The Top 8 Best Planeswalkers In MTG, And Everything You Need To Know About Them
Since the very first printing of the “Lorwyn Five”, Planeswalkers have been among the most powerful cards in Magic. Ranging from three mana all the way up to eight (we don’t count Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded), and always being at Mythic rarity, they have a range of abilities that cover almost any action that is possible in Magic: the Gathering, in a variety of colours and combinations. They are played in every format, and they can have a huge impact on games in both Limited and Constructed – and recently, they have also become hugely important figures in MTG lore, helping to drive the story from plane to plane with each new set.
I’m going to discuss what are, in my opinion, the top 8 best Planeswalkers that have been printed to date. This is covering all formats and across a range of many decks, speaking objectively about the ratio of the power level to their mana cost and taking into consideration how easy they are to play in both competitive and casual Constructed, or build around in Limited.
So, let’s begin!…
Nahiri, a Kor from the plane of Zendikar, is one of Magic’s oldest planeswalkers. She is one of the few remaining ‘walkers that has been around since before the Mending, an event which occurred around the Time Spiral block and which reduced planeswalkers from immortal, untouchable beings to their current, less powerful iterations.
Nahiri was tutored by Sorin after they met when he helped her and Ugin seal away the Eldrazi titans the first time, 6000 years before the current events on Kaladesh. One thousand years ago, she sought out Sorin after the Eldrazi’s first attempt to break free, only to fight with him and eventually be locked away in the Helvault alongside Avacyn and Griselbrand. When Liliana forced Thalia to break it open, she was released and swore vengeance upon Sorin, leading to her current Planeswalker card: Nahiri, the Harbinger.
Printed in Shadows over Innistrad, this card was initially not very exciting, but when people discovered her uses in Jeskai decks in Modern, she quickly became known as a very powerful card. Her main strengths come from the fact that she is only four mana, and comes in on very high loyalty, so it’s difficult for an opponent to get her off the board if you have been able to use your first three turns killing their early threats. In addition, she can ultimate only two turns after she’s cast, so she provides an incredible amount of board pressure as well as being difficult to remove.
She mainly sees play in Modern, although she is still in the current Standard rotation and may begin to see more play before she rotates out. Now that 4c Copy Cat has become a popular deck, there is some scope to include her in that archetype, although at the moment not many decks are running her over Chandra, Torch of Defiance. In Modern, though, she fetches Emrakul, the Aeons Torn and more often than not will win the game on the spot, as even though the creature is returned to your hand at end of turn, once Emrakul has attacked, that doesn’t matter.
In more casual formats, she’s still very good. Her ability to exile enchantments can come in very useful in games of Commander, where some enchantments can make games incredibly one-sided and very often are pretty difficult to remove – and her ultimate is an unconditional tutor, which in Commander is a very powerful tool. Although her ultimate has the caveat of bouncing a creature back to your hand, in Commander there are ways to prevent that happening, or even better, winning the game before the turn ends. Worst case scenario, you will frequently be able to re-cast the card the next turn anyway.
Nahiri’s new path of vengeance against Sorin has turned her into a fearsome Planeswalker indeed, and as she continues on her quest to destroy everything he holds dear, we can only hope that her new Planeswalker cards might be even better.
Nicol Bolas is the ultimate “bad guy” in Magic. An ancient dragon whose origins are unknown, other than the fact that he has been around as long as the Multiverse has, and whose hunger for power knows no bounds. He has orchestrated many of the biggest events in Magic’s history, most recently having been involved in the Conflux of Alara, hoping to find a way to return the Planeswalker spark to its original pre-Mending power.
Nicol Bolas has, so far, only had one Planeswalker card, made in Conflux when he faced off against Ajani Goldmane while trying to absorb the power of the shards. Soon, he will be getting another, as we arrive at the plane of Amonkhet in April, and with his loyal agent Tezzeret being revealed as the villain behind stealing the inventions on Kaladesh, all the trails are leading back to him.
His current card, simply called Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker, is the embodiment of Grixis, the three colours of mana he represents. Its power level is absolutely through the roof, coming in on 5 loyalty and immediately going up to 8 if desired. He can destroy or control, and his ultimate is the perfect Grixis triple-combo: your opponent loses 7 life, 7 cards and 7 permanents. Flavour wise, this card is a perfect 10, and power wise it’s close to unbeatable when it’s been cast – the problem is casting it.
