War Of The Spark Financial Set Review, Part 1

New cards mean new opportunities! Chas Andres kicks off his Financial Set Review for War of the Spark with big-ticket preorders and lower-costed cards that might be worth your while!

I’m not sure I can remember a set as eagerly anticipated as War of the Spark. Sure, people love their Ravnicas and their Innistrads, but a set that’s entirely full of planeswalkers? That’s the sort of gift that I never thought we’d actually get.

Well, War of the Spark is almost here, and the response has been almost unanimously positive so far. If the community had looked at the new planeswalkers and decided “Thanks, but no thanks,” we’d have started to see the planeswalkers-matter cards that spiked over the past month (Mox Amber, The Chain Veil, Oath of Teferi, etc.) start to drop. Instead, these cards are either stable or continuing to rise in value. And with more exciting planeswalkers still waiting to be previewed, I can only assume that this set is going to remain incredibly popular.

Popular, of course, does not always mean valuable. We’ve got some mental adjustments to make regardless, since planeswalkers have always been mythic rares before War of the Spark and it’s very rare that any of them pre-sell for less than $15. But we’ve got rare planeswalkers now. Heck, we’ve got uncommon planeswalkers now. Some of these cards are going to end up at near-bulk prices. It’s a whole new world, and we must adjust to that reality

Before we start wading into the set, I’d like to remind you that I wrote an entire article on analyzing planeswalker value in anticipation of War of the Spark preview season. The whole piece is worth reading if you’ve got the time, but here are the key takeaways:

  • Any planeswalker with a shot at supplanting Teferi, Hero of Dominaria as the best control finisher in Standard would instantly become among the most valuable cards in Standard. That’s a tough gamble to make, though. If you guess wrong, you’re stuck with a card like Tezzeret, Artifice Master, who has been eclipsed by Teferi despite looking incredibly powerful at first glance.
  • Historically, three-mana planeswalkers have a good shot at being expensive, format-defining cards. The less narrow they are, the better. We want a diverse suite of abilities that can impact different game states on Turn 3.
  • Don’t sleep on four-mana flagship planeswalkers like Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Chandra, Torch of Defiance, either. Deck-defining, powerful cards like these can lead to new archetypes and very high prices.
  • Take a long look at seven-plus-mana planeswalkers that just win the game, especially if they can earn a spot in Modern Tron. We wouldn’t want to miss the next Karn or Ugin.

With that in mind, let’s get to the cards! And I’d like to start with one of the most exciting planeswalkers previewed so far—

Mythic Rares

Liliana, Dreadhorde General – $20

Planeswalkers with four abilities are rare, and planeswalkers with static abilities are brand new. Unfortunately, six-mana planeswalkers are a thing that we’ve been familiar with for a while, and they rarely make an impact in Constructed play. I’d like to write Liliana off for this reason alone, but don’t forget that Elspeth, Sun’s Champion was one of the most powerful cards in Theros Standard. If Liliana is somewhat on par with Elspeth, she has a chance to be a solid buy at $20.

Is Liliana, Dreadhorde General the new Elspeth, Sun’s Champion?

Well, just like Elspeth, Liliana’s success will live or die on her second ability. Making a 2/2 Zombie doesn’t matter much on Turn 6 or Turn 7, and like most planeswalkers, her ultimate will win the game more often than not. Liliana’s static ability will gain you incremental advantage on a battlefield that continues to expand, but six mana is a lot to spend on a card that simply generates incremental advantage.

So, how good is Liliana’s second ability? Well, when you pair it with her first, it’s actually outstanding. Either your battlefield is empty and you’re getting a two-for-one on your opponent while keeping your planeswalker around (great), or your battlefield is full and you’re gaining card advantage by drawing extra cards to break the symmetry of the Barter in Blood effect (also great).

I don’t know if Liliana is going to be as ubiquitous as Elspeth, Sun’s Champion was, but this is the kind of power level that a six-mana planeswalker needs to have if it’s going to make a major impact in Constructed. At the very least, she’s better than Vraska, Relic Seeker, who was pretty stable in the $10-$20 range for a while despite being more of a role-player. It’s rare that I recommend speculating on a $20 preview card, and I’m not going to do it here, but I strongly suspect that Liliana, Dreadhorde General is going to be one of the set’s best cards when all is said and done. If you’re interested in building around Liliana, picking her up at current retail is fine.


Teferi, Time Raveler – $20

Oh boy – is Teferi really a card that I’m going to be a contrarian on? Make no mistake, Teferi, Time Raveler is very good. His static ability is good, his +1 is good, and his -3 is very good. In terms of raw power, Teferi is one of the better cards in the set.

