Mind Bend - Walkerless Superfriends

(Obelisk of Alara | Art by Jeremy Jarvis)

A Little Help from My Friends

"We see the same sky as you, just through a different lens."

Ponder flavor text

The Best "Planeswalker"

Before its ban in Modern, there was a running joke that Deathrite Shaman was the best planeswalker in the format. Apart from not having the actual card type, Deathrite Shaman sure fit the description: three relevant abilities that, in and of themselves, don't win you the game outright but slowly get you there with the caveat that you can only activate it once each turn cycle. Being one mana to cast certainly helps, but the card does so much. It makes mana, gobbles up important graveyard pieces, and shuts down multiple lines of play.

I remember a time back in the Shards of Alara block where Obelisk of Alara saw some Standard play. It, too, was jokingly referred to as a "planeswalker" for much the same reason that Deathrite Shaman gained the moniker. It grants incremental little benefits, a turn at a time, that help elevate you above your opponent. It doesn't win the game on its own, but those little advantages add up over time.

These two cards got me wondering: how many such non-planeswalker "planeswalkers" are out there? And, can I build a Commander deck with them? This time on Mind Bend, the article series that breaks down the conventional notions of the color pie to forge new ground outside the confines of the already established, we're going to bend a permanent type and try for Walkerless Superfriends.

Getting the Band Back Together

What exactly is a Superfriends deck, anyway? Typically, it's a strategy that covers the board with a cadre of useful planeswalkers in the hopes that each of their abilities contribute to a snowball of value turning into an avalanche of power.

Granted, many high-power planeswalkers in the game CAN win on their own; you only need to look at Elspeth, Sun's Champion to see that. She clears the board, makes you a small army, and, given enough time, will turn into a massive threat if you get her emblem.

However, for each Elspeth, Sun's Champion, there are many more Ral Zareks out there. Ral, despite the potentially explosive final ability, is more of a role-player, dealing with threats and helping you out with some untap trickery.

But before we can mimic the Superfriends build, let's dig into the theme a bit more on EDHREC.

Superfriends Assemble!

The EDHREC Planeswalkers Theme Page contains a whole lot of information on the strategy. The thing that should stick out most is the color combinations. Five-color is a very popular option, coming in at over 1,100 decks, whereas Atraxa, Praetors' Voice, in every color but red, has over 1,300 built with this theme in mind. Red seems to be the "weakest" of planeswalker options, just by these stats alone, not to mention that Atraxa's Proliferate ability makes her a solid avenue to increase loyalty.

However, since we're definitely playing Obelisk of Alara, let's look at what the five-color strategy has in store for us. The High Synergy and Top Cards for this page are exactly what is to be expected - planeswalkers, more planeswalkers, and cards that make planeswalkers even better. If you're curious, check out one of the average decklists to find out more.

Poring through the stats of the five-color Superfriends strategy, I found the following breakdown for the deck's construction:

  1. A full quarter of your deck should be planeswalkers. This makes sense for two reasons. The first is obvious: you're playing a planeswalker deck. I'd expect a Zombie deck to play at or above that many Zombies, wouldn't you? The less obvious reason is that since many of the better planeswalkers provide card advantage or removal, you don't need to fill those holes as much with other card slots. You don't need Phyrexian Arena if Jace Beleren can do the same for you. Vraska the Unseen makes the need for Maelstrom Pulse much smaller.
  2. At least 10% of the rest of the deck should be dedicated to enablers for your myriad planeswalkers. Cards like Doubling Season, Deepglow Skate, and The Chain Veil turn seemingly innocuous planeswalkers into game-warping threats. Same-turn ultimates of Tamiyo, Field Researcher or Narset Transcendent will absolutely break the rest of the table.
  3. Another 10% should be ways to find or cheat in more planeswalkers. Call the Gatewatch and Deploy the Gatewatch illustrate this concept perfectly: find the right planeswalker for the job, or get the two best from your top seven cards.
  4. Season to taste with ramp, answers, and additional draw, as necessary.

