War of the Spark: Commander Review
War of the Spark Commander Review
Hello and welcome to part one of Helix Gaming’s very first set review! I’m Steven and I hope to guide you on this journey through what looks to be an amazing set, so far. For those who care I’ve been playing Magic since 2012, which is fortuitous as that’s when Return to Ravnica released. So, I have a special connection to this plane. Whilst reading this review keep in mind that I am only human and so have my biases. I try to do my best to set them aside but will sometimes fail. I am what R&D at WotC calls a Johnny, a player who plays magic as a puzzle solving exercise. I delight in deckbuilding and finding wild interactions that cause strange situations and push the rules of the game to it’s limits. I’m also a filthy casual. I am not interested in ending the game on turn 2, in fact I particularly enjoy long games. These are my biases so keep them in mind while reading what I have to say. With the introductions out of the way lets talk about these sweet cards!
Wait, wait, wait. Before you go asking “But Steven, where is Karn, and Bolas, and Niv!?” I’m only reviewing cards officially spoiled and logged in the Wizards official card image gallery. Even though they have leaked out I don’t want to mess it up by misreading a blurry line of text or possibly propagating a fake (looking at you Doubling Season). So, they will show up in another part of the review to come later. You also won’t see limited fodder taking up space here or lower rarity things that I don’t think make the cut in commander, with the exception of planeswalkers.
NOW we can get to the cards.
Ignite the Beacon
This is a solid card for Superfriends builds. Tutor two walkers at instant speed. For you heathens that play Superfriends pick this one up. These sort of decks can find themselves in a position where the things they’re doing every turn doesn’t use their mana so having things to hold up and threaten counterspells with can be very strong. Buckle up, by the by, you’re going to see the word “Superfriends” a lot in this article.
Ravnica at War
A seriously meta dependent. Could be game ending. Could be a blank piece of paper. Play this one with caution, friends.
Now here’s an interesting board wipe. It’s not quite Cataclysm but I think we can let that go because there are very few Planeswalker board wipes out there. If your meta is heavy on the Superfriends (which after this set it probably will be, at least for a little while) you’ll definitely want to pick this up. But even if you don’t see to many walkers around this is a fine card against most creature decks.
Teyo, The Shieldmage
Arcades rejoices! 3 mana to make two 3/3s and draw a card over two turns and to be hexproof the whole time and until someone decides to take out Teyo. Which is just profit Good card in Arcades. Bad elsewhere, which is my major criticism. He’s literally only good in a single deck.
Leave this one to limited. White has some of the best creature removal in the game you don’t need to limit yourself to sorcery speed destroy effects that only hit a subset of creatures. The static ability is niche as well the most common source of non-combat damage to your creatures will be Blasphemous Act. You may occasionally run into other sources from particular decks. Another meta call maybe?
Two relevant creature types. A decent enters the battlefield ability. Good to see it in a reprint with some cool FNM promo art. I play neither fish or wizards so I don’t know if Augur makes the cut or not, but it certainly could if you have enough instants and sorceries.
Fblthp, the Lost
Imagine Elvish Visionary. Now take away the relevant creature type. It’s still a good card, right? Probably. Now throw in a goofy side case scenario where it’s better. Even better play mono U creature-less storm, play Proteus Staff, profit. Is that good? Probably not. But it’s probably fun. And that’s what this format is for!
Oh, the good cards are back! Superfriends and +1/+1 counter decks are hyped for this card. It’s not quite Inexorable Tide but that’s also 5 mana while this one is 3. Proliferate is a very strong mechanic and it’s great to see it back again.
Jace, Wielder of Mysteries
Jace Beleren, Living Guildpact, pirate, interplanar man of mystery, and now laboratory maniac. Triple U is rough, but he can dig you three deep every turn and has two separate win conditions built into him. You probably shouldn’t play him until your library is pretty low otherwise people are liable to kill him before you can win with him. Solid card. Less vulnerable than Lab Man in a way and more utility.
Not the most impressive card, in my opinion but worth mentioning. Usually giving Hexproof to your entire team wont matter in which case card’s like Mizzium Skin are better. But, importantly, this covers all your permanents and you. Which isn’t nothing.
Teferi’s Time Twist
Not a bad blink effect, getting any permanent is pretty major. Blink decks may want this. Some may be a bit over-optimized to want it and not have the space. Worth noting that it’s a 2-mana way to reset low loyalty planeswalkers or even get an extra activation out of one. Also, the getting any permanent allows you to fizzle removal on non-creature removal in a way we haven’t had before. This is a solid utility spell.
