Planeswalkers are the flagship of Magic, whether we like it or not.

There are hundreds of them, with most of them doing extremely different things, even amongst the same character. Many of them are powerful in their own right, and they are a centerpiece of most competitive formats.

So why are they so scarce in Commander?

When you go into a game of Commander, especially a blind one at, say, a large event out of town or an LGS you aren’t familiar with, you never truly know what you’re going to get yourself into. Even if you establish your deck as a specific power level, from janky casual to cEDH, you will rarely know what’s going to actually happen, even if you know the commanders. In environments like this, one would expect planeswalkers to be kind of pronounced in some capacity, yet they aren’t. 

It’s funny, because I’m pretty loud in my claim that Commander players do not play enough interaction, which is another argument for planeswalkers. If people are just doing their thing, then planeswalkers would surely have no issues also doing their thing as well, right?

I think part of the issue is just that. People are doing their thing, and most people’s thing is either a huge culmination into something so big that most planeswalkers couldn’t hold a candle to it. This is like any form of Voltron, or anything that goes wide at lower power levels. They could be playing too many combos, or have overall velocity at higher power levels, or be cEDH as a whole. Additionally, I think the little interaction that people do play is so powerful, that you can reliably ignore most planeswalkers in favor of more threatening action, or run them over anyway while protecting their primary threat.

Some of the niche planeswalkers are very niche, being specific to the deck’s strategy. Viven on the Hunt in Birthing Pod decks is a very obvious example of this. Some strategies happen to have residual effects which planeswalkers fit right into, such as Karn, the Great Creator in prison decks, or Jace, Memory Adept in mill decks. These are probably the most commonplace for planeswalkers, but this doesn’t leave much for the ones considered generally powerful. Something like, say, Jace, the Mind Sculptor isn’t really played because price aside, it isn’t good enough at protecting itself from four different players, and its effect isn’t particularly conducive to a multiplayer format. It’s extremely hard to control and/or deadlock a board to the point where Jace would transition from a threat to a finisher, and even if it does become a finisher, that’s only for one player. Unless you’re in a world where the 2 other players let you finish the third…which I may or may not have seen happen…

This is unfortunately the case for many other planeswalkers that are otherwise popular in other formats. The space in which they are contained is simply too large, and you’d have to cover too much in order for them to make any significant impact outside of synergies and combos. I’m a firm believer that decks should have a purpose, and EDH is even more pronounced in this regard. General good stuff decks, while good, can often go too far in that direction. I think it’s important to understand why you’re playing the cards you’re playing, beyond just “I like it”, or “I want to”, especially if you’re trying to build your deck with any sort of focus. Choosing your planeswalkers is especially tough, but just like every card, each tool has a job!     

Anthony Lowry (they/he) is a seasoned TCG, MMORPG, and FPS veteran. They are extensively knowledgeable on the intricacies of many competitive outlets, and are always looking for a new challenge in the gaming sphere.

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