Is Mu Yanling, Sky Dancer The Next Broken Three-Mana Planeswalker?

Three-mana planeswalkers tend to come in two varieties: useless in Standard, and broken. Which will Mu Yanling, Sky Dancer be? Kevin Jones compares it to recent examples and reaches a surprising conclusion!

Three-mana planeswalkers have likely been historically difficult for Wizards of the Coast to design well. The line between “mostly unplayable” and “format-warping” can be incredibly thin. Recently, a couple of three-mana planeswalkers have taken over Constructed Magic.

These two cards perfectly illustrate how to make an overpowered three-mana planeswalker. They both have static abilities with a huge impact on the game and they can both replace themselves immediately upon entering the battlefield. I could write a whole article about why Teferi and Narset are so powerful and so oppressive, but I already mostly did that when I wrote about Modern Azorius Control a few weeks back. Also, Core Set 2020 previews have begun and one such preview is a three-mana blue planeswalker:

Do we have another Jace, Cunning Castaway on our hands or a multi-format staple like Narset, Parter of Veils or Teferi, Time Raveler? I think the reality about Mu Yanling, Sky Dancer lies somewhere in between.

Let’s be transparent from the start, though – this is a Standard card and all our discussion today revolves around its viability and optimization within the Standard format. Mu Yanling, Sky Dancer isn’t a bad card at all, but it won’t be likely to crash through into Modern or Legacy anytime soon. That said, a three-mana planeswalker that protects itself and creates a reasonable threat is very intriguing. The double blue in the mana cost could make some of the more ambitious applications a little difficult, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try.

Llanowar Elves into a Turn 2 Mu Yanling, Sky Dancer might be a bit ambitious considering it can only happen off Breeding Pool. And while the powerful one-mana accelerant can’t accelerate out your Mu Yanling, Sky Dancer on its own, Paradise Druid and Incubation Druid can reliably ensure you get double blue on curve. -2/-0 from the +2 ability isn’t equivalent to an actual removal spell, but on Turn 2 or Turn 3, it’s reasonably likely to be able to prevent her from taking any damage. Once you can untap with your Mu Yanling, Sky Dancer untouched, you can activate the -3 ability and make a 4/4 flyer. The best defense can often be a good offense, as they say, but the 4/4 flyer can also do some blocking to ensure you’ll be able to keep the Mu Yanling, Sky Dancer alive even longer.

The current iteration of Simic Mass Manipulation could use an early threat and answer to help bridge the gap to their powerful mid- and late-game cards. Fortunately, Mu Yanling, Sky Dancer does a fantastic job of this. Simic Mass Manipulation has a lot of early plays and several late-game haymakers but lacks reasonable plays in the Turn 3 to Turn 4 range aside from Ripjaw Raptor and Hydroid Krasis.

It’s important to note that the +2 ability also causes the targeted creature to lose flying. This works well when you have a bunch of mana creatures in your deck that can trade, chump block, or just bounce off an opposing creature. It also plays into the gameplan of getting to block with your Ripjaw Raptor. Flying is one of the main ways players ignore combat with Ripjaw Raptor and Mu Yanling, Sky Dancer prevents one potential attacker from flying over. Granted, you’re probably cutting a Ripjaw Raptor and a few other things to make room for the copies of Mu Yanling, Sky Dancer, but these synergies are still valid.

One other interesting aspect of the +2 ability of Mu Yanling, Sky Dancer is that it can help you attack opponents and opposing planeswalkers by knocking their flying creatures out of the sky, letting your Hydroid Krasises and your 4/4 Bird tokens fly free. In my opinion, it’s really good design that this card makes flyers and stops your opponent’s creatures from flying. In a way, it makes a token that is better than a 4/4 flyer while still making a balanced card. If the token was a 5/5 or any larger, I think Mu Yanling, Sky Dancer would be overpowered.

Matias Leveranto took Mythic Championship III by storm with good old Simic Nexus, with fellow SCG writers Emma Handy and Autumn Burchett also registering the deck for the event. Because of the combo of Wilderness Reclamation and Nexus of Fate, Simic Nexus can only afford so many flex slots in their maindeck. Mu Yanling, Sky Dancer could be a fantastic addition to the sideboard, however. The ability to create threats that represent an alternate win condition and provide some resistance to opposing creatures are both things Simic Nexus is interested in, especially in sideboard games.

Nexus decks play enough must-counter noncreature spells that, despite the creature-heavy sideboards, anyone paired against them is certainly sideboarding in their copies of Negate and/or Spell Pierce. These cards are certainly worse after sideboard but no sideboarding strategy can make them dead. Mu Yanling, Sky Dancer can occasionally enter the battlefield before the opponent can afford to keep up countermagic. Even when this isn’t the case, Mu Yanling, Sky Dancer will absorb a Negate or Spell Pierce that would’ve otherwise hit Wilderness Reclamation, Nexus of Fate, or Tamiyo, Collector of Tales.

