Ranking Every Planeswalker with EDHREC – Part 14: Bow Before Your Dragon-God!
(Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God | Art by Raymond Swanland)
You know what? No! I'm not doing the opening! I have nothing funny to write about. It's two weeks till Christmas, there're no Magic-related events, and I spent all my creative energy on the very amazing article you're about to read. I'm going on strike! I'm not writing another opening to this series where we rank every planeswalker based on the number of decks on EDHREC until I get some chocolate-based incentive. Maybe coconut-flavored. I'm willing to bargain, but until then, I won't do the funny! You can't make me!
What do you mean my refusal to do the opening is the opening?!
70: Tezzeret, Master of the Bridge: 3,978 Decks
I'm surprised Tezzeret, Master of the Bridge never... made people more upset? Became a card people wanted banned? I don't know what, but I expected it to be more than just a decent artifact card.
I've never seen this card in play, which is ludicrous! Affinity for artifacts on all creatures is absurd! Artifact creatures are now basically free with Tezz out, and regular creatures won't cost much more. The +2 is something people were playing the Planeswalker deck Tezz for, and it’s a +2! That’s basically Gray Merchant of Asphodel, but for an artifact deck every turn. The -3 can protect Tezz and buy back whatever key annoyance you need from Ensnaring Bridge to Mycosynth Lattice. The ultimate is probably the weakest ability, but only because you probably won’t need it to win.
Why isn't he an artifact staple?I know almost 4,000 decks is still pretty good numbers, but I was expecting him to be on the level of Deadeye Navigator. A card that people were going to groan about for years to come. Am I really overrating him that much? Is he just not fast enough at six mana? Like, what's the deal?
Over, Under, or Just Right? Underplayed: Why aren’t you more salt-inducing?!?
69: Kasmina, Enigmatic Mentor: 3,984 Decks
Kasmina, Enigmatic Mentor looks pretty innocuous, but secretly does a ton of heavy lifting in a bunch of different decks. Obviously, the static ability lends itself well to superfriends. Being able to make blockers for your 'walkers and to make targeted removal worse is a pretty good deal for a 25-cent 'walker.
However, that’s really just the start of her utility! In Voltron decks, Kasmina can protect key commanders and herself, making it pretty difficult to efficiently deal with the deck's gameplan. There’re also tons of blue decks, like Jalira, Master Polymorphist, that want ways to make tokens, and combined with the looting and protection, Kasmina’s a pretty appealing way to do that. Those tokens are Wizards as well, which means that Naban, Dean of Iteration gets a free, on-theme protection piece, and there's probably some other random stuff I missed here. I love this card! Every little thing that Kasmina does has a unique bit of value you can fiddle with.
Over, Under, or Just Right? Underplayed: Not drastically, but she’s got so much flexibility.
68: Vivien Reid: 4,044 Decks
You know who Vivien Reid v1 reminds me of? Nahiri, the Harbinger. Despite the many differences between these two cards, I kinda just see them both as very fancy Disenchants. If they both kill a thing and die, that's not amazing, but that's the worst-case scenario on these cards, and that's still fine.
Given that, I had to think for a bit on why I didn’t like Vivien that much, and it’s a lot of little things. One is that she's not as good in superfriends. Vivien’s +1 is pretty mediocre in a non-creature-heavy deck, so she doesn’t have the same utility as Nahiri. Also, it being a -3 as opposed to a -2 makes it a bit worse, as you can't do it twice if Vivien survives a turn. Also, she's green, and green has Nissa as the leading lady for planeswalkers. Ultimately I don't think you'd have to tweak much to make Vivien good, but, as is, I think she's not quite there.
Over, Under, or Just Right? Overplayed: Although I’ve never tried mono-green superfriends before. I swear I'm gonna have six superfriends decks by the end of this series.
67: Vraska, Relic Seeker: 4,074 Decks
Hey, look at that! Another 'walker that's basically removal with a cherry on top, although Vraska, Relic Seeker is closer to a Vindicate. To-ma-to, to-mah-to.
Similar to Nahiri, Vraska one of the 'walkers that really benefits from the superfriends package of protection and Proliferate. On her own, she's fine, but at six mana, I’d like a little more oomph than double Vindicate. That being said, being able to Proliferate her a couple times and get that ultimate in just a few turns, or double Vindicateing and surviving is an excellent top-end play
Over, Under, or Just Right? Just Right: At six mana, she's not as much of a slamdunk as Nahiri, but in the archetype of 'walkers as fancy removal, she's still pretty dang good.
66: Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker: 4,121 Decks
Discounting Bolas's temper tantrum in part six, this is the first of four Bolas 'walkers on this list. The fact that all these derpy, triple-colored, incredibly difficult-to-cast 'walkers see a ton of play is one of my favorite things about the format. Like, spoilers, I'm not calling any Bolas overplayed. They're splashy, and fun, and everything I love about Commander.
Of the four, I think the OG Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker is still the best. Yeah, the Bolases we’ll see later (Bolai? Boloi?) are certainly more flashy, but they can’t beat classic Nicky B for efficiency. I was just talking about 'walkers like Vivien Reid blowing up things as a minus is pretty good. How about instead of that puny ability, we have repeatable destruction of any pesky noncreature permanent as a +3? Let me repeat that: A. Plus. Three!
Sure, it doesn’t protect Bolas from creatures, but you can always persuade the scariest thing on the board to your side with the -2! Outside of straight-up wrath-ing the board, that’s about the best protection on a 'walker you can get! Honestly, the least impressive thing here is the ultimate, and it's still a targeted screw-you-go-die-ina-fiery-hole. Sure, if you aren’t able to protect Bolas, he’s probably not worth it, but honestly, what control deck can’t get to eight mana and protect itself from creatures? If you’re a Grixis deck, I’d windmill slam this card, if only because it’s freaking sweet!
