The Brothers’ War Set Review

The Brothers’ War Set Review

The Brothers’ War story was first told in 1994 and to this day it’s still one of the most important pieces of Magic lore. The Brothers’ War set looks like it’s going to be a unique retelling of an iconic story. Does it live up to the hype? Read on to find out.

This isn’t just a list of the best cards in the set but a detailed look at the most interesting, novel or fun cards in the set. I’m going to start with the commons and uncommons because these showcase the main mechanics and themes for the set.

Top Commons and Uncommons

Urza, Powerstone Prodigy

Where better to start a Brothers’ War set review than with one of the brothers at the beginning of the war? Urza and his brother Mishra, Excavation Prodigy are at the heart of this story that spans many decades so it makes sense that there are multiple versions of both characters in this set. My favourite Urza/Mishra pair is the uncommon pairing which shows how similar they were before the conflict began. They both tap to draw and discard, have a keyword that lets them tap more often and have an ability that generates mana but the abilities are all a little different. Both look really fun to build around and Urza looks like a fantastic engine for artifact decks. Notably creating the first powerstone makes the ability free in future turns. The stats also line up so that if they get into combat with each other neither is killed, representing the fact that this conflict will continue for much longer. I like how many parallels there are between the two uncommons which contrasts with how different the brothers become after decades of war.

I glossed over the powerstone Urza makes, but what are powerstones? They first appeared in Dominaria United on a couple of cards, Karn, Living Legacy and The Mana Rig, but now they are a major theme of the set. They are mana rocks that can’t be used to cast non-artifact spells. This double negative is really awkward wording but powerstones are more flexible than they look. Powerstones help ramp into big artifacts, pay for activated abilities and even taxing effects like ward costs. As we have seen with other tokens like treasure, blood and food just having artifacts in play is always useful. In this set it’s very hard to imagine a deck not being able to use powerstones well. There are so many artifacts in this set, cards like Sarinth Steelseeker that reward you for making artifacts and cards like Penregon Strongbull that reward you for sacrificing artifacts.

How do I feel about powerstones? I’m getting a little tired of every other set having a new artifact token mechanic and I don’t like the awkward rules text on powerstones but I think they are a perfect fit for this set. Powerstones help fuel the conflict in the lore and the Brothers’ War is all about the huge war machines that Urza and Mishra were able to create using the powerstones. This mechanic lets you do the same and it’s always special when a mechanic creates a player experience that faithfully mimics the main storyline of the set. I don’t know how they will shape limited or constructed but matching game-play with the lore so well is very rare.

Rust Goliath

I said the war machines were huge and they are definitely are. Rust Goliath is the first ten power common and the first ten mana common. Even the Eldrazi were never this big at common. A deck dedicated to powerstones still won’t be able to afford a ten mana on a regular basis, so fortunately we have the prototype mechanic. In this case we can spend five mana to get a Mammoth Spider with trample. This flexibility is really powerful and lets you get around the fact that ten mana creatures are normally unplayable. Unless the limited format is really wild, this will be cast for five mana more often than ten mana but having the dream of a ten mana ten-ten is really fun. As well as powerstones, prototype creatures also work well with blink effects or re-animate effects which will put the non-prototype version into play. I also like that prototype represents different stages of the war and shows how the conflict escalates as the war machines get bigger and more destructive. This set does a really good job of representing many different stages of the war from the two young brothers arguing over the Mightstone and the Weakstone to the final climatic battles and Urza becoming a planeswalker.

My one criticism of the prototype mechanic is that I find the coloured rule-box a little ugly. For example on Rust Goliath the green rule box is the most colourful part of the card and it draws the eye away from the art or the other rules text. It doesn’t help that the art on Rust Goliath is so grey. I’m sure I’m in a minority on this but even though I love the flavour and game-play of prototype I dislike the extra textbox which stands out like a sore thumb. I had the same problem with the mutate cards from Ikoria. Another personal favourite of mine from the prototype cards is Depth Charge Colossus because the blue rule-box blends in well with the blue art and it doesn’t clash with the grey artifact border. I also like the art on this card because the water cascading of the dreadnought gives a real sense of scale and make it look massive. Interestingly this is only the second dreadnought after Phyrexian Dreadnought if you ignore the Warhammer 40,000 commander decks.

Mishra’s Juggernaut

As the war raged on and Dominaria’s resources were depleted, it became important to salvage the wreckage of fallen war machines and either repair them or take them apart for parts to repair other machines. This is represented by the returning mechanic unearth which now appears on artifacts. Where as prototype is great for slower decks that build up to a huge endgame, unearth is great for aggressive strategies that can spend mana to get more damage out of their creatures. Blocking and trading with an unearthed creature feels terrible because the unearthed creature will soon be removed from play. This is what makes Mishra’s Juggernaut so great. The five power is too much to ignore whilst trample makes it painful to block with small creatures. I described unearth and powerstones as pulling in different directions but they also work really well together because you can use powerstones once to cast the original creature and a second time to activate unearth. This suggests that powerstones will be just as important to the aggressive archetypes as they are to the big ramp decks that play a slower game. This makes it hard for me to predict how the limited format will work because so much depends on powerstones but it also makes me think this format will be very unique.

