The Great Planeswalker Debate

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Posted on Jan. 24, 2023, 10:55 a.m. by vishnarg

Hello everyone! In this thread, I'd like to hear feedback from you for everything planeswalkers.

Any experienced magic player in 2023 will certainly have some opinions on the card type known as planeswalkers. Some love em, some hate em, some are indifferent to em. I want to hear YOUR opinions in the replies below. Are they fun? Are they healthy for the game? Do they need more support cards, more hate cards, both, neither? Are they getting better or worse in the 15 years they have been in the game? What do you see in the future of planeswalkers and their fit into the whole of Magic as a game? Should they continue to be part of standard sets? Do they allow for meaningful interactions and add to the overall gameplay experience, or do they make games too one sided and detract from the overall experience?

These are just some preliminary questions to get your thoughts going, but any commentary at all on planeswalkers is welcome in this thread.

Abaques says... #2

I think they are getting to be pretty 'meh'. Wizards seem to have learned the lesson from Oko that making them really powerful can be a big mistake. There are some interesting designs still, but they are far less impactful compared to what they used to be. Personally I have a Dihada, Binder of Wills deck and I enjoy the interplay between her +2 and -3 abilities, but it takes a deck built around using that which I think is good. Generically good planeswalkers aren't great for the game usually. I also really like the design of Tasha, the Witch Queen and Minsc & Boo, Timeless Heroes as well.

I don't think planeswalkers are necessarily a problem in the formats I play (commander and limited) but I don't think it would be super healthy to give them a bunch of new tools either. I'm slightly concerned that the amount of proliferate in All Will Be One could end up being problematic.

January 24, 2023 11:47 a.m.

Caerwyn says... #3

Personally, I am not fond of them. Beyond just being a Luddite who never got used to their addition to the game, I see the following major problems with them:

  1. They slow down gameplay. Not only do they have abilities activated each turn where the controller might have to pause to make a decision, there is fiddling with dice to mark counters on the Walker, and then managing the effects. This makes Walker abilities a bit more unwieldy than other activated abilities, and those can really add up when multiple walkers are on the field.

  2. They tend to be filled with text, making it difficult to remember all the nuances of their text boxes. Walls of text lend themselves to “hey, can I read your card” and careful study by other players before deciding if they want to counter or remove the Walker, all of which puts the game on pause. That’s not to say other cards don’t also have this problem - but, as a percentage of card type, planeswalkers almost all have this issue.

  3. Additionally, given how many abilities they have, they are most likely to be the cards their own owners make mistakes with (especially problematic for newer players).

January 24, 2023 11:50 a.m. Edited.

