This week we’ve been beset by some great War of the Spark previews. When I first heard this set was going to have a planeswalker theme, I knew Wizards would make some low-powered or situational planeswalkers, and even predicted they’d look a lot like enchantments. Some do.
What I didn’t expect was for the set to be this powerful and interesting, even outside the planeswalkers. I’m not particularly interested in the lore of Magic: The Gathering, but after 20 years of playing Magic, this is the first set that has me interested in the story.
That said, we still have cards to evaluate, and this week, I want to take a look at some of the stronger and more controversial cards previewed.
I made a list of the 10 most interesting cards I saw in the past week or so, and want to give my thoughts on how they will, or will not, impact Standard. Here are my hits and misses from the recent previews.
10) God-Eternal Rhonas: Miss
God-Eternal Rhonas is certainly interesting. We get a look at the new Zombie God mechanic that replaces indestructibility—you get to put it back into the deck, Teferi, Hero of Dominaria style, third from the top. While this is far worse than indestructible against cards like Bedevil, it’s far better in the face of a Vraska’s Contempt or even Ixalan’s Binding. These Gods are impossible to deal with as long as they’re in the no counterspells, no discard, no land destruction games. But yes, counterspells and Thought Erasure specifically look like the best ways to interact with these Gods.
At first glance God-Eternal Rhonas seems like a mediocre card to me. Deathtouch on a 5/5 is close to meaningless, and not giving your creatures trample really detracts from the pump effect. There’s a couple of spots I could see this card seeing play.
This card could be a curve topper in a Mono-Green Stompy Steel Leaf Champion deck. Mono-Green Stompy wasn’t really missing a top end as it had Ghalta, and obviously if we’re living the dream we can play this after the Ghalta and hit for 24, but that’s a bit much, don’t you think? I’m more thinking in Ghalta’s place we could see this card because it gives you immediate value in the form of damage on your Nullhide Ferox, Steel Leaf Champions, and your Pelt Collectors, which at this point have trample. In a similar vein I could see it in the same style Gruul Monsters deck with Gruul Spellbreaker as this card’s value increases a little with trample creatures.
Alternatively, the more creatures you have in play the better with Rhonas, and in a Selesnya Tokens deck with March of the Multitudes and such, you could potentially see a copy or two of Rhonas. It competes directly with Trostani, which to me means it likely won’t make the cut as if you have a bunch of 1/1 tokens Trostani is better, but if you wanted an additional one-shot anthem effect that’s also a creature that’s tough to deal with you may turn to a copy of God-Eternal Rhonas.
I ultimately think this card will likely see little to no play in Standard, as it requires an initial relevant board presence and isn’t particularly devastating on an empty battlefield, which isn’t what I want out of my 5-drops in Standard.
9) God-Eternal Bontu: Hit
Okay, this is a God I really like. Bontu has tricked me in the past as I spent several days testing with Bontu the Glorified before Pro Tour Amonkhet, only to discover in the waning hours that the card and deck were unplayable. Unfortunately for some teammates, they weren’t convinced and did rather poorly at the PT.
God-Eternal Bontu looks promising in a Judith, the Scourge Diva-style Aristocrats deck. It’s a top-end finisher with an enters-the-battlefield effect that generates value. Yes, sacrificing cards isn’t pure value, but one of the problems with the Judith decks has been flood mitigation, and God-Eternal Bontu will not only provide a lot of value when things are going well and you’re progressing your board, it will provide that you’re flooding out and need to turn some of your extra lands into spells. Bontu never goes away either, so in drawn out games against midrange decks, Bontu will continue to come back and makes it nearly impossible to flood out. Keep in mind that these Gods’ biggest weakness is being countered.
This card will certainly see some play early on, and has the potential to be in a tier 1 deck if the Judith deck continues to improve.
8) God-Eternal Kefnet: Miss
This is an incredibly weird card. A 4-mana 4/5 that never really goes away is interesting but its ability requires you to fill your deck with sorceries and instants much like Delver of Secrets. Your opponents will likely have dead removal if your deck is filled with instants and sorceries, and thus, you’ll end up drawing Kefnet a lot as it turns your opponent’s dead cards into Time Ebb.
That said, we have a slew of amass cards that are instant and sorceries, and that’s where God-Eternal Kefnet could shine. If opponents are using removal on your armies you can eventually stick a God-Eternal Kefnet and start chaining amass spells with it.
I’m a bit skeptical about this one too as it provides no immediate value until you untap. Its body is a bit above the curve and even dodges removal such as Lava Coil, so it will likely play well against red decks. I just don’t think Kefnet is a card most blue decks want. In decks like Grixis with amass it will directly compete with Nicol Bolas, the Ravager as well, and I prefer Nicol Bolas for 4 mana.
