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War of the Spark Arena "Counters" Primer


Over the next several weeks, Magic Arena is running a series of free weekly events featuring a variety of formats. The rewards for doing well in these events are pretty exciting: card styles featuring the stained-glass planeswalker art from the War of the Spark trailer! This week, we have a brand new format called Counters. The rules are simple: you build a normal 60-card deck and play a regular game of Magic, but with a twist. At the beginning of your end step, you essentially get to proliferate—you get a free loyalty counter on each of your planeswalkers and a free +1/+1 counter on each creature you control that has a +1/+1 counter (and if you have no creatures with +1/+1 counters, you get to Amass 1).

Unlike our last couple of events (Pauper and Singleton), it seems likely that many players will jump into the Counters event with known Standard decks. It just so happens that some of the most tuned and best decks in normal Standard work really well with the Counters theme, so if you love Superfriends mirrors and Command the Dreadhorde, this will be the event for you! Before talking decks, here's a look at the rewards for this week's event.

Note: Wizards just announced that they are changing the number of wins it takes to earn prizes in the weekly events. Here's the update:

The Decks—Level One (Superfriends and Explore)

The easy choice for best deck in the Counters format is Four-Color Dreadhorde. The foundation of the deck is the explore package of Wildgrowth Walker, Jadelight Ranger, and Merfolk Branchwalker (all creatures that end up with +1/+1 counters) and a ton of planeswalkers to put extra loyalty counters on. My guess is a lot of players will jump into the Counters event with their Standard Four-Color Dreadhorde basically unchanged and probably have a good showing. If you're looking to customize the deck for the event, playing main-deck copies of The Elderspell and other mass-planeswalker removal seems like good tech since there will likely be a lot of planeswalkers running around.

If you want a more consistent mana base, Sultai Dreadhorde offers a lot of the same possibilities as Four-Color Dreadhorde but with even more +1/+1 counter creatures, thanks to Hydroid Krasis and some powerful planeswalkers to proliferate. Once again, I'd be looking to throw some copies of The Elderspell into the main deck as a way to deal with the powerful planeswalker threats of the format.

Another option is to forget about creatures and just focus on planeswalkers with something like Jeskai Superfriends. One of the odd advantages here is that having no creatures means you'll be Amassing for one each turn for free, giving an infinite blocker to help protect your planeswalkers. Speaking of planeswalkers. by dropping creatures, you can spend each of your turns and all of your mana playing as many of them as possible. Sarkhan the Masterless is especially powerful in a Superfriends meta since it allows all of your planeswalkers to fly over ground creatures and either pressure your opponent's life total or planeswalkers. If Superfriends dominates the meta, consider adding more copies of Dovin's Veto and Negate over some of the softer removal like Shock.

The Decks—Level Two (Anti-Superfriends)

The other option for the Counters format is to anticipate the prevalence of Superfriends lists and play something designed to punish opponents for playing so many planeswalkers. Cards like Mass Manipulation and The Immortal Sun seem especially brutal in the Counters meta. As strange as it sounds, there might even be an argument for playing something like Mono-Red Aggro or Gruul Aggro, even though these decks don't benefit all that much from proliferating every turn (although you can grow your riot creatures or buff whatever planeswalkers happen to be in your deck), in an attempt to punish players for playing slow, durdly planeswalker-based decks and take advantage of the Atraxa, Praetors' Voice emblem.

Bant Ramp offers main-deck The Immortal Sun along with some explore creatures and other light +1/+1 counter synergies (like Shalai, Voice of Plenty). 

Simic Manipulation is the best option if you're planning on stealing your opponent's planeswalkers. While it doesn't benefit heavily from the counters theme, the combination of counterspells and Mass Manipulation might be enough to make it a good choice for the event. Also, if you're playing a deck with Mass Manipulation (or even just Command the Dreadhorde), there is no downside in playing a Karn, the Great Creator sideboard even if you don't have Karn in your deck, just on the off-chance you manage to steal your opponent's Karn.

Mono-Green Superfriends offers the best of both worlds: the explore package with +1/+1 counter creatures, plenty of planeswalkers, and anti-planeswalker tech in the sideboard thanks to Karn, the Great Creator. Being able to tutor up The Immortal Sun or Sorcerous Spyglass seems like a great way to steal some games against unexpecting opponents.

The Sideboard

As I mentioned a moment ago, even though Counters is technically a best-of-one format, you are allowed to build a sideboard—you just normally can't access it since matches end after one game. However, if you are playing Karn, the Great Creator (or cards that might steal your opponent's Karn, the Great Creator, like Mass Manipulation or Command the Dreadhorde), the right move is to have an artifact-based sideboard for your deck. There's literally no downside, and even if it only comes up once every several games, it's still worth the effort since it costs nothing. Here's what I would stick in my sideboard if I thought there was even a slight chance I might end up with a Karn, the Great Creator on my side of the battlefield.

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. Good luck winning those stained-glass planeswalker card styles! Leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.


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