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By: Kumagoro42, Gianluca Aicardi
May 05 2020 1:52pm
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Art by Brad Rigney

 SUMMARY OF CONTENTS

 When the first five planeswalker cards were first introduced as part of the Lorwyn release in October 2007, more than 14 years into the game's history, they produced one of the biggest earthquakes Magic: The Gathering had ever experienced. They truly felt like something the like of which had never existed before, and some players feared the game would radically change from that moment on. Indeed, the arrival of what would become the seventh major card type did alter and reshape many things.

 WHAT A PLANESWALKER WAS
 For starters, it changed the story setting. Previously, the planeswalkers were immortal, godlike beings with almost limitless powers, the same way that the players themselves — who are planeswalkers by premise — result pretty much omnipotent compared to all the other elements of the game they toy with. If that kind of planeswalking entity were to be accurately transposed into a card, it would require a rule text along the lines of "This card can't be countered. When this card enters the battlefield, exile all permanents, hands, and libraries you don't control until the end of the day", or "0: Target player loses the tournament". There were issues with the narrative as well; pop-culture protagonists are rarely deities of such power, since that would prevent identification by the audience while creating all sorts of storytelling problems. Therefore, back in Time Spiral (the block where the planeswalker cards were originally meant to appear), a solution was introduced: the Mending, a cosmic event which sealed the time space rift that was threatening the existence of Dominaria (the former Nexus of the Multiverse, where most of the pre-Mirrodin stories were set), causing a number of ripple effects throughout the entire multiverse. One of the consequences, conveniently, changed the nature of the planeswalkers, depriving them of their immortality and severely nerfing their powers.

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Art by Michael Komarck

 WHAT A PLANESWALKER IS (IN THE LORE)
 After the Mending, the term "planeswalker" indentifies a sentient individual who is able to travel through the planes of the multiverse (which essentially are the equivalent of the planets of a sci-fi setting), moving through the Blind Eternities, the extradimensional, interplanar "space". At some point in their life, either come adulthood or due to some traumatic event or other mystical occurrence, the soon-to-be planeswalkers develop the "spark", which gives them the awareness of the multiverse as well as the power of exploring it. They also have a set of magical and non-magical abilities, be they innate, triggered by the spark's "ignition", 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 yore. They've been transformed into what might be seen as old-school cosmic superheroes (think Silver Surfer or Doctor Strange or Adam Warlock), colorful characters that, not by chance, are perfectly suitable for the most refined marketing purposes and ancillary branding like novels, comics, toys and video games. But for this to work, Magic didn't just need to place the planeswalkers as the protagonists of the stories; it also needed for the cards representing them to be a notable presence in the game – a goal that was accomplished by making them into permanents like none else before.

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Art by Izzy

 WHAT A PLANESWALKER IS IN THE GAME 
 A planeswalker is still what the players of Magic: The Gathering are (another reason why switching from creature-based stories to planeswalker stories better suits the player's perspective). But now other planeswalkers can appear during a game: the ones the players call to their assistance. Flavor-wise it's a tricky proposition, because a player's library may contain dozens of different spells and trinkets, while in average the planeswalker cards only have three. Their spells also apparently all come with built-in buyback, whereas the players seem to be very forgetful, and can be cast by taking damage, as if there was a Channel constantly in use, except for at least one spell that instead costs zero 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 our opponent suddenly had to battle another player: they can choose to send any or all of their creatures to attack either you or one of your planeswalker allies, or otherwise target their "life total" (since Dominaria, no redirection is even needed), which is, also interestingly, called "loyalty". This is another intriguing aspect of the flavor behind the card; in fact, upon closer examination, the loyalty looks less like a surrogate life total and more like the level of devotion your superfriends have for you and your noble cause of smashing the face of your opponents versus the risk of endangering their own butts in the process. In this sense, and through a bit of fanwanking, any spell that's able to utterly destroy a planeswalker right away may be seen as akin to some "you win the game" card you would use against a regular player, while other ways to get rid of them come through the either implicit or explicit action of another planeswalker, like Vraska's Contempt or the activated ability of Garruk, Apex Predator.

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Art by Jason Chan

 WHAT A PLANESWALKER DOES
 Following the latest revision of the uniqueness rule in Ixalan, a planeswalker functions like a legendary permanent that operates at sorcery speed and 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 to generate much greater effects. An effect that can't be paid for the turn the planeswalker enters the battlefield (barring external help like Doubling Season), but instead requires to build up their loyalty first, is unofficially called "ultimate". Most of the planeswalkers are the chase mythics of their sets, providing strong and desirable effects. They routinely make the top money cards of any new release, and have soon become essential components of most competitive decks throughout the formats. They come in different flavors: some provide tactical support for aggro strategies; some work like repeatable control or card advantage engines; others are build-around me, combo-oriented pieces. Still, it may not always be easy to exploit a planeswalker properly. They're vulnerable, being the most easily killable permanent type in the game. You can rarely afford to drop one of them on the battlefield blindingly, as you'll need a careful tactical plan and an appropriate board position to ensure their long-term survival and development. And most importantly, you need to make sure you know why a given planeswalker is even in your deck to begin with, as their strategic and tactical value and their interactions with the other card types might not be immediately obvious.

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Art by Jason Chan

 THE PLANESWALKER SYMBOL
 Since at least 2009 (but already foreshadowed as early as May 2007, hidden in the Future Sight card Barren Glory), the planeswalkers have a symbol, a sort of five-pronged object, or a stylized hand, or a series of diverging paths.

