Pattern Recognition #240 - Ajani, Part 2
12 May 2022
12 May 2022
Hello everyone! This is Pattern Recognition, TappedOut.Net's longest running article series as written by myself, berryjon. I am something of an Old Fogey who has been around the block quite a few times where Magic is concerned, as as such, I use this series to talk about the various aspects of this game, be it deck design, card construction, mechanics chat, in-universe characters and history. Or whatever happens to cross my mind this week. Please, feel free to dissent in the comments below the article, add suggestions or just plain correct me! I am a Smart Ass, so I can take it.
With last week covering the Life and Times of Ajani Goldmane, now would be the best time to talk about his cards and how they have changed - or not - as the years go by. After all, as one of the first Planeswalkers, he should have something to say about the way his colours work now, shouldn't he?
While this is the M11 printing, he was one of the original five from Lorwyn, and because of that, he does share some of the strengths and weaknesses of his colour, and of being a card that was supposed to not be too powerful, but good enough to justify putting into your deck. It also represents him as his first Planeswalker trip, still acting as a healer and boon to the Pride.
To that end, his default +1 is probably the single most underwhelming and underpowered effect in the game. You gain +2 life. Now, this is something of a combo piece in more tuned decks, being able to have a repeatable source of life gain to trigger other effects, but let's be honest with ourselves here, the +1 is less about the life gain and more about getting to the Ultiamte, or to pay for the second ability.
Because wow, that -1 is surprisingly powerful. For that low cost, you can give all your creatures a +1/+1 counter and Vigilance until the end of the turn. Now, this is actually pretty powerful, even in passing. Not only can you make your entire board state bigger - even if you don't attack - but if you do attack, it doesn't tap your creatures.
And for Planeswalkers, having creatures on the defense is one of the best ways to consistently protect them. Having your creatures be granted Vigilance means you have the best of both worlds, an attack, possibly to take out enemy Planeswalkers, and defense for the crackback. Of course, using this ability once puts Ajani into Lightning Helix range, but that's the risk of it, direct damage has always been an issue for Planeswalkers. So yeah, Vigilance good, +1/+1 across the board, good. This ability? Very Good.
The -6 is simply casting Serra Avatar. This creature is something of a paper tiger in terms of creatures, as while it can be a huge creature, it also has no innate defense, no evasion and no real ability to connect, save for cases where the board is cleared just before it enters the battlefield, but even then, it doesn't have inherent Haste. Like many early Ultimates, this is a fine closer, but it needs to land. Actually, it's not even that. If and when you take damage yourself, this creature goes down as well. I mean, sure, Pariah for it, and laugh at taking lethal damage, but that's a gimmick, not an end game.
Ajani's real power lay in his second ability, with the first being used to keep him up so that you can keep using it more and more.
Printed in M13 and M14, this is the post-Alara Ajani, who is a bit more lost in terms of personal goals, and is just going around and helping, doing what he can. And that is reflected in his abilities.
At the start, his +1 puts a single +1/+1 counter on a target creature, which honestly, isn't much. But then again, he is a cheap Planeswalker, only costing , so we can't expect huge effects from that. But while lacking in the Vigilance of his previous version, this ability does uptick his loyalty. And honestly, you don't have to attack, so you can hold something back for the defense, or have another source of Vigilance.
His second ability is almost a game-ender by itself. By granting a creature Flying and Double-strike, you give it a fairly reliable form of evasion, as well as doubling the damage it can put out. The play here seems to be having Ajani boost up a creature that can defend him before giving it the ability to deliver a serious knockout blow to a single enemy. And don't get me wrong, this is a serious threat, but it is one that needs to be planned around, rather than used with utter aplomb like other Planeswalkers I could name.
Lastly, the -8. This is a massively difficult ability to pull off, and while I can compare it to the similar ability on Lord Windgrace, there are enough differences to make the two vastly different in practice. First, Ajani's Cats are tied to your life total. And when I mentioned that the previous Ajani's first ability was an enabler, this was the sort of thing that it better enables. has cards like Soul's Attendant, which can further improve your life gain. Of course, you now possess a massive army (hopefully), which can turn the tide against your opponents. But if your life total is low - like less than 7, it might not be enough. Still, a good ability, if you can survive the 5 turns required to pull it off, then into nect turn to actually swing with your army of cats.
Ajani Goldmane, the only fictional character than can actually herd cats.
Coming from Journey into Nyx, Ajani has now firmly picked up as his secondary color, which is what he will have in all non-Core sets from this day forward. This shows how he has developed into the sort of person who will help others be better in of themselves.
Mechanically, his first +1 ability is an improvement over Caller of the Pride, as it can split the three counters among up to three creatures, spreading the love or focusing on a single target. It is quite viable, really, but on the cost of a Planeswalker at Mana Value 5, it can be a little underwhelming or a little late.
His other +1 ability is to look at the top of your library, or rather the top 4 card (and there's some interesting math and justification behind that number), and grab an Aura, Creature or Planeswalker and put it into your hand. This sort of limited fetching is actually pretty viable, and a good deck can have have some pretty solid redundancy or options to allow you to get something with that four cards, or as the case may be, put four dead cards to the bottom of your library.
I am still confused by his -8 ability. Or rather, I am not confused but I see it as such a narrow use of what is supposed to be a game-ending splashy ability that effectively wasting in on a mere 100 Life is just....
