When Ravnica Allegiance previews began, one of the cards I was most excited for was Kaya’s Wrath. The return of an unconditional four-mana sweeper to Standard promised a lot of exciting things about the types of games you could expect when a large check on the format like that existed.
I say this in the past tense because so much is bound to change with the release of War of the Spark. What good is Wrath of God if your opponent gets to hold on to their own planeswalkers? With so many forms of additional advantage floating around, is the efficiency of something like Kaya’s Wrath really the most important thing?
Usually when it comes to sweepers, the fact it’s clearing the battlefield is the most important text on the card. For this reason, it’s no surprise that more often we prefer a simple solution like a classic Day of Judgement to something with some marginal upside tacked on like Fumigate. One mana of efficiency is a lot more than a few life, certainly, but how good of an additional effect do we have to generate before it’s worth the mana? A common answer I give to this question is “one card,” but I feel like that simply has to be too good a card to see print.
I hope I’m wrong, because that’s exactly what we’ve been handed.
All right, maybe I’m exaggerating, because that isn’t exactly what the card says, but in some ways, it might be better.
One of the biggest problems with Kaya’s Wrath as things are currently, is that in some of the matchups where it’s most important, it’s also the most flawed. Anyone who’s played the Esper Control side of the Sultai versus Esper matchup knows what I’m talking about, but for those of you who haven’t, picture this:
You’re playing Esper and you’re on the draw in Game 2. You cast a Thief of Sanity on Turn 3 and have been connecting with it every turn. In the early-game you took some damage from Merfolk Branchwalker and Jadelight Ranger before they tried to trade off with the Ravenous Chupacabra you nabbed with the Thief, so now you’re at 11 life. Your opponent casts Carnage Tyrant one turn ahead of schedule. Now what?
Usually in this scenario you just have to attack with the Thief, cast Kaya’s Wrath, and hope it’s enough to tide you over until your next source of card advantage. If the format in general is slowing down, though, let’s imagine we had Time Wipe instead. Now instead of praying for another Thief of Sanity, or a Search for Azcanta, or a Teferi, we just have the same Thief ready to be redeployed instantly! You can’t tell me that isn’t worth something.
If you still aren’t sold on the idea, it’s worth noting that with the release of War of the Spark, we might see more creatures like Augur of Bolas enter the fray. The way the decks look today isn’t exactly how they’ll look when the set releases, there could be even more creatures worth returning to your hand and redeploying onto the battlefield than we are considering currently.
All this talk of creatures and Esper decks has got me thinking, though. Haven’t we seen a value-creature-heavy Esper deck recently that might be in the market for a sweeper? Let’s look back at Wyatt Darby’s Esper Midrange from the beginning of Ravnica Allegiance Standard, shall we?
- 2 Hostage Taker
- 2 Lyra Dawnbringer
- 3 Thief of Sanity
- 4 Deputy of Detention
- 3 Seraph of the Scales
- 4 Basilica Bell-Haunt
- 4 Hero of Precinct One
In a tournament where many were teeming with excitement for casting their Absorbs and Kaya’s Wraths in their Esper decks, Wyatt was on an entirely different level. Esper Midrange tapped into the premier threats the Esper colors have access to, creating a powerful value deck that was punishing to the aggressive and controlling decks of the format. Perhaps one of the biggest losses of the deck was its inability to play Kaya’s Wrath to answer Sultai’s natural midrange trumps of Carnage Tyrant and Hydroid Krasis, but with Time Wipe that could be an entirely different story.
Time Wipe can serve as a kind of equalizing force against Sultai in the same way Finality can be devastating from the other side of the table. Clearing up the battlefield and having a Hostage Taker ready to swing the game in your favor or a Basilica Bell-Haunt to make your opponent discard the threat they’re sitting on can turn the whole game on its head. Even using it as a pseudo-Duneblast and keeping around something like a Hero of Precinct One or Thief of Sanity is quite powerful.
This is why I said before that Time Wipe’s effect might be better than just drawing a card. When your creature was already going to die, you’re giving it a new lease on life. It isn’t “Wrath of God, draw a card;” it’s “Wrath of God, Raise Dead!” The card you’re gaining access to isn’t just a random card out of your deck. It’s a creature of your choice that you’ve cast already, and Esper doesn’t even have the best ones.
Digging deep into Week 1 where I found Wyatt’s deck, there’s another perfect example of a deck that not only is in the market for a better Wrath, but also has creatures worth rebuying to boot.
Among the creatures in Jonathan Hobbs’s deck, the one I’m most interested in casting multiple times has got to be Frilled Mystic. Though the card loses a bit of its punch when your opponent expects it, we’ve seen in the previews so far at least one card that makes both Time Wipe and Frilled Mystic a little more powerful.
Of course, I’m talking about Teferi, Time Raveler, who promises to do some pretty unfun things to many opponents in the coming years, but that’s a different article for different day (CEDitor’s Note: Friday by Shaheen “Esper Professor” Soorani, of course). The play pattern of locking up your opponent’s mana on your turn, which enables your expensive counterspell to not be maneuvered around, followed up by casting a Time Wipe on your opponent’s turn, rebuying that Frilled Mystic, is so good that I almost don’t believe it’s all real.
These two decks are only the start of examples where Time Wipe can slot in and how it will change and expand the possibilities of Standard with the release of War of the Spark next month. The card only serves to get more and more support as more value creatures are printed, but the biggest takeaway is that you don’t need to pay WWBB for a sweeper worth casting in Standard anymore.
More importantly, I think that a card like Time Wipe is a bigger statement about the kinds of games we can expect to play in an environment rich with planeswalkers. When everyone has access to noncreature permanents that generate advantage that are kept in check by creatures, there’s a keen balancing act taking place in the cards we’re allowed to have.
When planeswalkers are everywhere, the best way to keep them in check is with creatures, so the answers to creatures can’t be too efficient or else the games get out of hand in favor of the planeswalkers. Conversely, when the planeswalkers are the main source of advantage being generated, you need incentives to put cards that don’t answer planeswalkers, the real threats, into your deck.
This tension between the variation in threats and our own incentives to play creatures to battle planeswalkers is the tightrope it seems we’ll wind up walking when it comes to War of the Spark as a set. It’s one that, for now, promises to bring forth some incredibly cool designs like Time Wipe that I definitely hope we get to see more of as preview season continues over the course of the month. The planeswalkers are nice, I guess, but the gameplay they drive is really what’s important.