Pattern Recognition #287 - SuperFriends

Features Opinion Pattern Recognition


29 June 2023


Good day everyone! My name is berryjon, and I welcome you all to Pattern Recognition, TappedOut's longest running article series. I am something of an Old Fogey and a definite Smart Ass, and I have been around the block quite a few times. My experience is quite broad and deep, and so I use this series to try and bring some of that to you. Be it deck design, card construction, mechanics or in-universe characters and the history of the game. Or whatever happens to catch my attention each week. Which happens far more often than I care to admit. Please, feel free to talk about my subject matter in the comments at the bottom of the page, add suggestions or just plain correct me.

And welcome back everyone! Today, with Commander Legends on the Horizon, there are four precons coming with that set, one of which I think I will look into taking into next year's Slow Grow tournament. Either that or the Prismarti deck from Strixhaven, I haven't decided yet given that the deck I want to look at hasn't be revealed yet either.

So let's talk about the deck archetype I'm considering - Commodore Guff and his SUPERFRIENDS! Now, for those of you who don't know, Superfriends is a deck type that originated with the Shards of Alara block, and the first real presence of the Planeswalkers in the game. Yes, I know about the first set in Lorwyn, block, but Shards came after that, and this is where they really started to make their presence known. In fact, the card type was so new that a lot of removal options for them weren't even printed yet, and the only ways to deal with them were either combat or Burn, and that involved the Planeswalker Damage redirection rule, which was thankfully removed with prejudice later on. This meant that Planeswalkers were fairly well protected against decks that weren't creature heavy.

The first such deck was based around a control package with a side of , these three colours, thanks to being the colours of the American Flag, and the Vorthos of Planeswalkers being the best of the best and the most powerful, caused those decks that were Planeswalker heavy to be called "Superfriends", a reference to the 70's TV show of the same name.

The underlying methodology of the Superfriends deck is quite easy to describe. As a mid-range and Control deck, this desk seeks to use 's targeted and targeted removal to keep the board state relatively clear, while helps maintain tempo with card draw and protective counter-magic. While drawing out the game, this deck will eventually have enough mana to start casting their Planeswalkers. Once they do so, their control over the board state prevents creatures from being a threat to their 'Walkers, allowing their 'Walkers to generate value over time passively thanks to their positive loyalty abilities. This would result in a deck that fixed one of Control's weaknesses - building ones own board state while preserving resources to deal with the opponent, and did so with skill.

In fact, this sort of deck melding was incredibly dependent on the Planeswalkers at the time, as without them, the deck didn't have the ability to win the game. But because these were such a new card type, players had yet to adjust their decks accordingly. Superfriends as a deck, quickly became quite effective, and was seen as a solid meta deck for Shards Standard.

Of course, such things could not last, and Superfriends quickly got cut down a bit by the design of Wizards. Each colour got something to help deal with the unintended proliferation (HAH!) of this card type, one that could be its own archetype, rather than support other pre-existing archetypes. started getting cards that worked like Oblivion Ring, an enchantment with an MV of to that would lock a permanent out of the game until it was removed. You players in Standard are probably well aware of Ossification by now. expanded some of their "Counter target Creature spell" cards to include Planeswalker, with Syphon Essence doing a lot of work for me currently. improved Murder to now include Planeswalkers as well with Hero's Downfall. , after some rules changes, was allowed to burn Planeswalkers more directly, rather than depending on a cooperating player, while had an even more subtle shift and got more creatures with Trample to allow them to simply smash the face of the Planeswalker directly, in addition to some more creature-based creature removal to make it easier to do that.

However, while I am most definitely loathe to say this in general, let alone in the specific, I have to give some small credit to New Phyrexia for introducing the Proliferate mechanic into the game. As I talked about when I savaged that block a few years ago, Proliferate at the time was surrounded by poison and -1/-1 counters, creating a feel-bad environment that it just made worse. However, when applied to Planeswalkers, you could increase their loyalty without using their ability, and do it to all your 'Walkers with a single card.

In fact, this was so feel-good, that when War of the Spark was printed with all those Planeswalkers, they included the Proliferate mechanic just for this synergy! It was good and glorious!

And form there, I can say that the strength of Superfriends is highly dependent on how good the Planeswalkers are in the format. For things like Modern and larger formats, that means that they are all available (barring the banned ones, like Oko, the Broko) Of course this means that answers for them are available as well, so we have to be mindful of that.

Superfriends has been all over the place over the course of its history, and yes, it is most traditionally associated with the Jeskai colours as I mentioned above, support for this archetype has wavered back and forth as time has gone by. Proliferate, as I mentioned above, is a very heavy mechanic, with Flux Channeler being a very powerful include in Superfriends decks because it rewards you with empowering your PLaneswalkers when you cast more Planeswalkers. If it's not in the precon, it's going to be a Week 2 addition, you can be sure of that. But past that, Carth the Lion tried to build up support for Planeswalkers in those colours, but didn't really make much of a splash.

