Wednesday 3 July 2019

Top Planeswalkers

I was asked which planeswalkers I would run in a cube if I were allowed five of each colour and one of each guild exactly. This was a fairly easy task given that it is not that far off what I currently run in my cube. I do prefer a fluid approach to cube design but I also fully appreciate the desire to have balance and symmetry in design as well. If you are going for a set number across the colours this seems like a great arrangement. Without further ado lets dive right in!

Nahiri, the Harbinger

Boros - Nahiri, the Harbinger

Easy call for me here with Ajani Vengeant being the only other consideration. I have never loved Ajani even back when he was good. His low loyalty count make him play most like a bad Warleader's Helix. Far too vulnerable to wide boards and unable to generate value against slower decks that easily. Nahiri on the other hand is more diverse and better scaling removal backed up with a far more robust loyalty count. Her ultimate is threatening due to how fast she can get there and the card quality element is huge in the colour pairing. Nahiri is one of the most powerful midrange and control planeswalkers out there for her reasonable cost and would see a lot more play if Boros wasn't such an aggressively focused pairing.

Vraska, Golgari QueenGolgari - Vraska, Golgari Queen

While Relic Seeker and big Garruk Apex Predator are both rather more powerful than the Queen the four mana offering is far more desirable. Black has no good four drop walkers and green only has a couple of fairly limited walkers in the four slot. The Golgari Queen is impressively versatile being able to deal with lots of problem cards while reasonably well protecting herself and/or you. Like with Nahiri her ultimate is relevant and attainable and acts as a very real threat on the game even if it is still rarely used. Having a +2 loyalty ability on top of a decent starting count is a great way to empower ultimate abilities! I do really like Relic Seeker but there are just too many other non-gold cards that compete with what she offers that are better or more playable.

Dack Fayden
Izzet - Dack Fayden

Another quite easy one with Dack being such a cut above the other Izzet options. Looting is good generally but particularly good in Izzet colours. Stealing an artifact and having a powerful looter left over after is utterly brutal and wins a lot of games outright in cube. Almost anytime you play an artifact in cube you have to consider the Dack. Even something as simple as a mana rock will cost you the game if your opponent just instantly steals it while also making Dack. An unusual walker in that the value option is conditional and beyond that he is just a looter. It is rare that the ultimate does anything. I have certainly won many more games milling my opponent out with Dack than I have using the ultimate. Most walkers offer a game winning threat, some board control and some value options while Dack only offers one and only some of the time. He is just that good!

Sorin, Vengeful BloodlordOrzhov - Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord

This is one of the closest calls for the gold section with a couple of decent Kaya options and a bunch of Sorin cards too, most of which have decent power. I used to be a big fan of Solemn Visitor for the immense swing potential of the +1 however over time the -2 has gotten worse and worse simply not bringing enough defense to the board and leaving Sorin too vulnerable. This makes for a fairly win more card. Bloodlord can offer this big life swing while going even higher on loyalty or he can recur a more meaningful threat and get some assured value at the same time. This makes him the best of the Sorin options but there is still a pair of strong Kaya also vying for the slot. Ghost Assassin is a tricksy and diverse walker. She offers power in a unique way but is hard to use and consequently to fit into lists. The smaller Usurper is great but being a bit more low key works against her as a gold card. Normally I love a three mana walker but Usurper isn't a huge pull to the colour pairing as she isn't often all that relevant of a play later in the game.

Nissa, Steward of ElementsSimic - Nissa, Steward of Elements.

Kiora alternatives are pretty poor. One is bad and the other is too vulnerable at a startling loyalty of two and only a +1 to grow with. This Nissa is also decent although one of the most complicated planeswalkers on offer. I rarely feel like I lost the game because I misused a planeswalker but most of the times I do it is with the Steward. Nissa is great as she scales so well. You can flop her out at three mana and have good options or you can hold her back till eight mana and win out of nowhere with her. Or indeed anything in between. The only thing she lacks is self protection but the +2 and the scaling of her loyalty offset that somewhat. Being the only walker you can just 10 someone with off the bat also helps compensate rather! The most annoying thing about her is that she has fairly poor synergy with Hydriod Krasis and Shardless Agent which are some of the best Simic cards.

