Top 5 MTG Planeswalkers Printed in the Last 2 Years That Have Made it to Modern
As Modern gets longer and longer in the tooth, just as it has with Legacy and Vintage, the card quality required to make it into the format rises higher and higher. Eventually, it will reach the point where, like Vintage, a card only makes it in once in a blue moon (unless it’s Shops, which seems to get an upgrade every other set). For now, there are still a reasonable number of cards trickling down from Standard sets, and occasionally, as with Fatal Push, Field of Ruin and Search for Azcanta, cards that are really pushed will even become a mainstay of the format.
Planeswalkers have traditionally had a tough time with representation in Modern. They are normally pretty expensive in terms of mana, or restrictive in their colours, or both; and due to the speed of the format, and the quantity of creature decks which can make a board big and scary enough that the planeswalker will not last the turn cycle, it’s difficult to justify putting too many in your deck. They have to do Very Good Things to be worth the investment of tapping all your mana at sorcery speed in order to get them into play.
The exception to this rule has generally been for Liliana of the Veil, who at only 3 mana, will work for you much more cheaply than her colleagues (notwithstanding the initial cost of actually buying her!). Other ‘walkers, like Jace, Architect of Thought, Gideon Jura and Garruk Wildspeaker, are seen there or thereabouts in various sideboards and/or Doubling Season combo piles, but are generally considered too expensive or not impactful enough to be running more than one or two.
Even the recent unban of Jace, the Mind Sculptor, which had thousands crying Havoc and claiming Modern was broken forever, has failed to have much impact on the format. He has replaced Architect of Thought in Modern sideboards in most cases, made it into the maindeck of some third-tier brews like Taking Turns, and is occasionally a 2-of win condition in hard control decks, but really, tapping out for a four-mana walker that can’t adequately defend itself isn’t strong enough for the fast and aggressive creature/combo format that Modern has become.
With that said, recently Wizards has been trying harder to make certain Planeswalkers cheaper and more playable. Instead of the niche effects that we saw from the likes of Domri Rade and Arlinn Kord, and the high or restrictive mana costs such as Tamiyo, Field Researcher and Sorin Markov, we have seen an increase in the number of Planeswalkers that actually have decent effects for a reasonable cost, and thus, the number of Planeswalkers which have had an impact on Modern. Although there are still unplayable messes (hi there, Huatli), since Battle For Zendikar and the arrival of Gideon, Ally of Zendikar there have also been a couple of blocks full of ‘walkers which burst out of the gates with their metaphorical guns blazing.
In reverse chronological order by release date, I’m going to go through five such Planeswalkers, all printed since Shadows Over Innistrad 2 years ago, talk about which decks they have been featured in, and consider whether they’ll potentially have a future in the format.
First, though, an honourable mention. Though somewhat of a meme, there has actually been a deck which is centred around running Gideon Planeswalkers, brought to us by SaffronOlive and hilariously named ’12-Chad’ or ‘Oops, All Gideons’. Though it’s not, by any stretch of the imagination, a proper meta deck, it’s relatively fantastic featuring its all-star cast of Rad Chad (Gideon, Ally of Zendikar), Dad Chad (Gideon Jura) and Lad Chad (Gideon of the Trials) – hence 12-Chad. Credit to Jeff Hoogland for the fantastic nicknames, which I first heard on his stream.
I mention this because of the appearance of Lad Chad, who is a relatively new addition to Modern as of Amonkhet, but outside of 12-Chad and a very occasional sprinkle in U/W Control, hasn’t really found much of a footing yet. Given time, he could definitely have an impact, because 3-mana walkers are nothing to sniff at, but as of now, he’s still trying to find the right place – outside of the meme deck with his brothers.
Anyway, onto the main article:
Though during spoiler season Nahiri was almost completely overlooked in favour of the hype surrounding Arlinn Kord, after the set was released it quickly became clear who was the superior ‘walker. At the time, control was struggling in Modern, even after Eldrazi Winter was over, because of the ensuing havoc that the Oath of the Gatewatch spaghetti monsters had wreaked. Nahiri waded into the battleground and gave Jeskai control the combo win condition it had been missing since the banning of Splinter Twin, pulling it back up into the tier lists by the release of Kaladesh block.
Nahiri has a combination of very good abilities which make her risky and expensive 4-mana casting cost worth it. Her high starting loyalty means she is difficult to kill, especially if you start by exiling their highest-power creature; and the fact that she can also hit enchantments and artifacts means that she is great even in matchups like Ad Nauseam or Lantern, where creatures are largely irrelevant. Most importantly, when played on an empty board following a curve of Bolt – Remand – Snap/Bolt or similar, she is free to tick up, discard the worst card in your hand for better selection, or none at all if your hand is great, and within two turns be able to provide a handy 15/15 friend with which to win the game. If you can tick her up even higher so she survives, in the matchups where your opponent doesn’t fetch or shock, you can even discard the friend to her +2 after the first 15 damage hit and shuffle it back in, so there is very little work to do to finish off.
More recently, Nahiri has begun to fall out of favour in these types of lists. The control decks are moving towards straight U/W with more board control, or into Search for Azcanta grind-you-out territory, and the combo lists are running straight U/R for Blood Moon free wins, and using Through the Breach as an alternate way to bring along the 15/15 friend. However, because of Nahiri’s resilience and applicability in a wide range of matchups, it wouldn’t take much of a meta shift to see Jeskai decks utilising her resurge in popularity.
In the meantime, she has found a home in another type of deck: R/W prison. Blood Moon has always been a very good card and when played early enough, in combination with almost any other cards it can win the game. Prison utilises this to great effect, adding it to other similar effects like Ensnaring Bridge and Chalice of the Void, combined with Simian Spirit Guide to lock players out of the game early. Nahiri provides an easy way to find the cards you need, an answer to any problematic permanents that managed to slip through the net, and also functions as a win condition that is fast and hard for the opponent to interact with, so she has been an all-star addition to the deck which has boosted it greatly.
There is no doubt that Nahiri is on the right power level for Modern, and will continue to see play in the future.
Following on from Shadows Over Innistrad, in the very next set we were gifted with a Planeswalker to rival the power of her previous incarnation Liliana of the Veil. At three mana, everyone’s eyes were on this card as a potential powerhouse; almost any cheap planeswalker has a high chance of being good (unless it’s Tibalt). This Liliana saw a high amount of play during her time in Standard, and has also made quite a splash in Modern and Legacy.
Prior to the banning of Gitaxian Probe in 2017, Infect was one of the best decks you could be playing in Modern, and Liliana is a fantastic answer to that deck, since she gives -2/-1 until the following turn, meaning that even if they try to save it, the creature dies to state-based actions at the end of the turn after the pump spells wear off. This alone was enough to make it a good sideboard option, but its efficiency against a whole range of scary creatures in Modern, including but not limited to Vault Skirge, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Birds of Paradise, Silvergill Adept and Noble Hierarch, meant that it was also a good mainboard option for B/G/x decks alongside Liliana of the Veil. The added benefit of the Last Hope is that her -2 is also fantastic in grindy control matchups, allowing you to rebuy your best threats, and if they cannot interact with her, her ultimate is going to win you the game over the course of 2-3 turns.
Since the unban of Bloodbraid Elf and the subsequent Jund surge, this card has cropped up even more often, as it’s a great value cascade and has great utility in most situations. With the change to the planeswalker rule allowing her to be in play alongside Liliana of the Veil, she became even more desirable, promoted to a mainboard 2-of in some lists.
In Legacy, too, she has had quite an impact, with some decks opting to play her instead of the Veil. She kills Baleful Strix, unflipped Delver, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and Young Pyromancer for free, and at the very least taps Mother of Runes, providing the first half of the one-two punch to kill her. Her true value in Legacy, though, comes from being able to buyback Leovold, Deathrite Shaman, True-Name Nemesis or Snapcaster Mage, giving you excellent card advantage and stretching your opponent’s removal to the limit.
Liliana, the Last Hope is an absolute powerhouse of a card, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it in numerous black decks from here on out.
Following Eldritch Moon there was a lot of hype for the autumn release, an artifact-themed set from Chandra’s homeworld, a plane embroiled in the midst of a rebellion. One of the more interesting cards in the set, Saheeli Rai was the face of Kaladesh on release, the first Indian-themed Planeswalker with abilities that looked both interesting and fun. Although her +1 is admittedly lacklustre, her low casting cost and the value from her minus abilities was enough to get people talking.
Of course, after the disaster that was Aether Revolt, Saheeli rose to prominence at the head of the Copycat infinite combo deck. Felidar Guardian forms an infinite loop with her which creates as many 1/4 haste creatures as you like (sound familiar?). Wizards of the Coast realised their mistake slightly too late and banned it, an emergency change two days after the announcement banning Aetherworks Marvel, in the third of what would be a long chain of Standard bans still to come.
However, the damage was done and the card was out there, so people began to brew in Modern. She was around in Jeskai builds for a little while until people realised the combo was too hard to defend and went back to 15/15 friends, and there were a few U/R decks that tried to utilise her, but it took a while to find the right home. Admittedly, the deck in which Saheeli has ended up is not what you would call ‘tier’, but it’s very fun to play with and can have explosive combo turns as early as turn 2 which flood the board or even win the game. I am talking, of course, about Cobra Saheeli.
