Hello, readers! Today I’ll be covering a topic with a wide spectrum of opinions – planeswalkers in EDH.
Planeswalkers, for those just getting into the game, are a card type introduced technically in Future Sight, referenced on the card Tarmogoyf. The first time a card with the planeswalker card type was introduced was in Lorwyn, when the original five – Ajani Goldmane, Jace Beleren, Liliana Vess, Chandra Nalaar and Garruk Wildspeaker – saw print. The cards, while complicated, have attracted a lot of attention from old and new players alike, and while planeswalkers have always been an intrinsic part of the Magic lore, they have gained a massive surge in popularity from the fan base since their printing as a card type. The characters represented on planeswalker cards have been considered by many to be the face of the brand as of late.
Planeswalkers are cards that have a number of interesting abilities that manipulate the battlefield or the progress of a match. Each planeswalker enters the battefield with a set amount of “loyalty counters” on it (referenced by the number on the bottom right corner of the card). Once a turn, as a cost of its loyalty (you reference the number left of the ability, and if you can successfully add or remove the appropriate number of loyalty counters, you can put the ability on the stack), you can use the powers your planeswalker has at its disposal. Note that you can only activate an ability of a planeswalker you control once per turn, and only at sorcery speed, which means you have to do it on your turn, while the stack is empty and you have priority.
Some planeswalkers deal with a certain subset of strategies (both iterations of Tezzeret the Seeker deal in the realm of artifacts, for example), but what tends to attract people to wanting to own a planeswalker card is the last ability the planeswalker has. Each tend to have one or more abilities that increase its loyalty to do something either mediocre or incremental (it honestly depends on how much mana you’re paying here), one ability that costs a small amount of loyalty to do something moderately powerful, and a “last”, “final” or “ultimate” ability that costs, in most cases, more loyalty than the planeswalker initially comes with, but is an absolute game-ending, awe-inspiring ability. Ajani Goldmane creates a Serra Avatar token; Jace Beleren casts Glimpse the Unthinkable on someone – twice; Liliana Vess gives you every creature card in every graveyard; Chandra Nalaar is two and a half Flame Waves; and Garruk Wildspeaker is Overrun.
Keep in mind, much like you, an opponent can use his creatures to attack a planeswalker you control, and if the attack is unblocked, it will deal damage to your planeswalker, removing loyalty counters from it. And when it has zero loyalty counters on it, a planeswalker goes to the graveyard as a state-based action.
Planeswalkers are also subject to the legend rule, although that is something that’s going to change soon, so I’ll cover both the current and upcoming legend rule.
As it stands, only one planeswalker of each planeswalker type can exist on the battlefield at one time. If any player controls Sorin Markov and any player casts a Planeswalker spell with the type “Planeswalker – Sorin” (whether it be another Sorin Markov or Sorin, Lord of Innistrad), both will be immediately put into their owner’s graveyards as a state-based effect, and the player who just cast his Sorin planeswalker won’t be able to activate any of his abilities before this happens.
With the upcoming rules changes due this summer upon the release of the 2014 core set, any player can control up to one planeswalker with the same planeswalker type at once. Therefore, if all players control a Sarkhan Vol, unlike how it is now, none of them will be put into a graveyard so long as they each only control one Sarkhan planeswalker, but if a player who controls Sarkhan Vol casts another Sakrhan planeswalker (either another Sakrhan Vol or Sarkhan the Mad), that player must choose one of the Sarkhan planeswalkers he or she controls and sacrifice it immediately as a state-based action.
PLANESWALKERS AND FORMATS
For Demac-I mean Alara!
Planeswalkers were clearly designed with a focus on 1v1 play. Planeswalkers can only activate their ability once per turn, and they’re pretty vulnerable to attacks. Also, due to the nature of how much threat density their ultimates have, planeswalkers always attract a lot of attention. Any stray aggro, any sort of point-based damage – just expect planeswalkers to be at the receiving end of it if they’re on the battlefield.
What most people have trouble grasping is the concept that in 75% of the games that you use them, you aren’t going to use the ultimate ability of most of your planeswalkers. Remember, everyone – planeswalkers have their ultimate abilities, but are not their ultimate abilities.
Clearly, some are much better in 60-card formats than in EDH – Jace, the Mind Sculptor for example, is easily one of the absolute best cards in 60-card Constructed formats period, but I’m sure I’m not the first or 8800th person to tell you that. But in EDH, TMS can be summed up as a four-mana Brainstorm. He is just as good in 1v1 EDH as in any 60-card format, but in multiplayer games, people are well aware of how powerful Jace is, and will focus their efforts on removing him. (It also doesn’t help that his most useful function doesn’t protect him very well.)