This card is dumb. We all know that yeah? Shadowborn Apostles and Demon’s Horn? Sure. Sensei’s Divining Top and Aetherflux Reservior? Let’s go. Card is dumb. DUUUUUUUUUMB. Oh, and that’s not even all it does! It comes with its own built in win con! Fortunately, this part is limited. Tap and sacrifice 10 permanents. That’s not an insubstantial cost but with the first part of the card and sufficient building around this shouldn’t be difficult to achieve. Dumb card.
Davriel, Rogue Shadowmage
It’s a shame that this is the first card for such a cool character. For those who don’t know this is Davriel Cane, star of the Brandon Sanderson novella, Children of the Nameless. He’s a bit of a dandy that has wandered the multiverse for a little while but has recently settled down in a remote part of Innistrad. He’s a kind of mind mage that steals spells from the minds of his victims and is also a demonologist. The card is far from as cool as he is. The static ability is a little bit like The Rack, punishing players with low hand sizes and encouraging a discard theme. His -1 is pretty basic. Target player discards a card. Unfortunate that it’s target but then again he is only three mana. Try it out in Nath.
This is no Bitterblossom. But it could be worse. Zombie decks will probably like it. Honestly, it’s a bit odd. I think you want to be constantly feeding them into something because having the body is better than making a body a little bit bigger. And by that token I’m not sure if the lifelink part is actually important. Other than these army tokens zombie tokens don’t usually get very large. I think it’s definitely worth a shot in the zombie decks but it may not end up being able to make the cut.
This is a unique card. The fact that it can get a planeswalker back when it dies is cool. It’s also dirt cheap. This card has potential to be great and maybe even busted. I’m lookin at you Sun Titan.
Liliana, Dreadhorde General
Now we’re getting somewhere. The draw card ability is great. As it has been in its previous forms. Better in fact because it doesn’t call for non-token creatures only. As all 6 mana walkers should, her +1 protects her with a zombie token. It’s no Elspeth plus ability but it’ll do. Producing zombies specifically isn’t irrelevant. -4 is a lot but it takes out two creatures from every player and bonus points you draw cards for yours. -9 Also a lot but she comes in at six so it’s not too bad and it’s also basically game ending. An asymmetrical cataclysm. In this day and age, you expect this to say non-land but no, you get it all. Now pop that Thrilling Encore and lose all your friends. It’s their fault for letting her ult.
Whereas Gideon’s Triumph won’t be found in this review Lili’s may actually be commander relevant. A Diabolic Edict with slight upside is playable and the upside is more likely to happen because Liliana’s tend to be more commander playable than Gideons. And because of the upside this is a rare occurrence of instant speed discard. Someone Vamp Tutor or Scry to the top while you have your Dreadhorde General in play? How unfortunate for them. Get that Draw Step and lose another friend. Maybe follow Jace and dump Lili, she seems to be losing you a lot of friends.
Ob Nixilis, The Hate-Twisted
Ob has a major beef with the Gatewatch and now their antics have gotten him trapped on a plane again and he is NOT pleased about it. Ob is probably unique among the uncommon walkers because you probably don’t want to tick him down unless you absolutely need to. You’ll probably be happy to let him sit there and do his best impression of Nekusar (his secret BFF) until you need to tick him down. Just remember that giving your opponent two cards can be just as scary as the thing you killed.
I think this is a dark horse common. The +1/+0 is probably irrelevant but 2 mana for a scry whenever you cast a non-creature spell that can throw itself in front of a scary thing if it needs to seems like solid value.
Free flashbacks on attack? Yes please. Pump this zomboi up and cast your dumbest things. Probably better in Modern than in commander but I think this guy is solid and will probably find his way into my Neheb deck.
Krenko, Tin Street Kingpin
Hey, Krenko’s back! And way, WAY less busted. But that’s fine. He’s still pretty strong. Goblin tribal loves running lords so having him start off at 3 or 4 power doesn’t seem too hard. And then he brings the Purphuros trigg… I mean goblins. Probably going to be better as part of the 99 in OG Krenko than as the commander himself but certainly give him a shot.
Neheb, Dreadhorde Champion
Speaking of Neheb! What is dead may never die, or at least that’s what I hear, and despite Samut and the Gatewatch’s best efforts Neheb is still kicking and has crossed through the planar bride to Ravnica and he has lost none of his kick. There are plenty of MonoR or heavily R decks that would welcome This version of Neheb, including his Eternal incarnation (into which this curves beautifully). But that’s not all! Feldon, Daretti, Sedris, the list goes on. Basically, if a deck likes to see things in its graveyard and is Red Neheb will be great in there. And that’s to say nothing of him leading the deck himself. He could DH for Neheb, the Eternal and I think little about that deck would change.