Splitting the Powerstone

Looking at unearth and prototype makes me think powerstones are going to be incredible in limited. I think every deck will have uses for powerstones. Slower decks will have lots of artifact creatures with prototype and aggressive decks will want to unearth creatures from their graveyard. However when I look at some of the cards that make powerstones I don’t know if there are enough that every deck can rely on powerstones. Some cards like Excavation Explosion and Argothian Opportunist are clearly great. But there are only eight commons that make powerstones and only a handful of cards that can make multiple powerstones. Are powerstones going to be so powerful and integral to a deck that an otherwise mediocre card becomes desirable because it makes a powerstone? Splitting the Powerstone looks awful at first glance because the set-up cost is too high. But if my excitement for powerstones is justified then a card that makes two powerstones should be worth considering. The extra bonus of drawing a card for sacrificing a legendary artifact seems too niche to care about, but is there a way to get the most out of Splitting the Powerstone? This card represents a huge moment in the history of Magic’s lore and it would be a real shame if it’s totally unplayable but I’m struggling to think of a deck that wants this.

The success of the cards that make powerstones could be critical to how popular the limited format is. One of the most exciting themes in this set is making lots of powerstones so that you can cast huge monsters like Rust Goliath without the prototype cost. But to do this you need plenty of powerstones and to draft lots of cards that make powerstones. If enough of the cards that make powerstones are bad, archetypes that rely on powerstones won’t be too frequent. If this happens and the set is too fast for big ramp strategies I can see a lot of people being disappointed. For example, Ikoria also had a big monster theme but it was heavily overshadowed by the cycling archetype and aggressive strategies. I hope The Brother’s War is a success but as we saw with the werewolves in Midnight Hunt, if the biggest theme of a set flops a lot of people will lose interest in the set as a whole.

Third Path Iconoclast

The gold uncommons in this set are fascinating. Like most sets they are powerful uncommons that give your limited deck a boost if you draft those two colours. Usually they promote a particular theme or mechanic that those colours care about and give players an exciting reason to build a particular archetype in limited. This is the default for almost every draftable set that has been made in recent years. These cards are known as signpost uncommons and they are one of the first things I look for when I look at a new set.

In The Brothers’ War two things really stand out about the gold uncommons. Firstly they all look really strong and I’m sure some will see constructed play. Third Path Iconoclast is clearly amazing as an upgrade to an absolute classic and fan favourite Young Pyromancer. I’m a little sad to see such an iconic card fall victim to power creep. Strictly speaking being two colours is a drawback but spell-based decks typically play blue because many of the best instants and sorceries are blue. In return for playing two colours the Iconoclast triggers on enchantments, artifacts and planeswalkers whilst also making artifact tokens. This opens the door to a plethora of new synergies and it’s quite possible this simple uncommon is the best card in the set. Third Path Iconoclast isn’t the only pushed signpost uncommon because they all look really strong. The usual restrictions like ‘once per turn’ are nowhere to be seen. In the right deck Yotian Dissident will give out a ton of +1/+1 counters. Junkyard Genius sacrificing two or three powerstones will routinely end games with the anthem effect. Skyfisher Spider is like Ravenous Chupacabra but with a better body, the ability to hit any non-land permanent and extra life when it dies.

So what’s the catch with these signpost uncommons? They are really strong cards that will pull you towards playing their colours in draft but I’m not sure how supported their themes are. The gold uncommons like Third Path Iconoclast give you a clear direction like normal. If you open one in draft you would naturally focus on non-creature spells but there aren’t many other payoffs for focusing on non-creature spells in the set. The only ones I found are Fallaji Archaeologist, Levitating Statue, Hurkyl, Master Wizard and a few prowess creatures. This lack of focus is repeated with the other the gold uncommons and I wonder if they are pushed in part because of how unfocused the colour pairs are.

This raises questions about how many colours decks will be playing in limited. Lots of artifacts makes in easier to play mono-colour and cards like Corrupt certainly incentivise this, but I don’t think there are enough incentives for doing this compared to a format like Throne of Eldraine. Playing lots of artifacts might also make it easier to play more colours because you still have things to play when you don’t draw the right lands. But the fixing in this set doesn’t look like it encourages playing lots of colours. Just like with the powerstones I’m finding this a very hard aspect of the format to predict. Are the themes signalled by the signpost uncommons better supported than they look or is this format just more unfocused than we are used to seeing?

