Feature Article from Cassidy Silver

Fat Stacks - The Top 25 Planeswalkers

Cassidy Silver

11/6/2014 11:00:00 AM

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Hello! This week on Fat Stacks, we are going to finish up our cursory glance at the 50 Planeswalkers of Magic. Of course, there are now officially 55 'Walkers, what with the new CMDR14 being released this week, but let's just forget about the new five for now, and hit the Top 25 Planeswalkers for Commander!

Before we continue with the list, I did get a few questions about what criteria I used to judge the Planeswalkers. I definitely started out by only counting them when it comes to a multiplayer Commander game. Actually, a card's effectiveness in other formats, like Liliana of the Veil, was almost counterproductive, because she is much weaker in multiplayer over Modern / French, or Standard when she was legal (she was co-legal with Sun Titan...good times). I also try to consider how often I see them being played by others, and how often I would put these into my own decks. I tried to use a gut reaction to choose, because arbitrarily giving numbers to relatively equal power cards can be a nightmare. Mostly, I thought of a PW, gave it a number between 1-50 that I thought fit, and then mashed all the numbers together to make a list. If you feel X is better than Y, you might be right, this is just the order I came up with.

25) Ajani Vengeant – We will start off the list with one of the many versions of Ajani. His +1 is a bit off, because it only keeps something tapped down, but doesn't tap it first. This can be brutal to do to a land, and the other day Ajani saved Zurgo Helmsmasher from a Maze of Ith for the entire game pretty much. The Lightning Helix is a decent ability, and makes a lot of sense for the first and only Boros PW to have. His -7 is a one-sided Armageddon, which is of course extremely powerful. Most people do everything they can to stop this Ajani before he gets ultimate, but every once in a while someone will forget how good it is.

24) Domri Rade – Domri is definitely a strong Planeswalker, especially with him low mana cost. Domri was great in Standard, but I think he is a little bit weaker in Commander, where we have a lot of options for card draw and removal. I love the fight mechanic, but like I said, I think that GR has plenty of good options, and there are another two PW's in Gruul colors to compare him to. If his ultimate were a bit more like Ajani Vengeant (ie. board state destroying) I could see having this guy higher up the list. The army buff he does give is nice, but like his fight ability, it requires you to have relevant creatures to make it useful.

23) Liliana Vess – I am normally not a big fan of this card, but when I really thought about my complaints, she ended up being better than most. The Vampiric Tutor ability is definitely one of the most open-ended abilities on a Planeswalker, even if it does feel really slow without some way to immediately draw the card. The discard ability is okay, but I think this makes her unpopular in general on the table... either she screws with their game plan, or she helps ours. For this reason, she is usually a five-mana tutor, which is great in any color but Black. Her ultimate is literally Rise of the Dark Realms, but I never see that happen outside of Doubling Season / proliferate.

22) Sarkhan VolSarkhan Vol is easily one of my favorite Planeswalkers, and I think he is one of the most threatening when it comes to getting his ultimate. See, his +1 gives probably the most relevant ability to creatures – haste. Especially in our format with our mostly-present generals, having a source of constant haste basically blanks removal in a lot of ways. If we don't have a creature, we can steal one! In this way he is kind of like a bad Threaten, but there have been many times when I dropped Sarkhan and stole a Blightsteel Colossus / Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre type creatures. After just two activations of his haste ability, he makes five 4/4 Dragon Tokens. Very nice.

21) Elspeth, Knight-Errant – This is probably one of the best Planeswalkers in the game, and easily dominates most Commander games. Why is she so high up the list, then? Well, I think she is just overdone, I guess. She makes chump blockers, and if you can't get through, she makes everything indestructible. After this and Avacyn, Angel of Hope, I just don't want to deal with it anymore. She would probably be higher up the list if we were talking 1v1 formats here, but really I think I am just bored of her. Plus I like the newer Elspeth better.

20) Jace Beleren – This is one of the few Planeswalkers that actually kind of plays into the multiplayer aspect of the format. Everyone gets to draw a card with his +2 ability. Yay! Basically, Jace just draws a ton of cards, and though there are other ways to do it, Jace tends to do it better. Also, this is easily the friendliest 'Walker, so players only really try kill him if it is convenient. The only time I really see his ultimate is in that sweet infi-turn Modern deck, so mostly this guy just draws cards 'til he dies.

19) Jace, Architect of Thought – This is the more dashing version of Jace, as long as you are looking at his original RTR art (he looks constipated in his Jace versus Vraska art). Being able to see three cards in a single activation is why this guy is up the list so high, as well as the fact that his Duel Deck version drove his price down to about $5 from $20. Even with the stupid art, he was Standard legal, so he was everywhere! I've never seen his ultimate ever, because mini-FoF'ing is definitely the best game plan, and his +1 is barely relevant against most decks. Who cares?! Three cards!

