Last updated on February 13, 2024
Jace, the Mind Sculptor | Illustration by Jason Chan
When planeswalkers arrived on the Magic scene in 2007 with Lorwyn, they were confusing to a lot of us in the casual player base. Weren’t we supposed to be planeswalkers? Isn’t that what the little rulebooks in our 4th edition starter decks said? So if they were player buddies who came to join us, could I hit one with a Flame Jet? These were things I wondered when I got my first planeswalker, the Garruk Wildspeaker promo from Duel of the Planeswalkers, with the little Xbox controller for the set symbol.
Although most of these questions have been answered in the 15-ish yeast since their arrival, casual fans still have questions. If that’s you, here’s your answers!
Gideon Jura | Illustration by Aleksi Briclot
The simplest answer is that they are not creatures.
But that’s not enough, because they do have summoning sickness. Sort of. Sigh.
All permanents in Magic have summoning sickness but that only affects creatures. Lands, artifacts, etc. can tap the turn they enter play. But not creatures, unless they have haste.
And if lands like Mutavault are or become creatures, they have summoning sickness the turn they entered the battlefield. The same is true for a planeswalker that can turn into a creature, like Gideon Jura. You can activate their ability and turn Gideon into a creature, but it’ll have summoning sickness and can’t attack that turn. Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker can attack that first turn because the +1 ability explicitly gives them haste.
Back to the “not creatures” thing, then. Planeswalker abilities don’t require tapping. And summoning sickness only prevents creatures from attacking or using activated abilities that require tapping. The turn I play a Spectral Sailor I can pay the mana to draw a card.
Further, the biggest brain answer is that if planeswalkers had to wait a turn to activate an ability they would be unplayably weak, which is kind of how they feel in most games of Commander, where their activations are so low impact in a multiplayer format that they’re hard to justify sleeving up in most decks.
You can activate planeswalker abilities on your turn, in one of you two main phases when you have priority. But there are two planeswalkers with text that explicitly makes an exception to this, Teferi, Master of Time and The Wandering Emperor. Even if you were to flash in a regular planeswalker on an opponent’s turn, without that exception text, you’d still have to wait until your turn to activate loyalty abilities.
Yes. When you blink a permanent, the new version that hits the battlefield does not “remember” the old version. So if I blink an Elvish Archivist with a lot of counters on it, it reenters the battlefield with none. If I blink a Dack Fayden I can activate it again even if I activated it before. The fact that there is no summoning sickness limiting their activations is part of this.
Yes. When you activate a planeswalker ability it goes on the stack. If that activation ticks the walker down to zero loyalty and it thus “dies,” or if you respond to the activation with a Hero's Downfall, in both cases the planeswalker goes to the graveyard and the ability still resolves. This is similar to enter the battlefield effects and activated abilities and triggered abilities of creatures, which also use the stack.
Yes. All tokens have summoning sickness, however they are created, whether by Wedding Announcement or Dovin, Grand Arbiter. The exceptions are, of course, if the tokens have haste, for example those created by Chandra, Acolyte of Flame.
Yes, but it doesn’t do anything to the planeswalker, really. Something that taps a permanent, like Stinging Lionfish, can do it, but there are very few reasons to do this, as it doesn't affect a planeswalker’s freedom to use its abilities. This might matter with the few cards that trigger off permanents getting tapped, like Royal Decree, and the few that trigger off nonland permanents becoming untapped, like Mesmeric Orb or Wake Thrasher.
Liliana, the Last Hope | Illustration by Anna Steinbauer
So there we have it. Planeswalkers do have summoning sickness, but not really. More precisely, it doesn’t matter since their ability activations don’t require tapping.
Will we get planeswalkers with static or activated abilities that interact with the tapping mechanism someday? I would guess that that design space is in MTG’s future in some way, especially since we seem to be moving in the direction of about one planeswalker a set for the foreseeable future. You’ve got to make something cool if it’s the only one! Not saying the tapping element would make it cool, but it is new and unexplored.
What would a planeswalker ability that interacted with tapping look like? Any amateur card designers out there wanna take a crack? Hit us up with your design in the comments or on Discord.Follow Draftsim for awesome articles and set updates: