Chandra has done a lot of things over the years. She has attempted to kill many [card]Stuffy Dolls[/card] to no avail. She has copied [card]Tezzeret’s Gambit[/card]s and [card]Brimstone Volley[/card]s alike. She has even led to turn one scenarios that result in the opponent involuntarily mulliganing to 3 cards. Of course, some of her accomplishments are not something to boast about.
[card]Chandra Ablaze[/card], I’m looking at you.
But if you remember, I ran Firebrand at a Pro Tour no less, so you can say I am a Chandra fan. However, with all of these accomplishments under her belt, one thing has escaped Chandra in every form—being a part of an established tier 1 deck.
Chandra has always been the niche planeswalker with some obscure abilities that keep her interesting, but not very broad. The original [card]Chandra Nalaar[/card] saw the most play when there were not many other 'walkers to compete with, but even then, she was a glorified removal spell or a wacky combo piece. She has never enjoyed the fame of Gideon, Jace, or Elspeth, but with M14, she’s taking another shot:
Now, I don’t know about you, but my first impression upon reading the card was pretty favorable. The card has two relevant abilities, neither of which drops the loyalty on it and an ultimate that is kind of neat, but certainly not the purpose of the card.
A few minutes later I had come down on the card a little bit, but after thinking about it even more, the card is pretty outstanding and significantly more versatile than previous Chandras. So, rather than continue to speak broadly about this hot one, let’s break it down into what makes it appealing to me.
Loyalty to Cost Ratio
Right off the bat, I look at the starting Loyalty compared to the cost. Chandra passes with a 1:1 ratio. Planeswalkers who have had this ratio or higher tend to be more competitive than lower ones. The exception comes when a 'walker is able to come into play and immediately hit safe numbers. Jace started at 3 for example, but shot right up to 5 when you needed him to.
Useful Loyalty Adding Ability
Rarely is a planeswalker's + ability going to be jaw-dropping. These are the utility abilities that allow you to build up loyalty, with a few exceptions of course. Chandra fits right in there with her most useful +1 ability to date. While other Chandra’s have only been able to hit single targets for small amounts or came with a steep cost, Pyromaster has a lot going on.
+1: Deal 1 damage to target player and one damage to up to one creature that player controls. That creature can’t block this turn.
Picking off small creatures, whittling down players or, more importantly, other 'walkers, and providing a huge burst of damage out of nowhere on a clogged board or solitary-blocker board. Her ability is much closer to Koth than other Chandras, essentially adding another body or possibly 2 to the fight.
A Strong Middle Ability
All good 'walkers have a strong middle ability that might be a bit situational at times, but tends to be powerful. Chandra not only has that, but hers does not tick down her loyalty.
0: Exile the top card of your library. You may play it this turn.
So what this amounts to a situational “draw a card.” Assuming you don’t play your land for the turn before using this, this will always play lands off the top of your library (which is already really strong). All of those aggressive red decks that want this as a finisher really do have "0: draw a card" here. Most of their spells are similar, so playing a random one versus a planned one is not always a bad thing, while always making land drops is an excellent thing, even for a deck that usually doesn’t need many.
The more lands you have out, the more her ability becomes just drawing a card because mana becomes that much less of an issue.
In midrange decks, they will often be able to take advantage of the middle ability through ramp spells and cheap removal. On occasion, it might miss, but that is a known risk. If they have a way to manipulate their library, this becomes even better.
A Relevant Ultimate
While I never expect to use a planeswalker's ultimate when I put it into my deck (obvious exceptions), it is nice to know that should it come up, in the 5% of games where it does, it actually does something useful. I don’t necessarily need it to win me the game like [card]Ajani Vengeant[/card] or [card]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/card], but something like [card]Sorin Markov[/card] still has some nice utility and power to it. Something like Ajani Goldmane or Nissa are both really underwhelming in this department.
-7: Exile the top 10 cards of your library, Choose and instant or sorcery card exiled this way and copy it three times. You may cast the copies without paying their mana costs.
Chandra’s ultimate is not always going to win you the game, but it might, and certain decks might look to abuse it. In your average aggressive red deck, you are looking to get the average of three [card]Lighting Bolt[/card]s or whatever, which is certainly fine, and definitely relevant. This is clearly more powerful in a midrange deck where you hit [card]Urban Evolution[/card] and win the game or whatever, but if you make it to 7, you shouldn’t be sad about it.
Chandra is not the best planeswalker ever printed. She can’t compete with the Jaces and the Elspeths or even new Liliana, but she is a potent and powerful card that red typically does not have access to. Efficient card advantage that has some versatility to it is a real thing for a color that is used to top decking and opening hand wins.
While her peak power level is a little lower than [card]Koth of the Hammer[/card]’s, she is similarly powerful in that her restrictions on deckbuilding are significantly lower. Koth had a game-ending ultimate, which Chandra does not reliably, but Chandra has 3 useful abilities rather than 2 and is good in a much broader range of decks. I would expect her to see a similar amount of play, but more maindeck play than Koth who eventually became a sideboard star.
In general, I am a pretty big fan of Chandra and want to see what she is capable of in both aggressive red and midrange red. Someone brave is going to try her in control and that’s when we will find out she’s awesome in everything. Thanks for reading!