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Commander Review: War of the Spark Part 2 (Black, Red)

War of the Spark has been fully spoiled and that means it's time for the Commander Review! We covered White and Blue in Part 1 so check that out if you haven't yet. Now we're doing Black and Red!

Before we talk about individual cards, I wanted to give some general thoughts about the cards that define this set. This is a copy/pasta at the front of every article so if you've already read it then feel free to skip:

When You Should Play Planeswalkers

There's a ton of planeswalkers in War of the Spark that we'll have to review. They all do very different things and fit into very different decks. However, all planeswalkers have similar attributes that you should be aware of when deciding whether or not to run them in your deck. So instead of repeating myself endlessly in this review, here are some tips to maximize the effectiveness of your planeswalkers.

You should play planeswalkers if ...

  • You are okay with them being targeted and hated no matter what. Your opponents will be gunning for your planeswalkers the moment you cast them. Planeswalkers are long-term value engines and provide clear, visible threats to your opponents, especially the ones with powerful ultimate abilities. Even the lowly Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded will draw hate at the table for fear of his Insurrection ultimate ability. Since killing planeswalkers is as easy as attacking them with creatures, if your opponents can safely do that, they will. You have to acknowledge this and be okay with it. If you tilt easily or feel it's "unfair" that people are killing your planeswalkers instead of attacking Jimmy who is clearly ahead, then save yourself the headache and don't play them.
  • You can protect them from attacks. Casting an unprotected planeswalker while your opponents have creatures means that 'walker is all but guaranteed to be dead before your next turn. Creature-heavy decks with lots of potential blockers, Pillowfort decks that can prevent attacks (Sphere of Safety), decks loaded with creature hate (Wrath of God), and Stax decks (Jokulhaups) are your best bet for keeping your planeswalkers around.
  • You can use their abilities more than once per turn. Cards like Oath of Teferi and The Chain Veil activate loyalty abilities more than once. Rings of Brighthearth doubles your ability. Extra turn spells like Savor the Moment let you activate them an extra time before going to an opponent's turn.
  • You can add counters to them. Proliferate cards (Atraxa, Praetors' Voice), cards that double the counters on permanents (Doubling Season) let you use planeswalker's minus abilities more often, most notably the game-winning "ultimate" abilities (Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God).


The more of the listed attributes you can check off, the more powerful the planeswalker becomes in your deck. That's not saying your deck must have all these attributes for planeswalker cards to be good. I'll run Tezzeret the Seeker in decks for the sole purpose of using his minus ability a single time. But if your deck offers zero support for walkers and/or you get upset at opponents hating out your walkers no matter what, then planeswalkers cards might end up being worse in your deck than a non-'walker card with a similar function.

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Bolas's Citadel

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Bolas's Citadel is an insanely spicy card that is just daring you to break it. It shouldn't be too hard, as a Future Sight that lets you cast cards for free (yeah, you pay life instead, but we start at 30 and life is just a resource unless you're playing in a Mythic Invitational) is ridiculous value even if you're not looking to break it.

Decks with very low average cmc will love this: Yuriko, the Tiger's Shadow is a great example as you can rip through the top of you library dropping down a whole bunch of 1-2 cmc evasive beaters (Tormented Soul) until you have some huge cmc spell like Temporal Trespass on top, then swing with Yuriko and reveal the Trespass for maximum value!

There's combos with Citadel too, of course, most notably Sensei's Divining Top: draw a card with Top, recast it by paying 1 life, and do this as many times as you'd like. Throw in Aetherflux Reservoir and you can quickly blast your opponents to death. Easy peasy!

Bolas's Citadel is an easy include in any low cmc deck. It's an easy include in any Lifegain deck. And it's especially good in any deck running both Sensei's Divining Top and Aetherflux Reservoir!


Command the Dreadhorde

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Command the Dreadhorde is a powerful new mass-Reanimate finisher that has the added bonus of being able to snag planeswalker spells as well. The damage adds up quickly in your average cmc decks, but there's a ton of ways we can mitigate this card's downsides and turn it into a flat-out better Rise of the Dark Realms with a little extra work.