 

 It represents the various choices a walker faces when traveling the planes, but also, according to Mark Rosewater, the idea of "five becoming one", possibly in reference to the original five walkers, themselves standing for the five colors of mana, a role that's been constantly fulfilled in subsequent reworkings of that first group. The symbol has been used pretty much everywhere since its creation, most notably in the logo for both Magic Online and MTG Arena. The original symbol that was going to be associated with the planeswalkers back when they were still part of Future Sight was entirely different.

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 THE PLANESWALKER FILES
   And after all this long prologue, welcome to the Planeswalker Files! Due to the population explosion in War of the Spark, as well as the existence of the Planeswalker Decks, the planeswalker type has been booming lately, more than doubling its ranks over the course of the past two years, with a whopping 103 new planeswalker cards being printed from Ixalan through Theros Beyond Death. In 2019 alone, the year War of the Spark was released, the number of new planeswalkers released was 63, almost one third of the current total.

 This series will devote one entry each for all the members of the planeswalker union with at least three iterations, then a collective installment for all the others. The present article will work as a central base of operations, updated once per year to constantly provide a complete list of all existing planeswalkers up to that point, plus some overall statistics based on the currently available data. The next section will track the history of the planeswalker releases over the years; a battery of statistical data will follow suit.

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THE PLANESWALKER WAVES

 

Art by Aleksi Briclot

 Since their introduction in Lorwyn, each block of new Standard-legal sets had contained at least five planeswalkers (six in the cases of Zendikar and Shadows over Innistrad). This changed when Kaladesh debuted the Planeswalker Decks, starter-level products that contain different, low-powered versions of two of the planeswalkers from the relative set, bringing the new total up to nine or ten new planeswalkers per block. This kept being the case until the Three-and-One Model kicked off in 2018, revolutionizing the whole system, and resetting the influx of new planeswalkers to an average of five per set, of which three in regular versions plus two starter-level cards. The discontinuation of the Planeswalker Decks with Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths should reduce that amount to just three per set, with the exception of core sets containing a thematic focus on a specific character, which results in multiple new instances of it being released at once, like seen in Core Set 2020 with Chandra and in Core Set 2021 with Teferi.

 Curiously, the distribution of the planeswalkers within the blocks has never reached a standard. The Lorwyn block had all five in the first set; Alara had four in the first set, one in the second set, none in the third; Zendikar used a 3-1-2 distribution, Scars of Mirrodin's was 3-1-1, Innistrad's was 2-1-2, Return to Ravnica's was 2-2-1; then Theros repeated the SOM distribution, and Tarkir the ISD one. During the years of the Two-Block Paradigm we had 3-2, 4-2, 6-4, and finally 5-4 twice in a row (for Amonkhet and Ixalan), which is the only case of the same distribution being applied back to back. And then of course, War of the Spark happened, setting an unprecedented, likely unbeatable record of 39 new planeswalkers in a single set.

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 First Wave: Lorwyn (2007)
 Ajani Goldmane; Chandra Nalaar; Garruk Wildspeaker; Jace Beleren; Liliana Vess

 Where everything started. The "Lorwyn Five" established themselves as perfect representatives, in flavor as much as in abilities, of the five colors of mana. We had the noble white lion a la Narnia, the introverted mind mage, the treacherous dark lady, the (literally) fiery redhead, and the lone wolf hunter. Mechanically, they're a mixed bag, possibly due to concerns over the new type's power level. Garruk is the only one that's still relevant, providing a good balance between board presence, threat and ramp for a reasonable cost. The original Jace is a one-trick pony, but since his trick is drawing one extra card per turn, he saw play.

 

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 Second Wave: Alara block (2008-2009)
 Ajani Vengeant; Elspeth, Knight-Errant; Sarkhan Vol; Tezzeret the Seeker; Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker

 The second outing of planeswalkers has them now exclusively appearing at the newly introduced mythic rarity, which positions them beyond any doubt as the most desirable cards in the game. Four new types are introduced here, with only Ajani being repeated in a more powerful iteration, which is also the first instance of a multicolored planeswalker. The presence of this second Ajani in Shards of Alara established right away not only that one of the characters could come back on a different card and with a different moniker, but that they could switch colors as well, following their storyline events. Among the other walkers, the monowhite lady knight Elspeth would prove popular, seemingly taking Ajani's place as white's herald, despite the Lorwyn Five still being reprinted for the next two years in core sets. Nicol Bolas, the first card to revisit an existing character in walker form (as he originally was the only truly worthy member of the Elder Dragons creature cycle from Legends), took immediately the role of the archenemy of the walker universe, while setting the bar for maximum cost and power of a planeswalker card. Sarkhan appears the least interesting of this group, but the character was going to get a complex arc, culminating in a starring role in Tarkir block.

 

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 Third Wave: Zendikar block (2009-2010)
 Chandra Ablaze; Nissa Revane; Sorin Markov; Jace, the Mind Sculptor; Gideon Jura; Sarkhan the Mad

 The Zendikar lineup brings the total number of planeswalker types to 12, but it's all very hit and miss. Mostly known for the second iteration of Jace, powerful to the point of being broken (and indeed banned on occasion), it also debuts stereotypical good guy Gideon as a strong, easily playable mix of aggro and control. On the other hand, Nissa joins the game in a terrible guise that hardly foretells her future successes, and Sorin doesn't present his best self right away either, while Chandra keeps betraying the hard time the designers seem to have in devising a sound monored walker. On the plus side, they start to introduce some diversity in the human-only club that these early planeswalkers  describe: on top of a Cat and a Dragon, now we have planeswalking Elves and Vampires, too.