Airlift Chaplain

If the gold uncommons aren’t strong signposts, can we expect any signposts at common like Tolarian Terror and the other cost reduction creatures in Dominaria United? These five commons were the strongest indication of what each colour’s main game-plan was in the last limited format. Is history repeating itself with a cycle of commons being key to understanding how to draft good decks? Each creature mills three and then gives you the option of returning a specific type of card to your hand from those three cards or getting a +1/+1 counter. This presents an interesting deck building dilemma because you can construct your deck to maximise drawing a card or to capitalise on the mill effect. This cycle suggests every colour will be good at filling the graveyard and able to take advantage of the unearth mechanic. If this is true, will we be splashing off-colour unearth costs like we did with the off-colour kicker costs in Dominaria United? This set has the signs of being a complicated limited environment with many different things to think about.

I had a hard time picking a favourite from the mill commons. I like Fallaji Archaeologist as a cheap blocker that can draw a card and put cards in the graveyard for extra value. However I had to pick Airlift Chaplain because it’s the first mono-white card with the word mill on it. White has traditionally had reanimation spells but lacked discard and mill to build a real mono-white reanimation deck. This is an interesting development for white and if it continues it would open up new possibilities for mono-white decks. I also like that Airlift Chaplain is more versatile than some of the others because it can get a plains, another creature or buff itself with a +1/+1 counter. It also works in multiples because one Chaplain can draw the next one which is reminiscent of Squadron Hawk.

Gaea’s Gift

2022 has been a good year for combat tricks. Tamiyo’s Safekeeping was amazing at protecting your creatures from removal in Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty. Take Up the Shield in Dominaria United was an excellent way to win combat and gain a big chunk of life. In The Brother’s War we get another excellent combat trick with Gaea’s Gift which might be one of the most versatile combat tricks of all time. It works like Tamiyo’s Safekeeping to protect a creature from your opponent’s spells whilst also winning combats with the +1/+1 counter. Getting reach at instant speed lets you block and kill fliers that thought they were safe whilst granting trample to a big creature lets you get in extra damage against small blockers. Getting a +1/+1 counter and four keywords is so good for two mana and being good in so many situations makes this a strong combat trick.

What I really like about Gaea’s Gift is that it’s a lot appealing than your run-of-the-mill combat trick. Combat tricks are a staple of limited and playing with and against them is a big skill tester, but they are often looked down upon because of how weak they are in constructed formats. I hope that the huge list of abilities gets a few more people excited about combat tricks again.

No One Left Behind

Reanimation spells are always in an awkward spot. If they are priced at four mana it becomes too easy to cheat on mana and there is a risk of breaking standard. However the standard cost of five mana is underwhelming and usually too expensive for constructed. In limited the difficulty of building a reanimator deck means these effects are relegated to simply being ok for long and grindy match-ups. This effect has long languished at five mana and it has always struggled to excite me. The best these cards can usually hope for is a minor bonus like Bond of Revival or Unbreakable Bond.

However the modality on No One Left Behind elevates it above the standard Rise Again effect. Much like the prototype mechanic this card has a much cheaper mode for the times you can’t target a huge creature. The single biggest drawback of these effects traditionally in limited is that your average creature costs less than five mana. This makes it horrible unless you get back something huge. It’s not hard to get a cheap creature into your graveyard so No One Left Behind is going to be castable far more often than if it always cost five mana. Like prototype you get a card you can reliably cast whilst keeping the dream alive of doing something really powerful. Not only has the reanimation effect gotten stronger, but this limited format is filled with huge creatures to return to the battlefield. I wonder if this is a limited format where you really can build a proper reanimator deck.

There are actually a lot of other modal cards in this set. I’ve talked about prototype, and there is a rare cycle of commands I’ll talk about later. There are also some strong modal cards at lower rarities. Mishra’s Onslaught has two modes that work well together whilst Bushwhack and Gruesome Realization look like excellent cards. Bushwhack in particular reminds me of the excellent modal double faced cards from Zendikar Rising. Like Khalni Ambush this combines a fight spell with a land. Of course the ambush is an instant but Bushwack only costs one mana and can be a land of any colour. Paying one mana for a sorcery is comparable to a land that enters tapped so I think the comparison is appropriate.

Demolition Field

Part of managing a game that has lasted for thirty years is updating staple effects to adapt to a changing player base. Field of Ruin is one of those cards that is missed when it isn’t present in Standard if any strong lands start to shape the format. When it was reprinted in Midnight Hunt to prevent it rotating out of Standard, it looked like Field of Ruin might have been promoted to an ever present card like Duress and Negate. Whilst Field of Ruin was perfect for Standard, it was extremely awkward in games with more than one opponent. Powerful land destruction effects are generally taboo in Commander so there are few acceptable ways to interact with really powerful lands like Cabal Coffers or Field of the Dead which is frustrating and makes powerful lands quite problematic. Field of Ruin should be a perfect solution as it can’t be used to deny mana production but can go in any deck as an answer to some key cards that have few other answers. The problem is that each additional opponent you have also gets a free basic land despite not losing a land which feels miserable. Demolition Field is the solution to this problem. In two player games it’s identical to Field of Ruin whilst being far superior for Commander play.

