Top 10 Best Magic: The Gathering Planeswalker Cards of all Time
“It is more shameful to distrust our friends than to be deceived by them.” – Confucius
The other week I mentioned that I had I had reorganized my cards from boxes into folders. This is the sort of thing I hate doing, and it took ages, but most of my things are boxed up ready to move, and there is no Magic to play, so it happened. It’s nothing fancy, just 3 folders; one for Standard rares/mythics and the commons/uncommons that see loads of play, one for Modern rares/mythics and another for the key Modern commons/uncommons. They’re sorted into colours, but not sets or alphabetical order (this would clearly be too far).
While setting this up and packing away my other things ready for next week’s move, I’ve been reminiscing over past experiences, places I’ve been, cards I’ve played, and so on.
When Lorwyn was announced, and they said there were going to be planeswalkers, I signed inwardly, remembering the Planeshift cycle of enchantments ([card]Planeswalker’s Scorn[/card], [card]Planeswalker’s Fury[/card], [card]Planeswalker’s Mirth[/card], [card]Planeswalker’s Mischief[/card] and [card]Planeswalker’s Favor[/card]), thought about their most obvious application, and called Ross Jenkins…
“Ross – Hello?
Me – Have you seen the spoiler? They, in their infinite wisdom, have made “planeswalkers” a thing. They’re basically lame, difficult to kill enchantments that casuals will get us with in their rogue decks, and will naturally be insane in limited….”
Great evaluation, that. Planeswalkers are one of the most interesting parts of every Magic set, and over and over have added tonnes of play to their respective Standard formats. I really, really like planeswalkers! They do loads of work in dealing with a wide range of awkward situations, and frequently win games on their own. I often ask people what they thought of them when they first came out, and how many they have played since. So far I have played…
Ajani, Caller of the Pride
Ajani, Mentor of Heroes
Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver
Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
Garruk, Apex Predator
Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
Jace, Architect of Thought
Jace, Memory Adept
Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy
Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Kiora, the Crashing Wave
Koth of the Hammer
Liliana of the Veil
Nissa, Vastwood Seer
Ob Nixilis Reignited
Sarkhan the Mad
Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker
Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
Sorin, Solemn Visitor
Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
Tezzeret the Seeker
Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
Xenagos, the Reveler[/deck]
That’s 34 – it’s really pretty funny how sure I was that they would be a thing that “just got me sometimes”. When Equipment came in Mirrodin, I was pleased and thought it would be an interesting addition to limited play, and would give aggro decks a bit more range. I’ve *definitely* felt more wrecked over time by things like Swords and Jittes than I have by planeswalkers, and that’s partly because if you have creatures, you’ll have a way to deal with planeswalkers, and if you don’t, you probably have something like [card]Utter End[/card] or [card]Ruinous Path[/card], while access to cards which destroy artifacts in the main are few and far between. Planeswalkers just feel like a natural part of the game, too, while equipment always seems a bit jarring to me.
My Top 10 Best Magic: The Gathering Planeswalker Cards of all Time
In this article I’m going to present to you a list of my top 10 favourite planeswalkers of all time, with a bit of context and reasoning. Have a read through, let me know what you think of my list, where you agree and disagree and what your top planeswalkers are.
10. [card]Liliana Vess[/card]
This card didn’t really do anything at all in previous Standard formats, but throughout Theros-Khans standard, Liliana was excellent in basically any deck that played black. We played a copy instead of a 3rd [card]Elspeth, Sun’s Champion[/card] in our Mardu lists early (where Matt Light, Lee Brooke and I all top 8ed), on the basis that she could come into play and immediately tutor for Elspeth. This would require our opponent to deal with two planeswalkers over two turns, in a deck that could made loads of tokens (e.g. blockers to protect the planeswalkers). We carried this over into Abzan, where it did the same thing, and collectively Matt Light and I top 8ed 5 PTQs.
In Esper Dragons, it would typically go and look for a dragon, but also often a wrath (Matt and I were 9th and 10th at the RPTQ we played this in, and I was second and first in PPTQs with it on weekends either side of this event). These are good situations to generate even if the Liliana is immediately killed, but often times it won’t die immediately, in which case it is likely that it will go on to win the game on its own.
