For The Throne — Evaluating The Spark Mechanic

I have settled on a name for my series: For The Throne. My content will continue to be focused on competitive eternal, especially tournament play.

Scouring the channels of Discord, refreshing Reddit every five minutes, more Scarlatch pings than usual—it must be spoiler season! Today we were gifted with some pretty sweet cards. Let’s dive right in with the new Skycrag mechanic, Spark. 

  • Spark: (this card) gains an additional effect when played when after the enemy player has been dealt damage this turn.

There are a lot of interesting things going on with this mechanic. First, it has the potential to be very swingy. Presumably, most of the cards will be a bit underpowered or barely on curve without Spark being activated, and very strong with Spark activated. Thematically, this is also pretty neat; the cards will either run hot or cold, much like the factions the cards belong to. Secondly, the mechanic will likely favor aggression and reward you for having attackers on the board to enable Spark. It’s very similar to Infiltrate, though likely a bit easier to work with.

The best three ways to start to evaluate cards with Spark, both for constructed and limited, is to consider the following: First, how bad will it be if you play the card without Spark activation? Secondly, how strong will it be if you do get the Spark bonus? Last, how easy will it be to activate Spark consistently? The first is easy, as it will often turn into “how good are the base stats on this card?” The most common answer will likely be “somewhat mediocre,” but we may get some exceptions. Judging cards with their Spark activation will often not be too difficult, either; we can look at the card and see how strong it is, and if it’s above power level, it’s probably something we want.

It’s in the third category where things get interesting. Just how easy will it be to activate Spark? Sure, we’ll be in the faction with Torch and, presumably, some new burn spells, but how often do you want to throw those at your opponents face when you’re developing the board? Cards like Forge Wolf that damage upon entering are also interesting, but at the moment I think the power level of our little canine is just too weak (for both draft and constructed.) Another limitation of both burn spells and summon units like Forge Wolf is having to spend power on casting those before you cast your Spark card, meaning you won’t be playing it on-curve. Stormcaller is also an interesting option, but I think it will probably remain about one cost too much for constructed (but will get even more bonkers in limited formats like draft.) As such, I think the best way to activate Spark consistently is going to be the good old-fashioned way: pressing A + space, especially with some evasive units.

So, how do our first Spark cards match up? Let’s start with one of the more exciting cards spoiled so far: Groundbreaker.

Groundbreaker

As a person who often plays a lot of fire cards, I’m pretty excited about Groundbreaker. In it’s worst case scenario, it’s a 3/6 for 4FFF that hoses enemy lifegain. A 3/6 is probably not what you’re looking for with a fire deck, especially one that likely wants to activate a few Spark cards, but preventing all lifegain is pretty relevant, especially considering all the incidental lifegain that goes around, such as lifesteal units, Combrei Healer, Temple Scribe, and what is sure to be a host of new Xenan cards that gain you life.

Getting the Spark activation on our lava-spewing Giant is what makes it really scary. Double damage makes it effectively a 6/6 for 4. With his life-hosing ability, it’s sort of like Fire’s Sandstorm Titan. By having 3 power, it dodges Vanquish, with the tradeoff of being targetable by Suffocate, a trait that has often been quite beneficial. As a pseudo 6/6 with Spark activation, it also beats the aforementioned Sandstorm Titan in combat one-on-one. Thanks to double damage, any bonuses to his damage stat are effectively doubled: Warcry bonuses, weapons, combat tricks, and any other buffs give this guy a lot of power. Altogether, there is a lot to love about Groundbreaker.

Despite this, I do have a few reservations that I think won’t make it as powerful as I’d like. First, it does have triple fire influence, which is very restricting on dual-faction decks if you want to play it consistently on turn four. Secondly, because it’s high damage comes from its Double Damage keyword, it loses a lot of power if it gets silenced. Lastly, it struggles a lot against Harsh Rule. By being a four drop without Charge, it comes down right before the opponent wipes the board. It also wants units on your board to be able to more easily activate Spark, and drawing this after a Harsh Rule will probably make for a lackluster play.

All of this could end up being fairly irrelevant, as we don’t know just what the Omens of the Past metagame will look like. I’m certain the card will see some play in constructed if not just for its anti-lifegain ability. Let’s look at our next Spark card, Skyward Seer:

Skyward Seer

For constructed, I’m not sure Skyward Seer makes the cut. Without Spark, she is only a 1/3, which is not at all worth the cost of 4 power. With Spark, it does gain you a flyer of choice from your deck, but I don’t think that will make up for the loss of tempo in playing a conditional 4-cost 1/3. Skyward Seer does have the potential to make for some interesting combos though, so we’ll need to keep her on the radar.

In limited, I’m much happier here. While a 1/3 for 4 is still pretty bad, any card that searches for a card, particularly a flying card, is worth considering. Flyers win games, and having a bomb that flies is the sort of card you’re probably happy to grab any chance you get. At first glance, and without knowing the rest of the set, I’d wager that this card is probably a decent early pick.

Last but not least, let’s look at Cloudsnake Breeder:

Cloudsnake Breeder.png

I really like this card, and I think it might be a lot better than people have been giving it credit for. Without Spark activated, it stands as a plain 2/1. This isn’t particularly strong, but it isn’t irrelevant, either. Anyone who has ever beat down (or been beaten down) with a Rakano Artisan will tell you that a 2/1 can do plenty of work.

That said, the upside on our crazy-eyed Shaman is strong. With Spark, Cloudsnake Breeder becomes a 3/3 worth of stats spread across two bodies, with the weaker half of it getting to fly. More importantly, a Sparked Cloudsnake Breeder makes activating Spark much easier thanks to getting an early flying unit, guaranteeing hits every turn unless answered. This will be superb if there are enough cards with Spark that are worth playing. Having a flyer on turn two also gives you a great target for weapons, a quality aggressive decks are always seeking.

The requirement of having Cloudsnake Breeder activated with Spark on turn two is admittedly difficult to achieve: you’ll likely need to have a one drop and hit with it. This isn’t really an option with our current selection of Primal cards, but Fire has no shortage of good one drops. That being said, it will be difficult to have a turn one fire 1-drop into a turn two double primal influence card (let alone having double primal in turn two consistently.) I wouldn’t be surprised to see some more primal one drops with this set, however. Not only would it make sense with a “damage (and by extension, attackers) matter” mechanic, DWD has hinted at more aggressive primal options in the future. Regardless, if Cloudsnake Breeder gets the right support, I think it will be a solid playable in constructed. Its ability to succeed in draft is really going to depend on how aggressive your deck is, but I think in general it will probably be on the weaker side.

That’s all for this week! Stay tuned for more Set 2 articles, as well as my full set review of Omens of the Past, featuring my teammate and Season 2 Invitational Winner, iReedMinds.

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