Daretti, Ingenious IconoclastRakdos - Daretti, Ingenious Iconoclast

This guy is really impressive but as with many sets that bypass the main competitive formats he is also rather under the radar. Daretti protects himself very well, better than any other three mana walker and he does so in multiple ways. The servo is a decent blocker and puts Daretti up in loyalty. It usually forces attacks in as Daretti with artifact food gets really scary. If your plan was to win with creatures but your opponent has a 5 loyalty Daretti in play and a couple of servo tokens you have lost without spot removal or some other god draw. When Daretti gets played and you have a Chromatic Star waiting for him or perhaps it is late game and you have a spare mana rock then the -1 ability is pretty back breaking. Being able to just kill a relevant card is huge. Getting to play a Bedevil (almost) and have a two loyalty Daretti leftover is strong at any stage of the game. Daretti benefits from artifacts kicking around but he also empowers a lot of other cards that enjoy having artifacts from Galvanic Blast to Pia Nalaar. No other Rakdos planeswalker comes close to cube worthly, let alone close to Daretti.

Wrenn and Six

Gruul - Wrenn and Six

Pretty easy one here with this being so cheap and rounded. Direct damage to any target is great and the +1 is reasonably reliable value in formats with sac lands, not to mention looting, cycling lands and the rest of it. This is just a cut above the rest in both power and playability. While there are some decent Domri options on the table that are also both cheap and powerful they are rather narrower and focused around creatures. Wrenn is good in most places and almost oppressive when well supported, mostly with the right lands!

Ajani, Mentor of Heroes
Selesnya - Ajani, Mentor of Heroes

While Greathearted is perhaps a better planeswalker in an abstract sense Mentor of Heroes is more powerful and better suited to cube play. While I normally dislike abilities that require you to have a dork in play Mentor has so many things about it that make it a non-issue. Selesnya colours have lots of good and sturdy dorks and build dork heavy lists. There is also another +1 ability that will find you a creature on the rare occasion you don't have one and really want one. Mentor is really muscular, he always grows and advances your board or draws you action while doing so. Three +1/+1 counters is far far better than making a 3/3 when you can also dig for dorks. Creatures are way more sturdy than tokens and a lot of them scale with counters or just getting bigger. The distribution also helps you craft the perfect board state to press a win. Any deck trying to win in conventional combat is going to get beaten my Mentor. He doesn't win quickly but he wins very reliably, every turn he remains in play that win becomes significantly more assured. This can be said of most walkers but it is pronounced with Ajani as he so directly bolsters the main route to victory. While I think he is very powerful I have not found room in my cube for him due to white and green having so many premium mono coloured walkers and with Selesnya being a less common pairing to see.

Teferi, Hero of Dominaria

Azorius - Teferi, Hero of Dominaria

This is a tough call between the two rampantly good Teferi cards in these colours. Ultimately Hero is more rounded of a walker and is not quite so tedious or annoying. He is more of a reason to splash or go in a direction and that is the best way to have your gold cards. He is also really spot on for the blueprint of what you generally want a walker to do, + to get cards in hand, - to get things out of play and ultimate to win the game! Tef ticks all these boxes and better than most.

Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver

Dimir  - Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver

There isn't anything even close to this. Ashiok is a brutally good cube card that is cheap, disruptive, hard to deal with and threatens the game on multiple fronts while often gaining loyalty as they do so. I cut Ashiok from my cube due to how little fun it was to play against and how warping it was on the game. Essentially a ban, in which case the only gold card and only walker I have ever banned, not to mention highest CMC card too. It was easily one of the best cards against control without being a slouch in any other matchup. It isn't even just that Ashiok is one of the best cube walkers period, Dimir also happens to have no other decent walkers that are generally playable. The Tezzeret options generally need too high of an artifact count to be good cube inclusions.

