Planeswalkers are a fundamental part of Magic: The Gathering flavor and gameplay. Not only are they the main characters of the narrative, but they are also often the marquee, flashy, and most powerful spells in a new release.
War of the Spark is the first ever “planeswalker themed set,” and will introduce 36 new, unique designs. With that in mind, I thought it would be fun to revisit the most powerful planeswalkers of all time.
Ever since the first five planeswalkers made their debut in 2007’s Lorwyn, the game has never been the same. Also, a fun piece of trivia: the planeswalker type was first teased in Future Sight (2007), by of all cards, the mighty, mighty Tarmogoyf!
“Dodger of Bolts, wrecker of wallets and herald of the age of planeswalkers.”
While planeswalker cards didn’t officially see print until Lorwyn, Magic had functionally similar (but different) kinds of cards dating back to Alpha and Beta:
“Old school planeswalkers.”
There are dozens of such cards, where a player can plan on activating and gaining incremental advantage turn after turn. Like planeswalkers, these artifacts are immune to direct creature removal like Swords to Plowshares or Terror and demand a unique subset of interaction (Disenchant, Shatter) to kill.
Planeswalkers added a new twist in that they could be damaged directly by both spells or through being attacked in combat. For the trade-off of being a little bit easier to deal with than an artifact or enchantment (combat and damage) these cards were able to be a little bit more powerful and mana efficient.
With War of the Spark just around the corner and 36 new, unique planeswalkers about to be unleashed on Standard, it feels like a solid moment to look back and take stock of how we got here. Today’s article will explore the eight most powerful planeswalkers ever to be unleashed on the tournament scene over the past 12 years.
Honorable Mentions: Vintage All-Stars
I’ll openly admit I’m Eternal, and specifically Vintage, biased when it comes to the history of the game. At this point, Vintage is such a small percentage of the totality of Magic played that it shouldn’t play a huge role in determining an “overall” best planeswalker list.
With that being said, planeswalkers have played a big role in Magic’s oldest format ever since they were introduced and I did want to feature that.
Tezzeret’s “Time” in Vintage.
The release of the second wave of planeswalkers in Shards of Alara ushered in one of the most broken moments in the format’s history. Also, not to be overlooked, the DCI made a slight errata to Time Vault, which allowed infinite turns with both Tezz and Voltaic Key.
The aftermath was swift and abrupt. “Tezzerator,” as it was called, straight up took the format by storm and dominated the metagame in a way that I haven’t seen since. I’m talking about a format that was approaching a one-deck meta… Top 8 after Top 8 was 5-6+ Tezz decks. The aftermath of this period was sweeping restrictions on blue cards.
Dack Fayden came to us via 2014 Conspiracy and has remained a consistent, significant Vintage staple ever since. In a Workshop world, the ability to repeatedly steal key threats and filter draws is beautiful. He’s basically the Liliana of the Veil of the format! (Spoiler Alert: She’s in my top 8).
The Great Eight
A few quick notes. I wanted to make a list that reflects the dynamic evolution and impact the planeswalker card type has had on the game over the years and into the present. There are so many planeswalkers that were good in Standard and fell off into obscurity once they rotated. I didn’t want a list of stuffy, old irrelevant Magic cards.
With that being said, I do have a couple of planeswalkers on my list that were so undeniably potent and format shaping in their day that they simply can’t be ignored in the annuls of history. Also, if it can’t be Duressed, it can’t make my list. No flippers.
Let’s kick off the list with an oldie, but goodie.
#8. Garruk Wildspeaker, (Lorwyn 2007)
I felt solid about my top 7, but spent a considerable amount of time narrowing down the final selection. Ultimately, I went with my heart and picked Garruk Wildspeaker for a couple of reasons.
Garruk was the first high impact planeswalker that demonstrated what a planeswalker could be in Constructed. It was also the first planeswalker I played against in Constructed and thought, oh wow, this card is going to absolutely wreck me.
All three abilities work together in a synergistic way. Make a creature or make mana and the ultimate casts Overrun. What more could a green deck have asked for from its first planeswalker?
Power creep has certainly taken its toll on Garruk’s current playability in Modern and Legacy. When he debuted, Garruk was an OP card. Now, 12 years later there are many similar/comparable options as a sticky 4-drop threat. While Garruk doesn’t see much play, neither do the other cards I was considering for the same slot.