I don’t know how I feel about this change. On paper it sounds great because it doesn’t effect Standard game play and solves a genuine problem in a very popular format. It’s nice to see a card designed to be important in both a competitive format and a casual one at a time when the Magic community is more fragmented than ever before. However the new wording on this card is excessively long. It is so much wordier than Field of Ruin and I think a growing segment of Magic players are sick of cards with lots of words on it. Many players don’t care about Magic with more than one opponent so having a fairly simple card replaced by one with nearly fifty words in the rule-box is awkward. We will have to wait and see if this is a strict replacement for Field of Ruin or if both versions will see print and co-exist alongside each other.

Warlord’s Elite

Part of the fun of limited is trying to predict which cards look bad but are better than they look. Warlord’s Elite has a weird additional cost that is hard to evaluate. It costs three mana but if you tap lands or powerstones it effectively costs five mana. This hybrid nature makes it an awkward card to evaluate. At five mana this card is terrible but are there enough synergies to make it playable? If you have enough cheap creatures and artifacts its reasonable to cast this on turn three. As I mentioned it works with powerstones despite not being an artifact and it also works with the blue-white solider theme. It also works really well with some of the cards in the black-white archetype that care about creatures which cost three mana or less. It’s also one of the biggest creatures you can draw with an Airlift Chaplain or Recruitment Officer. My favourite use for this card is with Recommission which makes it cheaper and bigger at the same time. Airlift Chaplain, Recommission and Warlord’s Elite seems like the core of a fun deck at common. Will it be good enough to redeem Warlord’s Elite? I don’t know but I love the speculation and theory-crafting that precedes each new limited format.

Fallaji Dragon Engine

One of the advantages of doing a time-travel in Magic is that it’s a perfect opportunity to do lots of fun call backs to an iconic set like Antiquities. There aren’t any cards from Antiquities in the main set although a few do appear on the retro-frame bonus sheet like Ornithopter and Millstone. Despite being such an iconic set, not everything in Antiquities fits in a set with modern design principles. Sometimes in Antiquities the idea was great but the execution was a little bit lacking. For example dragon engines sounded awesome, but Dragon Engine is nowhere near as epic as it sounds. Fallaji Dragon Engine is clearly inspired by the original Dragon Engine with the same ‘firebreathing’ ability that uses colourless mana to boost its power. The big difference is that the new dragon engine can be the big flying monster we expect dragons to be. The original 1/3 stat line is still there for the prototype mode as a further connection with the original but what I like is that this is still a cool card even if you have never seen the original. A new player might see this as a card designed to work with powerstones because you can use them to cast it and activate the ability whilst more experienced players might see it as a homage to a classic card. It’s important that updated designs like this work on their own merits and don’t rely on knowing decades old Magic cards to get people excited.

It’s a fun game to compare the cards in Antiquities and the Brothers’ War and see which cards took inspiration from 1994. For example Argothian Pixies has become Argothian Sprite, Yotian Soldier is now Yotian Medic and Onulet has turned into Tocasia’s Onulet. My favourite part of this is seeing how card design has changed over the years. For example Urza’s Avenger had banding as one of the abilities and extra rules text explaining that the abilities are cumulative. It’s been replaced by Argivian Avenger and the only ability shared by both versions is flying The other three keywords on Argivian Avenger weren’t even keywords when Antiquities was printed. Taking inspiration from past sets is a good way to cash in on nostalgia but it’s also a real lesson in how much the game has changed since it was first published.

Dreams of Steel and Oil

I find a lot of cards in this set have pretty generic art, but the exceptions to this have some incredible art. Dominik Mayer is in a really rich vein of form at the moment and has been producing some of the best art of the last two years. In this set he has the command cycle such as Kayla’s Command featuring some brilliant art as well as the beautiful Visions of Phyrexia. Every set since Crimson Vow has had some of his incredible artwork including Cut Your Losses, Repel the Vile and Gift of Fangs. I don’t know how he is producing so much good art but I want this run to continue for as long as possible.

All of the cards by Dominik Mayer are great but Dreams of Steel and Oil by Jeremy Wilson is my favourite piece of art in the set. The contrasting flat areas of colour are very striking and this card really stands out in your booster pack. Jeremy Wilson also had a couple of great pieces of art in Dominaria United with Bone Splinters and Jaya’s Firenado. Like Dominik Mayer, I hope this is an artist who is represented in most sets going forward and we get lots more of his unique art.

