Myth Realized - What if Any Planeswalker Could Be Your Commander? (White)
(Elspeth, Sun's Nemesis | Art By Chuck Lukacs)
What if Any Planeswalker Could Be Your Commander?
This question has been brought up in the Magic discourse an infinite number of times. Some people say it would kill EDH as a format, other say it will do nothing but give more options to an endless pool of commanders. I believe the truth is somewhere in the middle.
Hi! My name is Nick, and in this first installment of Myth Realized, I'm going to show you what I found about each color and that color's planeswalkers and how they would each ruin (or not ruin) your favorite 100-card singleton format.
A quick disclaimer for this article and all the articles in this series, all the colors have different strengths when looking at how they impact planeswalkers specifically in Magic. These strengths and weaknesses, as well as how well each 'walker utilizes its own abilities and how those abilities interact with a multiplayer setting, are being taken into consideration when talking about these cards.
Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants – 2WW
This card is all over the place with its abilities. Do you want to go tall? Do you want to be a small creature reanimator? Do you want to go wide? This card asks too many questions and does not provide enough answers to be worth helming a deck.
Ajani, Caller of the Pride – 1WW
Three-mana 'walkers are usually dangerous and are some of the strongest 'walkers to have ever made their way to the table... unless, like this card, they fail at doing anything impactful when they land. What this card lacks in pure power it makes up for in pure fun, if you are ever able to get to its -8 ultimate. Will you get there reliably? No, but when you do, you might win the game. This card is Storm Herd in your command zone, after all. Maybe it would become the leader of mono-white lifegain deck, but it's still outclassed by Heliod, Sun-Crowned for the same mana cost.
Ajani Goldmane – 2WW
What do you get when you mix the Adversary of Tyrants with the Caller of the Pride? You get a Goldmane. This card can protect itself, and at the head of a lifegain deck with cheap lifelinking creatures, it might do some work. At four mana, it's not the best at anything, but part of me likes the spread of abilities on this card better than other cards on this list for the same mana cost.
Ajani, Inspiring Leader – 4WW
This is an intro deck planeswalker, and those cards are historically bad, so there isn't much to say with this card. It costs six mana and doesn't really do anything you want from a commander, let alone from a planeswalker that you must protect and possibly recast.
Ajani Steadfast – 3W
Mono-white superfriends would get a new leader here, so move over, Djeru, With Eyes Open! Focusing on the -2 and the -7 ultimate on this beautiful feline friend can give you a new leader to a niche strategy in mono-white. The -2 giving all your creatures (and more importantly, all your 'walkers) an extra counter is great. One of the hardest things with superfriends decks, or any decks with a large number of planeswalkers, is either getting to the ultimate or getting them out of the range of being attacked. This card helps with both issues.
Ajani, Strength of the Pride – 2WW
Truly the only place for this card would be the head of a lifegain deck. It can gain you a ridiculous amount of life, and it makes a token one of the most annoying lifegain creatures I have personally ever faced, Ajani's Pridemate. Also, the “ultimate” on this card is insane and repeatable. Only needing to be at 55 life in a dedicated lifegain deck in Commander, even with three opponents, is very doable. The fact that this card would be in your command zone is a big deal, since you have access to constant sources of lifegain, token production, and in some cases, removal. If you can get to 55 life or more and slam this card down over and over, you are hard-pressed to lose.
Ajani, Wise Counselor – 3WW
This card is just not good. I would like to try and find some strong points for this card, but other than the +2 gaining a lot of life if you happen to go wide, it doesn't do anything, and it's five mana! The biggest issue with this card is that it doesn't synergize with itself. The abilities on this card are split between going tall and going wide. When going tall you want one big creature, so the -9 ultimate of this card is relevant for that. Conversely, the -3 of this card wants you to go wide with a lot of creatures to give +2/+2 to, but it does not give evasion. The final nail in the coffin of this card is that, at five mana, it's very hard to play something that has no impact on the board and pass the turn.
Basri, Devoted Paladin – 4WW
Basri is not a planeswalker that you're going to see often, especially not this version. It's another case of being too expensive with too little of an impact. Again an intro deck planeswalker that has a design combination of too much mana, not enough impact, and bad costs on loyalty abilities. If planeswalkers were legal as commanders, this would barely get acknowledged.
