First Look: War of the Spark Future Future League

Posted in Play Design on May 17, 2019

By Andrew Brown

Welcome to First Look! This will be a repeating column every quarterly release (similar to the M-Files) where Play Design will share decklists and their thought processes from the Future Future League focus period of the most recent set. The FFL focus period is the three months during set design where we handle most of the competitive balance tweaks to the card file.

A short history on FFL. The Future Future League was originally formed in the way-back years of Magic development. It was comprised of a rotating cast of people around the company who had some competitive Magic background. Its goal was to test Standard formats that would be released in the next year and figure out how to make them as fun and healthy as possible. Nowadays, the FFL is solely composed of members of Play Design whose focus is the health and balance of Standard. Play Design draws from its history playing Magic in the "real world" and tries to translate that into interesting and fun environments. Part of the beauty of Magic design is that all its designers like and dislike different things. We all strive to make strategies and collections of cards that appeal to everyone. One of us also strives to get Jorubai Murk Lurker into every set. One of us is usually not successful.

Normally, sets have themes or packages of cards aimed to hit Standard, and our testing and refining process has grown around that. War of the Spark was one of the most ambitious sets to ever enter the FFL. The quantity of Standard considerations was high, but WAR was especially full of cards that demanded entire new decks. Today, I'll be rapid-fire going over lots and lots of decks that we made to test the new cards and synergies. Let's get to it!

Black-Green Bontu Shaper

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God-Eternal Bontu was one of the first cards I wanted to build with when WAR entered the environment. The main combo this deck is looking to execute requires casting a World Shaper, then a God-Eternal Bontu to sacrifice World Shaper and all the lands you control to draw a bunch of cards. There are other self-mill creatures in the deck to get back more lands with World Shaper's death trigger. All the God-Eternal cards started out trying to match their original Amonkhet stat lines. God-Eternal Bontu and God-Eternal Kefnet were the two that didn't quite fit their initial stat lines, so we subtracted and added where appropriate.

Green-White Proliferate

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Anytime a new mechanic enters the FFL, we build decks stretching the limits of its potential and try to find synergies it has with cards in the current environment. Proliferate was originally in Ravnica Allegiance, but it was a better fit in War of the Spark because of the planeswalkers at lower loyalties. Proliferate and the Sagas from Dominaria proposed some cool synergies. Proliferating the final counter onto a History of Benalia with Karn's Bastion mid-combat is sweet! Green-white's theme in Limited was to go wide with proliferate counters, so we made Huatli's Raptor specifically to work in Limited and Constructed. Curving Pelt Collector into Huatli's Raptor can get you a 3/3 attacker on turn two.

Naya Feather

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Our resident combat-trick expert, Donald Smith, Jr., put together this masterpiece. Feather was in the WAR card set for a long time, but Play Design specifically asked for Defiant Strike to be added to the set to synergize with Feather. When playing the deck, we also took "from your hand" off Feather to specifically synergize with Dreadhorde Arcanist, so that when you flashed back a spell with Dreadhorde Arcanist while Feather was out, it went back to your hand. One of the natural weaknesses of these A + B combo decks is normally flooding or getting too much of one type of card, we added scry 1 to the trigger of Tenth District Legionnaire to help mitigate this inherent weakness.

Grixis Bolas Tribal

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When we were thinking about what Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God should cost, we avoided four mana because of the overlap with Nicol Bolas, the Ravager. That left three, five, or six mana. Liliana, Dreadhorde General had always been at six mana, and we felt that we couldn't execute on a satisfying three-mana version of the Dragon-God. At five mana, we could execute on a cool design that let you curve Nicol Bolas into Nicol Bolas! Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God originally started at 5 loyalty, but we didn't want you to be able to make a copy of him so easily with Jace, Cunning Castaway, so we added power to the other abilities and took off 1 starting loyalty. We also added exile to Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God to make sure that pesky Nullhide Feroxes couldn't ambush the Dragon-God.

Finale of Phoenixes

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Arclight Phoenix is a card we always must keep in the back of our minds. It can get out of control if we are not careful with how many looting/one-mana cantrip spells we add to the environment. The main addition from War of the Spark in this deck is Finale of Promise. Originally Finale of Promise was templated so that you just copied two spells from your graveyard. We switched it to cast the spells so that you could get your Arclight Phoenixes back. While we do have to curb the number of one-mana draw spells, we felt that adding more four-mana big spells that require setup added more fun to the Arclight Phoenix decks.

Black-White Citadel Life Gain

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Bolas's Citadel was one of the most scrutinized cards in War of the Spark. We took Bolas's Citadel through many deck shells trying our hardest to figure out the strongest configuration. This black-white version was one of our first attempts at exploiting playing the top card of your library as much as possible. This wasn't the most powerful version we found, but the main lesson we learned was that we needed an easy way to clear lands off the top of the deck.

Black-Green Explore Citadel

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Michael Majors was the first to pioneer the explore package in conjunction with Bolas's Citadel. This version also solves the problem of getting lands stuck on the top of your deck with the explore mechanic. This version is built to turbo off the top of your deck as quickly as possible. Gift of Paradise is "free" and Oracza Relic is also "free" with the added functionality of clearing your top card. We added the activated ability to Bolas's Citadel to make it easier to win the game once you have amassed a ton of resources off the top of the deck.

Grixis Ral Combo Control

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Another combo we discovered during testing was Ral, Storm Conduit and copying a one-mana spell on the stack twice with Expansion // Explosion. While the combo looks scary at face value, in practice, we found that it was at an appropriate power level. We felt that it needed appropriate set up and deck-building restrictions. Some of the questions we ask ourselves when we identify these types of combos are "How easy is this to interact with?" and "How easy is this to happen from no board?" Let's say Ral, Storm Conduit started with 5 loyalty. That would cut off Shock as counterplay to the combo from hand. We try to position these combos so that they have weaknesses to commonly played interactive spells.

Elderspell Combo

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The final deck I'll show today is our silliest deck to test out the limits of The Elderspell. While The Elderspell in functionality is mostly a sideboard card, it is important for us to try and stretch the limits of every card. One interesting inclusion in the deck is Soul Diviner; here, its main functionality is to strip off loyalty counters for card advantage. Originally, Soul Diviner could take a counter off any permanent. We didn't like being able to reset the Sagas so easily, so we omitted enchantment. The goal of this deck is to set up a small prison with three-mana planeswalkers then set up a turn to play Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God and The Elderspell to immediately win the game. But my favorite part about this deck is easily that it's a slam dunk flavor win.

I'll be back once Core Set 2020 rolls around to share some of my favorite Future Future League decks from the M20 FFL focus period. In the meantime, I'll be at most West Coast (best coast) Magic events. Come say "Hi"!


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