Friday 8 May 2015

top planeswalkers III

Ajani GoldmaneAs planeswalkers are a new addition to magic relatively speaking, as well as a very select and small pool of cards there is much more change in their ratings over time than there is with most other groups of cards. As the cube meta changes too I feel compelled to re-rate the planeswalkers with some regularity. There have been a lot of strong new entries although not so much at the very top. The top six or so stand out above the rest but from there to the rest of the top 20 there is really very little to chose between them. The depth and quality of gold planeswalkers has also seen a marked improvement. The cube is becoming more midrange which is an environment where planeswalkers shine. I am currently running about 35 planeswalkers in my main cube and most of the rest reside in the B cube and see more play than most other B cube cards.

Jace, the Mind Sculptor

The Good

1.   Jace, the Mind Sculptor
2.   Elspeth, Knight Errant
3.   Liliana of the Veil
4.   Elspeth, Sun's Champion
5.   Garruk Wildspeaker
6.   Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver
7.   Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker
8.   Jace, Architect of Thought
9.   Sorin, Solemn Visitor
10. Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
11. Chandra, Pyromaster
12. Teferi, Temporal Archmage
13. Garruk, Apex Predator
Liliana of the Veil14. Xenagos, the Reveler
15. Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
16. Freyalise, Llanowar's Fury
17. Garruk, Primal Hunter
18. Domri Rade
19. Karn Liberated
20. Ajani Vengeant
21. Ob Nixilus of the Black Oath
22. Nissa, Worldwaker
23. Kiora, the Crashing Wave
24. Sorin Markov
25. Ajani Steadfast

The Fine

26. Gideon Jura
27. Garruk Relentless
28. Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker
Vraska the Unseen29. Chandra, the Firebrand
30. Ajani, Mentor of Heros
31. Sarkhan Unbroken
32. Vraska the Unseen
33. Elspeth Tirrel
34. Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
35. Chandra Nalaar
36. Liliana Vess
37. Ral Zarek

The Niche

Dack Fayden*
Narset Transcendant
Venser the Sojourner*
Koth of the Hammer
Dack FaydenAjani Goldmane
Tezzeret the Seeker
Nahiri, the Lithomancer*
Daretti, Scrap Servant
Chandra Ablaze
Garruk, Caller of Beasts
Ajani, Caller of the Pride
Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas
Sarkhan Vol
Jace, Memory Adept

(*in cube presently)

The Bad

Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded
Liliana of the Dark Realms
Sarkhan the Mad
Nissa Revane
Jace, the Living Guildpact
Gideon Champion of Justice

Ashiok, Nightmare WeaverThe most notable changes are as follows. Ashiok has rapidly climbed the rankings, it is cheap, very dangerous and has a lot of loyalty to chew through. The mill is far more painful and likely to kill you in cube than other formats, especially 60 card ones and as such Ashiok enjoys a charmed life in the cube. He feels a lot like Psychatog used to and is the bane of control players. Elspeth, Sun's Champion has continued to impress and is the highest new entry since the last list. It is easily more powerful than the original Elspeth who once held the number one slot but at six mana it is harder to include in decks.

The commander planeswalkers all impressed although the real surprise was Teferi who has been a control mainstay. Being able to untap four lands and still sit on four loyalty is huge, it lets you fairly safely play a significant thing onto the board and feels more like a two drop! Should it survive it will offer you ongoing mana to be able to safely play the things in your hand or cards to refill a dwindling hand. Sarkhan Dragonspeaker is another new boy on the block who has been doing good work. The card is obviously great but I was a little concerned it wouldn't be able to find many homes as midrange is not so much reds thing. Fortunately he is seeing play and being good in a reasonable range of decks.
Elspeth, Sun's Champion
Sorin Solemn Visitor is comfortably the second best gold planeswalker and came as quite a surprise to me. On paper it seems a bit situational or vulnerable depending on whether you are going +1 or -2 respectively on the turn you make it. Turns out it is just utterly amazing! Flying tokens get a lot done for you and the effect of the +1 is just so swingy most of the time you care little about those few occasions you have no dorks in play.

The backup, or fair Jace as we call him has risen greatly in the ranks. I think there may be some bias here as he gets played a lot when there is still an option on Mind Sculptor simply because the builder doesn't want to go overboard on cheesy blue power cards and win only a hollow victory. As such Architect is played slightly more than he should be but he is still impressively strong. The +1 gives him an awful lot of staying power and usually buys you enough time to either start safely milking him for cards or ramping towards the ultimate so you can finish the game. Alternately you can pretty happily throw him down sacrificially, -2 him right away and have him easily killed by attackers. This is not ideal but still usually a lot more value than a Council of the Soratami offers and is only a part of how you can use the card. A great all round tool for a lot of decks, particularly control ones that love versatility, card advantage and stall, all built into a card that can even be a win condition.
Garruk, Apex Predator
We have seen some new super top end walkers in the form or Ugin and Apex Predator. Despite being gold the latter has been the most impressive, able to save games and overpower and win them. Ugin is great too, much the same role as Karn but more potent at it. They both suffer a bit from being able to close out a game once they have bailed you hence there slightly lower ratings than Apex Predator but this my no means makes them bad!