Basri Ket – 1WW
A three-mana 'walker and a personal favorite of mine in 1v1 formats, even if I've never resolved the ultimate myself. The only reliable thing this card would do in Commander is -2 to possibly double your board of attackers. Not the worst ability, but since it only counts nontoken creatures, it's hard to get many advantages out of it. The ultimate being -6 is too far away to reliably achieve without outside assistance from something like Resourceful Defense or Proliferate.
Elspeth, Knight-Errant – 2WW
Not the most powerful of the Elspeths, but not the weakest either. This card fits right in the middle of what would potentially make a good commander for a planeswalker. The biggest benefit of this card is that it has two +1 abilities, so if you're making a blocker or “jumping” a creature over some blockers, you're well on your way to achieving an absurd ultimate. That -8 giving everything you own indestructible (except for planeswalkers) is insane value. If you use things like The Chain Veil, Proliferate, or the moving of counters, you can give yourself a very imposing board state. Land destruction, Wrath-heavy decks, and hard Stax are all possible strategies that would want Knight-Errant as the leader.
Elspeth Resplendent – 3WW
This card might be one of the closest to being very good with a few changes. I think if the minus on this card was a -2 instead of a -3 it would drastically increase this card's status. It has a typical mono-white +1 of adding counters and keywords to a creature, and the -7 ultimate making five 3/3 flyers is good, although since they're Angels, it's an MtG flavor fail that they are not 4/4s. Now, the -3 provides some card selection and puts whatever three-mana-or-less permanent on the battlefield (even lands), with the shield counter for added benefit, but it can only be activated once before you have to uptick this card and wait another turn. That makes this card so much worse than it could be. A symptom of designing for Standard means that this card hurts for Commander.
Elspeth, Sun's Champion – 4WW
This card is playable at six mana, unlike other cards on the list. Everything this card does makes you able to look away from its mana cost and sleeve it up at the head of a deck. It can impact the board in a big way without knocking out all of its own loyalty, which is huge for a commander that would cost eight mana to cast a second time. Making three tokens means this card is already hard to kill, a built-in Wrath means this card is even harder to kill, and giving your creatures a power boost and flying means your opponents are easier to kill.
Elspeth, Sun's Nemesis – 2WW
This card as a commander would have no true upside. This card was used to show off the Escape mechanic in Standard, so having all minus abilities was a way to reliably get this card in the graveyard on a consistent basis. In Commander, death is not the desired outcome unless you plan to play reanimation. This card does not do anything to escape a place outside the 99 of a deck, and to be honest, this card is still trying to break into the 99 to begin with.
Elspeth Tirel – 3WW
If you like tokens, this might be the 'walker for you. Some nice wording on the card's +1 means the more tokens you make, the more life you gain. One similarity between the "good" Elspeths is that they have a way to protect themselves, and this card has two. Would this be the best mono-white token commander? No, but if you want to do something with lifegain and tokens (and Linden, the Steadfast Queen is too many white pips for you) then the answer might feasibly become 'yes'. If you would rather do something besides tokens and lifegain, then I would stay away from this leading your hypothetical deck.
Elspeth, Undaunted Hero – 2WWW
This card has a useless -2 that finds a creature who only works if you're playing Elspeth tribal; a hard-to-hit mana cost, since it needs three white pips; and a +2 that is not worth spending five mana to cast. We have an intro deck planeswalker at its finest.
Gideon, Ally of Zendikar – 2WW
This card would not be a strong choice to lead any deck. Instantly being able to ultimate, and requiring no loyalty to make a token, are both interesting abilities, but those work much better in a 1v1 format. This card just does not translate well enough to multiplayer.
Gideon Blackblade – 1WW
The first 'walker on the list from the planeswalker-packed set War of the Spark brings with it some interesting quirks. Many of these 'walkers don't have a true ultimate, and a fair amount only have two abilities. This card just does not do enough, even for three mana, though it's nice to fantasize about a planeswalker commander that could still deal lethal commander damage!