I can certainly be wrong about this one but I’m going to label God-Eternal Kefnet a miss.
7) Ilharg, the Raze-Boar: Hit
A 6/6 trample is nothing to sneeze at, and if Ilharg gets to attack, you better have a Settle the Wreckage coming or you’re in trouble.
In some matchups—generally creature matchups that can’t interact with it very well—Ilharg will take over the game and put an incredibly fast clock on an opponent, but outside of that, control players can draw enough cards with Teferi, Search for Azcanta, etc. to keep Illharg at bay for a while.
That said, this is the exact type of card I think Rhythm of the Wild needed. With Rhythm of the Wild, you can all but guarantee this at least hits the battlefield, and when it does, if it gets to attack you can put your Carnage Tyrants or Ghaltas into play and hit for huge chunks of damage.
I almost put this on my miss list because I think it’s close and potentially an exploitable strategy, but Ilharg makes a lot of sense in the Gruul 5-drop slot, and may make the deck a bit better than it is now. I’m not sold on the idea that the deck will be tier 1 because of Ilharg, so I’m giving this a cautiously optimistic hit.
6) The Elderspell: Miss
I was super excited at PAX to hear about The Elderspell for the flavor. When they announced it, a lot of the players at the Mythic Invitational speculated on what it would be and how much it would cost, and one thing most of us thought for sure was that The Elderspell was going to cost 10 mana and do something crazy. This take on The Elderspell is surprising. It’s not some over-the-top sorcery that blows up the world or wins the game—it’s a 2-mana, narrow planeswalker sweeper that has a little more upside.
The question I get asked the most these days is how good The Elderspell is, and unfortunately, I don’t think it’s very good. It’s very cool, but not very good.
This card is incredibly narrow, and because of that I suspect it will see little to no play outside of a one-of in some sideboards. It’ll be dead in a lot of matchups and there are not many decks these days that are curving out planeswalkers into each other. Decks like G/W Tokens from when Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Nissa, Voice of Zendikar were in Standard don’t really exist at the moment. If they do, I could see The Elderspell as a one- or two-of out of sideboards to punish an opponent from curving out their planeswalkers, but even then after a week of getting Elderspelled, people will adapt their play style and plans against the card.
In most cases this will kill one planeswalker and get you no additional value, or maybe 2 loyalty after some incredible setup. When competing with Bedevil, a card that will almost never be dead, I like adding 1 red mana for some flexibility and instant speed, or even Vraska’s Contempt if I’m not playing red.
To those excited about adding loyalty counters and ultimating a planeswalker, I think that will happen infrequently. I do think this is a very sweet card for multiplayer games like Commander, but outside of that, I expect the sweetest flavored card in the set to be a miss.
5) Blast Zone: Miss in Standard, Hit in Modern
When I first saw Blast Zone I thought of it as a bullet for Tron decks. You can Map or Sylvan Scrying for it when you have Tron assembled and no action, and use the Tron lands to boost it up a lot.
It’s a very slow Engineered Explosives or Ratchet Bomb, but for a land, the effect is unique. The fact that it comes into play with a counter on it prevents it from blowing up tokens on its own—that is pretty smart. It’s also pretty punishing to decks like Elves that play a lot of 1-drops when you can play a land on turn 4 and it sweeps up the battlefield.
This card won’t see much play in Standard as it’s just too slow and mana curves vary a lot in Standard, but in Modern and Legacy where mana curves are much tighter I can see this doing some damage, especially as a one-of out of Tron that they can access regularly. If it does see play, it will be in a control deck with very good mana—so likely not a 3-color deck—and in low numbers. It’s worth noting that with Teferi, Hero of Dominaria you can actually play Blast Zone, activate it for XX to get it to the amount of counters you need, then untap it and crack it, which could come up in a very long game with U/W Control as it’s still a hefty amount of mana to spend in one turn.
I gave this a hit because I do think it’s an interesting card in Modern and potentially Legacy, but it’s tough putting it into a Standard deck at the moment because Goblin Chainwhirler and gold cards force you to have specific mana requirements.
4) Soul Diviner: Hit
I love this card. The art is fantastic, and the card is fantastic. Soul Diviner is a 2-drop that is going to live through removal like Shock and Moment of Craving, and as the game continues it will generate value if you play effects that add counters.
