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The Machinations of Bolas - Part Two: War of the Spark

Howdy folks! It's Joe again with yet another Vorthosian look into the Lore of Magic: The Gathering. Last week, my partner in crime Niuttuc gave us an in depth overview of the history of Nicol Bolas, and now we’re here to talk about what’s going to happen next in the storyline. The War of the Spark is coming, and Bolas is ready to show us what he has in store for Ravnica.

Without further ado, let's tackle the various topics at hand and talk about what we should expect looking forward.

In addition, this article does contain minor spoilers from the Art of Ravnica book which comes out later this month. Some of this information has been revealed via early review of the book, which should be available by the time this article is published.

Kaya leading the Orzhov

Kaya, Orzhov Usurper [RNA] Teysa Karlov [RNA]

As we predicted before, Kaya is the Guildmaster of the Orzhov, as the card Kaya's Wrath indicates she assassinates the Obzedat for Bolas after discovering Teysa, who she freed from captivity while on her way to kill the Ghost Dads. I was mostly right about these events up to the point of Teysa and Kaya at the end. I had not expected Kaya to be somewhat merciful to the indebted spirits of the Orzhov, even going so far as to set them free (see Ethereal Absolution). Even though Teysa warns against this, Kaya does it anyways. It's noted on Teysa Karlov that Teysa is patiently waiting to take back control of her Guild, at the "center of the Orzhov web of power."

Kaya's Wrath [RNA] Ethereal Absolution [RNA]

How much does Teysa know about Kaya's contract with the planeswalker Nicol Bolas? This much is unknown. However, part of what is known is that Kaya's contract with Bolas does have something to do with her "troubled family" and the reason why she is a ghost assassin in the first place. It is unknown that Bolas will be happy with Kaya's actions within the guild and the release of the spirits, or if this is part of his plan to further destabilize the Guild system.

Domri Rade and the Gruul

Domri, Chaos Bringer [RNA]

As expected, Domri Rade does indeed become the Guildmaster of the Gruul Clans by defeating the cyclops Borborygmos at Nicol Bolas' prompting. Although the great cyclops is not killed, he is exiled to the "wilderness" and Domri takes control of the Guild. It is worth noting that Nikya of the Old Ways sees Domri's ascension as the first step of the End-Raze (an end times prophecy the Gruul share in which Ilharg, the Raze-Boar will rise to reclaim the civilized areas of Ravnica for nature).

Several other of the Clan leaders are revealed to not care for Domri, namely Ruric Thar, the Unbowed, but Domri's fanaticism and chaos have incited the Gruul riots to sow even more chaos and dissent within the Guilds.

Dovin Baan and the Azorius

Dovin, Grand Arbiter [RNA]

This was one that I was fairly glad to see that I was accurate in my assumption of. Yes, Dovin Baan is the new Grand Arbiter, and thus Guildmaster of the Azorius Senate after the death of Isperia, Supreme Judge. What we know of this from the spoilers of the Art of Ravnica book is that Dovin, disgraced and exiled from his home, sought out Bolas on his own (by virtue of realizing that Tezzeret wasn't the actual mastermind by what happened on Kaladesh), taken in by Bolas' intelligence and "flawless planning." Bolas offers Dovin a chance to reshape an entire plane into one of flawless efficiency, which Dovin jumps at. By using his own abilities including legal loopholes in the law system (enhanced by the fact that the Living Guildpact Jace is missing) he is able to gain power within the Guild and step into a position when Vraska kills Isperia to take control the Guild. Since then he has increased the paranoia of the Azorius, showing them how to create spy thopters as well as precognitive mages to arrest citizens for crimes before they were even committed.

The interesting thing to note here is that not all of the Azorius seems to agree with Dovin and some even have awareness that he is not from Ravnica. On Sphinx's Insight, it's noted that the Sphinx in question knows that Dovin is there on orders from another, greater master. This is a fact that even Lavaz of the Dimir is aware of. In addition, Lavinia is now a renegade to the Azorius, hiding out in likely various safe houses as she laments Jace's absence on the plane. Lavinia likely recognizes Dovin from the first time he approached the Gatewatch on Ravnica prior to the Kaladesh storyline.


