Last week’s look at the legendary cards from Shadows Over Innistrad did not, through its inherent limitations, look at all the characters we’re seeing in this particular iteration. Perhaps recognizing that Magic players are gaga for Planeswalkers, and in line with the Oath of the Gatewatch-established “planeswalkers as superhero point of view characters” thing that they’re leaning hard into, Wizards printed a shit-ton of them in this set.


And yes, when you’re talking about something as powerful as a planeswalker, four in one set is definitely a shit-ton. This count is only bested in core sets (no longer a thing) and Lorwyn (where the card type was introduced), and in each of those bygone contexts their number had more to do with color cycles than balance. When based on balance, most sets top out at three (see original Innistrad for comparison).


For us more casual players, this means two things. First off, now is a great time to buy Theros-block planeswalkers like Elspeth, Sun’s Champion. Seriously, it’s worth checking out; other than Ajani, Mentor of Heroes they’re all at bargain basement levels. The second thing is that there are now four new planeswalkers to review with an eye to how they play in Commander.




Side note: fair warning, I’m going to say “Doubling Season” a lot in the next couple of paragraphs, but it’s a very important part of evaluating a planeswalker for Commander. It’s basically the best “build around” card for planeswalker themes, no matter how much the Oath of Gideon cycle wanted to snatch away that role.

Jace, Unraveler of Secrets

One of the things I love about this cycle of planeswalkers is that they feel built for Commander. Jace, Unraveler of Secrets is an incredibly powerful card, providing a way to draw cards, a way to protect itself, and a way to make the game miserable for your opponents. Interestingly enough, that ultimate not only fires off immediately if you have Doubling Season in play… it survives the ultimate. Were that not the type of effect that turns the aggro of a whole table against you, that might be cool.


Let me break that last point down a bit. The Unraveller’s ultimate is at its least crippling in Commander because in Commander you are always assured to have a second spell. In most competitive formats a flipped Erayo, Soratami Ascendant basically ends the game, because you’re only drawing one card a turn and you need to spend two cards to get around the effect. In Commander, you always have access to your commander. If you need to cast what’s in your hand, you can just cast your commander first and then land your haymaker, or vice versa if you draw a weaker card. That takes a lot of mana, sure, but it’s Commander. Most decks have a lot of mana. So you have an incredibly irritating effect that can’t be Disenchanted or otherwise removed while that player is in the game, and that prevents you from having the fun you wanted to have when you sit down for a Commander game. I don’t know about you, but I am going to kill that player as quick as I can. And I’m going to get the rest of the table to support me in doing it.


As is, Jace is probably going to draw you cards most turns, while occasionally bouncing a problem creature. That’s plenty fine for Commander: a steady stream of value that’s not immediately threatening enough to demand an answer.


Nahiri, the Harbinger

You have to watch out for Nahiri, the Harbinger in Naya Doubling Season decks. It’s not necessarily going to be lethal, but you might be facing down something like a 24/24 Kalonian Hydra and its 300% friends. Or, they might just get an Eldrazi and kill you. Or they might search up an Ashnod’s Altar and combo off. Nahiri, the Harbinger gives each of the psychographics a way to get off.


And sometimes it’s okay to let that happen.


Nahiri, the Harbinger is a great card, its unfortunate combo appeal aside. Commander has always been a format where discarding a card is a lesser drawback, in those cases when it wasn’t an advantage. With Shadows Over Innistrad being a madness block, these discard-based decks will be in resurgence, to the benefit of the format as a whole, I think. I don’t mind anything that’s pushing Sire of Insanity decks out of the format.


Which is a long way of saying that Nahiri, the Harbinger’s “discard a card to draw a card” ability is pretty good in Commander. Even when you’re not doing anything fancy, it offers a fair bit of card selection in a color combination that could use it. That it’s a plus two ability is a two-edged sword, in that it means it threatens to ultimate in short order. On the plus side, that means you’re going to be able to trigger Nahiri, the Harbinger’s ultimate fairly often; on the minus side, your opponents are going to have to view Nahiri, the Harbinger’s ultimate as a real threat.