My issue with Teferi is two-fold.

First, this particular Teferi is rare, not mythic. That matters. We’re used to all good planeswalkers being mythic rares, and I feel like his current $20 price tag reflects that expectation. Good rares can be worth $20, but it’s (pardon the pun) rather rare. In fact, there’s not a single $20 rare in all of Standard right now, though Search for Azcanta ($18) comes close.

Second, Teferi has to compete for space in Standard right now with…well, himself. That’s very on-flavor for Teferi, but it’s going to limit his playability by a significant margin. I don’t think this utility version of Teferi is more powerful than Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, so I suspect he’ll see less play than he would in an otherwise Teferi-free metagame.

So yeah. Teferi is great, but I’m fading it at $20. In fact, I don’t even think Teferi would be selling for $20 if the card’s name were, like, Timothy Time-Guy. We’ve just lived through a year of Teferi being very expensive, and that sort of perception matters a lot. Let’s talk again when the price is closer to $10.

Vivien, Champion of the Wilds – $9

Vivien doesn’t have a very high raw power level, but she’s a three-mana planeswalker who can immediately tick up to five loyalty. For that, you get a decent-but-unspectacular static ability and access to a -2 that’s slightly better than drawing a card.

Vivien isn’t the sort of card that you build a deck around, but you’re getting more than you’re paying for, and it shouldn’t be that hard to get Vivien to return some amount of value most of the time. Will that be enough for Vivien to see significant play? Well, as I said with Teferi above, there’s a very real cost to playing this Vivien in your deck alongside her more powerful iteration. $9 is also a little high for a buy-in. Vivien is a very solid card, but I don’t see why it’s twice as expensive as Ajani, the Greathearted or Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord right now. I’m not buying in yet.

Jace, Wielder of Mysteries – $9

Jace, Wielder of Mysteries is another card that should probably be closer to $5 than $10. Casual mill cards are always going to hold a solid amount of long-term value, but I don’t see a deck playing this in any sort of competitive format. I would love to believe that Jace ends up as the flagship card in some sort of self-mill nonsense brew, but Jace himself isn’t enough of an engine to enable this in Standard and I can’t see any sort of Leveler combo shenanigans working out in Modern like some people seem to be betting on. I do like that Jace starts at five loyalty and ticks up to draw cards, but you can probably do better for 1UUU. As with all unique combo-related cards, Jace, Wielder of Mysteries is going to be a nice long-term hold. I just don’t think you need to buy in this soon. Wait until Jace is $2-$3 in a couple of months.

Dreadhorde Invasion – $8

Dreadhorde Invasion feels like one of the most overrated cards in the set to me. I understand the appeal of comparing this to Bitterblossom, but these two cards don’t seem close to close. With a Turn 2 Bitterblossom, you’ve got two 1/1 evasive creatures on Turn 4. With Dreadhorde Invasion, you’ve got…a big standard 2/2. Dreadhorde Invasion does lead to a quicker kill on a totally empty battlefield, but “bad version of good card” is exactly the sort of speculation trap that leads a card like this to pre-order for $8 instead of $2.

I am willing to be wrong about Dreadhorde Invasion, and it’s possible that it’ll end up seeing play in a deck that can sacrifice the token for value every turn or something, but I think it needs a lot of help to be good where Bitterblossom did not. At any rate, I’m out at $8.

Dreadhorde Arcanist – $8

I actually really love some of the cards in this set, I swear! They’re all kind of cheap right now, though, and Dreadhorde Arcanist seems overrated to me as well. Hey, some of these cards are going to have to be busts if all these planeswalkers are going to remain valuable, right?

My problem with Dreadhorde Arcanist is that I think it’s just a little too slow and awkward for Standard. You can’t just jam Dreadhorde Arcanist into Burn – most of the key spells are two-plus mana – so you’re either looking at some sort of Izzet shell to recur Opt, a Gruul shell with some Giant Growths or, potentially, in Modern to help cast Living End or Ancestral Vision.

These aren’t bad plans, and Dreadhorde Arcanist is the exact sort of card that I’m rooting for. If this card is good, then I’ll probably really love whatever deck is using it. I just can’t get behind spending $8 on a rare that requires you to jump through several hoops and/or create a new archetype in order to play. These are the types of cards that burn you when they end up not panning out and settling in the $1 range.