 

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 Fourth Wave: Scars of Mirrodin block (2010-2011)
 Elspeth Tirel; Koth of the Hammer; Venser, the Sojourner; Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas; Karn Liberated

 SOM block offers one of the best collections of planeswalkers ever put together. Koth is the first monored walker that truly makes sense, Venser and Tezzeret are brilliantly interactive cards that reward dedicated deckbuilding, Elspeth returns with another winning iteration, and Karn (a new blast from the past) is the first colorless walker and, partly because of that, arguably the most powerful after Big Jace.

 

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 Fifth Wave: Magic 2012 and Magic 2013 (2011-2012)
 Chandra, the Firebrand; Garruk, Primal Hunter; Jace, Memory Adept; Ajani, Caller of the Pride; Liliana of the Dark Realms

 Initially, the core sets merely reprinted the five original planeswalkers from Lorwyn, as seen in both Magic 2010 and Magic 2011, then switched to a mix of old and new in the following releases. If put together, Magic 2012 and Magic 2013 present new versions of each of the Lorwyn Five, although the power level is slightly inferior compared to planeswalkers found in regular Standard sets. Garruk is solid but mostly used as a one-time sorcery that draws cards; Chandra improves a little, but she's still not working.

 

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 Sixth Wave: Innistrad block (2011-2012)
 Garruk Relentless (transforms into Garruk, the Veil-Cursed); Liliana of the Veil; Sorin, Lord of Innistrad; Tamiyo, the Moon Sage; Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded

 During the same years the core sets were unfolding new iterations of the Lorwyn Five, Innistrad had already proposed the best versions of two of them: powerful control queen Liliana of the Veil, who unlike Little Jace fully exploited the then minimum casting cost of three mana (Tibalt would further decrease that to two, with less impressive results), thus becoming one of the most coveted planeswalker cards ever; and the first transformer walker, Garruk Relentless, providing a record five different abilities across his two sides. Multicolored Sorin and new monoblue Moonfolk gal Tamiyo are both excellent as well.

 

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 Seventh Wave: Return to Ravnica block (2012-2013)
 Jace, Architect of Thought; Vraska the Unseen; Domri Rade; Gideon, Champion of Justice; Ral Zarek

 Mostly good, not great specimens during the Ravnica comeback block. The Gorgon walker Vraska is arguably the best of the bunch. Jace and Gideon have decent iterations, new guys Domri and Ral are okay-ish.

 

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 Eighth Wave: Magic 2014 and Magic 2015 (2013-2014)
 Chandra, Pyromaster; Garruk, Caller of Beasts; Ajani Steadfast; Jace, the Living Guildpact; Nissa, Worldwaker; Garruk, Apex Predator

 Magic 2014 and Magic 2015 stopped featuring the Lorwyn Five, replacing Liliana with Nissa and presenting two different Garruks. Nissa has the best comeback, and is starting to install herself as the new face of green, following Garruk's increasing forays into black, due to his Liliana-induced madness stemming from the Innistrad events (Liliana herself is notably the only one of the Lorwyn Five not featured here). Chandra keeps getting better, but still has places to go. Also, planeswalkers start being referenced by spells and effects that either kill them directly, like In Garruk's Wake or the Apex Predator's activation, or interact with them in beneficial ways, like The Chain Veil.

 

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 Ninth Wave: Theros block (2013-2014)
 Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver; Elspeth, Sun's Champion; Xenagos, the Reveler; Kiora, the Crashing Wave; Ajani, Mentor of Heroes

 New planeswalker (implicit) races: Merfolk for Kiora, Satyr for Xenagos, and whatever Ashiok is. The Sun's Champion is Elspeth's most powerful iteration yet (on the less bright side, she did die in the story, ending up trapped in the plane's underworld, thus preventing new cards to her name for seven years, until Theros Beyond Death would bring her back).

 

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 Tenth Wave: Khans of Tarkir block (2014-2015)
 Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker; Sorin, Solemn Visitor; Ugin, the Spirit Dragon; Narset Transcendent; Sarkhan Unbroken

 Two different iterations of Sarkhan in the block that's all about his timetraveling adventures, plus a good Orzhov-colored Sorin (though sort of similar to the previous one). But the real star here is the Spirit Dragon Ugin, Bolas's non-evil twin brother, the second colorless planeswalker after Karn, and just as powerful.

 

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 Eleventh Wave: Magic Origins (2015)
 Chandra, Roaring Flame (transforms from Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh); Jace, Telepath Unbound (transforms from Jace, Vryn's Prodigy); Gideon, Battle-Forged (transforms from Kytheon, Hero of Akros); Liliana, Defiant Necromancer (transforms from Liliana, Heretical Healer); Nissa, Sage Animist (transforms from Nissa, Vastwood Seer)

 Novelty concept: Magic Origins, at the time devised as the final core set, explores the past of the five main monocolored planeswalkers of the time (the founding members of the Gatewatch), featuring them in their youth, as creatures that turn into walker form after a certain trigger condition is achieved. This technically makes Gideon the first one-drop planeswalker, albeit he's not acting as a planeswalker on turn 1 (nor on turn 2, for that matter). This lineup confirms he and Nissa have replaced Ajani and Garruk as standard-bearers for white and green, respectively.

   

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 Twelfth Wave: Battle for Zendikar block (2015-2016)
 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar; Kiora, Master of the Depths; Ob Nixilis Reignited; Chandra, Flamecaller; Nissa, Voice of Zendikar

 The occasion of a new battle against the Eldrazi on Zendikar sets the stage for the official introduction of the Gatewatch, the planeswalker equivalent of the Avengers or the Justice League, further cementing their status as the multiverse's superheroes. From now on, specific enchantment cards with "Oath" in their name would signal a planeswalker joining the Gatewatch, swearing to defend the peace and other things they hold dear. Of the four original monocolored members who pledged in the eponymous Oath of the Gatewatch set (Liliana would add her black allegiance in the next block), only three appear with cards, with Jace starting to reduce the frequency of his appearances due to a fervently voiced Jace fatigue in the player base. The three featured Gatewatchers all get strong iterations, Gideon and Nissa as solid and cheap token generators, while Chandra is in one of her best forms as the Flamecaller, which also adheres to the creature token theme to a degree. The second Kiora marginally improves on her earlier, disappointing version, while Ob Nixilis makes his planeswalker entrance into Standard after having appeared the previous year in a Commander deck.

 

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 Thirteenth Wave: Shadows over Innistrad block (2016)
 Arlinn Kord (trasforms into Arlinn, Embraced by the Moon); Jace, Unraveler of Secrets; Nahiri, the Harbinger; Sorin, Grim Nemesis; Liliana, the Last Hope; Tamiyo, Field Researcher

 Among the highlights of the sophomore visit to Innistrad there's the Werewolf planeswalker Arlinn, which is necessarily the second transformer walker after the Relentless form of Garruk; but even more so a very powerful Nahiri incarnation, another walker who was previously featured in Commander 2014. Liliana is back on a three-mana card, which makes for a truly successful reappearance; if every Jace version after the Mind Sculptor never quite recaptured that same level of mightiness, the Last Hope is a Liliana almost on par with her Veil form.

 

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 Fourteenth Wave: Kaladesh block (2016-2017)
 Chandra, Torch of Defiance; Dovin Baan; Nissa, Vital Force; Saheeli Rai; Ajani Unyielding; Tezzeret the Schemer; and four others from the Planeswalker Decks

 Kaladesh began a somewhat unfortunate walker multiplication by adding low-power versions exclusive to the Planeswalker Decks. They're mostly entirely irrelevant cards, but they muddy the waters a bit when it comes to dissertations on the planeswalker type such as this. Anyway, Nissa has another first-rate showing, continuing a streak of positive incarnations that confirms her new position as green's favorite avatar; Ajani joins the Gatewatch; and a four-ability Chandra is finally at her most powerful ever, just in time for the trip to her native plane. Dovin is the first Vedalken walker, Saheeli the first Human walker of evident South-Asian ethnicity (since Kaladesh is inspired by Indian culture).

 

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 Fifteenth Wave: Amonkhet block (2017)
 Gideon of the Trials; Liliana, Death's Majesty; Nissa, Steward of Elements; Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh; Samut, the Tested; and four others from the Planeswalker Decks

 During the visit to Bolas's slave plane, the ancient Dragon predictably returns in a couple of iterations that remain as demanding yet rewarding as the original one. Gideon regains some control elements in a neat three-mana version, Liliana is back playing with zombies and the graveyard, Nissa ventures into Simic territory, and Samut further testifies to the efforts towards a wider representation of women and minorities in the game.

 

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 Sixteenth Wave: Ixalan block (2017-2018)
 Huatli, Warrior Poet; Jace, Cunning Castaway; Vraska, Relic Seeker; Angrath, the Flame-Chained; Huatli, Radiant Champion; and four others from the Planeswalker Decks

 Thanks to the Planeswalker Decks, Ixalan's native walker Huatli debuts in three different iterations. Vraska is now a Pirate, Angrath gives the Minotaur tribe their walker, and a subdued Jace is the only Gatewatch member to show up in the block, following the decision to cut down their appearances (as the idea of having all of them always present in each Standard rotation ultimately proved unpopular).

 

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 Seventeenth Wave: Dominaria (2018)
 Chandra, Bold Pyromancer; Jaya Ballard; Karn, Scion of Urza; Teferi, Hero of Dominaria; Teferi, Timebender

 The first standalone set in the Three-and-One Model brings us back to the primordial Magic setting of Dominaria, resulting in the resurfacing of a few old acquaintances like a now elderly Jaya and a very vigorous Teferi, ready to join the Gatewatch and take the reins of UW Control builds. The second coming of Karn in diminutive form is also very effective, while Chandra only shows up as a Planeswalker Deck figurehead, opposite a weaker Teferi. In the meantime, both Nissa and Liliana left the Gatewatch, as referenced on Broken Bond and In Bolas's Clutches, respectively.

 

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 Special Sets: Multiplayer products (2014-2018)
  Dack Fayden; Daretti, Scrap Savant; Freyalise, Llanowar's Fury; Nahiri, the Lithomancer; Ob Nixilis of the Black Oath; Teferi, Temporal Archmage; Daretti, Ingenious Iconoclast; Kaya, Ghost Assassin; Rowan Kenrith; Will Kenrith; Jiang Yanggu; Mu Yanling; Aminatou, the Fateshifter; Estrid, the Masked; Lord Windgrace; Saheeli, the Gifted

 2014's Conspiracy was the first non-Standard-legal set to feature a planeswalker, the master thief Dack, who, before being unfortunately killed "offscreen" in War of the Spark, would even see some play in Vintage, being a cheap enough looter who permanently takes control of Sol Rings and Time Vaults. Later the same year, Commander 2014 would introduce five new walkers with the ability to be commanders, including the first planeswalker versions of Nahiri, Teferi and Ob Nixilis (the latter two had been previously seen as creature cards). Former goddess Freyalise is the first instance of an "oldwalker" (specifically, one of Urza's Nine Titans) being given an in-game avatar of what is supposed to be their pre-Mending form – and it doesn't really work. Freyalise, Llanowar Fury is good enough, presenting a template that would ultimately be borrowed by Vivien Reid, but she doesn't quite capture the difference between the empyrean oldwalkers who were able to create entire worlds, and the contemporary neowalkers nerfed by the Mending (and since Freyalise sacrificed herself during that cosmic event, this can't possibly pass for a post-Mending form).

  

 Conspiracy: Take the Crown, the follow-up to Conspiracy released in 2016, reprised Daretti, the first Goblin walker from the C14 decks, and paired him up with ghost hunter Kaya, who was destined to a brilliant career. In 2018, Two-Headed Giant specific product Battlebond debuted Magic's own Wonder Twins, siblings Rowan and Will, whose genesis we would later learn in Throne of Eldraine. The experimental Global Series, whose first release was addressed only to the Chinese market, introduced Yanling and Yanggu, who would later join the fight during War of the Spark. And while Commander 2019 wouldn't feature any new planeswalker, Commander 2018 had four as their designated commanders, including little girl walker Aminatou , another (disappointing) oldwalker in Windgrace, and a new Saheeli, marking the first time a planeswalker has moved from a Standard set to an ancillary product, as opposed to vice versa.

  

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 Eighteenth Wave: Core Set 2019 (2018)
 Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants; Liliana, Untouched by Death; Nicol Bolas, the Arisen (transforms from Nicol Bolas, the Ravager); Sarkhan, Fireblood; Tezzeret, Artifice Master; Vivien Reid and five others from the Planeswalker Decks

 The return of the Core set after three years proposes a very different quintet of monocolored walkers. Ajani and a particularly tribal-oriented Liliana are the remaining members of the Lorwyn Five; Sarkhan (also in a tribal version) and Tezzeret make for unusual choices, as they've been more often depicted in villainous fashion; and the last one is a completely new character for monogreen – Vivien, the survivor from a plane that was destroyed by Bolas. Speaking of which, in the second half of 2018 the Bolas Arc was about to kick into high gear, so the last core set before the beginning of the endgame offered the right occasion to give the scheming Elder Dragon the Magic Origins treatment, with a new creature Bolas since 1994 – but this time one that can ignite his spark in-game via the transform mechanic.

  

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 Nineteenth Wave: Guilds of Ravnica "block" (2018-2019)
 Ral, Izzet Viceroy; Vraska, Golgari Queen; Domri, Chaos Bringer; Dovin, Grand Arbiter; Kaya, Orzhov Usurper; and four others from the Planeswalker Decks

 The multicolored Ravnica, perhaps the most popular plane in the game, is the chosen setting for the final confrontation between Bolas and the Gatewatch, with the former trying to rebuild his pre-Mending powers and conquer the multiverse through an immensely complex master plan, and the latter opposing such a dark outcome at any cost. The stakes have never been higher! We're now fully in Three-and-One mode, but still Guilds of Ravnica and Ravnica Allegiance appear to work as a block, covering five of the ten Ravnican guilds each. Half of which have now a planeswalker at their helm, so we've got Ral guiding the Izzet League, Vraska reigning upon the Golgari Swarm, Domri uniting the Gruul Clans, Dovin controlling the Azorius Senate; and Kaya (who so far had only appeared in supplemental products) taking over the Orzhov Syndicate (these were meant as the guilds loyal to Bolas, but there would be twists coming). All these cards are quite good, yet properly balanced, and they saw consistent play in Standard, especially Vraska.

 

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 Twentieth Wave: War of the Spark (2019)
 Gideon Blackblade; Liliana, Dreadhorde General; Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God; Tezzeret, Master of the Bridge; and two more mythics from the Planeswalker Decks
 Ajani, the Greathearted; Chandra, Fire Artisan; Domri, Anarch of Bolas; Jace, Wielder of Mysteries; Karn, the Great Creator; Nissa, Who Shakes the World; Ral, Storm Conduit; Sarkhan the Masterless; Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord; Tamiyo, Collector of Tales; Teferi, Time Raveler; Ugin, the Ineffable; Vivien, Champion of the Wilds
 Kasmina, Enigmatic Mentor;  Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner;  Narset, Parter of Veils;  Saheeli, Sublime Artificer; and 16 more uncommons

 And this is it, the "event set" portraying the ultimate battle for the fate of the multiverse. Which caused the most incredible concentration of planeswalkers since their inception almost twelve years earlier. War of the Spark is a bona fide "planeswalkers matter" set, and for the occasion the card type is subjected to a radical reworking. For the first time, planeswalkers appear at rarities lower than mythic (in Lorwyn they were printed as rare only because mythic didn't yet exist back then; all the reprints of the Lorwyn Five had them at the top rarity). This required some adjustments, with the rare planeswalkers only getting a static ability (which is another innovation for the planeswalker type) and two activated abilities, and the uncommon planeswalkers a static ability and a minus ability, making them unable to increase their loyalty, therefore becoming sort of a permanent with a fixed number of "charges" to spend – unless we can find a way to rebuild their loyalty counters externally (e.g. proliferate). This doesn't mean the WAR walkers of lower rarities are strictly worse, though; most of the involved characters are depicted as bringing their A game to the conflict, resulting in a few of them sporting their career-best incarnation, regardless of rarity. It's the case, for instance, of Domri, Kiora, Tamiyo and Nissa, the latter showing up in a very powerful, very assertive form that was going to become one of the most influential planeswalkers during her entire Standard stint, something that none of her previous cards ever managed. The uncommon Narset and the rare Teferi also proved to be forces to be reckoned with in the Standard meta and beyond, due to game-breaking static abilities (a concept that might have been pushed too far in design).

   

 The vast majority of the 39 planeswalkers from War of the Spark (6 mythic, 13 rare, 20 uncommon) saw some level of play. So, all in all, the experiment can be considered highly successful, incidentally also contributing to the greater popularity of the still infant Brawl format, which allows planeswalkers as commanders. On the other hand, the sheer quantity and sometimes oppressive impact of these new cards also provoked some planeswalker fatigue, something that would have required to be addressed in the following Standard sets.

 As for the distribution of the rarities, mythic status was given to the main protagonists of the story: Bolas himself; his rebellious pawn Liliana, who would turn out crucial for the Elder Dragon's eventual defeat; the tragic hero Gideon, who sacrifices his life for the greater good; and, as the Buy-a-Box promo, Bolas's prime lackey Tezzeret, who made the interplanar invasion possible in the first place. The rares were all the other members of the Gatewatch (except for the newly inducted Kaya), some of their most prominent allies like Karn, Ugin, Vivien and Tamiyo, and other key players like Ral, Sarkhan and Sorin.

   

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 Twenty-First Wave: Modern Horizons (2019)
 Serra the Benevolent; Wrenn and Six

 The first in a new straight-to-Modern series, Modern Horizons contains a couple of new planeswalkers as well: a blast from the past alongside the exploration of new design space. And while Serra just reiterates the impossibility to translate the oldwalkers into cards in a manner that may feel even barely satisfying (a temporary +1/+1 boost to your fliers is really not the best way to convey "she once created an entire plane"), Wrenn is an intriguing concept, a dryad that's able to planeswalk in tandem with her treefolk symbionts (which she somewhat ruthlessly numbers instead of giving them names). She's also a very powerful two-drop that impacted Vintage and Legacy, ending up banned in the latter; her plus ability might be a bit much when combined with fetchlands, Wasteland and Strip Mine.

 

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 Twenty-Second Wave: Core Set 2020 (2019)
 Ajani, Strength of the Pride; Chandra, Acolyte of Flame; Chandra, Awakened Inferno; Chandra, Novice Pyromancer; Mu Yanling, Sky Dancer; Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord; Vivien, Arkbow Ranger; and five others from the Planeswalker Decks

 All core sets since Magic Origins have trafficked in past incarnations of planeswalkers, and Core Set 2020 puts the spotlight on Chandra, revisiting the reckless yet endearing pyromancer in three different moments of her apprenticeship on Regatha (when she was about 13, 15 and 18 years old, respectively). The three Chandras reprise the different planeswalker rarities tested in War of the Spark, and have been generally well-received cards, confirming the passionate redhead's position as the most popular character in the game. The rest of the mythic cycle has Yanling (who didn't get a card in War of the Spark despite being involved) taking over the coveted monoblue spot; Sorin going back to monoblack for the first time since his debut while moving the color's tribal efforts from Liliana's Zombies to his Vampires; and Vivien producing yet another relevant incarnation, one that would make a sensation in Pioneer.

   

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 Twenty-Third Wave: Non-block Sets (2019-2020)
 Garruk, Cursed Huntsman; Oko, Thief of Crowns; The Royal Scions; Ashiok, Nightmare Muse; Calix, Destiny's Hand; Elspeth, Sun's Nemesis; Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast; Narset of the Ancient Way; Vivien, Monsters' Advocate; and four others from the Planeswalker Decks

 Throne of Eldraine is the set that truly demonstrates the end of the block era, since it's the first to chronicle a one-set stop to a plane we had never visited before. Its three non-starter-level planeswalkers are all to some extent accomplished cards, and important in different ways. Garruk comes back after five years of limbo, and the storyline frees him from the Veil's curse, restoring him to a monogreen future. Rowan and Will are given an origin story that predates their previous appearance in Battlebond. And then there's the very controversial Oko, the resident Faerie planeswalker, whose implementation has been botched so badly, he ended up being banned in five different formats (Standard, Pioneer, Modern, Historic, and Brawl). It's a dark chapter in the fight for the sustainability of the more pushed planeswalker cards, made worse by the fact that Oko's design was actually great; it was the numbers that were all wrong. The Oko situation was mitigated, other than through the bans, by the release, three months later, of a trio of mostly harmless planeswalkers as part of Theros Beyond Death. The new trip to the ancient Greek plane mainly sees the widely announced return of Elspeth from the Underworld; but neither she nor a new version of Ashiok nor the specialized Nyx-dweller Calix were able to cause too much of a fuss.

   

 The monster set Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths, which also signals the end of the Planeswalker Decks, continues in this trend of planeswalkers that aren't necessarily the be-all and end-all of a set, although new monored entry Lukka shows combo potential in Constructed, and triple-colored Narset, the first planeswalker ever printed in Jeskai colors, is a solid helper of control strategies. Vivien confirms to be unable to generate a bad iteration of her various, and surprisingly varied, creature-based shticks.

