War of the Spark Set Review

War of the Spark Set Review

War of the Spark is a set I never thought would happen. The limited format gets compared to cube, the number of call backs and references rivals time spiral and to top it off every pack contains a planeswalker. When I review a set, I choose twenty-four cards that are exciting, interesting or my personal favourites, but this time it has never been harder to choose just twenty-four cards.

Taking place on Ravnica, magic’s most popular plane, War of the Spark is the conclusion of many years of story so the card is stuffed full of fan favourites, great story moments and yes, THIRTY-SIX planeswalkers. Traditionally these are so warping on limited and standard, I believed Wizards wouldn’t be radical enough to design a set around planeswalkers. Breaking many design conventions, the power level on this set is through the roof. As always my review focuses on interesting cards at all rarities, not necessarily the most powerful or important cards for constructed formats.

Top Rares and Mythics

Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God

There is only one place I could start. In a set stuffed full of planeswalkers, one planeswalker more than any other stands out. Bolas’s static ability represents both his mastery of magic and his plan to absorb the power of other planeswalkers. It’s the coolest line of text in the set, but amusingly his own loyalty abilities are so powerful, you may never need to borrow from another planewalker.

In recent sets designers have been more adventurous with casting costs. For example cards like Gigantosaurus and Mass Manipulation require real dedication to a colour. Now Nicol Bolas costs a mere five mana to guarantee he has an impact, but the restrictive cost is demanding in a very flavourful way.

The gold standard for planeswalker design is to find abilities that synergise together whilst also capturing the essence of the character. Bolas’s first abilities slowly drains your opponents resources until they are unable to resist you. This is very fitting for a cruel and manipulative tyrant like Bolas. When you win the game with Bolas, you will get a better understanding of this elder dragon. We then get strong synergy with the other abilities. The second ability can be used to kill any remaining legendaries that would stop the ultimate from definitively winning the game. Speaking of the ultimate, War of the Spark is the first set to see alternate win conditions on a non-Vraska planeswalker ultimate. The abilities of Bolas and Jace, Wielder of Mysteries let you win the game directly from a planeswalker ultimate for the first time in Magic history.

Mizzium Tank

After Kaladesh block’s continuation of the trend of colourless and artifact cards being format warping, development has decided that coloured artifacts are the correct way to make artifacts pushed for constructed play. As a herald of this new approach a cycle of coloured artifacts appear in War of the Spark.

Mizzium Tank is such a perfect card for a prowess deck. It doesn’t dilute the amount of non-creature spells in your deck, whilst trample means you get the most out of every cantrip you use to power up the tank. As a vehicle it can even dodge your opponent’s sorcery speed removal.

Some of the other cards in the cycle have gotten a lot of attention. Parhelion II is an incredible bomb, whilst Bolas’s Citadel might create new archetypes in Magic’s most powerful formats. Able to race through your library and cheat on mana, the citadel combines two things that often lead to cards being broken. Only the mana cost keeps the spell in check in eternal formats but with things like Mishra’s Workshop, Black Lotus, and moxen in Vintage, even this restraint can be ignored.

God-Eternal Bontu

Sometimes you only need to see part of a card to get excited. Creature types can vary from dull and irrelevant to eye catching combinations like ‘Zombie God’. Since the debut of gods in Theros, we have seen many variations on what it means to be a god, but they have all been exciting cards to play with. Mechanically gods are always hard to kill. The gods in War of the Spark will come back when most forms of removal are used on them. Especially in limited they are incredible bombs that you should always try to play. Bontu is probably my favourite because you get so much value even if your opponent has a hand filled with removal. You can even sacrafice useless lands to draw all the cards you need.

The number of cards referencing eternals makes this set feel like a sequel to Hour of Devastation. Bontu makes her return that closely mirrors her first appearance in Ahmonket. There she was the only god to willingly obey Bolas. Now she is one of the gods to turn against Bolas after Lilliana’s intervention as depicted on Despark.

