Walking the Planes – Planeswalkers in Cube by Ben Cottee
I wanted to tackle the topic of planeswalkers for a long time. Now that we visit the origins of the five ‘walkers in the upcoming Magic Origins, it felt a good time to write this article. The new planeswalkers have been spoiled, so below you will find my initial Cube impressions. I’m saving the full breakdown for my set review.
If you take the birth of Cube as a format to be around 2007-2008 (give or take), it also coincided with the release of a new card type printed in Lorwyn: the first five planeswalkers.
Since their introduction, we have seen new planeswalker characters introduced in each set, as well as new versions of existing characters. Those versions reflected their evolving powers, identity, adventures, dangers, relationships between them. With the introduction of the Magic Origins, we will get the current total number of ‘walkers to 56. Quite a few.
Planeswalkers in Magic mythology are special individuals selected by the universe by having their ‘sparks’ ignite. This new power allows them to travel the Aether between worlds – planeswalking – at will. Magic Origins set looks at the events that led to igniting sparks of five ‘walkers (usually – a traumatic life experience) and the first destination they planeswalked to (usually – not targeted, because they had no grip of their powers yet).
Before Lorwyn we encountered many planeswalkers like Urza, Teferi, Serra. They were beings of near immortality and near unlimited power, able to create artificial planes, academies swimming in a sea of time, or phasing entire islands out of existence. Then a defining act in Magic history happened – called The Mending – caused a power down in planeswalkers’ powers, letting them age and die. But they were all flavour beings and didn’t appear on a single creature/being card, nor they had their own abilities that altered a game.
Then Lorwyn came, and planeswalkers turned into rare cards (later ascended into mythic spots) with unique, powerful, and fun-to-play combination of effects known from typical Magic cards. This combination is what makes them (well, maybe not all of them) excellent cards for consideration in Cube. One of your decisions as a Cube builder will be the density of planeswalkers you choose to run.
How many is too many?
The main argument against having too many planeswalkers in a Cube is that they are hard to interact with. Newer spells such as [card]Hero’s Downfall[/card] and [card]Dreadbore[/card] are helping, but still. Another argument is the fact that their particular skill sets work as repeatable sources of advantage, so they lend themselves more to Midrange/Control strategies, not to mention they usually cost 3-6 mana to cast (we don’t mention [card]Tibalt, the Blood Fiend[/card]). The final reason to not overload on ‘walkers is that if you do, they lose that uniqueness/coolness factor. Planeswalkers in the Magic universe are special and you should try to retain that in your Cube.
Cube size will play a part in this. The extremes I have seen are from Jim Davis’ 360 Cube (I recommend his recent 6-part Cube series on StarCityGames) which has only one ‘walker in each colour plus a few of the multi-colour and colourless ones (around 10 total or 3% of the Cube) to the early iterations of the Magic Online Cube that seemed to run them all (approx. 40 at the time) in 720 or 5%.
In my Cube at 540 I was running 3 in each colour plus one in each multicolour and two colourless – so 27 total, exactly 5%. My thinking was that as nearly half were two-colour that you wouldn’t end up with a deck that was mono ‘walker! I couldn’t help but feel that this was still too many.
My recent shaving down it to 500 has put even more pressure on this and I am currently down to 2 mono-coloured ‘walkers, 22 total, 4% – and it finally feels right. The new Origins ‘walkers really appeal to me as they allow me to get potential planeswalkers without upping the count.
I will list all the planeswalkers in my Cube by colour, showing the top three mono-coloured in order of preference (from left to right) as the third comes back in when I Power the Cube.
Ajani, Caller of the Pride[/draft]
The Ajani I chose was not on power level of [card]Elspeth, Sun’s Champion[/card], but he provides a casting cost variation and a planewalker for the aggressive White Weenie Deck.
[draft]Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Tamiyo, the Moon Sage[/draft]
[card]Tamiyo, the Moon Sage[/card] was chosen, so I wouldn’t end up mono-Jace with [card]Jace, Architect of Thought[/card], as well as for a casting cost variation [card]Tezzeret, the Seeker[/card] comes in as the fourth ‘walker (I don’t mind upping the Planeswalker density in Powered Cube), thanks to the [card]Time Vault[/card] interaction and generally higher density of artifacts.
[draft]Liliana of the Veil
Ob Nixilis of the Black Oath[/draft]
Black could really do with another good planeswalker. The Legacy playable [card]Liliana of the Veil[/card] is top tier, but she drops off fast. [card]Liliana Vess[/card] is playable, but not exciting compared to number two’s in other colours. [card]Ob Nixilis of the Black Oath[/card] and [card]Sorin Markov[/card] are both very underwhelming. Ob gets the vote for being a little cheaper and offering good value even if he is removed quickly.
[draft]Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker
Daretti, Scrap Savant
Koth of the Hammer[/draft]
Red planeswalker options have really improved over the past year. M15, Tarkir block and Commander 2014 all gave great new options. Koth in the Aggro Red deck is the nuts. The other two got in ahead of him for versatility and in Daretti’s case – for being an integral part of a Red subtheme.
Freyalise, Llanowar’s Fury[/draft]
Green is probably the deepest in terms of playable planeswalkers as every version of Garruk is very good and offers something different. But the original Lorwyn Garruk holds top spot for Cube: he ramps, makes threats and threatens to kill people in three turns in an aggressive deck. [card]Nissa, Worldwaker[/card] is a great new addition and she was chosen mostly to avoid me having to select from multiple other Garruks. Similarly [card]Freyalise, Llanowar’s Fury[/card], but also she shines as a repeatable artifact destruction in the Powered Cube.