  

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 Un-Sets and other silly things (2017-2020)
 Urza, Academy Headmaster; Abian, Luvion Usurper; Kaya, Ghost Haunter; Personal Decoy; Tibalt the Chaotic; B.O.B. (Bevy of Beebles)

 Unstable was the first Un-set to feature a planeswalker, Urza's severed head, while Unsanctioned had the Beeble collective. The humorous test cards contained in the Mystery Boosters included four different planeswalkers – but of course nothing in this section is playable in black-bordered formats, so these cards haven't been counted for statistical purposes, although they will show up (alongside individual entries for the transformed sides of Garruk Relentless and Arlinn Kord) if you search for all planeswalkers on Gatherling.

  

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PLANESWALKER STATISTICS

Art by Steve Argyle

 Total number of planeswalker cards: 209
 Total number of Vintage-legal planeswalker cards: 203 (this figure used for statistics)
 Total number of Vintage-legal planeswalker cards not from a Planeswalker Deck: 169
 Total number of Vintage-legal planeswalker types: 56

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 Type Frequency

  • Chandra: 14
  • Ajani: 12
  • Jace: 11
  • Liliana: 10
  • Nissa: 9
  • Gideon: 8
  • Sarkhan: 7
  • Sorin: 7
  • Tezzeret: 7
  • Garruk: 6
  • Vivien: 6
  • Vraska: 6
  • Bolas: 5
  • Elspeth: 5
  • Ashiok: 4
  • Domri: 4
  • Dovin: 4
  • Huatli: 4
  • Ral: 4
  • Teferi: 4
  • Angrath: 3
  • Karn: 3
  • Kaya: 3
  • Kiora: 3
  • Nahiri: 3
  • Narset: 3
  • Nixilis: 3
  • Saheeli: 3
  • Tamiyo: 3
  • Yanling: 3
  • Rowan: 2.5 (one card shared with Will)
  • Arlinn: 2
  • Daretti: 2
  • Jaya: 2
  • Oko: 2
  • Samut: 2
  • Tibalt: 2
  • Ugin: 2
  • Yanggu: 2
  • Will: 1.5 (one card shared with Rowan)
  • Aminatou: 1
  • Calix: 1
  • Dack: 1
  • Davriel: 1
  • Estrid: 1
  • Freyalise: 1
  • Kasmina: 1
  • Koth: 1
  • Lukka: 1
  • Serra: 1
  • Teyo: 1
  • Venser: 1
  • Windgrace: 1
  • Wrenn: 1
  • Xenagos: 1
  • n/a: 1 (The Wanderer)

 Conclusions: Four of the original five planeswalkers are still the more frequently seen, as Chandra, Ajani, Jace and Liliana are so far the only planeswalker with a number of iterations in the double digits, which means they appeared in average every other wave or so. The greatest improvement story belongs to Nissa, who only had one card in the first seven waves (and an underwhelming one, to boot), then a record seven during waves 8-15, as many as Chandra and Jace combined, and only two of those were Planeswalker Deck cards; taking Garruk's place as the signature green walker turned her into the busiest of the walkers who didn't start their career in Lorwyn. Another one who grew up to be as recognizable as the Lorwyn Five is Gideon, as reflected by his role as the de facto leader of the Gatewatch; sadly, his demise in War of the Spark will put a stop to his evolution.

 So far, the only planeswalker card with two subtypes is The Royal Scions; the only one with none is the enigmatic The Wanderer.

  

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 Colors

  • White: 56 (of which 24 mono, 9 Azorius, 7 Orzhov, 7 Selesnya, 5 Boros, 2 Bant, 1 Esper, 1 Jeskai)
  • Blue: 65 (of which 22 mono, 9 Azorius, 9 Izzet, 8 Dimir, 7 Simic, 5 Grixis, 2 Bant, 1 Esper, 1 Jeskai, 1 Temur)
  • Black: 52 (of which 18 mono, 8 Dimir, 7 Golgari, 7 Orzhov, 5 Rakdos, 5 Grixis, 1 Esper, 1 Jund)
  • Red: 64 (of which 27 mono, 10 Gruul, 9 Izzet, 5 Boros, 5 Rakdos, 5 Grixis, 1 Jund, 1 Jeskai, 1 Temur)
  • Green: 57 (of which 22 mono, 10 Gruul, 7 Golgari, 7 Selesnya, 7 Simic, 2 Bant, 1 Jund, 1 Temur)
  • Colorless: 5
  • Total monocolored: 118
  • Total multicolored: 85

 Conclusions: Red was the most used color for planeswalkers for a while, probably due to Chandra's popularity, but currently blue took the lead, and is now a whopping twelve cards ahead of black, which lies at the bottom of the ranking. Selesnya has been the two-color combination missing a planeswalker for the longest time until Journey into Nyx completed the guilds with Ajani, Mentor of Heroes; since then, the combination got six more representatives, but it's Gruul the guild with the largest number of planeswalkers to its name, with ten specimens. Other than Grixis, that could count on the frequent iterations of Nicol Bolas, the only other three-colored combinations to have at least a planeswalkers are Bant (Tamiyo, Field Researcher and Estrid, the Masked), Esper (Aminatou, the Fateshifter), Jund (Lord Windgrace), Jeskai (Narset of the Ancient Way), and Temur (Sarkhan Unbroken) – Commander 2018 is responsible alone for half of the triple-color non-Bolas walkers. Karn and Ugin are the only known colorless planeswalkers up to this point.

