Spoiler season officially started today with the unveiling of 17 cards from War of the Spark during a panel at the Mythic Invitational. This was followed by a few more cards being spoiled around PAX East and during the invitational coverage. For the majority of the leadup to the War of the Spark release I’ll be picking just a few cards of interest from each day’s spoilers but today is going to be slightly larger than usual due to the new mechanics.
When WotC first announced that there were going to be 36 planeswalkers in the sets, I wondered if they’d be similar to the rest of the Guilds of Ravnica block in that some would be on proper planeswalker cards whereas others would be shown as legendary creatures. Later they announced you’d find one of the planeswalkers in each booster pack which suggested they were going to be actual planeswalker cards. How were they going to balance that?
It turns out they are balanced by making a fairly large shake-up to what constitutes a planeswalker card. This set is the first to have planeswalkers at anything other than mythic rarity and it looks like the number of loyalty abilities is linked to that rarity level:
- Uncommon: One loyalty ability that only reduces Planeswalker loyalty
- Rare: Two loyalty abilities with one increasing loyalty and one decreasing it
- Mythic Rare: As in previous sets, three loyalty abilities (of which can be a mixture of increasing, decreasing, or staying the same)
A planeswalker with loyalty that can only go down is obviously something very different1 but don’t forget that there are alternate ways to increase planeswalker loyalty; Settle the Score is the best way currently but you’ll also be able to use the new proliferate mechanic.
In addition to loyalty abilities, every single planeswalker has an extra ability that will either be passive (as is the case with Tibalt, Rakish Instigator preventing your opponents from gaining life) or based on a trigger (such as Ob Nixilis, the Hate-Twisted dealing 1 damage to an opponent when they draw a card). This is a really cool way of adding extra value to these cards whilst also making them feel like part of the story; after all, this is meant to be a huge superhero-style throwdown on Ravnica and it’ll certainly feel like that when each player will likely have multiple planeswalkers on the battlefield!
Whilst I’m not going to go too in-depth on any one specific card (as that will come when I start opening boosters), I am utterly intrigued by Jace, Wielder of Mysteries. My first thought was “that’s going to screw over my milling deck” but that was quickly followed by “I can build a milling deck to mill myself”. I can’t wait to start working on that idea!
Something I’ve long been saying in relation to War of the Spark is that if there are genuinely going to be 36 planeswalker cards then we’re going to need some better planeswalker removal. It looks like that will be the case:
Each of these cards is a very different form of removal be it a straight up exile, a counter, or destruction in a spectacle2 kind of way. These cards are also great with the artwork; I love that Ravnica at War is showing Emergence Zone from a different angle whilst No Escape puts Jace in the same situation as he was on Ixalan’s Binding.
Something else specific to these cards is that the mtgstory.com label has been expanded to also show which part of the story this card references with two of them showing “Spotlight: Act I”. We’ve heard from WotC previously that this spoiler season is going to be slightly different with a gradual reveal of the storyline so I’m guessing we’re going to see a few more of these cards from Act I before we get to see how this battle is going to end.
Amass is a new keyword ability coming to War of the Spark which allows you to put n number of +1/+1 counters on an Army you control (where n is the number after the amass keyword); if you don’t already control an Army, you can create a 0/0 black Zombie Army creature token first.
This is an interesting mechanic that is doing a great job of telling the story of the army of the dead that Nicol Bolas has picked up from Amonkhet. Whilst an “Army” type isn’t special on its own3, the fact that they can grow over time with this amass ability means they are likely something that is going to need to be controlled. Whilst the ability itself doesn’t let you create multiple armies, there is nothing stopping you from duplicating one with something like Quasiduplicate or Repudiate // Replicate; just be aware that amass only adds it’s +1/+1 counters to one army of your choosing and that they can’t be split between multiples.
The nice thing about these set of spoilers is that they show a huge variety of uses for the amass mechanic:
- Relentless Advance: The most basic usage with a straight-up amass sorcery
- Dreadhorde Invasion: A slow-burning enchantment that will grow your army every turn
- Herald of the Dreadhorde: Amass as a death trigger; perfect for aristocrat decks
- Invade the City: The Crackling Drake version which could make a very powerful army
- Widespread Brutality: A Rabid Bite style version; add your +1/+1 tokens and then hit something
That last card in particular is going to be one to watch out for especially if you already have a gigantic army.
Proliferate is a returning mechanic from 2011 that was mainly used to grow the number of poison counters on a player4. In War of the Spark, you are more likely to use this to buff yourself as it can be used to increase counters on any number of permanents or players. For example, when you proliferate you can:
- Increase the loyalty counter of any of your planeswalkers (especially useful with the uncommons that otherwise can’t grow)
- Add an extra +1/+1 counter to a creature
- Add a gold counter to Dragon’s Hoard
- Add a blood counter to Font of Agonies
- Add a charge counter to Magistrate’s Scepter, Transmogrifying Wand, Firemind’s Research, or Primal Amulet // Primal Wellspring
- Add a phylactery counter to an artifact that was targeted by Phylactery Lich
- Add a growth counter to Simic Ascendancy
You can only add counters that already exist and you only get to add one counter. Also, if you choose to use proliferate on a card it will increase all the counters on that card by one; i.e. you can’t increase the number of +1/+1 counters on a Chamber Sentry without also adding an extra phylactery counter if one was there5.
I’m kind of surprised that they didn’t make it a keyword with a number attached. I’d have expected something like “Proliferate 3” where 3 is either the number of counters you get to increase6 or the number of permanents you get to target but clearly they feel this is the better option.
Overall I’m really impressed with the new cards that have been unveiled. Whilst the focus is rightly on the planeswalker redesign, I have a feeling that amass is going to be a huge deal for this set. I’ll be continuing to highlight the best new cards that get spoiled each day but if you want to see all of them you can check out my cards page; once I start opening boosters I’ll be looking at individual cards in a lot more detail.
It feels like the spectacle ability as it only works if you’ve done some damage before casting it. ↩︎
Army is just a type like Zombie, Merfolk, Dinosaur, etc. It doesn’t do anything special on it’s own and it is still just one body. It reminds me a lot of the mob creature in the game Mansions of Madness. ↩︎
A player with 10 or more poison counters lost the game so this was a good strategy. ↩︎
That’s a bad example as you’d likely want to do that anyway but the fact that this rule exists makes me thing there might be some bad counters turning up on future cards. ↩︎
Which would add more flexibility and choice. Do you want to give 3 loyalty to one planeswalker or do you want to just increase it by 1 and give two +1/+1 counters to a creature? ↩︎