This parallel is an example of what can work well when telling a story using cards in a game. This is a challenging format for telling a story. Players may not see all the cards and encounter them in a random order so plot twists are difficult to do. Parallels however let you easily see how characters have changed and developed by looking at cards side by side.

Solar Blaze

There are many ways to design a gold card. The most elegant desings merge two parts of the colour pie into a single effect.Direct damage clearly belongs to red, whilst this card affects the powerful and protects defensive creatures which feels very white. A similar card Justice Strike appeared in Guilds of Ravnica.

A nice touch is that the most exciting Boros legends such as Feather, the Redeemed orAurelia, Exemplar of Justice automatically survive this destruction. This one card inspires me to build a Boros control deck where every creature survives this to make this a one-sided wrath effect.

Casualties of War

Once upon a time there was a card called Decimate. It tempted you with the possibility of killing four things with one card, but it could go wrong is so many ways. If there are no artifacts in play, you couldn’t cast it, no matter how much you needed to kill a creature. Or maybe you could cast it but the only valid enchantment target belong to you. Decimate would frequently present you with these hard choices.

Fast forward to the present day and all these issues evaporate. This new card is far more flexible, and it will also kill planeswalkers which didn’t exist at the time of decimate. In a multiplayer format like commander you can reliably destroy five things for one card. Whilst the most powerful cards in magic came from the earliest days of magic, in general the average card has gotten stronger, and this is a good example of how much more powerful cards can be. I expect this to be a casual allstar for years to come.

The Elder Spell

Some of my favourite cards are those that consolidate an entire set or block into a single card. Crux of Fate for example shows the turning point of Sarkan going back in time. Given how complex sets can be, it is almost magical than one card can represent so much.

The Elder Spell is Bolas’s ultimate goal, to kill planeswalkers, harness their sparks and become a god. Mechanically, this card does this perfectly. You can even sacrifice your own planeswalkers if you want to reach a planeswalker ultimate. This card’s power level is also interesting to evaluate. It’s capable of killing multiple planeswalkers whilst ultimating your own planeswalker, which is unbelievable for two mana. Or it could be uncastable if your opponent doesn’t have any planeswalkers. I look forward to seeing when and where this sees play.

Teferi, Time Twister

Planeswalkers are considered one of the hardest types of cards to design. One way to design them is to focus on the personality and abilities of the character the cards depicts. Teferi, Time Raveler is a textbook example of a card that does this. Every ability encapsulates a mastery of time. The static ability and the first loyalty ability alter when players can act, which is a clear reference to manipulating time. The final ability shows Teferi undoing the past with a bounce effect and gains knowledge of the future by drawing a card.

This style of character-centric top-down planeswalker design is very common in this set. This is intended to help newer players clearly understand the plethora of returning characters. Another example I like is Kaya, Bane of the Dead who is a very appropriate way to assassinate creatures that would otherwise be very difficult to destroy.

Planewide Celebration

One of the most enduringly popular card designs is the modal spell. Traditionally modal spells like Tyrant’s Scorn force you to choose between two or more options. The commander series introduced a very exciting cycle of confluences like Mystic Confluence are novel because you can choose every mode or repeat the same mode. This means the spell can be cast in ten different ways. Planewide Celebration takes this idea to the next level and offers thirty-five distinct ways to play it.

No matter which options you choose, you get a big and splashy effect as a fitting way to celebrate the fall of Bolas. All four options are positive effects to match the celebratory feel of the card. A sweet touch is the fact that the tokens are all five colours to represent Ravnica uniting against Bolas and his army.

Fblthp, the Lost

Ravnica was chosen to be the setting for the final showdown with Bolas. This was a great idea because Ravnica is probably the most popular plane in magic. We care about what happens to Ravnica and whether it survives the invasion. It also prevents the war and planeswalkers overshadowing everything about the plane. Ravnica is chock full of beloved characters, many of whom have never appeared on their own card.

