For my Magic: Remastered cube, I’m aiming to have around ten planeswalkers while balancing color representation. In this article series, I am analyzing all multicolor planeswalkers to see which ones are most appropriate, before settling on a color configuration.
This article covers the white-black planeswalkers, as the first of five articles analyzing the enemy-pair planeswalkers.
I have four main criteria for this analysis, derived from the overarching goals of Magic: Remastered. I also have a strong desire to avoid planeswalkers that are slam-dunk first picks and/or that utterly dominate any game in which they are played. My criteria, in approximate order of importance-
Theme: I want planeswalkers to have a strong theme that drives draft picks, deck construction, and in-game choices. I want to prevent players from simply drafting and casting a powerful planeswalker without caring about the implications on their deck and game plan. A planeswalker with an “A” for Theme will generally require a player to build their deck a certain way (e.g. heavy on artifacts) in order for the planeswalker to be playable at all. A planeswalker with an “F” can be dropped into virtually any deck and be powerful all by itself.
Vulnerability: I want planeswalkers to be vulnerable, to increase the chance that an opponent can interact with it. This helps to minimize games where a planeswalker single-handedly creates a hopeless situation for the opponent. Players will need to deploy a planeswalker with care, either putting effort into defending the planeswalker with other creatures and spells, or accepting that the planeswalker will have a brief impact on the game and then go away. A planeswalker with an “A” for Vulnerability has no ability to create creature tokens, destroy creatures, or otherwise defend itself without the use of other cards. A planeswalker with an “F” has multiple abilities that protect itself, or possibly a single high-power ability.
Signature Spells: In order to ensure my cube represents a rich, vibrant world, I want its legends to be represented across multiple cards, through card names, flavor text, and art. This is extra important for planeswalkers, so I’m actively looking for planeswalkers that have “signature spells”. Similar to Mordenkainen’s spells in Dungeons and Dragons, cool and unique spells with a character’s name on them gives depth to the world and positions planeswalkers as the “stuff of legends”. A planeswalker with an “A” for Signature Spells will have at least one spell with their name on it that actively plays well with their loyalty abilities and fits the general criteria for my cube. A planeswalker with an “F” has no signature spells. Note: I am not considering flavor text or art here. I will be doing a flavor/art pass for any planeswalker I do include, but I specifically care about card names here.
Elegance: One of the core tenants for the Magic: Remastered cube is that each card is as simple and elegant as possible, representing the ideal execution of a single concept. Legendary cards get to bend that rule a bit, being somewhat self-defined. (What is the “ideal execution” of a unique fictional being?) Planeswalkers are also inherently complex, and I’d rather concentrate the “complexity points” for my cube into as few cards as possible. However, my ideal planeswalker will still tell a coherent story, with abilities that use as few words and concepts as possible to accomplish that. A planeswalker with an “A” for Elegance has three abilities that all work together in interesting combinations to tell a coherent gameplay “story”, and do so without any extraneous words. A planeswalker with an “F” has three unrelated, wordy abilities with extra riders that are only there for rules or balance reasons.
And now, on to the white-black planeswalkers!
Theme: D. Kaya is almost entirely about stealing value from your opponent. You can maximize her value by combining the first ability with powerful “enters the battlefield” effects, so she narrowly avoids an F grade.
Vulnerability: C. At the cost of 2 life a turn, you can keep her safe from opposing creatures and sorceries until you draw something better to protect her. This also lets you reset her loyalty, or if there’s only one opposing threat, turn off its abilities and blocking. The only thing that keeps this from being a lower grade is the life payment, which will generally force you to expose or protect Kaya at some point.
Signature Spells: F. (none)
Elegance: B. The abilities line up conceptually, the life gain and payment interact with each other, and fit the character concept. Two of the abilities are satisfyingly concise. I hate having a four-line first ability, with an unfortunately necessary “up to one” and the life payment hiding at the end. I also mildly dislike the “each” wording, as I’m not trying to make a cube that makes sense in multiplayer. On the counterpoint, I do find this design very interesting and unique mechanically, with no inherent plus ability but instead the ability to reset her loyalty.
Theme: C. Sorin encourages you to build a “go-wide” deck full of cheap creatures and token generation. However, most decks play a decent number of creatures and Sorin is serviceable all by himself.
Vulnerability: D. Making tokens is one of the most egregious offenders for this category. The only thing stopping this from an F grade is the negative loyalty cost. These abilities work really well from almost any strategic position- defense, offense, early, or late. It forces your opponent to trade resources for what is often less-than-a-card worth of value. If they can’t, you’re increasing board presence and the window of opportunity to stop your planeswalker quickly vanishes.
Signature Spells: C. Sorin’s two spells are clean designs that are befitting of a legendary vampire planeswalker, but they don’t interact with the abilities of Sorin, Solemn Visitor. Sorin’s Vengeance is particularly noteworthy as having enough splash and uniqueness to be credited to a character by name.
Elegance: C. Sorin’s first two abilities go well together, but the third feels fairly arbitrary. The “until your next turn” clause is also unusual and easy to forget- I would much rather it only work on offense.
Theme: C. Everything I said for Sorin, Solemn Visitor applies here as well.
Vulnerability: D. Compared to Sorin, Solemn Visitor, this version of Sorin makes smaller tokens, but increases loyalty in the process of doing so.
Signature Spells: C. See Sorin, Solemn Visitor.
Elegance: B. Again, the first two abilities go well together but the ultimate is somewhat arbitrary. At least it feels more “vampiric”. I’m much happier with the use of an emblem to track bonuses that last past the current turn. If I end up looking for a set of planeswalkers that all explore planeswalker mechanical space in unique ways, this Sorin might make the cut due to his ability to generate an emblem the turn you play him.
Theme: F. This variant of Sorin is purely about incremental value, fitting into pretty much any deck that’s willing to include a six mana gold card.
Vulnerability: D. The middle ability will stop almost any threat on the spot with upside. I accept that some number of planeswalkers will be able to deal with some number of creatures, but this ability goes too far.
Signature Spells: A. Same spells as the other Sorins, obviously, but both of theme make sense as incarnations of his middle ability here, as well as supporting his ultimate. Revealing Sorin’s Vengeance to the first ability is also a super sweet story.
Elegance: F. His abilities have very little interconnection, are quite wordy overall, and struggle to tell a coherent story from either a flavor or mechanical perspective. There’s even an instance of “each opponent” and an extraneous creature type (Knight) on the tokens that is unlikely to ever be relevant.
There is nothing here I actively want to put in my cube. I would accept Sorin, Lord of Innistrad or Kaya as a placeholder if I determine that I need a white-black planeswalker to finish out a color cycle, but I won’t be happy about it. These two are both interesting and potentially unique mechanically, so I would accept their inclusion if I end up with enough otherwise solid choices that I can focus on mechanical uniqueness as a factor.
I originally predicted I would be settling on a cycle of enemy-color planeswalkers for Magic: Remastered, but the white-black planeswalkers are already calling that into question. We’ll have to see what the other four pairs bring us.