Commander Spotlight: Ral, Storm Conduit

Welcome back to week fifty-four of Monday Magic: COVID Edition. It’s been 415 days since my last summoning. Following the events of the last article I’m happy to report, well…anything positive with respect to this massive interlude I’ve been chronicling woah these many weeks. And that happens to be that the first concrete talks of an in-person EDH evening actually transpired for the first time in my play group in many months. With any luck, there are excellent odds that before the month of May is over, so too will this need to be counting any longer.

Indeed, and perhaps a little ironically while there are amongst our partially or finally vaccinated play groups some who are still reluctant to resume in-game festivities, for many the main issue is one of scheduling. Of finding a decent time and date where they are free to partake.

Honest to goodness, plain old boring scheduling.

The country isn’t out of the woods yet, but just recognizing that in this small and insignificant aspect of the pandemic my Magic-related problems have shifted from the health and safety of everyone involved back to that of basic logistics is incredibly uplifting all the same. A few weeks past that first evening I’m sure it won’t take long to immediately settle back into griping about the challenges of everyone finding time to play. However, at the moment I will gladly – gladly – take that back over the terrible predicaments of the last 14 months.

I’ve been trying extremely hard keeping it all in perspective vis-à-vis the circumstances around being unable to play. I’ve also been trying extremely hard at tamping down expectations about that first game back at the Magic table. It is, after all, just a game of Commander. Except it’s also more than that? It happens to be representative of a significant part of my tabletop experience over the last couple decades and is the central axel around which an entire cohort of my tabletop gaming friends saw each other. The burgeoning anticipation for an evening of EDH is the cardboard equivalent of eating a special holiday dessert you only get to enjoy once a year: not remotely important in the grand scheme of things but still pretty sweet in the moment.

At the same time, in mentally preparing for that moment in the near future I recently have found my mind drifting back to the last set where I particularly felt plugged in. The set that formed a firm image in my mind not only predated the pandemic – as one would expect – it also predated 2020 itself. In fact, I found myself going all the way back to the summer of 2019 with War of the Spark.

The more I thought about this, the more it makes sense: the latter half of 2019 was an incredibly busy period, with several life-altering events, including moving into and renovating a new house and having our first child. There was nothing wrong with Theros 2.0 or Eldraine, but aside from swapping out a few of their cards into decks here and there I simply didn’t have the bandwidth to become invested in those sets; I barely had enough time to play. And by the time Ikoria came about, this part of the country was in the full grip of the pandemic. Ergo, War of the Spark.

It also stands out because I was very conflicted about WotS as a set. On the one hand, the climax of the game’s massive years-long, plane-spanning Bolas story was pretty disappointing. WotC even unofficially touted War of the Spark as their version of Avengers: Endgame (especially given they both released around the same time). Unfortunately this proved rather prescient in that both stories had a number of plot holes, rushed endings, and more than a few contrivances that didn’t due justice to the overall narrative. In both cases the storytelling was particularly poor, and I remember having a very different reaction to how it ended compared to when they wrapped the Urza/Yawgmoth/Weatherlight mega arc.

On the other hand, War of the Spark was simply chock full of amazing cards across so many different colors and play styles, and more than a few immediately went onto my Commander wish list. Including this week’s card.

While I hope it won’t be for much longer, per usual instead of discussing Magic-related topics or a larger point around the card being showcased, we continue on by looking at Magic cards I’ve personally wanted to put into an EDH deck for some time but haven’t for one reason or another. In the case of this being a newer card, though, it’s absence has mostly been of not finding the right space for it…yet.

Today we have: Ral, Storm Conduit

Name: Ral, Storm Conduit

Edition: War of the Spark

Rarity:  Rare

Focus: Spell Copying / Deck Manipulation / Damage Dealing

Highlights: Among the many enticing cards in War of the Spark, one of the chief groups were three dozen planeswalkers of various states of power and usefulness across three different rarities. Of these the uncommons operated mostly as enchantments that could be attacked while the standard mythic rare slots featured several of the key storyline planeswalkers. In between were those at the rare slot, such as Ral here. These planeswalkers all came with two planeswalker activations as well as one static or triggered ability flavored around that particular character. This grouping wasn’t pushed as much as the typical ‘walker template, but most were appreciated by the player base because they were still generally useful and (most) didn’t come with the standard planeswalker price tags. Ral here fits both of those criteria splendidly.

Like a normal planeswalker, Ral, Storm Conduit comes with a trio of abilities to use at your convenience, and it does so with a very-on par casting cost of four mana. In this iteration, however, the Ral’s first ability isn’t an activated ability but a triggered one. It states that whenever you cast or copy an instant or sorcery, you get to deal 1 damage to a player or planeswalker. By itself this is pretty uneventful, and in practice it is easy the weakest of his three offerings. This alone has made some players back off using it. Yet the better approach really should be to treat the trigger as a bonus effect that occasionally happens rather than a watered-down standard planeswalker activation. In that respect, yes, you are only really getting two planeswalker abilities for his cost.

But it’s still worth it.

Ral’s second ability is a pretty boilerplate +2 activation to Scry 1. It’s a basic effect, but one that’s advantageous as it perpetually allows you to look at the top card of your library and decide whether you want it for your next draw. This is a handy zero-mana means of filtering out cards you can’t or don’t want in the hopes of drawing into something more useful instead.

Finally is Ral, Storm Conduit’s “ultimate” ability. This is a mirrored -2 activation that creates a delayed effect, saying that you can freely copy the next instant or sorcery you cast that turn. Spell copying is well within the wheelhouse of the Blue / Red overlap part of the color pie and isn’t even particularly unique for this guild or color pair. What makes Ral stand out in this regard – and this can’t be overstated for EDH – is that copying the spell by way of this activation costs zero additional mana. None. Only two enchantments (Swarm Intelligence and Double Vision) also provide such an effect without any restrictions or mana requirements. This can be hugely important in key moments of the game or in the middle to later stages when you have some expensive spells to cast but wouldn’t necessarily have the extra mana to leverage. By nature of being a planeswalker permanent, Ral also happens to be harder to spot remove in most cases than those two enchantments, which almost always immediately enter the battlefield wearing a target.

Ral’s third activation also works in synergy with the first. Think of it as a bonus.

Overall, Ral is an affordable and decently priced Izzet-style planeswalker that not only allows you to filter the top of your deck but also duplicate key spells in the right moments. As long as you can keep him alive, this is one card that provides both utility and offensive capabilities.

Here’s just hoping it won’t take me another Bolas-length story arc for it to find its way into a deck.

Keep an eye out for us to be regularly featuring other more accessible-but-worth-it Commander cards going forward. In the meantime, we’ll keep the light on for you.

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