Unlike most Black spells that have you lose life, Command the Dreadhorde deals damage, which is far easier to mitigate. The Wanderer has been mentioned almost immediately in the discussion, but somehow people are overlooking Glacial Chasm, the land with possibly the highest power ceiling in the format. There's other options as well, like the very flavorful Gideon's Sacrifice, or having Platinum Emperion on the battlefield.

You could also slot Command into a deck that doesn't care about the damage. Lifegain decks like Oloro, Ageless Ascetic regularly sit at 80+ life and can afford to take 20+ damage to snag everything worth snagging in graveyards. Masochist decks like Selenia, Dark Angel actually want to get their life total low for shenanigans like Repay in Kind, or they can just gain all the life back immediately with Children of Korlis.

If I was choosing a mass reanimate spell for my Black deck and was looking between Command the Dreadhorde or Rise of the Dark Realms, I'd pick Rise in a vacuum. But any deck that can work around/with the high damage dealt by Command are far better off with it instead.


Davriel, Rogue Shadowmage

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There are two types of Discard decks in Commander. The first uses wheels like Wheel of Fortune and Whispering Madness, forcing opponents to draw and discard tons of cards so you can maximize the triggers of cards like Waste Not and Liliana's Caress; the more cards your opponents discard, the more powerful these payoffs are. This style of Discard deck kills opponents super quick, but you're letting your opponents draw into tons of cards that can potentially stop you and also filling your opponents' graveyards which can end up biting you if an opponent is running a Graveyard deck like Muldrotha, the Gravetide. This Wheel Discard deck is often led by Nekusar, the Mindrazer.

The second style of Discard deck tries to empty each opponent's hand and tries to keep it that way. These decks avoid running wheels, which draw opponents cards, and instead run cards that only make opponents discard, like Fell Specter and Bottomless Pit. These decks kill slower since opponents discard less overall cards and thus you're getting fewer triggers off your Megrim effects, but your opponents will be drawing fewer cards and therefore will have far fewer opportunities to stop you. Plus, cards like Shrieking Affliction are now useful because they trigger off your opponents' empty hands. I call this style of Discard "Stax Discard" because this strategy revolves around not letting your opponents play the game. Nath of the Gilt-Leaf, Crosis, the Purger, Mogis, God of Slaughter, and Neheb, the Worthy are pretty sweet Stax Discard commanders.

All this long explanation is to say that Davriel, Rogue Shadowmage is terrible in Wheel Discard decks, but excellent in Stax Discard decks: he's a Shrieking Affliction that immediately makes an opponent discard a card and can discard two additional cards later on! That's great value for a 3cmc walker. I'm excited to try him out!


Deliver Unto Evil

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Black rarely has the ability to return noncreatures from the graveyard to hand. They can sometimes get back artifacts (Fortuitous Find) but there's hardly any ways to get back enchantments or lands, for example. Deliver Unto Evil breaks the color pie in a unique way. 

If you don't have a Bolas planeswalker out, Deliver is pretty meh with a high variance in its power. You can kind of compare it to Gifts Ungiven, except it's much worse because the four cards have to already be in your graveyard instead of just snagging the best pile from your library. However, like any card is influenced by a target opponent, politics can help ensure that the card you want back is actually given to you: for example, if both you and your opponent want to get back your Damnation to wipe the board.

Once you have a Bolas planeswalker on the battlefield, however, Deliver is insane value. Nothing really compares to it. It should see play in Bolas Superfriend lists, but even then it's unlikely that you'll have a Bolas planeswalker on the battlefield for the majority of the game; the only Bolas planeswalker commander, Nicol Bolas, the Ravager, costs a ton to actually become a planeswalker, and basically if you have any Bolas planeswalker on the battlefield for a few turns then you've probably already won the game. Still, I'd run Deliver Unto Evil in any deck with multiple Bolas 'walkers, if only for the flavor.


