent. The problem is that the format has opened up in such a way that it is no longer kind to our friend the goblin, and taking a different route may be more fruitful in your drafts. This theory is just another tool for you to add to your constantly growing bank of knowledge in regards to this format.