Taken all together, the five-color planeswalker deck is looking to win by first accruing small advantages on the board while keeping big threats to its gameplay away, which are usually large armies or one big, evasive creature. The path to victory then splits into two distinct options, either chaining into a single devastating Doubling Season + Tamiyo, Field Researcher turn or by a building up multiple ultimates over the course of a few controlled turns.


Where can we find a source of planeswalker-like cards where we can get a single ability each turn that in itself isn't game warping but with many chained together can break open games? The plane that Deathrite Shaman is from is a heavy clue.

That's right, we're going to use as many Guildmages as we can! Each time we've stopped on the plane of Ravnica, we've seen a cycle of Guildmages, each one representing one of the ten guilds of Ravnica.

In the initial sets on Ravnica, we saw hybrid-costed guildmages that had two activated abilities:

For example, Dimir Guildmage gives us the the choice to draw cards or force discards. Four mana to activate is a steep cost, so we might only be able to activate it once a turn. Izzet Guildmage is along the same lines, giving us a pathway to double up a spell for a small cost. Hey, kinda like Chandra, the Firebrand!

When we returned to Ravnica a few years later, we got another set of ten Guildmages, where each got a set of two activated abilities that both contained the guild's colors.

New Prahv Guildmage can help shut down a key piece of an opponent's strategy or make a big threat more evasive. Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage lets us build up a potent army with extra mana we may have laying around.

This past year, we got a whole new set of ten Guildmages, this time with tap abilities that were a little more potent. House Guildmage can cycle through cards in our deck or keep a big threat from untapping.

None of these above abilities are game-winning on their own, but having the freedom to sequence many of these in a single turn cycle can lead to victory. Of course, the most obvious difference between the Guildmages and planeswalkers is that once you invest the mana into a planeswalker, all other costs come from its loyalty. This isn't true for a Guildmage's activated abilities, unfortunately. We still need the mana. However, since every Guildmage costs only two mana, we can certainly use their abilities on our turns and still have mana to cast new threats.

Maybe It's Enabling

Additionally, taking a page from the five-color planeswalker strategy, we have a nice set of enablers to make those mana costs much more manageable.

Training Grounds, Biomancer's Familiar, and Heartstone enable extra guildmage activations in a direct way. Reducing a three or four (or five) mana activated ability down to just one mana or two means that you get effects on the cheap. Instead of one or two activations, you might end up with five or more.

Thran Turbine and Braid of Fire can double or triple our activations via mana on our upkeep. Normally, this isn't as useful in a typical Commander deck since you're limited to instant-speed effects, but when most of your cards can be activated whenever, the oodles of mana these cards provide is available despite the upkeep restriction.

Illusionist's Bracers, Rings of Brighthearth, and, to a lesser extent, Thousand-Year Elixir give us copies of our activated abilities when we set them off. Of the three, Illusionist's Bracers is probably the best since we get double duty on each activation after the initial equip cost of three, whereas Rings of Brighthearth will cost us two mana each time, though we can be flexible about which creature we're activating. And since we have a few Guildmages that tap as part of their activation, Thousand-Year Elixir allows us to activate on their first turn and double up one of those activations. If there were a better option here, Elixir would be an early replacement, though.

Additionally, since most Guildmages require both of their colors to active their abilities, Bloom Tender and Faeburrow Elder both help with getting heaps of mana off our Guildmages, each one potentially tapping for four or five mana. Likewise, Wilderness Reclamation returns all of our mana to us for more activations on other player's turns.

Mage of Honor

Not every one of our planeswalker-esque creatures is a Ravnican Guildmage, however. We have some honorary Guildmages that fit right into our deck.

Longtime Commander favorite Rhys the Redeemed has a place in a deck such as this, giving us options to both kickstart an army of tokens or to turn that army into an unstoppable threat. In a similar vein, Oviya Pashiri, Sage Lifecrafter lets us go tall with the multitude of mages we hope to deploy to the board.