In the end though, the real standout for Plandewalker support, which surprised me as well as I went through cards, is . No matter how I look at it, the best Superfriends decks tend to have a strong core to them. Even the current Standard Superfriends is mono-, thanks to the solid top-end curve of The Wandering Emperor, Archangel Elspeth, Elspeth Resplendent and The Eternal Wanderer, with the lower mana values in the deck filled with control or acceleration options to protect their 'Walkers. Of course, I've also seen a very well designed version of the deck that tops out with Kaya, Intangible Slayer in Standard.

Pioneer is not a format I play, but Modern doesn't really have this in the top tiers as Superfriends tends to be too slow for a 3 turn format. It exists because Jace, the Wallet Sculptor is still a powerful card, and there is enough support to make it still on the map as a deck archetype that players pay attention to and be prepared for.

But stepping back to colours for a moment, 's support is more than in just the quality of the Planeswalkers. I want to point out the existence of Board the Weatherlight and Djeru, With Eyes Open. The first doesn't seem like much, but while Urza Assembles the Titans does something similar, it is also more expensive than the 2 mana sorcery, which requires a little more set up and planning.

As an aside, I just wish that 's Lifegain could translate into more direct Loyalty gain for Planeswalkers, but I suppose that would be too much for that color. Instead, they have to depend on effects like Ajani Steadfast that adds loyalty counters. I would love it if I could do that, but I also understand why it isn't that way.

Having as the primary Planeswalker support color is something that Mark Rosewater himself said was Primary in White and not other colors. (You'll want to look at 'Friendly to Planeswalkers' and 'Tutor for a Planeswalker'.) And I just wish it was more obvious than those edge cases that what I listed above. In also provides the color of protection for your Planeswalkers thanks to mass and direct removal, which certainly helps.

Superfriends also has had some ... unpleasant non-gameplay related aspects to it. While the initial name was given to the archetype as a sort of tongue-in-cheek reference to an old animated show with dubious production values, the focus that Wizards put on the ... characters of the Planeswalkers in the buildup leading into Oath of the Gatewatch and all the way through to War of the Spark lead to a rather more derogative name.

The Jacetus League was an insult that I freely used myself as a major Vorthos player when describing the push to make a 'superhero' team of Planeswalkers that would be the flagship of the franchise. "Led", and I use that term so loosely that it was a plot point in-story when Dovin Baan attempted to hire the Gatewatch for protection of the Kaladesh Inventors' Fair, he saw that they were less a team and more people who happed to be in the same place at the same time. Anyway, Wizards, and Mark Rosewater in particular, found the descriptor to be very insulting, despite it being a sign that the playerbase wasn't approving of the direction they were taking their work. And while Planeswalkers were selling packs, that same focus was causing pushback that culminated in Wizards printing War of the Spark, which was sold as an Avengers: Endgame level event in the story. Yeah. No. And now, Wizards has pivoted away from that focus very hard, and just spent the past year, not to finally kill off Phyrexia, but the real result was to depower more Planeswalkers and leave the few that remained even more special and lovable.

Kinda like M-Day.

Regardless of trend-chasing, I am looking forward to seeing how this precon deck is built. With the Commander making mana producing tokens instead of , I'm curious as to the direction it will take. I'm also betting on a reprint of Shu Yun, the Silent Tempest in the deck as an alternate Commander in order to provide an alternate path forward with all those Prowess-inducing Planeswalker cards.

What is your favorite Planeswalker? Have you played Superfriends of any stripe? Am I going to regret putting down money for that deck when I should be saving for Doctor Who to finally entice my dad into learning the game? Comment below and give feedback! Feedback means dopamine, which encourages me to write!

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!

This article is a follow-up to Pattern Recognition # 286 - Rituals The next article in this series is Pattern Recognition # 288 - Transmute

Raknulfr says... #1

I haven´t played a superfriends deck at all yet but I love Garruk. So much so, that I include a Garruk in nearly every Deck ^^" Second place is Ajani, I really like the friendly healer kitty :)

I dont´really care about any other walker out there.

June 30, 2023 2:10 a.m.

berryjon says... #2

Raknulfr Ajani is an amazing person, and nothing bad has ever happened to them after the Shards block. I'm sad he dropped out of the plot before Dominaria United, and the last thing he did on camera was to help Elspeth find her homeworld. Such a bro. I look forward to when he shows up next because he's 100% a Good Guy.

June 30, 2023 8:20 a.m.

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