Carrie On – Fire

I had some ideas for this week’s article but then this happened this morning…

That’s right, the latest incarnation of the planeswalker Chandra has arrived in M14. The internet has been rife with speculation about this card ever since the announcement that a new one was on its way, and now she is finally here!

I have a (not very secret) love of red. I won my first ever tournament with a mono-red deck–good old [card]Devastating Summons[/card]/[card]Goblin Bushwhacker[/card] combo. I’ll also draft red whenever given the option. I especially love burn spells. The ability to close out a game with that last little bit of reach has always appealed to me, although I agree it is frustrating from the opposite side of the table to watch them topdeck that [card]Lightning Bolt[/card] when you otherwise have the game.

These days I’m less excited about Red Deck Wins and more about using red in a more controlling or midrange list. Decks like Assault Loam and Jund in Modern or Aristocrats and Jund (again) in Standard. The big question: is new Chandra any good?

Planeswalkers need a selection of the following characteristics to be playable:

• The ability to protect themselves (e.g. [card]Unsummon[/card])
• The ability to generate marginal value while gaining loyalty (e.g. Fateseal)
• The ability to gain significant advantage (e.g. [card]Brainstorm[/card])
• A reasonable casting cost (e.g. 4)
• The ability to win the game (e.g. Mill their entire deck)

When you put all of these together, you get [card]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/card].

If you consider other planeswalkers (played and unplayed) you can really see, using these criteria, where they fail or succeed. For example, [card]Tamiyo, the Moon Sage[/card] has the ability to protect herself which also gains loyalty. This generates marginal value as you negate their creature or deny a mana source. Her -2 can sometimes gain you significant value but it’s very situational, her casting cost of 5 is believable but a touch higher than you might like. While her ultimate won’t directly win the game, you should win in short order. All-in-all she is perfectly reasonable and the good points make up for the weaknesses.

However, let’s now consider [card]Vraska the Unseen[/card] who is yet to see any significant play in Constructed. She can protect herself, but generates no value while doing so (she’s a pretty selfish entity). Her -3 generates significant value as it also protects her, but you can only do it once before having to use the aforementioned poor value +1. Her casting cost is believable but, like Tamiyo, also a touch on the high side and requires more colors of mana, which makes it slightly more restrictive. While her ultimate technically provides the ability to win the game it is so easily countered that the investment you would have to put into it is not worth it. So, basically you are running a really expensive removal spell.

Some of these requirements are more negotiable than others. For example, [card]Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker[/card] hits every point really well, except that he has such a restrictive and high mana cost that he has only seen play in very few decks.

I’ve never broken down planeswalkers like this, but it’s fun and really helps them make sense.

Chandra is not the next [card]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/card]. She will not see play in every deck playing red, nor will every other deck attempt to produce red mana in order to play her. This is a good thing (sorry Jace fans). I’m quietly excited about this new Chandra, even so.

If you think about all the planeswalkers that have seen significant Constructed play, they are predominately blue. Planeswalkers inherently provide “value” to a deck (at least the good ones do), however, in order to make use of this “value” they need to be in play for several turns. This generally lends itself to either controlling or more midrange style decks that can take the time to use them.

If you play [card]Jace Beleren[/card] and only get to draw one card then he hasn’t been worth the investment, after all you could just play [card]Reach through Mists[/card] if you wanted to just draw a card. However, after 5 turns with [card]Jace Beleren[/card] in play you will have drawn 5 extra cards while your opponent has drawn just 1.

Generally, red decks don’t want to hang around for five turns to get this out of a card. The entire color is geared towards fast and aggressive strategies and that makes it quite difficult to make a planeswalker attractive to a red player. The previous incarnations of Chandra saw some fringe play, but never made that big an impact in their respective formats. The most successful red planeswalker was [card]Koth of the Hammer[/card]. The +1 ability fit nicely into an aggressive strategy as it immediately generated more damage, and if he wasn’t dealt with, his ultimate was fantastic for finishing off a game. There have been no other mono-red planeswalkers (no Tibalt, you don’t count go away). Interestingly, combining red with other colors seems to be a bit more successful—I’m thinking [card]Ajani Vengeant[/card] and [card]Domri Rade[/card]. When you enter into multi-colored you can avoid the inherent problem:

Red = Aggressive and fast.
Planeswalkers = more passive and long-term.

Will Chandra make it? Let’s look an each ability individually.

+1: Chandra, Pyromaster deals 1 damage to target player and 1 damage to up to one target creature that player controls. That creature can’t block this turn.

This ability is hard to judge as it’s very board state/matchup-dependent, however, it’s certainly capable of both providing marginal value while generating loyalty and protecting her. She will have 5 loyalty after immediately plus-ing, so if you can take out something like a [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] or [card]Lightning Mauler[/card] then hopefully there is no longer enough damage to kill her and you got value while progressing your win condition.

0: Exile the top card of your deck. You may play it this turn.