Ajani, the Greathearted – $5

When I see Ajani, the Greathearted, I see a slightly worse Ajani Steadfast. Vigilance is nice, but Ajani, the Greathearted’s -2 is the same as the one on Ajani Steadfast and its +1 is far less impactful than the one on Mr. Steadfast.

Of course, a “bad” Ajani Steadfast is still a good card. Ajani Steadfast saw a little bit of play in Standard, and it’s quite popular in Commander thanks to the fact that its second ability is amazing in go-wide decks. Ajani, the Greathearted should get a similar treatment, albeit on a slightly smaller scale thanks to its reduced rarity. That makes it a pretty solid bet to maintain at least $5 in value long-term, giving you a pretty decent backstop to any sort of speculation attempt. While I’m not personally betting on Ajani to make a massive impact in Standard, I don’t think you’ll lose anything on your $5 buy.

Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord – $5

I like Brad Nelson’s impulse to liken Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord to Whip of Erebos, another card that combined reanimation and lifelink. Lifelink is an underrated ability, and I can see Sorin finding a home in some sort of Orzhov or Mardu Aristocrats deck. Ravnica Allegiance gave us some of the tech necessary to make that deck work, and I’m pretty sure that War of the Spark gave us the missing pieces.

I’ll be getting into that possibility a little bit later in this article. For now, I just want to say that a Sorin spike should be expected if Mardu Aristocrats does break out. $10-$12 seems likely to me, which makes this a pretty solid buy at $5. At the very least, I’d snag a few copies now if you’re trying to make Mardu happen.

Vivien’s Arkbow – $5

From a competitive perspective, Vivien’s Arkbow seems like a decent sideboard card to me. Turning your extra lands into creatures is nice, but I’m probably just going to run an extra creature in my deck most of the time. That said, if you can also use the Arkbow to dodge countermagic? Now we’re talking.

Really, I feel like Vivien’s Arkbow is at its best in Commander. This is exactly what I want in a lot of my green decks, and I think it’ll end up being a utility staple in a lot of casual decks going forward. $5 seems a little high for this sort of card, but it’s likely to end up bouncing around between $2-$3 for a while before ending up as a solid long-term spec.

Karn’s Bastion – $4

Speaking of Commander, this is the card from War of the Spark that most of the Commander players I know right now are the most excited about. This goes in pretty much every Commander deck ever built – tokens, planeswalkers, it doesn’t even matter. I’m not sure how many of the current Standard manabases can handle a colorless land right now, but my guess is that Karn’s Bastion will see at least a little competitive play. And if we do some sort of return to New Phyrexia while this land is in Standard, it’ll get a bump from that, too.

My point is, Karn’s Bastion has the look of a card with an outside shot at being $10+ while it’s in Standard and a very high shot of ending up at $10+ down the line thanks to casual play. The risk of buying in now is very low, and the reward is high. I’m in for a few sets at current retail.

Bolas’s Citadel – $4

I don’t think Bolas’s Citadel will see much Standard play. You’d have to warp your deck around it in some pretty silly ways, only to hope that you can draw and stick your six-drop and then find a way to win the game somehow. That said, I learned a long time ago that I should never underestimate cards that break the fundamental rules of Magic, especially cards that make spells more or less free to play. The entire Modern format is basically the “Wow, Phyrexian mana was a mistake, huh?” format at the moment, and Bolas’s Citadel effectively makes it so that you can cast all the cards on top of your library with Phyrexian mana.

So yeah. Even though I don’t think Bolas’s Citadel will work in Standard, I do think it has a shot to show up in Legacy, Modern, maybe even Vintage. The older the format, the better your chance of building a workable engine here. Even though it doesn’t work quite like Ad Nauseam, the cards are similar enough to get me excited.

I still wouldn’t buy in now, though. The realistic outcome for Bolas’s Citadel is something like Paradoxical Outcome, which is currently just $1 with a $6 foil. There will be enough copies of Bolas’s Citadel out there for anyone who wants one unless it becomes a major player in either Standard or Commander. $4 is a bargain if Wizards of the Coast didn’t playtest this card correctly or something, but that’s not a bet I’m generally willing to make.

Dreadhorde Butcher – $3

It doesn’t seem right to talk about Dreadhorde Butcher in a vacuum. Instead, we should be talking about it in context. Specifically, the context of Mardu Aristocrats, featuring Cruel Celebrant and Judith, the Scourge Diva. Emma Handy wrote about the deck last week, and I wouldn’t be shocked if it ends up being one of the format’s early breakout decks. Not only does Mardu Aristocrats finally seem to have all the pieces, but this is the kind of deck that proves absurdly popular among the FNM crowd, causing all sorts of massive price bumps.

If I’m right, Dreadhorde Butcher will likely spike to $6-$7 before settling back down near $3-$4 after the set hits saturation point. That’s a decent profit, but I’d rather snag some copies of Judith, the Scourge Diva if I’m looking to go deep on something. She’s just $2.50 these days and has a price history of $8-$10 during the initial Ravnica Allegiance hype. I love buying a card with huge breakout potential at its floor, and that’s what Judith is right now. Snag these ASAP.

Single Combat – $3

I love the synergy between Single Combat and Teferi, Time Raveler. If you can -3 Teferi after casting this spell, it’s going to be really hard for your opponent to win the game. Of course, Teferi, Time Raveler works pretty well with lots of cards, so that might say more about the planeswalker than it does about Single Combat.

I’ve seen some people viewing Single Combat as a bad Wrath, but it doesn’t really work that way. If you just want to wipe the battlefield in a control deck, there are better options. The thing that Single Combat does well is to allow your battlecruiser-based midrange deck to dominate against their go-wide strategy. Because of that, I feel like this is more of a sideboard card than anything. $3 is on the high end for a card like that. I expect it’ll settle in closer to $1 or $2.

Ravnica at War – $3

Ravnica at War is another interesting sideboard card. We’ll need to see the metagame before we can even come close to predicting how much play this thing sees, but it probably won’t be enough to get the price up over $4-$5 as a best-case scenario. As with Single Combat, the price is low enough that you can buy in if you have an immediate use. I just can’t imagine it sees enough widespread play to be a good investment.

Neheb, Dreadhorde Champion – $3

I don’t know if Neheb, Dreadhorde Champion will see play – but if it does, I have to believe it’ll be the flagship card in a brand new archetype. The fact that this is yet another red four-drop means that it’ll be competing against multiple Phoenixes for play, and the fact that it doesn’t actually generate any card advantage means that it’s probably not going to be, say, the finisher in a Burn deck. But if you can take advantage of the stuff you discard, perhaps in some sort of Rakdos Reanimator shell? Or Zombies with Liliana? That’s really interesting to me. I’m not sure all the piece are there, and Neheb is still probably too much of a long-shot for me to speculate on, but there’s some real upside here.

Fblthp, the Lost – $2.50

Fblthp, the Lost might seem like a joke, but Elvish Visionary is a super playable card in multiple formats. Does blue want a less synergistic version of Elvish Visionary? I don’t know. Card draw is more plentiful in blue than in green, and there are fewer tribal synergies in play, obviously. But in formats where a 1/1 blocker is useful, Fblthp will see play. $2.50 is a decent buy-in for a card that might actually see some Constructed play, though I can’t believe there’s a ton of upside here.

Time Wipe – $2

Time Wipe might end up being one of the most important cards in War of the Spark. I can certainly imagine a world where it’s irrelevant simply because Kaya’s Wrath is one mana cheaper, but the upside of getting to return your best creature (or maybe even a Frilled Mystic, like Abraham Stein wrote about last week) makes me feel like Time Wipe is the truth. Time Wipe’s casting cost is also a little easier to justify in multiple decks, so it has a shot at seeing play in, say, Bant Midrange and Esper Control.

Kaya’s Wrath is currently selling for $3.50, but it spent a good portion of the spring around $6-$7. Time Wipe’s upside is probably closer to $10-$12, since it can conceivably fit in multiple decks. That’s far from guaranteed, but I’m definitely in for a set of Time Wipes at $2 each.

Ignite the Beacon – $1.50

Ignite the Beacon seems awfully underrated to me right now. As planeswalkers become both narrower and more prevalent, I can certainly imagine a situation where a deck might want to tutor up the best two cards for them in a given matchup. This is an instant, remember, so think of it as a potential upgrade for something like Chemister’s Insight in a planeswalker toolbox or SuperFriends deck like the one Bryan Gottlieb wrote about last week. I don’t think it slots into any existing archetype, but I also wouldn’t be surprised to see a lot more ‘walkers running around once War of the Spark drops.

There isn’t a ton of upside here – best case, Ignite the Beacon is probably a $6-$7 card – but this will be a long-term casual favorite regardless, so you’ve got a bit of a safety net if your spec doesn’t pan out. At the very least, I’m going to buy a stack of these for my long-term box if they ever drop below a buck.

