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By: Kumagoro42, Gianluca Aicardi
Dec 27 2013 12:50pm
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 As soon as the planeswalker cards were first introduced 6 years ago in Lorwyn, they created one of the biggest earthquakes in the history of Magic. They truly felt like something that never existed before, and some players feared the game would radically change from that moment on. Indeed, the arrival of the planeswalkers did change many things...

 WHAT A PLANESWALKER WAS

  For starters, it changed the flavor of the background: previously, the planeswalkers were immortal, godlike beings with almost limitless powers, just like the players themselves — who are planeswalkers by premise — result pretty much omnipotent compared to the other elements of the game they would toy with. If those planeswalkers were to be transposed into cards, they would get rule texts like "This card can't be countered. When this card enters the battlefield, exile all permanents, hands, and libraries you don't control", or "0: Target player loses the tournament". There were issues with the narrative as well, as pop-culture heroes are rarely such powerful semi-deities, since that would prevent identification by the audience and create all sorts of storytelling problems. Therefore, back in Time Spiral block, a solution was introduced: the Mending. A cosmic event triggered by Jeska that sealed the time space rift that was threatening the existence of Dominaria (the main plane in the multiverse, where most of the pre-Mirrodin stories were set), but also caused ripple effects through the entire multiverse. One of these effects, conveniently, changed the nature of the planeswalkers, depriving them of their immortality and godlike powers.

 WHAT A PLANESWALKER IS (Story Mode)

 A planeswalker is now an individual that can travel through the planes of the multiverse (that are, essentially, like planets in a sci-fi setting).  At some point in their life, either come adulthood or some traumatic event or other mystical occurrence, the soon-to-be planeswalkers develop the "spark", which is the power of jumping between the planes. They also have a set of magical and non-magical abilities, be they innate, triggered by the spark, or acquired through study and experience; but while still powerful enough to single-handedly influence the fate of a plane through their actions, they're far from the living gods of yonder. They've been transformed into what are essentially old-school superheroes (say, a Doctor Strange or an Adam Warlock, that kind of thing), colorful characters that, not by chance, are perfectly suitable for the most refined marketing purposes and ancillary branding like novels, comics, and videogames. But for this to make sense, the planeswalker cards needed to be a notable presence in the game, a goal accomplished by making them into permanents like none else before.

 WHAT A PLANESWALKER IS (Duel Mode) 

 A planeswalker is still what the player of Magic: The Gathering is. But now there are other planeswalkers in the game: the ones the player calls to his or her help. Flavor-wise it's a tricky proposition, because the player can have a library with dozens of different spells/tricks, while most of the planeswalker cards only have three. The spells of a planeswalker card also apparently all come with built-in buyback, whereas the players seem to be very forgetful. And your allied planeswalkers cast their spells by, essentially, taking damage, like if there was a Channel constantly in use, except for at least one spell that instead costs 0 and provides some level of lifegaining on top of its effects. Of course, all these differences only exist to make the use of the planeswalkers viable, lest you would just summon another player to team up with you against your opponents. But it's interesting to note that a planeswalker card is, de facto, a miniature version of what would happen if the opponent suddenly had to face another player: the opponent can choose to send any or all of their creatures to attack either you or one of your planeswalker allies, or otherwise directly attack their life total, which is, also interestingly, called "loyalty". This is another intriguing aspect of the flavor behind the card: the loyalty, in fact, isn't as much a surrogate life total as it's the level of devotion your super-friends have for you and your noble cause of smashing the face of your opponents versus the risk of endangering their own asses in the process. In this sense, and through a bit of fanwanking, a card like Dreadbore, able to utterly destroy a planeswalker right away, may be seen as akin to a "you win the game" card you would use against a regular player.

 WHAT A PLANESWALKER DOES

 A planeswalker works like a sorcery-speed artifact that however can be attacked and killed like a player; it's a battle station of activated abilities, a mini-me capable of casting a selection of veritable spells, and accumulating or depleting resources, in the form of loyalty points, that allow them to generate much greater effects. It's a type of card deceivingly simple to evaluate: most of the planeswalkers are the chase mythics of their sets, providing strong and desirable effects. But upon closer examination, one will find out that it's not as easy to play with them as it seems. They're vulnerable, arguably the most easily killable permanent type. You rarely can afford to drop them on the battlefield blindingly: you'll need a careful tactical plan and board position to ensure their long-term survival and development. And most importantly, you need to know why are they even in your deck to begin with, as their strategic value and interactions with the other card types might not be immediately obvious.

 PLANESWALKERS: WHAT NOW?

 Even now that they routinely make the top money cards of any new release, and are essential components of most competitive decks, it's still hard to establish if and when a specific build really needs to include some of them. They come in different flavors: some are build-around-me, combo-oriented pieces; some provide tactical support for aggro strategies; other works like repeatable control or card advantage engines. Six years later, let's check the state of the planeswalker union, by examining each one of them in detail and then compiling some statistics based on the collected data.

  • Definition: every Planeswalker card in the game
  • Number of different cards: 42 (of 23 different types)
  • What you need to know: Turns to Ultimate is the smallest number of turns required under normal circumstances to activate the ultimate defined as the most loyalty-consuming ability; a more detailed table of loyalty progression is here); Category is the kind of role the card usually takes; the Rating is calculated on a scale from 0 to 10; the entries are ordered by block of release (called "Waves"), then by set, then alphabetically.
  • Click HERE to go directly to the hypertextual list at the end with all of the entries in alphabetical order (click HERE for a list of all the types).
  • Click HERE to check the latest additions.

THE PLANESWALKER WAVES

 Note on the "Waves": In almost all the cases so far, each block had 5 planeswalkers – the only exception being Zendikar, which had 6. The Core sets reprinted the five original planeswalkers from Lorwyn in Magic 2010 and Magic 2011, then started having a mix of old and new starting from Magic 2012. If put together, Magic 2012 and Magic 2013 present new versions of each of the Lorwyn Five, and this seems to be the trend for Magic 2014 and the still unreleased Magic 2015. Curious fact: until Theros, the distribution of the planeswalkers within the blocks has never been the same so far. The Lorwyn block had all 5 in the first set; Alara had 4 in the first set, 1 in the second set; Zendikar had a 3-1-2 distribution. SOM was 3-1-1; Innistrad: 2-1-2; RTR: 2-2-1; Theros will probably repeat the SOM distribution. This has happened for different reasons, mostly to accommodate the different sizes of the sets, which for recent blocks not always followed the "one larger set followed by two smaller sets" rule.




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1.  

  • Name: Ajani Goldmane   >> summary
  • Versions: Lorwyn, Magic 2010, Magic 2011, Promotional
  • Converted Mana Cost: 4
  • Turns to Ultimate: 3
  • Also Seen As: Ajani Vengeant, Ajani, Caller of the Pride
  • Evaluation: The first Ajani is a mixed bag of a planeswalker. His plus ability is very weak, especially if compared to other lifegaining walkers like Nissa Revane or Elspeth Tirel, and entirely non-tactical. His ultimate is fast enough, but at the end of the day it's just one big vanilla token, and to get to it you even had to let Ajani spend the previous 2 turns doing essentially nothing (that is, earning you a grand total of 4 life). This means that Ajani 1.0 has just one worthy ability, his -1, which is a strong combination of aggro assault and defense, permanently boosting your team and allowing for vigilant attacks. Ajani Goldmane might be little more than a container with 4 free Gavony Township activation charges, but he does his job pretty well in the right deck, which is the reason he has become popular as a 1-of or 2-of addition to dedicated aggro builds, especially of the white weenie variety, with the required presence of a large number of creatures compensating for his total lack of self-preservation capabilities.
  • Category: Aggro Enhancer
  • Rating: 6

 

2.  

