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Commanding Planeswalkers, Part 3


To date, we have reviewed the playability of a number of planeswalkers and the impact they’ve had on the Commander format. Parts 1 and 2 covered Ajani, Chandra, Elspeth, Garruk, and Gideon. There are currently ten ’walkers waiting for review. Alongside our review of the planeswalkers, we have been noting cards that pair well with our ’walkers. The finale of our planeswalker walkthrough will include a deck list and build specifications for an awesome new Commander archetype: Planeswalker Party.

In addition to mentioning cards that really fit our planeswalker-rich theme, we have been outlining the very best characteristics and most desirable versions of each planeswalker for various Commander builds. Some ’walkers pair nicely with token decks, while others fit into tightly whittled notches of a very specific archetype. In general, we are searching for cards that are great in multiple types of decks and that offer both self-protection and an outstanding ultimate ability. These features enhance the playability of a given planeswalker and increase the likelihood that it makes the final cut in our planeswalker-centric build.

Planeswalker Roll Call: Jace

Jace Beleren, Jace, Memory Adept, Jace, the Mind Sculptor

If you are familiar with Magic: The Gathering, it is a great bet that you have heard of and maybe even played with one of the versions of our first Blue planeswalker. Jace is likely the most popular and possibly the most notorious of all the planeswalkers. He is the only planeswalker to face the proverbial banhammer. No other ’walker has had a version banned in any format. However, Jace, the Mind Sculptor is formally excluded from play in the Modern Constructed format, and it faced an early retirement from the previous Standard Constructed format. It is safe to say that Jace is among the most powerful planeswalkers ever created. Let’s run through the three incarnations of our Blue icon and debate which version might best populate our Commander decks.

Jace’s original version premiered alongside the original planeswalkers in the Lorwyn block. Since his introduction, Jace Beleren has appeared in print five times. He earned his gold leaf in Lorwyn, then transitioned to mythic rarity in subsequent sets (M10, M11, and Jace vs. Chandra). If you like to collect the most pimped-out versions of certain Magic cards, you might try to chase down the elusive promotional version of Jace Beleren. If you were among the few wise collectors to obtain a copy of Agents of Artifice, you might have obtained the $100 version of Jace. If not, you can certainly rock a foil version of the classic or even upgrade to an alternate-art Japanese take on the Blue mage found in the Japanese release of Jace vs. Chandra.

Whichever incarnation you sleeve up will serve you well. For the simple investment of a couple of u and an easily obtained 1, you will cast a worthy ally capable of drawing cards and eventually corroding target player’s library. In Commander, many folks use Jace as a political tool. By turning your planeswalker into a Temple Bell, you give your loyalty counters a chance to grow and reward the table with free cards. If an opposing player is not playing nice, you can simply deprive him of cards or target him with the ultimate, costing him access to twenty cards. The little version of Jace is popular. It represents some card advantage and can play into a mill strategy, but it misses a couple of key elements that we like to see in our Commander ’walkers.

Jace Beleren does not do anything to protect himself from attacks. While the political motivation might compel players to leave the mono-Blue card alone, he does not actually generate a defense. If you begin using the −1 ability, players can easily dispatch your ally with most burn cards or a small attacker. Jace, the Mind Sculptor, in contrast, does a little bit of everything. For the additional investment of 1, players are able to buy a fully upgraded planeswalker. Jace was the first ’walker to sport four loyalty abilities. His most effective mode includes a 0-cost recurring Brainstorm. The cardboard-flipping world quickly noticed that having access to a Brainstorm each turn is amazing. You can dig for answers, hide important cards on top of your deck, or simply lube up your deck for enhanced playability.

The Mind Sculptor’s −1 ability will return a target creature to its owner’s hand. Commander players love this ability because it allows them to set up a number of very devastating lines of play. My personal favorite is the interaction between Jace and cards like Eternal Witness. You can create a soft loop with the ’walker and desirable enter-the-battlefield effects. Imagine playing Time Stretch, dropping an Eternal Witness to recover your Time Stretch, and then returning the Witness back to your hand with this bigger version of Jace. You generate a soft lock that will allow you to clear a path toward victory.

If you despise these soft locks, you can simply focus the −1 ability on an opposing player’s Commander. I like to put a particularly devastating Commander into someone’s hand and follow it up with a Timetwister-type effect. It can be disheartening when your deck focuses tightly on the Commander and it ends up lost in your ninety-card deck. Aside from these tricky plays, Jace’s ultimate ability will give you a quick way to take down an opposing player. When you remove 12 loyalty counters, you exile all cards from an opposing player’s library, his hand becomes his deck, and he faces a short, doomsday clock. In addition to all of these powerful abilities, you can fateseal an opposing player’s deck or simply investigate your next card while advancing loyalty counters.

The latest core set introduced the newest version of Jace. Jace, Memory Adept has become the new “big Jace.” His mana cost of 3uu will give you access to some great abilities. While this guy is not quite sculpting minds, he might be among those planeswalkers who fits into a tightly whittled notch in a mill deck. The +1 ability will allow you to draw a card while a target player dumps one off the top of his deck and into his graveyard. The 0-cost ability has a player shove ten cards from his deck into his graveyard, while the −7 ultimate has any number of players draw twenty cards.