Just in case that wasn’t enough, Nahiri, the Harbinger has a removal mode that exiles three different types of permanents. It has a relatively significant drawback, in that it requires a thing to be tapped… but that’s still very strong against creatures, and the drawback can be ameliorated with tappers.


Sorin, Grim Nemesis

I wanted to end the Nahiri, the Harbinger section with that old maxim: “good card is good.” But the crazy thing about this cycle is that they’re ALL good. That’s a rare feat, even if the first three all follow the same pattern of modes: plus to draw, minus to kill, and an ultimate that can be immediately cast if you have Doubling Season in play.


And what an ultimate for a Doubling Season deck. I once played out Ajani, Caller of the Pride with Doubling Season in play, and there were so many cats! I died immediately to my own Dark Prophecy and a cycled Decree of Pain, but it was an experience worth having. Sorin, Grim Nemesis means more people will get to have experiences like that. That having been said, cats equal to one’s life total is definitely not the same as enough Vampire Knights to kill any opponent in one swing.


But without Doubling Season I don’t know that people will ever let Sorin, Grim Nemesis survive four turns. Sorin, Sulky Adversary is pressure. Dark Confidant, a notoriously valuable card in the 60-card competitive formats in which it’s played, is terrible in Commander; the average converted mana cost of the decks is significantly higher. With Sorin, Grimacing Frenemy, we now know what it takes to make that ability playable in Commander: do the damage to your opponents.


Okay then.


That ability is going to draw some aggro. You’ll be able to handle it, though, because Sorin, Determined Opponent comes equipped with up to six points of damage! It can’t go to the face, not that you’d want to given that plus ability, but it can take out most creatures or planeswalkers. And for anything toughness five or less, Sorin, Grouchy Antithesis kills it, gains you life, and then survives. That is protection done well.


This card is bananas.


Arlinn Kord / Arlinn, Embraced by the Moon


First off, I need to say that I truly appreciate not having a flipside color identity that isn’t reflected in her mana cost. Garruk Relentless’s color identity has bugged me since that card was first spoiled. There’s no reason for it! Garruk, the Veil-Cursed is one of those corner cases where the rules defy common sense, and since it’s basically only playable in Commander these days it’s especially galling. So yes, I was happy to see gold on both sides of the card.


What I love about Arlinn Kord, beyond the fact that their newest planeswalker is a lady werewolf, is that she is a complex card. She pays homage to Huntmaster of the Fells, a Dark Ascension werewolf powerful enough to see play in Modern (Jund). While werewolves are typically weaker in Commander, where it’s hard to find a turn with nobody casting a spell, it was strong enough to try. It gains life, deals damage, provides trample, and makes wolves, and that’s what I would want to see in this card.


But she’s also a commander who gains enough loyalty to ultimate when it enters the battlefield with Doubling Season in play. In green, the color of Doubling Season. But the nature of two-faced planeswalkers mitigates that risk, to the benefit or detriment of the card depending on your perspective. I think it’s better, for what it’s worth; if you can’t hold down the fort with two bodies for a turn, it’s almost certainly a terrible idea to procure an emblem. Remember, the only way to Disenchant those is death.


That having been said, it’s a sweet emblem and I totally want to try it out sometime. That is practically unheard of for me; I don’t think I’ve ever made an emblem. I did ultimate Jace, the Mind Sculptor a couple of times though… but that’s not at all the same thing, and those were never in Commander games.


Anyway, back to Arlinn Kord. Her front face pluses to throw a creature onto a wolf and have them run off and back again; her back face pluses to run the Wild Hunt incarnated into your creatures. That’s flavor! I mean, I don’t read much of the lore, I don’t know if that’s what’s happening or not, but it is sufficiently evocative that I can visualize it. What’s the visualization of Chandra Ablaze‘s set of abilities?


Seriously asking.


I’m definitely going to see if I’m as bullish on this crop of commanders once I get my grubby little hands on some Shadows Over Innistrad, but luckily I don’t need to wait long. Shadows Over Innistrad is available at most retailers starting tomorrow. Enjoy!


Jess Stirba is absolutely voting in the November election. You should too!

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