  • Name: Chandra Nalaar   >> summary
  • Versions:  Lorwyn, Magic 2010, Magic 2011, Duel Decks: Jace vs. Chandra
  • Converted Mana Cost: 5
  • Turns to Ultimate: 3
  • Also Seen As: Chandra Ablaze, Chandra, the Firebrand, Chandra, Pyromaster
  • Evaluation: Ah, Chandra, Chandra. The very iconic fire mage, featured in so many promo images and marketing campaigns, has never been graced with a card version that entirely did her justice (or did she? More on that in the other Chandra incarnations). It appears to be a general issue with mono-red, a color that most design teams can't find a way to properly translate into an effective planeswalker card, too often focusing on direct damage as the primary attraction. This is the case with the first Chandra too, who on top of an overly cautious +1 ability, gets a second ability that essentially amounts to a few points of creature damage that you can divide over several turns. If you used them all up right away, that would kill a 6-toughness creature, but you would have paid 5 mana for it, turning it into a slightly cheaper Heat Ray at sorcery speed. The step from CMC 4 to CMC 5 is a big one in general, and even more for planeswalkers, as they need to impact the board in a sensible manner to justify the higher casting cost. And Chandra Nalaar, alas, doesn't. Her ultimate feels powerful enough and it's not that hard to reach (if through a couple of really cringeworthy turns where the wild, wild Chandra just pings the opponent for 1), and it's the reason you might see this Chandra actually played sometimes, especially in casual and budget builds. Another reason is that she's the only planeswalker that's worth about 20 cents.
  • Category: Control?
  • Rating: 4

3.   

  • Name: Garruk Wildspeaker   >> summary
  • Versions: Lorwyn, Magic 2010, Magic 2011, Duel Decks: Garruk vs. Liliana, Magic: The Gathering Commander, Promotional
  • Converted Mana Cost: 4
  • Turns to Ultimate: 2
  • Also Seen As: Garruk, Primal Hunter, Garruk Relentless, Garruk, Caller of Beasts
  • Evaluation: The five primordial planeswalkers of Lorwyn were purposely designed to fully represent the five colors of mana. Garruk, arguably the best of the lot, and definitely one that still feels relevant today, was a perfect embodiment of everything green. The most versatile of the Lorwyn Five, and one of the most versatile planeswalkers overall, the original Garruk comes with a set of three abilities that are all useful and highly playable, down to the fastest ultimate progression in the business. You want mana? Garruk Wildspeaker is able to provide you with an amount comprised between 2 and whatever your Gaea's Cradle is generating at that point. You need a creature to protect him? His 3/3 Beast isn't too shabby. Your board is already well-developed and you just want to finish the opponent? Garruk is able to fuel an Overrun-based alpha attack the turn after he comes into play. None of this is necessarily needed at any given point, and the Overrun surely asks for a creature-based build (which given the two green mana in Garruk's cost, is probably at least partially what you're running, anyway). On the other hand, none of what Garruk Wildspeaker does is useless, and it's hard to find a turn where the warrior-druid can't nicely contribute to your battle plan in a way or another.
  • Categories: Ramp, Board Builder, Finisher
  • Rating: 8

4.   

  • Name: Jace Beleren   >> summary
  • Versions: Lorwyn, Magic 2010, Magic 2011, Duel Decks: Jace vs. Chandra, Promotional
  • Converted Mana Cost: 3
  • Turns to Ultimate: 5
  • Also Seen As: Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Jace, Memory Adept, Jace, Architect of Thought
  • Evaluation: The first time Jace showed up in the game was almost uncannily straightforward. Besides a milling ultimate that's very slow to reach and only relevant in extremely dedicated builds, what Jace does is just drawing you a card per turn. You only have to decide if you're okay in also giving your opponents a card every third turn (this becomes sweet in team formats like 2HG, though), or if 3 cards for 3 mana is already enough of a deal for you. Admittedly, only black usually provides such repeatable drawing effects this early in the game, yet Little Jace (as it would be nicknamed later) is even more vulnerable than Dark Confidant, and definitely more than Phyrexian Arena. It's entirely up to you to avoid for him to turn into a 3-mana cantrip that just reads, "Target creature doesn't deal damage this turn".
  • Categories: Card Advantage, Milling
  • Rating: 7

5.  

  • Name: Liliana Vess   >> summary
  • Versions: Lorwyn, Magic 2010, Magic 2011, Duel Decks: Garruk vs. Liliana
  • Converted Mana Cost: 5
  • Turns to Ultimate: 4
  • Also Seen As: Liliana of the Veil, Liliana of the Dark Realms
  • Evaluation: At her first outing, Liliana desperately wanted for you to love her, but unfortunately failed almost completely at that. Like in the case of Chandra Nalaar, they were still wary of giving too much power to these new cards, even in their 5-mana forms. Which causes Liliana Vess to have the least meaningful first-turn impact of all the original five walkers: you really don't want to spend 5 mana only to get a player to choose and discard a card, which sometimes might even mean helping them achieve some reanimation plan. Her ultimate feels like something that you only hit in very casual games, and even if you do, it doesn't guarantee much, as you might be playing against a creature-light deck, and there are certainly better and faster ways to reanimate your own creatures than to have Liliana self-discard them along the way of reaching her one-sided Living Death. Her only useful ability then is the Vampiric Tutor effect, which still comes too late in the game to be actually reliable. It's good in slower formats like Commander, though, where you take all the tutoring you can get.
  • Category: Strategic Assistant
  • Rating: 5



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6.   

  • Name: Ajani Vengeant   >> summary
  • Versions: Shards of Alara, Duel Decks: Ajani vs. Nicol Bolas, Promotional
  • Converted Mana Cost: 4
  • Turns to Ultimate: 5
  • Also Seen As: Ajani Goldmane, Ajani, Caller of the Pride
  • Evaluation: Once Ajani went Boros, he really stepped up his game. Pretty much everything he does is worth a "wow". Your gameplan with him is very easy to envision: you keep disabling the most annoying enemy permanent (be it just a land, Rishadan Port style), while building up to the point where you can use an ultimate that, for the first time, really spelled something similar to "You win the game". And on your way to that, you occasionally cast a Lightning Helix when needed (including right away, if something on the opposite site of the battlefield would be bad for Ajani's health). For 4 mana, you can hardly expect to get a better deal.
  • Category: Board Control
  • Rating: 9

7.  

  • Name: Elspeth, Knight-Errant   >> summary
  • Versions: Shards of Alara, Duel Decks: Elspeth vs. Tezzeret, Modern Masters
  • Converted Mana Cost: 4
  • Turns to Ultimate: 5
  • Also Seen As: Elspeth Tirel, Elspeth, Sun's Champion
  • Evaluation: Elspeth is not the most versatile of planeswalkers, as she essentially does just one thing for you, but she's excellent at doing it. Say, you have a creature on the board. Then Elspeth comes and now that creature attacks like an Angel. You don't have a creature? Elspeth gives a very basic one to you. It doesn't matter, she'll turn that into an Angel the following turn, anyway. Elspeth, Knight-Errant was the first planeswalker that essentially played like a midrange beater, with the added option of turning something that already was a midrange beater into a proper finisher. It didn't take long for this kind of simple aggro plan to become a favorite of many players, making Elspeth 1.0 the most sought-after planeswalker until Worldwake, and keeping her still high in the popularity chart to these very days (it also helped that she was mono-white, whereas a walker like Ajani Vengeant required the less favored Boros combination). There's also a strong if unessential ultimate that makes everything you control indestructible – something that later would be re-worded as using an emblem. It's slow but you may still reach it (provided you don't win the game before that), as Elspeth is also the first planeswalker with two different abilities bearing the plus sign.
  • Category: Beater
  • Rating: 8

8. 

  • Name: Sarkhan Vol   >> summary
  • Versions: Shards of Alara, Modern Masters
  • Converted Mana Cost: 4
  • Turns to Ultimate: 3
  • Also Seen As: Sarkhan the Mad
  • Evaluation: It's hard to get what exactly they were aiming for with Sarkhan, design-wise. The first Gruul planeswalker is strangely disappointing, in that it doesn't do much of green. Sarkhan's basic state is that of a Fervor. Then you get an Act of Treason, which is also typically red. More so, it's something green would never do. And at the end, you create a bunch of... Dragons? Oh well, I guess giving a bonus to the toughness too is where the green side shows. Whatever. Sarkhan can do some shenanigans if you have a sacrifice outlet, and if you just use him as a haste-provider, you'll get those Dragons soon enough (it might be actually harder than it looks, because everything Sarkhan does pushes you into leaving him unprotected). He's great with Doubling Season, though, as you will be able to create 10 Dragons right away without even having to kill their master in the process.
  • Categories: Aggro Enchancer, Board Control, Build-Around-Me
  • Rating: 6

9.  