The biggest issue planeswalkers have when it comes to making the cut is that a few of them best function with abilities that don’t protect them very well. This applies to some of the more successful ‘walkers in Constructed formats (Ajani Goldmane, Ajani Vengeant, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Koth of the Hammer, Liliana of the Veil). Others are just too narrow in function and only see play in certain strategies (Ajani, Caller of the Pride, Chandra Ablaze, Domri Rade, Liliana of the Dark Realms, Nissa Revane, Tezzeret the Seeker, Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas). Some are just plain bad planeswalkers in general (Chandra Nalaar, Chandra, the Firebrand, Gideon, Champion of Justice, Sarkhan the Mad, Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded).
There are, however, a decent number of planeswalkers that are generally useful in EDH. Allow me to explain a number of reasons why you may want to include any one planeswalker in your deck.
-The incrementals they provide are helpful when behind and crushing when ahead
Usually, planeswalkers who are the most useful in EDH tend to have that reputation because they’re useful in all manner of board states immediately when you cast them. In the case of Karn Liberated, you always have the option to exile a permanent. If you’re ahead, Karn won’t take damage and you can exile something else! It’s a win-win.
In the case of something like Elspeth, Knight-Errant, the token is almost always going to be useful, and she always helps in getting that general damage through when you need it. (In general, the original Elspeth is pretty damn powerful.)
-Their effects are flexible and powerful
Blow it up! Kill the thing!
The most flexible, powerful effects tend to tie in with the last point, but keep in mind, looking at something like Vraska the Unseen as a five-mana Maelstrom Pulse is narrow thinking when she has the ability to keep heat off herself long enough to make an army of Phage the Untouchables.
Tamiyo, the Moon Sage is another great example of powerful, flexible options. It’s rare I’ve ever used the -2 on her, but there’s always going to be that chance that the board state could be there for it. But being able to tap down problem permanents is flexible, powerful, and if you need to keep yourself alive and/or have trouble dealing with pesky artifacts or lands that have tap abilities, Tamiyo becomes extremely useful.
-The effect has a lot more power in EDH than in 60-card formats
Stop that, lifegain. Right now.
The unequivocally best example of this is Sorin Markov, who by himself can end games out of nowhere by dealing anywhere between 1 and 100 damage to someone and just put them in a position where they just die in a single turn. Being able to put someone to 10 life is an effect far too powerful to ignore.
Liliana Vess is another example – while top-of-library tutoring at sorcery speed can be considered extremely weak at best, being able to do it twice is extremely effective in any deck that can afford to do it.
-The effect is just too damn powerful to ignore
Venser the Sojourner is perhaps one of the best planeswalkers in almost every deck that can play him. Being able to flicker important creatures either to reuse an ETB or to cast Wrath of God while keeping one of your creatures safe from destruction is incredibly powerful. And may the powers that be help your opponent if you ever get an emblem…
The other great example of this point is Garruk, Primal Hunter, whose -3 ability is one of green’s absolute best draw engines, and impossible not to consider including in the color who is arguably desperate for card draw. It’s swingy, admittedly, but you can get 6 cards off the guy extremely easily, and if you’re able to protect him, threaten to do it again in a couple of turns.
WHEN NOT TO RUN PLANESWALKERS
Aaaaaand I’ll kill him.
Basically, the rule of thumb is to never plop out an explosive without being able to arm it. People aren’t just gonna let an explosive sit there, logically – they’ll aim to disarm and detain it. Your job as the controller of a planeswalker is to make sure that explosive detonates all over your opponents’ faces.
Protecting your planeswalkers are important – the last thing you want to see is your opponent simply attack them to death soon after they’re cast. Backup is important through “don’t kill me” creatures such as Anger, Genesis and Academy Rector, hard-to-remove creatures like Tajic, Blade of the Legion, Sigarda, Host of Herons and Thrun, the Last Troll, and sweepers such as Blasphemous Act, Phyrexian Rebirth and Evacuation.
There is another point to stress here – if you’re dedicating your deck to defending your planeswalkers, and the ‘walker in question isn’t central to your strategy, you have to ask yourself – is it really worth protecting them? Don’t try to overcommit to a planeswalker expecting to get off their ultimate. That sort of tunnel vision dream will get you nowhere fast.
I hope I’ve given you perhaps a dose of reality – I know a lot of players are attached to the planeswalker cards they own, and want to make them work, but take it from the guy whose last article discussed trial and error – I’ve tried most of them in various strategies, and hardly any of them except for the most solid of them have been worth keeping around. The effects most provide aren’t powerful enough to warrant their flexibility or the power of their ultimate.
Until next week, when I do my monthly Let’s Build segment!
Check out my previous articles here:
Adapting to EDH Metagames:
Part 1 - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=1177
Part 2 - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=1252
Part 3 - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=1317
Part 4 - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=1370
Part 5 - http://thecgrealm.com/wordpress/?p=1454
Building on a Budget:
Dragon’s Maze Prerelease Weekend:
Hits & Misses of Dragon’s Maze:
Trial & Error: