It’s Like Rain On Your Wedding Day

Jim looks at the supremely-ironic Ajani, Mentor of Heroes (who shall never trigger Heroic, ever) and brews up some solid first drafts putting everyone’s favorite Leonin Planeswalker to work.

Qasali Pridemage Knight of the Reliquary Gaddock Teeg Loam Lion Kitchen Finks Dryad Militant

Green/White is one of the most difficult color combinations in my cube. Just take a look at the cards that didn’t make the cut (and maybe should):

Mirari's Wake Voice of Resurgence Fleecemane Lion Selesnya Charm Loxodon Smiter

And so on. Green/White has perhaps the best density of awesome multicolor cards of any of the ten combinations. Yet for some reason it is also the only color combination without a planeswalker! Somehow Gruul has three already and poor Selensya is left out in the cold.

No longer:

Ajani, Mentor of Heroes

Planeswalkers are notoriously hard to evaluate, and in the hour I’ve had so far with Ajani, Mentor of Heroes I’ve been on both sides of the fence. Let’s start at the top and work our way down.

Mana Cost: 3GW

Unfortunately Ajani lies on the wrong side of the four mana planeswalker divide. Four mana has been the sweet spot for planeswalkers, and most of the walkers that have seen major play as archetype staples have cost four or less.

Jace, Architect of Thought Ajani Vengeant Xenagos, the Reveler Garruk Wildspeaker Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas

All of these walkers were often three or four-ofs in their respective decks, and were major players in their decks’ strategy.

The five-plus mana walkers don’t always fare so well. While many have been good enough to see play, they are often used as one- or two-of’s and as an extra threat rather than an archetype staple.

Garruk, Primal Hunter Gideon Jura Tamiyo, the Moon Sage Sarkhan the Mad

While this is not a bad place to be, these cards usually don’t define their decks. If you take Domri Rade out of G/R/x Monsters or Jace, Architect of Thought out of Esper Control, they are drastically different decks. If you take Garruk, Primal Hunter out of Jund, you’re simply removing one of its tools.

Ajani will follow this trend.

As for the color combination, green and white seems perfectly suited for this type of planeswalker. Because green and white threats are often creatures, Ajani gives both colors a non-creature threat that can help either bolster creatures already in play or provide a constant stream of new creatures. Green also has the acceleration to help cast Ajani ahead of schedule, to mitigate the somewhat high mana cost.

+1: Distribute three +1/+1 counters among one, two, or three target creatures you control.

Interestingly enough, while Ajani’s +1 has the exact text of this card:

It is actually very different. One of the best uses for Reap what is Sown is a Heroic enabler that can target three creatures with only one spell, and while Ajani has the exact same game text his ability is not a spell and will not trigger Heroic.

This is of course pretty ironic, as the Mentor of Heroes can’t actually mentor any heroes at all.

And who would have thought it figures...

Despite this flavor fail, Ajani does a great job at being a three-power pseudo-haste creature which can help your creatures get past blockers of any size. It’s not hard to see that a few activations of Ajani’s +1 will win any creature war, and while the creature boost lacks the defensive vigilance of Ajani Goldmane’s power boost, the fact that it is a plus ability rather than a minus helps to make this less of an issue.

+1: Look at the top four cards of your library. You may reveal an Aura, creature, or planeswalker card from among them and put that card into your hand. Put the rest on the bottom of your library in any order.

This is the ability that excites me the most. One of the things that green and white creature decks often lack is any sort of a late game push… once you’re out of creatures, you’re limited to whatever resides on the top of your deck. With a +1 that is very close to “Draw a card,” Ajani is on par with many other planeswalkers that produce card advantage turn after turn like Chandra, Pyromaster and Jace, the Mind Sculptor. The fact that you can keep this card advantage flowing while ticking his loyalty up makes him hard to kill and a very resilient source of consistent advantage.

While Ajani does have the slight deckbuilding limitation of needing you to put a reasonable amount of creatures, planeswalkers, and/or auras in your deck, this is not nearly as prohibitive as a planeswalker like Domri Rade. Considering Ajani’s first ability, and the colors he resides in, it is pretty safe to assume that your deck will have enough of these three card types to hit essentially every time.

-8: You Gain 100 Life.

