Except that this is not a list of the planeswalkers from Johnny’s point of view at all, rather that of Timmy and specifically in draft rather than any constructed formats. (If you are unaware of the gamer types – Johnny, Timmy, Spike, Vorthos and Melvin – I dunno, Google them or something).
Before getting stuck in, I should probably make it abundantly clear that this is just my own personal view – discussed at some length with Sean Isle – and that I have tried to compare the various planeswalkers’ powers both in the context of their own set, and some sort of imaginary draft format where they all exist or something. So just to recap: personal opinion + complete work of fantasy = this list.
Finally, due to the card pictures, I decided to split this into two parts to make it a little more readable.
19. Chandra Ablaze
Residing at the bottom of the list, unfortunately, is Chandra’s reboot that came in Zendikar (first rule of reboot: don’t mention the reboot). Her +1 often put you at a severe disadvantage, despite being a fairly powerful, her ultimate was pretty difficult to pull off for any amount of value without having some sort of monopoly on all the red spells at the table (with Burst Lightning as a reasonable first pick, unlikely), and her -2 was occasionally very good, occasionally very useless. Sitting at 6 mana did not help matters at all, and overall just far too underwhelming the vast majority of the time. More often that not, she was a 6 mana double-damage Staggershock that made you discard a card each time damage needed to be done. Disappointing.
18. Nissa Revane
Pretty obviously, this card needs a lot of tribal cards – as part of a non-tribal set (the Allies sort of count, I guess). She explored some really interesting design space and (without wanting to say it for every card) made for interesting draft decisions later on. This is also a pretty restrictive design, but nowhere near as much as her +1. I realise I may have just been a little unlucky, but I once first picked Nissa and never saw another elf at all, never mind a Chosen. Then again one time Nissa just got there for me – either way, Nissa is just so incredibly linear and simply doesn’t have that win the game NOW factor that I’m looking for in draft. ‘Can I wheel this 2/3 for 2?’ is also a depressing question to have to ask yourself.
17. Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker
Speaking of that ‘win now’ factor, let’s be honest, Bolas lives up to his flavour and is definitely a force to be reckoned with. His abilities are all incredibly powerful and game-ending. But ultimately – he requires eight mana, four of it coloured and spread across three colours. In the context of the block in which he was printed, yes there was a lot of mana fixing, and it often wasn’t an exceedingly fast format, but still a little clunky. (Obviously ticks some great boxes elsewhere but, last time I mention it, I’m strictly on draft here). I think I only saw him cast a couple of times in draft, once were the opponent was pretty much out of gas and dead to any kind of action anyway, and once were it didn’t matter if the player had been able to pop Bolas’ ultimate immediately – he was just too far behind.
16. Liliana Vess
In a control deck with a number of specific answers, a repeatable, free tutor is always going to be pretty fantastic. Building dedicated control in draft can often be pretty challenging, however, and Liliana just has no way of protecting herself. This is by far her weakest point, as her ultimate is obviously pretty powerful and amazingly good fun to boot. Paying one extra for your Diabolic Tutor when you’re behind to go get Wrath or whatever is fine, but the discard ability is somewhat lackluster (it’s important to note that I think Mind Rot would be a bit too good here). Vampirella has received some love, but not as much as you might think for someone making daemonic pacts like there’s no tomorrow.
15. Tezzeret the Seeker
Tezzeret is a very good card, and he has quite definitely cemented his place in constructed Magic. As far as limited goes, he is only this far up the list because of the exact context that he was printed in – Alara block, home of Esper. That approximately one fifth of the set was based around Esper and its artifacts made this card quite good. It became considerably better when you consider that there were in fact three out of five factions that could play blue and that untapping borderposts was going to be a regular, powerful effect that allowed a player to ramp Tezzie and fire off his ultimate. In the fantasy draft world, it’s hard to see how well he would stand up on his own.
14. Ajani Goldmane
So, I can gain some life. Hmm… And, I can make whatever guys I have bigger and give them vigilance until end of turn, fair enough… and if I can do it, then I get a blocker that shrinks as fast as I do. Right… Don’t get me wrong, I know how powerful Ajani 1.0 can be. I’m just very aware that he often isn’t. Gaining 2 life does nothing to affect your opponent, really and he only really protects himself if you had enough blockers to deal with everything anyway. Great for breaking stalls, but I want my bomb mythic rare planeswalker to be the enormous threat, not the card that eventually might make my guys a little bigger than my opponent’s.
13. Chandra Nalaar
I feel kind of sorry for everyone’s favourite goggled fiery redhead. There’s not really a lot wrong with Chandra: she’s got a powerful ultimate, being able to ping other planeswalkers might not come up often but is pretty important, simply pinging your opponent is fine, and she deals with most things that you will face in limited (probably on the turn you play her and possibly even leaving her to regrow some loyalty). However, I’ve seen times when Chandra’s been passed around a bit, cos there’s nothing wrong with her, but equally there’s nothing AMAZING about her. She does protect herself, but at a fairly high cost, and without the right kind of deck she simply won’t get there (Hint: super aggressive mono-red is actually not the best fit at all).
12. Elspeth Tirel
With a first ability kind of like Goldmane’s +1 that will often whiff, coupled with an interesting build-around sort of ultimate, surnamed Elspeth sits in a bit of an odd spot. Her ultimate is undeniably powerful, but could cause some awkward situations – where you have to run out your only (and best) creature simply to keep her alive long enough to pull it off, for example. The middle ability, coupled with the recharging +2 every 3 turns seems the best way to play her, and this is by far her best limited application. Potentially limitless swarms coupled with lifegain is good – running into something with trample and getting am overpriced, non-evasive Spectral Procession is less good.
11. Jace Beleren
Jace? Not in the Top 10? Blasphemy! Drawing cards is always, always good. I have never personally seen anyone win with his ultimate, so he loses a few points for the splashy game-ending power that some planeswalkers have, but then the steady advantage is often game-ending in itself. The only other point against him is that he has no way of protecting himself, but I would never be upset with a Jace 1.0 in any colour combination / most game situations. All of this combines to make Jace Beleren the ideal sort of midway point between all the planeswalkers; the standard against which all the others can be compared. I feel bad putting him in at #11 but the sheer power of those to come necessitated it.