(1) Everything Caerwyn said. Very accurate and well-explained. (2) I would like to carry the Luddite torch further by saying “I remember back when the players were the only planeswalkers.” I like to joke that Dreadbore should just insta-kill your opponent. (3) My biggest complaint is more focused on the soft (non-mechanics) end of the spectrum. Rightfully or wrongfully, I see planeswalkers as the beginning of the end of the players-in-the-spotlight era. When I started playing, the players were mighty wizards grabbing unexpecting thrulls out of Breeding Pits and flinging them at each other. One might have gotten their hands on an ancient Pentagram of the Ages somehow. How does it work? No idea! Who made it? No way of knowing! But that wizard has it and will be that much harder to defeat. Maybe the other wizard dug up Urza's Chalice. Who’s was Urza? An ancient dude of great power, from ages ago. Important? Sure, but not as important as how that wizard is about to use it! All that other stuff was forever ago, and your defeat is staring you in the face here and now! You get the picture. Today, with WOTC so heavily invested in these planeswalkers and their stories, we are (as nearly as is possible in a build-your-own-deck game) locked on the railroad tracks of their stories. It’s approaching the point, with the way the cards appear to be created, that you’ll need to read the book to find out how to make the deck. You may be chuckling at that, but I don’t see it being that far off. When WOTC just dumped a bunch of Earth Elementals and Giant Growths in your lap, the game seemed WIDE OPEN. Sure there were stories and books and names like Llanowar and Serra that hinted at enormous story arcs, but you were still just two wizards slugging it out somewhere else. Using the tools you had available. To wrap this up: planeswalkers, in my mind, cemented the railroad tracks in place that dragged -us- planeswalkers off stage. Forced us into the front row seating of a sub-off-Broadway performance that simply cannot live up to what our imaginations had been building for years... about characters that either never meant anything to us before, or are weak shadows of what we had imagined. It’s just super disappointing to pull the D&D/role playing/imagination out of this game, especially when you consider that it was likely an accidental byproduct; a necessity borne of their inability to do more at the time (I think they probably would have started the game this way if they had the resources). It might be difficult for everyone to relate to this, but it’s a little like the Atari game Pitfall for me. The game is repetitive and hollow by today’s standards; the maps are random/inconsistent, and the only skill used is jump. As a younger lad, though, my mind was ROARING while I played it. Imagining swinging from vines over giant scorpions and scooping up piles of treasure was at the front of my mind, leveraged exponentially by the box art (treat yourself to a viewing of all the different pieces of original Atari box art sometime- it’s gorgeous stuff). Now, everything about a video game is there. In front of you. Once you’ve seen it, heard it, and defeated it, you’re done and it is (usually) discarded as flavorless gum. At risk of being overly dramatic; that’s sort of what planeswalkers have done to magic for me. I am not a fan. (TLDR: planeswalkers represent the growing pre-chewed and pre-arranged feeling I get from magic these days and I don’t like them and I’m old and get off my lawn)

January 24, 2023 1:10 p.m.

vishnarg says... #5

Doesn't anyone have any argument to support planeswalkers existence in the game, even a little bit?! Does everybody just want them gone forever?!?!

Well, I'll play a bit of devil's advocate by addressing some of the points made by Caerwyn.

For their first point, that the decisions offered by planeswalkers slow down the game, I think this is mostly a non issue. Yes, it does add more decisions to the game which can take a long time to decide in some cases, but this is not much different than the decision on which creatures you want to attack with or not during combat. A planeswalker ability can only be activated once per turn, similar to a creature attacking in combat. Both require a decision every turn, so I don't think this criticism is entirely valid. Most planeswalker loyalty activations are pretty easy decisions that don't take very long, like most creature combat decisions.

As far as the third point, which claims that planeswalkers are easy to make mistakes and misplay with: I think this is actually very healthy for the game. To be able to use a planeswalker to its maximum effect, you need to make several good decisions over many turns. Any cards which emphasize the skill of decision making help remove some of the "randomness" factor which is inherent with a card game like Magic the Gathering. It de-emphasizes the impact of your opening hand and your top decks, and puts more emphasis on the players perception of the board state and the decisions they make based off that information.

Planeswalkers can add a lot more depth to creature combat, and always give the opponent the option to either focus on the planeswalker and remove it from play ASAP, or to simply ignore the planeswalker and attempt to kill its owner before things get out of hand. This decision is something that no other card can do for the game. These are just my general comments in support of planeswalkers, since it seems nobody else wants to attempt to make this argument.

January 24, 2023 1:32 p.m.

Attackable enchantments is definitely an interesting mechanic. It was super clunky, but I did like the “bolt your opponent and redirect it to their planeswalker” mechanic because it made them more like creatures (which they sort of are). Giving them protection from player-targeting damage spells made them, in my opinion, strangely resilient... which caused me logic-pain when they’re planeswalkers like your opponent. I understand the benefits of the change l, though; make the walkers more resilient and open up an additional range of walker-specific spells and effects for new card creation. To say something nice: they do a good job of adding, effectively, a sort of dummy-partner. Having a second player basically untap his or her one or two lands, and cast their 2/2 bear every turn... with the eventual late-game seven cmc bomb. To make sure I don’t say anything TOO nice (lol) I feel like adding a second opponent is a bad idea. It’s another in a long string of arms races; when walkers came into existence people (generally) needed to use them to keep up with opponents. Now that I think about it- walkers were also responsible for the change to the legend rule that I don’t like. It used to be that you would cast a walker SPECIFICALLY to get rid of your opponent’s walker... because everyone used Jayce. This “everyone gets to have everything” change further slid us out of the realm of imagination. If you summon the master-thief Joven to fight for you, I should be able to summon him out from under you if I have the spell. DAG-NABBIT THESE DURNED NEW-FANGLED RULES CHAP MY HIDE. I’m stopping before I start ranting about mana burn and sloppy more-mana-is-just-better-forever-no-matter-what play. I do like this thread, though! It’s good to talk about these existential aspects of the game!

