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Rating Every Planeswalker in War of the Spark: Part One

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Since their inception, planeswalkers have been essentially the super heroes and villains of Magic. They are unique and infrequent, driving the story of each of their sets while providing inspiration for many of the set’s cards like Chandra's Outrage or Jace's Ingenuity. At this point it’s hard to imagine how Magic would even work without them.

This means that Lorwyn was essentially the movie Iron Man, setting in motion years of story that fleshes out a world of super heroes and villains. Just like in the Marvel Cinematic Universe there have been ups and downs, but the similarities are undeniable; The Gatewatch are the Avengers, while Nicol Bolas is Thanos. Just for fun:

Iron Man - Ral

Captain America - Gideon

Hulk - Chandra

Black Widow - Kaya

Thor - Garruk

Hawkeye - Vivien

Black Panther - Ajani

Dr Strange - Teferi

Vision - Karn

Spider-Man - Dak

Loki - Liliana

Scarlett Witch – Jace

Captain Marvel - Ugin

That means that War of the Spark is Infinity War.

Unlike most Magic sets or Marvel movies, the central focus isn’t on a very small subset of characters. War of the Spark brings all the boys and girls to the yard, resulting in the biggest crossover event since, well, Infinity War. I means, seriously... 37 Planeswalkers! And you thought Infinity War’s ensemble cast was ambitious!

Rating planeswalkers has always been notoriously difficult. The effects are often so unique and play out over many turns, making their overall effect difficult to predict. Yet today we set out on a task as difficult as stopping Thanos himself - we’re going to rate every single planeswalker in War of the Spark!

We will be rating them on three scales, Constructed playability, Limited playability, and coolness factor. The Constructed rating will mostly be concerning itself with Standard play, although if the card seems playable in other formats it will be mentioned.

With so many planeswalkers and no Time Stone in sight there’s no time to waste, so let’s get started on the 17 planeswalkers we will be looking at today. (The remaining 20 will be rated in next week’s article.)

Jace, Wielder of Mysteries

Constructed Playability: 7

Limited Playability: 9

Coolness Factor: 6

We may as well start with the latest incarnation of the most iconic planeswalker of all time.

This new version of Jace introduces us to a new mechanic that is the defining characteristic of the War of the Spark planeswalkers: static abilities. Planeswalkers have always been locked to their loyalty as far as their effectiveness goes, but the wide variety of static effects on the War of the Spark planeswalkers vary from glorified flavor text to drastically game altering.

While the Laboratory Maniac text on Jace feels like flavor text, don’t underestimate a card advantage planeswalkers ability to incidentally win the game by itself. As we’ve seen from Teferi, Hero of Dominaria it can have significant effect on how we build our control decks.

Realistically though Jace is just a simple card draw engine. It reminds me a lot of Karn, Scion of Urza, as it comes down fairly early and at a high loyalty and just sits in play getting bigger and drawing cards. The key differences are that it actually just draws a card, not just the worst of two cards, and that it’s much more difficult to cast.

Like Karn, Scion of Urza, Jace isn’t a card that will define an archetype like Teferi, Hero of Dominaria does. It is, however, a great card advantage tool for decks that can cast it. It is also an excellent sideboard juke card for decks like Mono-Blue Aggro.

Tibalt, Rakish Instigator

Constructed Playability: 3

Limited Playability: 6

Coolness Factor: 8

From Jace to Tibalt!

The Uncommon planeswalkers from War of the Spark are much different than anything we’ve ever seen before. With no ability to gain loyalty and much of their worth tied up in their static effects, they feel a little bit like enchantments that you can attack. They effect the game, but the game doesn’t revolve around them once they resolve.

Tibalt, Rakish Instigator is a middling card that may have very minor sideboard applications in Standard. Three mana for two Footlight Fiend tokens is not a great deal, meaning the “can’t gain life” clause must be relevant. Against a deck like Esper Control that can’t attack it however, two Footlight Fiends and turning off the bonus on Absorb and Vraska's Contempt sounds kinda nice.