Tibalt Rakish Instigator
Oh Tibalt. Mark my words this uncommon Tibalt will be more expensive monetarily than his mythic version. Because he’s actually good. Unlike Sulfric Vortex he doesn’t shock you every turn and unlike Stigma Lasher he doesn’t need to hit someone. On the downside he doesn’t hit your opponents either (kinda), is more vulnerable and isn’t permanent like Lasher. Bonus points he brings party boys that ping when they die!
Arlinn, Voice of the Pack
Poor wolfmom. By far the worst of the walkers we’ve seen so far. Like is this something that even the mediocre werewolf tribal decks would want? 6 mana to make three 3/3s over three turns and then sit around pumping the rest of your wolves just a tiny it. I mean the werewolf decks are pretty low end anyway so maybe they’ll be happy to have this even though it’s pretty bad. Werewolf players; I’m sorry WotC treats you so bad.
Jiang Yanggu, Wildcrafter
Rishkar, Peema Renegade is a thing. And this is basically that but less vulnerable to removal. It’s fine, he’s not stellar just fine. All decks need their role players and Jiang plays a good role. Best part of Jiang is sweet Mowu in the background.
Mowu, Loyal Companion
Speaking of that good boy here’s Mowu (since Jiang’s card doesn’t make him itself this time) This good boy is swole AF and comes with his own Hardened Scales. Conveniently he curves cleanly off of Jiang who can immediately pump him up to a 5/5 vigilance, trampler. Unfortunately, Mowu is mostly just a beater, which tend to not be good enough in commander. Maybe you can abuse the fact that he comes with the Hardened Scales ability somehow. Go with Ghave, good boy.
Vivien, Champion of the Wilds
If Garruk couldn’t be bothered to show up at least Vivien can show up and do work. You probably want her in a VERY creature heavy deck. I mean do we need to discuss that giving things Flash is strong? Being able to wait until the last moment to do things is strong, kids. Sun Tzu once said that if flashing will result in victory then you must flash. I love her +1. It makes your dudes into great defenders. You can attack and still block and get those fliers while you’re at it. And now we get to why you want to be creature heavy. Her -2 takes the best dude from your top 3 and stows it away, pseudo-adding it to your hand. This is the Gonti wording meaning you can cast them even when Vivien is gone.
You know… when WotC tries to fix old cards it usually fails pretty hard. But I think that in this case they got it right. It’s not overwhelmingly powerful but it’s definitely strong. A 2 mana start up cost is just fine, right in line with the likes of Survival of the Fittest. And while the activation cost is a bit on the pricy end, being both a card and a bunch of mana, the payoff can be pretty extreme. Play it in your Seedborn Muse style decks for maximum effectiveness. Use it like an Aethervial to make your creatures uncounterable. But probably dump as much mana as possibl into this when you use it. Since it costs you a card whiffing because you only got to look at three cards is pretty rough.
Another dark horse. It looks innocuous enough at first but it’s a clean way to spend unused mana at the endstep before yours and find the card you need. Finding Planeswalkers is a great bonus. It’s also a great place to sink infinite mana. And lastly, it’ll be a solid budget card.
Ajani, the Greathearted
Get your own epithet Ajani, you’re no Zedruu! That said Ajani is… fine? Static vigilance is certainly nice. His plus is a bit underwhelming, most exciting thing about it is that it lets you keep using that minus. The -2 is where it’s at for this version of Ajani. Unfortunately, it’s a bit on the narrow side. If your deck plays Ajani Steadfast then you’ll probably want The Greathearted. Otherwise I think he just won’t cut it.
As we all know, in commander the name of the game with removal is versatility. Angrath’s Rampage is cheap and has a bunch of options. The only thing lacking is being a sorcery. And while there are places where sacrifice will be unfortunate there will also be places where it’s key. As with several other cards revealed so far, I think it comes down to space. We literally just got Bedevil a few months ago and that does everything this does but at instant speed and you get to choose what goes.
Do we need to talk about this one? We know Zulaport Cutthroat is good. And this is that, but it also triggers off of planeswalkers. Gravy! Speaking of gravy, it also has a relevant creature type. Vampire decks love this sort of effect and now they have a third one Literally the only downside is that it can’t go into some decks that Zulaport and the rest of this card’s kin can because of color. If your deck wants this card you already know it. And there it will be great.