Ugin, the Spirit Dragon[/draft]
They would have to go some to make a colourless Planeswalker I wouldn’t include in Cube. Karn Liberated is an excellent first pick and it is often wrong to ever pass him in any pack as he makes your deck, unless you are a very aggressive strategy. The jump from 7 to 8 in Ugin means he is more suited to dedicated Ramp or Control Decks so often goes around 3rd pick but no later. As
I covered these last time in my review of Gold cards, so I won’t repeat myself. I like each colour pair getting an iconic planeswalker. As Wizards invariably print more of them, I will get into more interesting Cube choices.
Ok, so, how to play against them?
Although planeswalkers existed since the beginning of Magic, they only became card types after 13 years. The result is that many old cards interact (or not) with them in interesting ways. This creates some cool dynamics and strategies in Cube.
Destroy all of these things (except planeswalkers)
These mass removal spells destroy multiple card types as they are list on the card. Because planeswalkers weren’t a thing back then, if you are running those sweepers, planeswalkers should go up your pick order.
The removal before planeswalkers usually targeted one or more permanent types. [card]Vindicate[/card]-type effects that target any permanent were few and far between. However, to fight the rise of The Planeswalker Menace we now see cards such as [card]Oblivion Ring[/card], [card]Maelstrom Pulse[/card] and [card]Council’s Judgement[/card] that target any permanent and cards such as already mentioned [card]Hero’s Downfall[/card] that reference planeswalkers specifically. The days of running [card]Vampire Hexmage[/card] predominantly as a planeswalker kill spell has passed and with it – one of the limiting effects to planeswalker numbers has diminished. The choice of [card]Dreadbore[/card] over [card]Terminate[/card] is a focus on making sure the tools to fight planeswalkers are prevalent.
More haste = less ‘walkers
Since haste creatures are natural predators of planeswalkers, it was no coincidence that [card]Bloodbraid Elf[/card] dominated in a time that [card]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/card] was legal.
[card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card] is a great creature at fighting planeswalkers, as it will kill most of them in one hit. It also removes any potential blockers, so when it comes down, it comes down hard.
Being the home of haste and burn spells that direct players, Red gets more value in Limited and in Cube as a way to interact with planeswalkers. Of course, this way a planeswalker eats damage meant for his/her controller, so it delivers value. Still, prevention of 3 damage isn’t the best way to use a planeswalker, one that has been drafted highly.
Blue really does have a weakness
Blue does get the best planeswalker ever printed and that probably will not change in a hurry. But planeswalkers in general are a great tool against heavy Blue decks to try and slip through counterspells, as once in play Blue cannot remove them (short of bounce).
As an extension, they are also a great diversity spell for aggressive strategies as they usually hang around through any board wipes.
A look ahead
All this brings us to the present day and the unique Origins release of legendary creatures that become planeswalkers once a certain condition is met. I think the simplest method to use in evaluating these is in their creature form, with a little bit of consideration to how easily to trigger their flip is. Here are my initial thoughts for Cube, but these may change/will be expanded upon for my set review.
If anything, Gideon will be remembered by me as the sole reason [card]Savannah Lions[/card] died. There are now 8 aggressive one-drops I would play over the Lion and I am very happy with that number. Gideon’s creature state as a 2/1 for W with a potential for indestructibility and being a Human (a more relevant creature type) is great. A good White Weenie deck should be flipping this very consistently and the back side has great utility, while offers some sweeper protection.
Verdict – Comes in a Cube, as a creature and a great turn 3 or 4 ‘walker in an Aggro deck.
I am already running Merfolk Looter, so this young Jace at least replaces it a looter with gigantic upside. His ‘walker side is a little underwhelming, but he’s better than a creature that is already in a Cube.
Verdict – Comes in as a creature, if you want the effect. Doesn’t come in, if you want the planeswalker side.
A 2/3 lifelink creature probably doesn’t make the cut even though the life gain for Black is welcomed. [card]Vampire Nighthawk[/card], a wonderful card otherwise, is borderline, flipping in and out of my list. However, Liliana’s flip condition is easy to meet in my Cube with the B/R Sacrifice theme. The fact she replaces herself with a creature for protection and that her planeswalker side fits perfectly with the same deck, means she gets in. I can see [card]Gravecrawler[/card] and this Liliana having many happy days together. (Probably she way more than him, cause he doesn’t feel anything anymore.)
Verdict – Doesn’t cut it as a creature, but a great inclusion, if you run enough ways to trigger her flip the turn she comes down or soon after.
Oh dear, my initial impression of Chandra is that she is unplayable. Would it have killed Wizards to make her ability target creatures as a pinger or to give her haste? Even if she flips, the Planeswalker side is very underwhelming.
Verdict – Such a sticker compared to the others. Stays away from my Cube.
A worse [card]Borderland Ranger[/card] on the front is not exciting. What interests me is her potential in the [card]Fastbond[/card]/[card]Exploration[/card] decks, where the enter-the-battlefield ability turns into a [card]Rampant Growth[/card]-type effect and where she will flip the quickest. This deck also loves the first planeswalker ability and her interaction with [card]Courser of Kruphix[/card] and [card]Oracle of Mul Daya[/card].
Verdict – Try if you have [card]Exploration[/card]/[card]Fastbond[/card] and can dedicate a slot to the deck. Not wanted elsewhere.
There we go – spoilers have started earlier than normal, thanks to Duels of the Planeswalker hype. With full official spoilers next week I will take some time to look back at Tarkir Block cards that entered the Cube, how they performed, if they proved themselves worthy. The week after that I’ll hit you with the set review.
Until next time!
Community Question: Which planeswalker do you identify the most with and why?
Thanks for reading,