War of the Spark Set Review – Ally Pairs

(Teferi, Time Raveler | Art by Chris Rallis)

Ravnica’s Allegiant

Azorius, Dimir, Rakdos, Gruul, and Selesnya – guilds whose colors represent magical and philosophical overlap, and who can be called ‘allied’ pairs within the color pie.

Not all of these cards are allies, however! Domri, Dovin, Tezzeret, and several others have turned against their brethren and joined Nicol Bolas. Let’s take a look at these alliance-breaking ally-colored cards, picking out who we can trust, and which new cards from War of the Spark could make a splash in our favorite format!


Azorius


Teferi, Time Raveler

Like Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir before him, Teferi prevents our opponents from misbehaving. To anyone who’s never encountered the stubbornness of Grand Abolisher, Dosan the Falling Leaf, City of Solitude, or other such effects, take it from me: these are exorbitantly annoying, and when timed correctly, they can mean the difference between life or death for unsuspecting opponents, now helplessly unable to Counterspell your combo or Fog your oncoming attack.

But wait there’s more! Teferi also turns your Wrath of Gods into Routs by giving your sorcery spells flash! This is a neat effect, though it’s important to note that Azorius decks tend to run slim on sorcery spells; of the 48 cards on the Azorius Staples page, only 3 are sorceries. Even if you don’t have a sorcery to cast at instant speed, though, this is a great bluff to pull on your opponents, just to make them sweat. Finally, the -3 ability is a bit expensive for a mere Repulse, but it’s a nice safeguard.

Teferi’s latest iteration will likely show up in the control-iest of control strategies, such as Grand Arbiter Augustin IV. A deck that enjoys beating down without worrying about Aetherspouts (for example, Medomai the Ageless or Bruna, Light of Alabaster) might also enjoy his company, to guarantee a safe combat environment (though “safe combat environment” is an oxymoron if I ever heard one).


Time Wipe

If you’ll permit me to quote Magneto from X-Men: First Class: “Perfection.”

Though Supreme Verdict will never be unseated as the #1 Azorius board wipe, this is a darn good contender. Saving your favorite creature and eliminating everything else? Whether you’re using this to save your Sun Titan or protecting your Dragonlord Ojutai from unnecessary commander tax, this ability is well worth the five mana. (Note also that you are not required to have a creature in play to cast this spell, as it does not need a target.)

I personally would anticipate Roon of the Hidden Realm or perhaps Brago, King Eternal to make the best use of this spell, as they relish the ability to repeat enter-the-battlefield abilities, and would love an excuse to mire up other players’ plans in the process.


Dovin, Hand of Control

Taxing a handful of noncreature spells, then putting individual creatures into isolation chambers? Grand Arbiter Augustin IV would be proud. I could also see Aminatou, the Fateshifter putting this effect to good use, keeping herself protected from a big bad, or perhaps Sen Triplets, not only keeping themselves defended, but also making harder for opponents to cast spells, which could give them more juicy cards to steal. Those might be the only decks that truly wants to abuse this ability, however; an attackable taxation effect is likely to be swarmed upon by all of your enemies in short order.


Dovin’s Veto

Negate that can’t be Negated? I’m on board. The color requirements probably restrict this to Azorius decks and mana-confident Jeskai, Bant, or Esper builds. The competitively-minded Derevi, Empyrial Tactician or Zur, the Enchanter players among us are also eager for this kind of security. Either way, it’s a pleasant upgrade, and will insidiously sidle into libraries all over the format, ready to win counterspell wars left, right, and center.


Elite Guardmage

Cloudblazer this is not. Brago and Roon are not hurting for card draw on their enters-the-battlefield effects, so this is unlikely to make an appearance in our format.


Dimir


Tezzeret, Master of the Bridge

Buy-a-Box promo cards have been a mixed bag in the past, but this easily takes the cake. Affinity on creature and planeswalker spells? Any artifact deck worth its salt often has a minimum of five artifacts in play at any given time, which means your other Tezzerets and all those Myr Battlespheres and Meteor Golems will cost almost nothing.

Tezzeret’s loyalty abilities are also delicious. The ultimate gives you free permanents, the -3 can retrieve some former precious cargo if you need it, but for my money, the most important ability is his +2. Damage based on the number of artifacts you control? To each opponent? If Cranial Plating isn’t enough for you, you can use this new Tezz tech as an inexorable, inevitable win condition. Keep him safe and he’ll take bites out of enemy life totals like an etherium version of Kokusho, the Evening Star.

Artifact decks are the most popular deck theme according to EDHREC, so expect to see this in decks all over the place, from Breya, Etherium Shaper to Sydri, Galvanic Genius to Silas Renn, Seeker Adept. Any artifact deck that isn’t planning on using infinite combos as a win condition can now use this as a very respectable finisher. Balancing the number of nonartifact spells in your artifact deck can be tricky, and a six-mana nonartifact permanent is a tall order, but I’m more than happy to make room for a card this powerful.