January 24, 2023 2:03 p.m.

DoomNoodle says... #7

As an avid superfriends player, I love walkers. Over they years they've found a good balance in the meta apart from a couple select format warping ones. The addition of enchantmentesque features on them was a wonderful mechanic that gave the walkers more depth and playability within decks that would otherwise overlook them.

Now on the other end of the spectrum, WotC also has gone overboard with printing multiple walkers each set! War of the spark was acceptable because the was the name sake of said set but no, NOT EVERY SET NEEDS WALKERS!!! I love them but even I dont think each and every set needed them. I understand the Story is always going to have them at every plane but they dont need to be printed! Just leave them in the story and print them sparingly and thoughtfully!

January 24, 2023 4:10 p.m.

wallisface says... #8

From a Modern perspective, almost all Walkers fall into the category of unplayable - and there’s not a huge amount of decks that run them, so their presence in the format feels reasonable. I also think their complexity is a welcome thing in that format, as players are looking to do complicated things, and promote interaction.

Saying all that, I still prefer walkers keep to boundaries where they’re not format-defining. The fact that Wrenn and Six is one of the absolute strongest cards in the format is frustrating, and i’d rather that particular card didn’t exist.

January 24, 2023 5:55 p.m.

vishnarg says... #9

wallisface Yes I agree, cards like Oko, Thief of Crowns, Teferi, Time Raveler and Wrenn and Six are serious problems, but they are the exceptions. Every card type has a couple of offenders for being stupidly broken. It's not that there is anything inherently wrong with any given card type, including planeswalkers, but sometimes the design of planeswalkers gives way way too much value for the cost. Cards like the ones I previously mentioned just shouldn't exist. Most planeswalkers are pretty good, though, and I for one am glad they are part of the game.

January 24, 2023 6:21 p.m.

wallisface says... #10

vishnarg I wouldn’t put Teferi, Time Raveler in that same bucket personally - it can be annoying but it doesn’t do anything broken, and in a lot if matchups its not even doing anything particularly impactful.

You are right that every card type can be broken, but personally I find broken walkers far more offensive than other card types. Not because they’re stronger, but because they’re typing makes them generally harder to remove, and the incremental gains they acquire will lead to free-wins if you can’t answer them quickly.

January 24, 2023 7:14 p.m.

Gleeock says... #11

FormOverFunction - I always personally chose to envision the "player" in MtG as a sort of external superforce (elder-godesque-thing) playing an unseen game of chess (or Magic) that characters at a micro-level could not possibly understand - not like a: named god that MtG characters are actually devotees of, but they exert influence unknowingly in your name. So as I play my & exert my Jund influence on a plane & I play my Savage Lands & my Jund lands, you can see my influence grow. This way, all these singleton cards in a single deck that are seemingly complete nonsense together are actually less nonsensical if they are just reflecting events that you are guiding to dmg another "player's" influence.

Possibly planeswalkers with their Loyalty, would be somewhat aware, on some level, of these mighty guiding forces

I like to picture a player appearing as some sort of mana-color-associated star that you can see in the night-sky (Simic is teal for eg..).

Obviously this is very non-canon stuff, but it makes more sense to me than the canon stuff.

January 25, 2023 7:13 a.m.

Gleeock says... #12

Now, as far as my opinion of planeswalkers?

