Five Underplayed Planeswalkers in Modern

Feature Article from Seth Manfield
Seth Manfield
9/1/2017 11:01:00 AM
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Modern is a format full of some crazy interactions and combos, so where do planeswalkers fit in a world with so many fast decks? You won't be finding a planeswalker in combo decks like Scapeshift or Goryo's Vengeance, but there are still many decks that can play them. In fact, I don't think that planeswalkers see enough play in Modern. Some planeswalkers can actually help enable some of the slower combo decks, while others can be used as a way to take over the late game.

In Standard, pretty much every legal planeswalker sees play at one point or another, and since there aren't as many that are legal, it is hard to forget about one. The same isn't true for Modern. There are a ton of them, in fact too many to count. The Modern format has been slowing down a bit, especially after the Gitaxian Probe banning. We aren't seeing as many decks winning on turn three, and this leaves more room for good value permanents like planeswalkers.

I want to highlight planeswalkers that players may not be thinking enough about. That means I'm not going to be talking about the most prominent planeswalkers like Liliana of the Veil, but instead I'll dig deeper into the depths of Modern though.

Garruk Wildspeaker

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 Garruk Wildspeaker
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Can we flashback all the way to when planeswalkers were first printed? That was actually quite a while ago! Garruk Wildspeaker is the first planeswalker I ever played with in a big tournament, the World Championships in 2008, and back then Modern wasn't a format; it was Extended instead. Want a throwback list? I actually made the Top 16 of the tournament playing this bad boy:

Clearly, we have come a long way since this deck list, but many of the cards here are still strong in Modern today, nine years later! The interaction to pay attention to in particular is the one with Utopia Sprawl. Being able to untap a land with a Utopia Sprawl on it can help generate more mana – and here the idea was to go for a big Death Cloud – allows you to leave just Garruk on the field.

Alright, want a more current deck where Garruk Wildspeaker fits?

These days, you typically find Garruk Wildspeaker is in Green Devotion decks, though really any ramp strategy with Utopia Sprawl (and possibly Fertile Ground as well), can make good use of Garruk Wildspeaker. Being able to untap two lands is great, but the other modes are very important too. Making a creature or simply killing the opponent with the Overrun effect definitely comes up. Playing a Garruk on turn three and then killing the opponent with the Overrun effect actually happens more than you would expect.

In a deck like Green Devotion or Tooth and Nail, Garruk Wildspeaker is the exact planeswalker you want to have. We see in this Green Devotion list the addition of Oath of Nissa as a means to find Garruk Wildspeaker, and there are even some copies of Nissa, Voice of Zendikar, which is even more unusual to see in Modern. The two green mana symbols on these planeswalkers is definitely a factor for having a big turn with Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx.

Elspeth, Knight Errant

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Speaking of older planeswalkers, unlike Garruk Wildspeaker, Elspeth, Knight Errant is not a card you want to play four copies of. In fact, playing four copies of a planeswalker is generally not a great idea unless they are a centerpiece to a deck. Elspeth, Knight Errant is a pretty good deal for a four-mana investment, and very difficult to attack because of her ability to churn out soldiers. She reminds me a lot of Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. Elspeth Knight Errant is going to fit best in decks that want a little bit of reach, to help close out games. Here is a look at a Tribal Zoo list where she fits perfectly:

Elspeth, Knight Errant is actually the most expensive card in the deck, and that's great. You want to have a threat on the board when casting her. The best creature to give flying to is Geist of Saint Traft, as the opponent now most likely can't block it. Elspeth, Knight Errant can break a creature stall on the ground, or the pump effect can be used to deal the last few points of damage. Outside of this sort of deck, Elspeth, Knight Errant also deserves consideration in control decks too.