Over, Under, or Just Right? Underplayed: What's Nicol Bolas's favorite ridesharing service? UBBR.
65: Saheeli, the Gifted: 4,147 Decks
(1,202 as a commander, 2,945 Decks as a card)
I always forget that Saheeli, the Gifted exists. Is she a bad card? No. The first +1 is pretty bad, but that second +1 will make any spell basically free on any decent board. It's pretty easy to cast Saheeli and then cast a way to protect her, and she'll reward you for doing so with the ultimate.
But like... why do I want to build around Saheeli again? Like, what's the cool thing I can do? Make spells cheap. That's cute, but artifacts have no trouble making a gazilion mana, and, outside of that, she's got nothing. Like, she's fine, but I'm never going to look closely at her again.
Over, Under, or Just Right? Just Right: She can hang out with Ob Nixilis of the Black Oath.
And now I'm docking Saheeli extra points for reminding me that Ob Nixilis of the Black Oath exists
64: Ral Zarek: 4,174 Decks
Ral Zarek is bad. The +1 isn't worth four mana, and it doesn't protect Ral at all. The -2 is a Lightning Bolt, which isn't going to remove much of the giant beasts that want to eat Ral's face, so there’s nothing much here except the ultimate. That has to be the only reason people are playing this. They want to play Ral, tick him up three times, and then get a Time Stretch out of him. Okay, that's cute, but Izzet is terrible at protecting 'walkers. Unless you're superfriends, Ral's going to die before you even get close to flipping coins, and if you are superfriends, you can play 'walkers with abilities that actually do things! Clearly I should tell people not to play Ral only for the ultimate, right?
I mean, that’s the lesson we hear about 'walkers from day one of seeing them. “Oh, don’t evaluate these cards on the ultimate, because it’s pretty unlikely for you to ever get there.” Sure, that’s practical advice, but 'walker ultimates are so cool! Ral's ultimate is so inherently flavorful. Sometimes you pull it off and you get five turns in a row, sometimes you get none. It's an amazing story either way. That’s why Ral has such high numbers. That’s why Okaun, Eye of Chaos and his buddy are running it even though, 98% of the time, Ral does basically nothing and dies.
I should be an adult. I should tell people that yes, the ultimate is very cute, but it's rarely going to happen, and there are better 'walkers with better ultimates. I should tell people that they shouldn’t play this card to get the ultimate, even though that’s exactly what I wanna do with it. I'll be the voice of reason. Here we go. Deep breath...
Maybe you can play it in superfriends.
Damnation it alll!
Over, Under, or Just Right? Just Right: I am a weak soul.
63: Nicol Bolas, the Ravager: 4,311 Decks
(1,720 decks as a commander, 2,591 decks as a card)
I have confessed my slight bafflement at the whole concept of planeswalker tribal, but even I would be tempted to build Nicol Bolas, the Ravager as the head of a Bolas tribal deck! He certainly doesn't have to be. As a commander, he can just be your typical control finisher, and he's pretty good at it, but you know, Deliver unto Evil works really well with Bolas as a commander, and then stuff like Dark Intimations has some decent synergy. Those cards also works pretty well with Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker, and you saw how good that card was already. While you're at it, Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh is pretty funny as well, and Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God likes all the planeswalkers we're running, and at that point, well, now it just feels silly not to run Cruel Ultimatum.
You see how insidious that was? Bolas tribal is barely an archetype. It's basically a Grixis control deck that gets to play all the fun cards. Don't run from it. Embrace it.
Over, Under, or Just Right? Just Right: Did you hear about Nicol Bolas buying the channel that airs Spongebob? He renamed it Nicolodeon.
62: Tamiyo, the Moon Sage: 4,440 Decks
Before War of the Spark, Tamiyo, the Moon Sage was one of the few 'walkers that kinda got a pass in non-superfriends decks. It wouldn’t be odd to see someone slot Tamiyo into the average control deck, as long as they could keep the board clear. If people were making best 'walker list in 2012-2013, I’d bet Tamiyo would be on there, if not near the top. She draws cards, she protects herself, she wins the game with the ult, she’s got Doubling Season combos. What you see is what you get. She's super fun, and also super threatening.
Over, Under, or Just Right? Underplayed: I'm a little surprised she's not at least in the top 50. Maybe you younguns need to have your teeth kicked in by her a few times.
61: Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God: 4,521 Decks
Unlike the other Bolas 'walkers we've seen, this is less of a fun Grixis card, or a Bolas tribal card... I mean, he is both of those things, but what he is, mostly, is a superfriends card. The most superfriendi-est superfriends card to ever superfriends.
Look me in the eye and say you wouldn't play Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God in a superfriends deck. Go on. You can't do it. There is not a 'walker more suited for that role than Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God. The static is begging for this card to played on a board with seven-million 'walkers on it. Does it matter that you’ll usually just use the +1 on him instead of a random 'walkers abilities? Not really. The mere allure to making multiple Bolases with Jace, Cunning Castaway's ult is enough.
I didn't even mention any of the actual abilities on this card, like the Hero's Downfall on anything you wish to see suffer, or that delicious ultimate. An ultimate that does need some work to actually achieve, but the only one where activating the ability can literally instantly win you the game. Basically, superfriends exists so that Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God can be amazing!
Over, Under, or Just Right? Just Right: One time, Nicol Bolas had to wait three hours at a bowling alley before they finally let him in. Apparently, the attendants misheard him and thought he wanted to Bowl-Last.
No, I Will Not Stop
Well, I'm going to come up with better bargaining chips. In the meantime, present your incentives in the comments! Have we finally reached the top tier 'walkers, or are we still dwelling in the mid-card? Let me know somewhere on the internet. Until next week!