Ranking Every Planeswalker with EDHREC – Part 11: The Top 100 is Still Too Dang High!
(Nissa, Worldwaker| Art by Chris Rahn)
Planeswalking Across the Threshold
We stand before the second half of our trek through every planeswalker based on their number of decks on EDHREC. Usually, I feel compelled to make some sort of funny quip in the opening, but quite honestly, I'm legit excited here! Walking through every card of a certain type is like climbing this mountain where you start with janky garbage and slowly work your way up to more and more playable cards, constantly adjusting your expectations and being surprised at what's hiding on each layer. The halfway point is a barometer that shows how close we are to the peak, and it makes me excited to see what I'll find hiding on the route before then, which is cool, but it does leave this section kinda light on the jokes.
Wait, I got one! Banding! That's probably enough. Let's get climbing!
100: Ajani, Mentor of Heroes: 2,576 Decks
Ajani, Mentor of Heroes is seeing play exactly where you’d expect it: +1/+1 counter decks and Superfriends. In +1/+1 counters, he seems pretty excellent. Being able to split the counters works really well with stuff like Hardened Scales, and he can find the deck more gas on an empty board. In a Superfriends deck, it’s significantly worse. The second +1 can find 'walkers, but putting counters on random tokens is way less impactful, and they lack the synergies to really make that first +1 pop off. It's not the worst, but it's pretty lackluster. I think superfriends decks can do a lot better.
Well, unless you're a Phyrexian abomination. Atraxa, Praetors' Voice was practically made for this Ajani. Whether Atraxa is helming +1/+1 counters, Superfriends, Infect, or any other shenanigans with counters, Ajani does a ton of work. The worst he can do is put 3 counters on Atraxa, and that’s still really good!
Over, Under, or Just Right? Underplayed: It almost doesn't matter what the rest of the decks he's seeing play in are. He should see more play because of Atraxa alone.
99: Will Kenrith: 2,632 Decks
(5 Decks as commander, 547 as commander with Rowan Kenrith, 2,080 as a card)
I had a pretty low view of 'walkers for a while, but it was more from intuition than from experience. As a whole, it just seemed that due to the nature of the format, planeswalkers just wouldn't do enough to matter.
Will Kenrith was the first 'walker I played against that made me rethink that stance, and probably indirectly led me to do this series. Will can come down and immediately neutralize the two biggest threats, then next turn he draws you two cards, and often saves you 4-6 mana. If he dies after that, you’re totally happy; if he doesn’t, then whoo-boy, you are gonna have some fun.
Sure, in theory, opponents can have enough creatures that the +2 won't save Will. In practice, on a stalled board, Will is never going to die. A player could swing out to kill Will, but that would leave them wide open to everyone else at the table, so it’s probably better for them to keep their stuff back. Will takes effort to kill, and is trouble if you don't. I struggle to think of game where Will didn't have a strong impact.
Over, Under, or Just Right? Underplayed: Quite frankly, I think Will is one of the top ten 'walkers for Commander. Full stop.
98: Vivien, Monsters' Advocate: 2,645 Decks
Apparently, the theme this week is 'walkers I can't believe are this low. I expect to see Vivien a ton in the future. There is absolutely a market for Vivien's static; just look at the play on Vizier of the Menagerie. You might argue that Vivien is worse because she's more fragile, except she kinda isn't. She not only makes 3/3s to protect herself, but she can also cast blockers off the top of the library. It’s almost never going to be easy to kill Vivien. On top of all that, the -2 is bonkers: if your deck is creature-dense, Vivien can basically tutor for any creature and put it in play. There are many, many scenarios where Vivien will absolutely pay you back the mana you spent on her
Over, Under, or Just Right? Underplayed: Cast Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, find Pestermite. Do you need anything else?
97: Serra, the Benevolent: 2,652 Decks
Raise your hand if you forgot Serra, the Benevolent existed.
I can't actually see you right now, but trust me, I know.
Between this, Inniaz, the Gale Force, and the new Kangee, Sky Warden, Wizards is really trying to make Flying.dec a thing. Have they succeeded? Eh, it's never going to be the most powerful, but I've always had a soft spot for Isperia the Inscrutable just for how different it is from Azorius' typical shenanigans. Making EDH less of a durdle-turtle format is something I can get behind, so an aggro flyer deck with Serra, the Benevolent is one I'm happy to have as an option!
Over, Under, or Just Right? Just Right: I wanted to call her underplayed, but I wouldn't play her outside flying.dec, even though a Worship that can't be destroyed makes me quite giddy!
96: Sarkhan, Fireblood: 2,653 Decks
Despite my love for the tribe, I haven't actually tried out Sarkhan, Fireblood in a Dragon deck yet. It’s not a secret that Sarkhan wants to play with Dragons. Question is, does a Dargon deck want Sarkhan? The mana ramp is certainly appealing. It's a colored Worn Powerstone for Dargans. What's not to like? That will cheat out whatever dumb stupid beast you want super quickly, and it’s also mana-fixing in order to cast Drawgos like Vaevictis Asmadi, the Dire. On top of that, he’s got card selection and an ultimate to work towards, so unlike other mana rocks, he not a dead draw late game
He's just got no way to not immediately die. Neither of the +1s can protect Sarkhan when he first comes down. He’s one of the most fragile 'walkers you could play, but the upside if he sticks around is really excellent. That’s what it really comes down to: does Sarkhan stick around? Since non-green Dragalappydewap decks are playing random dorks early on, and since their ramp isn’t as good, I think those decks actually should be playing more of Sarkhan, but the ones with green ramp can probably do without him. The early game in decks like The Ur-Dragon are full of Cultivates that do nothing to ensure Sarkhan can be the payoff he needs to be.
