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In Development – Developing Your Planeswalker Algorithm

 

I wasn’t playing Magic while Mirrodin was in Standard. By chance one day a Magic tournament was being held at the same venue as a Mechwarrior event I was competing in, and I stopped by to watch a game. One of the players said, “Affinity, affinity, affinity,” and dropped three cards into play without so much as touching his lands, and then finally tapped two lands to “equip” one card to another card. It was bizarre, and nothing like the Magic I recalled from several years earlier. I shook my head and went on to do battle with some toy giant robots, wondering just how drastically the game had changed in my absence.

After the fact, affinity turned out to just be a (poorly-playtested) alternate costing mechanic, but equipping was something new altogether. Since then, the game has evolved to include not just a couple new subtypes, but a whole new type in the form of planeswalkers. I can only imagine how confusing they must be for players who took a hiatus ahead of Lorwyn and have since returned.

Playing to type

I really like planeswalkers. I appreciate how they’ve expanded the scope of Magic play. They also align well with my normal play aesthetic, which involves doing stuff that happens on or interacts with the battlefield. When I play a control deck, rather than fight over whether or not stuff makes it onto the battlefield at all, I tend to prefer tilting the game state to my benefit or removing problematic cards as they arrive. I’m not arguing that this is a better approach, but it’s the one I tend toward, and it works well with planeswalkers.

Absent any survey data to back this up, my perception is that many current Magic players don’t have enough appreciation for planeswalkers, and as a consequence tend not to put much thought into how to use them, or whether or not to use them at all. Certainly, I can feel like I’m in a minority in that I need to check myself from simply slapping planeswalkers into every deck I make. I was even running Elspeth in one Gifts variation during the last Extended PTQ season.

My distilled understanding of planeswalkers as a concept is “game state advantage.” More than simple card advantage, this is the idea that a single planeswalker, when used properly, alters multiple components of the game state: card advantage, tempo, and board position.

The key here is that dubiously simple phrase “used properly.” How do we make sure we’re doing that?

Your algorithm

Two weeks ago I made offhand mention of my “algorithm” for using Elspeth. For the computer scientists I work with, an algorithm might best be defined as a set of rules that, when followed, will solve a given problem. More broadly, we can think of an algorithm as a specific decision-making process. Using that broad definition, we have all sorts of algorithms that we apply, consciously or otherwise, to how we play our cards in Magic. Do you always play creatures after combat? That’s an algorithm you’re applying – probably too strictly, in that case.

Realistically, this applies to all cards we play, but I think it’s of special utility in thinking about the planeswalkers because they so clearly have multiple distinct options each turn. Usually, we’re picking between the first two abilities. For some planeswalkers, you may end up seeing the third ability as a viable option in short order as well. I’ve seen many players get stuck using only one ability on a planeswalker, rather than pausing to reconsider based on the shifting game state. If you’ve given a little more thought in advance to how and when to apply each ability, you’ll avoid this pitfall.

“¦and you may even be more inclined to play planeswalkers, as you’ll start to see the value of all their abilities.

I’m going to spend the rest of my space today looking at our current pool of planeswalkers in this context. Speaking of context, we should keep in mind that a planeswalker’s utility is context dependent. I’ll talk about the current Standard environment below, but as should be clear from the relative enrichment of Tezzeret in Extended and Vintage, each planeswalker’s value will vary considerably across formats.

Ajani Goldmane

Originally derided and then subsequently elevated to temporary “best” status in B/W Tokens, I think Ajani is back to being undervalued. After adding him to my G/W Walkers deck, I now view Ajani Goldmane as a “better Oran-Rief.” Sure, he actually costs mana, but he also boosts all your dudes, gives them vigilance, and, like all planeswalkers, gives your opponent a second target.

My Ajani algorithm is usually quite simple – pump up my dudes. About the only thing to keep track of with Ajani is proper order of operations. If you have Elspeth out, make a soldier first. If you’re going to cast a creature, probably do that first. Otherwise, my usual goal with Ajani is to use his second ability until he’s down to 1 loyalty, then from that point on bounce between using his first and second abilities. The notable alternate use case is against a Red Deck Wins or burn-heavy Boros deck, where pumping your creatures is not as useful as having a continually growing source of life gain. My caveat here is that I think Ajani is not the best choice for this situation, but if you have nothing in your sideboard to replace him, that’s his best use.