Top Rares and Mythics

Urza, Planeswalker

There is no doubt in my mind which card stands head and shoulders above the others. Urza was one of the most powerful planeswalkers ever in the lore, but we have never really seen that power properly represented in game. If you ignore Blind Seer who was Urza in disguise, our first Urza card was Urza, Academy Headmaster. I love this card for it’s random and wacky design because it gives you a random effect every time you activate it.

However there were two big obstacles that seemed insurmountable for the many fans who wanted to Urza in black border. Firstly he is long dead with no hope of coming back which prevents him from taking part in almost any set that advances Magic’s storyline. As time has gone on Magic has released more and more products that aren’t tied to the storyline and we finally got Urza, Lord High Artificer in Modern Horizons, a set that celebrated Magic’s past and brought back many iconic characters. Notably this card showed Urza as a general during the Brothers’ War before he became a planeswalker.

What fans really wanted was a planeswalker card and even after Modern Horizons printed Urza, I didn’t think we would ever see an Urza planeswalker. The second and main reason for this was that Urza was a planeswalker before the Mending. The Mending was an event that stripped planeswalkers of much of their power and turned them into mortal beings. Before this they were god-like beings capable of creating and destroying entire planes. How could you hope to show this on a Magic card? If it was faithful to Urza, it would be too powerful in game and if it was balanced correctly it would fail to represent Urza. The solution it seems is to use two cards instead of one.

To play Urza, Planeswalker you must first control Urza, Lord Protector and The Mightstone and Weakstone and then pay for the expensive activated ability on Urza, Lord Protector. The two cards are designed to fit together very elegantly. If you play Urza on turn three you can flip him on turn five by spending your next two turns on The Mightstone and Weakstone and then paying for the activated ability. Each card gives mana or a cost reduction to the other half of the meld pair. This was a really clever decision because it makes summoning Urza as a planeswalker difficult enough that his planeswalker side can be incredibly pushed. As befits such a legendary character, Urza gets to be the first planeswalker with five abilities and the ability to activate his abilities twice a turn is awesome. It doesn’t even matter what the abilities do, just that having so many is epic. Not only does meld using two cards make room for all the abilities, but it also allows for a larger piece of art that represents Urza becoming a planeswalker during the final moments of the Brothers’ War as he activates the Golgothian Sylex and ends the war. I thought it would be impossible to print a planeswalker that does justice to Urza, but I must admit I was wrong. It has taken nearly thirty years but finally we have the Urza planeswalker card fans have been waiting for.

Temporal Anchor

You may have noticed that none of the big mechanical war machines so far are vehicles, even though we have seen similar titanic constructs be vehicles in other sets such as Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty earlier this year. This is because the designers wanted to create a retro-feel to the set which is quite fitting given that this is a set about time-travel and harkens back to a story first told in 1994. For a similar reason Temporal Anchor is the only coloured artifact in the set to make it stand out as being from a completely different time period to the other cards in the set. This is the machine that lets Teferi’s spirit travel back in time and witness the events of the Brothers’ War.

The Brothers’ War is the first big artifact set since colourless artifacts became normalised and I was expecting lots of them in this set. Every set with an big artifact theme in the past has caused problems in standard because the best cards end up in every single deck. The designers have managed to toe the line of keeping the artifacts colourless whilst keeping the artifacts locked to specific colours with both the prototype and unearth costs mostly requiring some coloured mana. I love these decisions because it gives the set an old-fashioned vibe whilst learning the lessons of past mistakes.

The Temporal Anchor isn’t just an exception in the set but also an anomaly in all of magic. It’s a big payoff for playing cards that scry. Despite first appearing in Fifth Dawn, reappearing on a number of cards in Future Sight, being a minor theme in the original Theros block, a keyword since Magic Origins in 2015 and part of the mulligan rules, there are almost no cards you can build around for scrying. For a long time Flamespeaker Adept and Knowledge and Power were the only ones. We got Elminster recently but that ties you to instants and sorceries to get rewarded. The Temporal Anchor is a much more fun card that essentially turns all of your scry effects into card draw. What I really like is it ties into the theme of viewing the past and future because the cards you would put on the bottom of your deck are instead saved for later. This is going to be one of my favourite cards in the set simply because scry is one of my favourite mechanics. It appears on lots of iconic cards because it’s a meaningful bonus effect that designers can put on cards without it being too powerful. It helps prevent lop-sided games where too many or too few lands are drawn and it’s simple enough for newer players to understand. However because it introduces more decision making it also rewards the better players. I’m glad scry is finally getting an more exciting payoff after all this time.