Tamiyo is still seeing a lot of play, some of this is because she is not a Jace but much is earned through quality. She is an immediate solution to a lot of problem cards like man lands and Hellkites. She is great at protecting herself and can still be decently disruptive should your opponent have no threats out. Her ultimate is strong and she can provide card draw if need, sometimes in abundance.

Gideon JuraGideon Jura has been the most interesting transition from once being in the top five to now being decidedly average. One of the changes is the potency of creatures. Previously Gideon would just plus two each turn and either stay alive perpetually preventing any damage hitting you or force them to grossly over extend into your Wrath of God. The odd occasion they had something fat you could usually take the time to -2 it to death and get right back to +2ing with Gideon still alive and well.  Once you have stabilized you could then start to get your beat on with a fairly safe 6/6. Now Gideon easily dies in a single hit from a pair of three drops. He cannot force situations where Wrath is game ending and he cannot stall for very long either. There is a lot more removal for planeswalkers which can be crippling if you were relying on him to absorb an attack. Additionally there is more removal for creatures making attacking with him a liability. All in all Gideon has fallen very far indeed. Champion of Justice has actually seen more play in the last 18 months than Jura! Although I rate him as bad he is one of the more playable ones in the bad grouping and has some applications. He should really be a niche/bad hybrid!

Teferi, Temporal Archmage
Sorin has also fallen off a little. Black has far more life gain options now which was a big part of Sorin's success before. Although not as significant as with Gideon the more potent dorks mean Sorin is worse at protecting himself. Two damage does not kill as many things as it used to. Black is pretty clunky and so people want reliability and consistency from there six drop power cards. Grave Titan is getting most of the love that previously would have gone Sorin Markov's way.

Chandra, the Firebrand is another faller. This doesn't come as a huge surprise, red was lacking in rounded decent planewalkers until Dragonspeaker and Pyromaster came along and Firebrand was the best on offer. With those on offer Firebrand is dangerously close to being cut. I still quite like her, I like to Fork things and I love how splashable she is. Firebrand can be the red planeswalker of choice in control decks where the 0 ability on Pyromaster can hit countermagic and be terrible.

There is a small group of very rounded and powerful planeswalkers that under perform because there are few archetypes that can house them effectively and not because, like Gideon Jura, they are unsuited to the meta. This group includes Sarkhan Unbroken, Ajani, Mentor of Heroes, Nicol Bolas and to a lesser extent Ajani Vengeant. In pure power terms these planeswalkers are mostly up there with the best of the non top 6. They do great things for not that much mana but they are all awkwardly gold and awkwardly costed for that particular combination. It is easier to go for random pile of good cards in some colours.dec in cube than most other formats but it is still unadvisable, even with these easy to pick up high powered walkers on offer.
Sarkhan Unbroken

Ajani Vengeant is the one that stands out most as differing in my evaluation of the card and the MtG community in general. I have never loved it or rated it highly but likewise have always been aware this is a bit controversial and therefore potentially just wrong. As such I have tried to find the good in the card and tried to pinpoint my dislike of the card. Although not as severe as with the other gold walkers I mentioned that is most along the lines of the problem with Vengeant. For aggressive decks he is a bit clunky and midrange, you want your four drops to end the game fast and have good synergy with your list which Vengeant generally does not. For control decks you want more safety and easily obtainable value. Three loyalty is low, the keeping tapped is bad against haste and vigilance and the cost of the Lightning Helix is large both compared to how much loyalty he can gain and how much he starts with. Great in midrange decks but there are not that many of those which are also Boros in some way.

Finally I should give some props to Domri Rade, a planeswalker I am rapidly gaining respect for. His middling rating on this list doesn't quite do him the justice he deserves. Really he should be in the niche grouping because there is only really one archetype you play him in. The thing is this archetype, which you might loosely call Zoo, is greatly diverse and can be done in almost any combination of colours that contain green. Those that also contain red, which is most of them, play Domri. Zoo is a dominant force in cube presently and is substantially better than Xenegos (planeswalker) in those decks. The reason for the difference in rating is that Xenagos finds himself in more varied decks than Domri. The three mana walkers that do some broadly useful and/or varied things are very powerful indeed. Domri is usually removal when you want it to be and has a +1 that draws at least half a card on average. RG has way more access to library manipulation than before and can easily beuild good decks with 20+ creatures all in all making Domri not just as good as say Ashiok when housed in Zoo but fairly comfortably Liliana of the Veil levels of good.

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