At a full 8 mana, in a very complex and irritating array of colours, Bolas makes you pay the price for his help. He is, unfortunately, not very playable in competitive formats because of this absurd cost, however in Commander he is an absolute powerhouse, which is the main reason for his inclusion in this list. He’s also a really fun card to build around in Limited, if you have the right mana fixing for those colours, and if you have a pack 1 pick 1 Nicky B, you will probably have a very fun draft.
It will be really exciting to see what new iteration of this fearsome dragon surfaces in Amonkhet, and whether it will live up to the power of its predecessor.
Dack is the self-proclaimed “greatest thief in the Multiverse”. He has never appeared in the lore of Standard-legal MTG sets, but has been the protagonist of the IDW Comics series for a long time. He was born on the plane of Fiora, but since discovering his Planeswalker spark, he has flitted from plane to plane, enjoying the women, the leisure and the freedom. He has now settled on Ravnica as his home after his village was destroyed, and is known for his red hand, which was painted permanently as a penalty for getting caught stealing.
His first and probably only iteration was in the bonus draft set Conspiracy, as a nod to the comics and to the events that were occurring in Paliano at the time. As a three-mana planeswalker, all eyes were on him, particularly as the Conspiracy and Masters sets tend to be one of the only ways to print cards Wizards think are necessary in Legacy and Vintage without affecting Standard.
As it turned out, his power level was as expected for a three-mana walker; bonkers. He became a Vintage all-star very quickly, with his minus ability able to steal Moxen from your opponent permanently, even if he dies – and there are very few ways to kill planeswalkers in Vintage as decks don’t tend to run many creatures (at least, that was the case before the printing of Monastery Mentor in Fate Reforged) so once he has resolved, he is difficult to remove. Gaining that instant advantage and taking something away from your opponent at the same time, or even just using his +1 as a way to filter through your deck faster, is a very powerful tool.
Though he is not Modern-legal, he also sees a lot of play in casual formats. His ultimate is incredibly powerful and often game-winning in Commander and Tiny Leaders if you can manage to protect him, but even failing that, being able to break up an artifact-based combo or steal your opponent’s Crucible of Worlds is a fantastic tool to have in your arsenal.
Dack has become a staple of the Vintage format now, and that is something that is very hard for new cards to accomplish. The card was so popular that after Wizards ceased printing Conspiracy, they reprinted it in Eternal Masters last year to keep the supply up. Despite demand for a new Dack card being very high, personally I doubt that we will see another printing for a long time, if ever, due to story limitations – Dack is a comic book character, and it is very likely that from now on, that’s where he will stay.
Karn is another very old Planeswalker with a complex past. He was created by Urza at the Tolarian Academy as a drone for time travel, as silver cannot be harmed by the time energies. His original card, Karn, Silver Golem, was very powerful, but he was not yet complete. Over the years, he went on many of Urza’s other expeditions, and was present for the entirety of the Weatherlight Saga, eventually becoming the first and only artificial Planeswalker at the culmination of the Legacy Weapon.
Once free of Urza’s control, Karn created his own silver plane called Argentum, and left Memnarch in control of it. Memnarch turned it into Mirrodin, and during the events of original Mirrodin block, Karn wrested back control. However, he was infected with oil, and after the Phyrexian invasion grew, Karn was unable to fight the corruption and fell into darkness. During New Phyrexia, with the aid of Elspeth and Koth, the artificer Venser made his way to Karn and sacrificed his own life to give Karn his Planeswalker spark, cleansing the corruption and creating Karn Liberated, who last we saw, was determined to take back his plane.
The most unique thing about Karn at the time of its printing was that he was the first ever colourless planeswalker. Not only did he have high loyalty and powerful abilities, but he could be put in literally any deck, as there were no coloured mana requirements. Although his mana cost is high at 7, for coming in and being able to be on 10 counters straightaway, and an ultimate two turns later that restarts the game, needless to say everyone was very excited about the possibilities with this new card.
And then someone noticed that having three Urza lands in play creates – well, would you look at that – 7 colourless mana. Suddenly, a whole new archetype was thrust into Extended and, later, Modern – Tron. With the ability to make 7 mana on turn 3 and suddenly a fantastic bomb to drop with it that can control the board (including lands, which in Modern are hard to destroy), control your opponent’s hand, and on top of everything else have a looming reset button should anything go seriously wrong, turned out to be a great combination, and to this day Tron remains one of the premier Modern decks thanks to the power of Karn.
