War of the Spark Set Review - Enemy Pairs
(Kaya, Bane of the Dead | Art by Magali Villeneuve)
The Enemy of My Enemy is My Friend
Welcome to the final day of EDHREC's set review, everyone! War of the Spark is here and there's no time to lose, because there is so. Stinking. Much. Going. On! I'm so excited for this set - it might be the most powerful and impactful set for Commander since the four-color legends of Commander 2016. Today we're looking at the enemy color pairings: Orzhov, Izzet, Golgari, Boros, and Simic!
There's so little to cover and so much time to do it. Wait, strike that, reverse it. You all know what I meant. Now let's get to the cards!
Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord
Old man Sorin busted his way out of the wall he was stuck in and decided to make an appearance in War of the Spark. He’s... fine. Giving our army and your planeswalkers lifelink is certainly an interesting design space, and makes for some cool play patterns for a deck that includes red walkers that light to burninate the countryside. I’d really like to see Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord in a deck next to Chandra, Flamecaller, for example.
However, I don’t think he’s terribly powerful on his own, and he won't do a great deal in Commander with either his +2 or his -X ability. Sorin is literally fighting against himself - that is, his other versions like Sorin, Solemn Visitor - which have similar effects and powerful ultimates to follow them up. Maybe this Sorin's lack of an ultimate will make him appear just underpowered enough that other players will ignore him for a while? If that's the case, though, wouldn't you rather just play another, more powerful card? Sorry, Sorin, but your other versions will stay more popular. Glad you got out of the wall, though!
Oath of Kaya
At first I thought Kaya's Oath triggered for each creature attacking you. However, I later reread the card, and can see that it only triggers once whenever you're attacked by any number of creatures. Good - that seems much more reasonable and not super completely messed up.
Oath of Kaya certainly has a home in prison decks - that is, decks where you run Ghostly Prison and other such effects to discourage aggression. Works nicely with Sphere of Safety as well. It's not stellar; usually the mana requirement on Ghostly Prison is more effective than a damage clause. Even so, decks like Queen Marchesa often use lots of these little taxation effects, from Norn's Annex to Marchesa's Decree, because lots of little cuts add up over time. Kambal, Consul of Allocation or other such grindy decks may also enjoy the extra annoyances this brings to their enemies. It's probably more at home there than in a dedicated Superfriends deck, since it doesn't actually protect your walkers all too well, but for black-white punisher decks, you'll have yourself quite the time.
Kaya, Bane of the Dead
Six whopping mana to get rid of two of your friend's pesky creatures over the course of two turns likely just isn't worth it. You could run Curtain's Call if you feel the need to pick off two creatures, and Arcane Lighthouse if you want to undo hexproof. Lighthouse even removes the ability for everyone, so even an ally across the table can help you remove someone else's commander, whereas Kaya only allows you to target hexproof permanents. Yes, this can get rid of a Sigarda, Host of Herons, but six mana is just slow. Unless you have a Slippery Boggle infestation I think you can do a lot more with a six-mana card slot in your decks.
This is one wallop of a removal spell. It's like a little inverse of Abrupt Decay. Or an after-the-fact Disdainful Stroke. It hits a large portion of important targets in our format. Looking at the Top Commanders page here on EDHREC, this spell hits at least 80% of them.
Four mana is also where non-commander permanents start to get particularly powerful. Mirari's Wake, Doubling Season, Grave Pact, anyone playing the indestructible Gods like Purphoros, God of the Forge in the command zone or in the 99... this spell hits such a large portion of the format. Change the text to "Exile target permanent you care about."
Where does it fall among the bevy of black-white removal spells? Anguished Unmaking probably still has it beat, but I anticipate it will push out other contenders like Utter End and/or Mortify, or if you don't like the sorcery speed, Vindicate. The additional mana you save on this spell is worth the four-mana-or-more restriction; cheap removal spells have a lot of flexibility, so there's not a lot being sacrificed here. It might take a few weeks to catch on, but make room for this spell, and make a mental note that you'll likely see it sprouting up in any deck that can play it very soon. Play it, or I’ll Despark your deck.