Giving these characters a card for the first time ensures that the creatures in this set still get people excited. Massacre Girl first appeared only in flavour text on Thrill-Kill Assassin whilst Feather, the Redeemed was a key character in the novel of the original Ravnica block, but she never appeared on a card. War of the Spark is the perfect time to give people who have played the game for a long time, the cards they have been waiting for.

Wizards has gotten much better at giving fans what they want. For example, we’ve seen more cats like Charmed Stray printed since so many people love cats. First appearing on Totally Lost, Fblthp has become a fan favourite, making several appearances hidden in the art across multiple Ravnica sets. It’s encouraging to see design showing greater awareness of what players are excited about.

Commence the Endgame

This card’s art was chosen to be the first piece revealed from War of the Spark and I can see why. It’s a spectacular demonstration of the power of Bolas. Showing his acquistion of the eternals, the immortal sun and Lilliana this single picture really shows how much of an event this set is by connecting the last three years of Magic.

My favourite aspect of set design is the relationships between a set’s mechanics. Proliferate and planeswalkers is a match made in heaven. Amass is the third mechanic of the set, and is a clever balancing act between the other two mechanics. The tokens fuel proliferate and offer a measure of protection for planeswalkers even if just used as disposable creatures. Uniquely for token mechanics, this doesn’t lead to a go wide aggro strategy pushing planeswalkers out of the format. It only appears in three colours, but features three different play patterns in Limited. Blue and red can run a spells matter amass deck whilst red and black use the tokens as sacrafical fodder, hoping to create new tokens every time they amass. On the other hand blue and black build a huge army token ith abilities granted by cards like Eternal Skylord. This variation on a single mechanic means you need fewer mechanics for a single set reducing overall complexity.

Top Commons and Uncommons

Saheeli, Sublime Artificer

We’ve become used to cycles of powerful cards at uncommon. Taking it to the next level in War of the Spark, we now get something completely new, hybrid planeswalkers. Hybrid planeswalkers haven’t seen print before because of the difficulty of finding three suitable abilities that fit well in either colour. These uncommon planeswalkers have fewer abilities which opens up exciting new design space.

These planeswalkers all do completely different things. Dovin, Hand of Control slows the game down nicely, whilst Ashiok, Dream Render completely shuts down fetch lands and graveyard decks. My favourite though is Saheeli from the plane of Kaladesh. Her loyalty ability perfectly captures Saheeli’s magical craft of shaping artifacts into creatures. Using it to copy Monastery Mentor will mean all your spells create a massive army of monks and servos.

Tenth District Legionnaire

War of the Spark sees cameo performances from a plethora of characters and also mechanics of old. This uncommon references the heroic mechanic from Theros. Other references include landfall on Evolution Sage and battalion on Makeshift Battalion. These mechanics are simple enough for new players to follow whilst providing nostalgic callbacks for more enfranchised players.

This card also features my favourite flavour text in the set, establishing a new badass character in only thirteen words. This character Mileva was previously unnamed but we saw her journey begin with Tenth District Guard and Tenth District Veteran. I wouldn’t be surprised to see her get her own named card when we inevitably return to Ravnica.

Neoform

You know a set’s power level is outrageous when an uncommon is accused of breaking a format like Modern. Together with Eldritch Evolution and Allosaurus Rider this offers a way to play Griselbrand on turn one and kill your opponent before they have even acted.

It isn’t just modern that gets a new deck with Neoform. This card also offers enough redundancy with Prime Speaker Vannifar and Finale of Devastation to build a blue-green toolbox deck in standard which lets you get the best answer to any problem. I’m excited to see where this new archetype goes. Simic isn’t traditionally a competitive colour pair in constructed due to a lack of powerful removal spells, but this looks like an exciting new direction for Standard.

