Tribal Thriftiness #108 – Planeswalkin’

The StarCityGames.com Open Series returns to Atlanta!
Thursday, April 8th – With both of the new Planeswalkers spoiled for Rise of the Eldrazi, Dave takes a look at the two new guys, and talks about a deck featuring an underused Planeswalker from Zendikar.

Last night my brother called me and, in the course of the conversation, I mentioned Magic and he asked me what was new in Magic. He hasn’t been around it in about six years; all of his involvement in it was through me, so I knew he hadn’t kept up with any of the fairly big strides that have taken place in the last five years. Never mind M10 rules changes — how do you explain to someone what a Planeswalker is? They’ve become so entrenched into our favorite game since their inception in Lorwyn that trying to remember what life was like pre-Planeswalker was actually kind of difficult. I believe the discourse went something like this:

Dave: “They kind of sit on the battlefield, like enchantments and artifacts, and do powerful stuff.”
Dave’s brother: “I see.”
Dave: “But they’re different because creatures can attack them …”
Dave’s brother: “Okay …”
Dave: “It’s kind of like getting another player on your side. They all have spells they can cast but you don’t pay any mana for them …”
Dave’s brother: “So how was your soccer game this week?”
Dave: “And there’s like a dozen different ones! You can make it like 5-on-1!”

I may have gotten a little over-enthusiastic there at the end, using more ‘likes’ than your average Valley girl. Yes, I am carbon-dating myself with that pop-culture reference.

I love Planeswalkers. I think they are probably the most interesting thing that has come out of Wizards in the last ten years, and really goes to show how much still is out there for them to invent and add to this game. The problem is, I don’t really get to talk about them too much in this column. My hope is that Wizards will continue to reprint popular ones in base sets in the future, so that casual and budget players will have good opportunities to pick up the Planeswalkers they want — because I still don’t own any Elspeths now that they’re forty bucks a pop, and I don’t anticipate holding any Gideons aside from opening one up in a pack.

And using that as a segueway…

Those Dang Gideons

“They stamped it, didn’t they.” Man I love that first Mission: Impossible movie.

Rise of the Eldrazi is bringing us two new Planeswalker cards, both of which have been spoiled on the mothership already. Both of them are continuing in the “push the boundaries of our Planeswalker expectations” that started with Jace, the Mind Sculptor back in Worldwake. The new player in the Planeswalking wars is Gideon Jura:

Gideon Jura – 3WW
Planeswalker – Gideon (M)
+2: During target opponent’s next turn, creatures that player controls attack Gideon Jura if able.
-2: Destroy target tapped creature.
0: Until end of turn, Gideon Jura becomes a 6/6 Human Soldier creature that’s still a planeswalker. Prevent all damage that would be dealt to him this turn.

The reason Gideon is pre-selling at forty bucks is because he’s a complete package for a control deck: his +2 ability ensures your survival, his -2 ability is removal, and his “ultimate” ability is a win condition. I’m sure this will come as no surprise to you, but control decks love to have cards with multiple purposes. Sure, Gideon’s ultimate ability makes him a little more vulnerable (as now he can die to a Terminate), but I think I’m more excited about his other abilities, which seem like they’ll slot into UW Control fairly nicely. No matter whether Gideon survives the onslaught or not, plopping him down and immediately activating his +2 ability will give you a turn of breathing room at the very least — one more chance to draw that Day of Judgment or draw spell to stabilize with.

I can see putting him into any white-based control deck and not even attacking with him. I mean, assuming I crack one in a pack or something. My relationship with Gideon is likely going to be similar to my relationship with Baneslayer Angel or Super-Jace — cards that I “live without” on account that a playset costs more than my cable bill.

Nuts About Planeswalkers

Gideon’s not the only Planeswalker in Rise of the Eldrazi though … we get a new incarnation of an old buddy:

Sarkhan the Mad – 3BR
Planeswalker – Sarkhan (M)
0: Reveal the top card of your library and put it into your hand. Sarkhan the Mad deals damage to himself equal to that card’s converted mana cost.
-2: Target creature’s controller sacrifices it, then that player puts a 5/5 red Dragon creature token with flying onto the battlefield.
-4: Each Dragon creature you control deals damage equal to its power to target player.

Sarkhan Vol is probably tied with Liliana Vess for “Planeswalker that sees the least actual play” — at least in my neck of the woods. When it comes to Planeswalkers, I think you want some flexibility, and Sarkhan Vol is … well, he’s strictly bashy, as my friend Emily would say. The new Sarkhan, though, makes for an interesting set of abilities: removal at his -2 spot, a win condition (albeit grossly conditional) in his ultimate, and then there’s that draw ability. That draw ability is good enough to see play every time it’s been printed — Necropotence, Yawgmoth’s Bargain, and even Phyrexian Arena in the “one-for-one” category, and Dark Confidant still sees a bunch of play in Extended with this exact ability. Is having Sarkhan take the damage for you better than taking it yourself — and “better” enough to match that five casting cost? We’ll see, but I’m leaning towards yes. I’d like to try him out in Grixis Control or just in a black/red control shell featuring a bunch of good discard.