Enter the God-Eternals

This nifty number does a little bit of everything. Technically speaking, we can look at this as a five-mana 4/4 that gains a little life, fills a little graveyard, and potentially picks off a pesky creature across the field – maybe even someone’s unprotected commander. Of the top 21 commanders of all time, only 5 have more than 4 toughness. Then again, several in that list aren’t exactly practical targets; some have hexproof, or protection, or are able to quickly eclipse their 4-toughness limits, which makes this sorcery-speed removal option less appealing. Obviously this spell doesn’t need to only hit commanders, but it’s ideal.

While some graveyard-based decks might enjoy it, I’m not personally a fan. A little of everything is nice, but since the value is spread across so many disparate abilities, it winds up feeling like it doesn’t do any of these jobs particularly well. Ravenous Chupacabra will pick off creatures and can be reanimated or blinked more easily, Ancient Excavtion is likely to put more cards into your graveyard, the lifegain is negligible, dedicated removal spells like Curtains’ Call are better at instant speed, and the Zombie token is nice but unremarkable. Sidisi, Brood Tyrant strikes me as the best candidate, since she could potentially make two Zombie tokens in one go, but even she is hesitant to add too many noncreature cards to her deck. I think in most (if not all) cases, Dream Eater is a better inclusion.


Soul Diviner

Hot take: this card looks better than it actually is. It’s efficiently costed, but clunky. Dimir isn’t particularly well-known for its abundance of counters, which largely relegates this card’s best application to decks of three or more colors with lots of counter synergies. Even then, a tap ability is slow, slower than we’re usually comfortable with in decks that abuse counters, and do so quickly.

It’s not without synergies, of course. If you can pair it up with Glacial Chasm, you’re certainly in business, though ‘Cumulative Upkeep tribal’ isn’t super practical, given that the majority of Cumulative Upkeep cards are enchantments, which this creature cannot target. Persist counters are a great choice, Glen Elendra Archmage perhaps being the best candidate. Those options are appealing, but fewer and farther between than I’d like on a card advantage engine that requires a full round before it can activate.

As for the allegations that “This is an auto-include for Atraxa, Praetor’s Voice,” that stopped being a sensible phrase the minute Wizards of the Coast announced that War of the Spark would contain 36 new planeswalkers. This is a neat card, to be clear, but you have to work harder than it first appears to actually reap any benefits.


Ashiok, Dream Render

Ashiok truly is a dream render – graveyards are the absolute best thing ever (this is not an opinion, it’s objective fact) and Ashiok dashes them all away faster than you can say “Bojuka Bog.” Given how frequently blue and black abuse graveyards themselves, Ashiok isn’t an auto-inclusion to decks that can play them; even popular mill commanders like Phenax, God of Deception typically like to use the cards they’ve milled from other players’ libraries to their own advantage (such as with Memory Plunder effects, for example).

Rather, Ashiok will aid graveyard players who like their own discard piles and no one else’s. They slam straight into Muldrotha, the Gravetide and Lazav, the Multifarious, filling their own graveyard at the expense of everyone else’s. They’ll make a showing in Oona, Queen of the Fae and Phenax, God of Deception decks that don’t need to Reanimate anything out of the graveyards they’ve filled. And of course, they’ll wander into any blue-black-inclusive deck that doesn’t need graveyards at all, but knows how important it is to arm themselves with grave hate against the Meren of Clan Nel Toths and The Scarab Gods and Sidisi, Brood Tyrants and Daretti, Scrap Savants running rampant throughout the Commander format, hitting them with the biggest silver bullet they’ve ever seen.

How does Ashiok stack up against the most popular forms of grave hate? Bojuka Bog, Scavenger Grounds, Relic of Progenitus, and Rest in Peace reign supreme; the lands lands don’t take up a spell slot, the Relic replaces itself, and the enchantment is perpetually difficult to remove. I’d liken Ashiok to Rest in Peace; even if they’re an attackable target, all you need is one activation.

Oh, apologies – I’ve been so distracted from mourning my exiled graveyard that I forgot about Ashiok’s passive ability, a semi-permanent Shadow of Doubt on the rest of the table. This can be especially crippling; if I may testify on behalf of all graveyard players, when I encounter a Rest in Peace effect, my only remaining option is to tutor up some way to remove it. But Ashiok won’t let that happen. Ashiok doesn’t just delete Plan A, they also delete Plan B.

