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Rating Every Planeswalker in War of the Spark: Part Two

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Last week we got the party started, working through rating seventeen of the thirty seven planeswalkers in War of the Spark... but we're in the endgame now.

Where better to start than Thanos himself?

Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God

Constructed Playability: 7

Limited Playability: 9

Coolness Factor: 9

The biggest of the baddies exists in a very interesting place. On the one hand, Nicol Bolas follows the really boring planeswalker paradigm that has been done to death lately:

5 mana Planeswalker

+1 draw a card

-3 kill something

-8 win the game

Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, Vivien Reid, Ob Nixilis Reignited... the list goes on and on.

On the other hand, Nicol Bolas has one of the wildest static abilities in the entire set:

"Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God has all loyalty abilities of all other planeswalkers on the battlefield."

That's a pretty wild one. Unfortunately while the ability is super cool, leaving your opponent with a planeswalker in play usually isn't a very good idea, which means Nicol Bolas will often just be coming down to kill opposing planeswalkers. Still, it certainly stands to open up some very wild and interesting plays. Nicol Bolas' ultimate is also awesome and flavorful, as when there are no heroes left he wins!

When it comes down to it though, Nicol Bolas is merely a very good five mana planeswalker that isn't super easy to cast. If your deck can cast him and you want that sort of effect, he is one of the best five mana +1/-3/-8 walkers ever printed. The problem is that only a small subset of decks will both be able to cast him and want a five mana planeswalker.

In Limited if you can cast Nicol Bolas you will probably win, so you should play some extra swamps if you can.

Dovin, Hand of Control

Constructed Playability: 2

Limited Playability: 2

Coolness Factor: 4

From Thanos to his right hand man, Ebony Maw.

Dovin, Hand of Control seems cut from the "fringe playable sideboard effect in formats that don't interact with planeswalkers well" mold. In Legacy or Modern Dovin provides a slightly more durable and one-sided Thalia, Guardian of Thraben effect for any White or Blue deck looking for that effect. Dovin can slow down one big threat, but that is unreliable and not often an effect that sees play in Constructed. It's not inconceivable that Dovin seems some Constructed play, but it would be very niche.

In Limited Dovin is a very poor Pacifism for decks that are maybe looking to race in the air, but very unexciting.

Liliana, Dreadhorde General

Constructed Playability: 10

Limited Playability: 10

Coolness Factor: 9

Liliana, Dreadhorde General is good. Like, really good. No better than that. Keep going. We're talking Elspeth, Sun's Champion good. For six mana you need to get a lot of planeswalker to get your mana's worth, and Liliana does basically everything.

She comes in with a huge amount of loyalty, making her extremely durable. Seven is a huge number, and even more difficult with a 2/2 token in play that rewards a chump block with a free card. If your opponent has one or two creatures in play she also acts as a Wrath of God, leaving behind a very powerful planeswalker. She can win the game by herself and she controls the board, much like Elspeth, but she also provides you with card draw as well!

When Liliana hits the battlefield, the game completely shifts to revolve around her.

Liliana works very well in a control deck not looking to play any creatures, but can also slot right into creature decks as well, be they more midrange decks like Golgari or Sultai or some sort of new deck that enjoys seeing its creatures die. Midnight Reaper has shown us how powerful drawing a card each time a creature bites the dust is and Liliana has no drawback and entices you to chump block to protect her anyway.

Liliana, Dreadhorde General is one of the best cards in War of the Spark.

Jiang Yanggu, Wildcrafter

Constructed Playability: 2

Limited Playability: 5

Coolness Factor: 3

Remember Cryptolith Rite?

While that card certainly had its spots in Standard, Jiang Yanggu, Wildcrafter pales in comparison to it. Three mana is miles more than two when it comes to acceleration effects, and Jiang is so fragile that the effect can't be relied on. Throwing around a +1/+1 counter or two also isn't going to break anything in Standard.

However, in Limited Jiang seems like a nice payoff card for a proliferate deck. If you can keep putting counters back onto Jiang while also double pumping all of your creatures, that's game breaking in Limited. The problem is that Jiang is going to pretty reliant on having the proper proliferate pieces to be very good. Still, triple Battlegrowth isn't that bad.

Domri, Anarch of Bolas

Constructed Playability: 8

Limited Playability: 7

Coolness Factor: 7

Kids these days, getting mixed up with the wrong crowds and all.

Domri, Anarch of Bolas has a lot going on across a number of fronts, an impressive feat for a three mana planeswalker. His static ability allows him to effect most boards immediately, while also turning random Llanowar Elves into threats and letting you trade up. Adding a mana is certainly reasonable, with the can't be countered clause annoying and occasionally relevant. Lastly, one could expect some large creatures in any Gruul deck, letting Domri get his removal on as well.