The deck is technically four-colour, but is based in green and white with Oath of Nissa and Birds of Paradise to allow for casting Saheeli Rai. It centres around mana accelerants in the form of dorks and Lotus Cobra, which when combined with fetch lands can produce incredible amounts of mana on turn two or three. Renegade Rallier provides extra acceleration, Oath of Nissa digs into your deck for Saheeli, and you pull out the cat with either Eldritch Evolution or Chord of Calling. Failing the combo, you still make a huge board very early on, with value creatures like Voice of Resurgence or disruptive creatures like Acidic Slime, and overwhelm your opponent that way.
Despite being very vulnerable to boardwipes, the deck is fast and fun, and it’s very possible to win with it thanks to Modern’s wide and varied meta. Though Saheeli isn’t a format all-star and almost certainly never will be, she is the queen of both Cobras and Cats, and should this deck ever somehow rise to prominence, she will have her moment in the sun.
Also from Kaladesh, this card was regarded with disbelief and outright panic during spoilers, with people referring to it as a Jace, the Mind Sculptor counterpart thanks to its four – pretty good – abilities. The reality is somewhat different, although there is no doubt that this is by far and away the best Chandra to ever have been printed, and one which has had a significant impact on Standard in many archetypes from Temur Energy to Red Deck Wins.
In Modern, she was for a time a flexible option for Jund in the 4-drop slot. This had always been somewhat of a ‘player’s choice’ slot, until the unban of Bloodbraid Elf, and you could see things as varied as Thrun, the Last Troll, Olivia Voldaren, Huntmaster of the Fells, Garruk Relentless or Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, depending on any particular meta. Chandra added to these options and was a significant improvement, allowing you to choose between mana, card ‘draw’ or removal at your leisure. When Jund began to decline in popularity in favour of Abzan’s access to Lingering Souls, though, she saw much less play, and then vanished entirely from B/G/x when Bloodbraid Elf came home.
Now, she is partnered beside Nahiri in the R/W prison decks mentioned earlier, as a powerful win condition and a way to control the board. She also sees play in Skred and Big Red decks, which utilise fast mana, lock pieces and huge dragons to close games out. In any build running red, this card should be a serious consideration, because its three different modes outside of the ultimate are all very useful in various situations and various matchups, a key point for Modern-playable Planeswalkers. The fact that it is mono-colour is also a big benefit, and its ability to adequately protect itself is the icing on the cake.
Though expensive, Chandra, Torch of Defiance is very much on the Modern power scale and will be a good finisher for red decks for a long time.
After Kaladesh, we skip a few sets until we come to the most recent release, Dominaria. Everyone raved about the addition of a new Karn to the Modern card pool, but at 4 mana and being a slow, grindy kind of card, it doesn’t fit well into either Tron or Affinity, the two decks which might be looking to run colourless artifact-themed planeswalkers. He may see play in the future, but for now, outside of a few shells in the Eldrazi Tron variant, he’s not really made an impact (though it’s about the only format he’s not touched!) While the hype was going on about Karn, though, a mischevious time mage slipped under the radar…
Teferi was, at first, overlooked in favour of Karn. Five mana for a planeswalker is a lot to ask in Modern, so it has to be exceptionally good to actually see play. Teferi didn’t really seem to have that sparkly overpowered line of text that made everyone go ‘whoa, this is broken!’. When actually sitting down and putting him on the table, though, this card is a real powerhouse for control decks, and is making waves in both Standard and Modern already.
The main draw of Teferi is that although you have to tap out to cast him on 5, his +1 then untaps two of your lands, conveniently putting him at a high 5 loyalty, drawing you a card to replace himself, and leaving you with counterspell mana after the fact. Then, when you counter whatever they do and untap, you have the ability to control the board, including troublesome permanents like artifacts, planeswalkers and enchantments, or tap out to develop your game plan during your main phase, draw an extra card per turn and continue to leave up mana for interaction for the rest of the game.
Make no mistake, and it pains me to say this because Jace is probably my favourite Magic card ever, this Planeswalker is, in fact, better in Modern than Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and is appearing in decks alongside him already. The unconditional removal and the grace with which this fits into a control deck’s curve – four-mana board wipe into five-mana Teferi and leave up Negate – makes it a very good fit for Modern control. Watch out for Teferi in many more decks coming up, as more people see and discover for themselves the power level of this card.
I can’t say for sure whether Teferi will be a mainstay, as it largely depends on the direction the format takes in the future – control is notoriously always shifting to counter whatever style of aggression is most prevalent – but if pure, grindy, Search for Azcanta, grind-you-out-with-card-advantage control continues to endure, then Teferi will undoubtedly be its star player.
And that’s it! A summary of the most powerful recent planeswalkers, where they’ve seen play and how they will continue to affect Modern going forward.
Community Question: What do you think of my assessments? Have you tried out Teferi in your deck? Do you think Lad Chad will see a lot of play? Let us know in the comments!
As always, thanks for reading,