Dreadhorde Invasion

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Zombie Tribal decks got their own Bitterblossom and it's pretty neat! Unfortunately it's not a Tribal enchantment, and if you already have a Zombie Army token you just get a +1/+1 counter on it instead of getting an extra token. Also I doubt the lifelink part of the card will ever be relevant since if your tokens are swinging for 6 you probably have such an insane board state full of zombie lords (Lord of the Undead) that your opponents are dead anyway. Nitpicks aside though, this is a sweet 2cmc card that's easy to slide into any Zombie Tribal deck, providing a nice token that you can double with Anointed Procession in Varina, Lich Queen decks and you'll be more than happy to sacrifice to stuff like Skullclamp and Corpse Harvester.


Eternal Taskmaster

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As far as graveyard recursion goes, Eternal Taskmaster is actually pretty decent: it's cheap to cast and you get this repeatable source of creature recursion for just three mana. Granted it's a small creature that dies to a stiff breeze, you have to wait a turn before you can use it, and you probably want to give it evasion if you expect it to survive combat, but I think that's acceptable from a 2cmc card. Eternal Taskmaster is a decent choice in any creature-heavy deck with a restrictive budget, and it's especially good in a budget Zombie Tribal list.


Finale of Eternity

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Of the entire Finale cycle, Finale of Eternity is probably the weakest in Commander. The biggest threats in this format usually come with equally big butts, requiring a buttload of mana to actually kill three of them with this spell. Black already has so many efficient targeted removal spells like Snuff Out and Malicious Affliction that this can't really compare. When you cast Finale for X=10+ then yeah, things get ridiculous, but even then it pales in comparison to Rise of the Dark Realms. Then again, Rise is currently *checks price* $25 USD and still climbing, so if you are looking for some mass reanimation then this Finale is a fine budget alternative for the very top of your mana curve.


God-Eternal Bontu

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God-Eternal Bontu is basically Reprocess on a stick, which makes it far more interesting, since the decks that are most likely to want this effect -- Creature Sacrifice decks like Meren of Clan Nel Toth -- have far more synergies with creatures rather than sorceries. Bontu can also sacrifice any permanent type, including enchantments and planeswalkers, but creatures will be by far the most common thing sacrificed. I can imagine any deck running Bontu with treasure tokens (Smothering Tithe) and clues (Tireless Tracker) will get value out of sacrificing those artifacts as well.

God-Eternal Bontu is a good sac outlet + card draw. The more stuff you can sac the better he gets, unlike Disciple of Bolas that wants to sacrifice one big thing. Any Sacrifice deck like Meren of Clan Nel Toth or Marchesa, the Black Rose will like him. Shirei, Shizo's Caretaker might be a sweet option too. I think Land decks like The Gitrog Monster / Lord Windgrace may want to consider him as well, especially if paired with Tireless Tracker. He's also a Zombie so Zombie Tribal (Varina, Lich Queen) might like him as well.


Liliana's Triumph

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Diabolic Edict has always been an unreliable card because if an opponent has two or more creatures, you're always killing the worst one. The good multiplayer Edicts hit all opponents and then have some other upside, like Crackling Doom always killing the biggest creature, or Vona's Hunger killing multiple creatures if you ascend. Liliana's Triumph is not a card I'd run in a vacuum, but decks that consistently have a Liliana planeswalker out so opponents discard, or decks that run Isochron Scepter, are situations where I'd recommend trying out Triumph.


Liliana, Dreadhorde General

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Liliana, Dreadhorde General has more than half her power locked into her static ability, which is basically Dark Prophecy -- or Midnight Reaper / Grim Haruspex / Fecundity but those are all more of a stretch. Her activated abilities are all useful too, and the first two synergize with her static ability. You'll probably need other cards to get off her ultimate (Doubling Season, Inexorable Tide) but a one-sided Cataclysm usually ends games.

Overall, I like her. I think she's worse than Dark Prophecy, but they want to be in the same deck together, and I'm pretty sure I'll run this Liliana in every deck that I run Prophecy in. I'll happily try her out in every Sacrifice deck, Meren, Marchesa, Zombie Tribal, blahblah. Black has a very specific archetype this set.


