A shift in the games fundamentals is approaching. Are you ready for it?
Bolas is inbound; his generals are rallying the Eternal hordes - the forces of good are unifying to make a final stand against the God Pharaoh. War of the Spark has the Land Say Go team excited; DBoe has gotten another lower back tattoo and Matt has stopped washing his hands for "good luck" as he prepares to crack his booster boxes on May 3rd. You should be excited too - this set clearly indicates a shift in the fundamentals of the game. To be fair, it's not a tremendous deviation from the core aspects of Magic in that Planeswalkers (permanents) still have loyalty counters (a finite amount of resources) and we are seeing a return of Proliferate (an ability that affects holistic counters of all types).
Not to brag (because many other community content producers predicted the same), but Land Say Go called a number of the new variations in Planeswalker mechanics once we saw the teaser trailer and the stained glass menagerie. We have uncommon, rare and mythic Planeswalkers, and every uncommon Planeswalker has only minus abilities. We nailed it.
The Planeswalker Permanent Evolves
A Planeswalker is no longer just a Mythic card, and to be fair the first 5 Planeswalkers printed in Lorwyn were Rare, but War of the Spark is a massive deviation away from the status quo. Each of the new Planeswalkers printed in #WAR have a static ability. This new flavor is interesting and affects the overall quality of the game in a number of dynamic ways:
The uncommon versions of Magic's most powerful permanents do not have ultimate abilities. Rather, they are meant to be resources utilized to accomplish a number of tasks or add abilities that further supplement a "larger game plan." Angrath, Captain of Chaos gives each other creature we control Menace - this feels like an enchantment, and if this same ability was represented by a creature you can bet that that creature would be rare or mythic. What we have here is "power creep" ladies and jellyspoons. It's not a bad thing - it's the natural and unavoidable evolution of the game. With Arlinn, Voice of the Pack you can see that WOTC is trying to also cater to the Modern and EDH fanbase because her use scenario isn't really available in current Standard (yet). Davriel, Rogue Shadowmage will benefit from proliferate or graveyard mechanics, and is among the better of the uncommon Planeswalkers.
We covered Jaya, Venerated Firemage pretty well on the spoilers videos, and by "well" I mean a couple of sentences. Let's go back to these static abilities on the new Walkers feeling a lot like enchantments, we get a pervasive game altering effect with some optional abilities that act as free cast cantrips. The cantrips are balanced, or so it may seem (we don't know). Jaya might be too expensive for us to reliably benefit from the passive ability, unless we are moving red gradually to a control or Storm methodology. Dovin, Hand of Control will not relent and at 3 CMC I believe Dovin will slot nicely into Esper control. Kasmina, Enigmatic Mentor brings back Wizard tempo decks in a very powerful way; if we can figure out a way to recur Kasmina, or bounce her and return her to the battlefield we can get better value out of her token generation capabilities, more ETB triggers from our Wizards, and leverage proliferate for some really great stuff. Kasmina feels rare, but comes in at uncommon because she cannot regenerate her loyalty counter resources without outside help.
Kaya, Bane of the Dead is overpriced at 6 CMC, but the juice is worth the squeeze in this case. She removes hexproof from every aspect of the opponent's game plan and can exile creatures twice before needing to be targeted with proliferate abilities or recast - the design team is wanting you, me, and every once else to buy into the proliferate mechanic, which is why most of the uncommon Planeswalkers will have 1 loyalty counter remaining after you activate them a couple of times. Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner was the first of the uncommon Planeswalkers that made me truly excited. Having 7 chances to untap a PERMANENT can lead to some amazing Magic games. I will be personally breaking this card wide open for you at some point here on LSG in the near future. Nahiri, Storm of Stone is outstanding, but deserved to be rare. I hope equipment makes a shining return to Standard sometime in the near future.