I think there needs to be more feasible hate or punishment for them, especially hate that synergizes with other decks in fun ways & isn't a dead card otherwise... Speaking of dead cards, I will toot my own horn & say I have effectively used The Elderspell more than most :)

For example, with all this accessible proliferate there REALLY should be some sort of version of (-1/-1) counters that actually bleed walkers over time, but also transfer over to other permanents as well. Something triggered by proliferate would be sweet, like a counter that caused proliferate effects to gnaw away at loyalty, so if you chose to proliferate elsewhere, be prepared to trigger some punishment. I also like punishment by gifting: whenever an opponent activates a loyalty ability draw a card, whenever an opponent proliferates draw a card for each permanent gaining a counter, whenever an opponent activates a loyalty ability they sac a non-token permanent. These options should be explored for the sake of balance.

January 25, 2023 7:29 a.m.

Gleeock I really like that approach, as there isn’t a way out of having walkers; they’re part of the game and whiners like me need to just deal with it lol. The proliferate idea is great, but it could be hampered by the (again) over-simplifying rule change regarding not putting a -1/-1 counter on something that has a +1/+1 counter on it. Removing the plus counter rather than adding the minus counter negates your ability to continue with what you’ve been doing. I understand the challenge of repeatedly having to count both sets of counters and then doing math, but the problem of “are there counters or not” seems way bigger. Did you give that hydra Fevered Convulsions or not? I feel like that stuff should stick. Some sort of “treason counter” for planeswalkers should not fall prey to the same issue. Heck, if your treason counter count gets higher than the loyalty you should gain control of it lol.

January 25, 2023 11:07 a.m.

TypicalTimmy says... #14

I'd like to counter most points in this thread.

  • Too slow

Not all games have to be competitive levels of speed. If you're cracking open some beers and playing a game, who cares if it lasts an hour. You're having fun. This argument is moot because it purely resides within the eye of the beholder.

  • Too much text.

Laziness. Read the card, play it and learn what it does. Next question.

  • Too confusing for new players.

This is absolutely correct. But it applies to many facets of the game. MTG is a confusing game. Introducing Battle will be confusing. It happens. New players should just be patient, take their time and learn. And experienced players should help guide and train. A new player, I've seen it a dozen times, will still be hung up on when an instant can be cast, or remembering to untap, or how to read power and defense. To use "activating an ability" as an excuse, is a poor excuse. It shows lack of commitment toward the game, with regards to helping assist new players. This, therefore, boils down to laziness. Next question.

  • Players in the spotlight.

We still play our decks. If anything, EDH takes the player out of the spotlight with a Commander, whom the deck should rightfully be built around.

Sure, yes faster Planeswalkers should be made for Standard / Modern / Other formats. But then the same players who complain that the current round is too slow will then complain that the newer, faster ones are too powerful.

Some players are never happy and will just complain just to do so. Those players, I largely ignore.

Play the game for you. If you find Planeswalkers to be fun, use them. If you find your deck can't compete with other players, play someone different.

It's a game. Have fun.

January 25, 2023 3:58 p.m.

Gleeock says... #15

FormOverFunction It was a ranty post, but what I was saying was similar to -1/-1 counters... I mean more like a "diminish counter" that would instead force this permanent to remove a counter that it already has (besides the diminish) if a proliferate ability was activated for any reason (so reverse proliferate). & yes I get proliferate is usually a may ability, but I would use this as either a preventative punisher or (if a player wanted to enough) to force them to play the scale game to proliferate other things at the cost of whatever permanent had a "diminish counter".

January 25, 2023 4:56 p.m.

Gleeock says... #16

It would be triggered with any instance of proliferate (not just the may option)

January 25, 2023 4:57 p.m.

Gleeock says... #17

FormOverFunction, I just saw at the end of your post, you were kindof thinking in the same sortof direction there. Yes, more like a activated ability counter that forces a similar sortof whittling effect as -1/-1 or something that forces reverse-proliferate, so it could be a punishing effect that is more widely useful (just like proliferate is widely useful). Those effects would be neat & there would be a whole line of synergy, which could open up new avenues to colors that have been pigeon-holed for years () hint-hint... Or just Jund

There is already a good story precedent to this type of mechanic, Gods like Heliod, hated the presence of planeswalkers in their realm. Maybe enchantments, creatures, & enchantment creatures on some plane could be especially versed in this.