Now here’s an interesting card. Murder plus Rampant Growth It’s a bit color intensive and having your ramp be dependent on having a target can be a bit dicey but I think this is a fine card. The biggest thing standing in its way is the glut of amazing removal options already in this color pair. Best home is probably Lord Windgrace or The Gitrog Monster.
Another interesting card. Is negate playable in commander? Maybe. Like I said above the name of the game is versatility and it can be tough to limit oneself to counters that only stop certain things when there are so many that can stop anything. But on the other hand, being uncounterable can be a huge deal when it comes time for that potentially game ending counter war over someone’s win condition. I think that if something like Swan Song is playable in your WUx deck then this is also playable. The one mana difference compared to Swan Song is big enough to justify not replacing it with this, but you will definitely be interested in finding a slot for it.
Honestly this is just here because it’s a rare. I think this is a card meant for standard not us. Sure, you can recycle it to reuse it’s damage trigger but it takes a lot of work to do that AND pump it’s power back up. Spend that reanimation on recycling Grey Merchant of Asphodel if that’s an effect you’re after.
Now this is a zombie. You know what Zombie decks love to do? Make zombie tokens! And now they’re all hexproof AND HAVE MENACE! Dropping this onto a full board can be game ending. Oh, and bonus points he brings a zombie token friend with him (Or makes the army you’ve already amassed larger, I don’t judge, you do you). Gisa and Geralf, The Scarab God, Grimgrin, Varina; they’ll all love this guy.
Invade the City
I think this is probably the sort of prototypical card for what you can assume about most of the other Amass cards. And that is that it’s probably meh. Compare to Rise from the Tides. See the difference? Yeah Rise makes a bunch of guys while this makes one guy. I think one off Amassing like this one will be a flop in commander. Singular large beaters usually don’t do the job in Commander. Which is good because I’m not interested in yet another format where Tarmogoyf is great.
A cute card. Switcharoo but 3 mana and it can get any permanent type so long so long as you have one too. Fun card, fine card.
Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord
The war against Bolas isn’t the only one happening on Ravnica. Apparently Sorin managed to get out of his wall and he and Nahiri are having their grudge match while everyone else is concerned about the zombie army and draconic demigod sucking sparks out. Sorin as a card is pretty neat though. His static ability gives creatures and planeswalkers, PLANESWALKERS, lifelink. Stick Sorin in a deck with a bunch of Chandra’s and enjoy yourself. His plus is pretty tame but gives him solid utility in being able to keep other walkers in check while ticking up himself so he can dump a bunch into his minus. Speaking of his minus, it’s a -X. And it’s a solid one. By default you can treat Sorin as a 4 mana sorcery that reanimates a 4 drop. But if he gets something smaller or you don’t need to reanimate when you play him, he can start ticking up to really get some juice. Overall I think Sorin is rock solid.
Storrev, Devkarin Lich
This guy is in a pretty unfortunate spot. Statistically he’s pretty good. 5/4 trample for 4 is a fine rate. And that’s not all he’s got. But the rest of what he’s got is not that great when looked at in the context of the rest of the BG cardpool.
Teferi, Time Raveler
Because this is what we wanted. Another Teferi to be the jailer of Knowledge Pool and Possibility Storm locks. Between his static ability and constant use of his +1 you do in fact get the old Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir. But instead of a body you get his minus ability. And a strong minus ability it is. Bounce an Artifact, Creature or Enchantment and draw a card. This can be pretty annoying for your opponents. However, this biggest thing about this is that you get it all for a meager three mana.
Do you like enter the battlefield abilities? Do you like destroying your opponents’ creatures? Then have I got the card for you, friend. Time Wipe Bounces one of your creatures back to your hand to protect it from what you’re about to do and allow you to reuse its ETB abilities and then blows up all creatures. Can you say Frilled Mystic? Rock solid card.
Tolsimir, Friend to Wolves
Heyo, more call backs! Tolsimir Wolfblood and Voja are back and they are having none of this zombie invasion. Also our second Wolf centric card it’s almost unfortunate that it’s him because wolves, while centered in Green, are secondary in Red not White. But for 5 mana you get 6 power and toughness worth of stats across two bodies, three life, and to kill something toughness 3 or less. I’d call that a bargain. Bring in cards like Wren’s Run Packmaster and Wolfbriar Elemental and you’re having fun. If you want to get really gross with it add a dash of Vigor.
Another card not for us. We don’t play Pyroclasm and so, like most of the other one off amass cards, we won’t be playing this. Which is a shame because this is a pretty metal card.