In this day and age, that’s pretty easy to do. I just said that you can’t kill tokens with Blast Zone, right? Well, if you pair it with Soul Diviner, you could if we wanted to! That’s a bit sketchy, but what Soul Diviner does work well with outside of planeswalkers are amass tokens. Amass tokens are 0/0 creatures, much like Germs, that get counters added to them. With Soul Diviner you can shrink your army by 1 power and toughness, and draw a card. If there are enough playable amass cards like Dreadhorde Invasion, that’s a pretty fantastic ability. Soul Diviner will require you to have a requisite number of cards to peel counters off of, but if you can hit that number and generate value well into a game it’s got a good shot at seeing play. 2-drops have been mediocre in Standard for the last few sets, so I’m pretty interested in exploring one that can generate a snowball effect.
I’ll be playing some Soul Diviners in Standard, so this is a hit from me.
3) Enter the God-Eternals: Hit
Ribbons of Night meets Flametongue Kavu. A 5-mana 4/4 creature that deals 4 to a creature, gains 4 life, and then mills four when it enters the battlefield is crazy good. When I first read this I couldn’t believe how strong it looked. Then I started getting flashbacks to how mediocre Noxious Gearhulk turned out to be which is similar, but I think worse, than this card in many ways.
One issue with Enter the God-Eternals is that it must have a creature to target, which means that it is a dead removal spell against creatureless control decks. In the right metagame this feels like a slam-dunk to me. Not only can you find this with Azcanta, the Sunken Ruins, you can help flip Search for Azcanta with it, which is a huge upside because both finding “creatures” with Search for Azcanta is excellent and flipping it almost on its own could be backbreaking on turn 5.
We’ll see some number of these in main decks off and on, and I believe this will be a heavily played sideboard card if creatureless control is more prevalent. While I think this card is a hit, it does occupy the same mana cost as both Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, and Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God, which will eat into its play time. The more creatures we see played in Standard the more I like this card as I actually believe it’s better against linear creature decks than planeswalkers that will often soak up less than 4 damage, kill a creature, and leave nothing behind. Enter the God-Eternals will leave behind a 4/4 body to block with, kill a creature, and gain you 4 life in return. It will be important to have some kind of card engine effect after you stabilize against these decks, so both a mix of this and planeswalkers or Search for Azcanta will be necessary, but this will do an incredible job of stabilizing, especially after a sweeper.
2) Commence the Endgame: Hit
A flash, uncounterable threat that draws cards? Sign me up. This is an incredible “win condition” for control decks. While it will really shine in control mirrors as a value card that forces opponents to tap mana on your turn when you’re untapped, allowing you to follow up with a Teferi or Nicol Bolas, it will also punish them for tapping out for one of those spells themselves if they don’t have a way to answer the amass token.
This is like an uncounterable Torrential Gearhulk that only ever gets back a Glimmer of Genius. This means that it will still be great against control and midrange, but less powerful against aggro. I love how the amass mechanic also allows us to find threats like Commence the Endgame with Search for Azcanta, so we actually can commence the endgame.
This is a clear hit.
1) Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God: Hit
Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God has some incredibly sick art. But that’s not all that’s sick about this card. Nicol Bolas gives Teferi a run for his money as the best planeswalker in Standard. Nicol Bolas has very similar abilities: +1 draw a card and get extra value, -3 remove a threat and -8 win the game. The crazy part to me about Nicol Bolas is that the +1 generates two cards worth of value. Two. Also, it doesn’t say discard a card, so it avoids the annoying Nullhide Ferox, unlike Nicol Bolas, the Ravager.
When facing down Teferi, Nicol Bolas can also use Teferi’s abilities if it would rather do that. There may be games where your opponent plays Teferi, you follow up with Nicol Bolas, plus it to draw a card, untap lands, and then Bedevil Teferi so that you have 4 extra loyalty on your Nicol Bolas. Don’t forget you can copy your own planeswalker abilities with it. Your opponent doesn’t attack Nicol Bolas when you play it because they can put you on a one-turn clock? You follow up with a Liliana, Dreadhorde General and -4 on both Bolas and Liliana to wipe four creatures off the battlefield.
Nicol Bolas is pushed, and its restrictive mana cost is its only real downside. I expect to see a lot of Nicol Bolas, and I hope we don’t end up living in a world where the real fight is Nicol Bolas vs. Teferi. I’m very excited to play both Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God and Nicol Bolas, the Ravager to see what they can do.
If I were you I’d be picking up Grixis dual lands and Bedevils because Grixis is the real deal with Bolas around.
These are the 10 cards that most interested me during previews. From a quick glance at this set, Grixis colors in general seem to have gotten the strongest cards, which is scary when they also got likely the best card in the set in Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God.
What do you think the best card in the set is so far?