I haven’t mentioned Ajani’s ultimate because I think it should almost never be used, unless your deck has misfired horrendously and you suspect you will not win without a creature on the battlefield right now.

 

Ajani Vengeant 

Ajani Vengeant is a multivalent threat, being effective against both certain breeds of aggro and control in general. In the current metagame, my inclination is to keep him in the sideboard as I don’t like playing him out against Jund.

Against draw-go control or a stalemated midrange-versus-midrange situation, my default action with Ajani is to use his first ability. This can help push an attack through or keep an opposing deck off tempo, but the main point is to threaten them with his ultimate, which I would go ahead and cash him in to use as soon as possible. The exception to this plan is when Ajani can assassinate an opposing planeswalker or kill a key creature (e.g. a [card]Lotus Cobra[/card], or an assisted kill on a Baneslayer).

Against aggro, I want to check in with my life total and the board situation when deciding what to do with Ajani. If I am at desperately low life, I will treat Ajani like a “Lightning Helix plus,” using him to remove an opposing creature and hopefully draw one attack or burn spell away from me. If I have a reasonable life total, then I have to weigh other factors. Do they have N+1 relevant attackers, where N is my number of blockers? By “relevant” I typically mean attackers that can take 3+ loyalty out of Ajani in one swing. In this case, I prefer to use Ajani’s first ability to lock down their best creature. Then, even if they have removal for one of my blockers, Ajani will likely survive a hit and give me time to pull more removal or additional blockers. If the board has developed such that there are more attackers, I will often use Ajani’s second ability to kill one of them and then default to the “just let them die” use case (see below).

I tend to be very cautious about even playing out Ajani when I’m behind on the board against aggro, unless I have no other options. If he has to be a “Helix plus,” so be it, but if I can drop blockers and sling removal instead, I’d prefer to keep him around to be an effective mid- to late-game control element.

Note that when possible, I do want to use Ajani’s ultimate, and I am willing to cash him in to do so. As long as you have a board position that is at least roughly equivalent to your opponent’s, the one-sided [card]Armageddon[/card] is game-ending.

Ajani Vengeant

At the moment, Chandra sees play in some Jund builds and in some RUW control decks. I think she’s a reasonable faux Ajani Vengeant in Jund, and tends to be Ajani copies five and six in those cases where Ajani can be played in the deck. This seems correct to me, as Ajani largely does the same thing as her, but better.

Unless I already have a dominating board position, my preference is to keep Chandra in my hand and treat her as a quirky, five-mana removal spell. As a consequence, my normal use pattern for Chandra is to cast her, kill a creature using her second ability, and then recharge her with her first ability until I need to kill another creature. If her ultimate ability can win the game immediately, I’ll use it. Otherwise, she is far more effective as a rechargeable creature-killing device than as a slow-rolled burn spell.

Chandra Ablaze

I have to admit to having no practical experience with Chandra Ablaze. When she was first unveiled, I thought she could potentially see play in the [card]Arc-Slogger[/card] position in a “Big Red” deck. The ability to toss your otherwise useless red cards for value or to reload with three burn spells might someday be useful. This suggests an algorithm for her, of course. If necessary, use her second ability to reload your hand. If possible, use her first ability to toss red spells for added value and then definitely cash her in for your ultimate. You will kill your opponent that turn.

 

Elspeth, Knight-Errant 

Underappreciated when she first came out, Elspeth is currently the most monetarily expensive planeswalker. I do think she’s that good, and even though I didn’t fully understand her value when I first picked mine up, I still contend that any planeswalker that generates threats while increasing in loyalty has to be good unless they’ve been engineered to be terrible.

As I described last week, my Elspeth algorithm is straightforward. Generally speaking, I check to see if I already have a creature I can hold back as a blocker. If not, I make a soldier. If so, I boost one of my attackers with Elspeth’s second ability. This behavior does change depending on the board position, of course. If I’m being swamped by small attackers, it’s pretty much “make dudes” all day until I’ve regained control. In contrast, if I’m bashing a control deck that doesn’t use sacrifice-based kill spells (e.g. Gatekeeper of Malakir), I don’t bother to make a soldier and proceed directly to “+3/+3 and flying” as long as I have a creature in play. Sometimes you lose a turn’s worth of Elspeth value due to having the creature killed out from under her ability, but an extra three damage per turn, combined with evasion, is worth that risk – especially since Elspeth is growing ever more loyal as you do so.