Of course, let’s not forget his impact in Commander as well. With any deck being able to run him, the demand is very high (although, his ultimate really is the lamest thing when you’re three hours into an eight-player game). In that format, he really is a must-kill threat, or you will very quickly start losing your most powerful permanents.
Though Karn is now not the only colourless planeswalker, he was the first to really demonstrate their power and versatility, and I think it’s very likely that when we return to Mirrodin (New Phyrexia) once again in the future, Karn will be back, and possibly be even stronger.
Gideon has had many iterations during his relatively short lifespan as a main figure in MTG lore. Originally born as Kytheon Iura on the plane of Theros, he grew up dreaming of being a warrior. When he became a commander, his whole battalion was lost due to a mistake he made. He should have died too, but his Planeswalker spark ignited and saved his own life, and the guilt overwhelmed him, so he has since spent his life trying to atone by saving others.
He was the first to discover the Eldrazi Titans loose on Zendikar, and was the one who went looking for aid, and who found Jace Beleren on Ravnica and brought him to help fix the problem. Through him, the Gatewatch was formed, and he is its de facto combat leader. He is also now the primary “white” planeswalker in the current story, and we will be sure to see a lot more of him to come as his own story progresses.
The older versions of Gideon range in effectiveness. Gideon Jura, the original, still sees some Modern play as it’s a very good way of protecting yourself or other threats you may have. Gideon, Champion of Justice, though, barely sees play anywhere other than in some, very lame, Commander decks. With his latest card, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, Wizards have managed to find the perfect balance between mana cost, power and efficiency, and created a new planeswalker that has kicked up a storm in Standard.
This is, by far, the most powerful standalone card currently in Standard. Playing this on turn four in any deck on an empty board is the best thing you can do, and if it remains unanswered, it can very quickly take over games on its own. Being able to defend himself by creating tokens, buff those tokens and all your other creatures with an ultimate (which can happen immediately upon playing him and can’t be removed by any effect), and have as a +1 the ability to become a 5/5 indestructible-prevent-all-damage creature himself, the card is powerful, flexible and can fit into any strategy that runs white. With the current mana fixing available in Standard, there are a lot of three- and four-colour strategies flying around, and Gideon features in a lot of them.
Though he has not yet found a place in Modern, his power level is good enough and it’s only a matter of time. There are some new green/white tokens lists starting to creep up, and with a bit more support I think we could definitely see this card starting to make a proper appearance in the format. In Commander, he’s not as powerful as he is in duel formats, but his ultimate is still a fantastic buff to your team, and the fact that the emblem can only ever be removed by Karn, Liberated‘s ultimate and nothing else means that you can always use him to gain a permanent advantage.
This is one of the best new planeswalkers we’ve seen in a long time, and personally I am excited to see where he will go and what impact he will have on other formats once he rotates out of Standard.
Ugin is the antithesis of Nicol Bolas. He symbolises purity and knowledge, where Bolas harbours greed and hatred. He has been around as long as Bolas, and is arguably just as powerful. He was one of the original jailers of the Eldrazi Titans, but was killed thousands of years ago by Bolas in a titanic battle, as Bolas cheated to defeat him.
During recent events, when the Titans broke free and it became clear Ugin was no longer in existence to re-seal the prison, a shaman on Tarkir called Sarkhan Vol received a calling. He journeyed to the Sanctum of Ugin with the help of Narset, a tribal leader, and was transported to the scene of the battle between Ugin and Bolas. After Ugin’s defeat, he healed the dragon and saved his life, altering the course of history – turning Tarkir into a land of dragons once again, igniting Narset’s latent Planeswalker spark and returning Ugin to the present, where he arrived on Zendikar to examine the extent of the damage.
Thus, in Fate Reforged we were treated to the first ever Ugin planeswalker card. It was the second colourless planeswalker, following the theme of being opposite to the colour-hungry Bolas, though having the same mana cost. This alone would have made it a powerful card, but its abilities are also incredible, which is why it ranks in the top 3 of this list.
Its +2 is a Ghostfire, which is essentially a colourless Bolt. That’s already good. Its ultimate is beyond silly, and if you ever get to use it, it’s very very very difficult to lose the game from that position – it’s exactly the opposite of Bolas, where you draw 7 cards, gain 7 life and get 7 permanents. The most often-used ability, though, is his minus, which is an X cost ability so it’s incredibly flexible, and it’s essentially a boardwipe, except it includes enchantments and planeswalkers, it’s exile rather than destroy, and it leaves Ugin himself alive so you can continue to control their board after the fact.
The powerful minus ability and the useful plus, combined with its colourlessness, has caused this card to see a lot of play. It was the premier control finisher during its time in Standard, and now it’s rotated, it has moved into Modern where it sees play alongside Karn in the Tron decks. Though it can’t be cast on turn three like Karn, even making a play like this on turn four is still great, and where Karn has issues dealing with already-developed boardstates, Ugin excels at it. It’s the second half of the one-two punch that makes Tron great against almost anything, even fast aggressive decks that can go wide as well.
In Commander, needless to say, if you’re not running this card, there better be a damn good reason for it – it can go in anything and it’s incredibly powerful, and if you can protect it for two turns, you win. It seems to be a no-brainer for inclusion almost anywhere.
Ugin is now back in the current timeline and last we saw, was angry with Jace for killing the Eldrazi Titans on Zendikar, whom he had hoped to imprison and study. He warned of possible consequences of killing such beings, and then flew away, cursing mortals and their carelessness, and hoping he could find out what impact the deaths of the Titans might have before it’s too late. No doubt, this story thread will be picked up later, and we could well see another Ugin card printed in the future.
Liliana is another of the main group of planeswalkers that has formed the Gatewatch. She has a complicated and tragic past, as her planeswalker spark ignited when she was very young, and she found her home on Innistrad, though she was warned by Sorin not to interfere with his plane. She has contact with a mysterious figure called the Raven Man, whom we have not yet met, but claims to be a supporter of her father, is heavily involved in her life and whom is almost certainly a planeswalker.
Liliana herself has always been obsessed with youth, and though she is now hundreds of years old, her pacts with four demons have kept her young. She is now on a personal mission to eliminate all of them, and has so far killed two – Kothophed and Griselbrand – and is pursuing the others. Her power stems from an artifact she discovered on Shandalar called the Chain Veil (again orchestrated by the Raven Man), which amplifies her abilities, but is slowly corrupting her. In her mission, she hopes to discover a way to destroy it and free herself of its grasp.
Currently, she has joined the Gatewatch at Jace’s behest, as he came to ask for her help during Shadows over Innistrad. The two of them have a complicated past, and despite herself she couldn’t turn him away when he needed her; but she can see the opportunity in travelling from plane to plane with the others, as it may help her further her own plans.
There have been several Liliana cards throughout the course of MtG history, and all of them have been fairly good. However, the one that stands out above the rest was printed in original Innistrad when, for the first time, we saw her on her adopted home plane and she first discovered the power of the Chain Veil. Liliana of the Veil was the first three-mana planeswalker, and by God, is it a powerful one.
Though it didn’t have too much of an impact on the Standard of the time due to the way the meta had formed, after its rotation and the creation of Extended and then Modern, the true power of this card began to emerge. Being able to play it on turn three in a grindy black deck is fantastic, and to this day Inquisition of Kozilek – Tarmogoyf – Liliana of the Veil remains the best possible start in a deck like Jund or Abzan. She doesn’t only see play in these archetypes, though – her effectiveness versus control decks through hand disruption makes her playable in a lot of matchups, so Grixis decks have also adopted her in some cases, and she is a powerful engine in mono-black decks such as 8-rack.
The best part about her is that she can defend herself so easily with her minus – especially against certain strategies which go all-in on one creature; she gains value every turn by forcing your opponent to discard when in most cases, you will not have a hand anyway; and her ultimate can be game-winning later on, as it includes lands. It’s one of the most skill intensive planeswalker ultimates in existence, but if you know how to use it and can get her there, it can very easily be a game-winning play.
She has even broken into Legacy, and is played in many BUG control or Shardless decks as a way of controlling your opponent’s hand and grinding them down. She is all at once a difficult-to-kill threat, excellent removal and hand disruption, and all for the cost of a measly three mana. Again, her usefulness in Commander is limited to certain decks, usually graveyard-based strategies where you can utilise her discard ability for your own purposes, but both in competitive Constructed and Limited, this card is an absolute powerhouse.
