The Top 5 Planeswalkers for Modern
Seth Manfield

A couple weeks ago I talked about some of the under-used Planeswalkers in Modern, but now I'm going to rank some of the more obvious Planeswalkers in Modern. While the Planeswalkers I will be talking about are well-known, there may be decks that they fit in that are not.

#5: Jace, Vryn's Prodigy

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As far as I'm concerned, as long as part of the card is a Planeswalker, it counts! Jace, Vryn's Prodigy is a two-mana creature that can be turned into its Planeswalker form pretty easily on turn three. Paying two mana for a Planeswalker is a bargain, though you do want to play Jace, Vryn's Prodigy in a deck that fills graveyard efficiently. This could be a classic blue control deck that uses Jace as a form of card advantage and a way to close out games. We also see Jace in combo decks that need a looter, so we really are talking about a Planeswalker that can fill multiple roles.

There are a few different versions of Goryo's Vengeance strategies that try to get huge legendary creatures into play from the graveyard. Some versions only play Jace, Vryn's Prodigy in the sideboard because they are all-in on setting up a fast combo on turn two or three.

The Esper version is not nearly as all-in on the Goryo's Vengeance combo, so it can take a little longer to set up with a card like Gifts Ungiven. In a deck like this, Jace, Vryn's Prodigy is a perfect maindeck inclusion; if it's not immediately hit by a removal spell it has the potential to take over the game. Sometimes the opponent will have a card like Fatal Push they are itching to use, but after sideboard the opponent is forced with the decision of whether to leave in removal that is only useful against one creature in your deck. There are plenty of instants and sorceries here, so once Jace does flip you have a toolbox of cards to flashback at your disposal.

Perhaps the coolest part of the interaction between Jace, Vryn's Prodigy and Goryo's Vengeance is that you can bring back Jace from the graveyard with Goryo's Vengeance, then loot and you have a Jace, Telepath Unbound that will permanently stay in play, rather than get exiled from the Goryo's Vengeance. This sort of deck may not jump off the page in terms of raw power, but the cards have a ton of synergy with each other.

This deck plays a host of strong legendary threats that don't see enough play. Zur the Enchanter is a build-around card advantage engine, while Geist of Saint Traft provides a straightforward win condition. Jace, Vryn's Prodigy may not have as much synergy here as in the Goryo's Gifts deck, but it is still a good card. Jace, Vryn's Prodigy can simply be a role-player that loots away a card like Lingering Souls for value or allows you to discard something that won't be useful. As long as there are some useful spells to flashback, Jace, Vryn's Prodigy warrants consideration for most midrange blue decks.

Of the Planeswalkers I talk about here Jace, Vryn's Prodigy isn't the most obviously powerful, as it doesn't go in any Tier 1 strategies, but it fits in many fringe decks.

#4: Elspeth, Sun's Champion

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It seems like every few months Elspeth, Sun's Champion slowly becomes more popular in control decks. Control decks and prison strategies are where you should expect to see Elspeth, Sun's Champion. For a six-mana card, you want something that can win the game on its own, and Elspeth, Sun's Champion is exactly that. If you are able to get to a situation where you are ahead or the board state is relatively even, and then Elspeth, Sun's Champion enters play, it is almost impossible for the opponent to come back.

Since Elspeth, Sun's Champion costs six mana, you can't play too many copies. In fact, one is likely the right number here, but really no deck wants to run more than two Elspeth, Sun's Champion. This doesn't make her any less important though. This deck has plenty of card drawing, and that means that it is more likely you can find any one card. On top of that Elspeth, Sun's Champion isn't necessary until later in the game. By that point, unless the opponent is playing a card like Maelstrom Pulse, Elspeth, Sun's Champion should be very difficult to get off the board.

Control decks often don't want to play lots of win conditions, because they need to spend almost all their resources on surviving the early turns and casting various forms of card advantage—that is what we see here. There is another deck that Elspeth, Sun's Champion fits nicely in that I will cover in a bit.

#3: Karn Liberated

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Karn Liberated has proven itself to be the most important colorless Planeswalker to ramp into. At one point Ugin, the Spirit Dragon may have contended for that title, but now Karn Liberated sees play in both Eldrazi Tron and most other Tron variants. Ugin, the Spirit Dragon isn't a typical inclusion in Eldrazi Tron, which is why it didn't make this list. Eldrazi Tron is a Modern powerhouse, perhaps even the best deck in the format right now, based on recent results.

