Wednesday, 17 May 2017
Card Spotlight: Lava Dart
Lava Dart feels like it has been around in magic forever now. Burn over the years is something that has remained more consistent in power level than other types of cards. Dorks have consistently gotten better, counterspells have gotten worse etc etc but burn has just had some mild ups and downs over the years. Lava Dart is a fairly middle-aged burn spell, it is no longer new and exciting, it is no longer relevant in many formats, it is not even that standout in power level. When there was less burn options on offer this was in my cube, then more rounded burn was printed and Lava Dart became a fringe card. With the high number of new additions to the cube since Tarkir/MtG Origins my cube has rather grown and to retain the right balance of effects and CMC a lot of the fringe but core stlyle of cards returned to the mainstream. Pretty much any half decent one mana burn, mana dork, card quality spell or targetted discard spell are in. That includes Lava Dart. While Lava Dart was a fringe card they printed a swathe of prowess cards. Lava Dart obviously has good interactions with the prowess style effects however so do many other cards. It wasn't an exciting go to card to mess about with in the same way something like a Gush might be, Obviously Dart has always worked well in the prowess style decks but it is a subtle tool that takes a while to fully appreciate how much work it is doing and quite how good it is.
What makes Lava Dart so good is its versatility without having to compromise on actual power. Assuming you have some mountains the Dart is all the best bits of Shock and Forked Bolt in one card. Lava Dart isn't just an instant speed Forked Bolt though, it is two spells in one, it is a free spell, it is something you can discard for value, it can kill something now and something else much later. The only cost of playing a Lava Dart is that in the early game it is pretty harmful to use this for the full two damage. If you need a Shock and just have this it is a problem and that is the worst case scenario for this card. On the flip side, if you only need to ping something for one and your only burn is a Shock then you will waste one damage. Lava Dart is an amazing tool to ensure you are efficient in your ability to allocate burn to things. Lava Dart is incredibly good at turning things that would two for one you into things that only 1.5 for one you! That might not sound great but it really is. Lava Dart is just so on theme for what most red decks are doing. Lava Dart is very cheap and so even when you are using it and another spell to solve a problem it is likely gaining you back tempo. Red is also very much about getting maximum value from its things. Red is highly redundant and typically likes to win using small bits of damage. When you have a card that offers two damage for one mana that is OK but when it frequently adds a couple of effective damage to a couple of other cards it is pretty huge.
The nature of red also ensures the Dart is always getting you its full 2 damage value even if you don't get to usefully take things out with it. As with any split damage card the best case scenario is killing two things as it is the highest tempo, not to mention card advantage in the non-Dart cases. They may well play around your Dart's flashback and as such it will just sit in the bin. That is fine though as they will be on one less life as a result. You only have to get them to one as the Dart can do the rest! In the case of something like Arc Trail either you get the two for one on the spot or you do a bit of face damage. If you do the face damage then you lose the option on taking out another thing with it and the card will not ever reach its maximum potential. Dart always represents the ability to take out two things and defers the decision to go face until later when you will be better placed to use it accordingly. This is a long winded way of saying that even though this has an awkward early condition to reach Shock/Forked Bolt power levels you don't ultimately forgo that power, you just save it and as such are generally able to use it more effectively.
These upsides are nice but is that worth the risk of not being able to sensibly kill anything with two power in the early game? That entirely depends on your deck. The more traditional red you are the better this seems to get. With no synergy and little other burn you are probably best off with a Shock or Forked Bolt instead. When you have a lot of redundancy in burn the risk of not having the right one is diminished and the benefits of being more efficient with your damage increase. Burn seems to be the main thing this wants to be paired with however there is plenty more in the way of strong synergies you can add in for your dart. Discard effects empower this greatly. The flashback is arguably the better half of the card in high synergy decks and so having this in the bin from earlyish on can be a real issue to play around. When you have prowess dorks a zero mana instant is a pretty big deal and gives you a massive combat and tempo edge. They will usually have to play around your ability to use the Dart and so you will get some free value without even having to.
Lava Dart is the cheapest and most contained two in one spells in the game. For one mana and one card you get to play two things. That is +2/+2 to all prowess dorks for one mana and a free Chandra's Pyrohelix! Imagine the horror of blocking my Swiftspear on your Courser of Kruphix, my Stormchaser Mage with a Smugglers Copter with me on just one mana with a Young Pyromancer in play made precombat. You expect a trick from that line of play and so you expect to be putting one guy in the bin to my spell and killing none of mine due to the trigger. That is still fine, you got a 1 for 1. You have a mana elf back and should be able to get plenty of value from the Copter or the Courser, whichever survives and should be in a good position to race given you are taking no combat damage. Sadly you didn't consider the Lava Dart and I completely clear your board for one mana and make a pair of 1/1 tokens as well. Despite it only being turn three I probably won't need that mountain to win from that position!
I have blown people out really hard with this before as a hidden free spell too. I tap out into a combat where I have an active Jace, Vryn's Prodigy and some prowess dorks. They block as if I am done making spells and then I loot away my Dart and flash it back and devastate the combat. Lava Dart even combats mill strategies as it is an extra free damage when you don't draw it!
Lava Dart is a nominally high powered burn spell with a much greater potential to scale with appropriate synergy cards than most others. It does have a drawback but it is fairly easily mitigated. When you start with already a good card (instant speed Forked Bolt with delay options) yet are able to scale that card up much more effectively you can end with a truly unreasonable power level in your card. Lightning Bolt is obviously the best all round Burn spell on average by quite a long margin. A lot of burn spells never out perform it. Of those that do Lava Dart is one of the more frequent to do so and the one that does so by some of the biggest margins. Lava Dart is a pretty simple and direct spell yet it offers far more options that those like it and lets you do more to outplay people as well. With ever more discard and prowess cards making it into the cube and with mountains not going away any time soon I expect the Dart to continue improving within the cube and it is in a pretty good place already!