Urza’s Command

Certain words in magic come with a long history and high expectations. Command is one of those and the Brothers’ War is giving us our first cycle of mono-colour commands since the original commands back in Lorwyn. Each of the new commands represents one of the main characters in the story and comes with incredible art by Dominik Mayer. His work is consistently great but this cycle is some of his best yet. Unfortunately I don’t think these will live up to the high standards set by previous commands. Four of the five are sorcery speed which makes them much worse. This is part of the reason Urza’s Command is my favourite because being an instant makes it a bit stronger. However the fact that the construct comes into play tapped means you can’t ambush attackers with it which takes away a lot of the strength of being an instant.

This underwhelming cycle of commands seems like a reflection of how competitive magic has become a lower priority for Wizards. This card is great for a casual player who thinks the powerstone and the construct are a good fit for a deck themed around Urza. However when more and more cards are aimed at casual magic, I think it’s important that the cards aimed at competitive magic hit. This cycle should be one of the highlights of the set that gets people excited about Standard, Pioneer and Modern. Instead the most hype from competitive players for this set seems to be artifacts like Haywire Mite as something to tutor up with Urza’s Saga or as part of a sideboard package for Karn, the Great Creator. One drawback of Standard getting less love is that fewer and fewer cards will be powerful enough to make a splash in any constructed format. I don’t know what will happen to Standard legal sets if Standard doesn’t make a resurgence but when I something like a command cycle fail to get people excited, I do worry about competitive Magic.

Ashnod Flesh Mechanist

The Brothers’ War is a set that gets people nostalgic for the early days of Magic. There are a lot of reasons why people love the older sets but they weren’t without their flaws. One of them was that important characters from the story never appeared in the game. Sometimes it was because the story was written after the set was designed and sometimes it was because designers felt the character was too powerful to appear in the cards. Ashnod might be one of the worst examples of this. She was Mishra’s apprentice until she betrayed him and passed the Golgothian Sylex to Tawnos which led to Urza activating it and ending the war. Despite being an important character in lore, she only appeared in references such as the iconic Ashnod’s Altar. Finally she has recieved her own card and it’s a very cheap and aggressive sacrifice outlet. It has great art and is notable for being the cheapest way to make powerstones. I like how the sacrifice ability gives you the mana and the creature cards in your graveyard that you need to create an army of zombies. This card is very pushed and I like that it must attack to sacrifice creatures because this keeps it balanced whilst making it more aggressive. This is a nice change from the typical sacrifice deck that wears its opponent down in longer games.

Other characters that make their debut in this set include Loran of the Third Path who is the first Reclamation Sage in white and Tocasia, Dig Site Mentor, a fun build-around that notably has the surveil keyword. Surveil and landfall have both been added as keywords that we can now expect to see in any set. Landfall is a fantastic ability that works with the game’s core resource so it definitely deserves to be an ever-present keyword. Graveyards are also pretty important so surveil also makes sense. However I do worry that having too many keywords makes the game harder to learn and get into. I don’t know if the game needs surveil and scry in every set so I’m uncertain what this means for scry going forward. I also don’t know if surveil and landfill are going to be the only keywords that get promoted in this way or if the list of essential keywords will continue to grow.

Misery’s Shadow

Shades used to be a iconic creature type famous for the ability to pump themselves over and over again. Dating back to Frozen Shade in Limited Edition Alpha, shades were better than they looked when creatures were much weaker. In a stalled out game where both players have played lots of lands, a shade could become the scariest creature on the battlefield. Nantuko Shade once terrorised standard back in the day but these days shades are either forgettable commons like Tattered Apparition or lack the traditional shade ability like Skyclave Shade. I love seeing a shade design that stays true to its roots whilst keeping up with today’s power levels.

Shades usually require lots of black mana which restricts the decks they can be played in so it’s interesting to see the first shade that works with any colourless mana. This is especially significant in this set because it means it works perfectly with powerstones. It also means more decks can use it as an option against cards like Tenacious Underdog that you want to keep out of the graveyard. The first ability isn’t as good as dedicated graveyard removal but it will be useful. Finally I love how old-school the art is. The mono-colour background and visible brushstrokes make this feel like a piece of art from a bygone era. It think it’s very fitting to pair such classical looking art with something as classic as a shade and I would love to see it in the old frame.

Fade from History

The Brothers’ War has a massive artifact theme so it might be surprising to see some strong artifact hate in this set. In the past strong themes were often given time to shine before strong hate cards were printed. For example in the original Theros block the best enchantment removal was sorcery speed and cost three mana. In this block we get Disenchant for limited and at rare Loran of the Third Path is a very strong Reclamation Sage for white decks. In limited I’m curious to see if Disenchant is going to be one of the best removal spells in the set and how it will compare it to Go for the Throat. I find it amusing that these instants have such opposing targeting restrictions.