And that’s just me speaking on behalf of us graveyard-y folk. Someone tutoring up a combo piece? Nope. Was that a Boundless Realms in your hand? Too bad. Academy Rector trigger? Sorry about it. Just want to play an Evolving Wilds? Sucks to be you. Doomsday? Nah. In fact, here’s a Scryfall search of cards that say “search your library,” organized by their popularity in EDH. You have to go until page 4 of that search before you stop seeing relevant EDH cards.

Ashiok’s newest incarnation is an absolute terror, and like a true nightmare, the mere thought of them will lurk in your brain, causing you dread even when they’re not around. Devastating card, one of the set’s major highlights. You have been warned.


Gleaming Overseer

We know exactly where this goes – Sidisi, Brood Tyrant, The Scarab God, Varina, Lich Queen, Zombie tribal all day. The hexproof on tokens is less desirable than menace, but three mana for two bodies that makes your swarm difficult to block is excellent value. It won’t break the bank, but it has a home in our format ready and waiting.


Tyrant’s Scorn

Blackblade Reforged has been Shattered! Noooo!

Joking aside, while I appreciate a diverse spell, I don’t think Dimir decks need a Smother/Unsummon. We’d rather run Far // Away. Great story moment, though.


Rakdos


Widespread Brutality

This spell looks almost playable, but there isn’t a high enough density of Amass spells available to reliably make a large Army creature. Making a 2/2 and dealing 2 damage to each other creature is just not worth four mana. Even though I want to like this spell, Rakdos colors have much better options to wreck the field.


Dreadhorde Butcher

There’s almost potential here, but not enough. If you’re in Jund with Reyhan, Last of the Abzan and Forgotten Ancient, you could make a decent payoff, but even then, Walking Ballista does this card’s job a lot better.


Angrath, Captain of Chaos

Goblin War Drums for four mana? I’m not sold. Even if it can eventually create a 4/4 over the course of two turns, Angrath is very unlikely to survive and the token he leaves behind is negligible. Sorry, Minotaur man, but you’re probably not making the cut.


Angrath’s Rampage

I hate to sound like such a grump about the Rakdos offerings thus far, but this card doesn’t do it for me. The added ability to pick off an artifact is deeply unlikely to work the way you’ll want it to, given how many Signets, Ingots, Servos, and Treasures there are floating around in our format nowadays. The main applicability will therefore be creature and planeswalker removal. The problem is, this isn’t very reliable in those categories. Creature tokens are even more abundant than artifacts, and the average planeswalker is usually killable with more conventional methods.

Dreadbore shows up in an extremely respectable 10,000 decks, but this is not precisely a second copy of that spell. I’d rather try Bedevil or even just Hero’s Downfall, or frankly just a regular Terminate, to definitely choose the thing that needs removing, and to do so at instant speed.


Mayhem Devil

Now this is what’s up. Judith, the Scourge Diva, get in here! Someone else playing Meren of Clan Nel Toth or Mazirek, Kraul Death Priest? Time to ruin their day. Sacrifices happen all over the place in EDH, from Evolving Wilds to Smothering Tithe‘s Treasure tokens. It’s not a direct parallel to Blood Artist, but it’s close enough that Aristocrats decks are already making room for this little Devil, and I’d wager some Mogis, God of Slaughter players wouldn’t mind the extra help either!


Gruul


Domri, Anarch of Bolas

Green and red both have better creature pump, better mana production, and better removal spells than any of Domri’s offerings. A cool card – and Raymond Swanland’s art is gorgeous as ever – but it’s not for us EDH folk.


Living Twister

You already know where this is headed – Mina and Denn, Wildborn and Omnath, Locus of Rage are very pleased to have another Elemental join the fray. Lining up your Explorations and Azusa, Lost but Seekings, then bouncing your lands with the Twister so you can trigger multiple Landfall effects a turn is quite excellent.

Lord Windgrace decks may potentially use the Elemental as well – it is a nice blocker for your planeswalker, and it can provide Windgrace with lands to discard to draw even more cards – but the mana requirements are no joke, so you’d have to be smart about it. Mister Twister doesn’t break the bank, but it doesn’t need to. It knows exactly what it’s doing, and it’s doing it well.


Samut, Tyrant Smasher

Give me Fervor, give me Rhythm of the Wild, give me basically anything else. Samut’s a legitimately awesome character, but her new card doesn’t do her (or Gruul decks) any justice.


Domri’s Ambush

I actually really like this card… I just can’t find a home for it. One-sided fight spells are cool, even if they’re occasionally less reliable than a traditional Chaos Warp or Song of the Dryads. I expect you’ll need to make the most of the +1/+1 counter synergies for a spell like this. In other words, most Gruul commanders probably don’t need this, but Hallar, the Firefletcher or a Tana, the Bloodsower + Reyhan, Last of the Abzan might have some fun with it.


