Magic: The Gathering has a rich history, and The Brothers’ War is a set that leans into it as much as any set outside of Time Spiral, as befits a set coming out as Magic celebrates its 30th birthday. Going back in time, it shows one of Magic’s biggest historical events that wasn’t directly shown in a set – the war between Urza and Mishra. The set has plenty of callbacks, and throwbacks, making it a fun time to get to, but it thankfully isn’t a call back to the earliest days of Magic’s life as a limited format.
Instead, The Brothers’ War has modern limited tech with some choices (like no vehicles), made to help further evoke Magic’s past. What colors to play, and which to avoid? Should you ask Urza or Mishra for their support in your battle, or call on the Argothians there on the side? Let’s take a look at The Brothers’ War limited format, color by color by the most important part for limited – the commons, and uncommons that make up most of your deck.
The Brothers' War Limited Review - White
Archtypes and signpost uncommons:
White/Blue Soldiers (Yotian Tactician)
White/Black Graveyard Recursion Aggro (Hero of the Dunes)
White/Red Go Wide Aggro (Fallaji Vanguard)
White/Green Artifactfall Aggro (Yotian Dissident)
The Brothers' War Top 3 White Commons
1) Prison Sentence
3) Airlift Chaplain
The Brothers' War Top 3 White Uncommons
1) Static Net
2) Combat Thresher
3) Recruitment Officer
We start off our The Brothers' War limited review with a look at the first color in the color wheel: White. White in The Brothers’ War is in a weird spot in limited. As is often the case in limited, White is inclined towards aggressive strategies, with all of the signpost uncommons leading you that way. While that sounds good in theory, it runs into a problem in that most of White’s common creatures are okay at best. Few of their creatures really push the pace and evasion is weaker here than it normally is.
Instead, White’s strength at common is removal with Prison Sentence, and Disenchant leading the way. They are very good cards, but it leaves the color struggling some for the core creature support aggressive decks need. It is going to heavily impact your drafting as uncommon creatures like Recruitment Officer need to be a priority, as do artifact creatures. White is helped some by the white-aligned artifact creatures like Scrapwork Cohort, and Combat Thresher, but even only one of those is common.
That’s not to say White is unplayable, however. Flying seems to be stronger than in many formats here, and bodies in the format in general are weaker at lower costs in The Brothers’ War, letting Aeronaut Cavalry’s size stand out. This lets White make the most out of the creatures it does have, and it can try to leverage its strong removal to get in hits as well. White may be the weakest color in The Brothers’ War limited, but it’s not a color you need to particularly stay away from.
The Brothers' War Limited Review - Blue
Archtypes and Signpost uncommons
Blue/White Soldiers (Yotian Tactician)
Blue/Black Draw 2 (Evangel of Synthesis)
Blue/Red Non-Creatures Matter (Third Path Iconoclast)
Blue/Green Ramp (Battery Bearer)
The Brothers' War - Top 3 Blue Commons
1) Wing Commando
2) Weakstone’s Subjugation
3) Koilos Roc
The Brothers' War - Top 3 Blue Uncommons
1) Zephyr Sentinel
2) Thopter Mechanic
Next in our The Brothers' War limited review it's time to check out Blue. Blue’s role in the format changes a lot depending on what type of deck you’re making. Whether it’s soldier aggro, a ramping deck playing 10 mana threats, or a control deck accruing advantages, Blue is there for you with a variety of solid cards. It also happens to have eaten White’s lunch and taken the cheap efficient evasive creatures, which make it a threat when it goes on the aggressive with its flying squadron.
The wide range of Blue decks means that your valuations will vary even more than normal once you get past the first few commons and uncommons depending on your deck. Stern Lesson, as a Catalog variant, isn’t particularly good in Blue/White, but triggering your draw two abilities in Blue/Black, and ramping in Blue/Green make the card better for those decks. Counters like Defabricate and Scatter Ray give Blue some good removal options to keep it in the game
Blue’s also got some decent mana sinks in the set with Air Marshal, and Third Path Savant. The strong creatures, evasion, removal, and versatile pool help Blue be probably the best color in The Brothers’ War limited, and contains perhaps my favorite archtype with the blue-green ramp decks.
