January 7, 2019

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The problem with Planeswalkers. -in Commander

What happens when someone lands a Planeswalker in a game of Commander? Around here, the table mostly agrees that it needs to go ASAP 1and the game begins to revolve around that goal. All too often we get one decent activation out of them, then they get taken care of. So should we be playing them? I say yes, but we must be selective. And not in the way you think!

First, I want to clarify that I’m talking about the odd Planeswalker in your deck, much like the small number of enchantments in a deck that isn’t all about that card type. I’m not talking about a Superfriends deck, since the sheer quantity of ‘walkers is usually enough to keep the table off-balance. I’m talking about a couple of value Planeswalkers in an otherwise “ordinary” deck.

We should actively be looking for those less-used Planeswalkers that give us a bit of value, but don’t scare our opponents into straight up erradicating them. Sure, if you have an Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, you’re getting some real work done. But you don’t need this article to recommend that one.

What sparked this thought were the spoilers for the new Planeswalkers coming out in Ravnica Allegiance. As I write this, we haven’t yet seen Domri Rade, but we’ve had a look at an Orzhov ‘walker and an Azorius one. And they’re both less than whelming.

 

Dovin, Grand Arbiter

The new Dovin doesn’t do a ton in a game of Commander. If you’re attacking with a lot of little unblockables, he can certainly tick up quick. Or you can make a couple of thopters at too high a cost if tokens are your thing. His Dig Through Time-esque “ultimate” leaves a bit lacking, and that’s why I think he’s worth considering. He probably won’t draw a ton of hate. Your opponents aren’t likely to throw away resources to prevent you from drawing a few cards.

 

Kaya, Orzhov Usurper

The new Kaya is even tougher to fit in our format, since her +1 and -1 abilities are largely useless. Sure it’s nice to nab a Sol Ring, but how often does that come up? Even her ultimate is too low impact to consider running her, I think.

But notice what they have in common? No emblems. I think that’s the psychological threat keeping other Planeswalkers down. Even if it’s a dull emblem by our standards, there’s something about gaining an advantage over everyone else that nobody can ever deal with. It’s the same reason Eminence or the Oloro ability is so annoying. You can’t really stop it. So, let’s look at a few underrated Planeswalkers without emblem ultimates!

 

Liliana, Death’s Majesty

This is a tricky one. Let’s assume we’re running a creature-based deck, but it’s not Zombies tribal. That ultimate hits us almost as much as anyone else, so we may get her to stick around. If we do, we get to keep generating little blockers (or attackers, if the situation arises) and we get to bring back a couple of our creatures that have served their purpose. I think we could even sell the non-leading players on helping us keep her alive to alleviate the board of some difficult threats, since we’re almost hit as hard as them. Not a bad recursion engine.

 

Nissa, Steward of Elements

Don’t think I haven’t noticed that this is another Amonkhet Planeswalker. They started to power down at this point. I love how I can often cast her super early if she’s in my opening hand and start generating value immediately. This can certainly draw a lot of heat, so that may go against the thesis of this article, but a couple medium-sized flying lands shouldn’t scare too many people into taking out your value engine.

 

Sorin, Grim Nemesis

This is the only Sorin who doesn’t generate an emblem, nor is often called for banning. This is exactly why I think it’s worth considering in any casual meta. His +1 certainly stings, but since we haven’t built our deck around it, it shouldn’t be too bad. So we’re getting to draw extra cards and having an emergency ‘walker killer on board in case it comes up. That ultimate is impressive, but dealt with very easily, and will surprise no one.

 

Ajani, Valiant Protector

Much like Sorin in the previous example, this Ajani isn’t too scary. We can get a few extra counters on one of our creatures, or continue to dig for more and more of them. This ultimate is even less scary, since a single removal spell can deal with whatever we do with our -11 loyalty. That is, unless we’ve drawn our Swiftfoot Boots and have one creature protected.

Plus, consider Ajani here with the Commander’s Brew RNA preview card, Biogenic Upgrade! Haven’t heard of it yet? Check us out for some fun brews!

There you have it. Hopefully I’ve inspired you to seek out a few Planeswalkers that can generate some real value for you, living past one activation! That is, until your playgroup figures out that’s what you’re doing. Happy ultimating!