Although Elspeth’s ultimate ability is dramatic, I think there is almost never a need to use it. Practically speaking, I would only cash her in for her ultimate if I had a very strong board advantage (e.g. multiple creatures) versus my opponent, or it would let me generate a strong board advantage with the aid of a sweeper. Back during Lorwyn Shards of Alara Standard, I once cashed in Elspeth to make my creatures indestructible, then cast Wrath of God to convert a four-on-four into a four-on-none. That’s worth it. That said, if I can move Elspeth to nine loyalty and then use her ultimate, and my opponent has no burn spells, then I would do so.

Garruk Wildspeaker

The first “best” planeswalker, Garruk’s star has dimmed somewhat in a world of Bloodbraids and Blightnings. Indeed, his algorithm has been fairly dramatically altered by the presence of Jund, Boros, and Naya as kings of the metagame hill.

The prevalence of burn in the current metagame has heavily altered how we play Garruk. Previously, it often made sense to cast Garruk, make a beast, and then subsequently use his untap ability to ramp your mana. Now, my preferred method begins with checking to see if I need to use Garruk’s untap ability on this or the following turn. If so, and if I am not in immediate danger from my opponent’s attacking creatures, I will use Garruk’s untap ability. This ensures under most circumstances that I will still have Garruk on the following turn so I can benefit from his untap ability then. If I am in danger, or I don’t have a need for ramping on the following turn, I will make a beast.

Garruk is the planeswalker for whom ultimate use is simultaneously most practical and most plausible. In the mid- to late-game, if my board is reasonable and the loss of any one creature from my side won’t cripple an attack, I will use Garruk to untap two lands and will definitely cash him in for his ultimate on the following turn. However, do be careful to note that “won’t cripple an attack” clause. Don’t go all-in on an attack that requires all your creatures if you’re going to die to the retaliatory strike when you lose one or two of them.

Jace Beleren

Jace is sort of a benchmark for proper planeswalker algorithm development. Intuitively, we want to use his -1 ability until he’s gone, treating him as a slow-motion draw spell. In most cases, however, the proper use is to immediately give both players a card by using his +2 ability. This takes Jace out of burn range and means we get a total of two more cards before he becomes Boltable or Blightningable again.

This is pretty much how I use Jace. If I’m playing against an aggro deck, both players draw and I put him to 5 loyalty. If I’m playing against some variation on draw-go control that doesn’t run Lightning Bolt, I draw for myself twice, then both players draw, and so forth.

Liliana Vess

Liliana is my favorite planeswalker and thus one that I frequently find myself cutting from decks. She does two things I really like: searching for cards and grinding the opponent down with incremental discard. As a consequence, I throw her into builds, then find she’s not necessary and pull her back out.

In my experience, the correct use for Liliana starts by checking my hand to make sure I have a situation-appropriate play for the following turn. Do I need a Day of Judgment, or perhaps a Broodmate? If do not currently have the correct card in hand for the likely following turn, I use Liliana’s -2 ability to search it up. If my hand already has one or more active plays for the following turn, force your opponent to discard.

My biggest error in using Liliana comes from thinking, “Oh, I have time, I can search next turn” and then losing her to a Maelstrom Pulse or Oblivion Ring, having thus simply managed to cast a sad five-mana Cry of Contrition.

Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker

I admit I’m a little bit dubious about Nicol Bolas showing up in Standard. As cool as it was hearing about Gab Nassif no-permanenting someone with Bolas in one of the Standard rounds at this year’s Worlds, Bolas still costs eight mana. In general, I’d prefer to have Cruel Ultimatum instead. As a consequence, I don’t have practice-based suggestions for a Bolas algorithm.

I imagine that you’d prefer to choose the first ability to strip away lands, planeswalkers, and Ascensions whenever possible. In critical cases, such as a Baneslayer that’s about to kill you, you might want to go for the second ability instead. Clearly, the ultimate ability should be used as soon as possible under most conditions.

Nissa Revane

Nissa is usually very straightforward to play – simply use her first ability and tutor up 2/3s. Her second ability is obviously only useful when you have at least one elf out already, and is generally best reserved for critical cases, similar to when one might Helix with Ajani Vengeant, or to when you have three or more elves out and want a solid life bump. In the specific case of the Eldrazi decks, you may already have five or more elves in play when Nissa appears, which is a good case for just taking a ten point life bump right out of the gate before searching up more Chosen. Outside of Eldrazi decks, I don’t think it makes sense to play toward Nissa’s ultimate. My G/W Walkers build doesn’t gain much from having all eight elves in play, and the best elf in the format works much better when you actually cast it instead of searching it out with Nissa.