Interplanar Beacon

War of the Spark is a unique set. Cards that can normally only appear at mythic rare are now found in every single pack. Traditionally cards that refer to planeswalkers only appear at rare but in this set designs that would otherwise be too niche have room to flourish. Interplanar Beacon is a great example. In a deck full of planeswalkers this is a fantastic land, and it will be very popular with casual players. I’m very happy to see such a popular card at uncommon for several reasons. The first is financial. Lands have the potential to get very expensive since every deck needs them to function.

Secondly, it makes a key story moment more accessible. The beacon is the reason so many planeswalkers are on Ravnica. In the past the story was told in novels, or through rares and mythics, making it hard to just absorb the story by opening a few booster packs. For similar reasons, I’m glad Gideon’s Sacrifice and Prison Realm are at lower rarities. This means more players can connect with the most pivotal events in a set where the story has never been more important.

War of the Spark features a lot of great colourless lands. Blast Zone will make waves in older formats for years to come and Karn’s Bastion will be another casual favourite, especially when Atraxa, Praetors’ Voice is the most popular commander in EDH. These great colourless lands come at an interesting time. The mana bases in standard are being pulled in different directions. The lands are good enough to support demanding casting costs like Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God whilst also rewarding players who build their decks to run colourless utility lands. The lands available in standard often dictate what is possible in the format, but currently players have a lot of exciting options to explore and this all starts from good lands.

Deathsprout

Regular readers of my set reviews will know that I’m a big fan of Seb McKinnon’s art and War of the Spark delivers yet more proof of his prodigous talent. Whilst it narrowly missed out on being my favourite card in the set, Deathsprout is a McKinnon classic complete with obligatory redhead. One look at this art and you know who painted it.

This card also represents the most intriguing archetypes in the limited format. There is plenty of ramp and fixing available allowing drafters to play four or five colours if they can craft their deck carefully. Green-black is the colour pair that most supports splashing so this can be your game plan, but it can also be a succesful back-up plan if you prioritise fixing. These possibilities can lead to deep and complex draft formats where you must correctly balance the reward of trying to play every powerful card you see against being unable to play your spells.

The Wanderer

War of the Spark is not only a celebration of the existing cast of characters, but a chance to introduce new planeswalkers for the future. One character has really stood out for having a unique idea, whilst remaining a complete mystery. Normally planeswalkers are drained by the action of planeswalking and are unable planeswalk repeatedly in quick succession. The Wanderer however has trouble staying in one place. She needs to concentrate intensely to prevent planeswalking.

Her identity is a complete mystery. This is reinforced by her not having a name on her type line. Her static ability also has potential to ignore powerful drawbacks on cards such as Command the Dreadhorde.

Teferi’s Time Twist

One of the ways that the set maintains it’s focus on planeswalkers is by giving every planeswalker a signature spell showing their allies or abilities. Twenty-one of these appear at common, which helps show off every planeswalker in the set. Teferi’s Time Twist is one of the wordiest commons we have seen in a while, and surprisingly references the issue that creatures may not return as creatures, which could confuse newer players.

I love this card for being a classic example of Teferi’s brand of time magic that synergises with so many themes in the set. Uncommon planeswalkers can have their loyalty restocked for extra activations, creatures become suitable proliferate targets and like any Cloudshift variant it also triggers enter the battlefield a second time.

Spark Harvest

Wizards has announced that War of the Spark is the beginning of an increase of the power level of commons. This has exciting potential for the pauper format and should be great for draft and casual players. Black removal in this set is a great example. Compared to limited removal like Sip of Hemlock in Theros, Spark Harvest and Ob Nixilis’s Cruelty are a dramatic improvement. has always been viable in limited, but Spark Harvest can kill planeswalkers and simply be cast for five mana when needed.

This card also shows one of our named planeswalkers dying. Domri is betrayed by Bolas and is the first to get killed by the eternals. A war of this scale requires casualties to have any real impact. I had been expecting a few more named characters to die, but I’m glad to see key moments like this appearing on commons. This is essential if you want players to be able to grasp the basics of the story if they only open a handful of boosters. This style of story telling and the unusual nature of telling a story through random fragments has always fascinated me.