9. [card]Liliana of the Veil[/card]
Being 3 casting cost as well as leaving a meaningful threat and killing a [card]Tarmagoyf[/card] is a reasonable baseline for a Modern card, but what really makes this little Lilly shine in Modern is the synergy she has with cards like [card]Lingering Souls[/card], [card]Dark Confidant[/card] and [card]Tarmagoyf[/card], as well as the accelerated critical mass that can be attained through discard spells such as [card]Thoughtseize[/card] and [card]Inquisition of Kozilek[/card] (e.g. by making them discard additional cards, a situation can be created where they have no answer to the planeswalker, and either no land or no spells, but you have a Goyf, Bob, Spirit tokens or a manland, as well as the planeswalker).
My fond memories of her are from the Esper Control deck that I came second with at the first Scottish WMCQ in 2013, where the card had strong synergies with [card]Lingering Souls[/card] and [card]Sun Titan[/card] as well as contributing to a hyper abundance of planeswalkers which the deck aimed to subdue people with.
8. [card]Ajani Vengeant[/card]
As one of the earlier planeswalkers, this card excelled in a time when planeswalkers were quite variable in terms of balance, and answers to them weren’t especially great or plentiful. Being able to burn creatures and gain life against aggressive decks is hardly something to sniff at, but the ability to burn other planeswalkers and leave a powerful anti-control threat in play (constantly tapping their manlands, then destroying all their lands). I played this one in the Cruel Control deck I qualified for Pro Tour Austin with, one in the main, one in the sideboard, if memory serves, but it really picked up the following year because of the interaction with manlands previously mentioned, and because it could kill [card]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/card] in certain situations.
7. [card]Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy[/card]
I’ve not done anything special with this yet, so I don’t have an especially good memory with it, but it’s clear that the card is of excellent calibre and it is doing very well in the current Standard format. It’s also seeing play in Modern and even Legacy and Vintage. There are enough good interactions with other cards that I am pretty excited to play with it (I’m thinking about [card]Ojutai’s Command[/card] and [card[Kolaghan’s Command[/card], but also [card]Secure the Wastes[/card] and [card]Languish[/card]). Looters are pretty skill intensive cards, but generally don’t see much play outside of limited, so it’s nice to have it around for that reason.
6. [card]Gideon, Ally of Zendikar[/card]
This card hasn’t done much for me yet either, but given how important planeswalkers are in this format, I am excited about playing the one that is good at protecting itself (by making blockers) and killing other people’s (by becoming a 5/5). That it can act as a crusade in a situation where a planeswalker would normally be pretty bad (e.g. when they can effectively attack it and have it only get one activation off) is also pretty good. It also makes allies – not a massive deal at the moment, but that deck might well be good when the Oath of the Gatewatch comes out.
5. [card]Ugin, the Spirit Dragon[/card]
This card is a top end threat that deals with other people’s top end threats, functions as a [card]Nevinyrral’s Disk[/card]. [card]Haven of the Spirit Dragon[/card] returning it allows for an excellent recursive threat. It’s waned a bit in power since rotation because there are fewer ground stalls this Standard than last ([card]Elspeth, Sun’s Champion[/card] and [card]Courser of Kruphix[/card] rotated, meaning attacking, as well as pressing the advantage, became better), but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see it shine again before it rotates.
This card did well for me in the Sultai control deck I won my first PPTQ with, as well as the Esper Dragons list I came 10th with at the RPTQ, and won my second PPTQ with. It’s a great Planeswalker for the mid-level of the game, where people don’t play round it as well as they might, or play round it too much.
4. [card]Elspeth, Sun’s Champion[/card]
This card was accountable for at least a case of product and £250 I won last year. Everyone moaned about how [card]Siege Rhino[/card] was ruining the format, but I’m pretty sure the real problem was [card]Elspeth, Sun’s Champion[/card] and [card]Courser of Kruphix[/card]. It makes 3 (three!) blockers to protect itself and if you don’t get it killed, it turns them all into 3/3 fliers? Ok then, buddy! As if that wasn’t enough, if it looked like you might be in trouble, it could be a Wrath for their best stuff, while your [card]Courser of Kruphix[/card] and [card]Sylvan Caryatid[/card] held the fort until Elspeth could start putting 3 1/1 soldiers into play every turn again. Another excellent mid-level card; those inclined to lament are really missing a trick here, because there is plenty to moan about.
3. [card]Domri Rade[/card]
I won a PTQ with Red/Green Monsters featuring 4 of these about 18 months ago. That deck had [card]Elvish Mystic[/card] as well, meaning that it could cast [card]Domri Rade[/card] on turn 2, so on the play it could start drawing cards before they even got a chance to play a land, and one the draw it could tick down to trade the mythic for their [card]Pack Rat[/card].