Would you play Ob Nixilis over a Doom Whisperer in constructed? I wouldn't, and while I can clearly see the benefit of having what amounts to an Ob Nixilis emblem you can remove from play, I don't know that we will see much play with this Walker outside of draft or limited - where Ob Nixilis will be a total bomb. Saheeli, Sublime Artificer is incredible, the variations in power level and utility among the uncommon Planeswalkers is apparent as we review this static ability, token generation upon casting noncreature spells has proven itself to be incredible time and again: Monastery Mentor and Young Pyromancer come to mind. Samut, Tyrant Smasher will prove to be an include in Gruul, but is too weak to chew up four drops slots when Rhythm of the Wild can do it better across the board.
Teyo, the Shieldmage has been surprisingly present in the brews I've seen coming across the wire, that may change, it may not, one thing is for certain any card that can give us hexproof will be a sideboard staple in constructed decks that run white. The Wanderer is impressive, but easily dealt with, she becomes a target and gets removed fairly quickly. Tibalt is still garbage and I feel Wizards really missed an opportunity to save face on this Planeswalker...I could be completely wrong here, but I don't think I am. Vraska, Swarm's Eminence is an interesting card, but why would I build a constructed deck leveraging this spell when I can cast a Mythic quality Vraska for the same four mana? I wouldn't. Again, a majority of the uncommon Planeswalkers feel geared to toward limited play. Capitalize on the gimmick.
Getting Jiggy With It
I have this sneaking suspicion that we will look back on this article and confirm the following statement: Planeswalkers are going to be forever weaker, broken into classes of rarity, and designed to have less and less capability to completely dominate the battlefield. Of course, the alternative could also be the case; War of the Spark could be a complete anomaly meant to reflect the circumstances of the canon, and just maybe has been purposefully designed to be that canonical message. A big war where a bunch of superheroes and super-villains get sucked into a demigods schemes and battle it out. Chandra is one of the first 5 Planeswalkers to ever be printed. This version of her will not have the impact on the Standard meta that Chandra, Torch of Defiance did, but she will see play. Exiling cards, and playing them is better than exiling them and casting them - fixes mana issues.
Ajani, the Greathearted is going to see play in Selesnya, Bant and Naya builds. He may the best of the Planeswalkers in the rare lot, and I expect that his impact would be creature driven. He is the only Planeswalker that actively bolsters the depleting resources of our uncommon Walkers. Ajani is always the mentor - always the "Pridemate." As we tick up the rarity scale, we are also ticking up the value scale. Domri, Anarch of Bolas turns a Jund creatures deck with Judith, the Scourge Diva into a real possibility. Extra points of damage and uncounterable creature spells are nothing to scoff at. Thank goodness we get an activation of a Planeswalker after casting before our opponent gets priority because Domri is weak in the loyalty counter department.
Interesting, isn't it? That WOTC would choose to reprint so many abilities found on other cards as static abilities on Planeswalkers? Also, that those abilities would be some of the more sought after mechanics from the antiquity of the game? Jace is the new Laboratory Maniac. Clearly not going to see a tremendous amount of play in Standard beyond additional draw tempo, but he may have an interesting possible impact on other formats. So, again, for our purposes, here at Land Say Go, here in the Standard format, Jace is more weaksauce for your Planesburger. Maybe our narrowed focus here at LSG isn't healthy, we might be leaving something on the table by not addressing and focusing on additional formats? I can't answer that question right now, but I can tell you that Karn, the Creator is not geared toward the Standard crowd (at the time of its release), but Nissa, Who Shakes the World, on the other hand, is. THAT MANA RAMP IS SCARY - ESPECIALLY WITH SHOCK LANDS.
Continuing with our rare lot of Planeswalkers we have Ral, Storm Conduit - another version printed even though a moment ago we had a Mythic version of Ral join the Standard card pool. The static ability mirrors Electrostatic Field in making a noncreature, instant and sorcery deck a thing of reality, likely top-ending the Drakes as finishers. Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord pales in comparison to versions printed in the past, but acts a functional conduit for existing creature based mechanics. Interesting that we would get some additional powerful recursion and a weak (but constant) life supply on the uptick. We will be able to find use for him, but he won't dominate games by himself. Tamiyo, Collector of Tales is an enigma to me. I think we might see some really abusive cyclical strategies using her - time will tell. DBoe is already brewing and occasionally he puts out good decks.