18) Ajani, Mentor of Heroes – The GW version of Ajani ends up here, and really I think this guy's abilities are really very powerful. There have been so many Ajani's lately that it is hard to keep track of which does which, and with his name, I keep thinking this is the guy that buffs other 'Walkers, but he is not. Instead, this guy gives up to three +1/+1 counters...he basically gives permanent Giant Growths. Wow. His other +1 is an amazing draw spell, letting you dig for any number of relevant cards. The thing holding this Ajani back is how bad his ultimate is in Commander. Commander damage mostly makes 100 life irrelevant, and then there is also the odd combo deck here and there.

17) Elspeth, Sun's Champion – This is definitely my favorite Elspeth, a perfect combination of Knight-Errant and Tirel. She still has a board wipe, but it's not completely awful like Tirel, and she makes the same amount of Soldiers, but for a +1. She is kind of like a control deck all by herself, and I really appreciate that. Her ultimate is something like Domri's, meaning that we need creatures to make it happen...but Elspeth actually makes plenty of creatures herself, so it's not as much of a problem. Much like Jace, Architect of Thought, I expect Elspeth to drop in price dramatically when the new Duel Deck comes out – Elspeth versus...

16) Kiora, the Crashing Wave – That's right, the dueling 'Walkers are next to each other on my list. Keep in mind I made this list before I knew about the new Duel Deck! Kiora is kind of like the opposite of Ajani, Mentor of Heroes, because her ability is so great with Commander damage. I've seen Kiora shut down many voltron decks that only really have one creature in play at a time. The Explore ability is great if there isn't a scary creature in play. Kiora pretty much always has a good play. The Kraken emblem is of course stuff of legends, and really is the best win condition on the entire list.

15) Liliana of the Dark Realms – This one will probably surprise some of you, because she is not regarded as a strong Planeswalker. The thing is...she isn't. In fact, this is the ultimate I've seen more than any other, because people honestly just don't even remember LotDR is in play. To me, she is great in monoblack for Swamp grabbing, or in any version of BX, BXX, or BXXXX. She grabs shocks and duals in multi-color decks, and that is honestly the best possible thing for those decks. The -3 ability is mostly bad, but it can be very, very good, especially with an Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth. The emblem she makes seems innocuous sometimes, but eventually the opponents realize they can't get rid of it like it was a Caged Sun. So many Black spells get ridiculous with nigh-infinite mana.

14) Ajani, Caller of the Pride – This Ajani is this high up the list because he gives access to the second most relevant ability in Magic – double strike – and the third most relevant – flying. He is basically a three-mana fling machine, and this is crazy with many of the most aggressive generals. His +1 ability is lackluster, unfortunately. His ultimate is actually pretty strong in Commander, but I feel like he never gets there, because his fling is too good. Coming down on three mana gives him a lot more time to build up and get settled, and he is usually the best target for Sun Titan in the graveyard.

13) Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker – I love this Planeswalker! I feel like I have to talk about this guy a lot since he is new, so I won't go too into it. Everything he does is super relevant, from the flying Dragon form, to the -3 Flame Slash. I even like his emblem, which is so easy to get. I mean, I wouldn't want to get the emblem in a control deck with a full grip, but he is perfect in the voltron / midrange decks where you are just dumping the hand anyways.

12) Tamiyo, the Moon Sage – Whereas Ajani Vengeant has to wait patiently for the opponent to tap a creature, Tamiyo just taps it herself. Her second ability is crazy when the opponent is making huge armies of tokens. I've played her following another player casting Army of the Damned...thanks for the cards, dude! Her emblem basically breaks the game of Magic, especially when we are talking about decks that are running cards like Capsize or Remand. Even casting something like Bribery twice in one turn, and then return in it to hand again, is just crazy. Cast Ponder like 14 times in one turn? The possibilities are endless, and so is the fun.

11) Garruk, Primal Hunter – For the most part, this Garruk is a five-mana draw spell. I've played him in my Omnath, Locus of Mana deck for years, and yup, usually I am drawing like 10-15 cards easy. He makes the 3/3 token as a +1, which is a nice improvement over Garruk Wildspeaker. His ultimate is cool, making a ton of creatures, but I usually only see it in connection with Doubling Season. It's hard to get that much loyalty when I keep drawing SO MANY CARDS!!!!!! Actually, this Garruk has been something of a suicide button in the deck, giving opponents who Mindslaver / Worst Fears me a way to kill me by drawing too many cards with a giant Omnath. That is why I usually keep only 30-40 mana in the mana pool in that deck.