The Brothers' War Limited Review - Black
Archtypes and Signpost uncommons
Black/White Graveyard Recursion Aggro (Hero of the Dunes)
Black/Blue Draw 2 (Evangel of Synthesis)
Black/Red Sac Aggro (Junkyard Genius)
Black/Green Graveyard (Skyfisher Spider)
The Brothers' War - Top 3 Black Commons
1) Overwhelming Remorse
3) Scrapwork Rager
The Brothers' War - Top 3 Black Uncommons
1) Go For The Throat
2) Gurgling Anointer
3) Battlefield Butcher
Black is another strong color in The Brothers’ War, and if Blue isn’t the top spot, it’s Black. Its commons are particularly standout, as even after the top three above you have strong cards like Emergency Weld, Carrion Locust, and Ravenous Gigamole among others. Its uncommons come down some though as they lack some of the top end flash you might want – though Go For The Throat is still a solid removal spell, if weaker than it is in other sets.
Black likes to play with the graveyard in this set with unearth, and multiple resurrection creatures. One card I haven’t mentioned, but like my colleague Alex Santa Maria did, I’d like to point to No One Left Behind and how it works very well with the prototype creatures. It’s either a very cheap resurrection for a small creature, or you pay the going rate (I miss Zombify) and get a big creature, potentially up to a 10/10 with this set.
Black’s aggro decks tend more towards midrange as well in the format, joining up with the other colors there with the aim to accrue value over time. The amount of incidental Powerstone Tokens, Unearth Creatures, and resurrection play very well with Black’s sacrifice elements that are especially pronounced in Black/Red decks. All of these help you accrue value and keep threats coming at your opponent from a variety of angles.
The Brothers' War Limited Review - Red
Archtypes and Signpost uncommons
Red/White Go Wide Aggro (Fallaji Vanguard)
Red/Blue Non-Creatures Matter (Third Path Iconoclast)
Red/Black Sac Aggro (Junkyard Genius)
Red/Green Midrange (Arbalest Engineer)
The Brothers' War - Top 3 Red Commons
1) Excavation Explosion
2) Penregon Strongbull
3) Blitz Automaton
The Brothers' War - Top 3 Red Uncommons
1) Pyrrhic Blast
2) Giant Cindermaw
3) Horned Stoneseeker
Showing how this set is pretty solid all around, I would say that Red is one of the weaker colors but it puts up some solid plays here. As is often the case, Red tends towards aggression in the set and it has some strong removal to help back that up with cards like Excavation Explosion and Pyrrhic Blast. I’m not a particular fan of the Red/Green archtype because it seems to be more of a good-card one, with a minorramp theme, failing to generate overall synergy you might see in other archtypes. In that color combination a lot will come down to individual cards and decks will vary. The other color combinations have clearer archtypes that have more direct synergy plays.
You may have noticed I’ve mentioned creatures at lower mana values are somewhat undersized in The Brothers’ War, presumably to help slow the format down, but Red barely notices. In fact, Giant Cindermaw is a 4/3 trample for 3 – something that Red is not used to seeing, and the other cards are near or right on curve for Red in most sets. While Red tends to be middle of the road for creatures, its small ones are stronger in The Brothers’ War comparatively speaking helping its aggressive footing out.
Red is hurt a bit more by depth, and late picks may struggle with it at points as cards like The Fall of Kroog, Mishra’s Onslaught, and Bitter Reunion are varying degrees of playable but not ones that make you particularly happy to see in general. It’s Prototype Creatures deserve particular highlighting with Blitz Automaton and Fallaji Dragon Engine as good three drops, with the ability to do more late. I wish that if Red/Green was meant to be a secondary ramp archtype, we saw a bit more from Red than Horned Stoneseeker that pushed powerstones some for the deck, but Red is solid enough with some good creatures.