The other thing that I’d like to do is to combo himself with himself and build Sarkhan Combo. How awesome would it be to have Sarkhan Vol in play, activate his ultimate to get five dragons, and then drop Sarkhan the Mad into play and activate his ultimate ability for the win? You wouldn’t even need to play any other Dragons.

Walkin’ in Standard

My love of Planeswalkers has rolled over into the deck I’m playing right now. Some of you may remember that I played Naya Planeswalkers a little bit about a year ago, and I tried to rebuild it earlier this year (with Novablast Wurm!) to some … small amount of success. I’m back on the Walker path right now, setting up to play in a WPN Championship qualifier (that will have occurred by the time you read this) and getting the tweaks out heading in to the PTQ on May 1st and National Qualifiers on May 15th. The often-indecisive-and-sometimes-griefy Rick Ashby and I have been putting in time on a red/white Planeswalker Control deck — here’s what it looks like right now:

3 Siege-Gang Commander

4 Ajani Vengeant
3 Chandra Ablaze

4 Lightning Bolt
4 Magma Spray
4 Burst Lightning
4 Path to Exile
3 Day of Judgment
2 Earthquake
3 Everflowing Chalice
2 Luminarch Ascension

4 Jungle Shrine
4 Arid Mesa
3 Dread Statuary
8 Mountain
3 Plains

Rare Cost Summary:
Siege-Gang Commander ($3.99 x 3 = $11.97)
Ajani Vengeant ($9.99 x 4 = $39.96)
Chandra Ablaze ($3.49 x 3 = $10.47)
Day of Judgment ($9.99 x 3 = $29.97)
Earthquake ($2.49 x 2 = $4.98)
Luminarch Ascension ($2.99 x 2 = $5.98)
Arid Mesa ($11.99 x 4 = $47.96)

Ways to Cut Costs: The Arid Mesas could work perfectly well as Terramorphic Expanses — it will just be a smidge slower, but only in terms of that first removal spell. You could also replace them with basics, but I think being able to fetch out the Plains for turn-four Ajani is pretty critical. The deck originally had Lavaball Trap ($0.59) in place of the Day of Judgment, and I liked it in the deck, but changed to Day of Judgment after having issues getting rid of Leatherback Baloths last week at FNM. Ajani Vengeant is CRITICAL to this deck, but there have been plenty of chances to pick him up (including FREE by attending a Pre-Release) so they should be easy to pick up in trades locally if you don’t already have your playset.

The first iteration had Valakut in its manabase. I wanted a secondary source of damage, and the fact that it was uncounterable was deemed “pretty good” since there is a little bit of blue control locally. The problem was supporting double-white for Day of Judgment (and initially triple-white for Iona!) in a manabase that wants to eventually dome people with Valakut — and so the first iteration lost the multi-white spells and went with Earthquake and Lavaball Trap as sweepers. The problem was that between the Statuaries and random Plains, I was rarely getting to activate Valakut, so it was decreed as “not good enough” to justify its inclusion and warping of the manabase. With Valakut gone, we could cut down on the number of Mountains in the deck and run more color fixers, and that opened Day of Judgment back up to us.

Chandra Ablaze has proven to be a formidable ally in this type of deck. It never feels bad discarding a removal spell to her +1 ability because (a) it turns into removal anyways — usually more than is printed on the spell, and (2) it doesn’t take long before all those removal spells come back out of the graveyard pointing straight at your opponent. I’ll be honest — I’ve even discard non-red cards to her just to build towards her ultimate ability — but with nearly half of the cards in the deck being red, you should almost always be able to pitch at least one red card in the turns leading up to her ultimate ability. If not — just Wheel and pick up some more removal!

Luminarch Ascension is the most recent addition to the deck. With Valakut leaving, it seemed likely that another win condition needed to enter the deck, and I haven’t had many issues taking damage from creatures, so I’m trying this out. There’s another two in the sideboard against control decks, because sneaking one down prior to countermagic coming online is way more important there.

I’ll post up results in the comments thread, if anyone’s interested.

Next Week

We should have enough of an idea of how Rise of the Eldrazi is shaping up, and finally get a good taste of the commons and uncommons that will flesh out the set. So far we’ve gotten mostly rares and mythics, so it’s always interesting to see those “filler” cards that don’t get revealed until the bitter end. More Rise previews next week!

Until then…


dave dot massive at gmail and davemassive on twitter and facebook