Ahoy planeswalkers! We will be getting previews for War of the Spark soon, and Wizards seems to be pushing the main story as hard in this set as they have backed away from it with the more atmospheric Guilds of Ravnica and Ravnica Allegiance. With the reveal of how many planeswalkers will be involved in the climactic battle between Bolas and the Gatewatch, speculation has been flying fast and furious about who is going to die in this set. It’s on YouTube. It’s on Twitter. It’s on Reddit.

I cannot deny that there is something fascinating about trying to figure out who is going to die when a story you are invested in heads toward a major conflict. I vividly remember certain aspects of the summer before my senior year of college—the summer Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows came out. I remember giving up the internet for three weeks so that I could avoid spoilers. And I remember a page of the journal I kept that summer having the phrase “who dies?” scrawled over and over again like a mad chant.

This fascination overtook me, too, right as I started to crash as a regular writer for Hipsters of the Coast. If anyone remembers, I dubbed August the “August of Death” for Scry Five, with three pieces planned looking forward to the climax of the Bolas arc. The grand finale was going to be the Gatewatch Deathwatch, where I tried to assess which members of the Gatewatch were most likely to die in the final confrontation.

I started out fine. I wrote a requiem for the characters who were surely soon to die. I wrote an analysis of Magic’s patterns of character death over the last decade. But when I sat down to try writing last article, I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. This was the article I had been trying to write for two months before I finally threw in the towel and officially retired from active duty as a Hipsters contributor.

The biggest issue I found, looking back on why I couldn’t make this article work, is that all of these planeswalkers are so much more interesting alive than dead.

Take the Gatewatch, for instance. Teferi has barely had the chance to play the role of big papa planeswalker with all the younger members of the multiverse’s resident super-team. Chandra and Nissa have unresolved tension that Wizards is hopefully going to make explicitly romantic. Jace just remembered his home plane of Vryn (which is surely on the shortlist for new forthcoming planes) and needs to have further adventures with Captain Vraska. Ajani has barely spent any time with the Gatewatch since taking the oath on Kaladesh. And of course Gideon would sacrifice himself, but it feels like he has major backstory space that needs to be explored in a return to Theros.

The only one who might make for an interesting death in War of the Spark is Liliana. Her arc in Dominaria points to her trying to reach the point where she can make the selfless decision and sacrifice herself. But she has also never been free in her history as a Magic character. What does that look like for her? Are they really going to kill off one of their most popular characters and not give us the chance to see that?

And that’s without even getting into the many non-Gatewatch planeswalkers who, thanks to the stained glass artwork, we know are on Ravnica. For my part, I am going to be very upset if anything happens to Vraska, Kaya, Huatli, Angrath, Tamiyo, or Samut. Different players connect with different planeswalkers, and I don’t doubt that every planeswalker on Ravnica has a cluster of devoted fans.

Yet, any fan of any of these characters has to feel nervous. Magic has a history of cutting a swath through its characters in major multiverse event sets, like the Phyrexian Invasion and the Mending. There is something different about the planeswalker era, however: these characters are front-and-center in the product in a way that planeswalkers had not been ever before. In the Weatherlight era, planeswalkers seldom featured on cards. When seven of Urza’s Nine Titans died during the invasion, how many casual players knew who Commodore Guff or Tevash Szat were? The likes of Leshrac, Freyalise, and Lord Windgrace, who died in the Mending, likewise lurked in the background; Freyalise and Windgrace only got posthumous cards of their own in Commander releases. (Maybe Leshrac is going to be Serra’s mono-black cohort in Modern Horizons.)

We have not had characters front-and-center for the franchise to the sort of extent we have had with planeswalkers since Gerrard Capashen and the Weatherlight’s crew. Even then, Weatherlight crew members each got one legendary creature card over the course of that plot arc’s five years. Almost all of the planeswalkers featured in War of the Spark will be returning characters, meaning in our modern era that they will have been printed on at least two planeswalker cards. Most will be getting their third, fourth, or fifth card, or even a higher count for some of the Gatewatch’s members. These are celebrated chase cards in almost every set. They are the faces of the sets through packaging art and palneswalker decks. As players, especially since the start of the Gatewatch era, we have been encouraged to identify with Magic’s major planeswalkers to a degree that is I believe unprecedented for Magic’s history.

Magic has also moved away from the sort of grimdark storytelling that very clearly defined the Weatherlight era if you glance at synopses of the stories. That is not the ascendant storytelling style of Magic Story; overall, it has a more hopeful vibe, where characters tend not to be killed off carelessly or viciously.

For someone who has gotten so much traction with prediction pieces, I have a shoddy track record when it comes to actually being right; and my prediction about de-sparked planeswalkers is only the latest example. That said, I truly believe there is going to be a lot less planeswalker death than folks seem to be predicting. And if I’m wrong? Let’s just say I think that Wizards is going to find that if they have a large culling of the current cast of planeswalkers, they are going to find that it was a big mistake.

They have encouraged us to embrace these characters, and every one from Gideon to Tibalt has attracted a serious following and affection from some corner of the community. I still think we may see three or four character deaths—and I expect those to be rough—but at least given proper weight so that any fallen characters have some kind of an appropriate send-off. More than that, and it starts to feel like these characters have been reduced to cannon fodder. If Wizards goes that route, I think they will be underestimating how alienating that experience will be for portions of the community.

Beck Holden lives in the greater Boston area. He enjoys drafting, brewing for Standard, and playing 8-Rack in Modern.

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