In Limited, 3 mana for two Footlight Fiends is great, and with the ability to possibly proliferate and get more there’s some nice value to be had.

A Tibalt that isn’t bad, what a world to live in!

Angrath, Captain of Chaos

Constructed Playability: 1

Limited Playability: 7

Coolness Factor: 3

I love me some Angrath, but Angrath, Captain of Chaos makes Angrath, the Flame-Chained look like Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Clearly designed for Limited play, Angrath, Captain of Chaos is far below rate for Constructed. Menace doesn’t affect Constructed games that much, and four mana for a pair of 2/2s or a 4/4 ain’t breaking any formats.

However, in Limited menace is very relevant, as are large or multiple creatures. With Angrath being easy to cast across two colors and having two very relevant abilities, Angrath is likely a card you want in your more aggressive Limited decks.

Ral, Storm Conduit

Constructed Playability: 8

Limited Playability: 6

Coolness Factor: 8

I’d like everyone to welcome Splinter Twin back to Standard! Okay, not quite, but if you didn’t know Ral, Storm Conduit introduces a new infinite combo into Standard. It’s a three card combo, but it resides in only two colors and contains cards that are already all playable in their own right.

All you have to do is play any cheap spell (or your opponent can as well), use Expansion // Explosion to copy that spell, then use another copy of Expansion to copy your original Expansion, which will then copy the other Expansion. Repeat this as many times as you like, every time dealing one damage to your opponent with Ral.

Yes, this is a three card combo, but with all three cards being good by themselves and very easy to build a control shell around, we may be seeing a lot of this combo in a more incidental way.

In Limited, Ral is much less exciting, but any planeswalker that has a high loyalty and a reasonable effect is going to be solid. If all Ral does is copy one removal spell and scry a few times, that is definitely worth four mana.

Kasmina, Enigmatic Mentor

Constructed Playability: 3

Limited Playability: 6

Coolness Factor: 7

I don’t know who Kasmina is, but I like her style.

Like many of the uncommon planeswalkers, the level of Standard playability seems to hinge on how often they are going to be attacked and how good their static effect is. Four mana for a pair of Grizzly Bears isn’t great, but against a control deck like Esper Control getting two bodies, making things hard to target, and getting to loot away excess lands is actually pretty sweet. It remains to be seen if she can beat out the other four mana planeswalker options, but I like her.

In Limited she also seems nice, as again multiple creatures for one card with upside is pretty valuable. Being able to loot away excess lands in Limited is also a very big deal. Not a game breaker, but very solid.

Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner

Constructed Playability: 5

Limited Playability: 3

Coolness Factor: 8

While she’s an uncommon planeswalker, Kiora is very different than the others we’ve seen today.

A sort of Gift of Paradise / Kavu Lair hybrid card, Kiora’s prospects for Constructed are much better than some random token makers. Mixing mana ramp with card draw has always been a winning combination, and while triggers that draw cards when you play large creatures haven’t traditionally done well in Standard they haven’t come with ramp attached to them either. Three mana is a tough spot on the curve to not affect the board in any way, but there’s definitely some power to be had in Kiora.

In Limited this effect is much more difficult to pull off, as your four-power creatures can likely just get the job done by themselves and your opponent will have plenty of creatures to pressure Kiora with.

Ajani, the Greathearted

Constructed Playability: 8

Limited Playability: 9

Coolness Factor: 5

The more things change, the more things stay the same.

With all the talk about new planeswalkers and abilities, Ajani, the Greathearted sure looks a lot like his old self Ajani Goldmane. Ajani Goldmane was a powerhouse during his time in Standard, so this is a very good comparison to be making. Ajani comes into play, minuses twice to pump your team while playing defense, and then can stick around and gain some life. Think of it like a double Unbreakable Formation with upside. Being two colors makes things a little tougher, but there’s already a good Selesnya Tokens deck in the format as well as a White Aggro deck that plays Unbreakable Formation.