Storrev, Devkarin Lich – $1.50

Storrev, Devkarin Lich is an incredibly powerful card if the game goes exactly the way you want it, but this is the sort of fairly costed midrange beater that doesn’t really seem to get there very often these days. I don’t think there’s room for this in Sultai Midrange, but if there is, we’d be looking at a $5-$6 card. More likely, Storrev will end up as a bulk rare.

Widespread Brutality – $1.50

There are some fairly competitive amass cards that might reach some sort of critical mass (Get it? Did you get the joke?) in competitive play, but I doubt it. This seems like a Limited-only card and a future bulk rare.

Tolsimir, Friend to Wolves – $1.50

Let’s end with another cheap card that might be better than it looks at first glance. Five mana is a lot, but you get 6/6 worth of power and toughness spread out over multiple bodies, three life, and (potentially) a free Shock. That’s a Constructed-level card right there.

I don’t know how many decks can handle the 2GGW mana cost, and this card is a bit clunky in Selesnya Tokens, but at the very least this will be a sideboard play for any sort of Bant deck against any sort of aggro strategy. Best case, there’s another interesting Wolf or two out there and Tolsimir really takes off. Regardless, it’s a fine buy at $1.50. Tolsimir is probably too narrow to ever make it much past $5, but I’d be surprised if it doesn’t see a decent amount of play regardless.

This Week’s Trends

Now that War of the Spark is taking shape, the Standard market is beginning to move.

The biggest gainer of the week was Liliana, Untouched by Death, which surged in price thanks to the powerful Zombies previewed in War of the Spark as well as the card’s utility with Liliana’s Triumph. I don’t know if any of this will amount to anything, but the upside here is unreal if any sort of Zombies deck does emerge. Liliana, Untouched by Death is the exact sort of flagship four-of that could hit $30+. Granted, that isn’t likely to happen, and selling into the spike is still the safest move, but I’d be at least somewhat tempted to let it ride if you bought in around the $5 level.

Also up this week: Kaya, Orzhov Usurper; Mox Amber; Karn, Scion of Urza; and Death Baron. None of these seem like slam-dunks to me, though Death Baron has a ton of casual upside along with the fact that it’s going to be a key card in any kind of Zombie deck that may or may not materialize. It has only just begun to tick up from its price floor, too, so you’re still in solid shape if you want to buy in. Best case, it’s an excellent short-term flip. Worst case, it’ll be back up to $6-$8 again at some point if you’ve got the patience.

Smothering Tithe jumped about five bucks this week as well, likely due to the fact that its power level in Commander was shown off on The Command Zone this week. Smothering Tithe has proven itself a top-tier Commander staple since the moment it was previewed – the only question was how expensive a card like this could get, considering it isn’t a mythic rare and doesn’t see any competitive play. The answer, at least right now, appears to be $11. Wow! I expect the price to degrade a little over the following weeks, but don’t sleep on the demand here because it’s absolutely real.

It was another robust week for the Modern index, with Pyromancer Ascension, Living End, Dark Confidant, and Jace, the Mind Sculptor among the biggest winners of the week. Pyromancer Ascension was the only one that came as something of a surprise, as it jumped from near-bulk into the $10 range. And why not? It’s one of the key cards in Izzet Phoenix, the most popular deck in Modern. I wouldn’t be surprised if this leads to a few more secondary spikes from that deck as sideboard cards like Keranos, God of Storms or Ravenous Trap start to tick up as well.

I don’t like to even mention cards that have been leaked but not formally previewed, but I do feel the need to say that the new version of Karn from War of the Spark works really well with Mycosynth Lattice. It won’t be a competitive combo, but it’ll be solid in casual play and it has caused Mycosynth Lattice to see a massive spike this week. It’ll probably drop off a little (always sell into hype!) but if you see that card hovering around the $30-$40 range after being $10 last week, that’s why.

Also up this week due to new War of the Spark tech: Proteus Staff, Thought Lash, Contagion Engine, Doubling Season, Demonic Consultation, and Deploy the Gatewatch.

Proteus Staff combos with Fblthp, though I can’t imagine this is anything more than a cute casual combo. It’s possible that there’s more to the Demonic Consultation / Thought Lash plan, which work well with Jace, Wielder of Mysteries. Is this enough to make Lab Maniac Combo a real Legacy deck? I doubt it, and I’m selling all this nonsense into the spike, but here’s hoping. Deploy the Gatewatch, Doubling Season, and Contagion Engine are just generically good with planeswalkers and proliferate strategies, which show just how excited people are for this set. You’ve got at least a month to sell your copies of these cards, so there’s no rush. War of the Spark is going to be great, and people are going to want to build all sorts of fun, planeswalker-centric brews across all formats.