The Brothers' War Limited Review - Green
Green/White Artifactfall Aggro (Yotian Dissident)
Green/Blue Ramp (Battery Bearer)
Green/Black Graveyard (Skyfisher Spider)
Green/Red Midrange (Arbalest Engineer)
The Brothers' War - Top 3 Green Commons
1) Epic Confrontation
2) Shoot Down
3) Boulderbranch Golem
The Brothers' War - Top 3 Red Uncommons
2) Mask of the Jadecrafter
3) Obstinate Baloth
When it comes to artifact sets, Green always has a bit of a question to answer, about how it will interact with the set as the color with the least synergy with artifacts. The addition of colored artifacts, or in this set colored prototype costs, has helped with that some, but the underlying tension for the color is still there. In The Brothers’ War, it worked out pretty well for green, with the color being destructive of artifacts at times, but also working well with the big artificial creations who bring the beef.
My favorite archtype as mentioned before is the Blue/Green ramp one, where Battery Bearer bears the load of helping ramp. It makes use of several other key cards like Argothian Opportunist that just miss the top 3 commons, as Green is fairly deep here with good commons. Green’s creatures are where you see some of the shrinkage more, as there’s not a ‘pure green’ creature with power 6 or more, and large common creatures are smaller than in most sets before you get to the Artifacts with prototype that are essentially partially green.
The key here is that applies to everyone as well. Obstinate Baloth isn’t the freight train that he used to be for his size in most formats, but in The Brothers’ War a 4/4 for 4 is not common (Green’s only common 4 power creature for example is a 4/2), and it gives him, and other green monsters effective hitting power. While the big artifacts may come out later, that mid-area of the game is Green’s to rule in creature size, and no one is as good at getting to the big stuff as Green either. Alongside some strong removal (two good fight spells, and a good common exiling in Shoot Down), it makes Green a solid color in the format.
The Brothers' War Limited Review - Colorless/Artifact
The Colorless section is a bit odd for The Brothers’ War as many of the cards have color identities tied to prototype costs or significant abilities that move them out of here. So, I’m choosing to leave out a top 3 for that, especially when you consider that the uncommon spot has additional oddities with how to handle the Retro artifacts.
There’s a lot of glue here in the colorless cards, and more, if you consider some of the prototype or unearth cards that you are okay playing without their color like Scrapwork Mutt without unearth, is still a perfectly fine creature. Yes, who’s a good robo doggy? Scrapwork Mutt is and he digs up things for you. Reconstructed Thopter stands out as a solid Wind Drake-type creature with unearth that all colors will be able to use, and you could consider Argivian Avenger in that same spot for a bigger, higher impact but less curve fitting creature.
One thing to keep in mind with the Retro Artifacts is that constructed playable is not the same as limited playable. Ornithopter has been a fine part of artifact decks, but it probably doesn’t belong in your limited deck. Many of the cantrip artifacts are solid enough, especially in sacrifice-heavy decks. Overall many of the retro artifacts cards are pretty decent, and it includes one of the biggest bombs in the set with Wurmcoil Engine.
The Brothers' War Limited Review - Final Thoughts
Overall The Brothers’ War limited format is a lot of fun. It’s somewhat slower than most formats, but it avoids over complexity that some have complained with in some comparable formats. While I would have loved for it to harken a bit more back to Rise of the Eldrazi, with the full on battlecruiser play that wasn’t to be. I can accept that overall Rise was a format that was very much loved by those deep into the scene of Magic, while lacking casual appeal based on comments made by Mark Rosewater in the past.
So knowing we won’t get another set quite like Rise, The Brothers’ War seems like a good way to capture that feel. Big Robots will fight it out, there’s room for smaller decks as well... but they won’t be oppressive and there are decent, but not overbearing defensive options. The set also seems to lack an issue like Streets of New Capenna had where one color – White – was so much better than the others and that at least one archtype was nearly unplayable at times (red/green).
As for my final color rankings?
This review was done with play at the Wizards of the Coast creator event and play throughout the last month. The creator event had free currency to experiment, subsequent play was done at writer's own expense.