I’ll never forget when Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker was spoiled in Conflux. He was the most expensive planeswalker of all time at that point (and still is to this day) and easily one of the most powerful if you can get around the massive 8-mana casting cost. Heck, I still have a blast casting Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker in the powered-up Legacy and Vintage Cubes on Magic Online, and when you can cast an 8-mana planeswalker alongside things like Yawgmoth’s Will and Ancestral Recall, that has to be a testament to its power level.
There have been 7 other planeswalkers since the original Nicky B. that have a cost of 7 mana or more, and with the addition of 3 (yes, 3) of them in Hour of Devastation, I’m ready to rank all of them and see where they’ve landed in competitive Constructed applications.
#8) Liliana, Death Wielder
#7) Nissa, Genesis Mage
#6) Nicol Bolas, the Deceiver
I can see why you might have been confused when I mentioned that there were three 7-mana planeswalkers in Hour of Devastation, but all should be clear now. Nissa, Genesis Mage and Nicol Bolas, the Deceiver were both available in the planeswalker decks from Hour of Devastation.
Unfortunately, I feel like I have to rank all three of these together because none of them have (or likely will) see any competitive play—they’re simply lowered-powered, over-costed planeswalkers that are geared toward newer players and stuck in a supplemental product. Unlike the other planeswalkers on this list, these only cost 7 mana because they need to come across as big and splashy (at least that’s my theory).
Take Liliana, Death Wielder. Upon first glance her ultimate seems great, returning all the creature cards in your graveyard to the battlefield, and it only takes 3 activations to reach. But upon further inspection, you realize this is just a weaker version of Liliana Vess’ ability, and Liliana Vess wasn’t breaking any competitive records. On top of that, Liliana, Death Wielder doesn’t even have abilities that synergize with her ultimate! I guess if you consider her killing a creature for -3 loyalty synergy then maybe she has some, but other iterations of the necromancer have her discarding cards or milling players, which is far more complementary.
Unfortunately, the other two planeswalkers are pretty similar in this regard. They do a good job of giving you an idea of what the planeswalkers represent, but they’re cheap imitations of their more powerful versions (even if they do have reasonably cool ultimates).
#5) Garruk, Apex Predator
Garruk, Apex Predator is an interesting one. Not only was he the first 7-mana planeswalker to be a colored spell, he was also the second planeswalker to have 4 abilities aside from Jace, the Mind Sculptor, which was a huge deal. While giving a planeswalker 4 abilities is usually an indication of wanting to “push” it, Garruk never saw a tremendous amount of competitive play while he was legal in Standard, and his older format applications are virtually nonexistent—I assume this has to do with a hefty price tag and two specific colors.
Otherwise, Garruk has some great abilities: Making sizable creatures, killing creatures, gaining life, and killing other planeswalkers. The flavor game is definitely on point with that last one. Ironically, Garruk did everything you wanted from a planeswalker, yet he never really got the attention he deserved.
#4. Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh
I doubt Nicol Bolas will ever be higher on this list, but it’s still up in the air, which can easily be attributed to the fact that so far he’s unproven. He’s definitely seeing play in control decks in Standard—in higher numbers than Garruk, Apex Predator did—and this weekend’s Pro Tour should make it even clearer where the God-Pharaoh ranks in terms of all-time expensive planeswalkers. As of right now, though, despite being the fourth planeswalker ever to have the 4 coveted abilities, we’re just going to have to keep a close eye on the newest iteration of the Elder Dragon to see if he’s as good as the next Elder Dragon on the list (which is… uh… the same Elder Dragon).
#3. Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker
Ah, the planeswalker that started it all. I mentioned him a good deal in the beginning, but this Nicol Bolas is still game-ending and can still hold his own with most other planeswalkers on this list. Being able to destroy or gain control of any permanent, including other planeswalkers, is just huge, and his ultimate is nothing to scoff at. You know—because it wins you the game. The allusion to Cruel Ultimatum in his final ability here is just gas and definitely a flavor win. In terms of raw power, I think only two other planeswalkers even come close, and that’s only due to their broader applications.
#2. Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
I remember when Ugin was first revealed and he seemed like one of the most impressive planeswalkers ever printed. Not only was he the second colorless planeswalker in the history of the game, he also cost 8 mana, making him the second 8-mana planeswalker in the history of the game.
When you take his Magic milestones away, you still have an extremely powerful card that does a little bit of everything you want from a planeswalker. The first thing I look for is that they protect themselves, and Ugin does this with not just his first ability, but also his second. And I’m not talking about some unimpressive protection here—I’m talking about some real beau coup protection abilities here, one of which doubles as a win condition. It still surprises me that his -X ability exiles things.
Just like Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker, Ugin has an insanely powerful ultimate ability (the inverse of Nicholas B. Olas, actually) that is almost guaranteed to lock up a game for you. 7 life, 7 cards, and up to 7 free spells? Yeah, that’ll do.
#1. Karn Liberated
Obviously, the number one big-mana planeswalker would be Karn Liberated. Was there any other outcome? Karn was the second planeswalker ever printed that cost more than 6 mana and the first ever colorless planeswalker.
Karn has seen play in every format he’s been legal outside of maybe Vintage. He was a huge part of control decks in Standard, he sees play in Legacy in various 12-Post decks, and he’s a regular fixture in Modern Tron decks. Karn does everything you could possibly want, from removing problematic permanents, including lands, to restarting the game. Karn immediately going to 10 loyalty with his +4 ability is also nothing to scoff at, making him quite the formidable adversary.
Well, that’s all of them! Thanks a ton for reading, and be sure to let me know if your rankings differ from mine. Also, let me know what you guys think of these planeswalkers, as they’re all aces in my (admittedly Timmy) book!