Angrath, Captain of Chaos
Cowdad is back and he is still, justifiably, pissed. And so, it seems to me, he is going around highjacking Bolas’ army for his own chaotic purpose. This is one of the few Amass cards that will be decent because it is reusable. Also giving your creatures menace is strong, as I mentioned a few cards above. If you can somehow keep Angrath’s loyalty up then he will be a solid card. If not… well you could do worse than paying 4 mana to give your team menace.
Kaya, Bane of the Dead
Now this is a juicy uncommon walker. She is 6 mana and triple colored, but she comes with some very strong abilities. The static ability to take away hexproof from your opponents and all of their permanents is low key but can be sneakily game winning. And her -3 is just fine. Exile target creature is plenty strong. And she gets stick around after she’s ganked a couple dudes to help keep your opponent’s defenses down. Probably the best Kaya we’ve seen.
Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner
3 mana? In the, probably, most powerful two-color pair? Providing consistent card draw and mana ramp? Sure. The most obvious and on theme place for his is in a sea monsters deck like Arixmethese. But I think any UG deck that is playing a decent amount of good-sized dudes will be happy to have Kiora there.
Nahiri, Storm of Stone
She’s got an axe to grind and all the stone on the plane to do it with. Sorin better have it together this time. This Nahiri is surprising. She is narrow. But where she is good, she is great! The activated ability is whatever. Sometimes you’ll be able to use it and get some value. But that’s not why we’re here. We’re here for that static ability. And really only even half of it. Giving your guys First Strike during your turn is fine and makes you want to lean aggressive but it’s the second part. Reduce your equip costs by 1. For this part the during your turn clause isn’t especially relevant because only Leonin Shikari allows you to equip outside of your turn anyway. What makes this special is that, unlike Puresteel Paladin, it has no prerequisite and unlike other effects of it’s kind like Training Grounds and Heartstone, Nahiri can reduce your costs to 0. You know what that means? What? Oh? Yes, your Swiftfoot Boots are now better Lightning Greaves but you are not being degenerate enough my friend. Now Skullclamp is free to equip. Yeah. Process that for a second.
Samut, Tyrant Smasher
I guess? She’s… better than her original version? I dunno. Giving your guys haste, pumping them and scrying is fine. I just don’t think she makes the cut in context of the rest of the GR suite.
Vraska, Swarm’s Eminence
Deathtouch tribal? I dunno. She’s not amazing but she does make a couple of very threatening creatures and then pumps them up as they hit. Just play any of the other Vraskas.
Tezzeret, Master of the Bridge
First Note: Tezz here is the Buy-A-Box promo. Affinity is not a mechanic in this set, and you won’t find him in packs.
With that out of the way HOLY CRAP! Your Creatures and Planeswalkers have Affinity for Artifacts. For those who don’t know that means that they cost 1 mana less for each artifact you have in play. This is potentially nuts. +2, yeah you know how planeswalkers usually end the game with their Ults? Well Tez can do it with his + ability. And he keeps you alive while doing so to boot. -3, classic recursion. Just a solid utility ability when you need it. -8, Get all the artifacts from the top 10 cards of your library into play. This is definitely strong but a bit disappointing. Once you start asking for -7 or more, I expect the ult to end the game. And this certainly might. But it more than likely won’t. That said he starts at 5 and goes up by 2 so it doesn’t take long to get to this ult so maybe it balances out.
There are certainly worse versions of this out there, but 6 mana feels like it may be a bit late for the taxing effect and in our format the single life a turn may as well be flavor text. However, all your opponents spells costing 2 mana more is no small thing and if you can ramp this thing out quickly it could swing the game hard in your favor all by itself.
Alchemist Refuge but colorless. If you can recycle it through Crucible of Worlds or the like this will be great. Finding ways to slot strong cards like Vedalken Orrery into your lands is very good. The sacrifice keeps it limited in power unless you can reuse it. If you’re only using it for creatures use Winding Canyons. If you’re in UG use Alchemist’s refuge. But if anything else applies to you try running this and see how it does for you.
Superfriends: the land. Useful mana filtering and a tiny bit of life gain to boot. Only useful in one deck but good in that one deck.
Thats all for now, but we will be releasing these each week so check back in and comment on our blog or facebook with you own thoughts on how some of these cards could work in your commander decks!
ALL IMAGES BELONG TO WIZARDS OF THE COAST AND THE ARTIST WHO CREATED THEM. SPOILER GALLERYArticle written by: Steven Mace