Eldrazi Tron doesn't always assemble all three Tron pieces, so it can't rely too heavily on big mana cards. We do sometimes see a copy of Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, but no more than that. Eldrazi Tron used to not play any Karn Liberated, but lately there have been more and more copies added to the deck; Musser opted to play three. A turn-three Karn Liberated is game-ending, but it is still very good later on as well. Being able to immediately go up to ten loyalty makes this Planeswalker extremely difficult to remove from play.

Karn Liberated is also a catch-all. It can deal with any troublesome permanent standing in your way of winning the game. For instance, the opponent might have a card like Ensnaring Bridge that you need to answer, and Karn Liberated is the best way to do that. Karn exiles cards, so the opponent won't be able to recur them from the graveyard, and that's quite important. Karn is good in Eldrazi Tron, but it is still at its best in Tron decks that have an easier time getting Tron online, as a card like Eldrazi Temple won't be a ton of help when trying to cast Karn Liberated.

The fact that Karn Liberated is played in Eldrazi Tron is a true testament to its power, since that is not the optimal home for it. This deck, on the other hand, is able to maximize the potential of getting Karn Liberated into play on the third turn of the game. Karn can take out opposing lands as well, which can be extremely annoying for the opponent. Ancient Stirrings is the perfect way to either find Karn Liberated or a missing Tron piece. This Tron deck is definitely a little slower than Eldrazi Tron, so while it might be the best home for Karn Liberated, it is not necessarily a better deck.

#2: Nahiri, the Harbinger

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With Nahiri, the Harbinger rotating out of Standard, we can fully focus on its impact on Modern. At one point the Jeskai Nahiri control deck was very popular, but that has more or less fallen off the radar. That deck used Nahiri, the Harbinger as a win condition alongside Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. In fact, any deck with Nahiri, the Harbinger in it likely wants Emrakul, the Aeons Torn alongside it. It is not unrealistic to get to eight loyalty with Nahiri, and Emrakul is definitely the best creature to search up.

The Jeskai Nahiri deck might not see play anymore, but there are other decks that want to play the full four copies of Nahiri.

W/R Prison is actually quite popular right now. It plays the most powerful hate cards in the format, and is able to use its Planeswalkers as win conditions. Nahiri is the most important Planeswalker, as all three modes are very important, and it isn't too expensive. This deck in particular usually has at least one card in hand that isn't helpful, so having to discard a card isn't much of a drawback. There are also plenty of enchantments that you can randomly find yourself playing against, and of course exiling an opposing creature comes up a lot.

Nahiri can also go into a more straightforward control deck:

This deck uses early disruption to maintain its board position and then takes over the game with one of the powerful Planeswalkers. Having Planeswalkers that are both cheap and versatile is a huge luxury. You want your Planeswalker to have a relevant effect regardless of the board state, and Nahiri does just that. If you do naturally draw the Emrakul, it is easy to discard it with Nahiri, and then it gets shuffled back into your library, so you can almost always search for it when using the ultimate of Nahiri.

#1: Liliana of the Veil

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I'm sure this one comes as no surprise. Liliana of the Veil is the best Planeswalker in Modern by a large margin. Any black midrange deck needs to seriously consider playing Liliana of the Veil, and there are a lot of black midrange decks. Most often, Liliana of the Veil is featured in Abzan or Jund, but it sees plenty of play outside of those strategies. We see it in the Mardu Control list, but it can also be played in decks that want to capitalize on its discard effect.

8 Rack is a deck that wants the opponent to have an empty hand, and Liliana of the Veil is the perfect way to make that happen. Liliana of the Veil can also take care of an annoying creature before she starts going to work on the opponent's hand. Liliana and The Rack are the only nonland permanents here, which shows just how dedicated the discard theme is.

If we want to go deeper into the idea of utilizing Liliana of the Veil as a discard outlet, we can.

The use of Life from the Loam in a deck with Smallpox and retrace effects means that you will be able to return lands from the graveyard and make sure you have gas in hand. There are other decks that can make good use of Life from the Loam besides Dredge. Seismic Assault is both a win condition and a removal spell if you need it to be. Ticking up Liliana of the Veil and discarding a card like Desperate Ravings or something with retrace isn't a big deal.

Thanks for reading,
Seth Manfield