Massacre Girl

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It seems that Massacre Girl gets the Last Laugh in War of the Spark, not only surviving the ordeal but walking away with a kickass card to boot. While she is still situational, it's not hard for her to wipe the board of basically every creature if there's a few random 1/1's and 2/2's in play to help kill off the 6/6's and 8/8's. Good board wipes on a stick are a rarity in Magic and there's many creature-based decks that would desperately want this effect. Blink decks like Gonti, Lord of Luxury will love re-using her ETB thanks to cards like Conjurer's Closet, Sacrifice decks like Meren of Clan Nel Toth can recur her when needed, and other commanders like Yahenni, Undying Partisan can actually survive her board wipe while growing into a crazy threat in the process. Or you can run her as a commander and add all these mentioned synergies in the 99 instead.

This is probably the best board wipe on a stick simply due to how easy it is to build synergies off her. She's great. She's still situational removal so she doesn't replace cards that get the job done 100% of the time like Toxic Deluge, but the synergy potential is so frickin' high that in certain decks she'll be an all-star.


Ob Nixilis, the Hate-Twisted

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Ob Nixilis, the Hate-Twisted is a fine new inclusion in Nekusar, the Mindrazer. He's a worse version than Underworld Dreams, which is cheaper, harder to destroy, and has better art, but even a worse Dreams is still good enough for most Nekusar decks. Obby can kill two creatures over two turns as well, and the "drawback" of giving your opponents two cards is basically irrelevant when you're casting a Wheel of Fortune every other turn, plus they get pinged an extra two times. Alternatively, you can "Skullclamp" your own creatures, so that's some nice flexibility.


The Elderspell

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Alright, this is super situational, but man, can you imagine playing a Superfriends deck against another Superfriends deck and casting The Elderspell on them? Wipe their board of planeswalkers and immediately ultimate one of your own? Maybe a Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God? That's insane value. Again, super duper niche and meta-specific, but it would be hilarious to pull off just once.




Chandra, Fire Artisan

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Chandra, Fire Artisan is an upgraded Chandra, Pyromaster, with the card advantage activated ability now adding loyalty counters. She's even better than Chandra, Torch of Defiance in decks that don't have extra ways to add loyalty counters, since Chandra, Fire Artisan lets you play the card instead of cast it, which means you can play lands off it. That was my biggest gripe with Vance's Blasting Cannons when comparing it to Outpost Siege.

Speaking of Siege: I think new Chandra is best compared to that enchantment. Both played primarily for incremental card draw, both lets you play lands. Siege is better in most decks because enchantments tend to live longer than planeswalkers and it can swap to Impact Tremors mode when needed, but Chandra isn't too far behind and there's going to be a lot of decks where I run both for generic Red card advantage.


Dreadhorde Arcanist

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Dreadhorde Arcanist has some sweet potential in certain unorthodox Spellslinger decks, like Zada, Hedron Grinder, where you can flashback a random 1cmc cantrip like Expedite. Since it's a wizard you can pump it up and snag bigger things with Adeliz, the Cinder Wind. Or you can beef it up huge with Become Immense / Hatred and recast whatever. You can also be that guy who uses this to cast Restore Balance or other suspend cards. There's a lot of spice here to play with.


Finale of Promise

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This is certainly a fun new toy for Spellslinger decks! Casting this for less than X=10 isn't the greatest, but spending four mana to recast Preordain and Into the Roil isn't the worst. But when you crank this spell out for X=10+ then it gets absurd fast. Imagine casting Expropriate three times and ... whatever else, really.

I think the closest comparison to this is Mizzix's Mastery. Mastery is better, but this is fun too. This card is gonna be a hoot in Neheb, the Eternal, Melek, Izzet Paragon, and of course Mizzix of the Izmagnus, to name a few.


Ilharg, the Raze-Boar

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We get a variant of Sneak Attack on a big stick! Ilharg, the Raze-Boar has a ton of synergy potential but it's important to identify what it's good at and what it's not good at.

For the good: you get to bounce the creature back to your hand instead of sacrifice it, which means creatures with powerful ETB triggers are fantastic (Bane of Progress). You can get way more value out of it with extra combat steps like Relentless Assault assuming you have more creatures in hand to cheat in. You can also copy the trigger with Strionic Resonator. The creature is put into play tapped and attacking so you can sneak around combat restrictions like Master of Cruelties. You don't have to bounce the creature back if you skip the end step with Sundial of the Infinite.