In Limited, any amount of creatures alongside Ajani seems almost unbeatable. The bar for planeswalkers in Limited is already low and Ajani really does it all. The uncommon planeswalkers are nice, but there’s no doubting the power of rare planeswalkers with plus abilities.

Teyo, the Shieldmage

Constructed Playability: 3

Limited Playability: 2

Coolness Factor: 2

Teyo, the Shieldmage (who?) feels very Hawkeye-esque. Sure he’s a planeswalker just like Jace or Karn, but boy does he feel underpowered and out of place when he’s standing next to Hulk and Thor.

Typically Ivory Mask effects are at their best in older formats to stop burn, combo, and discard spells. The problem is that while Red can’t really kill an enchantment, a low loyalty planeswalker is ripe for the taking. Teyo, the Shieldmage is a fringe sideboard card at best in Eternal formats for decks looking for a castable Leyline of Sanctity.

Nahiri, Storm of Stone

Constructed Playability: 1

Limited Playability: 6

Coolness Factor: 4

Another “strictly Limited” planeswalker, Nahiri even feels awkward there.

Granting first strike on your turn seems to favor aggressive attacking decks, but the minus ability seems more defensive in nature. If you want to attack, you want to remove blockers too right? Still, a possible repeatable removal spell in Limited is quite good, regardless of how awkward in may be, and having upside on top of that is nice.

For constructed Nahiri is a non-starter.

Davriel, Rogue Shadowmage

Constructed Playability: 5

Limited Playability: 3

Coolness Factor: 9

It seems like the modus operandi of the uncommon planeswalkers in War of the Spark is either “good in Limited” or “good in Eternal formats.”

In Standard, Davriel seems only applicable in sideboards against completely creatureless decks, as he is effectively a defenseless Mind Rot. However, in older formats where there are many decks without creatures as well as cards like Ensnaring Bridge and Smallpox, Davriel starts to look more interesting. Twelve-Rack anyone? Mind Rot plus The Rack on one card has a lot going for it as long as your opponent can’t attack it.

In Limited Davriel is playable, but definitely would require a certain deck full of removal or be sideboarded in against slower decks. I like Mind Rot more than most in Limited, and am even willing to take the draw if I have enough removal and discard, but Davriel is certainly not a card you can just throw in to your deck.

Ob Nixilis, the Hate-Twisted

Constructed Playability: 2

Limited Playability: 5

Coolness Factor: 3

What a weird card. Ob Nixilis Reignited was the basic template for boring five-mana “+1 draw, -3 kill, -8 win the game” planeswalkers, but his new version seems very confused. Five mana for only five loyalty is a lot, and Ob isn’t particularly good at anything. Eventually he will win the game as an awkward Underworld Dreams, but what are we doing with the -2 ability? Killing a creature is great but having your opponent draw two cards is not, even if they take two damage. And if we want to sacrifice our own creatures to draw two cards, five mana is a steep cost.

Ob seems virtually unplayable in Constructed, though it’s hard to hate too much on any planeswalker in Limited so he gets a pass there. Sometimes you just need to kill things and sometimes you just need a way to win the game.

Kaya, Bane of the Dead

Constructed Playability: 1

Limited Playability: 7

Coolness Factor: 4

Talk about static abilities that feel like flavor text. Kaya, Bane of the Dead has a lot of words on her, but the reality is that she is basically just two copies of Unmake stapled together over two turns. In Constructed six mana needs to effectively win you the game, but in Limited 6 mana to kill a creature isn’t awful, so doing it again is quite good.

Kaya, Orzhov Usurper is one of my favorite planeswalkers in Standard, but Kaya, Bane of the Dead is just meh.