Niv-Mizzet, Parun [GRN]

One interesting thing to note, and one thing that I was mostly wrong about. Niv's research was not to clone himself, but instead it sounds as if his research intent was to figure out a way to disseminate the power of the Guildpact and claim that power for himself. While Niv manages to get his machine online, it's noted in the Art of Ravnica book that it is in fact Dovin Baan who sabotages the device before Ral can activate it, thus leaving Jace as the Living Guildpact. So... sorry Niv, you don't get to be the Living Guildpact Dragon. In the excerpt it's noted that Ral was actually helping Niv due to the fact that he is potentially a double agent working against Bolas. His own secret project, Project "Lightning Bug," was then activated as a plea for help to come to Ravnica before Nicol Bolas could arrive.

So What Do We Know About War of the Spark?

Well, for starters, we know the name of the set. That's a pretty big plus, but we also know that from the card Thousand-Year Storm that Ral Zarek's machine (Project Lightning Bug) is serving as a beacon for planeswalkers to come to Ravnica. This includes Nicol Bolas, who arrives shortly after Ral's machine goes live.

Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh [HOU]

We can assume based on the name and the synopsis of the 2019 Ravnica novel that this part of the storyline has to do with a fight to acquire something, in this case, a planeswalker spark. However, I believe that we're not just looking at any old planeswalker spark. I believe what we're looking at is Azor's spark. That's right. The Parun Azor used his spark in the construction of the Immortal Sun, an artifact which Bolas acquired through the course of the Ixalan storyline. This has some huge significance because Azor's spark was stored in the Sun before the Mending, making this spark ultimately possibly the most powerful force in existence.

However, since it is Azor's spark, a special kind of magic is needed to coax it out of the Immortal Sun to where it could be claimed by another. I believe that magic to be the Guildpact, a design of Azor's own. I believe part of the reasoning why Bolas is destabilizing the Guild structures is because he needs the power of the Guildpact, and the only way to complete a spell to claim it (much like how Niv-Mizzet had attempted to do with his own device) is to destabilize the structure of the various Guilds to the point where the Guildpact power is attainable (through various acts such as the release of the indebted Orzhov ghosts, the Gruul raids, and the rise of Dovin). This in turn, depowers Jace as a the Living Guildpact, which could be all Bolas needs to take the power, provided that he will have the support of half of the Guilds on the plane.

So why does Bolas need all the planeswalkers? It's hinted at in the Hour of Devastation storyline that Nicol Bolas required planeswalkers for part of his plan. I suspect this also has to do with the spark inside the Immortal Sun. To fully power the Immortal Sun for what Bolas wants, I think planeswalker sparks are what's needed. This is banking heavily on the possibility that Azor's spark won't just revert to Post-Mending power level after it's released. For Bolas, it's a very high risk, high reward scenario.

Bolas doesn't just want his full power back from before the Mending, as we saw in The Chronicles of Bolas, he wants to be the only living planeswalker in existence.

So... what do we think is going to happen? I have my predictions and my thoughts.

Jace Dies

This might be a very controversial opinion (or it might not be, who knows?!) but I do believe we are in the realm of Avengers: Infinity War Avengers: Endgame with the current storyline. We are fast advancing out of Phase Three and into Phase Four, so to speak.

Naturally, this means that someone logically ends up dying. Now, a lot of people were sort of disappointed by the fact that none of the Gatewatch members died during the events of Hour of Devastation, but to be honest, I never expected a character like that to perish then. That was nowhere near the Endgame. It was like Avengers: Age of Ultron in a sense. Except with a giant dragon smacking Gideon Jura around like a pinball. But in that regards, I never once expected a character to die. Literature these days has gotten to the point where death is practically expected at any moment. We have been sucked in by the way that Game of Thrones handles death that we copiously expect other fantasy properties to rely on the same formula. Except Magic doesn't rely on that formula. It's a comic book story at heart, and comic book stories often treat death with some amount of levity. However, we all know that not only is this the end of the Nicol Bolas storyline, but we also know that this is the end of the Gatewatch in a sense.

That being said, I do think that War of the Spark is when we get to say goodbye to Jace Beleren. My reasoning for this is simple. I don't believe that Jace dies in battle, or that he's even killed by Nicol Bolas. I believe Jace takes the martyr's way out and sacrifices himself to reinforce the power of the Guildpact. One of my big tells in this is that Jace is finally learning to accept responsibility for his actions. He has learned what Azor did on plane after plane after plane, and realizes that he cannot ignore the position of ensuring the Guildpact functions. In a show of true strength, he will give his physical form up and become the Guildpact, pure and incarnate. This will strengthen the magic to the point that it could be able to resist the tugs of Nicol Bolas.

