I love planeswalkers. You love planeswalkers. Professional Magic players love planeswalkers. WotC loves planeswalkers. Your grandmother might not love planeswalkers but she sure is intrigued by the girl with the fire hair and the burly man with the whip. For the last four years Jace and company have been the face of the game and will be for the foreseeable future. Any why wouldn’t they? They’re a big reason why packs fly off shelves why people hit refresh twenty times at midnight during spoiler season and why the game has had an insane upward trajectory since their introduction.
– Justin Parnell, Planeswalker Magic: The Intervention

Jace, the Mind SculptorGarruk, Primal Hunter

Planeswalkers are perhaps the most appealing and resonant additions to modern Magic. They’re also some of the most powerful. Yet, many experienced cube designers advocate limiting their numbers. Let’s find out why.

Life Gain

The primary method for removing planeswalkers is attacking. Every point of damage done to a planeswalker is a point of damage not dealt to a player. Moreover, most planeswalkers demand an answer. Unless you can end the game immediately, ignoring a planeswalker is catastrophic. They continue to yield value for their controllers turn after turn. As you add these pseudo “life gain” effects to your cube, it can become increasingly difficult to balance aggro in your environment.

For example, imagine you have the following army against your opponent’s empty board:
Burning-Tree EmissaryDeadbridge Goliath

Then your opponent drops Elspeth, Kinght-Errant to the table.
Elspeth, Knight-Errant

Although you were well ahead, your opponent can now fog you for a long time. Each turn Elspeth can gain a loyalty and pump out a chump blocker for the Deadbridge Goliath, and only two damage from the Burning-Tree Emissary. Without any changes, Elspeth will take a long time to take off the table. She’ll start at 5 loyalty, drop to 3, tick up to 4, down to 2, and so on.

True, it seldom plays out this way, but planeswalkers that hit the board are often speedbumps that slow down aggro’s path to victory.

Card Advantage

In addition to gaining life, planeswalkers provide a recurring source of card advantage to their controllers.

A ramification of the fact that the cube basically plays like Limited is that lots of games come down to being a turn or a card ahead. More games are decided in this way than by “your deck is a good matchup for my deck” because archetypes are more flexible and the specific sequence of draws in a deck is more variable.

This gets really important when you consider that planeswalkers practically by definition put you ahead in cards with their abilities or in turns by their fog effect. Planeswalkers are so strongly related to card advantage that they have a big impact on games in the cube. I don’t intend to be alarmist — I like having planeswalkers in the cube and I enjoy the fact that they create interesting decisions for both players — and as a part of the game they should absolutely be represented in the cube.

Overall I think that planeswalkers are stronger in the cube than in Constructed though not as game-breaking as in normal Limited. I don’t think that is intrinsically a problem but as I’ve said before in this column I don’t want to win or lose games on the back of one card. I’d rather have planeswalkers be special an unusual challenge for your opponent.
– Thea Steele, Stop Walking all over my Cube

The Feel (Planeswalker Wars)

Further, many players and designers don’t like the feel of games that are repeatedly dominated by planeswalkers. Once a second planeswalker hits the board, games feel less like the traditional Magic we all know and love and more like a game colloquially referred to as “Planeswalker Wars”.

Originally a cube was put together as the most powerful cards in the history of Magic. But I’ve gotten to the point where I am now sculpting a specific environment of how I want drafts/sealed/rotisserie to play out.
– Justin Parnell, Planeswalker Magic: The Intervention

We’re in complete control of the environments we create, and if games aren’t providing the experience we desire, it’s time to make a change.

In Practice

Planeswalkers are fun, but this is an instance where there can be too much of a good thing. In my 360 card cube, I push aggro very hard run about 15 planeswalkers: 1-2 of each color, and a handful of multicolor ‘walkers. Further, a number of these planeswalkers are narrower context-dependent cards that require the right type of deck to succeed. They don’t get played every draft, but provide nice texture to the environment and still give players the feeling of playing with sweet cards.

Ajani, Caller of the PrideVenser, the SojournerTezzeret, Agent of BolasSarkhan the Mad

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