Spoiler season is upon us which is a time of the year that represents high levels of excitement, but can become a void for players getting caught up in the hype. Let’s be honest, Wizards of the Coast is in BUSINESS to make money, this means selling as much product as possible each time a set releases. How do they accomplish this? By having high profile members of the community write articles and do videos about their assigned spoiler and why it is going to make an impact on the format.
If Wizards came to us and spoiled each card, it would be a lot easier for players to chew the data and decide what is worth getting excited over, but when they have large spoiler seasons in which pro level players tell you a card is good people get hooked.
It is important for most of us (with less than excessive income) to be able to wade through all the fluff and find the diamond level cards worth pursuing while avoiding the oversellers. If we look back there are countless times in which cards boomed and busted; Jace, the Mind Sculptor sold briefly as a preorder in the realm of $20-25 before skyrocketing within days, while a those who invested in Narset Transcendent at the preorder of $50 can’t be feeling good to see the sub $10 tag now.
So you might be asking, how do I not get hooked in on this ringer of a release system they have cultivated? How do I end the season with fists full of Collected Companies and avoid the $40 loss of Narset? It is all in the calm, rational and as many say slightly cynical viewing of spoiler season. Learning how to evaluate cards based on the current state and previously printed cards with similar effects. I am still working hard at improving on my card evaluations, but have come a long way from my kid in a candy shop mentality.
So let’s dive in to the faces of the set and see if we can predict who will most impact our tournaments moving forward.
This card type is the smallest quantity in each set, having at most five to six put in a set. While they are low in quantity these cards carry a large punch into any deck they go in. With repeatable value and the ability to pull attention towards another lightning rod, something cards like Gideon Jura make apparent in his abilities, these cards have been central in the price tags of formats.
Looking at current Standard we see that a card like Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy carries a price tag so large that it alone forces some people off top decks in the format.
First, when evaluating these cards the most common mistake to make is to view a card in terms of the power of their ultimate, or the final and most expensive ability on the card.
The ability to reach this top level varies from card to card, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar can ultimate the turn he enters, so if he resolves you can immediately gain an emblem. For evaluation I do not consider the ultimate unless it is possible to be used the moment it resolves, we get spells such as Hero’s Downfall and Dreadbore which simply eat Planeswalkers, burn spells and combat can also cause the fall of these mighty beings of the multiverse.
A game in which you can resolve, build up, and finally ultimate a Planeswalker is a game you are almost always already ahead in and the ultimate is traditionally a final nail. Rarely can you let reach this final level in a hard hitting even match as the effects normally result in back breaking value the opponent cannot recover from.
Because we can’t rely on ultimating our Planeswalkers each turn we must evaluate them as though that text does not exist, it needs to be a strong play based on it’s other abilities, not solely on the final stage.
Having a proper curve in a deck that falls in line with the goals of the decklist is vital to prevent awkward draws that cause you to fall flat.
Ugin, the Spirit Dragon is back breaking, and when resolved can single handedly turn a game around and take the controller from a loss to a crushing victory. Many slow grinding control decks have used him as their sole win condition as he embodies the game style and goal of the list. Despite all the wins that have gone to a resolved Ugin does this mean every deck should run him? Does he belong in 4 Color Rally or Atarka Red? Of course not, beyond anything to ability to consistently cast the card is neigh impossible, but these decks want to win in a far more pressuring and speedy manner.
Traditionally the magic number for a Planeswalker has been four mana, some of the strongest ever printed that are able to enjoy play as a full set in decks, cards like Jace, the Mind Sculptor Garruk, Wildspeaker and Elspeth, Knight-Errant have held that easily reachable price tag. Going above the four to five range starts requiring very specific decks built to ramp or control and being able to put the costly Planeswalkers in any deck becomes restricted.
Ability to Protect Itself:
When you cast a Planeswalker it is to gain a large burst of value, traditionally over the course of multiple turns and if things go write end in a back breaking ultimate in which the opponent can’t recover.
However the greatest plans often go astray. When a game isn’t going to plan and you are worried about your own survival you need an ally that can fend for itself while you work toward turning things around. This independence can come in the form of keeping opposing threats tapped such as Tamiyo, the Moon Sage or dealing damage such as Ajani Vengeant. In some cases we get to create a blocker as with Nissa, Voice of Zendikar or flat eat the sources of our frustration with Ob Nixilis Reignited.
Some of these abilities (the long term answers) tend to cost your card some juice in the form of removing counters, while this does come into play in evaluation the ability to help in survival is key and paramount in the making of a strong Planeswalkers.
The last mode of defense is not as easy to evaluate, simply getting too fat for the opponent to realistically kill. This means reaching six or more loyalty counters after the first activation and will often result in it’s survival, but it does not do much to slow the opponents ability to hit the player. This is more important if the survival of the card equates to a very real game changing scenario such as you get with Karn Liberated.
