Marvelous Team-Ups

Posted in Feature on October 25, 2007

By Chris Millar

Greetings monoplanar mages, and welcome to Planeswalker Week! Among the first Lorwyn cards revealed on this site, these plucky and highly coordinated little fighters—er, I mean, these powerful beings—can hop from one plane of the multiverse to the next, either at will or willy-nilly, depending. If it struck their respective fancies, they could have breakfast in Ulgrotha, lunch in Mirrodin, and dinner in Kamigawa—I hear the Shell of the Last Kappa is delicious. They could spend their winters enjoying the sun, sand, and sacred mesas of southern Dominaria; their summers luxuriating in the ridiculously overcosted resorts of Mercadia; and their yearly two weeks of vacation in, I don't know, the streets of Ravnica. Basically, they can choose their own Extended. It's a pretty sweet gig if you can get it.

Mirrodin's Ancient Den, Mercadian Masques' High Market, and Ravnica's Island

There are some very famous planeswalking types—the Urzas, Mishras, and Freyalises of the multiverse—but there are many more lesser-known planeswalkers that have had major or minor roles in Magic novels, flavour text, and artwork throughout the years. I had personally never heard of Lord Windgrace, Colonel Hoagie, Commodore Guff, Sir Archibald Leach, Bo Levar, or Raphael De La Ghetto, but apparently they're no slouches in the planeswalking department.

So far, only five such guys and gals have been printed with the actual planeswalker card type: Ajani Goldmane, Jace Beleren, Liliana Vess, Chandra Nalaar, and Garruk Wildspeaker. They are your allies, in a sense. In another sense, they are like the little brother you get to boss around for a few years because you're bigger and stronger. They're not as powerful as you are right now, but just wait a little while.

Now, each one of the Lorwyn planeswalkers is a powerhouse all on its own. Can you imagine what happens when you put two complementary planeswalkers in the same deck? Don't worry if you can't. I'm doing it right now, and let me just say the Sparks are a-flying!

Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Mill Me

To quote the rules on planeswalkers: "Each planeswalker has a loyalty number printed in the lower right corner of the card. This isn't a power or toughness—it's a new value. A planeswalker comes into play with a number of loyalty counters on it equal to its loyalty number."

You can add and remove loyalty counters by activating one of the planeswalker's abilities. Using an ability with a plus-sign next to it lets you add a loyalty counter (go figure), while using an ability with a minus-sign makes you subtract a loyalty counter. Abilities with a forward slash require long division, but we won't be going into that today (or, probably, ever). Since you can only use one of a planeswalker's abilities once during your turn, it can take a little while for your 'walker to "charge up," especially if it has the initials J.B. or you plan to use its "special move" more than once in a game. Luckily, Magic is all about cards that break the rules, so we have some options if we want to play around with loyalty.

As far as I can tell, there are only few ways to manipulate this kind of counter. For starters, there's silver-bordered favourite Giant Fan. Like many, I am a huge proponent of this card. It is incredibly versatile, and would allow you to trade in your used polyp, hoofprint, or spore counters for brand-new loyalty counters. Of course, Giant Fan resides in Un-land among a host of barnyard animals so I'm hesitant to set foot in there. Unfortunately, Giant Fan's non-union, black-bordered equivalent (Power Conduit) can only make +1/+1 and charge counters. That still leaves us with a few options.


Rings of Brighthearth

Reader John Y. wrote to me recently to suggest that one of the combos I wrote about would fit in perfectly with Jace, Garruk, and company. As he said, "The Clockspinning combo in your Clock Locket deck combos so well with the planeswalkers. Add in Rings of Brighthearth and you've got some killer stuff going on. Jace Beleren mill for 40!"

That deck used Locket of Yesterdays with the intention of reducing the cost of Clockspinning to a single blue mana. Once you reach that point, you could do all kinds of crazy things with your suspend cards (with Reality Strobe, in particular). Note that Clockspinning can add or remove counters of any type as long as there is at least one counter of that type on the permanent or suspended card. Yes, that includes loyalty counters. Under normal circumstances, it would take at least four turns for Jace Beleren to become fully charged. With Clockspinning, you can cut your wait-time in half, in thirds, or in some other fraction, depending on the amount of mana you have available and the number of cost-reducers you have in play.