Teferi, Time Raveler is abusive at three mana, and may be the only RARE Planeswalker that actually feels like a Planeswalker in terms of immediate impact to the board. Nearly every other static ability associated with our uncommon and rare Walkers is part of a larger whole or a combo trick. But, Teferi will be used in the control meta. Stagnation, protection, control and tempo. All present and all for the low cost of three mana. Vivien, Champion of the Wilds is another of those rare cards in War of the Spark that feels correctly executed. As necessary as three drops are to good creature strategy I feel this card will do nicely. Mono-green stompy just got meaner. Ashiok, Dream Render is the only Planeswalker card printed at uncommon that I felt deserved a +1 mechanic and to be printed at rare. The passive ability coupled with the minus one is outstanding and gives UB Control a serious piece it was missing in dealing with graveyard recursion. Ashiok was a miss, WOTC.
Onto the Champions
There are Mythic Planeswalkers. It would be foolish of us to assume that there wouldn't be at least a few of the superheroes and super-villains in our story that weren't at the height of their power in this story arc. Unofficially we have seen a new Ugin spoiled, a dynamite new Gideon which promises to return to the Mardu vehicle glory days of Battle for Zendikar, and even the new Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God Planeswalker. All three of these "leaked" Walkers are incredibly powerful, and each will be an overpriced and highly desirable piece of cardboard.
I want to look at those we have been "privileged" to thus far in spoiler season. Gideon is being printed at Mythic for the Planeswalkers decks, along with the rest of the Planeswalkers at the helm of those pre-constructed deck lists. It wouldn't make good business sense to put a product out that didn't include a level of rarity required to move the product, right? Fortunately, this version of Gideon is pretty good - expensive, but good. It's crap compared to the power level of the following two Walkers, but it will do in a pinch.
Liliana, Dreadhorde General is among the top 5 cards in the set. Whenever a non-token creature dies draw a card? She can generate her own tokens to defend herself? She can force our opponent to sacrifice multiple creatures at once? She can end the game on her ultimate? AMAZING. Liliana is the second most expensive card in the set on www.cardkingdom.com right now, and for good reason. Amass will prove to be a force in Standard as Grixis Control retakes the lead championed by Bolas, Tezzeret and Liliana.
But where are the emblems? I'll tell you. The emblems are being moved to the static ability verbiage at the beginning of each cards text field and made weaker. WOTC may be doing away with emblems to free up the ultimate slot for additional mechanics. We will have to wait and see.
Tezzeret, Master of the Bridge, interestingly enough (just short of the spoiled Nicol Bolas), is the most powerful Planeswalker in all of War of the Spark. Tezzeret, Master of the Bridge is the buy-a-box promotional card. C'mon guys? Really? Just, just...sigh...WEAK. He's awesome, just read him. He will change the game in ridiculous ways. I have already identified infinite loops that can kill an entire table of opponents without having our priority interrupted. But he's the buy-a-box promo and there is not a level of power among all new Planeswalkers consistent with his abilities or capabilities to be found inside the packs you will crack! Fine. I guess I'll just buy a case. 😒
I have been torn between absolutely shredding this set in my reviews and swinging from the chandelier in celebration. Change can be hard. The unknown is riddled with anxiety and newness. But, it is all starting to make sense folks:
All of these weak Planeswalkers are meant to drive mechanics like this - "the larger game plan." I just wish the flavor text read like this: "The path to power-creep is often paved with atrocities." Fortunately, Standard has plenty of options to remove Planeswalkers at instant speed - well okay, two or three spells, but that's fine.👍
The game is changing, and change is good. Land Say Go will continue to focus on the Standard meta. We will embrace this new story arc, and these new weak and strong Planeswalkers alike. We will overcome adversity with our builds and open this new chapter with you. This set will come and go like so many others, and it is important that we focus on what is important: having fun at all costs (and winning while doing it). Even with the power levels of Magic's most iconic superheroes and super-villains being mostly in the toilet in War of the Spark, I feel we will see that the best has yet to come with these changes.
In the end, I am optimistic, and you should be too.
Until next time, my friends...remember to destroy all of your own Planeswalkers and ultimate your Bolas.