This spoiler season has been unlike any other we’ve ever had. Planeswalkers are notoriously difficult to evaluate, and so it’s much harder than usual to get a grip on what we can expect from the bulk of the new, exciting cards from War of the Spark. More than any previous lead-up to a set’s release, uncertainty and confusion are reigning supreme as we all try to figure out just how good these new planeswalkers are.
This means it’s time for a Riley Knight’s Big Call. This definitive guide to the most overrated and underrated cards we’ve seen so far from War of the Spark will put you in good stead to crush your upcoming prerelease, optimize your collection of playables, and of course shark the scrubs in early trades. Don’t be like Isaac Egan, who traded three Jace, Architect of Thought (one of them foil) for a single Aurelia’s Fury at the RTR prerelease!
In any case, let’s get stuck in here and have a look at the most overrated and underrated cards in War of the Spark, kicking off with the slops of the set.
Play Dreadhorde Invasion, they say. It’s basically Bitterblossom, they say. Where were these people when my boy Fretwork Colony burst onto the scene? The cards are functionally identical, except Fretwork Colony doesn’t get hit by Spell Pierce!
Don’t believe the lies of Big Undead. Dreadhorde Invasion is the ultimate pyramid scheme, tricking you into investing heavily in the undead hordes with the promise of eventual payoff to keep you dancing on the end of their strings. “Invest 1 life per turn for six turns, and you start making profit as early as turn 9!” Sure, as long as they don’t have any removal spell ever, or have a brain aneurysm and collapse onto their own spacebar.
Tomik, Distinguished Advokist
Adanto Vanguard doesn’t die to Shock, Cast Down, or Lava Coil, and it’s not going to die to Tomik. All the hype about White Weenie now having a 2 mana 2/3 makes about as much sense as this card having flying. How does Tomik fly? On the back of a gargoyle made of stone, a substance we have very deliberately decided not to make airplanes out of? I don’t buy it.
With two extra paragraphs of flavor text and about as much built-in competitive resilience as his Australian tennis-playing namesake, Tomik is flying in one direction only—to the bulk rare bin. In the meantime, the Craig Wescoes of the world will stick to their Adanto Vanguards and Tithe Takers.
Jace, Wielder of Mysteries
Jace, Wielder of Mysteries
Hard to cast? Yep. Doesn’t protect itself? Oh yeah. Lift your noses to the wind, my friends—we’ve got ourselves another stinker. This turd got polished up real nice with a splashy and entirely irrelevant effect on an otherwise unplayable card. And you want to play it in a deck with Kaya’s Wrath? What, do you just start the game with Chromatic Lantern in play?
Want a planeswalker that will draw you cards? Play Teferi. Want a planeswalker that eventually wins the game on its own? Play Teferi. What’s that? You don’t want to play Teferi? Well, I don’t want my opponents to always have turn 2 Curious Obsession plus Dive Down, but you can’t always get what you want, mate.
Ah, yes—conditional sweepers. The fruit salad of Magic: the Gathering. They always seem like such a good idea, but end up being awful and leave a bad taste in the mouth. As fun as it is to channel your inner older sibling and ask your opponent’s creatures why they’re all hitting themselves, don’t do it. You’ll get in trouble with mom.
There are so many creatures this card doesn’t kill, not to mention the ubiquitous Dive Down ruining the justice party by saving their creatures. Seriously, how many modes does Dive Down have now? Choose one: target creature gains hexproof, target creature gains indestructible, target player wins target combat, or target opponent concedes because they forgot to play around it.
“You play Scapeshift, right, and then can immediately ultimate and keep a planeswalker!” Sure, mate, sure. If you believe this, I’ve got a Bridge to sell you. Not only does that involve casting and defending a planeswalker, it involves casting and defending a 3/2, which dies to a slight gust of wind, and all that before resolving your clunky sorcery.
Repeatable proliferate effects are powerful—no question—but not when stapled to a creature you’d have a hard time not killing with any Standard-legal removal spell. If you think you can craft a game plan around a card that’s somehow even more fragile than my ego, you’ve got another thing coming your way.