James F. had similar thoughts and sent me a deck to illustrate them. It was a blue-black control deck that aimed to exploit "the wonderful synergy between Rings of Brighthearth and the new planeswalker cards." With an assist from Ambassador Laquatus (who is apparently from Torment), James would only need to have control of the game for a few turns in order to build up to the likely-lethal "mill you for 40."

For the deck I'm building right now, I'm going to take a little from column A and a little from column B. Then I'm going to dip into another column altogether. We'll call it "column P." That's P for planeswalkers. As I implied in the intro, this article is all about matching up one crazy-powerful being with another, a sort of multiversal eHarmony. The big question is: Who am I going to pair with Jace Beleren? It didn't take me long to figure that out. Why, Liliana Vess, of course! I don't think you could ask for a better partner. Seriously, just put the two of them side by side and check out the synergy:

Let's go row by row. Jace's loyalty-boosting ability gives your opponent a free card; Liliana's takes it away. Liliana can tutor for a card and put it on top of your library; Jace can then put it into your hand. Jace's "finishing move" dumps twenty cards into your opponent's grumper; Liliana's empties all grumpers of all creatures and puts them into play under your control. It's a match made in, uh, Rabiah the Infinite!

I wanted to play with some creatures for Liliana to return and some board-controlling spells to keep Jace out of harm's way. I also want some extra things to do with Clockspinning. Since I worked the Merfolk-milling angle last week, I'll refrain from doing so this week. With our be-gilled friends out of contention, I chose a number of evoke creatures (Shriekmaw, Mulldrifter, and Mournwhelk) as well as a couple of suspend creatures (Epochrasite and Riftwing Cloudskate). Damnation does a lot of the heavy lifting. If you don't have any of those, you might try some clash spells like Weed Strangle. Most of the creatures I just mentioned have artificially high mana costs and Liliana can stack the top of your library, so it seems like you would have a decent shot at winning the clash. As it stands, the only clash spell in the deck is Broken Ambitions, the Power Sink that mills your opponent for four if you clash and win.

The important question now is: Where do you put your planeswalkers when you're filling out your decklist? It feels a bit weird to put them in with the noncreature spells, but that is where they go.


Snails Alive!

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A Number of the Beasts

Ajani Goldmane, Doubling Season, and Garruk WildspeakerOur next tag-team was determined by the card I'm going to use to enhance them. A couple of readers pointed out the synergy. Nafthali W. wrote, "Have you tried playing a planeswalker with Doubling Season in play? With the exception of Jace, they'll be able to use their third move immediately (Jace will have to wait one turn). As a bonus, Ajani would make two [Avatar] tokens and his second ability would give two +1/+1 counters per creature." Another reader, Dan, wrote, "Note that Doubling Season is also fabulous with planeswalkers, and Doubling Season with a massive army of Merfolk is especially fabulous with Ajani Goldmane."

Basically, Doubling Season will make your planeswalkers come into play with twice the normal amount of loyalty counters. Ajani will start with eight, Liliana will start with ten, Jace with six, and so on. Note that activating their loyalty-boosting abilities will not add twice the counters because adding those counters is a cost and Doubling Season only doubles counters that would be produced by an "effect." While Nafthali preferred powering up Chandra Nalaar with Doubling Season (a fine idea), I'm going to use both Garruk and Ajani. Why? Well, Doubling Season doubles both your counter and token-production (I guess you could say it's really counter-productive). Coincidentally, Garruk and Ajani care about both of these things. The more tokens you have, the better their mass-creature pump gets.

These days, pumping out tons of tons of tokens is the domain of the Elves. Thelonite Hermit, Llanowar Mentor, Imperious Perfect, Wren's Run Packmaster, Elvish Promenade, and Gilt-Leaf Ambush are all in Standard. Going back a bit further gives us Selesnya Guildmage. Seriously, how sick would Garruk and Ajani have been in Selesnya decks?