Although Nissa is quite vulnerable to Blightnings and Bolts, I don’t keep her in hand out of fear that she’ll be hit. Four mana for three life and a 2/3 creature – that is, what you get if you lose her to Blightning – makes her sort of a underpowered Loxodon Hierarch, but the reasonable likelihood that they don’t have either Blightning or Bolt makes it worthwhile, since a second Nissa activation pushes her out of range of both, and you can keep churning out Chosen from then on.

Sarkhan Vol

From overhyped to almost unplayed, Sarkhan Vol has the problem that his +1 ability is kind of mediocre and his -2 ability mirrors several cards that typically show up only conditionally as sideboard cards (e.g. Act of Treason and Slave of Bolas). I don’t think there’s a particularly strong case for playing Vol at all. That said, if you were in R/G and wanted that “Act of Treason“ type of finisher, one more mana for being able to use the effect two turns in a row seems like a solid choice.

That very theoretical understanding suggests that Vol’s entire use case is playing his second ability twice.

Sorin Markov

Sorin is the best planeswalker that’s not currently seeing a lot of Standard play. Unlike prior cases of underuse such as Elspeth, I think Sorin’s lack of use is justified based on the color-intensive nature of his mana cost. Although he would be awesome as a one- or two-of finisher in a Jund build, the peregrinations of mana base redesign this would require are simply too much. This relegates Markov to Vampires, which can be an okay deck, and mono-black control, which probably isn’t.

Sorin’s algorithm is neatly straightforward – use his first ability until you can use his ultimate ability. Then check to see if using a Mindslaver effect on your opponent will win you the game in the next turn or two. If so, use the ultimate (and appreciate the fact that you don’t have to cash Sorin in to do so). The -3 ability is very flavorful and a lovely tie-in to Zendikar’s vampires, but I think you need not consider it unless, like Chandra’s ultimate, it will give you a win this turn.

 

Tezzeret the Seeker 

Tezzeret is very much a special-use buddy in Standard. He searches up elements of your win state in Time Sieve combo. I don’t currently see a significant use for him outside of similar combo decks, such as some forms of Mill. Inasmuch as his use is strongly directed by the combo he’s supporting, I don’t have any general suggestions about using Tezz in Standard.

Cascade screws everything up

One special case to keep in mind when you’re running through your decision-making process with your planeswalker is the power of opposing cascades.

Let’s say we’re playing G/W Walkers and we have one Noble Hierarch and one Nissa’s Chosen on the battlefield. Our opponent is running a G/x midrange deck and has a Steward of Valeron and their own Hierarch. We can safely attack with the Chosen, cast the Nissa we have in hand, and +1 her to search up a second Chosen. Even if the opponent has removal for our new Chosen, we can chump with our Hierarch and keep Nissa intact.

Now imagine the same scenario for us, except the opponent is running Jund and has a very sad Goblin Ruinblaster that didn’t get to kill any lands when it came down. This time around, if we attack, we risk having the opponent cast Bloodbraid, cascade into Terminate or Lightning Bolt, and then swinging with everyone. It’s ugly.

The concise version is that cascade means you may need to alter your decision-making process such that you’re protecting your planeswalkers for one or two more turns than usual prior to turning them toward offense.

Just let them die

The other important use case for your planeswalkers is just letting them die. This can be hard to do. Our intuitive response is to save our board state. Sometimes, however, your opponent lines up four creatures to try and take down your Elspeth, forcing you to make a full set of terrible, uneven blocks that will maybe keep her around, if they don’t also have any removal.

The right play here is to just let them run on by and beat up your pal. It’s okay. She’ll just bug out and come back later when you cast another copy from your hand. In the meantime, your opponent has wasted a whole turn of attacking with multiple cards to take out one card, and you still have your life total and all your creatures.

Re-evaluate, re-evaluate, re-evaluate

Although I’ve paraded a list of my use cases and recommendations for planeswalkers here, my take-home message is simple. Pause, take a breath, and reconsider how you use your planeswalkers. In doing so, I think you’ll end up casting them at the right times, operating them more effectively once they’re on the battlefield, and using them more often and more powerfully during deck design.