Any one of these pieces wouldn't be that exciting by itself, but putting all three together in a tidy three mana package is quite impressive. Domri will make waves in Constructed. Domri is of course great in Limited as well, where the prospect of multiple fights for only three mana is awesome.

Huatli, the Sun's Heart

Constructed Playability: 2

Limited Playability: 2

Coolness Factor: 5

Huatli, the Sun's Heart is another very thematic, narrow planeswalker that is essentially an attackable enchantment in the same vein as High Alert or Doran, the Siege Tower. She adds a little more redundancy to fun decks that want that effect but is doubtful to make any impact in any Constructed format.

She is also very unlikely to make much impact in Limited either, as she just doesn't do enough. Poor Huatli just can't get a good card.

Chandra, Fire Artisan

Constructed Playability: 7

Limited Playability: 9

Coolness Factor: 7

Chandra is so consistent she's boring, which is an interesting word to describe a girl whose hair is constantly ablaze. But while Chandra, Fire Artisan isn't the most unique Red planeswalker ever, she has a lot going for her. Her static ability is being vastly overlooked, as it defends her in a very unique way. Don't forget that when you ultimate her you're also dealing seven damage on top of the seven cards.

Boiling Chandra down to her basic card drawing engine has her lacking in versatility but very good at what she does. She's ready to come down early, present a sticky threat, and keep the cards flowing. She won't see widespread play like Chandra, Torch of Defiance because she can't do everything, and you're unlikely to see more that a copy or two across a deck's 75, but she will be good at doing her job.

Tamiyo, Collector of Tales

Constructed Playability: 3

Limited Playability: 2

Coolness Factor: 2

Tamiyo, Collector of Tales is a very bizarre planeswalker. Her static ability is mostly flavor text, as she's too expensive to be used as a direct countermeasure to discard or sacrifice effects.

This leaves us only interested in her loyalty abilities, which are underwhelming. I'm not Frank Karsten, but I can't image you'll be drawing a card very often with her +1 without some sort of setup help, and if you're going that far why not just play a planeswalker that draws a card directly? Putting three or four cards into your graveyard at a time could possible fuel some sort of graveyard deck, but four mana is a lot for a graveyard enabler. Four mana for a Regrowth is also not turning any heads either.

Tamiyo is barely desirable in Limited, which is really saying something for a rare planeswalker. Not every planeswalker could be good, and Tamiyo is one of the worst.

Jaya, Venerated Firemage

Constructed Playability: 1

Limited Playability: 6

Coolness Factor: 3

Sure, it's amusing to think about Jaya, Venerated Firemage alongside Goblin Chainwhirler, but if that's what you're in the market for try to make Status // Statue work for an actual payoff. Jaya isn't made for Constructed.

In Limited Jaya seems solid, providing a pair of Shocks alongside a very real static ability. Providing a slight advantage to your Red creatures and burn spells is worth the cost of admission when removal is also involved. She's not a game breaker but Jaya is a reasonable Limited card.

Karn, the Great Creator

Constructed Playability: 2 Standard / 6 Older Formats

Limited Playability: 1

Coolness Factor: 6

Ah yes just what Standard needed, Null Rod.

After two straightforward incarnations, Karn, The Great Creator is quite the curveball. The Null Rod static ability is only really relevant in older formats, where it will range from "locking your opponent out of the game" to "not at all relevant" depending on the matchup. The ability to make an artifact into a mediocre creature is also underwhelming, unless you're killing your opponent's zero mana artifacts. And then "wishing" for artifacts out of your sideboard? What a bizarre smorgasbord.

There's definitely talk of Karn being played in Tron and I'm sure he will make an impact in other Eternal formats as well, but Karn is almost worthless for Standard or Limited purposes.

Ashiok, Dream Render

Constructed Playability: 4

Limited Playability: 4

Coolness Factor: 6

More goodies for older formats.

Hello fetchlands, meet Ashiok, Dream Render. Turn one Dark Ritual anyone? Okay, that's probably not going to be that big of a thing, but Ashiok sure does make Shadow of Doubt look bad. I'd imagine trying to play something like Primeval Titan against Ashiok is going to be quite the frustrating experience. Did I mention that Ashiok also exiles graveyards? What a hater.

Ashiok has a lot of possible sideboard applications in Modern and beyond, but is also twenty cards worth of mill from a single card. While it's unlikely that Ashiok can kick start the quiet Mill archetype in Modern, it's not crazy. Doing so many relevant things in a format as wide as Modern is a good start, and there are certainly Limited decks that would be happy with Ashiok as a finisher as well.