What you end up with is a token swarm deck. I made some room for some one-ofs that seem nutty with Doubling Season, like Incremental Growth and Hoofprints of the Stag. I also squeezed in cool little combo sent to me by Efrén R.: "Immaculate Magistrate + MANY ELVES + Triskelion (or Pentavus)." I definitely appreciate the enthusiasm for Elves, though I split the difference and included Triskelavus who boasts the benefits of both Triskelion and Pentavus in a single package.


A Johnny Goldmine

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There are plenty of other Lorwyn cards that I wanted to squeeze in, but there just wasn't room. The green and white members of the cycle of "Deranged Hermits"—Cloudgoat Ranger and Guardian of Cloverdell—would work together nicely if you wanted to swap the Elves with a plucky band of Kithkin. If you go that route, Militia's Pride is very exciting. There's also Vigor, the most counter-productive Elemental Incarnation and not coincidentally the one that is most coveted by the guys in my playgroup.

Hell Hath No Fury Like a Planeswalker Scorned


Chandra Nalaar

There's still one 'walker we haven't used yet: Chandra Nalaar. Of the five of them, I think Chandra has the most eye-popping super-move. When I first saw it, I looked like Quaid in the Martian atmosphere at the end of Total Recall. No joke. For some reason, though, dealing 10 damage to your opponent and all of his or her creatures is not enough. Everyone wants to go for the full 20 in one shot. Well, at least I do. And some House of Cards readers do too.

Jeff writes, "Chandra Nalaar + Stuffy Doll + Pariah. I know that ten damage alone is quite a lot, but as I said, I'm a Timmy. Twenty damage sounds much better (targeting yourself with Chandra)." That's 10 to you and 10 to Stuffy. The 10 to you goes to Stuffy and the 10 to Stuffy goes to your opponent, followed by another 10. Eep.

There are many more ways to make Chandra blast your opponent for the desired 10x2. It can be done by copying her ability, by doubling the damage, or by causing life-loss equal to the damage dealt to either the player or one of the creatures. The cards I'm going to use range from the playable (Rings of Brighthearth), to the semi-playable (Anthem of Rakdos), to the janky (Final Punishment), to the super-janky (Ragged Veins). Feel free to mix-and-match the cards and those categories. Beyond those, you've got, at minimum, five others, including Binding Agony, Repercussion, Desperate Gambit (potentially), Furnace of Rath, and Overblaze.

This deck has more of a focus on Rings of Brighthearth and includes many of the interactions I wrote about when I previewed the card. Landcyclers, fetchlands, cycling cards, transmute cards, Wayfarer's Baubles, Kher Keep, Barbarian Ring, and all that. Planeswalker's Fury and Planeswalker's Scorn aren't just flavourful additions, since they also work well with Rings of Brighthearth. Death Pits of Rath is odd, perhaps, but it turns your damage-based sweepers into almost-Wraths and it turns Chandra into a one-sided version of The Abyss.

Of course, Liliana Vess is once again the teammate of choice, for a number of reasons. First of all, so many of the cards that help Chandra are black. Besides that, Chandra's ten-to-everything maneuver really makes the mass-reanimation much better. Lastly, in this deck I wanted to include more singletons (I mean, who wants to draw more than one Final Punishment?), hoping to take greater advantage of Liliana's Vampiric Tutor ability. If you do get around to firing off Liliana's Twilight's Call + Insurrection, two Hamletback Goliaths are a fine pair of gentleman to return. They will see a whole bunch of friends coming into play and get big. Plus you get to say you're bringing Hamletback.


Scorn Roast

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Other sweepers that I didn't try include Void, Incendiary Command, Thundercloud Shaman, and Final Revels. They all have their advantages and I mention these four because they can all be fetched with Brainspoil. Another card worth considering for your Chandra Nalaar decks is Final Fortune. It takes two turns to make Chandra blow her stack (the turn she comes into play and one other), so if you have play both spells in the same turn, you can put your opponent on the fast track to Armageddon.

Until next time, have fun traversing planes.

Chris Millar

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