I've talked a bit about Lifegain in the past and what it does and does not do, and in the end, your life total is a resource, and gaining life in of itself does nothing. It doesn't bring you closer to winning, it makes you further away from losing. Rather, it's an enabler for other cards, like Sanguine Bond or Ajani's Pridemate, or an an alternate win condition to fuel Aetherflux Reservoir or Felidar Sovereign. By itself? Nothing. It's just a large number. But as a combo piece? Much more relevant.
Of all the Ajani's, I believe this one is second best. We'll get to best near the end. But as this is a Core Set Ajani, he's back to being mono-coloured, but that doesn't detract from his awesomeness one bit. His +1 would later be recycled for Gideon Blackblade but without the +1/+1 part. And in addition, this Ajani can hand out a small variety of keywords, meaning that while Vigilance is still a pretty good option, Lifelink is good and so is First Strike when it comes to combat.
And his -2 is absolutely nothing to sneeze at. Yes, it used to be a -1 on Ajani Goldmane, but where you lose out on Vigilance, you get to put a loyalty counter on each other Planeswalker you control.
You read that right. This is one of 's hidden powerhouses, and Wizards refuses to admit it exists! Giving an additional Loyalty counter to even a single other Planeswalker is a huge thing, one that can send them into Ultimate range that much faster, or just put it there a turn or two early, or keep it out of dying for just one more turn. There are only three cards in the game that do this effect, and they are ALL AJANI.
If I see a Superfriends list without this guy in it, I know they're not being serious.
But while that ability alone is enough to propel him to second spot, his own -7 should be looked at. It gives you an emblem that prevents all but 1 damage from any source that would be dealt to you or a Planeswalker you control. Now, this doesn't protect creatures, and by association, Deathtouch, but what it does do is prevent you and your planeswalkers from being hit by rather large creatures or spells and one- or two-shotted.
This is the biggest, beefiest Ajani, and yet, isn't all that great. Good? Yes, but here on Kaladesh, he is basically running around being a 6'6" Cat-person Batman, and his card doesn't really reflect this state of being. After all, this is mostly the Chandra set, so we can't have him overshadowing her at this point in time. It's also where we got Heroic Intervention, so that's that.
Anyway, his +2 is a little more and a little less than the similar ability found on Mentor of Heroes. Sure, you only look at the top three, but you can out all non-land permanents into your hand that are there, which is pretty nifty. You could grab three creatures, or whiff and reveal three Heroic Intervention's. But you're also revealing what you have, so your opponents can work with that knowledge in hand as they go through their turn.
On the other hand, his -2 is a Sorcery speed Path to Exile, and so it's removal, but not combat speed removal. Talking about this means talking about that, and Path is something that is pretty powerful all things considered.
Lastly, his -9 is Ajani's Steadfast's ability multiplied by FIVE. That's five +1/+1 counters on each creature you control, and more importantly, FIVE Loyalty counters on each other Planeswalker you control. FIVE! Do you have any idea what you can do with that? Do you? That's not just Planeswalkers surviving, it's pulling off multiple ultimate abilities in a turn!
Of course, all this is held on a 'Walker with an MV of 6, meaning he comes down late to the party, and it still takes until his third turn to pull it off - less if Ajani Steadfast is there to help him along.
Around this time, Wizards was experimenting with Planeswalker decks, decks that were Standard Legal, but had alternate versions of Planeswalkers in that set who where not as powerful, but rather would serve as a new player's introduction to the card type and give them something shiney to like and drive sales. It didn't work as well as they would have hoped.
First of all, for +2, he puts 2 +1/+1 counters on a creature. Respectible, but on a card that costs , that's not a lot. It's there, and I'm sure you can find something that costs an MV of 5 that came down last turn to put it on, like Baneslayer Angel, which is quite fun to do.
His alternate +1 basically digs into your deck for the first creature you can find and put that into your hand. Which is something that can be a hit or a miss depending on what you get, or if you can stack your deck ahead of time or not. There's not much I can say about this ability, really.
Lastly, his -11 - and yes, you read that right - gives a single creature +X/+X until the end of turn, where X is your life total, and Trample as well to make sure that it connects. Of course, if you happen to have over 100 life thanks to another Ajani, that's game. Of course, the utility of this ability is strictly tied to said life total, so bigger is definitely better. But hey, this is a great way to close out a game!
That's it for this week as this article is getting long in tooth, and I still have a few more Ajani's to go through, including the best one. And I want to do something of a character analysis as well, and that will take up more space in the article. Also, I'm getting tired from this one and need a break.
As such, join me next week for Ajani, Part 3!
Until then please consider donating to my Pattern Recognition Patreon. Yeah, I have a job, but more income is always better. I still have plans to do a audio Pattern Recognition at some point, or perhaps a Twitch stream. And you can bribe your way to the front of the line to have your questions, comments and observations answered!
Good article, but one small thing: there is another planeswalker that can up loyalty on other planeswalkers. I've always thought Chandra, Acolyte of Flame has been an insanely underrated card, and her faux "+1" ability is one of those reasons. She makes cards like Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Nahiri, the Harbinger waaaaay more dangerous.
May 16, 2022 2:11 p.m.
heckproof facepalm And she was a key part of my Chandra.Dec in Standard at the time!
May 16, 2022 7:40 p.m.
There's also 38 cards in the game with "Proliferate" on them, like Evolution Sage, which can all put one loyalty counter on every planeswalker you control.