Vivien, Champion of the Wilds

Constructed Playability: 4

Limited Playability: 7

Coolness Factor: 5

There’s a lot of tension with Vivien, Champion of the Wilds. Like Domri Rade she is a planeswalker that wants you to play a bunch of creatures, but she of course is not a creature herself. Even with a whopping 30 creatures in your deck you are still over 10% to whiff on her ability, which is almost unacceptable. Furthermore, giving all of your creatures flash is nice, but if your deck is all creatures anyway it’s not like you are leaving up other instants and giving yourself a lot of options, you’re just playing a bunch of creatures. The +1 acts like pseudo-protection, but requires a good creature in play.

Still, despite all of these shortcomings, Vivien is still a three mana planeswalker in a format with Llanowar Elves. She doesn’t seem like much, but she’s likely still good enough to see some amount of play.

In Limited she’s not as exciting as some of the uncommon planeswalkers because she just doesn’t have a big enough impact on the game. She’s good, but nothing out of the ordinary.

Samut, Tyrant Smasher

Constructed Playability: 1

Limited Playability: 3

Coolness Factor: 3

Haven’t we been through this already?

Rhythm of the Wild isn’t good! Taking an entire turn off to give your creatures haste is a death sentence! And that’s all Samut, Tyrant Smasher even does. Four mana for an overcosted static ability and then a non-replenishable minus ability that offers a small bonus is not exciting at all.

Samut is completely unplayable in Constructed, and frankly isn’t a card I’d be excited to have in my Limited decks - and that’s saying something for any planeswalker.

The Wanderer

Constructed Playability: 2

Limited Playability: 3

Coolness Factor: 6

There are rumors that The Wanderer is actually Elspeth, but I’m not exactly a Vorthos so I have no idea how that fits into the lore. What I do know is Elspeth, and The Wanderer is no Elsepth.

Putting Mark of Asylum and Bring to Trial onto the same card for four mana is a recipe for disaster, as both cards are very narrow and not very exciting. In Limited The Wanderer is about as good as Bring to Trial will be, which is okay some times. In Constructed, maybe if your opponent is playing a ur control deck with lots of damage-based removal that tops out on Niv-Mizzet, Parun then The Wanderer could do something, but it’s a stretch.

Tezzeret, Master of the Bridge

Constructed Playability: 3

Limited Playability: 3

Coolness Factor: 7

What a weird planeswalker.

A six-mana planeswalker that can make your creatures and planeswalkers cost less mana is already bizzare, and then has a plus ability that sorta fireballs your opponent is an odd choice for a six-mana planeswalker that is probably not being played in an aggressive deck. The life gain is nice however, as gaining life and starting on seven loyalty is pretty durable. The minus ability is passable, as is the ultimate, but the true measure of Tezzeret, Master of the Bridge’s usefulness will be tied to the amount of playable artifacts in the format. I doubt Tezzet will make much of an impact in Standard, but perhaps in older formats in decks that could cast him quickly... aw who are we kidding they’d rather just play Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas.

Tezzeret is also the rare case of a planeswalker not being great in Limited (not that it matters since it’s the buy-a-box promo) because it is doubtful you will have the artifacts to fully support him. Color me unimpressed, despite being happy to see the word “affinity” on a Magic card again.

Arlinn, Voice of the Pack

Constructed Playability: 2

Limited Playability: 9

Coolness Factor: 7

We end the day with a card unlikely to do much damage in Constructed formats. Six mana is just too much for a card that doesn’t outright win the game like Niv-Mizzet.

However, Arlinn, Voice of the Pack is a house in Limited. Six mana for three 3/3s is amazing, and that’s not even counting possible other bonuses from random wolves or werewolves in your deck. Furthermore, Green has a lot of proliferate action going on, meaning it’s very likely you will get more than three tokens from Arlinn. I forsee Arlinn winning her fair share of Limited games all by herself.

Twenty More To Go!

Can you believe that was less than half of the planeswalkers in War of the Spark? And we didn’t even talk about Liliana, Teferi, or Karn yet!

Next week we will finish off the remaining twenty planeswalkers, while going over the effect such an influx of planeswalkers is going to have on Standard.