An extra copy of Zulaport Cutthroat and Vindictive Vampire that also counts your planeswalkers? Hype. Look for it in Teysa Karlov and any other Aritocrats-style deck that likes to sacrifice its own permanents for value. Edgar Markov should be more than happy with the extra help, too, in case anyone decides to mess with his entourage!
One of the best things we can find in EDH isn't always big, splashy effects, but simple redundancy. 60-card formats have four copies of the spells they need, which makes their gameplan consistent and often lets their deck do what needs doing. That's a luxury we risk losing in Commander, a singleton format where you're not guaranteed to see even half the spells in your deck during the course of a game. Redundancy is a big deal. One Blood Artist might not be enough, but two, or three, or five? Even if this card isn't adding anything 'new' to the conversation, it's adding something very valuable for the decks that want it, and that's important. Expect Cruel Celebrant to see lots of play, and to bleed you dry.
Ral, Storm Conduit
Storm indeed! I've not been shy about my personal aversion to Izzet colors, but this certainly revs a couple engines. Ticking up to 6 loyalty on the first turn is a darn good starting point, and the option to copy spells is also great - particularly in conjunction with this static ability.
This is where things start to get interesting. First of all, mini-Electrostatic Field is cool, but second of all, he also triggers on your copied spells, not just on the spells you cast. If you Grapeshot for 10, so does Ral. Or, if you want to get extra silly:
Cast a spell. Any spell. Copy it with Twincast. Copy Twincast with Reverberate. Copy Reverberate with your new Twincast. Copy Twincast with your new Reverberate. Did you just go infinite and use Ral to mow down everyone's life total by imply recurring your own spells? Yes, yes you did.
Want to make it even simpler? Fury Storm can copy itself. Use one of the extra copies to target Fury Storm. You won't make additional copies off the spell's triggered ability, but all you need is one copy to repeatedly target the original spell on the stack, and this one card will turn your planeswalker into an immediate win condition. There are plenty of Izzet decks that use copy combos to close things out - Mizzix of the Izmagnus, Melek, Izzet Paragon - and they'll likely arm themselves with this walker for a new bonus win condition. If you're a hardcore spellslinger, Ral is your dream boat. Just ignore the fact that he stole his hairstyle from the mom in The Munsters.
Care to take my Servo token while I slide your Blightsteel Colossus over to my side of the field? Don’t mind if I do! Zedruu, the Greathearted will love this new addition to the playbook. Control Magic effects are usually more effective for decks in general, but there are those who like to pack their decks with dangerous cards to Donate to other players as a dowry for their services. There aren't too many decks who want an effect like this, but the ones that do are happy for the extra option.
Saheeli, Sublime Artificer
I will open with a quick question: what do Izzet decks generally like to do? If you said "cast lots of spells," then you, my friend, are very correct. Saheeli, Sublime Artificer is a Young Pyromancer with upside, and in a rare move for a planeswalker, is harder to kill. Yes, she can be attacked, but she creates her own blockers. Just excellent. Young Pyromancer shows up in over 6,600 decks, and Saheeli will be racing along to meet him at that number, if not even more. It's not just that she triggers off of more types of spells - it's that she also has a bonkers cool -2 ability.
Brudiclad, Telchor, get over here! Not only will she make Brudiclad a bunch of tokens, she can also turn one of those tokens into a copy of a regular creature, which Brudiclad can then use to turn all tokens into copies of that creature.
Slinging spells? Make some Servos while you're at it. Playing artifacts in Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain or Breya, Etherium Shaper? Have some more tokens. The utility here is so incredible that I even went as far as to say that this would become the most-played planeswalker from War of the Spark, which is saying something, considering how many there are in this crazy set.
Readers, you know what to do. Put Saheeli in all your decks. Get 'em!
Casualties of War
Starting Golgari off with a bang, we have Casualties of War. This card has the potential to be a massive blowout for the table if played at the right moment. By the time someone would be casting six-mana sorceries you’re more than likely to have a target for each mode, especially considering how common planeswalkers might become at every table after War of the Spark.
The parallel to draw, of course, is to Decimate, a four-mana spell that cannot hit planeswalkers and must have a target for each mode to be cast. Decimate currently sees play in nearly 11,000 decks, which would indicate that that spell is doing just fine finding its targets. Some might argue that the extra mana isn't worth the flexibility for Casualties, but others will argue the exact opposite.