  • Name: Tezzeret the Seeker   >> summary
  • Versions: Shards of Alara, Duel Decks: Elspeth vs. Tezzeret
  • Converted Mana Cost: 5
  • Turns to Ultimate: 2
  • Also Seen As: Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas
  • Evaluation: Tezzeret is an amazing specialist if there's one. Granted, the formats where he would shine the most are Legacy and Vintage now, and of course there's absolutely no place for a 5-mana walker in the realm of 3-turn games. But you can still find artifacts to untap for profit elsewhere, just like cheap artifacts to fetch (Tezzeret is a Sol Ring ramp engine in Commander, for instance). And even without artifact lands, there might still find enough of an impact in that lightning-fast ultimate. Again,we're talking of a midrange guy whose perfect home are builds where usually nothing costs more than a couple mana. But the lack of opportunities doesn't signify a lack of power.
  • Category: Build-Around-Me
  • Rating: 7

10.  

  • Name: Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker   >> summary
  • Versions: Conflux, Magic 2013, Duel Decks: Ajani vs. Nicol Bolas
  • Converted Mana Cost: 8
  • Turns to Ultimate: 3
  • Evaluation: When the planeswalker card for Nicol Bolas was created, playing for the first time with a pre-existing and beloved Magic character, the goal was to experiment with sheer power. What are the limits of what a planeswalker can do in-game? And what's the cost for that? Well, it seems that the limits are pretty close to the sky, because the planeswalking Bolas is almost impossible to deal with once resolved. As for the cost, 8 mana along 3 colors firmly puts him into the "crazy casual" category. But, you know, it's the kind of over-the-top finishing effect that Spikes occasionally manage to co-opt into competitive builds somehow. Dream Halls and the likes do exist, after all, as does efficient ramping. Plus, better than any of his colleagues, Bolas embodies a concept that's not commonly acknowledged: planeswalkers, always so flashy and powerful and full of wonders, are a really Timmy concept. And Bolas is the Timmiest of them all.
  • Category: Board Control
  • Rating: 8



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11. 

  • Name: Chandra Ablaze   >> summary
  • Versions: Zendikar
  • Converted Mana Cost: 6
  • Turns to Ultimate: 3
  • Also Seen As: Chandra Nalaar, Chandra, the Firebrand, Chandra, Pyromaster
  • Evaluation: Here comes Chandra again. This time with a discard theme. Let's see, basically you pay 6 mana (6 mana?!) and discard another red card in order to cast... a sorcery-speed Lightning Blast? I think I'll pass. Maybe next time, Chandra. A suggestion: don't try and cost 6 mana ever again. You don't really know how to do that.
  • Category: ???
  • Rating: 3

12. 

  • Name: Nissa Revane   >> summary
  • Versions: Zendikar
  • Converted Mana Cost: 4
  • Turns to Ultimate: 6
  • Evaluation: Lorwyn was the shy beginning, Alara was the time to improve on the efficiency of the original model, and then came Zendikar, and Zendikar was the time to experiment and test the boundaries. Nissa, in particular, was an experiment in tribal applications. She's also the first (and so far, only) planeswalker to directly mention another card that she needs to properly function, something that doesn't feel very elegant, to be perfectly honest. The main problem with Nissa, though, is that she does useful things (or at least, useful enough), and she builds towards an ultimate that all but translates into an outright victory (probably the most inescapable ultimate after Jace, the Mind Sculptor's), yet those are all things that an Elf deck already does on its own, and usually way faster. And Nissa isn't just better in an Elf deck – she more or less only works in an Elf deck. And an Elf deck can't really think of a reason to include this frail, slow, non-Elf card.
  • Category: Build-Around-Me
  • Rating: 5

13. 

  • Name: Sorin Markov   >> summary
  • Versions: Zendikar, Magic 2012
  • Converted Mana Cost: 6
  • Turns to Ultimate: 3
  • Also Seen As: Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
  • Evaluation: The road to a worthy 6-mana walker is covered with attempts that didn't quite hit the mark. Sorin's way-too-high casting cost is entirely caused by the implication of his second ability, that deals what was felt like half the life total of a player in a regular, 20-life format. Of course, it's actually stronger when played in formats like Commander (to the point that it should either be banned or re-worded with the same template of more recent cards like Chalice of Life and Path of Bravery), and while still being a big blow regardless, especially since it's dealt immediately upon Sorin's arrival on the battlefield, the math is pretty simple and entirely dependent on those 6 mana you have to pay: even following up with, say, two turns of the Drain Life-for-2 ability, you'd still better off using that mana allowance to cast some big black finisher instead. And the ultimate, to attain which you can't realistically use the Magister Sphinx trick anytime soon, doesn't even seem like anything capable to end a game on its own – in fact, it could easily do nothing at all. Weirdly, the two minus abilities feel like they could switch their loyalty costs and still be balanced. Not the sign of a good design.
  • Category: Control
  • Rating: 5

14. 

  • Name: Jace, the Mind Sculptor   >> summary
  • Versions: Worldwake, From the Vault: Twenty
  • Converted Mana Cost: 4
  • Turns to Ultimate: 6
  • Also Seen As: Jace Beleren, Jace, Memory Adept, Jace, Architect of Thought
  • Evaluation: This is what happens when you don't playtest long enough, or seriously enough. After they essentially apologized for his existence and admitted the mistake, Big Jace's not even worth a comment anymore. It's still the only planeswalker that earned itself a banning in Standard, and a preemptive banning in Modern. It's a card that thought it was okay to fuel a freaking free Brainstorm per turn. In Standard. And that it's only fair that the means to proceed towards an ultimate that's just a longer way to say "You win the game" is to try and negate the opponent any useful draws (something that was called fateseal in Future Sight, but never became an actual keyword). And, sure, let's add a fourth ability too, because three wasn't enough for Big Jace. What about a cheap Unsummon then, lest he would risk to be endangered by those pesky attackers? I don't even.
  • Category: Everything
  • Rating: n/a

15. 

  • Name: Gideon Jura   >> summary
  • Versions: Rise of the Eldrazi, Magic 2012
  • Converted Mana Cost: 5
  • Turns to Ultimate: 2
  • Also Seen As: Gideon, Champion of Justice
  • Evaluation: In that strange land that is the Zendikar's planeswalker experience, where everything is either too much or too little, Gideon Jura is hands down the best design. He takes Elspeth's white example of being a sweeper-resistant replacement for a finisher, and adds a nice set of creature-related abilities that do more than just help your side of the battle. In fact, when Gideon doesn't go and get his hands dirty by smashing faces with his damage-proof avatar, he's more concerned with stopping the aggro plans from the other side of the table. The Royal Assassin ability might seem a bit weird on a white card, but it's the kind of conditional killing that white often does (punishing the guilty, whereas black's limitations are typically due to its own shortcomings). And the idea that Gideon challenges all the enemies to attack himself in order to protect the player he swore allegiance to, that's a very badass display of heroic flavor. And an interesting Fog-like ability that's simultaneously a great design and a really decisive element for any control deck to have. And at 5 mana, it's not crazily unbalanced like some other guy from the previous set.
  • Category: Board Control, Beater
  • Rating: 10

16. 

  • Name: Sarkhan the Mad   >> summary
  • Versions: Rise of the Eldrazi
  • Converted Mana Cost: 5
  • Turns to Ultimate: 1
  • Also Seen As: Sarkhan Vol
  • Evaluation: The sixth planeswalker in the Zendikar block (a number that was an experiment in itself) further explored the boundaries of what's conceivable for a planeswalker card to be. Sarkhan, who just had his debut the previous year, already went mad one block later. And apparently, a mad planeswalker is a planeswalker that can't accumulate loyalty counters anymore, and only works as an effect container with a pre-determined lifespan – even the 0-cost ability is actually going to cost some loyalty down the line, as it's a Dark Confidant effect played against Sarkhan's loyalty total. The ability package is also pretty weird, as the "ultimate" one requires Dragons on the battlefield in order to work, and the middle one replaces a creature with a 5/5 Dragon, which might turn into the wackiest removal ever. All in all, you can drop Sarkhan 2.0 and in the space of 3 turns get a Dragon, deal 5 damage to the opponent, then draw one card, possibly more if you hit a land. It's not a terrible deal, but it's 5 mana, and in a combination of colors that usually has more efficient things to do. Still, probably more deserving of attention than he's been given so far (he's probably the most disregarded planeswalker ever printed), and not a bad design all in all, although one that clearly wished to open a design space but ultimately didn't lead to anything.
  • Category: Oddity
  • Rating: 5



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17. 