What Have You Done For Me Now:
The last and possibly most important trait to observe is simple, why is this in your list and does it actually do what your deck WANTS to do?
Often players see a card like a Planeswalker and thinks because it is considered good by many and has so much text it has to be automatically included in any list in those colors. This is a trap and it is important to identify that and let go of it. As with drafting you might first pick a strong rare, but if you get nothing else in those colors you have to let that pick go for the betterment of your deck.
So what does the card do? Is it similar to any previously printed cards and if so how good were they?
Am I an aggressive deck? If so abilities I need are the ability to go wider, make my cheap creatures larger, clear blockers to push damage through or just flat burn the opponent. All of these work toward my strategy but need to be reachable at a lower mana cost than most decks. The recurring ability of Planeswalkers make aggressive ones difficult to make. Currently we will see Nissa, Voice of Zendikar in some aggro builds as long as they go wide with tokens to create high value from her -2.
As we said Ugin, the Spirit Dragon has proven perfect in control lists as they often want board wipes which his –X achieves or the ability to begin pressuring the opponent or dealing with the single threat a turn many decks are able to resolve after a board wipe that the +2 proves strong against.
Both examples, Nissa and Ugin, have abilities that make them hay-makers in their respective lists, but would not belong in the others slots. So whatever ability the card has it needs to work toward your goal and it needs to be priced correctly based on previous versions of the effect.
Applying the Review:
It is time to put these measurable to the test and review our two new Planeswalkers joining Standard with the release of Shadows over Innistrad and try to discern where our money should be going:
Checklist (rankings- Very Good, Good, Average, Poor, Unplayable):
Ultimate: Played on curve Nahiri is capable of ultimating the second turn after being played on turn four leaving the effect resolving on turn six. With the opponent having their own two turns to interact through combat and spells I do not think this will be consistent enough of an ability to rely on. In addition the ability is a tutor that gives a virtual sneak attack to the creature you find. In Standard we do not have many creatures outside of Dragonlord Atarka in which this ability is back breaking enough to warrant the resource commitment of reaching it. So as a third turn blow up with an upsided tutor on turn six Nahiri gets an AVERAGE ranking in this criteria.
Casting Cost: She has a four mana casting cost and requires only one of each color. With no true restrictions on double colors and the price point at a level we have seen repeatedly be successful she receives a ranking of GOOD but this could change once the mana is announced based on difficulty of reaching red and white on turn four.
Ability to Protect Itself: Her plus does not protect her in any consistent way as you would need mana for a discarded madness spell to clear an attacker and you might not even have a madness spell. Her protection comes in her -2 as she exiles an enchantment, tapped artifact, or most importantly tapped creature. The word exile is very important at this is a permanent answer to the issue, it is nice to be able to user her to clear random things like enchantments and some artifacts, but will traditionally be aimed at a creature that is proving a threat. However, as with most things restrictions and clauses often cause issues, the fact she only removes a TAPPED creature means she can’t clear the way for your attack and more importantly she won’t answer the last creature the opponent played as it has yet to tap into the red zone. When you play a kill spell in Magic it better do the job, having to kill the same thing twice is almost always a bad sign (ex. Geralf’s Messenger, Thragtusk, Kitchen Finks). With her restrictions and the fact it is a minus but can interact with various permanent types she receives a ranking of GOOD.
Abilities: Ignoring the ultimate as you must give away priority multiple times before reaching it we look at her +2 and -2. Having symmetry in ability costs is a strong thing, this means given enough targets and not being under heavy pressure Nahiri can bounce between digging in your deck (discard one, draw one) and eating various permanents if they meet the removal criteria. Paying four mana to cycle one card from your hand a turn, especially in red and white which is traditionally and aggressive color pair does not appear to be an effect I want to race toward. Possibly if we receive a very large number of good madness cards in these colors, but if I am going to be looting I want to use Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, not a four costed card that makes me decide on the discard prior to seeing if the new card is any worse. Because the +2 is a minor effect that does not advance a game state unless you discard a madness card and the -2 is restricted but good Nahiri receives an AVERAGE in abilities.
Final Verdict: Nahiri has some interesting abilities and plenty of text (normally a good sign) but none of them push the boundaries of Standard. She seems like a safe design that has the ability to do broken things in older formats (see almost any card that says search your deck and use the card you find). I would have liked to see them push the design a bit more and possibly make the plus ability a stronger dig and make the exile and ultimate a bit more unreachable. As she is barring a new set of powerful madness cards, a fair number of enchantments and artifacts needing answered, or a bomb truly worth committing the effort to ultimating her she receives only a grade of AVERAGE as the abilities are all obtainable through more convenient means.