Since this card, we have had more Lilianas, but none have measured up to the power of this one. Now that current events are leading us towards Bolas, we may see Liliana’s power rise again, as she has a grudge against the ancient dragon from events that occurred between him, her and Jace in the past; so with our arrival on Amonkhet, I am excited to see what may occur when they come face-to-face again.
So, we finally come to it – the most obvious and inevitable ending to this list, and yet, so well-deserved, that it can’t be disputed. The number one planeswalker of all time…
Jace Beleren is another younger Planeswalker who was born post-Mending on the plane of Vryn. He has incredible telepathic abilities and has done from a young age, resulting in an accident where he wiped the mind of his tutor. Horrified, his spark ignited and he found himself on Ravnica, where he removed his own memories of the event.
Since then, he has been involved in numerous scandals, organisations and tangles with other Planeswalkers. He is famous for his mind powers, and everyone he meets wants to use him for their own ends. He joined Tezzeret’s Consortium for a time, unwittingly working for Nicol Bolas, and this is when he first met Liliana as well; eventually, and with Liliana’s help, he managed to break free of the Consortium after stealing control of the cell from under Tezzeret’s nose, and returned to Ravnica intending to live peacefully.
After the events of Dragon’s Maze, he became the Living Guildpact for Ravnica, ensuring peace between the guilds, but now finds the position boring and arduous, missing the thrill of being out fighting. When the opportunity arose to join the Gatewatch in saving Zendikar, he grabbed it with both hands, and he doesn’t intend to stop travelling again anytime soon.
The origin of the Mind Sculptor is well known; development wanted to create the ‘perfect’ blue planeswalker, that could do everything the colour represented. As it turned out, giving a four-mana planeswalker four abilities – particularly in blue – is a dangerous thing to do, and Jace, the Mind Sculptor turned out to be of a power level beyond any other planeswalker ever printed.
During his time in Standard, he was part of a deck called Caw-blade, which utilised the Stoneforge Mystic–Batterskull package inside of a control shell. The deck was horrifically oppressive and Standard became, for a time, a one-deck format. When there appeared 32 copies of Jace in the Top 8 of GP Dallas Fort Worth 2005, Wizards decided enough was enough and banned Jace out of Standard alongside Stoneforge Mystic. This hadn’t been done for a very long time, and wouldn’t occur again until the recent bannings earlier this year.
Jace has been banned in Modern right from the get-go, and still has never seen the light of day in the format. He is, however, a Legacy and Vintage powerhouse, appearing in almost any deck that runs blue as a way to filter your deck and control the board. Brainstorm is commonly called the “best” card in Legacy, so giving you a free one every turn to combine with your fetch lands is a very powerful effect indeed. To make it worse, it’s not even a minus ability – you can literally do it every turn for as long as you control him without having to use any other ability. Not only that, but if your opponent is out of cards, a resolved Jace is basically the end of the game, as his +2 controls every single one of their draws until he can ultimate and they lose on their next draw step.
This card feels very powerful and incredibly fun to play, it feels horrible to play against, and it will probably never be replaced as the best planeswalker of all time – it’s just so good. Don’t play it in Commander, though, as all it does is paint a giant red target all over you, and if you can’t adequately protect yourself, even if Jace dies, in 90% of playgroups you will be bullied for the rest of the game.
There have been many other Jaces, and some of them are certainly good – Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy springs to mind as a card that was rampant in Standard and has seen play in Legacy and Vintage as well (and which very nearly made this list – he just missed at #9). However, probably thankfully, none of them can hold a candle to the Jace he was when he chased Chandra across Zendikar and awoke the Titans.
As for Jace himself, we will undoubtedly see more printings, as he is currently the most popular figure in the main storyline. As we head to Amonkhet, Jace has old scores to settle with Tezzeret and Nicol Bolas after his run in the Consortium. I, for one, am excited to see Jace face his old enemies once again with the power of the Gatewatch behind him, and to see what new Planeswalker cards lie around the corner.
Community Question: Do you agree or disagree with the list? Is there some other card you would have liked to see? Please let me know in the comments!
Thanks for reading,