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Commanding Planeswalkers, Part 2

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Last week, this column embarked on a journey through planeswalkers. ’Walkers have become an exciting and essential part of Magic: The Gathering. They have a huge cult following and deserve their places in Commander decks. Our overview of planeswalkers in Commander began with Ajani, Chandra, and Elspeth. We introduced their personalities and discussed the strengths and weaknesses of their various incarnations or versions.

The comments section was filled with folks talking about their favorite ’walkers and strategies, as well as cards that paired well with these selections. Today, we are going to advance our planeswalker “roll call” and will march toward our series summary, in which we discuss a Commander archetype that is growing in popularity: Five-Color Planeswalker Party.

Roll Call (continued)

Garruk

Garruk Wildspeaker

Garruk, Primal Hunter

Garruk Relentless/Garruk, the Veil-Cursed

As a member of the original five planeswalkers, we found Garruk Wildspeaker’s first appearance in Lorwyn. Subsequently, the 4-cost, mono-g-version Garruk appeared rocking the mythic orange symbol in M10, M11, Commander, and his namesake dual deck versus Liliana Vess. He also popped up as a promotional card with alternate art for players who ordered the very first rendition of Duals of the Planeswalkers.

Garruk Wildspeaker is awesome and received regular play in the Standard Constructed environment until his rotation. He has a lot of key characteristics that players love to find in playable planeswalkers. If you recall our discussion in the first part of this series, these are some of the most desirable traits of popular ’walkers:

  • Reasonably low converted mana cost
  • Important, game-changing abilities
  • The ability to provide immediate protection from opposing attackers or burn
  • A super-sweet ultimate ability

Garruk’s first version had it all. He hit the board for 4 mana. He has gg in his cost. This can limit the degree to which you can randomly splash him into multicolored decks, but is not excessive. The fact that his is aligned with g also means that deck architects have the ability to use Green’s mana-fixing and land-acceleration to bring him into play early and easily.

For example, I have regularly seen Garruk follow a turn-two Lotus Cobra or Sakura-Tribe Elder, joining the battle on turn three. His +1 ability untaps two lands. This is a great ability for players seeking to ramp in the early game. In Commander, this ability can generate far more than an additional 2 mana. If you target Karoo-style lands like Gruul Turf, Commander players might ramp up an extra mana. If you’re playing Green and Black, you might be untapping Cabal Coffers for tons of extra mana. I am partial to using Garruk’s +1 to ready Gaea’s Cradle after I have assembled a strong board presence.

Garruk’s −1 allows you to drop 3/3 Beast tokens into play, and his −4 caps off one of the most balanced planeswalker designs with an Overrun effect. Not only can the Beasts play defense and might work to protect Garruk, but if you already have protection and focus your efforts on untapping land and building up his loyalty count, the mono-g ’walker rewards you with a hefty reward that might be enough to eliminate an opposing player or even win the game.

M12 thrilled and delighted Garruk fans with the release of Garruk, Primal Hunter. Rather than watching another reprinting of the classic, WotC amped up the power level and blasted out a 5-converted-mana-cost god. For the investment of 2ggg, the newer version transformed a former −1 into a +1. There is no drawback to pumping Beast tokens onto the battlefield. The benefits don’t stop there. Once you pump out a Beast or proliferate, Garruk can drop 3 loyalty (−3) and provide g players some desperately needed card-draw. If you have a relevant fatty onboard, you can easily draw upward of six cards. If you only have a Beast, you have to settle for a mere three cards. Basically, the Primal Hunter turns into a multiple-for-one investment if he survives a turn. A weaker option can simply be the payment of his mana cost and using his −3 immediately for some card advantage.

Commander players should not only love the first two abilities on this card, but should relish the epic nature of Garruk, Primal Hunter’s −6 ultimate ability. He drops out Wurm tokens for each land that you control. In Commander, the games are longer, and you are much more likely to control nine or fifteen lands than in other Constructed formats. Therefore, this ultimate can generate a giant board presence with little effort. I suggest pairing this Wurm explosion with Concordant Crossroads or a recently deceased copy of Anger buried in your graveyard.

As if Garruk’s update in M12 were not enough, Innistrad blessed faithful fans with Garruk Relentless/Garruk, the Veil-Cursed. This double-faced card represents a number of firsts. Garruk R/VC represents the first double-faced planeswalker. He technically beats out Jace, the Mind Sculptor for most abilities on a single planeswalker card (total of five, besting the former high of four). His daytime version is more splashable than previous versions. His 4 mana requires only a single g to tap and gives you access to two 0-cost loyalty activations: dealing 3 damage to a target creature, while that creatures deals its power back to him (what I believe should be called “fighting”), or putting a 2/2 Wolf token onto the battlefield. After Garruk has somehow reduced the number of loyalty counters below 2, he transforms to the night version: Garruk, the Veil-Cursed.