The bad: your sneaked in creatures don't benefit from any attack triggers, so creatures like Scourge of the Throne, Etali, Primal Storm, and all the best eldrazi (Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre) are a lot worse.

Basically, the Boar God is great with big fat ETB creatures, and not so good with big fat attack trigger creatures. It can be an excellent commander, or as part of the 99 in Stompy decks like Xenagos, God of Revels, assuming the deck is leaning more towards ETB creatures. I think its best home is actually Mayael of the Anima since if it dies, it goes right back on top of the library for Mayael to cheat it out with a guaranteed hit.


Jaya, Venerated Firemage

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Jaya, Venerated Firemage is Embermaw Hellion in planeswalker form. Which one is better depends on the deck, but honestly any deck that wants to run Hellion will want to run this Jaya too. Unfortunately, I can't think of any deck that wants Hellion, soooo ... let me know in the comments section below what you'd do with this? Make Pyrohemia slightly better? Meh?


Krenko, Tin Street Kingpin

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Krenko, Tin Street Kingpin is a very different goblin from his original version, Krenko, Mob Boss. The original version is almost always used as the commander of a busted linear Goblin Combo list, threatening to win the game in the first few turns with an infinite Goblin army and it's up to your opponents to find a way to shut Krenko down. It's a very powerful deck that usually ends up being the archenemy.

New Krenko is less powerful, but more versatile. Instead of having his power tied to the number of Goblins you control, new Krenko's power is tied to his, well, power: the more power he has when attacking, the more tokens he produces. Anything that increases his power is therefore great, so equipment like Loxodon Warhammer and janky boosts like Downhill Charge are excellent. If you are going for Goblin Tribal then Goblin Sledder is great too.

Since Krenko, Tin Street Kingpin's power comes from a combat trigger, he synergizes well with extra combat spells like Seize the Day. And, yes, he can take infinite combat steps with Aggravated Assault and Skirk Prospector if Krenko has five or more power.

I think new Krenko is solid as both a commander or as part of the 99 of any aggressive combat-focused deck like Aurelia, the Warleader. While less powerful than his original version, he's still very strong, and is probably less likely to be the immediate archenemy, which means you have more time to set up and win the game.


Neheb, Dreadhorde Champion

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Neheb, Dreadhorde Champion is an excellent card in Commander, both as part of the 99 of many decks or the commander of his own. Any deck that wants to draw and/or discard tons of cards will be interested in him like Wheel decks (Nekusar, the Mindrazer) and Reanimator (Feldon of the Third Path). The combination of mass-looting and mana generation is superb in practice. Neheb's trigger is based on combat, so extra combat steps like Seize the Day are excellent with him, as is double strike like Assault Strobe. And yes, he does go infinite with Aggravated Assault and five cards to discard, such surprise much wow.

I love new Neheb so much that I wrote an entire article about him as a commander, so if you like him too then go check it out.


Sarkhan the Masterless

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I don't know what deck wants to run Sarkhan the Masterless. I don't think Dragon Tribal wants him, nor do I think his abilities are great for Superfriends. Is he Sarkhan the Homeless in Commander? I really hope there's something neat I'm not thinking about because his +1 ability is probably my single favorite planeswalker ability in the game. I LOVE the mental image of a group of durdly planeswalkers turning into dragons and punching people in the face! Let me know what you'd do with him in Commander!


Tibalt, Rakish Instigator

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I was hoping that the new Tibalt would be utterly useless to continue the meme. Thank goodness, Wizards delivered! Tibalt, Rakish Instigator is pretty bad in Commander. I do like that the lifegain prevention is asymmetrical, which most versions of this isn't (Sulfurous Vortex). He's kinda like Erebos, God of the Dead in that way. But unlike Erebos, Tibalt's activated ability is rather bad, and he dies far more easily. He still does work as a meta-dependant inclusion if your playgroup is plagued by Lifegain decks like Oloro, Ageless Ascetic, but most cases I don't think he'll see play outside of meme decks.


Next Up: Part 3! Everything Else!

We're reaching the home stretch next time with Part 3. All the remaining cards will be covered: Green, Colorless, Multi-Color, and Lands!

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