Tibalt, the Fiend Blooded

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A planeswalker that we don't hear very much about, but is definitely worth trying to build a deck around. Tibalt, the Fiend Blooded is a two-mana planeswalker, and that makes it unique. Since it only costs two mana it isn't going to be as powerful as some of the more expensive planeswalkers, but if you can make a deck where the random loot effect is good, than Tibalt becomes great. There a couple ways to make discarding cards profitable, one of which is for the discarded cards to have madness:

This deck is built around discard synergy, and with all the removal it becomes easy to protect Tibalt. Since you can get your planeswalker into play on the second turn of the game, it will be much more difficult for opposing decks to have a way to immediately take it off the board. There are plenty of cards here that we don't typically see in Modern, but that doesn't mean they aren't good cards. There is a ton of synergy here, and even though the discard effect of Tibalt is random almost all the cards in the deck you don't actually mind having to discard. Demigod of Revenge is going to be great when you cast it if there is already another copy in the graveyard, and similarly Gurmag Angler also wants a ton of cards in the graveyard for delve.

There are a lot of madness outlets, and they are all removal spells, including Big Game Hunter. The deck may not fare that well against straight combo decks where the removal doesn't have good targets, but you always have Blood Moon as a backup plan. Blood Moon is a card that any red deck in Modern with decent mana most likely wants to be playing. I see this list not as a finished product for the best possible Tibalt list, but as a way of thinking about the cool ways you can build a deck where Tibalt is actually the best card in your deck.

Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas

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Tezzeret is the perfect planeswalker for an artifact-based midrange deck. From time to time we see Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas getting attention (like when Sword of the Meek got unbanned), but it turns out the Thopter Foundry plus Sword of the Meek interaction isn't quite as powerful as players thought it would be. Decks that play Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas generally want access to the toolbox full of artifacts that can be found with it.

This version doesn't have as many one-ofs as some of the other versions, as it maxes out on powerful hate cards like Ensnaring Bridge and Relic of Progenitus. There are a couple of Trinket Mage so you can tutor up the one-ofs that are in the deck, like Chalice of the Void or Pithing Needle. The four copies of Collective Brutality are here because the card is a very good versatile spell in Modern, not because it has a ton of synergy.

There are a few different ways to build a Tezzerator deck, but you want a critical mass of artifacts no matter what version it is. I have seen players have a Gifts Ungiven package, or even more cheap artifacts like Mox Opal. There is also the possibility of going bigger with cards like Treasure Mage, Wurmcoil Engine and Batterskull. This particular version actually has more planeswalkers than just Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas, as Tezzeret the Seeker is a way of getting any of the artifacts in the deck into play immediately.

Narset Transcendent

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Narset Transcendent didn't see a ton of play when it was around in Standard, though it did see some. Why would it be good in Modern, then? The answer is there are many more non-creature spells to choose from, and it becomes easier to win the game when you have access to strong planeswalkers. A deck built around Narset Transcendent wants as many non-creature spells as possible, so as to make it both more likely you hit something when ticking her up and so there are plenty of good options for rebounding. It makes sense to play Narset in a control deck, with her being one of the primary sources of card advantage:

Clearly Jeskai Control isn't the only three-color control option in Modern. This deck has a lot going for it, with all of the classic disruptive elements you want from a control deck are present. Since you are playing black, discard spells now become viable options. The only creature in the deck is Snapcaster Mage, and that makes sense considering how good they are with all the other spells. Both Lingering Souls and the Gideons can be used to close out the game, so that isn't a big issue. A turn-four Narset Transcendent will take over the game surprisingly quickly, as getting her off the battlefield is extremely difficult considering her high loyalty.

The Narset ultimate is something that actually comes up pretty often, and is a way to lock some decks completely out of the game. The rebound is also particularly effective when used on a sweeper like Supreme Verdict, as it prevents the opponent from playing more creatures after you sweep the board. This is the perfect Superfriends strategy in Modern, as Narset Transcendent plays well alongside other planeswalkers.

A control deck like this one is certainly one way to make planeswalkers work in Modern, but there are clearly plenty of other ways to build around planeswalkers as well. It is easy to play a deck with lots of cheap cards, so that when you do get to put your planeswalker into play, you aren't too far behind in the game. There are many different planeswalkers in Modern, and many help enable certain decks that wouldn't otherwise be viable – just take a look at the Tezzerator deck.

Thanks for reading,

Seth Manfield




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