That thing, by the way, is the “DEFEAT” screen on MTGA.
This Gideon seems great. A 3 mana indestructible 4/4 is a good rate, and it has the added upside of built in protection by giving other creatures vigilance to stay back and block. This isn’t particularly noble behavior from Gideon—“I’ll chill back here during their turn while you block for me”—but with someone like Chad Beefsteak, we’ll take character development where we can get it.
The white 3-drop slot has plenty of powerful options, such as Benalish Marshal and History of Benalia, so Gideon’s competition is steep. But his stocks against control are so high—as a 4/4 beater that dodges sweepers and really only dies to Contempt (and then exiles their stuff)—that he’s absolutely worth checking out.
Augur of Bolas
LSV characterizes this card by saying it has been personally errata’d for him to read “When Augur of Bolas enters the battlefield, look at the bottom three cards of your library.” If you’re the sort of player who always hits two lands off an Experimental Frenzy, this is not the card for you (although there are solutions for your Frenzy problem).
Augur of Bolas has a powerful pedigree and saw play consistently throughout its last tenure in Standard. It’s a great option for spell-heavy, defensive decks, blocking more or less all the small idiots in Mono-Red, living through your own Cry of the Carnarium, and all the while keeping the cards flowing. Unless you’re LSV, in which case you can play four Augur with all instants and sorceries, and still hit the big whiffski.
Fblthp, the Lost
I’ll go on record and say the tireless in-jokes about Fblthp are at best tired and at worst teeth-shatteringly cringe-inducing, but the flipside of that is that his card is actually pretty sick. Elvish Visionary is a legitimately good card, and Dusk Legion Zealot has seen play here and there. Fblthp offers a lot more than both these cards, particularly in the current Standard format. Here’s a by-no-means-comprehensive of what opportunities are opened up by this little monocular nerd.
Mox Amber gets another legendary 2-drop, taking the total number of legendary blue 2-drops to five. Podding your Llanowar Elf into Fblthp with Vannifar is an insane value play. There are plenty of other ways to get him into play from your library, such as Experimental Frenzy and Vivien’s Arkbow, and in Modern, the list expands to include all-stars like Collected Company. And don’t forget that the fail-case is a blue Elvish Visionary. This card is great.
A cheap, efficient Vehicle with an alternate activation cost, and yet you turn up your nose in scorn. Did Heart of Kiran teach you nothing, foolish child? The restrictive mana cost isn’t restrictive when you’re only playing Mountains in your deck! This is a 4 power trampler that dodges sweepers and sorcery-speed removal, and has a spell-heavy red archetype just waiting for it!
Goblin Chainwhirler is nice and all, but nothing is going to stand in the way of this tank. This is a resilient, powerful threat that will hit hard and often, whether it’s being crewed by a Fanatical Firebrand or a copy of Skewer the Critics (the flavor judges are still figuring out how that one works). If you’re playing Mono-Red, stop hitting the tank and start hitting with the Tank.
Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God
This card, I mean… this card. For months, the nerdy loser Grixis has been trying to sit with Azorius, Jeskai, and Esper at the cool control kids’ table in the lunch hall. Now Grixis has had a makeover, bought the right kind of jeans, and is turning heads up and down the cafeteria. Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God, is about to make Grixis happen.
Silly mana cost aside, this card is utterly ridiculous. Going upstairs for a two-for-one? Blowing up any threat you see fit to name? Having an ultimate that is a millimeter away from actual factual “you win the game”? And that’s not even touching upon stealing other planeswalkers’ abilities. This card is nuts! Nicky B, now more than ever, really is the meanest girl in school.
That’s all she wrote today, sports fans—that’s it for this edition of Riley Knight’s Big Call. What do you make of it, and with which parts do you specifically and emphatically agree? I’m very much looking forward to triumphantly referencing this article in the coming weeks, when the format is overrun by Mizzium Tanks, and Dreadhorde Invasion is a rock-solid dollar rare!