This darker version of Garruk is based on the Web comic in which Garruk is cursed during his interactions with a certain mono-b planeswalking beauty. This side of Garruk, while darker, offers a bit more spice and is worth the work to achieve transformation. Garruk’s +1 puts deathtouching Wolves into play; the −1 allows you to sacrifice a creature, search your library for a creature, and put it into your hand; and the −3 ultimate is another sort of win condition and terrific Overrun-style effect where your creatures are pumped and gain Trample for each fallen creature buried in your graveyard.

Commander players should be taken with all three versions of Garruk. While Primal Hunter offers the most exciting package of abilities for the least amount of effort, he is generally confined to decks with a hefty number of Forests. The original version is somewhat lighter on color-intensiveness, but provides a really balanced, useful package. I have yet to pilot the new Garruk in my Commander decks, but feel that the Veil-Cursed version should be amazing. I really like the −1 search ability. You can set up some sweet creature searches including Eternal Witness if you happen to lose the ’walker or creatures that help set up your proliferation engines to make the Veil-Cursed −1 basically free. Are you interested in never-ending searches for choice creatures every turn? Sounds great and relatively straightforward to pull off.

Gideon

While Gideon Jura is a relatively new addition to Magic, his appearance in Rise of the Eldrazi was a welcome arrival! He instantly found a place in bw builds in the Standard environment and edged Ajani out of the core Magic set in M12 as the premier White planeswalker. His iconic “My name is Gideon Jura, and I am about to die . . . ” intro from the DotP digital release was one of the best Magic commercials I have ever seen. Most players I know have collected the human ’walker and taken him to battle in Standard and Commander.

Gideon will cost you a bit more than other popular planeswalkers. His converted mana cost of 5 includes ww and requires a mild commitment to White in a multicolored deck. However, his abilities make up for the price tag. It can be noted that Gideon is far more effective in one-on-one matches. His +2 is generally an outstanding defensive measure, but it specifies “During target opponent’s next turn,” all of that player’s creatures must attack Gideon. Therefore, using this ability in multiplayer games is less powerful and might result in some odd politics. I have seen players feel singled out when they are targeted, causing extra grief for the Gideon player. I have also seen other players swoop in to kill Gideon before the targeted player ever gets a chance to play out his turn.

Gideon does not specifically protect itself by building up blockers or a board presence, but he does have an awesome −2 ability allowing you to destroy a target tapped creature. This can be one of the best applications for Gideon in Commander. If you can get a couple of assassination attempts out of your planeswalkers, you might be happy no matter what happens to him.

In a land of fatties and very expensive creatures, a 6/6 Human Soldier is not overly impressive. He does prevent all damage that is dealt to him, but this 0-cost activation is not exciting in Commander. Overall, I value Gideon and feel that he can play protector to some of your other planeswalkers. His first and last loyalty abilities are somewhat stifled in large multiplayer games, but his ability to removed tapped threats can be a lifesaver. Gideon is not my favorite White planeswalker, but can certainly find a place in our format.

Building Around Planeswalkers

So far, we have covered five of the fifteen planeswalkers. Throughout our review, you might have noticed that I mention cards that pair nicely with your planeswalkers of choice. In fact, there are certain abilities and specific cards that work really well with ’walkers. One of the more interesting and important interactions with planeswalkers is the activation of their loyalty abilities. Smart Commander players hone in on cards that focus on counters. Doubling Season is a prime example of a card that can double the number of counters placed on your ’walkers when they enter the battlefield. Over the course of our review, we have also noted that proliferation synergizes with counters and a ’walker theme. Imagine running a Commander deck that uses Doubling Season effects (compounding the number of counters or tokens dropped into play) with proliferation! There are all sorts of wild and crazy interactions, uses, and abuses to be discovered.

Some planeswalkers hit an instant ultimate ability, while others achieve sustainable −X abilities where you remove a counter but simply replace it through proliferation. As a sort of spoiler, you can count on seeing both Doubling Season and the proliferation theme explored in our upcoming Planeswalker Party discussions. You might also think about cards that allow you to repeat or copy activated abilities. Consider the card Rings of Brighthearth. This Lorwyn rare was meant to interact with awesome planeswalkers. I love paying 2 and copying some of the epic abilities on cards like Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker or Karn Liberated. Consider the Rings, Doubling Season, and proliferation as we march through our all-planeswalker review toward the construction of the dominating Planeswalker Party archetype.

Leave your comments about which versions of today’s planeswalkers you have used in Commander and let us know about cards that interact very well with ’walkers. See you next week as we kick off with an in-depth exploration of Jace and others in Commander.


Editor's Note: Previously this article noted that Doubling Season functioned when you utilized a Planeswalker's ability which increased loyalty, this was incorrect. We've modified the article to instead read that it doubled the initial loyalty of that Planeswalker when it enters the battlefield.

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