Checklist (rankings- Very Good, Good, Average, Poor, Unplayable):
Ultimate: Arlinn has an ultimate of -6 you get an emblem (permanent and unremovable ability) that gives all your creatures haste and the ability to tap and deal damage equal to its attack to target creature or player. First, she enters at three loyalty and needs to spend one turn flipping to the side with the ultimate, then spends three turns climbing to six leaving a curved ultimate of turn eight. This is slow and definitely not something we can count on. That being said the ability is extremely powerful, fighting is dangerous as the opponent’s creature could kill yours in the fight. This, however, is not fighting, it is more like jumping. Your creatures get to hit opponent creatures without fear of reprisal and also can hit the opponent as though they are a form of unblockable. It allows you to conduct your attack phase on the opponent’s end step which makes their combat math as terrible as possible. There is no doubting the game ending effect she has if she reaches six loyalty, but with the investment she can only receive a ranking of AVERAGE for her ultimate.
Casting Cost: As we saw with Nahiri, Arlinn is printed at the time test four mana which keeps her from being priced aggressively at a lower price but in exchange has the most text I have seen on a Planeswalker, so much so they had to put some on each side of the card. Anything less than four mana would be lunacy, she could have even been a fair price at five mana. With five abilities and each being strong effects she is a steal at four mana and is ranked VERY GOOD.
Ability to Protect Itself: Both faces have the ability to protect itself in some fashion. On the front side she can either give a creature vigilance allowing you to continue your pressure without losing a blocker or she can create a 2/2 wolf to defend herself as she flips. On her flip side as a werewolf she has one defense option which is to deal three damage to a creature or player with a -1 loyalty. This is not ideal unless you want to flip her and won’t protect against all issues, but it will be good enough in most situations to make your opponent have a harder combat scenario as you would have already received one wolf plus any other creatures already cast. With three defense mechanisms, but none being flat out removal she receives a rank of GOOD for self-defense.
Abilities: Take a seat as this will be a doozy, Arlinn possess FIVE total abilities at her disposal which till now is is unmatched. Garruk Relentless had a total of five as well, but the ability to flip him was very narrow and there was no way to return to the face side of the card. Arlinn is able to bounce between faces with relative ease in order to use the ability it most needs. This is as close to a full toolbox in one Planeswalker as we have seen, her +1 on each side accomplish very different effects, while the front side allows aggression without leaving yourself open to being attacked back easily, the werewolf charge ability enables you to forgo thoughts of defense for a large attack that punishes the opponent regardless of if they have blockers due to the trample.
The flip effects we have discussed some previously, but getting a 2/2 while not strong alone is good as this adds another body to the board to make the following miniature Overrun even stronger. The -1 on the werewolf side to Lightning Bolt a creature or player and flip back to the human form allows a threat to be answered or the opponent to be taken a step closer to falling. Played on turn four and only ever alternating between the 0 ability and the -1 allows you to make three wolves and deal nine damage through turn nine if the opponent does not get in the way. Lastly, as we already discussed above, the ultimate of -6 is not easy enough to reach in order to be relied on, but will result in an almost guaranteed win in any match you are ahead or at parody while stealing many games that you are behind in. Throwing off opponents math combat with blockers or turning creatures into two for ones (block your creature, before damage tap mine to kill another or hit the opponent) is something that even the best players will fall under. All of these abilities and the ways they attack from a wide range of angles leaves Arlinn with a VERY GOOD ranking.
Final Verdict: Arlinn has versatility and is full of value, this card is guaranteed to make a very large splash in Standard, she will definitely be the type of card you want to get a playset of for as cheap as possible because the only way she doesn’t find play is if we do not receive pieces to make any sort of playable Gruul deck, and those pieces would have to be very bad indeed to keep players away from her. She is definitely a GOOD to VERY GOOD rank depending on the strength of the card board sleeved with her.
Checklist (rankings- Very Good, Good, Average, Poor, Unplayable):
Ultimate: The latest version of everyone’s favorite blue Planeswalker is very specifically built to slide into a control shell as most of them tend to do. Jace enters at five loyalty and climbs once a turn, this means he is able to reach his ultimate on the fourth turn played, as we have already discussed this is not a fast enough speed to warrant building around him. Control decks are historically more capable of letting their Planeswalkers hit the final form, and if Jace does his ability is VERY GOOD. In any even board state a well-built control deck should be able to answer second spells cast as the opponent has to sand bag to create a shield for a threat. When this resolves the opponent needs a resoundingly dominant board position to pressure through.