  • Name: Elspeth Tirel   >> summary
  • Versions: Scars of Mirrodin
  • Converted Mana Cost: 5
  • Turns to Ultimate: 2
  • Also Seen As: Elspeth, Knight-Errant, Elspeth, Sun's Champion
  • Evaluation: With Elspeth 2.0 we enter SOM territory, that is the domain of high-concept planeswalkers with superior design and no inherent flaws (you just have to look at the five walkers in this section to know I'm not exaggerating). In her second incarnation, Elspeth gets bellicose and channels her inner Nevinyrral's Disk, essentially turning into a reliable sweeper that just needs 1 turn to charge. And everything else she does is almost equally impressive, from building a massive board presence to putting your life total back. All in delightful synergy, where you put 3 Soldiers on the battlefield, then takes some life, then blow everything up leaving you with both your tokens and a lifegaining, token-generating planeswalker looking at an empty enemy side. The competition for CMC 5 in white has Gideon Jura as the undisputed leader, which is possibly the one reason Elspeth Tirel was never as successful as she should have been. But I don't care, since she's probably my favorite non-shenanigan planeswalker (actually, you might even consider her a token-shenanigan planeswalker, but that's too generic a strategy to really count as Johnny-esque), and I'll always love her.
  • Category: Board Control
  • Rating: 9

18.  

  • Name: Koth of the Hammer   >> summary
  • Versions: Scars of Mirrodin, Duel Decks: Venser vs. Koth
  • Converted Mana Cost: 4
  • Turns to Ultimate: 3
  • Evaluation: Koth (whose name is a recursive acronym, which I always find cool) is quite possibly the best mono-red planeswalker, and not just because he's not a fiery redhead that rhymes with Sandra. With Koth they stopped trying to translate burn into a planeswalker template for once and went another route entirely, focusing on things that still feel red, but less obviously so. Admittedly, animating lands is more in green's bag of tricks (red had done it only a couple times before, with Genju of the Spires and Siege of Towers), but Mountain manipulation is a thing red does, and red is certainly known to multiply its namesake mana on occasions. The result of this different approach to redness is a walker that mostly wants to play as a midrange ramp bomb, but can also play in the more typical sorcery-proof beater role that planeswalkers can fulfill so well. All rounded up with an ultimate emblem that isn't out of reach and, along with Venser's and Tamiyo's, resides in that category where it doesn't exactly win the game right then and there, but good luck coming back from that.
  • Category: Ramp, Beater
  • Rating: 8

19.  

  • Name: Venser, the Sojourner   >> summary
  • Versions: Scars of Mirrodin, Duel Decks: Venser vs. Koth
  • Converted Mana Cost: 5
  • Turns to Ultimate: 4
  • Evaluation: Venser is probably my favorite specialist planeswalker, because he's just so marvelously clever and whimsical. In the flavor, too: see, Venser's a teleporter, and all the abilities on his card are different applications of that power, either defensively (you teleport something away and back again) or offensively (sending attackers directly over the enemy lines, or disappearing an enemy into oblivion – or at least so far away it's basically gone). And how many ETB shenanigans you can do with his first ability! It's a veritable universe of possibilities, and a rare case where the minus ability is just an afterthought, as you just keep doing what the deck you built around his plus ability wants you to do, until you get to the ultimate, and probably win. Unfortunately (or not), Venser.dek was never a thing, except briefly in SOM Block Constructed. I guess those 5 mana, plus the necessity to have something exploitable around in order to do anything at all, are what prevented Venser from becoming huge. But who cares, he's one-of-a-kind all the same. Quite literally, because his backstory tells us he's dead now (sigh), so barring some coup de theatre we won't get any new version of him in the future (at some point I thought the different incarnations of the planeswalkers weren't meant to be chronological, but apparently that's not the case, which means some of them are actually forgetting how to do the better things they used to do as they grow older, or something). Maybe it's better this way. I'd hate for Venser 2.0 to lose the magnificent feel of this truly unique card and become more like the living counterspell that was his non-planeswalking version (which is still cool, but not as cool).
  • Category: Build-Around-Me
  • Rating: 8

20. 

  • Name: Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas   >> summary
  • Versions: Mirrodin Besieged
  • Converted Mana Cost: 4
  • Turns to Ultimate: 2
  • Also Seen As: Tezzeret the Seeker
  • Evaluation: The greatest artifact lover in the whole multiverse is back, and now he works for Bolas. Which is a turn of events that didn't go so well for Sarkhan, but Tezz is made of a different mettle (that being etherium, of course, since he's an Esperite). In fact, about five minutes after being reborn as Agent of Bolas, he was already helping World Champion Guillaume Matignon to fight for the title of Player of the Year. That's something Sarkhan wouldn't even think of even in his maddest dreams. But Neo-Tezzeret traded his past, intellectual researches and manipulations for sheer artifact aggression, permanently turning your mana rocks into 5/5 beaters, fueling massive, specialist card advantage, and even sneaking in a serious amount of lifedraining through a surprisingly handy ultimate, all in a comfy 4-mana package coming in the perfect colors for a control build centered around him and his trinkets. Was there anything else you may wish for? After his initial Standard exploits, though, he sort of retired, due to his extremely dedicated nature. But any time you'll feel like kicking ass with artifacts, he'll be ready to comply.
  • Category: Build-Around-Me
  • Rating: 9

21. 

  • Name: Karn Liberated   >> summary
  • Versions: New Phyrexia
  • Converted Mana Cost: 7
  • Turns to Ultimate: 3
  • Evaluation: Talking of Bolas (the only walker that costs more than Karn to hardcast), I noted how Timmy-esque the very concept behind these cards might feel. They're all-powerful super-heroes coming to help in your Magic games. You can exploit it as a Spike, and even as a Johnny in a few cases, but their basic appeal is to Timmy. Karn, formerly known as the Mox-killing Silver Golem, is the perfect example of this dichotomy between attention-getting showmanship and actual ability to find a room in actual, successful tournament decks, if not even outright giving birth to them. It's a design alchemy that's not easy to achieve, but the quiet Karn quietly did it. I mean, he provides Bolas-level of awesome, exiling things left and right for big chunks of loyalty, then ending up changing the very rules of the game (with an ultimate that doesn't even actually need to get pursued most of the times, because his other abilities are already winning the game on their own). And yet, there's a catch, that makes him very different from Bolas: as the first colorless planeswalker, Karn has ways to be played competitively. In fact, he's currently the herald of an archetype in Modern where you use the Urzatron lands to achieve exactly those 7 colorless mana, dropping Karn before you can even say "triplet". In general, everywhere you ramp, be it with Cloudpost or Walls or Elves, you can be sure Karn will have a reason to be there as the most high-profile removal engine in the game.
  • Category: Board Control
  • Rating: 10



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22. 

  • Name: Chandra, the Firebrand   >> summary
  • Versions: Magic 2012, Magic 2013
  • Converted Mana Cost: 4
  • Turns to Ultimate: 4
  • Also Seen As: Chandra Nalaar, Chandra Ablaze, Chandra, Pyromaster
  • Evaluation: Third time's the charm? It might look like it for Chandra, as her third incarnation doesn't immediately suck upon reading it. At least now she just costs 4 very splashable mana. And at least there's a bit of versatility to her ping this time (of course, by turn 4, gunning those Birds of Paradise won't be that relevant anymore, but maybe killing that Dark Confidant or Vendilion Clique will). And in face of an ultimate that's too long and painful to reach and still doesn't win you the game or anything, we get a second ability that can be explosive. The only problem is: it's also awfully situational. If your deck is filled with fast damage-dealing spells, chances are you won't have a use for an indefensible midrange permanent. And if not, sure, you can duplicate your Fireball-like spells in full. But how frequently you'll be doing that? And in the meantime, what's Chandra supposed to do? Pshw-pshw-ing every mana dork around? Pinging the opponent? Again?! God, will she ever learn? Why can't they give Chandra a worthy card for a change? She's arguably the most popular and represented of all the new planeswalker characters. Maybe they're punishing her because she's too popular and the other walkers are jealous? Is it because of that picture that Steve Argyle made and WotC wasn't happy about? (Reportedly, only because "that never actually happened in the backstory". You don't say). That wasn't Chandra's fault! Free Chandra!
  • Category: Strategic Assistant
  • Rating: 5

23. 

