Hi there! This is a passage from my War of the Spark Exhaustive Guide; I recently did a huge update to that and found that putting new work on top of my old work made it very long, and I figure having some newly added information available in a bite-size form as well might be helpful to or less daunting for people. These sections really function as their own self-contained thing anyway, and are great for getting a quick overview of the format. I’ve also added some points at the end summarising what I said about the format in the bigger guide; these are just conclusions and reading the reasons why will benefit you more as a player, but if you just want to be able to jump in quickly then they’ll prepare you for that!
If you read these sections and then the rest of the Exhaustive Guide, you can use the table of contents to navigate around them quickly.
Packages, not Archetypes
The difference between an archetype and a package is that archetypes tend to mean that your entire draft revolves around them, so you’re now drafting “the Rakdos Amass deck” rather than “A Rakdos deck with Amass and Amass payoffs”. The decks in WAR tend to be far more commonly of the latter sort than the former; they tend to have a lot of good-stuffy elements alongside the smaller bundles of synergy; this is why I like using the term package to express WAR’s drafting. A format like Ikoria is far more decided by synergy than WAR, and that has its own upsides and downsides; the major downside is that the drafting stage tends to be a lot more boring when you’ve found the lane you’re happy sticking to than in a package format; if you’ve begun to draft cycling in Ikoria, then there isn’t much room for nuance in the picks, since you just slam every payoff you see over the 1-cost cyclers over the 2-cost cyclers until you have enough payoffs that you take the cyclers higher.That being said, I would still consider Ikoria a Package rather than Archetype format (as with the vast majority of formats), since only Cycling and perhaps Humans lead to such a rigid style of drafting; Mutate is very much package-based synergy instead. In WAR, however, almost no decks are archetypal; there’s some stuff you can do like draft Rakdos Aggro, but that’s just one of the many directions Rakdos can go in, rather than the typical example of what a Rakdos deck looks like.
Examples of what WAR’s decks of each colour pair tend to look like:
- You almost always want to be 2 colours in WAR, but there are some really wacky splashes you can do. Check out my Fixing and Splashes section!
- I wouldn’t stay away from any colour pair in WAR; it’s pretty well-balanced even if White is significantly worse than the other colours, since White tended to be open a lot more even in bot drafts. If something’s open this format, you should be there. White also tended to have some of the best non-rare splashes in Wanderer’s Strike, Prison Realm, and other great removal options.
- WAR is an extremely deep format so I’ll have to list a lot of different kinds of deck for each colour pair, which perhaps should give you an indication of why I like this format so much! I mostly talk about commons; obviously some of the uncommons skew you into specific directions, like Narset, Parter of Veils tends to only be good in some decks, but you see them far less often and many of them tend to just be good in every deck anyway, like Eternal Skylord.
- The decks below are just examples; just because I list Thunder Drake as a reason to build in a more fliers way doesn’t mean it’s not just a good card in most decks; as I said, there are no rigid archetypes in WAR, and you should mostly just be looking for cards that are good and fit your deck’s overall plan; so a card like Invading Manticore can still be worse in your aggressive red decks, even if it’s decent in the overall format, but being “Amass” isn’t really much of a thing (though certainly having cards like Eternal Skylord or Flux Channeler, which buff armies, is a reason to want Amass cards more).
Dimir leverages great removal with powerful Amass cards like Aven Eternal, Toll of the Invasion, and Callous Dismissal to disrupt its opponents and then win with finishers like Thunder Drake or Kiora’s Dambreaker. Common directions are:
a) more fliersy with stuff like Sky Theater Strix (a medium card, but actually reasonably playable in a set absolutely full of noncreatures), Shriekdiver (usually bad but okay filler in fliers), good blockers, and a focus on cheap disruptive spells. Callous Dismissal is better in this style of deck, though card is usually great everywhere.
b) more controlling/grindy with No Escape, Vraska’s Finisher, and card draw of some sort, whether that’s Tamiyo’s Epiphany or Spark Reaper. Toll of the Invasion tends to be better in this style of deck, though card is usually good everywhere.
Dimir is consistently good, since blue and black are both powerful and deep, but the ceiling isn’t as high as some of the more synergy-oriented decks.
Izzet tends to focus on either noncreatures (not just spells!) matter and/or aggression. It’s one of the less consistent decks to build, since you really need to pick up some good red burn spells or Callous Dismissals, but the ceiling is really high. Spellgorger Weird, Thunder Drake, and Burning Prophet are at their best in Izzet decks, alongside stuff like Totally Lost and Honor the God-Pharaoh. Izzet decks tend to be more planeswalkery, since other people don’t want Narset and Saheeli nearly as much. Thunder Drake/Contentious Plan is a common and powerful combo, though obviously you need other good stuff to proliferate onto such as planeswalkers.