Nissa, Who Shakes the World

Constructed Playability: 5

Limited Playability: 8

Coolness Factor: 2

Just like Chandra has a shtick, so does Nissa. Yes, she makes lands into creatures, we get it.

Vernal Bloom is a powerful ability, especially with cards like Banefire and Hydroid Krasis in the format, but a Vernal Bloom you can attack is a harder sell. Five mana is a high upfront cost, meaning you'll likely have to wait until your next turn to actually start using it. Still, doubling your mana is no joke, and with the dual lands in the format and an odd splash land you aren't just Limited to Green cards as your payoff.

In somewhat odd contrast to that ability is Nissa's land awakening ability, which can be used to pressure planeswalkers or players. While a 3/3 isn't that big to start, getting to target the same land over and over to make it bigger is a nice alternative to having a bunch of lands that are the same size. Still, losing lands is a cost and this ability plays somewhat awkwardly with the first ability. Lastly Nissa's ultimate is perhaps the most underwhelming ultimate in the history of planeswalkers. Sure, making your creature lands indestructible is cute, but getting a pile of forests/Mana Severance is odd at best?

Nissa's not bad in Constructed, but she's not great either. In Limited she's nuts like most planeswalkers, where you will be happy to turn your extra lands into an army of creatures.

Sarkhan the Masterless

Constructed Playability: 5

Limited Playability: 9

Coolness Factor: 7

Sarkhan was a man, I mean, he was a dragon man.

At first glance Sarkhan the Masterless seems to ask a lot. The first two abilities don't do anything unless you already have some Dragons or planeswalkers in play, and if you already have some Dragons or planeswalkers in play then why do you need Sarkhan? However, this is all mostly extra. Most of the time when you cast Sarkhan, you are likely making a 4/4 Dragon token right away, which means that Sarkhan is basically a 4/4 Dragon token that comes with a planeswalker as a bonus as well. And if that planeswalker survives the turn cycle then it gets to attack for four the next turn as well.

Is that good enough? On its own probably not, but if you can get Sarkhan into a deck that already has multiple planeswalkers and is looking for some top end, sending your Chandra into the air as a 4/4 Dragon out of nowhere is pretty good as well. As War of the Spark Standard is likely to be flush with planeswalkers and Sarkhan is good both with and against planeswalkers, there's likely a place for him in Standard.

In Limited Sarkhan is a total bomb, as a 4/4 Dragon token for five mana is already a great card by itself. Adding the planeswalker into the package puts Sarkhan way over the top and the static effect is more likely to have an effect in Limited as well.

Vraska, Swarm's Eminence

Constructed Playability: 2

Limited Playability: 8

Coolness Factor: 6

Another planeswalker that's not quite there in Constructed but excellent in Limited, Vraska, Swarm's Eminence is quite the combination of abilities.

Small deathtouch creatures are great in Limited, helping to trade up with larger creatures and gum up the ground. The problem is that they don't get to do much on offense. Vraksa comes with two of these tokens, but also makes them into offensive forces as well. Now you can attack with them to size them up, as well as threaten planeswalkers with ease. Once you add proliferate to the mix things start to get out of hand.

Vraksa is an excellent Limited card.

Gideon Blackblade

Constructed Playability: 6

Limited Playability: 8

Coolness Factor: 7

Gideon always wants to be a creature anyway, so now he gets to do so without even activating an ability. Gideon Blackblade is a bit different than other planeswalkers, as much of his value is going to be tied to what he can do as a creature rather than his abilities. His plus ability is relevant but unexciting, while his minus ability is costed as an ultimate but just a good removal spell.

As such, Gideon needs to be evaluated as a sticky threat that can't block and can be attacked. This naturally makes him poor against other aggressive decks, because he doesn't do much the turn he comes into play to effect the board or defend himself. Gideon is excellent against decks that aren't pressuring you because he is a well costed threat that evades Kaya's Wrath and provides some value beyond just being a creature.

This means that Gideon's likely place is in the sideboard, set to come in against decks that aren't interested in pressuring you. This could come from a White aggro deck, but could also come from a slower deck as sideboard juke to provide some pressure. Gideon isn't all encompassing but is good at what he does. He's also going to be quite good in Limited, as all reasonable planeswalkers are.

Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord

Constructed Playability: 5

Limited Playability: 9

Coolness Factor: 6

Much of Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord's worth will come from if his first ability can actually kill something. Like Liliana, the Last Hope, if Sorin's plus kills a creature you've already gained amazing value, but if it doesn't you're just doing okay for your investment. Lifelink is great, but four mana is a pretty steep cost.

Sorin's minus ability is good but nothing we haven't seen before; it's not clear if Sorin is better than Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants. Sorin is going to be amazing against aggressive Red decks, but the overall package doesn't do anything we haven't seen before.

