War of the Spark: Ravnica is the conclusion to MtG’s latest long-running story, and what a finale. The dragon Nicol Bolas is poised to regain his godlike power by slaughtering all who oppose him. Gideon Jura, Jace Beleren, Chandra Nalaar, and others have to find some way to bring him down while caught in his mousetrap. The culmination of dozens of schemes and hundreds of years, this is do or die.
When I found out there was going to be a physical book release, I was extremely hyped. And a little wary. There’s a lot riding on this storyline, and it would be so easy for it to all go sideways.
Let’s see how it did.
Beginning of the End
Nicol Bolas, his unwilling servant Liliana Vess, and an army of undead warriors descend upon the cityplane of Ravnica. Ral Zarek of the Izzet League activates a beacon to call across the multiverse for help. But with the Immortal Sun keeping walkers from leaving, a cry for aid becomes a death summons. From there, the dragon plots to harvest the sparks of as many trapped planeswalkers as he can.
We see Ravnica at war with itself as much as with the invading horde. The ten guilds are fractured and distrustful after the assassin Vraska killed the Azorious guildmaster in a moment of rage. The Gatewatch has to approach each guild, some of whom are hostile, with one last desperate plan.
As the story unfolds, we see through the eyes of each player. Liliana, a broken necromancer forced to fight against her friends. Teyo, a young shieldmage who hours before had never heard of planeswalkers. Ral Zarek, desperately searching for his partner amidst the chaos. We learn why each person is fighting this war: love, fear, redemption, power, compassion. And we watch and weep as characters we love are harvested.
In the end, there is victory. Bolas is betrayed and overthrown, secreted away in a prison realm and guarded by his brother Ugin. Ravnica is saved, and Bolas is imprisoned, but at a high price. Gideon Jura, the founder of the Gatewatch, is dead, not to mention countless others. Liliana Vess, now free of her contract, is missing with Bolas’ gem in her possession. Niv Mizzet, once guildmaster of the Izzet League, is reborn as the new Living Guildpact. But the sun shines on a free and united Ravnica, and for now, there is peace.
As a story, War of the Spark is a fun read. Several small treats are scattered around the book for players in particular, calling to mind card art or names. Characters we haven’t seen in years make brief appearances, and even little in-jokes have found their way into the pages. I don’t care who you are, when one of the super-serious protagonists is canonically dubbed Beefslab after a community joke, that’s pretty great.
But beyond the little things, War shows us people; incredibly powerful and occasionally dangerous people, but people. People fighting to survive. Many of these characters are fighting personal wars on top of it, be it Jace planning the death of his friend and former lover Liliana or Ugin fighting his twin brother. We see the conflicts these characters are experiencing, the hidden information, the heartbreaking betrayal. We hear Teyo’s doubts as he’s forced to adapt to the conflict around him, his teacher’s condemnations ringing in his ear. And we watch these people grow into heroes.
Also Sorin Markov and Nahiri fighting in the background.
It isn’t a controversial statement that MtG’s story has had some hiccups, however, and War isn’t immune. More often than I’d like, I found myself rolling my eyes as a speech was being made or a backstory told. The heroic vows, info-dump plot summaries, and self-involved melodrama can get a bit old after a while. Beyond that, pages and pages of backstory-shouting dialogue and oversimplified explanations proved grating. I found myself wishing they’d put a little more faith in the reader to know the backstory, but mass appeal has taken precedence. And when trying to please everyone… eh, you know the saying.
In the end, we leave War of the Spark with a rating of “Read it Once”. Magic fans may like it, but I’d advise you not to take it incredibly seriously. Enjoy the characters, enjoy the setting, but don’t think too hard with this one. As a story, and an important story at that, I feel it did its job well enough. With the ending of this story comes the beginning of many more, but those are for another day. For now, there is peace, and sometimes that’s just enough.