  • Name: Garruk, Primal Hunter   >> summary
  • Versions: Magic 2012, Magic 2013
  • Converted Mana Cost: 5
  • Turns to Ultimate: 4
  • Also Seen As: Garruk Wildspeaker, Garruk Relentless, Garruk, Caller of Beasts
  • Evaluation: It took a while for Garruk to come back, but then he did it twice in the space of a few months in 2011 (with this new Core set incarnation, then Garruk Relentless in Innistrad) and he started showing why he's quite possibly the most accomplished planeswalker type so far. I'm partial to him, and to green, but I think the cards speak for themselves. Take this Primal Hunter, that in hindsight might even be the narrowest of his monikers, as it's basically the permanent version of Soul's Majesty. Yeah, he also has a very meaty plus ability that generates his signature 3/3 Beasts, building towards a sleek ultimate which is a "now deal with it or die" kind of deal. But let's be honest here, in your heavily green build (those 3 colored mana symbols don't really leave you an alternative), 90% of the times you won't even bother about what else his rule text says, because you'll just kill Garruk right away to draw a bunch of cards. And so be it, I say. More room for one of the other Garruks to actually stay on the battlefield. And you know, that drawing effect doesn't target. If you have two Primeval Titans out, they can't deny you the draw by instant-killing one of them. Which is the reason why Soul's Majesty was never actually played.
  • Category: Card Advantage
  • Rating: 7

24. 

  • Name: Jace, Memory Adept   >> summary
  • Versions: Magic 2012, Magic 2013, Magic 2014
  • Converted Mana Cost: 5
  • Turns to Ultimate: 4
  • Also Seen As: Jace Beleren, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Jace, Architect of Thought
  • Evaluation: After the whole Mind Sculptor debacle, Jace retreated into safer territories. His Magic 2012 incarnation goes back to his Little Jace roots and is a quiet milling specialist, mostly used to draw one card per turn, this time without any downside except for the fact that it's a 5 CMC card, which is a bit clunky to only be used as a Phyrexian Arena. Not the splashiest of outings, but at least nobody is hating on him or clamoring for his ban with pitchforks and torches.
  • Category: Card Advantage, Milling
  • Rating: 6

25. 

  • Name: Ajani, Caller of the Pride   >> summary
  • Versions: Magic 2013, Magic 2014
  • Converted Mana Cost: 3
  • Turns to Ultimate: 5
  • Also Seen As: Ajani Goldmane, Ajani Vengeant
  • Evaluation: One year after Chandra, Garruk and Jace revealed their new Core set identities, Ajani and Liliana got one too, thus completing the original cycle of the Lorwyn Five. All these new incarnations are quite playable, while none of them is particularly decisive. The new Ajani is possibly the best of the lot, being a 3-mana walker for those fast white weenie builds that love +1/+1 counters and the occasional flying/double strike boosting package. Which means he's narrow, but in a way that makes him still able to see play, because we're talking one of the broadest mono-colored archetypes here, in which Caller of the Pride can easily take the slot of a Honor of the Pure or an equipment.
  • Category: Aggro Enhancer
  • Rating: 7

26. 

  • Name: Liliana of the Dark Realms   >> summary
  • Versions: Magic 2013, Magic 2014
  • Converted Mana Cost: 4
  • Turns to Ultimate: 4
  • Also Seen As: Liliana Vess, Liliana of the Veil
  • Evaluation: In the summer of 2012, Liliana was coming from a very successful year where her entire public image was rebranded thanks to that powerhouse that is Liliana of the Veil (the conflating of M12 and M13 made this incarnation come first in the list than the Innistrad one), so she basically took a bit of a Jace treatment here, making sure not to give her two over-the-top cards back to back. Liliana of the Dark Realms feels particularly strange because with it the sassy necromancer apparently ditches everything discard- or graveyard-related in favor of ramping via Swamps, which, although typically black, wasn't typically her thing so far. So here she does some innocuous-looking Swamp-tutoring (which is actually Bayou-tutoring and Watery Grave-tutoring and whatnot), with the final goal of getting a flashy emblem whose main issue is that it's more or less the epitome of "win-more", since short of a game-ending Drain Life, there's no real sense in ramping from 8 mana to freaking 32. It's the reason she does better in Commander, where she's actually a staple. In regular formats, the only thing she brings to the table aside for all the ramping and mana fixing is a limited removal in the form of a single-target Mutilate (that was a Liliana card, after all, at least according to its most recent versions), that in a pinch might double as pumping. That's not really enough to shine, I'm afraid.
  • Category: Ramp
  • Rating: 6



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27.  

  • Name: Garruk Relentless   >> summary
  • Versions: Innistrad
  • Converted Mana Cost: 4
  • Turns to Ultimate: 3
  • Also Seen As: Garruk Wildspeaker, Garruk, Primal Hunter, Garruk, Caller of Beasts
  • Evaluation: Garruk Relentless, the transformer planeswalker with a record 5 abilities, is definitely my favorite all-around planeswalker (while Elspeth Tirel and Venser are my favorite for straightforward and build-around-me purposes, respectively). And yet, I was skeptical about him before trying him out. He's actually a very subtle beast, and it's not immediately evident by reading the card how insanely versatile he is, and what a great work the design team has done. This inscrutability of him, that really fits the character, makes me love him even more, compared to walkers whose strengths are just there for all to see right away. I'm on the record calling Garruk Relentless "the planeswalking Birthing Pod" (and as some of you might know by now, I really love the Pod). Once you transform him, in fact, his minus ability essentially does what the Pod does, letting you sacrifice something to get something better. But in order to get to this point, you pass through a series of other features, each of which might become the main point at any given time. The first thing Garruk does before turning into the Veil-Cursed (of course Liliana had to be involved in all of this!) is creating Wolves, a departure from his more classic Beasts, but one that interacts well with Master of the Wild Hunt (especially when you'll start having deathtouch on them). Or even more likely, you'll start right away by getting rid of some annoying 2-powered creature (and there's definitely a vast range of them), just to try and avoid turning your Garruk into a 4-mana Lightning Bolt – which in a pinch he might even do. So through a one-time instance of removal, you'll get to the part where deathtouch Wolves are ensuring your board position and Garruk's own protection, ready to be sacrificed to tutor up whatever best fits the current board state. And did I mention that you still get a potentially stronger variant of the Overrun effect from Garruk Wildspeaker? Garruk Relentless: a world of nearly infinite possibilities.
  • Category: Board Control, Strategic Assistant, Finisher
  • Rating: 9

28. 

  • Name: Liliana of the Veil   >> summary
  • Versions: Innistrad
  • Converted Mana Cost: 3
  • Turns to Ultimate: 4
  • Also Seen As: Liliana Vess, Liliana of the Dark Realms
  • Evaluation: When I list my favorite planeswalkers (Garruk Relentless, Elspeth Tirel, Venser), I don't mention Liliana of the Veil anymore, despite being very much in love with her, because it has now become too obvious a choice. There was a time, though, when Liliana wasn't the most expensive planeswalker in the secondary market, and actually only used sporadically or in dedicated builds. Her cycle of Diabolic Edict, discard, discard, rinse, repeat, coming online so early, is killer in most cases. But she's also more frail than Big Jace (the former Planeswalker Monarch she dethroned) ever was, and requires more attention and strategic planning in order to play her correctly. In fact, considering you have to discard along with the opponent, you might want to prepare for it, and get the most out of this aspect. Which is the reason she's actually a specialist, not a generic good stuff walker. She's a reanimation enabler who supports such a battle plan with some added disruption and removal. You might want to use her only for the latter things within non-specific control builds, sure, but getting your stuff into the graveyard is what she's actually born to do, and everything else she does isn't exactly gravy, but a crucial companion to make that plan works at all. That's her actual plan, though. On top of this, her ultimate is effective enough but it's the kind of thing you rarely ever try to build towards, because the minus ability is just too alluring and frequently needed. In all the games I played with a playset of Lilianas in tribal reanimator builds, I might have reached her ultimate myself only a couple times, and in no case it ended up being particularly relevant besides some wanton destruction of the win-more variety.
  • Category: Board Control, Build-Around-Me
  • Rating: 10

29.  