All things considered, I felt that Garruk was a bigger and more significant player for a longer period of time than other options, which is why I made him my 8th selection. To be fair, I still have Garruk played against me in Modern or Legacy from time to time, and it’s still a potent threat.
While the card has certainly peaked in terms of playability, Garruk Wildspeaker made a significant impact on the game. It was the first PW to make creature tokens, for instance. In totality, the card has seen more play, across more formats, for a longer period of time than the other options.
#7. Saheeli Rai (Kaladesh, 2016)
Saheeli Rai is one of the few planeswalkers to ever require a format specific banning and for that reason alone it makes my list. The easy-to-assemble, two-card “Copy Cat” combo was the defining interaction of Standard and essentially whittled the format down to a two-deck meta: Copy Cat vs. Mardu “Anti-Copy Cat” Vehicles.
The combination of Saheeli and Guardian create infinite hasty Cats. After one season, Felidar Guardian was banned in Standard. While Saheeli didn’t technically earn the mantle of being the second planeswalker to earn a ban, it was clearly the card responsible for the entire fiasco.
#6. Elspeth, Sun’s Champion (Theros, 2013)
Theros’s Elspeth, Sun’s Champion was a game-changer. Even today, if you are looking for a 6-drop threat there is a good chance you arrive at Elspeth. I’ve played Elspeth in multiple Modern sideboards in recent years: Bant Eldrazi, U/W Control, and in my Eldrazi-Winter-U/W decks for the mirror.
In Standard, Elspeth was format defining and invalidated entire swaths of the card pool with her ability to simply lock down the ground with tokens. Not only was Elspeth a staple her first year in Standard as a U/W Control bomb, she had added success in Siege Rhino Abzan builds.
Keep in mind, Abzan didn’t need 6-drops—they played Elspeth because she’s basically a ridiculous, busted card! Expensive? Yes. Worth it. Yes, she’s a steal for 6 mana!
Is this Elspeth back from the world of the dead?
#5. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar (Battle for Zendikar, 2015)
BFZ and Kaladesh block were both loaded with above average planeswalkers:
Not to mention, the cream of the crop: Saheeli and Gideon! The Copy Cat disaster aside, this was a period of time defined by an abundance of powerful planeswalkers in Standard at the same time. To be fair, it wasn’t just powerful planeswalkers—it was a time where Wizards was pushing power level and probably went a little too far off the deep end…
No matter which way the wind and bannings were blowing, Gideon was always in the mix and a big bully. He was front and center in G/W Tokens, U/W Aggro, and all of the Vehicle iterations. At the time, and looking back, it’s surprising to me that Gideon wasn’t also banned as it was the linchpin holding together several broken decks.
On current merit alone, Gideon deserves a high spot on the list. I play Gideon in my U/W Legacy decks and he’s one of my best sideboard cards. He’s also been a consistently good Modern card over time. Stat-for-stat, Gideon is one of the most powerful 4-drop threats of all time.
#4. Teferi, Hero of Dominaria (Dominaria, 2018)
Teferi is easily one of the most powerful planeswalkers to ever see print. Not only is the card packed with stats and useful abilities, but it pairs up all of the types of abilities that do the best things in Magic: draw extra cards, make mana, deal with any type of permanent on the battlefield, and cap it all off with a nigh unbeatable ultimate.
I hate to say this, but sometimes I wish Teferi’s spark had just stayed out. Most of those times are when I’m losing to it! Let’s face it—you had me at “+1: Draw a card,” the mana, flexible removal, high starting loyalty, and GG ultimate are just icing on an opulent cake.
Teferi has made his presence known in virtually every format he is legal for play. The combination of flexibility, cumulative card advantage, and mana production that mitigates his 5-mana cost makes Teferi a premier threat for any Azorius deck.
Everyone who plays Magic right now is familiar with this powerhouse and few will disagree he belongs toward the top of any list of best planeswalkers of all time.
#3. Karn Liberated (New Phyrexia, 2011)
Karn was a tough one for me to rank, but as you can see I’ve got him extremely high up on my list (even higher than Teferi…).
I contemplated this ranking for a solid ten minutes before deciding to finally lock it in. Three little words:
Tron into Karn is one of the most iconic and devastating plays in Modern. In fact, it may be the single most defining play in the history of the format over time! The meta changes, cards get banned, new cards facilitate broken new decks, but Karn is always there no matter the year, keeping it real.
Karn is the glue that secures Tron’s longevity, which is interesting in and of itself. Not only did Karn put Tron on the map, but he has essentially kept it in or near the top tear for years and years.
