– Champions of Kamigawa
September 17, 2020
Commander [EDH]: 2.25
Ratings are based on a 1 to 5 scale. 1 is bad. 3 is average. 5 is great.
I have a great appreciation for interesting and innovative designs, and I also have an appreciation for elegant designs. Lava Spike is just about as elegant as you get, being almost as efficient as its inspiration, Lightning Bolt, and only a little less flexible. It’s rarely included incidentally in a deck that isn’t a linear or narrow burn deck, where it duplicates the effect of other spells, though it could theoretically get some use in anything that cares about the Arcane subtype. That’s mostly just Ire of Kaminari decks or Kamigawa Block Pauper Tiny Leaders, but that’s not nothing.
Fundamentally, Lava Spike is a bad Lightning Bolt. It can only be aimed at players and planeswalkers, it’s sorcery speed, and the Arcane subtype is one that adds very little in terms of strength and utility. And yet it sees a lot of play in Modern and Legacy, as well as Pauper; fancy that.
As it turns out, “bad Lightning Bolt” is still a good place for a card to be, because one mana for 3 damage to the face, with no downsides attached, is still an excellent rate of return, and the only thing better than one one-mana three-damage spell in a deck is two of them. (There’s also Morningtide‘s Shard Volley, but the downside of that card is noticeable enough in most decks.) Lava Spike also was notable as the first one-mana three-damage spell in an extremely long time; Lightning Bolt hadn’t been printed into Standard since Fourth Edition (and was still five years away from its triumphant return in Magic 2010), and this was about as good and efficient as burn spells got for the time.
The Arcane subtype means that it is harder to outright reprint Lava Spike, which means (amusingly) that single copies are more valuable on the secondary market than the cheapest copies of Lightning Bolt are. For all of its weaknesses, it’s still a passable approximation of one of the game’s iconic spells, and those seeming downsides will occasionally prove asset. But it’s ultimately Lightning Bolt copies 5 through 8 in a deck that will want them, and that’s sometimes all you need.
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