For me, getting five permanents off the battlefield for six mana with a single card sounds pretty darn potent, even if the mana cost is a bit steep for a non-board-wipe spell. Sometimes you need a scalpel to surgically pick apart threats, rather than just Kool-Aid Man'ing your way through. This looks like it could be a lateral move for Windgrace’s Judgement which is getting its own share of play after debuting in Commander 2018, but which gets less effective when games whittle down to a single opponent, while Casualties gets more devastating against a single enemy. Pick it up, check it out, blow things apart. Regardless of how you're destroying things, it's always nice to have diverse options, and Casualties provides exactly that.
Storrev, Devkarin Lich
Here we go, a Golgari legend I can get behind. Encouraging the combat step in black and green isn’t something we often get to see, especially with Meren of Clan Nel Toth hogging all the attention. Storrev attack, Storrev protect, and she also resurrect.
Sadly, I know ol' Storrev won’t be a super popular commander, as the Golgari are the most popular guild color combination and the legends are fiercely competitive for that space. Storrev, Devkarin Lich falls into the Glissa, the Traitor space, where they both do something different from the traditional black/green space. I personally like that - they aren't simply generically good, and you have to do more than just regular Golgari things to get value - but I'm in the minority here, and most folks won't want to do the extra work when other options exist in this space already.
If there is any space for her, it's as a green-black Superfriends commander; Storrev is unique in her ability to reclaim dead walkers when compared to other Golgari legends. That said, Muldrotha the Gravetide has been known to resummon permanents more easily, so it's tough to say whether Storrev will carve out a space for herself. It's a little sad, just cuz I think Storrev is doing something pretty cool, but she likely won't be remembered from this set.
Vraska, Swarm's Eminence
I'm not super sold on Vraska's newest form. It's cool anti-planeswalker tech if your friends decide to pick up the Superfriends mantle, but that's about it. Most creatures with deathtouch aren't that big, so even if your Hornet Queen and her tokens can hit a player, the +1/+1 counter isn't an enormous boon, and even Vraska's own tokens are only okay. I don't anticipate this being terribly popular.
Some players out there are raving about Deathsprout. Others see a ramp spell that costs four mana that finds fewer lands than Explosive Vegetation, or a Murder you have to pay extra mana for.
For my money, this card looks fine, but it has a metric ton of competition. Status // Statue has great flexibility, Putrefy is a mana cheaper and can hit artifacts, Assassin's Trophy is annoyingly effective, Windgrace's Judgment can do a lot more work for just one more mana, and mono-black has plenty of single-target removal spells at much lower mana costs, too. Four mana for a removal spell is a lot nowadays, so if you're playing this spell, you should really be taking advantage of that extra land. And to be clear, four mana isn't usually where you want your ramp to be, so again, you should be taking full advantage of these effects to make this better than a typical ramp spell or a typical removal spell.
So no, it shouldn't just go into every Golgari deck. Lord Windgrace might have interest, or possibly The Gitrog Monster as well. As a budget replacement for some of the rare removal spells mentioned above, it's a really good option. Just make sure you're really making the most of both of these abilities. The decks that do will love it, but others may simply ignore it in favor of slimmer costs or more diverse effects.
It’s not often that a mana dork is a fairly relevant blocker. Or is this a rattlesnake card that ramps you? Either way, Vampire Nighthawk and Aerial Responder each have made their own footprint and I’m sure this scary little beast will too. There's a strange tension to this card, since tapping it for mana makes it useless as a blocker, but hey, when you use it for mana, you're probably putting something else terrifying onto the field anyway. If you like deathtouch creatures, you can do a lot worse. This is, in every sense of the word, 'generically useful,' but that doesn't make it bad - it just means it's good anywhere you put it. New Niv-Mizzet Reborn is probably my first instinct, since it can be retrieved off of Niv's ability and it can help fix his mana.
Feather, the Redeemed
My editor and EDHRECast co-host Joey Schultz has played since the very original Ravnica, fell in love with this character in the lore, and cannot stop gushing about her now that she has a card, so I promised him I'd do it justice in this set review. No pressure. Ready? Here we go:
This card is meh.
