Garruk Relentless is my favorite planeswalker of all time. He isn’t the most powerful planeswalker. No. Not by a long shot. Garruk Relentless is no Jace, the Mind Sculptor. What Garruk offered was fun, interesting, and unique gameplay. Garruk Relentless was the perfect example of what a planeswalker should be. Garruk Relentless was the best designed planeswalker they ever printed.
Garruk was powerful, but not overbearing. Garruk created more and more advantage as the game went on, but didn’t put the game out of reach if you didn’t deal with him immediately. Garruk didn’t always follow the same play patterns. In some games, he was a removal spell. In some games, he churned out endless 2/2 Wolves. In some games, he flipped and then served as a tutor engine until that won the game, and sometimes he flipped and then set up for his ultimate, which had beautiful synergy with the deathtouch on his black Wolves.
Some planeswalkers are too hot. Some are too cold. Garruk Relentless is just right.
It should then serve as no surprise that I am excited for Arlinn Kord, the new planeswalker in Shadows over Innistrad that follows in Garruk’s legacy. Xenagos, the Reveler was also a great planeswalker and had a lot of similar gameplay, which means that WotC is currently 2-for-2 in knocking it out of the park with these planeswalkers. I’m hoping that the third time’s the semi-charm.
It seems like the normal play pattern for Arlinn Kord is going to be mostly alternating between making a Wolf on the front side and blasting something for 3 damage on the other. What is going to differ between Arlinn Kord decks, however, is whether you are designing a deck that tries to utilize the +1 on the front side or a deck that tries to utilize the +1 on the back side.
A deck looking to use the +1 on the front side is going to use Arlinn as a solid value planeswalker that can also provide huge chunks of damage along with big creatures. A deck looking to utilize the +1 on the back side is hoping to flood the board with creatures that will swarm past the opponent.
The first deck that comes to mind for playing Arlinn Kord is to slot her into the Atarka Tokens deck that I was playing a while back. This deck would greatly benefit from Arlinn Kord’s +1 on the back side. That deck was designed around having access to a critical mass of effects that pump creatures, along with plenty of tokens to be pumped.
The deck utilized Pia and Kiran Nalaar, Hordeling Outburst, and Dragon Fodder to produce creatures and then Atarka’s Command and Reckless Bushwhacker to pump them. Nissa, Voice of Zendikar both created and pumped tokens, and now Arlinn Kord also does both. Hordeling Outburst has rotated, but it wasn’t a particularly powerful card in the deck and is certainly replaceable.
It’s possible that 24 land is too many and the deck should just play 23. I could also see Elvish Visionary or Sylvan Advocate having a place in this deck. It may seem weird to play a card like Elvish Visionary in an Atarka’s Command deck, but the point of this deck is to just put as many creatures into play as possible before pumping them with Nissa, Arlinn, or Atarka’s Command and win that way.
One of the old flaws with Atarka Tokens, however, is that none of the cards were good enough on their own, and Elvish Visionary certainly fails that test. Hangarback Walker is good early, late, and plays nicely with the token theme. Hangarback also has good synergy with Arlinn’s +1 on the front side as well as Thopter Engineer, providing it with haste and allowing it to activate the turn it is played.
Other cards to consider for the main deck or sideboard are: Goblin Dark-Dwellers, Plummet, Impact Tremors, Kolaghan Forerunners, Oath of Chandra, Pia and Kiran Nalaar, Reckless Bushwhacker, Zurgo, and Lightning Berserker.
Another home for Arlinn Kord is a bigger RG deck. Frank Karsten wrote an article some days back about playing Arlinn Kord in a pure ramp strategy. I was thinking about including her in a strategy that is less purely dedicated to ramp, but one that was still interested in playing big things and using Arlinn to provide haste and vigilance the turn they come out.
I like that this deck is fairly single-minded in its purpose: play value, ramp spells, or creatures up the curve until you hit Dragonlord Atarka. Then use Surrak, the Hunt Caller or Arlinn Kord to give Dragonlord Atarka haste and end the game quickly. Woodland Bellower provides another big creature that benefits from haste and can also search out Sylvan Advocate, which can easily be a 4/5 by that stage in the game. With Surrak and Arlinn in play, you can even conceivably give both creatures haste and hit for a ton.
I can see this being a watered down or worse version of a traditional ramp deck, and I can also easily see this deck wanting to play Chandra Flamecaller, which is one of the best cards in the format. Another version of this deck plays things like Thunderbreak Regent and Goblin Dark-Dwellers, and tops the curve with Chandra. That deck has a lot of creatures that would benefit from Arlinn’s abilities, but wouldn’t be pigeonholed into trying to also play a ramp game. I could see that version of the deck still playing Deathcap Cultivator. Playing Thunderbreak Regent or Arlinn on turn 3 seems quite nice, after all.
I’m not sure what the best home for Arlinn Kord is, but I am sure that the card has the power level to see play in Standard as long as the support is there. It’s not even clear that you should be trying to slot her into a 2-color deck. She seems like she would pair quite well with The Gitrog Monster. Maybe—like the last time Innistrad was around—we should all just play Jund.