Planeswalker ultimates are pretty unimportant when evaluating them, and that’s a good thing because Ajani’s is pretty awful. While, yes, hitting the ultimate may keep you alive for a while, if you are in a losing position it is not likely that a green/white creature deck is going to be able to have the velocity to turn that position around in the late game. If your Mono-Black opponent is drawing two cards a turn off of Underworld Connections or your U/W Control opponent is casting Sphinx’s Revelation for nine, gaining 100 life is simply going to draw out the misery of them grinding you into oblivion as they finish the formality of killing you over many more turns now.

While it seems like Ajani’s ultimate could have some real value against aggressive decks, if you have already had the time to plus your five mana planeswalker four times, it’s extremely unlikely that you will need 100 life to help you close the game.

Make no mistake, Ajani’s power lies in his other abilities.

Starting Loyalty: 4

Loyalty-wise, Ajani is very similar to one of the top three planeswalkers of all time:

Both start on four loyalty, and both only go in one direction: up. Anyone who has played against Elspeth, Knight Errant knows how hard it is to actually kill her with attackers or damage, and this is a huge plus in Ajani’s favor. However, Elspeth also never had to deal with the likes of Hero’s Downfall, Dreadbore, and Detention Sphere, so Ajani is not going to be as absurdly resilient.

Ajani also has the bonus of being a more aggressive planeswalker, which means it is less likely that your opponent will be able to manage defending your attacks while simultaneously attacking him. Ajani can survive a hit from a Stormbreath Dragon, and also will not die to a Warleader’s Helix. Ajani’s pretty durable, which is very important for any five mana planeswalker.

Brewing with Ajani

While I don’t think Ajani will be a dominant force in Standard like Jace, Architect of Thought or Domri Rade, I do think he will definitely have a fairly major impact. Let’s see what we can do with him.

Considering how they both want to be in decks with a lot of creatures, Domri Rade and Ajani, Mentor of Heroes seem like they would be fast friends. Being able to add many of the powerful green/white creatures to the red/green shell while also gaining access to one of the best removal spells in the format in Chained to the Rocks seems like a pretty nice place to start.

While this is an extremely theorycrafted rough draft, there are a number of nice synergies here. Voice of Resurgence and Ajani give the deck some more resilience than Green/Red Monsters has while maintaining the threat of powerful planeswalkers against the control decks. Chained to the Rocks solves Desecration Demon and other large creatures (often a huge problem for green decks), and the Domri Rade + Boros Reckoner combo is still extremely potent. You can even use Ajani to grab Chained to the Rocks because it’s an aura!

The only thing that really scares me about a deck like this is how prevalent Lifebane Zombie currently is. When Lifebane Zombie is going to hit every time it is an absurd Magic card, and trying to fight it is a very difficult proposition. Still, I think a shell like this definitely has potential.

Ajani’s flexibility is also something that is not to be underestimated. While Domri Rade leaves you locked in on creatures, Ajani is also capable of grabbing other planeswalkers and auras as well. While somewhat counterintuitive, it is very possible to use him in a more controlling shell as well:

Adding Ajani, Mentor of Heroes to an already impressive planeswalker lineup of Jace, Kiora, and Elspeth makes for a pretty sweet looking Superfriends-style deck. If you’re ever able to assemble a few of these walkers in play it is going to be very difficult to lose, as they slowly grind out their advantage turn after turn.

The deck also features Sylvan Caryatid and Kiora’s Follower to allow you to cast your walkers early and Courser of Kruphix to keep the land and life flowing. Both creatures are great early defenders that can help to protect your life total early and your walkers late. Because of this we move away from Supreme Verdict, which our opponents might play around anyway. Archangel of Thune is our late-game creature, while Keening Apparition is an underplayed creature that currently has targets in every major matchup.

With this mix of planeswalkers and utility creatures along with two Verdant Haven, our total Ajani hit count comes to 25. This means Ajani will be giving you some nice card selection, but will it be better than something like Jace, Memory Adept who also draws you a card a turn? It’s hard to say if Ajani will be worth it if his first ability isn’t as relevant.

All in all, Ajani, Mentor of Heroes is a pretty exciting card. It’s definitely not a format-defining Planeswalker like Jace, Architect of Thought or Liliana of the Veil, but it is definitely good enough to see a solid amount of play in any deck that calls for it.

Does Ajani have what it takes? Where do you think he fits best?