This is a very exciting ability. It has the potential to generate significant card advantage without costing loyalty. However, it’s going to require a very particular sort of deck. Let’s clear up some confusion I have seen on the internet:

1. The ability to use the exiled card exists until the end of turn. After that it is merely exiled for good.
2. You still have to pay the cost of the card in order to cast it. As such, you probably can’t generate this potential value the same turn you cast her.

So you probably won’t be looking to put her into a Flash or control deck. Instead, she may well suit a tempo deck that is happy to tap out each turn, but more on that later.

-7: Exile the top ten cards of your library. Choose an instant or sorcery card exiled this way and copy it three times. You may cast the copies without paying their mana costs.

Well, this is certainly going to generate a lot of advantage. Even if it doesn’t win the game immediately it should probably be good enough that you will shortly after.

Honestly, I don’t put much value in the ultimate ability of planeswalkers. Sure, it’s great if they are achievable and if I should get there it’s nice if they can ensure victory. But you can’t rely on that, so I look to the other abilities first and foremost. However, Chandra’s is attainable and good so it’s certainly a plus.

In conclusion: she has a reasonable mana cost, has the potential to protect herself while generate marginal value, can circumstantially generate significant value, and can win the game. This certainly has the makings of a playable planeswalker.

I think this is indicative of a recent trend in new planeswalkers. Rather than creating ones that are played whenever you are in those colors, WotC now appears to be designing planeswalkers that are situationally good if you design a deck to make use of them. Look at [card]Domri Rade[/card]. Not all GR decks want to play him, but some make good use of him. I personally think this is a good direction and will limit the oppressive potential of future planeswalkers while still allowing them to exist.

But where to put you?
-Hogwarts Sorting Hat

Appreciating the fact that Chandra is only going to generate value in certain circumstances is the key to designing a deck for her. She isn’t going into a control deck as you need to tap out to make use of her “card draw.” Equally, I think she still suffers from the problem of planeswalkers not suiting aggressive strategies since 4 mana is often the curve topper and you want more immediate feedback than 1 damage. However, midrange and tempo could well find her to their liking. Of these my mind immediately goes to tempo.

At the start of Standard post-DGM, one deck really captured my attention, as it made use of [card]Ral Zarek[/card].

American Midrange – Alex Blackard
2013 StarCity Open, Standard – St. Louis – 6/8

[deck]Main Deck
4 Geist of Saint Traft
2 Ral Zarek
3 Restoration Angel
4 Snapcaster Mage
2 Thundermaw Hellkite
4 Azorius Charm
1 Detention Sphere
1 Dissipate
1 Mizzium Mortars
3 Pillar of Flame
3 Searing Spear
2 Sphinx’s Revelation
2 Syncopate
2 Turn Burn
2 Warleader’s Helix
3 Clifftop Retreat
4 Glacial Fortress
4 Hallowed Fountain
1 Island
3 Sacred Foundry
1 Slayers’ Stronghold
4 Steam Vents
4 Sulfur Falls[/deck]

I liked this deck a lot, and it’s a shame that it seems to have not quite made it in the long run, though granted a lot of UWR decks are making their own mark in the current meta. However, I really like the plan of using [card]Ral Zarek[/card] to force through that all-important [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card]. Ral fails in many of the criteria I outlined for planeswalkers, but this deck puts what he does have to use. Ral’s +1 is not inherently going to generate an advantage, but combining it with Geist and a tempo plan let’s you make it valuable and you don’t care that he doesn’t protect himself as you are more interested in the Geist damage than any long-term advantage you might gain from a planeswalker. His -2 provides reach in a deck not looking to reach late game. You can ignore the ultimate.

I think Chandra will also work well in a tempo [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card] deck. Like Ral, her +1 will also allow you to bypass a single blocker to force Geist though, even if it doesn’t actually kill it (remember the can’t block clause), and tempo decks aren’t afraid to tap out. Limiting the number of counterspells you are running will make better use of her 0 ability and her 0 will also help dig for more gas or that last bit of burn. If you did get to the ultimate then yeah, imagine finding a [card]Warleader’s Helix[/card] in there…

I’ve thrown a quick idea of a deck together, but it’s just a starting point to get you going. Feel free to tweet your ideas to me (@onionpixie), or let me know how you are planning to make use of the sexy new Chandra! See you next week.

[deck]3 Chandra, Pyromaster
4 Geist of Saint Traft
3 Ral Zarek
4 Snapcaster Mage
2 Thundermaw Hellkite
4 Azorius Charm
1 Detention Sphere
2 Mizzium Mortars
3 Pillar of Flame
4 Searing Spear
2 Sphinx’s Revelation
2 Turn Burn
2 Warleader’s Helix
3 Clifftop Retreat
4 Glacial Fortress
4 Hallowed Fountain
1 Island
3 Sacred Foundry
1 Slayers’ Stronghold
4 Steam Vents
4 Sulfur Falls[/deck]

Note: if [card]Ral Zarek[/card] doesn’t make the cut, consider [card]Augur of Bolas[/card] or [card]Restoration Angel[/card] instead.

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