  

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 Races (calculated on the current 56 types)

  • Human: 34
  • Dragon: 2 (Bolas, Ugin)
  • Elf: 2 (Nissa, Freyalise)
  • Cat: 2 (Ajani, Windgrace)
  • Devil: 1 (Tibalt)
  • Demon: 1 (Nixilis)
  • Dryad: 1 (Wrenn)
  • Faerie: 1 (Oko)
  • Goblin: 1 (Daretti)
  • Golem: 1 (Karn)
  • Gorgon: 1 (Vraska)
  • Kor: 1 (Nahiri)
  • Merfolk: 1 (Kiora)
  • Minotaur: 1 (Angrath)
  • Moonfolk: 1 (Tamiyo)
  • Satyr: 1 (Xenagos)
  • Vampire: 1 (Sorin)
  • Vedalken: 1 (Dovin)
  • Werewolf: 1 (Arlinn)
  • Unknown: 1 (Ashiok)

 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 models for the game and its merchandising (a strapping warrior type or a pretty redhead sell more than some goblin). As a consequence, Human accounts for more than 60% of the total. In more recent years, the number of different tribes getting their planeswalker has definitely increased, considering that just a little more than six years ago, we could bizarrely count a Gorgon, a Devil and even a Satyr planeswalker, but still no representatives for classic and beloved tribes such as Goblin and Merfolk, and just one Elf. The Nissa success story, and the emergence of Kiora and Daretti (albeit the latter still has to show up in a Standard set), helped mitigate the issue.

  

 It's worth noting that these types are either entirely inferred by the character's looks or established through back story, because the planeswalker cards, not being creatures, don't bear any creature type themselves (and they don't admit other types either, otherwise Karn would be an artifact and Calix an enchantment). More so, only types representing "races" have been considered here, because "classes" are much more elusive, harder to desume with any degree of certainty. For instance, we could guess Gideon must still be a Soldier like he was before his spark ignited, while both Jace and Bolas clearly have to be Wizards, Tezzeret and Saheeli are Artificers, Nissa and Garruk are probably Druids, and Vraska has evidently turned into a Pirate at some point (also, Ugin should probably count as a Spirit, while Tibalt and Freyalise were viewed only as a Devil and an Elf, respectively, while they actually are half-human). Adding this kind of "roleplaying" categorization wouldn't be particularly useful, though, as deep down what we're discussing here is racial diversity.

 And Magic has actually worked hard to improve the diversity of its cast of characters. It took the game four waves of planeswalkers to feature someone embodying the recognizable fantasy equivalent of an African ethnicity (and then he was mostly portrayed as an angry, shirtless black man); and if we later learned that Chandra's last name was actually supposed to suggest a South Asian heritage, she still remains a white chick with red hair and freckles. The new decade tried to turn the tide on this aspect. Gideon was redefined as Greek, and Sarkhan as Central Asian. Teferi and Kaya are casually black. And we now have characters looking East Asian (Narset, Yanling, Yanggu), South Asian (Saheeli), African (Samut, Aminatou) and Native American (Huatli).

  

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 Gender

  • Male: 30 types (108 total cards)
  • Female: 25 types (90 total cards)
  • Fluid: 1 type (5 total cards)

 Gender-wise, the gentlemen have stopped being an overwhelming dominating presence over the ladies. At the end of 2013, the male walkers were more than twice the number of the female walkers; since then the gap has become smaller and smaller, and seems destined to be entirely bridged soon enough, as the current numbers say the male-female divide among planeswalkers amount to about 55% vs. 45% (not counting Ashiok, whose undefined gender is probably meant as fluid). Although the last three new subtypes introduced between the end of 2019 and the middle of 2020 are all males: Oko, Calix and Lukka.

 The related issue of sexism is also looking better. Both the original female planeswalkers, Chandra and Liliana, were young, conventionally attractive, at times extremely sexualized women. Later, Elspeth was still extremely beautiful, yet always dressed sensibly, almost chastely. Saheeli, Samut and Huatli further toned down the sexualization, all looking very far from pin-ups (Liliana herself has undergone some transformation in this regard: just compare the Liliana, Death's Majesty outfit with her earlier outings). And even more importantly, the age cliché was broken as well, allowing for the depiction of middle-aged or elderly ladies like Arlinn and Jaya.

  

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 Converted Mana Cost

  • CMC 1: 1
  • CMC 2: 3
  • CMC 3: 39
  • CMC 4: 64
  • CMC 5: 44
  • CMC 6: 43
  • CMC 7: 6
  • CMC 8: 3

 Conclusions: More than half of the planeswalkers have a midrange cost of 4 or 5 mana. It used to be a larger share, though, since over the years the experiments at CMC 3 multiplied, while the Planeswalker Decks contributed to the proliferation of more casual-oriented CMC-6 walkers. The cheapest planeswalkers not requiring a transformation trigger are Tibalt and Wrenn at CMC 2, while the Dragon twins, Bolas and Ugin, hold the ceiling at CMC 8. For the purpose of this list, Nissa, Steward of Elements was considered at her minimum casting cost of 3, but being the only planeswalker with X in its cost, she's potentially the most expensive of all.

   

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THE PLANESWALKER ARCHIVES

 All the planeswalker types with more than two iterations will receive a dedicated article; the others will be combined into a collective article. Each time a planeswalker enters the three-card club, they'll be upgraded to focus page as well, in due time. The present article will be updated tentatively once per year, the single pages only when necessary. The archive is here.

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