Simic has some of the best synergies in the format, being the best colours for proliferate packages since both colours have great payoffs and +1/+1 counters, and best leveraging cards like Contentious Plan and Bloom Hulk. Flux Channeler and Evolution Sage can propel these sorts of decks from merely being good to being the absolute nuts; Simic has the highest ceiling of any deck in the format because those two cards are so broken in it. The proliferate deck in Simic is the closest thing to an archetype WAR has, but it remains intricate and fun to Draft, since there are so many proliferate cards and payoffs that it’s difficult to pin down exactly which is best for your deck as it currently looks.
Simic can also play a decent beatdown game, but you tend to suffer from lack of removal if you’re not going hard on the synergies.
Rakdos is one of my favourite colour pairs; another one with powerful and synergistic decks, including perhaps the best aggressive deck, but you can also play it in a grindy way around its Sacrifice cards. This is where Heartfire, Spark Reaper, and Spark Harvest are at their best, and so are cards like Chandra’s Pyrohelix and Tibalt’s Rager alongside Vraska’s Finisher.
Golgari (G/B) and Gruul (R/G)
Golgari and Gruul tend to be kind of similar, in that they’re midrange beatdowny decks. Gruul is the better aggressive deck, since it has more cards with 4-power synergy and better ways to enable those, and its removal is more efficient, but it also just has a lot less of it than Golgari and really struggles to deal with big creatures where Golgari can do so with ease. Golgari is one of the best grindy midrange decks, wearing people down and removing all of their stuff, but tends to have a rough time with more controlling decks/has individually less powerful cards than say Dimir or Rakdos.
Golgari is the better deck usually, but Gruul can really get there if it gets enough good red burn/can lean into its 4 power synergies more.
Orzhov was one of the few white/x pairs I was routinely impressed with, because it had good proliferate synergy and sacrifice outlets to make use of White’s medium creatures late game; cards like Martyr for the Cause and Teyo’s Lightshield were much better here, since you could cash them in for the death effect or the counter whenever you wanted, often while drawing a card alongside Spark Reaper or getting absurd tempo with Spark Harvest. If you had a couple of creatures with counters on them and then were casting Wanderer’s Strike, you were getting a really busted rate.
I’m not sure how much of this was because Black was busted, but Azorius didn’t really pan out despite Blue being almost as busted, so I suspect synergy was the answer.
Boros was probably the second best white deck after Orzhov, since it made best use of all White’s tiny aggressive creatures and had a focused gameplan. White tended to be removal heavy in the format, so the decks would often play out like removal piles and if you have enough removal, small beatdowny creatures actually become pretty good! You could also just be Boros Control with good rare/uncommon payoffs like Sunblade Angel and Kaya.
Selesnya was one of the decks I tried out a lot especially early on, but wasn’t usually all that impressed by because its gameplan was usually “build a huge creature with Courage in Crisis and then lose to removal”. White was the worst colour in WAR, because its creatures were small and weak and didn’t line up well with the rest of the format, and you were often pigeonholed into being a medium aggro deck if you were base white. That being said, I had success with the decks that leaned hard into Green Proliferate and mostly used white for busted uncommons like Graceful Apparition, the few good white commons like Trusted Pegasus, and removal spells like Law-Rune Enforcer/Divine Arrow, or for rares and mythics. Selesnya was still well worth going into if it was very open.
Azorius was a running joke for my long-time friend and fellow draft-obsessed maniac JustLola and I (find his Twitch here and tell him I sent you!), because we were almost never in it. Every draft, we would say “today is the day we’ll draft Azorius” and then it usually didn’t pan out. I have had perhaps four Azorius drafts of over a hundred at this point. In theory, Azorius is a good fliers deck and you can get stuff like Rally of Wings which can lead to some big swings, and I have definitely lost to that card a bunch, but in practice White just doesn’t have all that many good fliers and brings Blue’s incredible power level down so you end up being akin to Selesnya in that you are a Blue deck with good White removal like Wanderer’s Strike and Prison Realm, and generally great White cards or those that have synergy with your proliferate cards. You go into it if it’s very open, and it’s often great if it is, but it’s rare (which is flavourful since rares are often a good reason to be in it!).
Some quick pointers about the format:
- WAR is slow and grindy, but not nearly as much so as say Theros: Beyond Death or Throne of Eldraine; the games come down to tempo a lot, are generally faster, and attrition battles are the most common kind of long game. WAR and Ikoria are pretty similar in terms of speed, but WAR is probably slightly faster still.
- WAR is a format where the vast majority of games are decided by commons and uncommons, not rares & mythics, even if it’s often rares and mythics that pull you into your colours. I give the reasons for this and why it being a bomb-oriented prince format is a big misconception in this section of the Exhaustive Guide.
- Being on the play and curving out are both huge advantages in WAR, despite being a slow format, because they help you keep planeswalkers off the board and ensure your opponents don’t get full value off them. Planeswalkers are actually a pretty fun aspect of WAR, since there’s so much removal for them, and the uncommon ones generally aren’t oppressively strong in Draft.