I'M KIDDING. This is a home-run. When we interviewed Gavin Verhey and he hinted at upcoming Boros commanders that aren't purely combat-focused, this seems to be exactly what he was talking about. Mission accomplished, WotC. This card seems to do everything Firesong and Sunspeaker wanted to do, just better. Aggressive stats, aggressive cost, and since she lets you hold onto your spells, she has a built-in card advantage engine that screams "Abuse this ability, please!"
The coolest part, though, is her flexibility. Combat trick Voltron? Definitely an option. Reuse your Titan's Strengths and Psychotic Furys and go to town. Alternatively, make tons of tokens with Monastery Mentor and Young Pyromancer, then use your Zada, Hedron Grinder or Mirrorwing Dragon to apply your awesome buffs to your whole army. Or if you want another option too, load up on Guttersnipe and Sentinel Tower effects and just play a bunch of Crimson Wisps and Expedites to Storm out! You're not stuck in just one combative strategy, a problem faced by so many other Boros commanders, and that makes Feather such a breath of fresh air.
Before we go, yes, we should acknowledge the interaction with Aurelia's Fury. You can aim one point of damage at Feather to send this spell back to yoru hand, repeatedly pseudo-Silence-ing and Intimidation Bolt-ing your enemies. That sounds great... but it also sounds like a whole lot of mana, especially since people can still cast creatures. Maybe I'm wrong and that's a fantastic way to control the board, but I feel like you could be spending that mana on other things that might bear more fruit.
Regardless, the fact is simply that we're talking about amazing interactions and diverse lines of play with a Boros commander, a traditionally under-served color pair that used to have nothing but combat steps on its mind and that often ran out of steam before it could get much accomplished. #1 commander not just for Boros, but from this set. Kudos all around.
This card is just weird. I want to like it, but there are probably too many hoops you have to jump through to prevent it from setting your own team ablaze in the meantime. Maybe Tajic, Legion’s Edge decks will slide this in, as he shields his army from it, but that feels niche. We just finished talking about Feather, whose power/toughness ratio certainly makes this spell seem nice, though even she will probably first flock to repeatable removal that actually targets her, such as Fell the Mighty or Chandra's Ignition.
Wave of Reckoning only sees play in about 2,000 decks, and that has great synergies with Arcades the Strategist or Doran the Siege Tower, which importantly cannot run this new, four-mana version. Maybe I’m not thinking hard enough, but I can't help but think most decks would rather run an old fashioned Wrath of God and save themselves some effort.
Nahiri, Storm of Stone
While Nahiri, Storm of Stone might not be as fun or splashy as her original Boros iteration, she does actually pair well with her original version in Nahiri, the Lithomancer. Boros decks will take any sort of mana assistance they can get, so having a static cost reducer isn't going to be a wasted slot in Equipment-centric decks. First strike also makes combat just a little wonky too, so even if Nahiri's -X ability is kind of weird and not great, she's got a home already.
Oof, my heart wasn’t ready for the heaviness that was *SPOILER ALERT* Gideon’s death in this set. The storytelling of War of the Spark is incredible, and Gideon’s sendoff is proof of that. Say what you will about that big lug, but seeing his final chapter play out and culminate with Heartwarming Redemption definitely was heavy in a way Magic story hadn’t really gotten. This card certainly lives up to its name by bringing some warm fuzzy sad feelings.
Anyways, the card itself is pretty solid too. Rummaging away your hand and gaining some life in the process is definitely a thing red-white can take advantage of when paired up with Gift of Estates or Land Tax effects, turning excess lands into gas. Or doubling up with Alhammarret's Archive. Or resummoning the things they discard with Sun Titan or Goblin Welder. There are neat tricks available here if you're clever. I really enjoy this one.
Roalesk, Apex Hybrid
Honestly, I don’t know what to think of Roalesk, Apex Hybrid. A 4/5 with flample (flying and trample) is a very fair card for constructed Magic. The ETB ability putting a couple +1/+1 counters onto another creature you have sweetens the pot a bit. The death trigger is what loses me, though. Roalesk wants to die to get the double Proliferate ability for the squad, but if Roalesk is your commander, you'd rather have him go back to the command zone, at which point he wouldn't get the 'dies' trigger. This is a similar conundrum we've seen with commanders like Elenda, the Dusk Rose, but at least she was in colors that could resurrect her.