  • Name: Sorin, Lord of Innistrad   >> summary
  • Versions: Dark Ascension, Duel Decks: Sorin vs. Tibalt
  • Converted Mana Cost: 4
  • Turns to Ultimate: 4
  • Also Seen As: Sorin Markov
  • Evaluation: The second, vastly superior Sorin is one of the best token generators in the game, although not the fastest (you can't beat the flying Faeries from Bitterblossom). He creates 1/1 lifelinkers (arguably the next best thing after flyers and deathtouchers), then turns them into 2/1s, while also permanently boosting the rest of your team, present and future. Then he does it all again, improving the bonus and lethal implications at every iteration. This is his entire cycle, despite a juicy ultimate that might come handy in the right occasion but it's too situational to pursue regardless of the board position, not to mention how crucial those little emblems are instead. It's a simple yet sweet life for the semi-redeemed vampire.
  • Category: Board Builder
  • Rating: 8

30. 

  • Name: Tamiyo, the Moon Sage   >> summary
  • Versions: Avacyn Restored
  • Converted Mana Cost: 5
  • Turns to Ultimate: 5
  • Evaluation: It felt a little strange to see this Moonfolk girl from Kamigawa in the middle of all the high-stakes, Angel vs. Demon drama of Avacyn Restored. But ending far away from home is the whole point in being a planeswalker. And Tamiyo is a great addition to the walker pantheon, both flavorfully (look how cute and quirky she is! She's holding a hand-held telescope, for some reason!) and mechanically. In virtue of being a 5-mana walker, a category that has proved to be tricky to do right, she was able to improve on Ajani Vengeant's shutdown ability by actually going Frost Titan on the opponent's permanents, which, short of destroying them, is the best thing you can do, and already enough to justify Tamiyo's presence on the board. You add a massive card-drawing effect and the goal of a game-ending ultimate, and the only reason Tamiyo isn't a superstar (while still being popular enough) is because those 5 mana still give pause to some deckbuilders. She's definitely at home in midrange blue control decks, though, at some point earning the Robin moniker to Jace, Architect of Thought's Batman (in a curious reversal of roles, given that she's actually the most powerful member of that dynamic duo).
  • Category: Board Control, Card Advantage
  • Rating: 8

31.  

  • Name: Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded   >> summary
  • Versions: Avacyn Restored, Duel Decks: Sorin vs. Tibalt
  • Converted Mana Cost: 2
  • Turns to Ultimate: 5
  • Evaluation: Tibalt is the latest entry in the topic of "how much we can go down with the CMC of a planeswalker". Turns out you can, indeed, make a 2-mana planeswalker, but probably red isn't the best color for that (although it was probably chosen because most red builds like low curves). That random discard looting really makes the entire enterprise kind of moot (Faithless Looting seems to be better most of the times), and the other abilities are either barely relevant or situational, or both, and Tibalt also takes forever to reach them. Too bad, because a Devil planeswalker was a cool idea.
  • Category: Card Advantage
  • Rating: 4



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32. 

  • Name: Jace, Architect of Thought   >> summary
  • Versions: Return to Ravnica
  • Converted Mana Cost: 4
  • Turns to Ultimate: 5
  • Also Seen As: Jace Beleren, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Jace, Memory Adept
  • Evaluation: Return to Ravnica featured plenty of Jace in the promo material as he was one of the protagonists of the entire backstory, so his card needed not to disappoint. And it didn't, without going too far into the excessive. In fact, Architect of Thought may be the most balanced Jace ever printed: not too big, nor too little. It almost seems a reworked Mind Sculptor made by someone who wasn't high in the moment. A mini-Fact or Fiction as a minus ability is not a free Brainstorm for sure, but it's still a nice card advantage engine. The protection provided by the plus ability doesn't immediately guarantee survival for Jace (or the player), but it's effective against certain strategies, essentially counteracting Lingering Souls, for instance. The ultimate is honestly an afterthought, since you may well find nothing better than a Lightning Bolt to play from your opponent's deck, and you most definitely won't put any Leviathan in your deck in the off-chance that your Jace will go ultimate. Because, let's be frank, he won't, he'll just keep doing the Fact or Fiction mini-game every third turn or so. Unless we're talking Commander, in which case the ultimate may become a battle plan in its own right, especially considering the wording has the always sweet "each player" clause.
  • Category: Card Advantage
  • Rating: 8

33. 

  • Name: Vraska the Unseen   >> summary
  • Versions: Return to Ravnica
  • Converted Mana Cost: 5
  • Turns to Ultimate: 3
  • Evaluation: Another one of my favorites (I guess my personal ranking, Liliana of the Veil notwithstanding, would go like that: 1. Garruk Relentless, 2. Venser, the Sojourner, 3. Elspeth Tirel, 4. Vraska the Unseen, 5. Tamiyo, the Moon Sage – but I still have to properly evaluate the new gal on the block).It's just cool to play with a Gorgon planeswalker, and more so if she's Golgari, and Maelstrom Pulse on a stick. Admittedly, it's just a scary, Spike-ish ability, but also one that plays well into that midrange territory I so often gravitate towards. Vraska is 5-mana, so you can't count on her to stop any early battle plan (plus, she doesn't affect the mana base); she's most adept at getting you in the position of fulfilling your own, slower gameplan. She would clearly start with the obliteration of the most dangerous permanent, and at that point she almost did her entire job already, because the opponent doesn't have a choice but to try and kill her before she gets to do another Pulse, and killing her isn't the easiest thing to do. Her plus ability, that incidentally builds toward an ultimate that's actually a legitimate endgame (it would be worth of a Doubling Season combo if they weren't both 5-mana permanents), has the unique property of protecting her, and only her, in sort of an aggressive fashion, causing further havoc, and generally diverting the attention from you, which is what you wanted for her to do. And she is quite the attention-grabber.
  • Category: Board Control, Finisher
  • Rating: 8

34. 

  • Name: Domri Rade   >> summary
  • Versions: Gatecrash
  • Converted Mana Cost: 3
  • Turns to Ultimate: 5
  • Evaluation: Domri is so evidently engineered to be the perfect fit for creature-based Gruul decks. He's fast, he tries and gives you more creatures (pushing you to increase the number of them in your build as much as possible), and then use the creatures you have to control the board. His ultimate's emblem can be devastating, but, again, it needs creatures, lots of creatures, in order to do anything at all. If I don't label Domri a build-around-me walker is only because creature-heavy builds are already frequent enough in Magic as a whole, so you just have to take yours to extremes (30 creatures is the commonly suggested ratio to get the plus ability to work with 50-50 odds) and Domri will be happy.
  • Category: Card Advantage, Board Control
  • Rating: 8

35. 

  • Name: Gideon, Champion of Justice   >> summary
  • Versions: Gatecrash
  • Converted Mana Cost: 4
  • Turns to Ultimate: Variable
  • Also Seen As: Gideon Jura
  • Evaluation: Gideon's return has him going all-in on his beater impression. Which is a pity, because his strategic abilities were what made his original incarnation such a great card in the first place, and now they're entirely gone. You just keep accumulating loyalty counters on him, then swing when your Gideon is big enough for your taste. This feels as boring as it gets. You might implicitly see the growing of the counter total as something that will force the opponent to attack into Gideon, thus recreating his old shtick of diverting the enemy aggression to himself; but now it's not at all guaranteed that the opponent will actually fall for that, or even care about the prospect of a bombastic ultimate that doesn't feel exactly around the corner.
  • Category: Beater
  • Rating: 6

36. 

