Command of Etiquette—Walking the Elder Dragon’s Highlands, Part Two

It’s round two of the Planeswalker showcase, and I’ve got an exciting lot to go over with you today. Our focus will be the planeswalkers from Gideon to Liliana, which leaves us with an odd number but it makes next week’s article flow a little more smoothly. Despite there being a perfect 36 entries in Gatherer when you search for planeswalkers, Garruk Relentless/Garruk, the Veil Cursed (Flip Garruk) actually gets counted twice. It’s actually worth looking at the search in question; there is something weirdly beautiful about looking at all the weirdly bordered planeswalkers in one central flow. But enough intro! Let’s get to the ‘walkers:

13) Gideon Jura (ID: white, rating: 7)—Since his first printing, Gideon has always played a fascinating role in constructed formats. He was a staple of the UW Control decks of his time, teaming up to protect Jace, the Mind Sculptor by forcing them to swing at the less beneficial target, and providing both spot removal and a potential finisher if your Jace plan ran out of gas. As for his finishing ability, Gideon is fascinating since both of his incarnations turn into creatures that are very difficult to kill; Gideon Jura has universal damage prevention, and NuGideon is indestructible. Gideon is one of the few planeswalkers without an ultimate ability, but it’s because his creature ability is so powerful. In multiplayer, he gets a high rating because you can use his plus ability to force one of your opponents to end up shields down, while not nettling the whole table. It’s a cool set of abilities, and for five mana it’s in a reasonable package.

14) Gideon, Champion of Justice (ID: white, rating: 4)—It’s hard to rate a four drop planeswalker too negatively, since the ability to get it out on turn two in EDH (off a turn one Sol Ring, of course) is underestimated at your opponents’ peril. So, despite NuGideon not making too much of a splash in Standard or Modern, he’s still a relevant card in Commander. The Gideon ability to dodge the vast majority of removal played in the format (sorcery speed wraths in particular) is still super relevant for a creature that is at worst a 5/5 for four mana. It would have been better if the plus one ability had not been targeted, but it is still super powerful since usually there’s at least one player with too many creatures on the board. Unlike Gideon, NuGideon also has an ultimate ability. It’s a pretty darn vile one, but it’s positioned interestingly since most other effects that exile the world cost nine or ten mana (e.g., Decree of Annihilation). And unlike those effects, you are left with a finisher in its own right, plus you have the ability to float mana and then cast a high-impact spell once the board has otherwise been cleared. So, he’s not a staple, but he’s not as bad an EDH card as he looks to be in other formats.

15) Jace Beleren (ID: blue, rating: 8)—Jace Prime is basically the perfect EDH planeswalker for someone with my proclivities. As such, it’s a shame he’s still seeing some play in Modern (like in the UW deck I am currently playing) because it means I can’t jam all my copies of the card into Commander decks regardless of whether or not he’s a good fit. He has a generous plus ability that draws everyone cards on your turn, which makes for a good combination of incentives to keep him on the board and you alive, while still making your draw more effective than your opponents’. He will rarely ever ultimate, even with Doubling Season shenanigans, and even if he’s threatening to ultimate the 20 card mill isn’t so obviously lethal as to draw the attention of the table. Of course, savvy opponents are going to likely realize the little card engine that could is a danger and get rid of it before you’ve gained too much advantage, but you’d be surprised at how long you can keep this little guy around. Definitely worth playing if you can find the slot and like drawing cards.

16) Jace, Architect of Thought (ID: blue, rating: 6)—Jace 4.0 is a sleeper hit for Commander. He’s less powerful than his Beler-ethren, but his plus one ability is really powerful against swarm strategies and not super threatening, and he gives your opponent plenty of time to stop him from ultimating (which he does immediately if you’ve got Doubling Season in play, something that otherwise takes five turns to pull off). Usually, an ability set like this means a planeswalker stays alive for longer than he otherwise should. When you add in the repeatable Fact or Fiction variant, an ability that gets stronger in multiplayer where you can sometimes get a friendly opponent to divide unequally in your favor, the value of the card seems clear. It’s important to remember, though, that 4.0 is the least powerful of the Jaces.

17) Jace, Memory Adept (ID: blue, rating 7)—Jace 3.0 is much more powerful than the Architect, but slightly more niche in his appeal. Clearly, 3.0 is best in a deck with self-mill strategies, or at least that gets ancillary value from the graveyard. You don’t need to go full Mimeoplasm, as the plus one ability still lets you draw cards while only incrementally adding to your graveyard, but if you are trying to engage in Mirror-Mad Phantasm level shenanigans, Jace 3.0 is a great enabler. And while his generally used finisher (his zero loyalty mill ability) is slower in Commander than it is in Standard, it still is more than capable of getting the job done. Especially when you combine it with Rest in Peace, potentially in a WU deck that uses the Energy Field, Rest in Peace, and Helm of Obedience combo. Still, he’s a Jace that holds the board from his brethren and draws you cards… and that makes him good enough for any blue deck, even without specific synergies.

18) Jace, the Mind Sculptor (ID: blue, rating: 10)—I was debating giving Big Jace a nine rating, for the sole reason that I think playing him in Commander is a little… gauche. He is solidly established as the strongest planeswalker, and especially in a post-miracles era his abilities are all super powerful. Here’s a list of things that Big Jace can do in a singleton deck: fateseal away creatures and spells you’ve charmed or lapsed to the top of their library; set up a miracle; draw three cards and then shuffle away two bad ones; bounce a threat an opponent spent significant resources to get onto the table; return a stolen creature to its owner’s hand; reset one of your powerful mulldrifters, potentially triggering it’s as it leaves play; kill a person; set up a Laboratory Maniac win. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg! A devious mind can think of many ways to abuse Jace’s three immediate abilities and super powerful ultimate. I’ve been trying to curb the power level creep in my own EDH decks, and that makes me super wary of trying out a powerful card like Big Jace in a fundamentally casual format.

19) Karn Liberated (ID: none, rating: 9)—In most constructed formats Karn is probably only a seven or eight. You need to have a very specifically built deck to support him in the 60-card formats, like the Tron decks, and yet he’s still an all-star when he sees play. So in a format like Commander, where you can play all sorts of degenerate mana rocks, he shines. But he also has the unique benefit of being the only colorless planeswalker ever printed! Now, that would be cool no matter what, since the planeswalkers aren’t evenly distributed amongst the colors, nor are they evenly distributed in terms of power. It’s even cooler when you realize that Karn’s most relevant ability is an exiling vindicate effect, which gives colors like red and black access to removal that can hit the types of permanents to which they are weak. He’s pretty awesome, even if you’re not specifically highlighting him in an Ulamog or Karn, Silver Golem deck.

20) Koth of the Hammer (ID: red, rating: 6)—Koth is red’s best planeswalker in the 60-card constructed formats. He’s pretty good in Commander as well. Mono-red decks don’t have a ton of ramp options without going the artifact route, and both Koth’s plus one and his minus two abilities can serve to add extra mana to your pool. In EDH you get some more sinister options, since you can use his plus one ability as part of a mana denial plan, to make an opponent’s land into a creature before you play a red wrath, or you can use it to help out another red player who needs to be keeping up a bit of mana to be fully shielded. Of course, his ultimate is quite good too! I play Hecatomb in my Endrek Sahr deck, so having a permanent one that doesn’t require you to sacrifice four creatures in red seems pretty good! Finally, Koth gets some style points, since his name Koth is an acronym for Koth Of The Hammer. And if graveyard decks have taught us anything, it’s that recursion is awesome.

21) Liliana of the Dark Realms (ID: black, rating: 6)—So it’s probably clear by now, but I am a sucker for ramp in non-traditional colors. And Lily 3.0 meets that demand with aplomb. It’s actually interesting to me that she’s next to Koth alphabetically in the current list of planeswalkers, since they both share similar abilities. Koth has a plus ability that can add a single mana to your pool, a minus ability that multiplies your mana by a factor of two, and an ultimate that turns your mountains into removal; Lily 3.0 has a plus ability that can let you add a single mana to your pool (by fetching a land to drop), a minus ability that can be used as removal for a creature or damage to a player based on the number of swamps you control, and an ultimate that increases your mana by a multiple of four. They’re functionally very similar abilities, just remixed a little. Plus, they’re both four drops that specifically care about the land type you control, which means you should either be running them in a monocolored deck, or be using them with typed duals or Prismatic Omen. But unlike Koth, Liliana give you a free shuffle effect when you use her plus one ability, which makes her a great fit for blue decks that want to be using Future Sight or Mr. the Mind Sculptor. So she might not be amazing, but it’s hard to not appreciate synergy.

22) Liliana of the Veil (ID: black, rating: 9)Last week I made the mistake of not remembering Little Lily when I was listing the top three walkers ever printed, and I put Karn on that list instead of putting her in the two spot where she belongs. It was an error, because Little Lily is amazing particularly in a multi-player setting. Her ultimate and removal are targeted, but her discard ability hits the whole table. This is a pretty neat combination of factors in EDH, since usually cards aren’t so equally split between multiplayer abilities and target player ones. Since her ultimate is targeted, you can often ignore it if it’s not going to be aimed at you (since, let’s be honest, you can usually tell who has the target on their back in a group game of Magic). But it’s important to remember that people tend to hate discard in Commander. At least it’s not random, but while you might not provoke aggro specifically by going for the ultimate, there’s a good chance your journey to that goal is going to make you some enemies.

23) Liliana Vess (ID: black, rating: 5)—There was a time when Vess was a force to be reckoned with, but creep has made her a middling card. While she ultimates immediately to Doubling Season, it otherwise takes her four turns to get there, and in the meantime you’ve been taking a card a turn from (likely) an irritated enemy. Sure, this one doesn’t draw the same amount of aggro from the table as she ticks up towards her ultimate, but the ultimate itself is so powerful as to give most players a solid incentive to avoid letting it happen. Basically, unless you have specific synergies in your deck that make it beneficial for you to be pointing that discard at yourself, the primary reason you run Vess is that she is a repeatable tutor. But it’s a serious disadvantage that she doesn’t draw you the card she searches up, and her mana cost doesn’t really work to defray that. If you want to be running a five mana repeatable tutor, run Increasing Ambition, because at least then you net a card; Vess sometimes will just bite it before you even draw the first tutored card, and then you’ve spent a card and a draw to net one specific card in your library. Still, she’s a repeatable tutor, so it’s hard to drop her beneath a five point rating. That is powerful, especially if you can get an engine going with Big Jace or Big Chandra, or one of the other walkers that lets you draw cards.

So that’s it for this week. Next week we start with Nicol Bolas and end with Vraska. Weird but fun fact: seven of the nine multicolored planeswalkers fall in the last third of the alphabetical planeswalker list, including the three unique gold walkers, and the one planeswalker with two gold versions of himself. So next week we’ll be sorting through gold to finish this out!

And as usual, your thoughts are more than welcome in our comment section.

Comments
4 Responses to “Command of Etiquette—Walking the Elder Dragon’s Highlands, Part Two”
  1. danaflops says:

    It’s funny, in decks where I’ve played Liliana Vess, I’ve (almost) always targeted myself with her discard ability.

    • thejlina says:

      I think that’s usually the best way to go… it’s a lot less likely to piss someone off, and it gives you a pretty solid discard outlet for graveyard shenanigans.

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