Rubblebelt Rioters

While the dream is to cast this spell alongside Xenagos, God of Revels and his pumped-up Malignus, the lack of trample here renders the card less than moot. Save your Xenagos creature slots for the creatures you want to power up, not for cards that get better after you’ve powered something up.


Selesnya


Ajani, the Greathearted

Giving creatures vigilance is no joke – that’s a deeply underrated ability in EDH, and it’s the perfect one to help keep a planeswalker like this well-protected. The lifegain, however, is bleh. Orzhov colors are much more likely to take advantage of lifegain than Selesnya.

The -2, however, is all you need. Atraxa decks will be so overwhelmed with options from this set that it’s not even funny, but I do think they should make the effort to make room for this one. Ajani represents an additional Proliferate in Atraxa decks, not only boosting your other walkers, but putting a counter on the Angel Horror herself, so that she can start the ball rolling and become a huge monster. The vigilance is, of course, redundant, but the extra loyalty is worth it. Ajani is purely a support planeswalker, but he’ll keep things running smoothly and more efficiently, so he’s at least worth a look in a Superfriends strategies.


Tolsimir, Friend to Wolves

Good Boy Tribal. Doggos all day! Let’s go!

In all seriousness, there are a lot more Wolf-centric cards than I initially thought. Master of the Wild Hunt, Wolfir Silverheart, Kessig Cagebreakers, Wolfcaller’s Howl, Howl of the Night Pack – this isn’t just some funny theme for a deck, it’s a legitimately cool strategy with a lot more tribal payoff than I would have expected, and plenty of token-doubling support in these colors to keep the tank full. If you’re digging all the way down to Wolf Pack you’ve probably gone too far, but if you’re looking for a new token-tastic brew, Tolsimir won’t lead you astray.

Importantly, you don’t have to sic all of your tokens onto different creatures. They can all gang up on one if you need them to. That level of diverse creature removal is pretty bonkers for Selesnya. This might look fun and silly when you sit down across the table, but don’t be surprised if you end up on the run from the dogs halfway through the game because you underestimated their bite.

PS – For those unaware, Donald Miner, creator of this magical website, is a renowned Stax player. Leave it to him to turn even this innocent little Wolf commander into a Stax deck, using Living Plane to animate everyone’s lands, then siccing his Wolf tokens on them. Don, you’re a monster.


Huatli, the Sun’s Heart

This will likely see play in Arcades the Strategist and Doran the Siege Tower and absolutely nothing else, but it’s cool. Actually, it may not make the cut in Arcades, since Huatli doesn’t allow all those defenders to attack, but darn it, niche effects are awesome anyway. Pro tip: only use the -3 ability in case of emergency; you’ll want to make sure Huatli is too much of a nuisance to pick off properly.


Pledge of Unity

I enjoyed Ajani, the Greathearted not because he put counters on creatures, but because he put counters on planeswalkers. As a result, my love for this card is significantly lower. Oath of Ajani probably earns my favor before this card, even if this is an instant. In fact, I probably would even prefer to run Regna’s Sanction or Unbreakable Formation to put +1/+1 counters on creayures, and neither of those sees much play at all.

Overall, these colors have better buffs, and though the lifegain is nice, if you’ve gained more than 10 life with this card, I’d wager you should have been casting a Beastmaster Ascension and attacked to win the game instead.


Huatli’s Raptor

Beautiful. Efficiently costed, good to drop as an early blocker or to draw in the late game and pump up your counters, be they +1/+1, loyalty, poison, or otherwise. Ramos, Dragon Engine might even enjoy this as a cheap and effective way to acquire a quick burst of power. If this little rascal doesn’t end up making the cut in Superfriends or +1/+1 counter decks, it’s only because of all the other amazing Proliferate cards we’ve received this set.


Spoils of War

I know the plot of War of the Spark has involved a lot of death and destruction and has kicked us in the feelings a couple of times, but the cards themselves have cranked it up to a level we rarely ever get to see. Some sets arrive with a good number of upgrades for our pre-existing decks, while other sets arrive and offer Commander players very little, maybe just one or two cards for a niche commander here and there. War of the Spark is a whole new ball game; niche or not, it appears that this set has cards for every strategy we know of, from artifacts to reanimators to +1/+1 counters to Voltron and so many more.

Which begs the question: which ally-colored cards are you most excited about from War of the Spark? Are you all about that new Tezzeret? Has the new Domri impressed you more than it has me? Are you making plans to Time Wipe your opposition? Share your thoughts, and get ready for WAR!

Joseph Schultz works in a library by day and shuffles libraries by night. He hosts the EDHRECast with Matt Morgan and Dana Roach over at http://edhrecast.libsyn.com/ and has recently taken over as Editor for the articles here on EDHREC! He was also born exactly one year before Magic: the Gathering, which he thinks is probably some kind of sign. Follow @JosephMSchultz on Twitter!