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Hiding in Plane Sight: Examining the Last Core Set Planeswalkers

by Dave Meddish

The last core set. If you'd told me something like 10th Edition would be the last core set, I would have done a happy little jig, singing “Ding Dong, the Witch Is Dead!” (or, insert whatever little ditty you can picture me singing while dancing a jig – and, no, it's not a pretty picture). In later years, though, the development teams have been doing a pretty good job of making Core Sets with enough new cards and actually fun to draft that Core Sets haven't been disparaged, but, dare I say, looked forward to? That might be a bridge too far in terms of praise, but nonetheless, Core Sets haven't sucked for quite some time, and now we bid them a fond farewell. Magic Origins as not going out with a whimper, but with a bang, introducing five new planeswalkers utilizing an Innistrad-esque “flip” ability, giving you a quality creature that can be turned into a powerful planeswalker.

Well, let's not get too far ahead of ourselves; it's a creature that can turn into a planeswalker. In terms of story and flavor, it's a great mechanic. But how does that translate into game play?

Normally, I'd be dusting off the hoary “Is This Planeswalker Any Good?” game, but five planeswalkers is a lot, even for my brand of analysis and jokery. So, I'm taking a different, more straightforward approach this time around.

Kytheon, Hero of Akros/Gideon, Battle-Forged

Who wants to play this card? White weenie and W/x aggro decks, most likely. Man, I remember when Savannah Lions was a ridiculously powered card, now we get 2/1's for one with actual relevant abilities and it's just “meh.” How easy is it to flip? Theoretically, pretty easy. Turn one Kytheon, turn two Dragon Fodder, and Bob's your uncle. In practice, it may be more difficult. It's worth noting that the indestructibility part actually makes it a not-dead-drop in the late game (that said, I suspect there's going to be a ton of Drown in Sorrows and Languishes in the new metagame, so...) How good is the planeswalker half? You basically get a watered down Gideon Jura, and if you remember the old Super Friends decks around the time of the first Zendikar block, this guy was something of a house. This Gideon is more like a nice duplex, or a roomy two-bedroom apartment. It definitely fits the shell of a white weenie deck. Unfortunately, most white weenie decks these days run Mountains.

The verdict: Playable, but probably not worth breaking the bank over. If the post-Theros Standard metagame is faster, he could be pretty good, but white weenie is currently not the powerhouse it has been in years past.

Jace, Vryn's Prodigy/Jace, Telepath Unbound

Who wants to play this card? Mill decks, and decks that want to abuse delve, so that likely means a U/B shell. And there's plenty of good delve stuff out there – Treasure Cruise comeback, anyone? How easy is it to flip? Pretty simple, assuming it lives long enough. But unlike a Merfolk Looter, he can't trade with something in combat, nor can he swing for damage. And there may be times you want a Looter but end up having to flip him. #firstworldmagicproblems How good is the planeswalker half? Not all that impressive, really. You can shut down one creature (unlike Return to Ravnica Jace, who had a very nice global anti-attacking ability), give something in your graveyard flashback – which would be far more relevant in an environment with more one-mana spells that did something – or an emblem that you'll never get to. Flashback is a much more important ability in environments with cheap instants and sorceries and that want a Snapcaster Mage (Modern and Legacy), not so much in Standard.

The verdict: Never underestimate a Jace, but this one's far closer to the last unplayable iteration than JTMS.

Liliana, Heretical Healer/Liliana, Defiant Necromancer

Who wants to play this card? That is a very good question. Players have been salivating over wedging Liliana into a Collected Company deck, but without a good sac outlet, she's rather unimpressive. With a sac outlet, she goes from “uninspiring” to “curiously saucy.” How easy is it to flip? This question, again, surmises the existence of something to feed her to, and there's not a plethora of good outlets that I can immediately surmise. So this grades as “incomplete.” Could be simple, could be pointless. Get back to me when the next set comes out. How good is the planeswalker half? In a deck that wants to reanimate things, quite good. Otherwise, not thrilling.

The verdict: The hardest card to examine in a vacuum, and to steal a line from the NBA draft, the biggest “boom or bust” card among the five planeswalkers in Origins. It'll either be a linchpin card of a powerful reanimation strategy – and, remember, we're heading back to Zendikar, home of large annihilating things – or it will be a complete and utter dud. I'm kind of leaning towards the latter.

Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh/Chandra, Roaring Flame

Who wants to play this card? Pretty much any deck that runs Mountains and burn spells. And there's plenty of those out there. How easy is it to flip? If Chandra lives until your next untap step, probably pretty easily. Swing, burn out a blocker, untap, ping, that's three and it's about to get really hot in here. How good is the planeswalker half? Really solid. Chandra hits creatures and players and while I doubt you'll ever get to the ultimate, it pretty much says “game over” right on the spot, which is what a good ultimate should do.

The verdict: Flying under the radar a bit compared to the likes of the highly hyped Liliana and Nissa, but given that there's a lot of red decks, and good red decks, out there right now, I think she may end up as the best of the bunch. At the very least, we know exactly what kind of deck she's going into.

Nissa, Vastwood Seer/Nissa, Sage Animist

Who wants to play this card? Forest-heavy ramp decks (and, remember, we're headed back to Zendikar, where Pelakka Wurm was highly respectable), so Abzan decks seem like a likely best choice. How easy is it too flip? Not too difficult, as Nissa has value in the early game (fetch a land, thin the deck) and late game (get the seventh land to flip). Mind you, it's going to take getting seven lands into play, so it's not going to have a huge impact early other than chump blocking, most likely. How good is the planeswalker half? The +1 ability is pretty sweet, and being able to make a 4/4 blocker to protect Nissa is also pretty good, although the token it creates is legendary so you can't make multiples. It's only got three loyalty, though, so even if you flip it, I doubt it's staying around long.

The verdict: I really, really wanted to like this card, but the limitations – doesn't put the land into play, and only search for basic Forests – knock it down a few pegs. I'm pretty confident it will be playable, maybe even a staple, but until I see what Zendikar offers, I'm taking a pass.

How would I rank these planeswalkers? I'm really not sure. What could easily be the worse could end up being a Standard all-star, and vice versa. So, instead, let me rank them as such:

The funny thing about all five of these is that there's no obvious breakout oh-my-god-must-buy-now cards that I see. Nissa could be awesome, for example, or she could be mediocre, or a complete dud. Honestly, I think all five will have homes, and maybe even be staples of a few archetypes, but there's no Jace, the Mind Sculptor or Liliana of the Veil in this lot. Which, I suppose, may be the entire point.