Again, we see the political implications of Jace in Commander. Many players might hope to be a target selected to draw twenty cards. However, this ultimate can be a double-edged sword in a deck when you use milling as a win condition. While players love to draw cards, they might not like to draw all of those cards when you follow the play up with a Windfall (followed up by Reverberate and/or Twincast). Again, Jace’s ultimate ability might leave your opponents short on draw steps and facing an inevitable death.

Each version of Jace is playable in Commander. Jace, the Mind Sculptor seems like the very best version to run if you only pick one. He offers a tremendous amount of playability and increases your options far more than the average card. However, he is expensive and still demands a high price tag. If you are looking for a budget-friendly inclusion, grab little Jace Beleren. Decks looking to mill opposing players, or perhaps Dredge-focused decks, might aim the milling abilities of the newest version of Jace at themselves for some added value. In any case, you are likely going to want to rock some variant of the u icon in your Commander deck.

Karn Liberated

Karn Liberated is among the most tragically undervalued planeswalkers. He debuted in New Phyrexia and has seen limited play in Standard Constructed. However, this planeswalker should be a big role-player in Commander. He offers quite a few options for a colorless, 7-cost planeswalker. In our last article, we considered the interactions of Rings of Brighthearth with our planeswalkers. This card can be devastating alongside Karn. It basically allows you to trigger the loyalty abilities twice for a simple payment of 2.

Karn’s +4 ability exiles a card from a target player’s hand. This might be relevant in Commander if an opposing player only has a couple of cards; however, there are usually a ton of sources of card advantage, and advancing Karn’s loyalty count typically has a small impact on the game. Occasionally, you land some sweet cards in Karn’s exile cache. The −3 ability is significantly more interesting. Removing a permanent from the game is very powerful in a format where many permanents are very high-value targets. If you use the Rings of Brighthearth, you can significantly cripple an opponent’s mana base, wipe a small board of very large threats, or simply remove some cards that were giving you a hard time. I like to focus this ability on permanents that are typically hard to remove. Blightsteel Colossus is a prime example. The table usually cheers for Karn when he banishes an Indestructible threat.

Players will come down on two sides of the fence when debating the usefulness and appropriateness of Karn’s ultimate ability. The vast majority of players do not appreciate a hard reset in multiplayer games. However, after testing Karn over the course of twenty to thirty games, I have seen scenarios in which the −14 ultimate was used to save multiple players or end the tyranny of a brutal opposing player. My pro tip works like this: Use Karn’s ultimate as an absolute last resort. If someone forces your hand, you might want to restart a game. However, most folks don’t take kindly to a restart. They also hate it when you begin ahead of the curve with choice permanents from their own decks.

Every deck can splash Karn Liberated. He’s the “people’s planeswalker.” While he is not the most powerful ’walker, he is far from the worst, and he should see a great deal more play in Commander. For colors that do not have amazing removal or otherwise have limited answers to certain card types (i.e., Black versus enchantments), Karn can be needed spot removal. I like this guy and would definitely rock him in any deck that likes answers and playability.

Koth of the Hammer

Today’s final planeswalker review will focus on Koth of the Hammer. The Scars of Mirrodin release features some killer planeswalkers. The Magic-playing world was craving an excellent mono-Red ’walker, and it found a tasty morsel to satisfy that hunger in Koth. In sharp contrast to Karn, Koth will not easily fit into a multitude of Commander decks. He is similar to Nissa Revane in a slanted sort of way. Both planeswalkers fit nicely into specific types of decks. While Nissa want to play alongside Elves, Koth is best suited to decks with a huge number of Mountains. If you are tapping exclusively for Red mana, Koth is dynamite. He offers some sweet, niche abilities that make red mages hot under the collar.

Koth’s +1 ability allows you to untap a Mountain and turn it into a 4/4 Red Elemental creature. You can use the new Mountain man to attack or just to accelerate your mana. In Commander, this is not always the most exciting ability. The −2 ability is more appreciated. For each Mountain that you control, you can add an additional r to your mana pool. Koth turns into a sort of Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary for Mountains. This ability can put you into some big, powerful spells early in the game if you rock a good amount of Mountains. However, the more colors you tend to splash and the more nonbasic lands that make your deck list, the more ineffective Koth becomes.

Koth’s ultimate ability might be a death sentence for opposing players over a very long game. Each Mountain deals a single point of damage to creatures or players once you earn Koth’s emblem. However, this emblem can also turn you into a target at the multiplayer tables. In summary, bump Koth if you are Mountain-light. However, mono-Red Commander players looking for some ramp and a sweet win condition should drop this 4-cost mythic into their decks.

In our next article, we will cover the newest version of Liliana and will outline the powerful and profitable ways to play the most mana-intensive planeswalker of all time. Thanks for following the series and for posting your comments in the forums and comments section. We will see you next week as we evaluate the viability and prowess of planeswalkers in Commander.

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