Casting Cost: At five mana Jace exceeds the cost we are traditionally willing to pay for a card. When a card reaches a cost of over four mana it has to make immediate impacts and win the game in most cases. Jace, while good and likely to see play, does not completely take over the game in the manner you want your top end to do. As such he receives an AVERAGE ranking for his casting cost.
Ability to Protect Itself: Jace is not helpless, he is able to return a creature to its owner’s hand twice in a row without ever having to charge. The fact he enters with five counters and can send a threat away or charge to six on the spot gives him two partial modes of defense which allows you to evaluate how he can survive and gain the most advantage.
Abilities: Blue has lacked card advantage in recent rotations that it is accustom to. The draw spells either cost a heavy price tag even with delve, such as Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time, or required venturing into black mana for Read the Bones and Painful Truths. Blue does not have a good one drop manipulation or even the Divination that for so long wasn’t good enough. Jace’s +1 would be an average card as the next iteration of Preordain, but to scry 1 and draw a card each turn is a strong advantage especially as control decks so often run in excess of 27 lands, the ability to find the threats and answers needed to live is vital. We have a similar effect in Ob Nixilis Reignited, but he cost a life and does not have the scry, in addition you can only use his protection ability once before needing to charge him. Jace’s abilities are good from a strong board position, but weak if behind and only possibly capable of tipping the scales when at an even position, for this he receives an AVERAGE ranking on abilities.
Final Verdict: Jace is overall an AVERAGE Planeswalker who will rely on a different meta game than we have seen in recent months to succeed. We have had Ob Nixilis who has not seen much play outside of being a one or two copies in a deck. It is interesting that we received two cards that are so similar, but both will need similar conditions to make a deck over Chandra and Dragonlords.
Checklist (rankings- Very Good, Good, Average, Poor, Unplayable):
Ultimate: Sorin uses his ultimate on the fourth turn after being played, which as we have seen is a rather common design trait. He is much slower than the remainder of our list as he is the most costly. In theory his ultimate is game ending as the wording is very well done to guarantee that unless an opponent gains life, the vampire army you have will represent lethal to the opponent, however these are still 1/1 bodies that can be blocked as they have no evasion, or more importantly they can fall to cards such as Radiant Flames, Kozilek’s Return, and Languish. With their bodies being on the small side and lacking evasion the ultimate proves to be far from the strangle hold it seems in theory, this coupled with the time investment to reach it leaves this category lack luster and landing under the AVERAGE scale.
Casting Cost: In any format, even the slower Standard, six mana is a high price to pay and requires a strong reward. With only the traditional abilities and lacking the ability to pull a wide board state under control as cards like Ugin, Chandra, and Elspeth have done Sorin appears to lean towards an overpriced ranking. Traditionally a Planeswalker of this cost needs to do more as you pay more, no longer is simple self-preservation adequate. In game play he might prove worth the cost in some decks, but he will not belong in many leaving his rank at AVERAGE from a sheer cost perspective.
Ability to Protect Itself: Sorin is an interesting card to evaluate, he enters and can immediately climb to seven loyalty which is a strong buffer, or attempt to eat a threat for six or less damage while transferring that life buffer to Sorin’s controller. Both abilities are very strong and given a deck that can keep boards under control he will definitely prove to be a potent haymaker. The weakness is in the fact he can’t control a wide board alone or one large Eldrazi menace. Due to this he is best as a turn six follow up to a turn five board wipe. With these restrictions he definitely falls under the realm of GOOD, but doesn’t quite hit the top level.
Abilities: Overall his abilities are very heavy hits, in a control shell you want to draw cards to keep the answers available and land drops frequent. You have to decide between Sorin, Jace, Ob Nixilis, and Chandra for these duties. Sorin will definitely see some play as his draw engine is a very real clock to put the opponent under, you flip one good Dragonlord and the entire pace of the game could go into upheaval. In addition he is able to answer a creature that has slipped through your defenses and return a bit of life, say an opponent resolves their last card in hand in the form of Reality Smasher, you get to no 2-for-1 yourself and negate the attack from the turn it was played. Sorin has GOOD abilities that will need a proper shell to thrive.
Final Verdict: Overall Sorin appears to be the second best Planeswalker on his own plane this visit as Arlinn looks like she delivered quite a punch, but Sorin like Jace will see play and find a home, but not as a four of. He is GOOD overall and you can expect to lose to him at least a few times during his stay in Standard.
In conclusion, if you are hoping to get cards early into the rotation and you are facing information overload, Arlinn is almost guaranteed to be the Planeswalker of chase in this set. It will likely be the one most coveted by the largest number of players which will result in a hefty price, if you can find deals on these flip beast now is the time to do so.
If you feel there are aspects of one of our new traveling companions I missed or you believe a card is going to over achieve such as Nahiri having some power level that is unexpected please comment so below.
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