Jace BelerenBlue

Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Narset, Parter of Veils
Jace, Architect of Thought
Jace Beleren
Tezzeret, Artifice Master

The first three on this list are a lock in. Architect of Thought is one of the most underrated walkers being so good against go wide strategies. I wouldn't entertain the idea of cutting him. The last couple of slots are more up for debate. You could run Jace, Memory Adept as it is a fairly brutal milling win condition in 40 card lists. I dislike this route and prefer less linear and more interactive planeswalkers. It just turns out that mill is over powered in cube and that no one enjoys losing to it. The real alternatives to the bottom of this list are Teferi, Temporal Archmage and Tamiyo, the Moon Sage. Both of these are fine midrange and control planeswalkers. Tef is very powerful and fun when you have suitable cards to protect him with but he is a bit win more and a bit of a luxury. Tamiyo is potent and is one of the best planeswalkers against man-lands. She also has a lovely ultimate that has won more games than most other planeswalker ultimates in her time in my cube. The only reason Tez is beating her to the last slot is that there are a lot of exciting artifact matters cards in blue at present with things like Urza, Sai and the like. You could make room for both by cutting the fairly linear Beleren who is basically a jumped up Divination! The thing is that Beleren is still pretty good and being a three mana walker he sees a lot more play than any of the five or more mana options. Narset may well outclass Beleren but getting a card draw walker down on turn three is a great place to be in.

Gideon of the Trials

Elspeth, Knight-Errant
Elspeth, Sun's Champion
Gideon. Ally of Zendikar
Gideon Blackblade
Gideon of the Trials

This was the easiest of the colours to do with five very powerful options on offer containing a good spread of costs and abilities, especially considering they are mono white! Knight-Errant remains one of the best cube walkers offering great tempo, reach, planeswalker control, and self protection. Sun's Champion is simply one of the most powerful planeswalkers utterly shutting down the board and winning a few turns there after. She even answers some of the best threats in the game when making a small army each turn isn't going to contain things. Ally of Zendikar is one of the most overrated planeswalkers in the cube but he is still very much a top tier card. The instantly useful ultimate combined with the high tempo and fast win clock of Ally make him a perfect top end card for any deck beating down. Blackblade is similarly a great beater offering a bit of support to the attacks, a bit of extra utility and value, but mostly just a very hard to handle threat. Gideon of the Trials is what Kiora wishes she was! He is a great control card that provides a wide array of protection and has perfect synergy with Wrath effects. He forces the over extension and can animate post Wrath to attack down opposing walkers. White has some potent walkers not on this list but these five are just so good at what they do the others don't get a look in. Gideon Jura used to be great but these days he is just far too quickly and easily attacked down when he tires to use his +2 ability. Ajani Goldmane is still very potent as a team buff card but he is linear and terrible from behind. Adversary of Tyrants or Serra the Benevolent are those next in line on this list and are both strong, rounded walkers with their uses. Neither would be out of place in a cube setting and both are better than the 4th and 5th placed cards for some of the other colours.

Garruk RelentlessGreen

Nissa, Who Shakes the World
Nissa, Voice of Zendikar
Garruk Wildspeaker
Vivien Reid
Garruk Relentless

Green is like white in that it also has a great depth of top rate planeswalkers. Unlike white however green does not have the same spread of power in their walkers in terms of CMC or even really numbers. Relentless makes this list not because he is all that good but because he is a source of removal in green which is rare. That, and he costs four which precious few green walkers do. Nissa Vital Force and Worldwaker are both better and more powerful cards but they see rather less action with so many other competing five drops. Indeed I rate Worldwaker as one of the best threats in cube but when you are limiting yourself to few walkers you want ones that do planeswalker things. Worldwaker is very narrow and offers no removal or value. A Wolfir Silverheart or other such creature performs a similar sort of role while only planeswalkers really act like planeswalkers. It is this sort of logic that made me chose big Tef over little Tef for Azorious. One is a very potent planeswalker, the other a jumped up Repulse! Vivien Reid gets a pass for being such a strong way to include a solution to problematic fliers. She is otherwise decent and versatile but when she kills some dragon you are eternally grateful. Wildspeaker is very efficient often only costing two and coming out on turn three alongside another two drop. He can threaten an Overrun win immediately on the following turn and is pretty spot on for green. Voice of Zendikar is greens only proper rounded three mana walkers and does a lot of good work, especially coming out on turn two! Nissa, Who Shakes the World is just a monster. She does everything and seemingly all at once! She has kicked all the other five mana Nissa cards squarely in the teeth for the amount of play they now get.