January 25, 2023 5:09 p.m.

plakjekaas says... #18

I was introduced to magic with Planeswalkers already in it, I personally never questioned their existence the way the older players in this thread are doing.

However, while playing Historic Brawl in Arena, I see these alchemy cards that annoy the everliving hell out of me, because they're all 1-card advantage engines that break the parity of what I think a magic card should be, and from that perspective, I can empathise with people who remember the game before the card type existed, because that's exactly what Planeswalkers do too.

I'm happy that design moved on a bit from the "+X-ability for advantage + -X-ability to protect itself + ultimate that wins the game"-template that governed Planeswalkers for a while. Specific support for specific strategies should be the way to go for the future.

We do need some reliable uncounterable non-boardwipeable way of dealing with them though, they're annoyingly well-suited to be control finishers that are slow to win yet impossible to interact with as control of the game has been established.

January 25, 2023 9:59 p.m.

wallisface says... #19

I think Plainswalkers would be waay less of an annoyance if cards like Fatal Push and Path to Exile read “creature or plainswalker”.

I don’t think there’s anything inherently busted about the Plainswalker card type outside of them being inherently hard to remove. The only common answer is Lightning Bolt, but pretty-much every walker worth playing gets out of bolt-range the turn they enter play.

I see Wotc stapling more Plainswalker removal to cards in some of the more recent sets, so i’m really hoping the trend continues so that colours have legitimate cards to answer plainswalkers reasonably.

January 25, 2023 10:26 p.m.

Dromar39 says... #20

I play commander and the majority of the time when people are playing super friends they get targeted first and often by the group. I personally think that planeswalkers aren't bad for the game. Its a different challenge that I need to adjust too.

January 26, 2023 8:51 a.m.

(1) I still like magic and need to complain less. (2) I am very optimistic that there will be more anti-PW mechanics coming as time moves on, because nature abhors a vacuum and new mechanics can be fun. (3) I really like this whole thread and look forward to more like it!

January 26, 2023 2:44 p.m.

Gleeock says... #22

FormOverFunction yeah, well you'd think nature would have abhorred the vacuum of having almost no punishment for bounce, blink, or mass bounce by now... but good punishment is something that WoTC hasn't figured out too well yet. They have stax & removal down to a tee though

January 27, 2023 10:17 a.m.

I feel like the swarm of blink stuff is actually filling a void that was created when the bounce-line was started, connecting the dots between the old Boomerang-like cards and Restoration Angel. The good news is I think we’re approaching that vacuum being filled. I feel like there will be a consistent anti-PW stream, with a potential spike if there’s another War of the Spark type of event/plot. The one thing I worry (for lack of a better term) about is WotC’s apparent hesitancy to “ruin people’s fun” by “not letting people play with their planeswalkers” (see: legend rule change). As we swerve deeper into the solitaire style of play it could result in less of that “break other people’s board states” than we would want. //shrug//

January 27, 2023 11:28 a.m.

wallisface says... #24

FormOverFunction Wotc has been increasing the amount of interaction in the game, not decreasing it.

If you look at Modern pre-and post MH2, the biggest difference is MH2 created a TON of valid interaction options to deal with what the opponent is doing. Modern has shifted from a “two ships passing in the night” format to one entirely based around how well you can mess with your opponent - this is true even in combo decks.

And that mantra remains true even in all recent standard sets. We continue to see powerful interactive cards (Haywire Mite, March of Otherworldly Light, Boseiju, Who Endures etc etc).

And even being specific to Planeswalkers, we’re seeing more cards able to target/kill them in recent sets than we ever have been able to in the past.

I’m not sure where your ”solitaire style of play” dialog comes from, but I would suggest this sounds more like a rut in your local playgroup, than any actual design approach by Wotc.

January 27, 2023 5:22 p.m. Edited.

It’s definitely a statement centered more on Commander, in part because it’s easier to do a solo-combo that simultaneously kills three opponents rather than fistfight your way through three sequential opponents. I haven’t played standard since Flinthoof Boar, so I’m definitely out of those loops lol

January 28, 2023 10:04 a.m.

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