While Karn wasn’t nearly as big of a player in Standard as Gideon was, his years of consistent results in Modern have me placing him solidly in third place on my list. Regardless of whether you live for or die by the turn-3 Karn—there’s no denying it’s a big game.
#2. Liliana of the Veil (Innistrad, 2011)
Liliana is a very fun card. While I’m open to considering new and different ideas, it would be difficult to convince me that the top 2 isn’t written in stone (at least for now…).
Liliana of the Veil is a mean, nasty, cruel Magic card explicitly designed to give blue players nightmarish fits by ripping their hand apart and threatening to kill creatures and/or ultimate.
Going after a control mage’s hand has always been a thing (it’s where they keep all their goodies), but Liliana does it with a mana efficiency that is beyond effective. As a frequent blue player in Modern and Legacy, I can attest an entire segment of my card choices are always made “to line up with Lily.” She is clearly not the card you want to go unanswered since she will inevitably eat up your entire hand, ultimate and kill half your lands, and then start all over again…
Most decks capable of consistently producing BB on turn 3 (Tendrils of Agony excluded) have a strong incentive to play the card on power level alone. It’s the cornerstone of Modern G/B/x decks.
Discard a Lingering Souls in Abzan? Wow.
Kill a hexproof Bogle? Oh yeah.
Cascade into Liliana with a Bloodbraid Elf? Yee-Ha!
It’s also a staple of Mono Black Pox, 8-Rack, and Zombie brews. In Legacy, Liliana can be found hanging out with the Sutai and Grixis, and doing work picking off True-Name Nemesis and teaming up with Hymn to Tourach to get opponents hellbent and onto the ropes ASAP.
The card is so powerful and efficient (and capable of running away with games) that it finds its way into a ton of decks. The true power of the card is that it only costs 3 mana. They don’t make ‘em like this anymore, so I anticipate that Liliana will remain a highly coveted card for years to come.
#1. Jace, the Mind Sculptor (Worldwake, 2010)
“Jace, the Mind Sculptor—better than all.”
Patrick Chapin and Tha Gatherin’ wrote and recorded a song about the various exploits of Jace, the Mind Sculptor eight years ago. The card has done nothing but expand its impressive resume in the meantime.
I don’t think the gap between Jace and Lily is close when you look at all the facts. For starters, I did a YouTube search for “Liliana of the Veil songs.” None.
Jace needed to be emergency banned from Standard after he turned the format into an absolute joke. He’s the only planeswalker to be banned and was thus banned twice (from Standard and Modern).
Have you ever heard people talk about the “Jace test?” It was a metric people used to use to determine if cards were playable in Standard. If your threat got bounced by Jace and then couldn’t deal with Jace on the next turn it was considered unplayable in 2010.
Jace, has since been re-released into the wilderness of Modern and has made his presence known. He powered up U/W and Jeskai Miracles with the help of his new bestie Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, and took that archetype into the tier 1 before GRN’s Creeping Chill and Arclight Phoenix put the format into a tailspin. Despite the influx of some extremely broken decks, U/W and U/W/x Control continue to be consistent performers.
Jace is, and always has been, a fixture of Eternal Magic. The Azorius love using him as a platform for miracling Terminus and drowning unfortunate opponents in a sea of card advantage. It’s rare to see a blue control or aggro control list that doesn’t feature some number of JTMS in the 75. He’s part of the fabric of these formats.
“We’ve come a long way!”
JTMS is the greatest “tome” ever written. Uber mana efficient, spams Brainstorm, bounces threats to protect itself, and can easily fateseal/ultimate a floundering opponent right out of the game with ease.
The Mind Sculptor is still, all these years later, the gold standard for planeswalkers in terms of mana efficiency, raw power, and flexibility. It’s been nearly a decade since Jace, the Mind Sculptor first emerged and we haven’t seen anything quite like him since. To be fair, I think Jace is a cautionary tale of what happens when you push a planeswalker too far in terms of raw power and I’d be surprised if we saw anything like him again (which is probably for the best).
Did I miss a planeswalker you believe deserved a spot in the top 8 of all time? Let me know in the comments! The list is primarily comprised of tournament cards, but I’m down to hear about planeswalkers you think are sweet and fun to play with in Cube or Commander.
Another interesting thing to consider…. War of the Spark is about to drop 30+ new PWs into the fray. Are there any new designs you believe are likely to supplant some of my picks after War of the Spark makes its way into tournament decks?