Tibalt, Rakish InstigatorRed

Chandra, Torch of Defiance
Chandra, Acolyte of Flame
Chandra, Awakened Inferno
Chandra, Fire Artisan
Tibalt, Rakish Instigator

This was probably the hardest of the categories to chose. As you can see we have a lot of very new walkers on this list. Only Torch is a real lock in with neither of the Core 2020 Chandra inclusions having any testing from me as yet. They do seem very potent, and other red walkers are not all that. Either they are of mediocre power or they are overly situational, often linear too. Koth for example is strong but despite having a high power level he has all the other problems while also being a win more card. You are jsut better off playing a creature like Hazoret or Rekindling Phoenix. As you can also see the other two inclusions on this list are both War of the Spark cards meaning this list would have looked very different a mere six months ago. It would have been Chandra Flamecaller and Pyromaster alongside Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker and Fireblood. Both these Chandra are fine but are fairly hard to weave into builds. The Sarkhan cards are also fine but one is a bad Dack and the other a bad Glorybringer. All four are a touch clunky, inflexible and a little lacking in power compared to the better walkers in other colours. None of them are that exciting or different. Fire Artisan and Rakish Instigator on the other hand are something completely different. They give red new tools rather than mediocre alternatives to better walkers. They are much more playable than Koth, more powerful than the Sarkhans, and more interesting and diverse than the many older Chandra cards. Tibalt is surprisingly good, especially in cube. Red wants to prevent lifegain but it rarely wants to run Vortex anymore. Tiblat is the least painful and most reliable way to get this affect now. He is good in aggro for that but also good in both token strategies all the way to through to more controlling midrange decks. It is all fairly minor and it would not be unreasonable to run any of the red walkers I have discussed in any combination really just so long as Torch was always involved. I do expect big things from the Core 2020 walkers, or at least the three drop. Just being better than the other red six mana walkers doesn't automatically make you a good card... Nothing has really come closer to touching Inferno Titan in the six slot in red.

Ob Nixilis ReignitedBlack

Liliana, the Last Hope
Liliana of the Veil
Liliana, Dreadhorde General
Davriel. Rogue Shadowmage
Ob Nixilus Reignited

This one was a pretty easy five as well simply as black has so few options and less still that are good. The first three Liliana are all lock in cards with high power. The three drops are efficient and versatile and some of the best walkers in the whole game. The General is just a beastly card! Davriel is something a little different, while linear he is a very good threat that provides value and disruption and needs dealing with. It is like he has a passive ultimate. Not to be underestimated. Ob is low powered but he is a good blueprint for a walker, kill a threat on the -ability and draw a card on the +ability! He is clean on both accounts but just slightly pricier than you might like when compared to the likes of Torch of Defiance or Golgari Queen. Both Liliana Vess and Death's Majesty are viable alternatives for this underwhelming five drop walker slot in black. Even the other Obs both have some merit. The more boring nature of Ob Nixilis Reignited does play into him seeing more action. Quirky interesting things tend to be more situational or narrow and thus less playable.

Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
Colourless - Ugin, the Spirit Dragon

So much power it is worth building a mana base to support this monster. He can usually come down and clear everything relevant out of the way with ease and then dominate the game from then on. So often the only out to a situation is an Ugin. Karn Liberated is great against control but weak against go wide plans and just doesn't have that huge recovery ability you want from such a top end card. Ugin, the Ineffable has a similar issue to Karn Liberated although is a little more rounded and enough cheaper to be that bit more playable. The other cheaper Karn options are both strong cards but generally a little on the narrow side for drafting cubes. All the colourless walkers are very good and most of them are playable in most cubes despite some of their narrower aspects. Even so, the Spirit Dragon stands head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to drafting cubes.


  1. Please do try to update this list once a year, your insight is very appreciated.