Burning Prophet

This may be a very innocuous common, far removed from the main themes of the set but it’s fantastic for one of my favourite casual decks of all time. During Theros block, red and blue had a few payoffs for building around the scry mechanic. These included Flamespeaker Adept and Knowledge and Power. Many good cards used to trigger these effects are non-creature spells. Burning Prophet lets you scry an extra time everytime you cast something like Magma Jet making it even easier to find your next spell, so the scrying never stops.

In War of the Spark limited, I expect the burning prophet to be fantastic value in long grindy games for the blue-red spells-matter archetype which looks like it will be my favourite archetype to draft. It even has fun and ominous flavour text.

Pollenbright Druid

Every set needs grizzly bears for limited, but the best designs are still exciting on later turns. Pollenbright Druid follows in the footsteps of cards like Ironshell Beetle and Timberland Guide but the druid is my favourite one yet. On turn two it has efficient stats and is ready to be proliferated on to. In the late game it can pump your team and let your planeswalkers reuse their abilities. To top it all off, the art is beautiful.

Ob Nixilis, the Hate-Twisted

Bolas, his allies and the gatewatch are not the only ones on Ravnica. Plenty of planeswalkers who hadn’t previously taken sides have been drawn to Ravnica against their will. Ob Nixilis is a great character who is unique as the only demon planeswalker. He defeated the gatewatch on Zendikar but is forced to cooperate with them in this set to escape Ravnica and the prison created by the immortal sun.

Despite only having one loyalty ability, Ob Nixilis still produces interesting game decisions. You can keep his loyalty high, and slowly kill your opponent from the static ability. The loyalty ability is a classic black ability. You can destroy your opponents best threats or sacrafice your own creatures to refill your hand. The best planeswalkers don’t have predictable play patterns and Ob has enough flexibility to always play well.

Band Together

The demands of limited mean that certain types of cards will appear in most sets. These are often very basic effects such green’s fight mechanic which has appeared in most sets since Prey Upon first showed up in Innistrad. The challenge is to find new ways to make this effect interesting. The fight variant for War of the Spark really tells the story of the ordinary people of Ravnica banding together. Like Goblin Assault Team and Makeshift Battalion, the art shows people from different guilds working together to protect Ravnica.

This variant of fight also has implications for gameplay. If you are picking on a small utility creature, your opponent has a much harder time engineering the blowouts that are a traditional weakness of fight spells. It’s also fantastic when used on creatures with the heroic mechanic.

Mowu, Loyal Companion

My last planeswalker signature spell on this list is also the cutest. Of all the signature spells, Mowu has the strongest synergy with his planeswalker . Played on curve with Jiang Yanggu, Wildcrafter you can attack with a 7/7 trampler that can still block and be tapped for mana.

Mowu also raises a few interesting lore questions. He is able to planeswalk by Jiang’s side which would normally violate the rules of planeswalking. He also has the ability to change size from a puppy to a giant dog. I look forward to seeing more of this magical canine.

Bond of Revival

Not only does this set include the reveal of Bolas’s schemes, Ravnica’s fight back and Bolas’s downfall, it might also include the seeds of Ravnica’s future. The bonds cycle shows the ten guilds working together as five pairs. Perhaps a more united Ravnica will be a major theme when we eventually return again. After eight true Ravnica sets, it would be natural to shake up the traditional formula. Another clue in this direction is the crazy and exciting Niv-Mizzet Reborn, perhaps another sign of a unified Ravnica.

On to the actual card, a rather ordinary reanimation card, which is still unique for including haste among similar effects without any drawbacks. Haste is a very powerful ability to have on cards that are cheated in to play, making it much more likely your reanimation target gets to attack. This set actually includes another fantastic reanimation spell Command the Dreadhorde which fits the story moment perfectly. It can raise an army, but the Chain Veil will drain your life to do so.

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