Wild Walkers on the Loose

Posted in Event Coverage on April 22, 2016

By Tobi Henke

While compiling the data for the metagame breakdown earlier in the day, we noticed, among other things, that several decklists were quite heavy on Planeswalkers. It wasn't just the dream team of four of each of Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Nissa, Voice of Zendikar leading the charge in Green-White Tokens.

East West Bowl, for instance, came up with a version of Esper Control that included four different Planeswalkers, not even counting a transformed Jace, Vryn's Prodigy out of their transformational sideboard.

"All of the control decks of the past several years were aiming for that one big draw spell. First it was Sphinx's Revelation, then Dig Through Time, now we have nothing," said Grand Prix champion Neal Oliver. "We turned to Planeswalkers instead to provide that card advantage."

And indeed, all of their Planeswalkers were able to draw cards, either directly (Jace, Unraveler of Secrets, Ob Nixilis Reignited, Sorin, Grim Nemesis) or indirectly (Narset Transcendent).

Of the origins of the deck, Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch quarterfinalist Andrew Brown said, "We were expecting a lot of Bant Company and White Humans in various iterations. We tried several brews in two colors which all got hammered by Bant Company because that is just an inherently powerful deck. Looking at the Bant mana base for inspiration, we eventually figured we could go to three colors after all, allowing us to jam in all the best cards."

All the best cards, of course, meant Planeswalkers. "The idea was not wanting to turn on all of the excellent white removal spells like Declaration in Stone, Reflector Mage, and Stasis Snare," said Brown.

Having literally zero targets for targeted creature removal also meant that they wouldn't be facing any of that in the post-sideboard games. Which is exactly when they would bring in little Jace, Vryn's Prodigy and Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet.

Andrew Brown and his team, the East West Bowl, came to the conclusion that Planeswalkers were critical for a control deck that provided the perfect Languish shell along with a way to sidestep the format's plentiful removal.

Not relying on any creatures of their own, meanwhile, provided additional incentive to maximize Languish. Brown mentioned that the main strength of the deck was consistently enabling a turn-four Languish. "We have Anticipate, and our mana base is geared toward hitting two and four, to go tapped land, untapped land, tapped land, untapped land," explained Brown.

About the selection of Planeswalkers for the main deck Brown elaborated. "Narset sets the base," he explained. "You obviously have to build your deck around Narset. Then we found that Jace, Unraveler of Secrets was often better than Ob Nixilis. And Sorin is just great, especially a great life buffer."

Meanwhile, deck designer extraordinaire and Hall of Famer Patrick Chapin and Pro Tour Magic Origins semifinalist Matthew Sperling were both playing Mardu Control with five and four different Planeswalkers, respectively.

"I have Chandra, Flamecaller, Sorin, Grim Nemesis, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, and Nahiri, the Harbinger," said Sperling. Chapin had all of them, plus Ob Nixilis Reignited. So why are Planeswalkers, and legions of them, so good right now?

"The argument is... well, these happen to be very powerful permanents," Sperling began by stating the obvious. "In any control deck, you want to have something to close the game, but not something that can only do that. Planeswalkers act as threats and as more control."

Sperling, like Brown, mentioned that there was an arms race going on in the format. "Bant Company is so good at generating card advantage that you can't just rely on your Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet or whatever."

Matthew Sperling, along with Ultra PRO teammate Patrick Chapin, was an advocate for plentiful Planeswalkers.

He also specifically called out Sorin, Grim Nemesis as being "really important" to make up for life lost to Painful Truths and Read the Bones. "Gideon is also great because it's fast enough to be a relevant threat against Ramp."

Employing Planeswalkers in a more aggressive strategy was something which we had seen as well. Two players from Latin America, for instance, had been running Naya Tokens with both the Voice and the Ally of Zendikar plus Arlinn Kord plus Chandra, Flamecaller and/or Nahiri, the Harbinger.

Some had definitely embraced Shadows over Innistrad's theme of insanity here, it appeared, by going crazy with, for, and about Planeswalkers.

Andrew Brown - Esper Control

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Matt Sperling: Mardu Control

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