24 thoughts on “In Development – Developing Your Planeswalker Algorithm”

  1. This is one of the absolute best articles I have read in a long time. I must take my hat off to you sir.

    That being said, I agree that planeswalkers are vastly underused, and those that do run them tend to protect them to much. Planeswalkers are vastly underused, both in control and aggro. When I brew up a deck, I always find myself wondering which planeswalkers I can/should include. This article is a wonderful guide for any and all thinking of deck construction

  2. I liked the article, but I would change the Sorin Markov algorithm in one instance. I think that if by using the -3 you can lower the total number of turns your opponent has to live it is the correct ability to use. Consider a board state: one Bloodwitch and one just cast Sorin vs two Wall of Denial. You are at 20 and so is your opponent. They have no hand and neither do you. By setting them to 10 you can kill them in only two more turns, if you drain them and attack every turn, it takes three more turns. Your opponent also has a chance to draw Purge and possibly set you clock back even more. I know this is a pretty detailed example, maybe a corner case, but it happen to me. I think it is a possible and correct use of Sorin.

  3. Regarding “I can only imagine how confusing they must be for players who took a hiatus ahead of Lorwyn and have since returned.” there is a fine anecdote from 2008 German Nationals. It is the 12th of 14 rounds and a well-known player (in Germany at least), Harald Stein, is playing White Weenie against some Gx Midrange Brew. Several turns into the game his opponent is casting a Garruk. Harald calls over a judge to inquire about the meaning of this card. It takes everybody around a while to realize that Haral actually has never seen a planeswalker before. He doesn’t want to know what Garruk does, he wants to know what planeswalkers are. Taking into account that this is one of the top tables, this is the fifth round of Standard and even a Lorwyn draft had already been completed as a part of the tournament you can probably imagine how hilarious most people found the situation. For Harald it was only part hilarious, though, he had to devise a strategy to fight this formerly unconceived threat on the spot; something most of us probably took a month or so to do properly. In the end Harald ended up on our national team that year btw.

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  5. great article dude! keep up the good theory discussions! i love the word algorithm by the way! kind of rolls off the tongue nicely. BTW I’m in love with Elspeth, i plan to take her hand in marriage some day. LOL 🙂

  6. This is the most interesting article I’ve read in a while; it’s definitely a subject that doesn’t get much attention. I generally use the plus-counter abilities first, just to get my ‘walkers out of easy kill range, but I should be more open to ticking off their minus-counter abilities right away.

    Also, I think Sarkhon is pretty powerful, it’s just that he got marginalized by Bloodbraid Elf in the RG-four-drop slot. A victim of context, I think.

  7. I’m impressed by the article, I like it. I like Nick’s comment, too, because it points out that proper deck design probably needs to accommodate planeswalkers more. In other words, they’re like little ‘build around me’ cards for their colour, and should almost always be considered as pillars of that colour.

  8. Great article! Well laid out and written.

    I know I didn’t play mine effectively, but it was still a blast to show up earlier in the year with an all planeswalker deck with Guilder Bairn and Rings of Brighthearth. Now I’ll have to dust it off again for casual play and learn to make better decisions.

  9. dowjonzechemical

    The first time I “Lightning Helix Plused” some one to death in 5cc mirror, I realized everything you wrote here. Specifically regarding analysis of board and game state. This is a good “default” way to think about planeswalkers, and you also leave the reader in a position where you ask them to evaluate for themself, good show!!

    RE: Tezz in Standard. You know I am playing the Jacerator deck, so I think I can add a little insight, if you don’t mind. This is not an altruistic analysis. One should play it for oneself to figure out the subtlety of this planewalker.

    Tezzeret functions in an artifact-themed deck similar to the way Garruk functions for nonartifact decks. His +1 ability is probably used most often, ideally on Borderposts or if you are in a position to attack but you also want to block, untapping a couple of artifact creatures gives sort of a “vigilance” clause to your otherwise open after attacking sort of deck. This means you can protect him from attacks as well.

    The -2 ability is also pretty sweet, assuming you have built around him and know what to dig for in a multitude of game states. Most of the time you want to charge him up for a couple of turns before tutoring, if the game allows. The inherent problem with Tezz is that in order to be totally effective, one has to build a deck with a bunch of artifacts. The two known quantities of such are an Esper-themed deck (which has yet to see competitive play and Jacerator.