Notably a lot of these hate cards target enchantments as well as artifacts. This is notable for standard where enchantments like Wedding Announcement and Fable of the Mirror-Breaker are the strongest cards in standard. My favourite of the hate cards is Fade from History which is going to destroy so many artifacts. Of course it destroys all the powerful artifacts from this set along with the best cards in standard which is great. But there are also so many token artifacts in the game now that we have been crying out for effects that destroy them all. We already had blood tokens, treasure tokens and clue tokens to contend with and now we are getting powerstone tokens to worry about as well. Being to wipe away all of these at the same time as destroying big threats is going to feel great. Fade from History might also be the best version of this effect. Purify and Cleansing Nova cost five mana whilst Rampage of the Clans is more of a combo card than a realistic answer to artifacts and enchantments. I don’t usually get excited for sideboard cards but I’m interested to see just how good this effect will be at four mana.

I also enjoy the name and flavour of this card, although I am confused by the flavour text. The name suggests that the events of the war will eventually be forgotten as Dominaria recovers, whilst the white coats of the bears suggests they have adapted to the ice age that was triggered by the Sylex blast at the end of the war. The bears themselves are a cute addition to the card and giving your opponent a Grizzly Bear is still not bad when you see how many artifacts and enchantments this will be destroying. However the flavour text is intriguing because I thought Argoth was completely destroyed by Urza, so I don’t understand how it can be said to slowly recover.

Over the Top

Red has a long tradition of big expensive sorceries that cause absolute chaos. Warp World and Scrambleverse are perhaps the best known and this type of effect is often very divisive. Some love the wild board-states that can result and the thrill of watching such a big random effect happen. Others find these effects extremely frustrating because they invalidate anything that happened in the game previously and make the game all about luck. I think Over the Top is a nicer version of this effect because it isn’t quite as obnoxious for your opponents. Instead of all their synergies being disrupted and their hard work being undone they get extra toys to play with. Another criticism of these effects is that they are often slow to resolve as you shuffle and randomise everything. Over the Top is far simpler. You simply count up your non-land permanents, reveal that many cards and filter out the instants and sorceries and put the rest onto the battlefield.

I can see playgroups that hate Scrambleverse and Warp World being more accepting of Over the Top because it benefits everyone and does away with some of the problematic elements of the older cards. Of course there are still ways to try and get an advantage out of Over the Top. You can play cards that multiple non-land permanents to increase the number of cards you get and reduce the number of instants and sorceries you play. I think this could be good in a go-wide tribal strategy like goblins that tends to snowball once you have lots of lords out pumping the team.

Finally one of the best things about this compared to cards like Warp World is that it’s more fun in multiples. The second Warp World shuffles away everything the first copy put into play whilst the second copy of Over the Top is twice as powerful as the first. This type of effect isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but I think it’s one of the best designed versions of it we have ever seen.

Soul Partition

Back in Strixhaven we got Elite Spellbinder that was a great card in Standard whilst giving white a new mechanic that essentially added a tax to cards from an opponent’s hand. This card was really strong because you got a way to delay key cards like boardwipes that shut down aggressive strategies whilst applying lots of pressure in the air. When the Spellbinder is hitting you for three damage in the air every turn, waiting two extra turns to cast an important spell is really painful. This mechanic was a big success the first time around with Elite Spellbinder so will Soul Partition see play? It’s easy for a mechanic to be strong when it’s attached to a three power flier for three mana. This feels like the real test where we see how good the mechanic is in isolation. I feel this could see play if the right shell exists where as Elite Spellbinder was a card that got you excited about playing white. Whether I am right or wrong I think Soul Partition will teach us how strong this mechanic really is. I also wonder if this is the beginning of us seeing this mechanic in sets on a more regular basis going forward.

Awaken the Woods

Even as we enter Magic’s thirtieth anniversary year, we are still get new ideas and concepts. One of the flaws of Magic as a game is that it can involve a lot of shuffling. Not everyone is comfortable shuffling a 60 or 100 card deck and waiting for people to finish shuffling their deck is fine occasionally but at a large tournament or a multiplayer commander game that can be a lot of time wasted. Effects that search for basic lands are some of the most common reasons for shuffling. This includes ramp like Rampant Growth, fixing like Evolving Wilds and even removal like Path to Exile. Players have often suggested land tokens as a way to design cards that reduce shuffling but Wizards has always declined this approach. The reason is that players scoop up their lands at the end of a game and shuffle them in without thinking. Anyone who accidentally shuffled a token into their deck would have to forfeit the game. This is why we have never had land tokens before and why Awaken the Woods is so special.

What makes Awaken the Woods less problematic is that the lands are creatures as well as lands in the mold of Dryad Arbor. Players are used to token creatures so a token land creature should be no problem. I find it amusing that these tokens are copies of Dryad Arbor because that is a card that has caused problems as a blocker that got hidden amongst a player’s lands. Thankfully that type of shenaniganry is no longer legal. Apart from making a novel type of token, Awaken the Woods is a really fun ramp card. In the early game with four mana this compares to Explosive Vegetation with two drawbacks. Only getting forests will limited the decks that are interested in it and the dryads can be killed by almost any removal spell. However in later turns this is much better than Explosive Vegetation because it creates an entire army whilst creating a huge number of landfall triggers in one turn. I like that it gets really good in multiples because each Awaken the Woods you cast makes the next dryad army even bigger.