  • Name: Ral Zarek   >> summary
  • Versions: Dragon's Maze
  • Converted Mana Cost: 4
  • Turns to Ultimate: 4
  • Evaluation: Ral Zarek comes so close to be a great Izzet planeswalker, but falls short in comparison to the too similar design of Ajani Vengeant (except, of course, in Boros). And it's just a comparison Ral can't live through. Where the Cat would cast LIghtning Helix, Ral casts Lightning Bolt. Where Ajani was actively shutting down a permanent, Ral just taps it in his controller's turn, making that only good for evading a blocker. And where his predecessor's ultimate was all but impossible to come back from, Ral's ultimate, as impressive as it sounds, is actually the only one ever devised that might actually end up doing absolutely nothing at all. Granted, that would require a ludicrous case of bad luck, but that's the thing with luck-based effects: the Murphy's law always applies (so I'm pretty sure somebody somewhere flipped those five coins and got five tails). Plus, it's still dependent on your board state to translate into a victory. The only thing in Ral's favor is the quite overlooked untapping effect, which at the very least gives you an extra mana each turn. Or each turn you don't use Ral as just a Lightning Bolt container, which is probably the best use you can do of him. This, and the fact that the blue mana replacing Ajani Vengeant's white mana might be relevant in some builds, is the reason I was generous with the rating. But Ral's design is not a brilliant one by all means. 
  • Category: Board Control
  • Rating: 7



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37. 

  • Name: Chandra, Pyromaster   >> summary
  • Versions: Magic 2014
  • Converted Mana Cost: 4
  • Turns to Ultimate: 4
  • Also Seen As: Chandra Nalaar, Chandra Ablaze, Chandra, the Firebrand
  • Evaluation: Oh my God, did she finally make it? Well, let's not get carried away too soon here. The Pyromaster is Chandra's most successful incarnation to date (which means the only Chandra's incarnation that's actually played), but mainly because she found a home as a card-advantage engine in some Jund builds in Modern, and those can't really play Jace, can they? Still, the 0-cost drawing is nice enough, even with the "now or never" clause. And it's amusing to witness the progression of Chandra's plus ability from pinging only the opponent, to pinging either the opponent or a creature, to pinging both at the same time (and, as an added bonus, the creature can't block). So, some nice improvement in that department, too. The ultimate takes forever, considering you want to draw, not ping, and it's a complicated wording intended to make Chandra do some free casting (just like in Ral Zarek's case, it might even amount to nothing, even if the back luck here would need to be cosmical. But it doesn't matter, because nobody ever pinged for 3 turns in a row and then killed Chandra only to try and find a good spell to duplicate). All in all, the latest Chandra feels like a legitimate, if slower, alternative to Phyrexian Arena in the right build. Congrats!
  • Category: Card Advantage
  • Rating: 7

38. 

  • Name: Garruk, Caller of Beasts   >> summary
  • Versions: Magic 2014
  • Converted Mana Cost: 6
  • Turns to Ultimate: 4
  • Also Seen As: Garruk Wildspeaker, Garruk, Primal Hunter, Garruk Relentless
  • Evaluation: Garruk should be regarded as the anti-Chandra, in that apparently he can't do wrong (it's possible that mono-green is just more suitable for planeswalkers). Even his slowest incarnation to date, which had me perplexed in the beginning, upon closer examination manages to be worth the 6-mana effort. The lack of a creature-making option is compensated by the sneak-into-play ability. You don't need for Garruk to create a defensive Beast when that Thragtusk in your hand will just do it. And sure, you might end up dropping something that would cost less than 6 mana (then again, you might even drop Progenitus in the right build, which you should totally try and do); but for those 6 mana you'll get your Thragtusk AND a planeswalker, ready to hide behind his tusked friend to cast a Lead the Stampede (how appropriate) to draw you some more creatures to drop next. The Wild Pair-like ultimate is something you might even build towards, given that the plus ability is strong enough on its own, but it's not really necessary once you start drawing into enough things for both you and Garruk to "cast".
  • Category: Card Advantage, Board Builder
  • Rating: 8



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39. 

  • Name: Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver   >> summary
  • Versions: Theros
  • Converted Mana Cost: 3
  • Turns to Ultimate: 5
  • Evaluation: Ashiok is a truly fascinating character, whose origin, nature, and even gender are entirely unknown. He/she's linked to dreams, nightmares and fears, which reminds me of something out of Neil Gaiman's The Sandman. Too bad all this flavor has been (so far) translated into a 3-mana aide for milling strategies. All that Ashiok does is eating away at the opponent's deck, 3 cards at a time, then trying and putting a creature revealed that way into your control by losing an amount of loyalty equal to the creature's casting cost in the process, which means you're not going to cast that Emrakul anytime soon. The ultimate is even particularly lame – what if the graveyard isn't relevant? And by the time you get to minus 10 Ashiok, the opponent's hand has probably already been dropped onto the battlefield, or on your ass. It's not that Ashiok can't be occasionally effective at what he/she does; but outside dedicated milling decks, it's hard to find a reason to include him/her at all.
  • Category: Milling
  • Rating: 5

40. 

  • Name: Elspeth, Sun's Champion   >> summary
  • Versions: Theros
  • Converted Mana Cost: 6
  • Turns to Ultimate: 4
  • Also Seen As: Elspeth, Knight-Errant, Elspeth Tirel
  • Evaluation: After 3 years of absence, Elspeth is finally back. And in what feels like a further development from her previous incarnation, she took the Garruk's route of going 6 CMC and doing it properly. Now the Soldier triplet is a plus ability, while the destruction effect is immediately available, if restricted to big critters only, which makes Elspeth Tirel the superior specimen. In fact, Sun's Champion might well revert to a Knight-Errant routine in matchups where the removal part isn't called for. In those cases she would just keep populating the board with her tiny Soldiers, then end up turning them into not-so-tiny flyers. It's probably not worth her 6 mana just for this, but it's still an efficient deal.
  • Category: Board Builder, Board Control
  • Rating: 7

41. 

  • Name: Xenagos, the Reveler   >> summary
  • Versions: Theros
  • Converted Mana Cost: 4
  • Turns to Ultimate: 4
  • Evaluation: As far as planeswalkers that generate tokens go, Xenagos is one of the best, right after Garruk Relentless and Sorin, Lord of Innistrad. Those 2/2 Satyrs with haste can definite come handy, and they're completely free of charge. In order to activate the Genesis Wave ultimate, though, you need to use the plus ability, and that's also very strong on paper, but a bit pointless when you actually try to exploit it. See, you need a fully developed board by turn 4 in order to turn Xenagos's ramp into something akin to Koth's. The red walker only needed to have Mountains on the battlefield, that was an entirely natural occurrence in a red-heavy build. What kind of build would give Xenagos the creatures he needs for an explosive turn 4? Well, the easiest answer is: Elves. And Elf build, then? Where then Xenagos comes and... what does actually Xenagos add to an Elf build? They already ramp on their own. They don't need a 4-mana Satyr for that. It's quite the pickle: Xenagos is an amazing ramper whose ramp doesn't actually have a place in the curve. This isn't to say that he's a bad card or anything. Just that he's harder to exploit than he looks. Oh well, those hasty Satyrs are still sweet. Gruul-colored, even, in case you have a Boartusk Liege around.
  • Category: Ramp, Board Builder
  • Rating: 7

42. 