    Jacerator is the only deck where I have ever used his ultimate (I never played the older Time Sieve TurboFog). I think that is probably the only circumstance where that ability would be good as well because the other 2 abilities actually create incremental advantages(in Standard), and his ultimate needs to be played with caution, like when you know your opponent can’t do anything. Often in Jacerator, in a stalled game 2-3, I’ll play him, Untap my Mines/Fonts (whatever), Time Warp, then swing for ultimate.

    I hope this isn’t too long. Good Article again. You are certainly raising the bar of general Magical discourse.

    (please forgive my addition if you take offense. I do not consider it perfect. I just realize that there isn’t enough space for my head and other people sometimes)

  10. I also have the pain of loving planeswalkers too much. I’ve tried to put Vess in every black control deck I’ve ever played (which is every control deck, and 3/4 of all decks) and she’s just so hard to make really be worth it. And straight out of the gate with Zendikar I built my Bantwalker control deck, that was truly nothing more than aiming to put Nissa, Jace, Garruk, Elspeth and Luminarch onto the board and sit back with wrath until either Garruk or Luminarch overruns the opponent. Walkers are the kind of card advantage I love, They instantly create advantage, and then, if left unchecked, just take over a game.

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  12. Thanks to everyone for the comments. Some specific replies:

    @Redheadtom – That’s a good point. I think that specific cases like that, corner or otherwise, reflect my underlying message of “Pause, take a breath…” It’s easy to default to Plan A with complex cards, but they benefit us more when we don’t.

    @OdinFK – I’d heard about that one, perhaps from one of Rich Hagon’s podcasts (that’s where I first heard of Harald Stein). Love that story.

    @Dman – Humorously, I found that Elspeth is a legitimate, ethnically appropriate baby name, should I ever have a daughter. Not sure if I want to name any kids after cards, though.

    @Rick – If we imagined a Bloodbraidless world, how do you think you’d apply Sarkhan?

    @dowjonzechemical – Additions are always welcome. 🙂 I guess I haven’t encountered enough successful artifact-themed decks in the current Standard to really see Tezz doing his thing in that context. Doesn’t even mean they don’t exist, of course. I just haven’t seen them in action.

    As a bonus note for everyone, here’s my current G/W Walkers list:

    4 Llanowar Elves
    4 Noble Hierarch
    4 Nissa’s Chosen
    2 Borderland Ranger
    4 Knight of the Reliquary
    4 Path to Exile
    1 Behemoth Sledge
    4 Maelstrom Pulse
    2 Ajani Goldmane
    4 Elspeth, Knight-Errant
    4 Nissa Revane
    4 Marsh Flats
    4 Verdant Catacombs
    4 Sunpetal Grove
    3 Plains
    6 Forest
    1 Swamp
    1 Gargoyle Castle

    Sideboard:

    4 Soul Warden
    4 Celestial Purge
    1 Behemoth Sledge
    3 Day of Judgment
    2 Battlegrace Angel
    1 Martial Coup

    You’ll notice that our friend Garruk has left the group for the moment. I’ll probably have a (theory-based, for all you theory fans) discussion of how the deck ended up looking like this next week. If anyone takes this or a similar list to States, let me know. I won’t be States-ing it up this year, as an 800-mile round trip is not in the cards for me this weekend.

  13. Alex – Just off the top of my head, I’d play him in a low-curve Naya beatdown deck, and use his +1/+1 and haste ability to pump some number of Nacatls, Lynxes (if that’s even proper pluralization…), and probably Thoctars. Or maybe in something like Naya Lightsaber, as a straight replacement of BBE. If Jund were to survive the removal of BBE, I’d play it as two- or three-of there; first, to use the +1/+1 to win board stalemates, and second, to use his Threaten ability to win fatty fights. His use in Block Constructed was usually some combination of those two abilities.

    It’s a very interesting question, but since BBE is such a cornerstone of the environment, I think I’d have to think about it a lot more than just the off-the-cuff bits here. I mean, if the only change we make is to cut BBE, the whole format would shift, and Sarkhon’s usefulness might be even worse than it is now.

    Let me turn this around, if I may. How would *you* use Sarkhon in a Bloodbraidless environment? I ask because my main premise is that, like Ajani Goldmane (and individual cards in general), his usefulness is only dictated by the format around it. Also, to clear things up, I certainly don’t think he’s “the best” planeswalker, but he’s better than a double-Threaten in my mind. Maybe not in the context of Standard as of now, but I could see him being useful under different circumstances.

  14. Nice article. I do not like Planeswalkers for a number of reasons and that you think they have a positive effect on control puzzles me.

