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

So I’m back from GP Pittsburgh, and while I did not do as well as my esteemed colleague, about which you will be hearing more later in the week, I had a blast and even got to play some Commander. Not that I really want to play Commander with strangers in general; at one point I was in a game where my opponents had Sneak Attack, Survival of the Fittest, Greater Good and Defense of the Heart on the board between them. I lost that one. It was intense, and maybe I should be throwing more Fracturing Gust effects in my deck in the future.

But you’re not here for a recap of some silly Commander games in which I was slaughtered! You’re here for part three of my EDH planeswalker recap (part one and part two, if you’re interested). So, without further ado, let’s get to it!

24) Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker (ID: red, black, and blue; rating: 9)—I would like to point out that my sky-high rating of this guy is based on the fact that if you resolve him, you’re favored to win the game. He has an insane positive, a crazier negative, and basically starts out with eight loyalty. Bolas is the concept of a planeswalker, taken to the extreme. He’s the most expensive, the most color committed, and he ultimates on turn three (taking your opponent’s hand and board position with him). In practice, though, he’s hard to build with and harder to actually resolve onto the type of battlefield position that will let you win. Maybe in a deck full of wraths and Cyclonic Rift effects you can land him and keep him around, but he’ll make you a lot of enemies, and fast.

25) Nissa Revane (ID: green; rating: 4)—Now, don’t get me wrong, I love me some Nissa. Dana and I occasionally play tribal wars against each other, her with a Goblins brew and me with my Elven spirit tribe. I play Nissa in that EDH deck. Her abilities aren’t even bad, per se. Elves are a tribe known for numeracy, and gaining two life for each Elf you control is definitely a powerful lifegain ability. It’s just her primary ability that’s a bit weird. Without Nissa, Nissa’s Chosen is just not a sufficiently powerful card to make the cut in most Commander decks. It’s a terrible top deck, and running Nissa basically requires you to run the Chosen as well. But if you can get Nissa out first, the ability is actually not bad at all. Worst case it’s a repeatable chump blocker, but things can get really out of control when you add in sacrifice shenanigans for a Commander like Savra. She’s a solid role player, but mainly in a tribal Elf deck.

26) Sarkhan the Mad (ID: red and black; rating 6)—Sarkhan the Mad has the unique distinction of being the only planeswalker without any means to gain loyalty. This usually does not matter, because his zero-loyalty ability is super powerful. He’s a Dark Confidant that takes the hit for you, the best type of buddy a red/black deck could have. His minus two ability is no joke either, since it’s a reliable way to upgrade your team with the potential upside of being able to use it as removal in those cases where a 5/5 flying dragon is less terrifying than the creature you’re killing. In Commander this is not an uncommon situation. His ultimate is a little weak, but again he’s an odd duck in that he can ultimate immediately upon hitting the board, which can be good in a tribal dragons deck (say, Scion of the Ur-Dragon). Now, I might be wrong about this, but I am under the impression that the way his ability is worded means you can use it to do damage to more than one planeswalker under a single opponent’s control, given a greater or equal number of dragons. So, if you have the 35-planeswalker deck in your playgroup, Sarkhan is a potential answer!

27) Sarkhan Vol (ID: red and green; rating: 2)—There is an argument that the lesser Vol is a powerful card. Haste is a great keyword, and in a deck with an aggressive board presence, or a tokens deck, it could potentially be something else. But his first two abilities fade at the end of turn, meaning one of two things: your opponent will get their creature back and be annoyed with you, or you can sacrifice their creature, in which case your opponent is down a permanent, but furious. He’s not big enough for his ability to be truly useful, for the amount of irritation it causes. That having been said, this guy is up there when it comes to Doubling Season shenanigan potential. Four mana to create ten 4/4 dragons is pretty amazing, and he even sticks around behind his flying wall of doom to turn your 40 power into 50 power on the next swing.

28) Sorin Markov (ID: black; rating: 1 or 10)—I assume everyone is familiar with the concept that somewhere in our emotional palate there’s a place where love and hate blend together in a somewhat noxious mix. Well, if you had to place planeswalkers in that spectrum, Sorin Prime is firmly in that confusing place. On the one hand he is unintentionally super powerful. In limited, his minus three ability is pretty good and his plus two ability is bonkers. In Commander it’s the inverse; two points of lifelinked damage to a target is something, but he almost always comes into play and drops one of your opponents to ten life. Since this is usually the prelude to an alpha strike, he’s quite possibly the best planeswalker in the format. It’s just that his ability is so entirely cheap! No one likes being killed out of nowhere, and since Sorin Prime is basically a combo with any board state that lets you do ten points of damage, it’s easy for him to just win the game on the spot. Even if your opponent has infinite life! So he’s either a ten or a one, depending on the way you play the game. In more cutthroat play groups, you should definitely consider him; in more casual ones, I advise steering clear.

29) Sorin, Lord of Innistrad (ID: white and black; rating: 6)—Meanwhile, Sorin 2.0 is a much more reasonable Commander card. He’s got a somewhat restrictive color identity, but black and white are both decent at making tokens, and he thrives in a token deck. With all the mass removal in the format, being able to make a permanent anthem effect for your team is a pretty strong ability. But even if you’re playing him in just a good stuff deck, or a control build, it turns out the ability to create a stream of lifelinked blockers is pretty swell, and his ultimate is the sweetest type of removal you can get. It’s a bonus that he ultimates immediately off of Doubling Season; like Sarkhan Vol, he’s good in that type of deck anyway. Unlike Sarkhan Vol, though, I think there are times where you don’t immediately ultimate Sorin when he comes into play; making two tokens and letting him survive is often the better move.

30) Tamiyo, the Moon Sage (ID: blue; rating: 7)—Blue has a ton of good planeswalkers, and Tamiyo fights for attention when you can be playing any number of Jaces as well as Tezzeret in your 99. Being able to Frost Titan permanents is great, especially when you can use that ability strategically to knock a weaker player’s shields down to get the sharks pointed away from you. But I still find her somewhat bland. She’s pseudo-removal and card draw, which is perfectly fine but blue has plenty of both, and much of it is better. Sure, her ultimate is insane (it turns Thought Scour into Ancestral Recall, which is banned for good reason), but the chances of getting to trigger it seem to be somewhat slim. Still, she might not be the most exciting card, but she is certainly versatile and powerful, and at the end of the day both of those things are key to making a strong EDH deck.

31) Tezzeret the Seeker (ID: blue; rating: 6)—Tezzeret Prime only found a home in a very specific type of deck when he was in Standard and Extended. “Tezzerator” initially played Prime as a means of searching up powerful control artifacts like Chalice of the Void and Ensnaring Bridge, and it was strong because Prime tutored for your control pieces, ramped you, and provided a way to win the game down the line. In EDH he can be similarly powerful, but for a few drawbacks: you need to build around him to some degree, even if that just means playing artifact mana, and the control artifacts he can tutor are often less powerful in Commander. Engineered Explosives hits fewer permanents at once, Trinisphere does nothing to make the expensive spells of Commander harder to cast, and even Ensnaring Bridge is less powerful in a format where people regularly play cards like Howling Mine and Jace Beleren. Still, he’s a strong card for ramping or fetching utility artifacts, and maybe that’s all he needs to be.

32) Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas (ID: blue and black; rating: 4)—Like his big brother, Tezzeret 2.0 is a fairly strong card in a deck built to maximize his potential, and fairly weak elsewhere. Unlike Prime, though, 2.0 can’t fetch your Sol Ring for you. He can make your artifacts into creatures, but in a format full of wraths this is more of a drawback, especially since a 5/5 is more likely to be outclassed in this format. Even his ultimate is less powerful in Commander, because it targets a player, makes them lose less life, and doesn’t do damage that could be redirected to a planeswalker. In constructed this is all fine, because the ultimate usually kills your opponent, but in EDH many opponents will be out of range.

33) Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded (ID: red; rating: 2)—When I started this series I planned to give Tibalt a zero, since he’s the most useless planeswalker they’ve yet created. Since then I’ve played the Tibalt vs Sorin duel decks, which are actually somewhat entertaining to play, and the experience left me with the impression that if your deck is REALLY okay with discarding its key cards, he’s not without some charm. It’s just… he’s net negative on cards until you hit his ultimate. He has no removal, he doesn’t even draw you cards, and it’s only when he goes ultimate that he has an ability that changes the board. The good news is that I can’t imagine him drawing too much aggro; the bad news is you’re playing Tibalt, and that can’t be a good thing.

34) Venser, the Sojourner (ID: blue and white; rating: 8)—I know eight is a bit high, but I have a fond spot in my heart for Venser. He got me into the top 8 of States a few years back, and the original art looks strikingly like the Tenth Doctor, who would totally be a planeswalker in the MtG universe. Beyond that, though, he’s a super powerful card. He can work as a Brand effect to return your permanents to your control, as well as resetting any Mulldrifters you have and removing pesky auras from your key cards. He can also reset O-Rings and D-Spheres, if that’s the type of deck you play. Heck, he can even rebuff planeswalkers who have fallen below base loyalty. He has an all-star plus two ability, and his utility negative is an overrun effect in colors that aren’t known for such a thing. But the best part is his ultimate; they stack, and they end games fast in one on one. In EDH it might take longer to grind out a game with that ultimate, but he usually survives it to keep upping the loyalty, and adding a vindicate to every spell you cast usually locks things up right quick.

35) Vraska the Unseen (ID: black and green; rating: 7)—I find the decision to use a comma in their naming conventions to be a fascinating one. I must admit I don’t entirely understand the grammar, if there even is a grammar rule backing their decisions. I don’t see why “the Sojourner” or “the Fiend-Blooded” is more deserving of a comma than “the Seeker” or “the Unseen,” but Wizards says it does and they would be in a position to know. I mean, I get “Agent of Bolas,” “Caller of the Pride,” and “Lord of Innistrad,” but the Sojourner and the Seeker basically mean the same thing, using the same parts of speech. So it’s a little less than clear. Anyway, Vraska is a good addition to the Planeswalker team. She says “destroy target non-land permanent” and she gives you a way to win the game when she ultimates. She plays wonderfully with Doubling Season, and incentivizes people to leave her alone. All of these are great in my book, and she serves decks that play both black and green quite well.

So those are our planeswalkers so far! It’s interesting to see where there are holes missing in their color-coverage; we’re missing Selesnya, Simic, and Izzet planeswalkers, although rumor has it Dragon’s Maze will be bringing Ral Zarek to fill in the Izzet hole. That gives me hope for seeing Kiora Atua in the future, since she would be an interesting planeswalker, and that’s a niche that could stand to be filled. It is a little odd to me that Gruul got two planeswalkers before some of the other color combinations got even one, but I think we can all agree that Sarkhan Vol was a mistake and leave it at that.

Anyway, I am looking forward to Dragon’s Maze; those spoilers really managed to whet my appetite for more commander high jinks. A new cycle of legends really manages to fix the only thing that disappointed me about Return to Ravnica and Gatecrash, namely no small legends. They all sound cool, and in particular I am looking forward to see the new Teysa. A couple of the guilds are pretty shallow in terms of Commander quality, and if Ruric Thar, the Unbowed, is any indication, they’re going to be some interesting designs!

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  1. […] Rich Stein rocked Twitter with his PAX East/Theros teaser coverage, while Jess Stirba concluded her stellar rundown of planeswalkers in Commander. Matt Jones interviewed Chris Rahn for Arting […]



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