Magic: The Gathering, the immensely popular collectible card game (CCG) from Wizards of the Coast, has stood the test of time since its inception well over two decades ago and continues to thrive. In order to do so though, the Magic universe has had to evolve and infiltrate various forms of media including the mediums of gaming and books. There are a fair few fictional titles already available for those readers looking to expand their knowledge of Magic: The Gathering lore, but now Titan Books have rocked up to build upon these by tying their series with this world and especially the War of the Spark card expansion set. Could Magic: The Gathering War of the Spark – Ravnica be the perfect accompanying book to breathe life into these cards?
Given that War of the Spark – Ravnica is penned by Greg Weisman, who’s found success with the likes of the Young Justice DC Comics animated television series and a selection of World of Warcraft novels, it appears to be in good hands. As someone that casually delves into the Magic realm, I decided to see if this first instalment delivers a gripping tale for fans of the card playing antics to take in.
Magic: The Gathering War of the Spark – Ravnica tells the story of an Elder Dragon known as Nicol Bolas and his plans to encompass the powers of every Planeswalker in the multiverse to become an unstoppable god. These Planeswalkers, which are beings that are able move between planes/universes, have been drawn to Ravnica for the ultimate battle. With Bolas possessing a devastating army and a handful of Planeswalker allies ready to do his bidding, it’s going to take a monumental effort from the multiverse’s greatest protectors to put an end to him. That’s a task for the Gatewatch, consisting of Jace Beleren, Chandra Nalaar, Gideon Jura and basically anyone they can convince to step up to the plate for what seems to be an impossible mission.
Split up into three Acts, the first is crucial in order to gain an understanding of what’s going on as you’ll be introduced to many of the main and supporting characters; some of which may not be all too familiar. This is done really well by having entire chapters focusing on the storytelling from the perspective of different characters – a method which is used continually throughout. As such, the pacing is fairly slow, especially with some parts often told from more than one viewpoint; that’s not a complaint though as this offers great insight into the differing opinions and mindsets whilst on the brink of all-out war. Things aren’t always as they initially appear either, hence that adds a little bit of mystery to proceedings overall.
Despite knowing of the key Planeswalkers at the heart of the tale, it seldom matters because the great descriptions of said characters ensure they’re easy to visualise. And the same is true for the way Greg Weisman gets across their varied personalities, even for newcomer Teyo Verada. The details are everything when you’ve not got the foggiest idea who a character is and, fortunately, such detail is in abundance. Before long, Teyo’s confidence issues and his white mana abilities involving geometric shapes will be as clear as day to the reader.
The only slight stumbling block arrives with the second Act, simply due to a hell of a lot going on in different parts of Ravnica, which makes it a little hard to take it all in. That’s when it’s tricky to decipher the allies from the enemies, who belongs to which one of the many Guilds, and who in fact some of the Planeswalkers are. Too many characters of little to no importance turn up and that could be the source of minor confusion for readers. The small mercy is that there’s action aplenty to hold your attention and as such, more cards from the War of the Spark set are incorporated into the tale.
Anyone who’s familiar with the card set will be rather pleased for the inclusion of various creatures, enchantments and acts of sorcery in the narrative. The vast Dreadhorde army led by Bolas’ general Liliana Vess is full of recognisable Eternals, which are essentially zombies coated in a special blue mineral known as lazotep. The Amonkhet gods Bontu and Rhonas are particularly memorable as part of this elite army causing devastation. Additionally it’s great to see nods to seemingly lesser cards such as ‘Spark Harvest’, ‘Price of Betrayal’ and even ‘Steady Aim’.
Surprisingly though, the best character, and possibly the one that’s easiest to connect with, isn’t actually a part of the War of the Spark set. There’s a human girl nicknamed ‘Rat’ – also known as Araithia Shokta – who’s the source of some much needed, often unintentional, light-hearted humour. Rat is the highlight of almost every chapter she features in, for her carefree nature and sheer nonchalance in the face of danger. Oh and the fact that she’s a badass too, taking down enemies in rather brutal ways. Credit must go to Greg Weisman for ensuring this character stands out amongst well-known Planeswalkers and the like.
Whilst there will be no spoilers here regarding the final Act, it’s definitely a satisfying ending due to the clever way it plays out on both sides of the battle. There are vividly described set pieces and a few shocks to be had. It’s safe to say a tear could be shed for those readers who become emotionally invested in the narrative.
Magic: The Gathering War of the Spark – Ravnica from Titan Books is a fantastical story that does a darn good job at providing meaning to the masses of cards found in the accompanying set. As long as you’re prepared for a mixture of action and drama, with a hell of a lot all going on at once, then it’s a no-brainer for anyone marginally interested in the Magic universe or those who are looking forward to the Magic: Legends game. Should you be unfamiliar with it though, well it may end up being a bit overwhelming for a complete newcomer.
Magic fans, be sure give it a read; especially if you own the card set!