Of course, this will lead to a nice tender moment between Jace and Vraska, for all you out there who ship snakes.

Bolas' Planeswalkers Leave Ravnica Except for Ral & Vraska

The ground work I think has been laid for this, but the planeswalkers that Bolas controls (Domri, Dovin, Kaya) will end up either leaving Ravnica or vacating their position near the end of all of this, leaving their respective Guilds in control of specific characters. For example, the fact that Teysa, Borborygmos, and Lavinia exist means that there are suitable replacements for these planeswalkers to retain control of their Guilds once all is said and done.

The major reason I exclude Ral and Vraska is that their home is Ravnica and they tend to care more about the plane in that respects. However, I don't think they retain control of their Guilds, as I believe Niv-Mizzet takes control of the Izzet once more, and Vraska possibly loses control of the Golgari back to the Devkarin Elves (who are reported as being bitter about the control of the Guild being held by the Gorgon and the Kraul). While Ravnica is also technically Domri's home, I don't think that he ends up being able to stick around after what goes down, possibly ousted out of control by Borborygmos or Ruric Thar.

One other prediction I have about this outcome is that Teysa will likely ascend to spirit form and found the basis of a new Obzedat. Given that she has been waiting patiently in the web of Orzhov power, as indicated on her card, this makes much sense.

Vivien Reid and the Arkbow Destroy the Immortal Sun

As Niuttuc alluded to last week in his synopsis of Bolas' history, Vivien Reid was introduced in Core 2019 as a new character whose home plane of Skalla was obliterated by Nicol Bolas. This is important. While we don't know exactly what part Skalla played in Bolas' research and what he wanted from its people, we do know that it resulted in the creation of a very specific artifact: the Arkbow. The Arkbow is a very powerful artifact, capable of storing the essence of creatures across the multiverse and summoning them forth by firing its spectral arrows. Not only has Vivien added to the Arkbow's collective conscious of magical creatures, but it also contains the stored essence of every living thing from the plane of Skalla.

As noted last week, product art on Magic Arena shows Vivien Reid at the forefront of a battle versus Bolas. Let's take a peek at that image once more.

One thing about this image that is interesting is not only the presence of Vivien Reid and the Arkbow, but the fact that Bolas himself is holding something very specific. What is it? The Immortal Sun, of course. I suspect, based on sheer mechanical flavor alone (Vivien Reid after all can destroy artifact and enchantments) that the Arkbow will hold some significance to being able to destroy the Immortal Sun to keep it from being fully used by Bolas. I suspect this will take the collective power of the Arkbow, something Vivien has been improving ever since she left Skalla. While the Skallan Planeswalker doesn't fully understand the artifact, I do believe its power is significant to the storyline in this regards.

All of the Planeswalkers Turn on Bolas

We all know that Bolas is only out for himself, and I think we will see that come more to light in War of the Spark. Many of the Planeswalkers, including those under Bolas' control will realize how his plans will affect the plane, and the multiverse at large, and opt to turn on him. We already know from the Art of Ravnica spoilers that Ral Zarek is potentially a double agent, using Project Lightning Bug as a way to call planeswalkers to the plane to help. And then we have Vraska having her memories locked away by Jace, which will in turn turn her against Bolas as well once she gets them back.

As for the others, I think possibly the only planeswalker that may not turn is Dovin Baan, due to the fact that he is very vapid and leaning on the raw flawless intelligence that Bolas presents. It's also practically guaranteed we will see Tezzeret and Liliana again (given that Tezzeret is Bolas' consummate lackey and that Liliana has appeared in some product placement shots), and the possibility of Liliana being able to turn against Bolas due to Jace's manipulation of the Guildpact magic. Tezzeret on the other hand, would do so on the bare chance that it would allow him to actually kill Bolas, given their history and how much Tezzeret actually loathes Bolas.

This in turn is what I believe will turn the tide of the War of the Spark, allowing for Bolas' final defeat. The Gatewatch alone will not be able to defeat him, but supported by numerous allies and with Bolas' own supposed allies betraying him, will allow things to be turned in the favor of the Gatewatch.

Personally, I had hoped it was going to be the tag team of Agrus Kos (with a steel chair) and Fblthp that would have taken down Bolas, but hey, a guy can dream right?

