Ideas Unbound: Changing Planeswalkers

Happy hump day everybody. Today I will be taking my writing into a more experimental direction. The War of the Spark Spoilers have me thinking more and more about Planeswalkers. I do enjoy them as a card type but I do see room for improvement in the rules behind them. Today I would like to discuss their rarity, their role as Commanders, and the underlying rules for loyalty abilities.

More non-Mythic Planeswalkers
I have long opposed the unwritten rule at WotC stating that “Planeswalkers must be printed at Mythic rarity”. The Lorwyn five were the first Planewalker cards ever printed and they predate the Mythic rarity. To be clear, I oppose the existence of the Mythic rarity in general. It has a swingy effect on limited formats; which already suffer from greater variance. Though I do respect the argument that is a necessary evil. Mythics do not usually have a dramatic effect on the expected value of packs, but the average pack buyer is totally unaware of the expected value concept. They saw a cool Mythic online so they want to buy a pack. More people opening packs drives down the price of singles and makes the game more accessible. However, I do not believe that Planeswalkers must always be Mythic rares. Following this rule somewhat ties WotCs’ hands when it comes to design. It pushes them to make all Planeswalkers very powerful in order to be worthy of the rarity.

This would force power creep though so we often end up with many Walkers that are not even Standard playable. Therefore they are low priced and supremely disappointing to pull as a Mythic because Mythics are perceived to be extremely powerful, expensive cards. I am not ragging on WotC here though. As we have seen, War of the Spark contains Planeswalkers at both the Rare and Uncommon rarities. I am a huge fan of Planeswalkers at Rare and want it to continue going forward. This may be a bit wild but if they are going to keep the Mythic rarity, I would prefer that it is the place for the less playable Rares. I want the Mythic rarity to be the place for fringe playable cards; such as the very obvious Commander plants that often plague the Rare rarity. Cards that will have low demand should also have low supply and vice-versa. The expected value of a set should be more evenly distributed across the rarities. Obviously it cannot be even but consolidating value at Mythic turns boxes into a cardboard lottery; see Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy in Magic Origins. They are doing something great here and I do not want them to regress after War of the Spark.

Allow All Planeswalkers as Commanders
I will be transparent and say that I am not a particularly big fan of Commander due to the political aspects. But I do understand that there are different formats to cater to different types of players. It is extremely popular and WotC has made it abundantly clear that they design cards specifically for it in every set. I am of the opinion that Planeswalkers should be options as commanders as well. This would introduce nearly over 150 new options for Commander players to choose from. They have already printed a Planeswalker that can act as a commander in each color in Commander 2014 to much fanfare. There is no story-based reasoning for their legality; it just says so on the card. So with the release of War of the Spark, why not open the floodgates? I have seen some use the slippery slope fallacy asking, “What’s next then? Any legendary permanent?”. The point of a Commander is that it is a character. It is typically an icon that the player identifies with in one way or another. We are not going to slippery slope into Eye of Ugin; that is a significant leap in logic. Planeswalkers are on the table because they are the primary iconic characters of the game. A more credible concern that I hear is power level. Many players believe that Planeswalkers are more powerful than the creature options because of their game-winning ultimates.

Planeswalkers can minus themselves out and then be recast from the command zone later. In particular, the green ones are feared because Doubling Season will allow them to enter with double counters; allowing them to ultimate on the spot in some cases. Ajani, Mentor of Heroes will jump the player up to 100 life on the spot and Vraskas can set up for a quick kill. The most powerful though would be Sarkhan Unbroken as he allows the user to play three colors and the ultimate would win on the spot. I would be willing to ban Doubling Season; an obnoxious card in the format in general to bring all of these Commanders into legality though. Regardless, this is totally unnecessary. We are talking about a five mana enchantment followed by an expensive Planeswalker. If a pod of players is competitive enough to have this happening, I imagine at least one of them actually runs interaction. Such a combo is actually weaker than what is currently available in the format; even among Planeswalker Commanders. Teferi, Temporal Archmage combos with The Chain Veil and regularly wins on Turn 3 or 4. No other Planeswalker has these powerful options to my knowledge. The only truly concerning Planeswalker is Sorin Markov as he can blast a player down to 10 life upon entry. However, he would not be stronger than the black creatures that are currently legal as Commanders. He is expensive, lacks synergy options, and only targets one player. Again though, I would gladly ban one card to introduce over 150 new options to the format.

Modify the Rules on Loyalty Abilities
This is one that has bothered me since I started playing but I promise that it is not sour grapes. As we all know, loyalty abilities are set in the rules as a form of activated ability because they contain a colon that separates cost and effect. Activated abilities have you pay the cost and then the effect is placed on the stack. I learned this the hard way years ago in Standard when I attempted to Incinerate a Liliana of the Veil in response to her +1. The ability was on the stack but adding loyalty counters to her is considered a cost so she enters with three and then goes up to four without passing priority. It made no sense to me that the addition of loyalty counters was a cost; in the english language a cost is a required payment.

To this day it still bothers me from a game design perspective; it is unintuitive. The workaround would be to no longer print Planeswalkers with colons and to not list them as activated abilities within the rules. Loyalty abilities would be filed as their own section. The change in loyalty counters would be placed on the stack as a part of the loyalty; loyalty would not change until the ability resolves. Planeswalkers that begin with three loyalty, such as Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Liliana of the Veil would then be vulnerable to Lightning Bolt upon entry. This is not my goal just a side effect; my goal is to refine the rules to be intuitive. I already find Lightning Bolt’s power level in Modern to be atrocious, we just accept it because it always has been around, and I do not want to take tools away from UWx and GBx decks. I lament these side effects but I will always carry this pipe dream. I know this change will never happen but my passion for intuitive game design will always prevent me from letting it go.

I know that the loyalty rules change is never going to happen but I do believe that we a solid chance of seeing the other two ideas come to pass. What Planeswalker would you like to try out as your commander? Also what do you think about this new Ideas Unbound Series? I understand that new ideas make some players uncomfortable. Either way, we would love to hear your thoughts in our discussion group. Or if you would like to take a swing at writing content for the site you can contact us directly here. We will be back tomorrow with the April update to our Modern Humans guide. Until then my friends.

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