  • Name: Kiora, the Crashing Wave   >> summary
  • Versions: Theros
  • Converted Mana Cost: 4
  • Turns to Ultimate: 4
  • Evaluation: Hello, Kiora! I was one of the many that were eagerly waiting for her! (Since when Kiora Atua was first featured as a character in the videogame Duel of the Planeswalker 2012, the same where Ral Zarek was first introduced, and Brad Rigney was asked to include her in his planeswalker pantheon that you can see as this article's logo). I mean, a Simic planeswalker! That's sexy by definition! And the early descriptions of the character made it clear that she was to be linked to some kind of sea monsters somehow. Which she is, even if I would have liked better if they were actual cards to fetch, not just vanilla tokens. Look, I'm not disappointed. She does a series of different, useful things. She grows in loyalty (towards those big tokens, that aren't that far away and are created via emblem, which is always sweet) by disabling the bigger enemy threat on the battlefield, even if that also has the side effect of turning that threat into a perfect defense. And she draws cards with no downsides. More so, with an Explore kind of deal, which is great. Granted, she can't really draw more than every other turn, and if she does, you'll never get those Leviathans. I definitely need to play with her before issuing a clearer judgment. And I'll definitely do.
  • Category: Board Control, Card Advantage
  • Rating: 8 (tentatively)



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AJANI

ASHIOK

BOLAS

CHANDRA

DOMRI

  • Race: Human
  • Gender: Male
  • Native Plane: Ravnica (Gruul)
  • Incarnations: 1 (Domri Rade)

ELSPETH

GARRUK

GIDEON

JACE

KARN

  • Race: Golem
  • Gender: Male
  • Native Plane: Dominaria (Tolaria)
  • Incarnations: 1 (Karn Liberated)

 

KIORA

 

KOTH

  • Race: Human (Vulshok)
  • Gender: Male
  • Native Plane: Mirrodin
  • Incarnations: 1 (Koth of the Hammer)

LILIANA

NISSA

  • Race: Elf
  • Gender: Female
  • Native Plane: Zendikar
  • Incarnations: 1 (Nissa Revane)

RAL

  • Race: Human
  • Gender: Male
  • Native Plane: Ravnica
  • Incarnations: 1 (Ral Zarek)

SARKHAN

SORIN

TAMIYO

  • Race: Moonfolk (a.k.a. Soratami)
  • Gender: Female
  • Native Plane: Kamigawa (Oboro)
  • Incarnations: 1 (Tamiyo, the Moon Sage)

TEZZERET

TIBALT

VENSER

VRASKA

  • Race: Gorgon
  • Gender: Female
  • Native Plane: Ravnica (Underworld)
  • Incarnations: 1 (Vraska the Unseen)

XENAGOS




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 Types

  • Chandra: 4
  • Garruk: 4
  • Jace: 4
  • Ajani: 3
  • Elspeth: 3
  • Liliana: 3
  • Gideon: 2
  • Sarkhan: 2
  • Sorin: 2
  • Tezzeret: 2
  • Ashiok: 1
  • Bolas: 1
  • Domri: 1
  • Karn: 1
  • Kiora: 1
  • Koth: 1
  • Nissa: 1
  • Ral: 1
  • Tamiyo: 1
  • Tibalt: 1
  • Venser: 1

 Conclusions: Three of the original 5 planeswalkers have already hit their 4th different iteration, which means they appeared in a new form in almost half the waves. The other two are only 1 step behind, with Elspeth being the more "popular" among the walkers that didn't start their career in Lorwyn. Together with Gideon and Sorin, Elspeth grew up to be as recognizable as the Lorwyn Five, as proved by their presence in the promo material and their role in the continuing storyline that runs beneath the releases of the various sets.

 Colors

  • White: 10 (of which 7 mono, 1 Azorius, 1 Orzhov, 1 Boros)
  • Blue: 12 (of which 6 mono, 2 Dimir, 1 Azorius, 1 Izzet, 1 Simic, 1 Grixis)
  • Black: 10 (of which 4 mono, 2 Dimir, 1 Orzhov, 1 Rakdos, 1 Golgari, 1 Grixis)
  • Red: 13 (of which 6 mono, 3 Gruul, 1 Boros, 1 Izzet, 1 Rakdos, 1 Grixis)
  • Green: 10 (of which 5 mono, 3 Gruul, 1 Golgari, 1 Simic)
  • Colorless: 1

 Conclusions: With the long-awaited debut of Kiora, Selesnya is the only 2-color combination still missing their planeswalker. Nicol Bolas is currently the only 3-colored planeswalker, and of course Karn is the only colorless one.

 Race/Gender (calculated on the current 23 types)

  • Human: 12
  • Cat: 1
  • Devil: 1
  • Dragon: 1
  • Elf: 1
  • Golem: 1
  • Gorgon: 1
  • Merfolk: 1
  • Moonfolk: 1
  • Satyr: 1
  • Vampire: 1
  • Unknown Race: 1
  • Male: 15 (27 total occurrences)
  • Female: 7 (14 total occurrences)
  • Unknown Gender: 1

 Conclusions: As already noted, the new-recipe planeswalkers (the ones that were possible to put on actual cards) are akin to classic superheroes, and this forces the vast majority of them to be Human, in order to more profitably work both as a focus of the storylines (inviting identification) and as poster children for the game and its merchandising. Still, the handful of other races featured is quite bizarre, as we have a Gorgon, a Devil (actually half-Devil) and even a Satyr, but still no representatives for such old, important and beloved tribes as Goblin, Merfolk, or Zombie, and just one Elf (and a minor one at that). Gender-wise, the gentlemen makes for the dominating presence over the ladies (honestly, I've no idea what this tells us). Luckily, the enigmatic Ashiok shakes things up a bit, since nobody knows what it is, and even its gender is a complete mystery, if not another concept entirely. Magic has actually a definite issue where the diversity in its "cast" is concerned, if you consider that among all the human characters there's only one of African ethnicity (and it's an angry, shirtless black man, which makes the whole thing even more icky); even Liliana as a Latina woman seems more like Brad Rigney's own interpretation than anything clearly established, considering her last name is "Vess" and everyone else in the past portrayed her as an ostensibly white chick. Asian characters didn't do better because so far, outside of the "ethnic areas" Kamigawa and Portal Three Kingdoms, we only got Tamiyo. Not cool, Wizards. Not cool.

 Converted Mana Cost

  • CMC 8: 1
  • CMC 7:
  • CMC 6: 4
  • CMC 5: 11
  • CMC 4: 19
  • CMC 3: 5
  • CMC 2: 1

 Conclusions: The vast majority of all the planeswalkers has a midrange cost of 4 or 5 mana. Surprisingly, the number of planeswalker below this threshold is the same as the number beyond it, with more planeswalkers at CMC 3 than there are at CMC 6.

 Loyalty Progression 

Progression to Ultimate T1 T2 T3 T4 T5 T6
Jace, the Mind Sculptor 5 7 9 11 13 1
Nissa Revane 3 4 5 6 7 0
Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver 5 7 9 11 1  
Jace Beleren 5 7 9 11 1  
Ajani, Caller of the Pride 5 6 7 8 0  
Elspeth, Knight-Errant 5 6 7 8 0  
Jace, Architect of Thought 5 6 7 8 0  
Tamiyo, the Moon Sage 5 6 7 8 0  
Ajani Vengeant 4 5 6 7 0  
Domri Rade 4 5 6 7 0  
Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded 3 4 5 6 0  
Venser, the Sojourner 5 7 9 1    
Liliana Vess 6 7 8 0    
Chandra, Pyromaster 5 6 7 0    
Elspeth, Sun's Champion 5 6 7 0    
Garruk, Caller of Beasts 5 6 7 0    
Jace, Memory Adept 5 6 7 0    
Ral Zarek 5 6 7 0    
Chandra, the Firebrand 4 5 6 0    
Garruk, Primal Hunter 4 5 6 0    
Liliana of the Dark Realms 4 5 6 0    
Liliana of the Veil 4 5 6 0    
Sorin, Lord of Innistrad 4 5 6 0    
Xenagos, the Reveler 4 5 6 0    
Kiora, the Crashing Wave 3 4 5 0    
Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker 8 11 2      
Sorin Markov 6 8 1      
Karn Liberated 10 14 0      
Chandra Nalaar 7 8 0      
Chandra Ablaze 6 7 0      
Vraska the Unseen 6 7 0      
Ajani Goldmane 5 6 0      
Sarkhan Vol 5 6 0      
Koth of the Hammer 4 5 0      
Garruk Relentless 2 3 0      
Gideon Jura 8 8        
Elspeth Tirel 6 1        
Tezzeret the Seeker 5 0        
Garruk Wildspeaker 4 0        
Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas 4 0        
Sarkhan the Mad 3          
Gideon, Champion of Justice 5 ? ? ? ? ?
  loyalty after activation

 Conclusions: The table shows the sequence through which the planeswalker increases its current loyalty turn by turn until the turn it can use its ultimate, assuming the constant use of the ability that produces the greatest number of loyalty points. The final, highlighted numbers are the residual loyalty after the ultimate is activated (NOTE: Gideon Jura doesn't actually have an ultimate, while the progression for Gideon, Champion of Justice strictly depends on the board status). This gives us the following, further statistics:

 Latest Additions


SUMMARY

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