For not the first time ever, details on Magic’s upcoming set have fallen into the public’s hands far before Wizards of the Coast wanted them to! This time, instead of posting the Chinese Release Notes document for Masters 25, they did it for Dominaria! This is a huge deal and gives us a look at a lot of what the set has to offer. In this article, I’ll be looking at the planeswalkers of Dominaria and giving my opinion as to their playability. But first, I have a friend who might be able to help you stop these leaks, Wizards…
Karn, Scion of Urza
I’m going to go through the planeswalkers of the set first, as they’re not only the strongest to the storyline, but they’ve proven to be some of the best, if not the flat out best, cards in recent times. First is Karn, Scion of Urza, which looks very different from Karn Liberated.
The first and most important part of analyzing a new planeswalker is looking at its mana cost and starting loyalty. 4 mana has proven to be a really sweet spot for these ‘walkers in the past (see: Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Chandra, Torch of Defiance), so I’m optimistic right out of the gate.
Unlike Gideon and Chandra, however, Karn starts with 5 loyalty! With a +1 that immediately replaces himself with a card (albeit the worse of the two you flip over), you get immediate use out of Karn and pass the turn to your opponent with a planeswalker at 6 loyalty, which is quite an impressive turn. There is also a great amount of pressure on the opponent immediately to deal with Karn, as the -1 ability gives you access to the “better” of the two cards you flipped over with his +1 ability, usually drawing a significantly above average card for the meager cost of 1 loyalty. The combination of repeated +1 and intermittent -1 when needed makes Karn an extremely potent card advantage source.
Part of what makes Karn a balanced card (especially when looking at mana cost vs. loyalty), is the notable lack of a “win the game” ultimate ability that has become more or less standard on most planeswalkers. That being said, Karn’s final ability, the -2, is nothing to gloss over. What made Gideon, Ally of Zendikar so good was that it made a very relevant body every turn with his 0 ability. Karn is in a somewhat similar position, as the more you active the -2 ability, the better and better it gets. With very little help, say 1 artifact in play before you play Karn, the -2 ability produces a 2/2 on turn 4 (the same rate as Gideon), then a 3/3 on turn 5 for just the initial 4 mana. Then, it offers a physical card advantage source that demands an answer.
The theme with Karn is: the longer you have him in play, the better things get for you. With a notable lack of cheap planeswalker removal in this format (usually sitting at 4 mana), I could certainly see Karn being an important part of several decks in this upcoming Standard format.
Teferi, Hero of Dominaria
Teferi, Hero of Dominaria is certainly a more traditional planeswalker than Karn, and one that’s a lot easier to analyze. I’ve talked previously on Spellsnare about my “mold” for a playable modern-day planeswalker. It looks soemthing like this:
Planeswalker, the Noun-Verber
+1 Draw a card.
-3 Destroy target creature.
-8 Win the game.
Starting loyalty: 4/5
Teferi fits this pretty well, honestly. Each ability can be exactly mapped to its corresponding ability on Planeswalker, the Noun-Verber above. However, I think that Teferi may just be better than this prototypical planeswalker for a few reasons.
It’s important to look at what sort of deck would want this sort of planeswalker. To me, this screams Control deck. Control decks in this format have really wanted a stable source of on-board card advantage, but many of those sorts of cards leave the Control deck extremely exposed, which strongly indicates that tap-out threats are not at their best in this format. Given this, you could assume that Teferi wouldn’t be able to make a breakthrough in this format, but I would argue that it will, thanks to the extremely underrated and very relevant add-on to the +1 ability.
Untapping two lands effectively makes this a 3 mana planeswalker, assuming both that you use the +1 ability the turn it comes in, and that you can use the 2 mana that’s left over. For Control decks, this is certainly the case, as 2 mana can represent an extremely relevant spell such as a Censor, a Negate, or an Essence Scatter. Having the ability to trade 1-for-1 turn after turn until an impactful draw spell can be played is the main game plan for Control decks of late, and this plays right into that, letting you play your meaningful draw spell on the same turn that you keep up the ability to trade your card for your opponent’s 1-for-1.
If Control decks are still viable after Dominaria is released, I fully expect Teferi to be a strong player in the format.
Jaya strays a decent amount from Planeswalker, the Noun-Verber. It still contains the +1 ability to draw a card, although this ability (the second one listed on the card) is significantly different, as it’s never physically card advantageous, just card quality advantageous.
Instead of the prototypical -3 ability to destroy a creature, Jaya Ballard has an additional +1 ability, this one giving a very meaningful 3 mana, only to be used for instant and sorcery spells. One of the reasons why Chandra, Torch of Defiance was so powerful was that the turn you play it, while you’re likely to not be able to use the +1 that lets you cast the top card of your library, you are able to add RR and put another card from your hand into play that has an impact on the board. This ability being limited to just instants and sorceries means that Jaya Ballard won’t have the ability to impact the board the turn it’s played the same way that Chandra does.
Instead, having the ability to discard some cards that are surplus to requirements for new draws is incredibly powerful, especially when your hand has turned into a somewhat unappealing jumble of cards. One thing that we consistently discuss when looking at new cards, especially planeswalkers, is how good they are when you’re behind. While Jaya might not be a huge boon to you when you’re behind on board, it certainly is close to the most impactful thing (if not straight up the most impactful) you can play for 5 mana in this format if you’re behind on in-hand card quality.
Lastly, let’s talk about the ultimate ability. I am… not impressed with this ultimate ability. Most planeswalker ultimate abilities are variants of “win the game”, but give designers the space to flavorfully represent the planeswalker through this ability. Jace mills, Liliana makes zombies, Nissa kills you through turning lands into creatures, etc.. While this ultimate flavorfully represents Jaya well, it’s not really a win the game effect, it’s just more card advantage. Burying your opponent in card advantage is a really good way of winning the game, but it won’t always do. Because of this ultimate, we can see that none of Jaya’s abilities are particularly strong when behind. Even the first +1 ability is only good at catching you up on spells cast, and the second ability (discard and draw cards) is only good at catching you up on card quality. Together they can create something meaningful, but that’s not enough to make it playable in my opinion. If Jaya’s ultimate was a much more assured way of winning the game, I could see this card potentially seeing play. Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening with how the card is being printed.
That’s all for now! I for one am really excited about Dominaria and all the cool and unique things it will bring Magic (including a new type of card and a big rules change!). In my articles here I’ll start to turn my attention more to Magic’s upcoming set, so stay tuned!
Until next time,
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