This is the first spot where the -8 ability on Mu Yanling, Sky Dancer, an emblem that allows all your Islands to tap to draw a card, seem to have a solid application. Wilderness Reclamation does a great job of combining with the emblem to ensure inevitability.

Thus far, I’ve looked at two Simic decks as shells for Mu Yanling, Sky Dancer: one with a bunch of cheap creatures and one with a bunch of powerful spells. The next avenues to explore are decks that play removal to ensure Mu Yanling, Sky Dancer is on the battlefield and minimally pressured and decks that play a ton of planeswalkers so that some of them are bound to live.

A couple copies of Mu Yanling, Sky Dancer would work nicely in this Jeskai Superfriends list, piloted by David Willoughby to the Top 4 of the MCQ at SCG CON Summer. One of the nicest tricks with this deck is that the +2 ability on Mu Yanling, Sky Dancer encourages opponents to deploy more creatures, possibly even multiple small ones, to swarm the planeswalkers before they get out of control. This plays perfectly into the three maindeck copies of Deafening Clarion, but it’s worth noting that all the three-mana planeswalkers in Jeskai Superfriends facilitate this plan.

Saheeli, Sublime Artificer is a little clunky in Jeskai Superfriends, so I could see Mu Yanling, Sky Dancer replacing that card. Sarkhan the Masterless is even better when you can use Yanling’s +2 to make sure their blockers don’t have flying, and you could add a few more Islands so the ultimate has an effect if a game gets to that point. That said, I suspect that the ultimate is an afterthought with Mu Yanling, Sky Dancer, as most of the time you’ll +2 a couple of times and -3 a couple of times, and that’ll get you your mana’s worth and then some.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Grixis Bolas-type decks. Ruey Jer Yeh made Top 8 of Grand Prix Taipei with this deck, which I believe is a fantastic landing spot for Mu Yanling, Sky Dancer, as the play pattern of +2 Mu Yanling, Sky Dancer on Turn 3, -3 Mu Yanling, Sky Dancer and cast Nicol Bolas, the Ravager on Turn 4 is a very exciting start. Further, Mu Yanling, Sky Dancer can be found off the two copies of Narset, Parter of Veils and both abilities help keep opposing threats busy until Sarkhan the Masterless or Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God can show up.

Cheap planeswalkers and early interaction are both great ways to ensure that your opponent will be off-balance enough that your Dragon-God will be alive when you untap the following turn. Games where you can untap with Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God are similar to games where you untap with Teferi, Hero of Dominaria; you run away with games where either is left unchecked. Even in games where Mu Yanling, Sky Dancer dies, it has likely made your opponent expend resources that line up favorably against your best cards.

The fact that you can’t immediately make a 4/4 with Mu Yanling may seem like a drawback, but in some situations, it can actually hamstring your opponent’s sequencing. One situation where this is readily apparent is when you have Thought Erasure. I can imagine a scenario where there are plenty of reasons for you to do something else on Turn 2 besides casting Thought Erasure, so you wait to cast it and deploy Mu Yanling, Sky Dancer on Turn 3 and use the +2 ability. On Turn 4, you can cast that Thought Erasure you held earlier in the game and now take the removal spell that answers your 4/4. You can also hold up a Negate instead and the result is functionally the same.

Because your token doesn’t enter the battlefield while you’re tapped out, you’re afforded the option to protect it if you decide you want to. Ritual of Soot works the same way in this regard. You can’t make your token until Turn 4 anyway, so you can make the token after casting Ritual of Soot, often getting a two-for-one and leaving yourself with two solid permanents, while your opponent is likely to be left with nothing on the battlefield.

The other situation where this can be a benefit is against Teferi, Time Raveler. Had you made the 4/4 flyer immediately, they could bounce it and gain value right away, but assuming you haven’t, the Teferi player is forced to +1 because you haven’t provided a target for the -3 of the problematic planeswalker. Now you’re free to remove Teferi on Turn 4 with a Vraska’s Contempt, an Angrath’s Rampage, or something similar. Then you can make the 4/4 and they still have to beat a 4/4 and an active planeswalker.

Moving Forward With Mu Yangling, Sky Dancer

I elected not to submit new decklists for this article and instead posted examples of existing shells, mostly because we’re weeks away from Core Set 2020 being legal and I think it’s more important to talk about the synergies that can surround a card, as doing this lets us realize why and how a card is good. At the beginning of a format, I think this is more important than looking at decklists constructed with imperfect information.

But rest assured that decklists with Mu Yangling, Sky Dancer are coming and I won’t be the only presenting them!