This isn’t the only card that can easily make a lot of mana in the set. Deathbloom Ritualist can create huge bursts of mana given how easily decks can put cards in their graveyard if they want to. Unfortunately at five mana it’s unlikely the Ritualist will excite too many people but this ability is probably too busted to put on a cheaper mana dork. There is also Hall of Tagsin which is one of the few repeatable ways to make powerstones. If your entire deck is nothing but artifacts this is equivalent to a land which pumps out more lands. At four mana this is expensive but each powerstone you make can be used to make more powerstones. In a slow game this can be used to create huge amounts of mana.

Draconic Destiny

You don’t see auras at mythic rarity very often. Draconic Destiny calls back to Angelic Destiny and apart from curses which target players, the only other aura at mythic rare is Mechanized Production. Auras are so vulnerable to creature removal that it’s hard to make an Aura exciting enough to feel like a Mythic. I think they have hit that excitement threshold with Draconic Destiny because this is one scary card. I hope this becomes a cycle because I would love to see what the equivalent would be for tribes like sphinxes or hydras. Auras feel like a card type that doesn’t get very much love despite auras making up over 4% of the 25,000 different Magic cards so I think it’s notable when auras get something really powerful. Even if this isn’t powerful enough to see play in competitive play, it will makes fans of auras and dragons very happy.

Hostile Negotiations

Hot on the heels of Shadow Prophecy in Dominaria United we have another new black card draw spell amongst my favourite cards in the set. Drawing three cards for four mana at instant speed is a fair deal and black decks typically have some graveyard synergies so putting three cards in your graveyard is also of value. This card is strong enough to see play in constructed but is also really fun to resolve. Competitive players will enjoy trying to outsmart their opponent whilst casual players will enjoy the mini-game. It’s great when a card can appeal to many different kinds of players.

Hostile Negotiations isn’t the first card of this kind we’ve seen before. The original is the phenomenal Fact or Fiction but this is more reminiscent of Fortune’s Favor which is a pet card of mine even if it wasn’t strong enough to see play. Unlike those cards Hostile Negotiations has the interesting wrinkle that neither player builds the piles. One player chooses a pile whilst the other controls the information they have when making that decision. This focus on public knowledge and hidden information is fascinating. If your opponent makes you draw the face down pile, they won’t know what those cards are. If they want to know what cards you have in your hand, they are more likely to give you the face up pile. Does this mean you should always put the stronger pile face up? If you are looking at two piles of six cards and reliably getting the stronger pile this is even better than drawing three cards. This card will lead to some wild mind games.

An issue that faced this type of card in the past was that the piles were quite small. This meant for example a pile of two lands led to very simple decisions. Having larger piles makes it more likely both piles have some interesting cards in them and therefore more interesting decisions to make. However each player only has to choose between two options which stops this card from leading to slow play, which is always a risk when you introduce complex decision making. This is one of my favourite cards in the set and I think it’s a really clever design. It might even be one of my favourite black card draw spells of all time.

Autonomous Assembler

Mishra’s Factory was the first land that could become a creature and it was such a popular design we have seen many more lands that do this since and they typically see a lot of play in competitive formats. One aspect of Mishra’s Factory that was ignored for a long time was the Assembly-Worker creature type. We didn’t see any other cards that cared about this creature type until Assembly-Worker and Urza’s Factory in Time Spiral as fun call backs to a classic card. The tribe has slowly been getting more additions with six more assembly-workers across Kaladesh, Dominaria and Modern Horizons 2 but the Brothers’ War is the set that really puts assembly-workers on the map. Autonomous Assembler is much stronger than most assembly-workers. It’s excellent value at two or five mana and vigilance means it can pump itself making it strong enough to see play as the only assembly-worker in your deck.

In a dedicated assembly-worker deck the ability becomes even stronger. It’s much harder for your opponent to block any assembly-worker if they don’t know where you are going to put the +1/+1 counter. Alongside the assembler, we also got Mine Worker, Tower Worker and Power Plant Worker which work together in the same way as Urza’s Tower and the other Urza’s lands. These aren’t the best creatures ever but the assembly-worker tribe really needs more creatures and this is at least a fun package. I don’t know if these will see play in limited but they might be good enough if you get ways to synergise with them. Notably Self-Assembler is on the retro-artifact sheet which is much stronger if you always have an assembly-worker to search up. There may only be a handful of assembly-workers in the set but the tribe is now much closer to being a viable casual deck rather than just being a fun call back to an iconic land from 1994.