    First of all they add another angle of attack. The more questions R&D adds the harder it becomes for control to find answers for all of them. A planeswalker adds a self-escalating threat that is a nightmare for control.

    So what are the answers to walkers? Discard, Counter, Attack, and Burn.

    Attack and Burn(blightning) are the only options that allow you to gain card advantage while interacting with an opposing planeswalker. Control NEEDS card advantage but neither of these modes are good in control.

    You will notice that these are the two most popular modes of interaction now which is largely a result of the walkers. Most of the top decks have them and control cannot interact with them advantageously.

  15. dowjonzechemical

    Pwalkers are not the only thing that is giving aggro an edge over control right now. In fact, I would posit that they are the only thing that can help control to stabilize.

    No the things aggro got over the last few sets are card advantage, traditionally not an aggro mechanic. Landfall, Quests, etc are investments that one can supplement an otherwise no 1 or 2-drop aggro deck to concentrate an unmanageable amounts of threats to a later turn.

    Cascade is a different monster, but card advantage nonetheless. You play one card out of your hand and you get 2 things a control player has to deal with at no advantage, in fact generates a disadvantage if you need to have answers to both questions. In addition they can play
    Planeswalkers to create even sicker board positions.One should be able to add a third way of dealing with these, which you forgot, which is counter/bounce (one deals with them and the other can create tempo in your favor).

    All of these elements, plus a stripped-down countermagic/bounce suite are what is contributing to the need for Planeswalkers in control.

  16. Control can certainly benefit from PWalkers, but I think they get hurt by it more.

    They tend to be cards that you have to answer almost immediately, or else they tend to get out of hand.

    They often can’t be answered advantageously outside of combat, and Control decks tend to be bad at that.

  17. I’m of the opinion that Planeswalkers are powerful, but need to have their effectiveness maximized in order to accomplish what most players want from them. Too many people will just drop a Garruk and expect the opponent to just get up and leave. This is usually not the case, especially in a world full of Blightnings and Maelstrom Pulses. They are not CA in the traditional sense, but they are in the sense of the current environment. With more traditional sources of Card Advantage on their way out of Standard, the ability to simply gain extra turns by protecting your life total is a form of Card Advantage.

    If you cast Nissa, grab a Chosen, and watch her get Bolted, you’ve still basically gained 3 life, which can make racing awkward. If you drop Jace, and your opponent swings in, walking into your Agony Warp, you’ve created more of an advantage.

    The trick with Planeswalkers is very simple. Treat them with the same type of value that you would chump-blockers. They are a means to Time Walk your opponent, forcing them to commit resources and mana to remove them, rather than you, giving you more turns to draw into more solutions or threats.

  18. First Zendikar prerelease, I end up in Green/Black because of Sorin.
    Semifinals of the tournament. Turn 1 Forest. Turn 2: Kalni Heart Expedition. Turn 3: Land, Harrow, pop expedition. Turn 4: Sorin.

    Second game, I do the exact same thing.
    Now that is a player kicking themselves over their cuts.

    And yes, I mindslavered him.

  19. The article is good, but i felt a particular bias against bolas. To me, cruel control hasn’t ever gone away as a threat, and has merely gone dormant. Think of this: Cruel ultimatum into bolas. Meaning you go turn seven cruel, turn eight bolas. This play is strictly unbeatable in my opinion, and won too many games to count back when i played 5CC. I can also understand the metagame has changed dramatically, but if you play nighthawk, terminate, burst lightning or bolt in conjunction with Jace when you can protect him with a bolt, you still have a remarkably solid deck that runs at a slower pace than the metagame, but that gives jund tons of dead cards as they won’t be removing anything with creature kill, and bit blast (also main in cruel control) kills the hell out of any other threat in the format. Baneslayer sucks to deal with, but I’ve been playing around with into the roil as cantrip spot removal when backed up with a blightning on your next turn. I’m not sure really how effective this deck could be, but I give it credit in my own mind, and I see Sorin sliding in as a finisher and the undervalued Sedraxis spectre as even more hand control. Walker Cruel…? Anyone agree?

  20. I think you’re mis-using Jace in the control mirror. It’s often most profitable to let each player draw cards until Jace can fire his ultimate, as long as you can keep up with your opponent (if you’re playing control, you can). That way your opponent loses most of their library, and you can grind the game out to them running out of cards. If you’re lucky, you’ll hit a ton of their threats with those 20 cards too.

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