Gideon, Champion of Justice – 2WW
It took until the 18th mono-white 'walker, but we found it: the first contender for a card that might need to be banned if planeswalkers were legal as commanders. Stick with me here, because this should not be the pick for the strongest mono-white planeswalker, and for a good reason. "-15: Exile all other permanents" is the only part of this card that matters for discussion. This card has a win-the-game ability on it that will make the table mad and might make you an archenemy-level threat in games to come. Winning with it will be cool, but exactly once. If you think people hate the likes of Armageddon, Worldfire, and banned cards like Sway of the Stars and Upheaval, well, I think this card would join those ranks too. There are ways to ensure this card will uptick to the required amount of loyalty in a single turn, and this card would be a problem right away.
Gideon Jura – 3WW
If you want a five-mana Fog to protect you from one of your opponents, and if you want that in your command zone, then boy do I have the card for you! If you want to do anything else at all, pick another commander. If all you want to do is Fog to your heart’s content, then you should just play Angus Mackenzie and have a much better time for yourself, since your opponents will not be having any fun as they try to kill you with combat damage.
This card does something that mono-white cannot normally do en masse: untap all your creatures and tap all your opponents' creatures. Can white tap creatures? Yes, but usually one at a time, and often at the cost of tapping one of our own creatures. This 'walker fixes that problem with the +2 and it pumps as a bonus. While it takes many turns to get there, a -10 ultimate giving your creatures +2/+2 and tapping down all blockers is a good way to win the game.
Gideon of the Trials– 1WW
Here we have a contender for the "Oops, all Gideons!" deck. Of the Gideons, this one would be the best fit for a character tribal deck. I would normally advise against casting this as the first Gideon out of the deck, but since you get an emblem immediately and it's only three mana, this might be the first (and if your gameplan goes well, the last) Gideon you will need to cast. This deck might have a more toxic gameplan, around it so playing with caution would be advised.
Gideon, the Oathsworn – 4WW
The War of the Spark planeswalker deck addition to the list, and truly one of the worst on the list of mono-white 'walkers. These abilities can be achieved in many other ways that do not need you to commit a six-mana card taking up the spot in your command zone.
Grand Master of Flowers – 2WW
1v1 design strikes again with the Grand Master. There is a world where you build a very slow and hard-to-get-to-work Voltron deck with this at the helm, but outside of trying to live the dream with this card, it will not be doing any favors at the helm of your deck.
Serra the Benevolent – 2WW
This card had a bit of a buzz about it on release. A creature from the early years of Magic reimagined as a planeswalker should have been a home run, but this was a swing and a miss. It does the mono-white 'walker playbook of pumping creatures, making token(s), and then having a final ability that's mostly is just the effect of another card (in this case, Worship. That said, the emblem would be non-interactable, so if you get a Worship effect from this card, you might never lose the game. You might not win, but you might not lose.
"You have hexproof" is found on eight cards playable in a mono-white Commander deck. Two cards have this wording that can already be your commander: Shalai, Voice of Plenty and Sigarda, Heron's Grace, both in green and white. The thing to like about this card is having a commander that brings a new strategy to white as a singular color; beyond that, it is unimpactful, and would remain that way even if it could helm an EDH deck.
The Wanderer – 3W
If this card could have red added to it, it would have the potential to be one of the coolest niche commanders in the game. If you play against an overwhelming number of people who use red damage-based board wipes and can lead a deck with this, you'd never lose a game. Oh wait - we already have Rem Karolus, Stalwart Slayer! Rem only cares about spells and not abilities, but still. Sorry, Wanderer, our hearts already belong to someone else.
This is a cool card. It has flash, which forces it to be a constant a consideration for your opponents. The ability to use its loyalty abilities as long as it entered the battlefield this turn makes combat with tall boards hard for your opponents, but if they go wide enough (or force you to recast this too many times) then it's game over. This card is a bit better in multiplayer than it shows at first glance, but 'cool' does not always translate to 'powerful'.
Wrapping it Up
So, what have we learned about mono-white 'walkers as commanders? Not much. I don't think this color would impact the format to a high degree if all of their planeswalkers were suddenly made legal as commanders. I did identify one card that would be, in my opinion, a consideration to be banned, but in terms of the color pie and power level, you could safely make every mono-white planeswalker legal as a commander, as you keep an eye on Chad, the Champion of Justice.
But that's just me! What do you think? Would new strategies emerge if these cards were able to be commanders? How do you think they would impact EDH?
Stay tuned for next time, where we'll look at Jace and the rest of the mono-blue commanders to see if the "most powerful color in Magic" lives up to its name!