Ravnica Survives

This is an obvious prediction. We all know that Ravnica is a 1 on the Rabiah Scale (the Scale that determines how likely we are to return to a world in a Standard legal set), so it's clear that Ravnica is popular and well loved. This is a pretty big tell that Wizards is not going to just destroy Ravnica nor its Guild system. Do I think that things are going to be pretty bad for a while? Absolutely. It's going to take time (and cooperation) for the Guilds to rebuild things. Thankfully, they're going to have great people like Teysa to help shape the future of Ravnica and forge a stronger bond between its people.

I do think we will see Ravnica again over time, and for that reason I do feel like that Ravnica will be just fine in the long term.

The Fate of the Gatewatch​

There’s a lot of speculation on this part, given that we know that War of the Spark is the technical end of the Gatewatch storyline, but I suspect that it’s not the end of the Gatewatch overall. Right now the Gatewatch’s roster adds up to: Jace, Chandra, Gideon, Ajani, Teferi, and technically Liliana (although she is otherwise conscripted to Bolas at the moment). Nissa, as we know, broke her Oath and left the Gatewatch to return to Zendikar.

I suspect that Liliana will end up leaving the Gatewatch at the end of all of this, due to the primary fact that Jace and the others believe that she can no longer be fully trusted. Of course, if Jace is also dead, Gideon and Chandra both might consider the fact that Liliana is not welcome, but Gideon himself may secretly hope that Liliana can be redeemed as he and Liliana grew rather close during the events of Dominaria.

So where does this leave the Gatewatch? Well, as I’ve alluded to before in this article. This is a comic book story. This is Infinity War and Endgame. So naturally we get to treat things like a comic book story. Thus, my major prediction about the Gatewatch is that while this is the end of the current Gatewatch storyline, this isn’t the end of the Gatewatch entirely. However, I do think we will see, just like in the end of the Avengers, the team split up and go their separate ways for a while. We’ve already seen inklings of this effect in the Chandra comic series of the team members being on their own, and it makes a lot of sense in order to focus on a different aspect of the lore going forward.

That being said, do we get any new additions to the team roster? Maybe. We know that Karn has already said himself that he is only helping the team, not officially taking the Oath like Teferi did. He has other plans involving New Phyrexia, so it’s unlikely he will sign the Gatewatch form after this. So who else could potentially join? Well, for starters, if Jace dies or is otherwise not present by the end of all of this, and Vraska is still alive, she would potentially join the Gatewatch to honor Jace’s sacrifice. She would be an interesting addition to the cast, as she’s already a very well-developed character.

In addition, we still don’t know much about the character (Geometry Person!) on the front of the Ravnica book, but if they are also a Planeswalker then it is possible they could also join the Gatewatch as well. Another theory is that Ral Zarek could also join, given that he is being considered a double agent at this point. He could join based on the fact that he could no longer stay on Ravnica having to face the wrath of Niv-Mizzet, or he could be the Gatewatch’s contact on Ravnica. It’s worth noting that this is a very out there possibility, given Ral’s personality and nature.

Other characters that show up in this such as Vivien Reid may also not be interested in joining up, simply because Bolas being gone defeats her purpose for being part of a group like this. She would likely return to wandering the planes, seeking out new creatures to develop the power of the Arkbow with.

Kaya is another possibility, but it’s also doubtful given that she is not very into altruistic things. Her preferences are heavily based on money it seems, and seeing as how she was designed with the Bolas story in mind, I suspect we won’t see much of her with the Gatewatch.

Lastly, the other Planeswalker that came with the team to Ravnica is Jaya Ballard, who only agreed to help because she’s in her own words: “not a joiner.” So I doubt we also see her join the Gatewatch as well.

Either way, I would not expect to see the Gatewatch be completely shut out. The Gatewatch concept is good enough (a group of planeswalkers fighting against the odds) that I would not see it being completely abandoned. After all, the Nine Titans (a group of Planeswalkers gathered by Urza during the Phyrexian Invasion on Dominaria) were there last time Magic tried to do a story over multiple years of sets.

Wrapping Up

That's all the time we have now for these predictions and prophecies! I want to thank my co-author Niuttuc for setting the stage for this article with his in-depth analysis of the history of Bolas, and for his assistance in making this two-part series happen. Hopefully you will see more collaborations of this nature between he and I in the future!

What do you think we'll see in War of the Spark? Will we see planeswalkers perish? Or will the Gatewatch scream through with their plot armor yet again? Report back in the comments what you think!

Until next time, keep on Vorthos'ing!

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