Playing a card like this limits deckbuilding somewhat in that it means you want quite a lot of creatures, but then again it’s card draw in a red green deck, can also be removal, and let’s face it, what were you going to do instead of playing creatures in this colour combination? In any creature centric match up the card was pretty insane; your creatures are excellent while theirs are likely just efficient, meaning that the fight ability on this card goes through the roof. Also, all your men getting Double strike, trample, hexproof *and* haste means it’s nearly always going to be good night Vienna for the other guy should you get that off. In the semi-final of the PPTQ I won, I attacked from an empty board for 22.
2. [card]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/card]
So the best I managed with this card was a quarter-final and a semi-final in PTQs in Manchester and Dundee, as well as a reasonable run at Nationals one year (although, I blew it against Steven Murray, after having blown it against Eduardo Sajgalik in limited, and I might have blown it against Jack Mitchell Burns the following round, and I definitely blew it against Andrew Morrison that day too. maybe it wasn’t Jace’s fault.).
The first year with this card, people moaned about it but it wasn’t *that* good (fairly typical of people moaning), but the second year, it was really busted with [card]Squadron Hawk[/card] and [card]Stoneforge Mystic[/card] which could get [card]Batterskull[/card]. Partly it’s power came from how much people hated it – no one likes getting that +2, and told “keep it”. Red players would burn it when they should really be burning you; Red Vs Control is typically not about casting infinite brainstorms. People would activate manlands to attack it down to 1, at which point you’d [card]Brainstorm[/card], get a [card]Path to Exile[/card] or [card]Tectonic Edge[/card], or just activate your own manland to block.
Beyond this, people were not very good at playing *with* Jace. I remember playing a PPTQ in which my opponent activated Jace 15 times, and I still won.
The blue match ups with [card]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/card] in them were the closest thing to a really old school control match up I have played since I was reasonable at the game. This was a great Standard format until [card]Batterskull[/card] and [card]Squadron Hawk[/card] wrecked it (they could have banned them instead, but the problem was that Jace was £50-60 and this was unprecedented at the time for Standard cards).
[card]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/card] would have been my favourite if it wasn’t for…
1. [card]Elspeth, Knight-Errant[/card]
…This one. [card]Elspeth, Knight-Errant[/card] was pretty decent at attacking Jace in the mirror, but in the decks that already had a reasonable number of creatures, Elspeth was just incredible. Similar the [card]Elspeth, Sun’s Champion[/card] in that it can make tokens to protect itself and then those tokens will be better after it ultimates, this one comes down 2 turns earlier, after which it can be supported by premium removal like [card]Path to exile[/card] and [card]Day of Judgement[/card]. It forces sequences them to make enough creatures to fight through it at which point you can wrath, with [card]Path to Exile[/card] up. It’s a really fast clock, too.
I top 8’ed PTQs with this card alongside Jace, but also with Zoo in old Extended. This card was great against green creature decks, reasonable against control, and excellent in the mirror. Being able to jump cards like [card]Knight of the Reliquary[/card] is really pretty powerful, especially since the Zoo decks at the time were playing [card]Bant Charm[/card] which would protect the massive, flying knight from removal.
Conclusion and Final Thoughts
That list was quite hard to put together, and there is a notable lack of red ones (because they’d really need to be cheap, and designing good 2 and 3 casting cost planeswalkers that are about dealing damage and making creatures is no doubt difficult to do) and green ones (there were some that nearly made it, but I was talking to an extent from personal experience rather than a dry, objective reading). I try and play some planeswalkers over my main and board, and if in doubt I’ll play one over a weird, awkward creature as a diverse threat against control. The Esper list I posted the other week has two [card]Sorin, Solemn Visitor[/card] in the sideboard as a solution to the red deck, while a lot of other people are dealing with it differently. I do like my free wins…
That’s it for this week. I’m aiming to start a theory series over the next few weeks as events are pretty thin on the ground, meaning I won’t be playing loads, and as such will be lacking in format specific information. If there is a theoretical term you would like me to write about, then please let me know and I will aim to include it.
So what do you think of the list? What do you agree with and disagree with? And what are your top planeswalkers of all time? Let me know in the comments!
Community Question: In your opinion, what are the top 3 best planeswalkers of all time and why?
All the best,