Roalesk, Apex Hybrid instead jumps out as a very powerful support card in the 99 rather than helming your Simic amalgamation. I’m sure there are plenty of dirty loops you can pull off in Simic colors - maybe even some Pattern of Rebirth shenanigans - but the death trigger on Roalesk is too scattered to be really good as a commander. Instead, it slots in as a member of the 99 for any deck brimming with counters to abuse. He blocks for your planeswalkers all day, he puts four total counters on your Ramos, Dragon Engine when he enters and even more when he dies, and he gets pretty crazy with Pir, Imaginative Rascal + Toothy, Imaginary Friend, too. The Golgari and the Simic legends feel lackluster, while the Boros legend is super amazing? What a crazy world.
Tamiyo, Collector of Tales
This might be the worst Tamiyo we've seen, but it also might be the best. Hard to tell. The static ability seems to cater more to 60-card formats. It's not irrelevant in commander, just a little bit niche. If you're sick of someone's wheelin' and dealin' Nekusar, the Mindrazer or Grave Pact-heavy deck, they might hate it when you play this card in particular. The +1 requires quite a bit of work to pay off well in a singleton format, too, since you'd have to be using tricks like Aminatou, the Fateshifter in non-Aminatou colors. It definitely has potential in Persistent Petitioners or Shadowborn Apostle decks, though, where you're likely to collect at least one or two from the top of your deck every time you activate new Tamiyo.
At worst, she's a four-mana Simic Regrowth that you can fuel up for another in two turns, but that's really slow and clunky to me. If you're in Simic, chances are good that you're doing more powerful things at a decent clip already. Muldrotha, the Gravetide is the only commander I can think of that will make use of all of these effects, filling her graveyard and getting back individual spells. This sounds blasphemous in some circles, but I think I would rather have Nissa, Steward of Elements a bit more than new Tamiyo, unless you really just want to gas up the graveyard. Time will tell, I suppose. I don't mean to hate on Tamiyo - I actually really like the card - I just don't know that there are too many commanders who feel the same way.
Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner
On the flip side, Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner is wildly Simic in a way that makes so many Simic decks eager to play her. Garruk's Packleader, Temur Ascendency, Elemental Bond, and many more cards all feature a similar static ability and see tons of play, so when you tack on the ability to untap any permanent, you're golden. Surrak Dragonclaw? Animar, Soul of Elements? Prime Speaker Zegana? Make some room!
As is often the case with Simic, Kiora is just accidentally very powerful. As much as I think Tamiyo, Collector of Tales is narrow for blue/green decks, Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner is generically good and fits into a great many decks. If you have a deck that collects tails instead of tales, Kiora is likely worth the spot.
This card isn’t terribly interesting until you get to the “pay five mana to proliferate” clause. Simic decks are going to do Simic things, and this falls right in line with that mantra. A single +1/+1 counter isn’t a huge deal until you start putting lots of mana into it, or doubling the counters, but it can add up. Kumena, Tyrant of Orazca is probably the most excited for this nifty little uncommon.
So apparently Simic Conglomerate Inc. decided that Eldritch Evolution was supposed to be their thing. Prime Speaker Vannifar isn't enough, we also get Neoform! While Neoform doesn't give your creatures the ability to see coding or dodge bullets (get it?) it does pull a bigger baddie out of your deck and make it even bigger. Need to transform your Spellseeker into a Fathom Mage? Or upgrade that Mystic Snake into a Seedborn Muse? Neo's gotcha covered.
Obligatory mention of synergy with Persist and Undying creatures, of course. Feels pretty good to tutor things out without having to pay that sacrifice in full. Neoform will help people tutor for combo pieces, but it will also help out honest-to-goodness toolbox cards to get players out of sticky situations at the right moment. If you like toolbox effects, or upgrades, or The Matrix, or just creature decks in general, this is super solid.
An Enemy Anemone
That wraps us up, folks! War of the Spark contains so many ridiculous cards that I can't even process it all at once! Just writing this review I had to reread things a bunch of times because I kept getting distracted by other new and awesome cards!
What new pickups do you plan on making for your decks? It seems that the general consensus is "a lot." Does that apply to you as well? Let me know what you're most excited about in the comments, and thanks for reading!