Saheeli, Sublime Artificer

Constructed Playability: 9

Limited Playability: 3

Coolness Factor: 8

So far most of the uncommon planeswalkers have either been Limited cards or cards with niche roles in older formats. Saheeli, Sublime Artificer flips the script with a tried and true static ability. Young Pyromancer has made waves in every format it was legal in, with Murmuring Mystic doing good things in Standard and Monastery Mentor actually restricted in Vintage. Quite simply, tagging on tokens to your spells is very powerful. Saheeli requires you to play a lot of non-creature spells, but those spells are great anyway so the cost isn't high.

And it gets even better!

Saheeli can turn one of those middling tokens into any other creature or artifact you control. May I suggest Crackling Drake and a big attack for eleven out of nowhere? This is all ignoring the fact that Saheeli triggers off artifacts too, giving her a Sai, Master Thopterist feel as well. That is a large amount of potential synergy spread across two of the most broken card types Magic.

Don't be surprised if Saheeli, Sublime Artificer goes down as one of the most important planeswalkers in War of the Spark when all is said and done.

Teferi, Time Raveler

Constructed Playability: 5

Limited Playability: 5

Coolness Factor: 4

"I'm not done yet!"

...And you thought Teferi, Hero of Dominaria was obnoxious.

I'm a lot lower on Teferi than most people, both on his playability level as well as how unexcited I am to play against him in a control mirror. Many of the decks in the format just don't care about what Teferi has going on. You play him, you Repulse something, and they continue to do their thing and just play their Lightning Strikes and Vraska's Contempts at sorcery speed. The card that's left behind after the Repulse is cute, but dreams of casting a Kaya's Wrath in your opponent's attack step are mostly frivolous.

Where Teferi is going to be super frustrating is in Control mirrors, where playing spells at instant speed is paramount. If one play can land him early and the other player can't remove him, things are going to get ugly fast, not unlike Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir back in the day. The difference is that Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir was nimble himself, as well as fetchable with Mystical Teachings.

Teferi, Time Raveler is nothing more than a sideboard card.

Narset, Parter of Veils

Constructed Playability: 4

Limited Playability: 3

Coolness Factor: 4

Are two Search for Azcanta activations worth three mana and two turns? Maybe, but that's not factoring in that your opponent may be able to attack Narset before she ever draws her second card. Her static ability is decent but very hard to evaluate. A lot of the time it won't do anything, but then some other amount of the time it will be turning off Chemister's Insight and Hydroid Krasis and you're going to be very happy.

I'm starting to sound like a broken record, but Narset is going to be good against slower decks that won't be pressuring her. Many of these planeswalkers feel like sideboard cards or made for older formats, where turning off Brainstorm is actually a very relevant ability. Narset may be better than I'm giving her credit for, but I don't see her doing a ton in Standard.

Ugin, the Ineffable

Constructed Playability: 4

Limited Playability: 10

Coolness Factor: 9

Ugin is back! Ugin, the Ineffable, the brother of Nicol Bolas has returned, probably to try and deal with his brother's mess. While Ugin, the Spirit Dragon often elicits concessions when cast on turn four in Modern, Ugin, the Ineffable is cut more of the Karn, the Great Creator mold than the Karn Liberated Mold.

Making colorless spells, namely artifacts, cost two less is pretty big game for combo decks, letting them churn through all sorts of cheap artifacts very quickly. However, the six mana upfront cost is a bit steep for a combo deck without some serious mana acceleration. Ugin's plus ability is a weird mixture of token creation and card advantage which is pretty powerful, but is it really worth six mana? Lastly Ugin has the ability to destroy most permanents which is great, but six mana for a Vindicate and a planeswalker that will die if you sneeze is also not the best deal.

Ugin certainly does stuff, and that stuff isn't bad, but the juice doesn't feel worth the squeeze. Unless of course you're playing Limited and don't get to pick and choose what juices you want, that is. It's hard to imagine a Limited deck that wouldn't be very happy to have Ugin in its roster.

What A Lineup!

Good lord that was a lot of planeswalkers.

War of the Spark is unlike anything we have ever seen in the history of Magic and promises to shake up both Standard and older formats in a huge way. Evaluating planeswalkers has always been one of the most difficult things to do every time a new set is released, but there were usually only a small handful of them. Now that we've got an army on our hands, we have a lot of work to do.

Frankly, I'm just hoping I got more right than I did wrong.

The only way to find out is to start putting them onto the battlefield, so let me know what you think! War of the Spark comes to MTG Arena, Magic Online, and paper very soon, but even now we can get out our sharpies and basic lands and get to work. You never really know how good a planeswalker is until you see it in play, so let's start putting them in play!