10) Nissa, Worldwaker – To be honest, I haven't played with Nissa enough to really test her. I have trouble getting access to high-$ cards from new sets, mainly because they sell so well. Untapping four Forests is ridiculous in pretty much any situation, though not being able to untap a Gaea's Cradle is a bit of a bummer. I am not a huge fan of turning lands into creatures, because people tend to lay off land destruction in Commander, but pour on the creature removal. The trample is nice I guess, but I can say with confidence that my Dryad Arbor dies all the time. That is one of the reasons I am not so sure about the ultimate either...sure, she gets a lot of basic lands, but none of them can tap right away, and if someone is like “I cast that cool Rout with Elesh Norn on it,” we just got Armageddon'd. I don't know honestly, I think she gets a ton of merit just for untapping four lands. Still, there is a better version in...

9) Garruk Wildspeaker – This is probably one of the most useful Planeswalkers there is. He can untap that Gaea's Cradle if need be, or any land, really. He does get a -1 to make his trademark Beasts, but what really matters in this case is his extremely low-loyalty ultimate. You literally only need to use his +1 ONCE to get to his ultimate, which is basically Overrun. Since the +1 ability is so good, Garruk can often just sit around with a lot of counters him, and Overrun multiple times over the course of the game.

8) Sorin Markov – This is probably one of the most infamous Planeswalkers in Commander, mainly because he is a 'lose 30 life' button. And that isn't even his ultimate, which is basically that Mindslaver / Worst Fears we were talking about earlier. His little life draining ability is pretty much the only underwhelming thing about him, but being able to pick off X/2 creatures is much better an option than most PW's have. One Progenitus deck I play against waits until Progenitus is in play, then plays Sorin and brings you down to lethal range for the Hydra.

7) Chandra, the Firebrand – Why is Chandra so high up the list? Well, it's because Fork is so good. I mean, we've been talking about ramping and tokens and such, but nothing interacts with sorceries or instants really. Chandra ends up being lethal because we can copy stuff like Time Warp, Comet Storm, Worst Fears, etc. She might seem hard to keep alive, but if you are playing removal, then you can double Lightning Bolt / Doom Blade. Her +1 is pretty lame, but it can kill mana dorks, which is actually really valuable. Her ulti is the 666 Satan burn (-6 for 6 damage to 6 targets), and even though I am not a metalhead, I can still appreciate a veiled Satanic reference.

6) Vraska the Unseen – I love Vraska! -3 to blow up a nonland is so good! She also protects herself decently without making tokens, though of course she will likely die still. Even though she has the most universal destruction on any Planeswalker, he ultimate is the coolest part. She makes three Assassin Tokens (already completely awesome) that kill an opponent if they connect. Rogue's Passage, anybody? The best part about Vraska, though: unlike Jace, Architect of Thought, her art from the Duel Deck was really good.

5) Tezzeret the Seeker – This version of Tezzeret is great for decks based around artifacts, especially if they are running mana rocks. I pretty much use him for that purpose, and he usually goes down being attacked, or searching for something out of the deck that kills him. I've never, ever seen someone turn the artifacts into creatures... he just never gets that far. A lot of people swear by Tezzeret and the artifact lands of Mirrodin, mainly because he can tutor them up for free, and untap them like he was Garruk Wildspeaker.

4) Venser, the Sojourner – This Venser is probably one of the most misunderstood Planeswalkers... I mean, people always know about his blink ability. What they always forget about is the fact that he makes all creature unblockable. So not only is he this kind of durdly-control type guy, he can also have this hyper-aggressive mode to him. His emblem reminds me of Tamiyo, in that it breaks the game, and makes it almost unplayable for the opponents. The one thing I want to mention also is that you can target any permanent you own with Venser, so I have seen people run stuff like Gilded Drake, which will come into play after the blink under the owner's control again.

3) Chandra, Pyromaster – Another Chandra at the top of the list! I like this Chandra because she draws a card, basically. This may seem silly a reason after all the Jace's up the list, but this is Red we are talking about here. We don't have to discard anything, we just have to play it before end of turn. The fact that they added a non-blocking clause to her poke makes the ability super-relevant in a way that none of the other Chandra's even come close to. Her ultimate is pretty decent, and since she doesn't have any '-' abilities, she needs to be dealt with, or eventually she will go ultimate.

2) Jace, the Mind Sculptor – I know, it's super lame to have this guy so far up the list. I don't have a copy, but if nothing else, he Brainstorms. Brainstorm is good. So is Jace.

1) Karn Liberated – If you have been playing Commander long enough, you remember a time when Karn was only a Commander staple, and not a Modern one. Back in the day, I got like six of them for $10 each, which is still expensive I guess, but of course now it is much more so. I put him at the top of the list merely because he can go in any colored deck, which is extremely important in a format that is so entrenched in the color identity rule. All he really does is exile cards, which is super nice, but I will say that I don't recommend using his ultimate.

Well, that is my take on the top 25 Planeswalkers. Thanks for reading!

- Cassidy Silver