Over, Under, or Just Right? Just Right: Kinda hard to give the blanket statement here. Underplayed in the non-green Drewbarrymore decks, overplayed in the Jund or five-color Dwaynejohnson decks.
95: Dovin, Hand of Control: 2,663 Decks
Do I even need to talk about Dovin, Hand of Control? Everybody knows where this goes: the stax decks! If that’s your jam, great! However, you either already are playing this card, or your scryfall searching went straight past this card, in which case, uh, tell your playgroup I'm sorry I gave you this information.
Over, Under, or Just Right? Just Right: "I cast Spark Double as a copy of Dovin, Hand of Control." Enjoy your nightmares.
94: Chandra, Fire Artisan: 2,707 Decks
Chandra, Fire Artisan can join the ever growing pile of Outpost Siege that Wizard's been releasing over the past few years. She's certainly not the best Outpost Siege they've made. She's better than stuff like Chandra, Pyromaster, but she's still an Outpost Siege that can be attacked, and the upside of "drawing" seven is something I've never seen actually happen. That said, she's $1, she's got synergies with 'walkers and Proliferate, and she does punch the opponent that actually bites the bullet and takes her out. All of that makes her the Mana Geode of Outpost Sieges: AKA, she's fine.
Over, Under, or Just Right? Just Right: I won't say don't play her, but I would hope you could fine something better for your specific deck.
93: Nissa, Worldwaker: 2,725 Decks
Very few loyalty abilities make me as excited as the words "Untap up to four forests." Nissa, Worldwaker can effectively cost just a single mana, and so it's super easy to cast Nissa and then cast a blocker. No blocker in hand? No problem. Just make one of your lands into the blocker instead. That can be a small problem since they never stop being creatures, which means they die to wraths, but if you’re worried, just target the same land over and over again, or hey, I guess you can just treat Nissa as a spell that ramps you by four mana! Like, it doesn't even matter if she dies after a couple turns: she's mana positive the turn after you cast her.
Over, Under, or Just Right? Underplayed: Nissa is actually one of the planeswalkers whose various iterations actually see a lot of play, so she's got competition, but I’m surprised Nissa, Worldwaker is only the 6th most played Nissa.
92: Gideon, Ally of Zendikar: 2,733 Decks
Gideon, Ally of Zendikar is an excellent four-mana Glorious Anthem. That's it. That's the card. Sure, Gideon's a decent way to make tokens, and having him make a couple before you snap his neck is a neat bonus, but Gideon's best function is to make a Glorious Anthem that can't be destroyed, exiled, or bounced. That's absolutely worth four mana in token decks, and not getting that out of Gideon would kinda eliminate the point of playing him. If there's even a chance that Gideon will die before it gets back to you, let's just say you should immediately send Gideon to his Heartwarming Redemption.
Over, Under, or Just Right? Just Right: And again, I'll just ignore the random superfriends staples in the high synergy cards because Gideon, himself, doesn't seem to actually be in a lot of Superfriends decks, but I will say that is about the worst place for Chad, Beefcake of Zombopalime
91: Ajani Steadfast: 2,892 Decks
It was not until I saw the two cards next to each other that I realized Ajani Steadfast and Ajani, the Greathearted have the exact same minus ability, right down to the loyalty cost. I’d wager that ability is the main reason either 'walker is seeing play. Steadfast obviously has some advantages over his WAR form: the +1 is much better, and he actually has an ultimate if you decide not to use that -2. Plus, obviously being mono-white means Steadfast can see play in more decks. However, Steadfast is also $6 more than his big cardiac organ counterpart, and unless you really value this effect in particular, you can probably get away with running just one. So the bigger question is if Ajani Steadfast does enough to be worth the pricetag, and I don’t think so. You could play either, and I don’t think it’d make that much of a difference, so why not run the one that’s cheaper?
Over, Under, or Just Right? Overplayed: I guess if you're playing superfriends without green, and thus unable to play Ajani, the Greathearted, then you'll be happy that Steadfast exists, but Green has Doubling Season, so you know. Not a wide market.
One More Thing
So normally, this is where I wrap things up, but I ran into a bit of snag that I'd like some feedback from y'all on. You may remember that with these Ranking series, I exclude cards that come out too close to when I start writing them. For example, I started this series in August, and as such, I didn't include any 'walkers from Core 2021, Zendikar Rising, etc. To combat this, last year I did an article covering the lands that weren't eligible for my "Ranking Every Land" list, and so, as we approach the dawn of a new year, I wanted to do a similar retrospective for each thing I've ranked thus far: Ranking the lands, mana rocks, and planeswalkers of 2020!
There's one small issue with that: Commander Legends. Right now, the data on CMR is too fresh to say anything concrete about and will be for a little while. If I did the retrospective when I normally would in January, I wouldn't be able to talk about anything from CMR. I could go ahead and push the retrospective to April or May. If I did that, I'd be able to look at CMR when the new cards have been placed in a majority of their decks. Obviously, then the "retrospective" wouldn't be at the end of the year, and I wasn't quite sure which was the better option.
So I figured I'd make you all decide!
And as always, if you have any thoughts about this week's article, or any ideas for the year end retrospective, I'd love to see them in the comments! Until next week!