On the higher end of the mana curve, Grixis Battlemage from Shards of Alara makes an appearance, providing looting and a political bargaining chip to slide creature damage through. Also from Alara, Ethersworn Adjudicator could potentially turn into a creature machine gun with any of our cost-reducers.

A Charmed Life

Since our Guildmages give us multiple avenues to choose from on each and every turn cycle, why not add even more variety and include a whole swath of Charms that make even casting spells feel like activating a planeswalker?

Since Charms, and their bigger siblings, Commands, give us choices amongst of three or more options, we should never feel like we're out of the game.

If you don't believe that Rakdos Charm should be a Commander staple, consider this your wakeup call. All three modes are relevant in almost every Commander game imaginable. Wanna hose that Meren of Clan Nel Toth deck yet again? Check. Is that Cloudstone Curio gonna make the Animar, Soul of Elements player go off? Nope, not anymore. Did The First Sliver just puke out an entire slithering horde? Welp, they're dead. Rakdos Charm slices, dices, and can make you a nice cup of coffee, too.

Other Charms can be just as versatile as Rakdos Charm. Azorius Charm can bolster your life total on an alpha strike, or whisk away a pesky creature, or just cycle you to the next card in your deck. Sultai Charm is never dead in your hand, giving you all kinds of removal options or extra cards, if necessary.

What's even cooler is the interaction of charms with the Izzet-aligned Guildmages: Izzet Guildmage, Nivix Guildmage, and League Guildmage. Each of these specific Guildmages allows us to multiply our Charms. Of course, we have to keep the same mode, but drawing extra cards or hitting multiple targets for just a little bit mana more is completely worth it considering the flexibility that all the Charms offer.

Rounding Out the Team

To round out the non-planeswalker planeswalker-ness of this deck, we have a smattering of Sagas and artifacts that are right at home with our theme.

Theros Beyond Death Saga Kiora Bests the Sea God certainly feels super planeswalkery, as each mode on this new mythic rare is an absolute beating. Protect yourself with chapter one, lock out one opponent with chapter two, then take the best card on the board with chapter three.

While The Immortal Sun might not have any activated abilities, it has enough static abilities that I'm gonna dub it an honorary planeswalker deserving of a slot. And hey, since we have no planeswalkers in the deck, we don't care about activating loyalty abilities, anyway!

Trading Post is another card that doesn't win you the game with any one ability, but each activation builds on the last, giving you a slow path towards victory.

Walk Like A Superfriend

To round the deck out, I chose the mega-Guildmage and ruler from Throne of Eldraine Kenrith, the Returned King for the helm. If there is a better commander to fit this theme, I've not heard of it. Kenrith, the Returned King gives us relevant activated abilities in every color, and our enablers pair perfectly well with the King. We can easily get ahead on life, smack in with a pumped commander, bring our Guildmages back from the dead, or make a political ally for the time being. Options upon options upon options.

Piloting this deck is just about the same as a standard five-color planeswalker deck. We want to slowly establish a critical mass of Guildmages, but not extend so far that our efforts are wiped out. Keep the most obvious threats at bay, but don't sweat the smaller stuff; just sit back and accrue advantages over time. At the right time, stick a key Training Grounds and go to town. You should end up sufficiently ahead afterwards but will still have the tools to get right back in the fight.

Walkerless Superfriends

Commander (1)
CreatureWalkers (19)
PermaWalkers (8)
Enablers (8)
Charms! (15)
Draw (5)
Ramp (8)
Land (36)

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This Deck's No Joke

It's amazing how much even a simple joke, told years ago about a card relevant to a completely different format, can be the inspiration for a Commander deck. If you've ever felt that a card or set of cards plays not in the way that people would typically assume, that's perfect fodder for the outer limits of deckbuilding. Find those little niches and get comfortable there: you may just end up with a super(friends-ish) deck!

Check back next month for more mind-bending builds. Same EDH time, same EDH channel!

Jeremy is a data analyst in his hometown of Chicago. He is the commissioner of a Commander league at a local LGS, Near Mint Games. He is also a board member for AnimeChicago, an non-profit anime club for adults, and an avid craft beer fan.