Elspeth, Knight-Errant | Illustration by Volkan Baga
Emblems are a mechanic in Magic that might seem pretty simple at first glance, but they’re actually pretty complex and interesting if you look into them in more detail. Knowing how they work will give you that extra edge when trying to win or help you figure out that complex rules interaction in a crazy Commander game.
So today it’s time to take a deep dive on emblems in MTG!
How Do Emblems Work?
Liliana, the Last Hope | Illustration by Anna Steinbauer
Emblems are what we use to represent permanent effects on the battlefield that some planeswalkers produce, usually with their ultimate ability. They’re special in that they’re neither cards nor tokens (or permanents at all), but more of a reminder that the effect is in existence. They’re difficult to impossible to interact with because of this.
The History of Emblems in MTG
Emblems were introduced into MTG to solve a particular problem. Elspeth, Knight-Errant was printed in Shards of Alara in 2008. The card has an ultimate ability that affects permanents you control for the rest of the game. This applied even if Elspeth was removed in some way which, while by today’s standards of card design may not be such a big deal, led to problems at the time.
In 2010, a solution was brought in by implementing an errata to Elspeth so that the final ability reads:
Emblems became pretty much as evergreen as planeswalkers themselves since then, and there have been 68 more planeswalkers that create emblems, bringing the total to 69 (nice). Three planeswalkers are tied for the number of cards they have that create emblems. Those are Chandra, Garruk and Liliana with four each.
What Zone is an Emblem In?
Emblems exist in the command zone just like a commander. This zone exists outside of games of Commander and is where other things like Planechase planes and Archenemy schemes exist when they’re used in a game.
Are There Ways to Destroy or Remove an Emblem?
There are currently no ways to destroy or remove an emblem. But there’s technically nothing stopping this from happening in future if WotC decides to print something to interact with them.
Are There Any Ways to Interact with Emblems?
While you can’t interact with emblems directly, there are ways you can work with them. The best is to stop them being created in the first place.
If you can’t deal with the planeswalker, countering the ability with a Stifle-style effect is the next best thing. Even better in some situations since it doesn’t counter the loyalty cost and often takes the planeswalker out at the same time. The triggered abilities of the emblem can also be countered with Stifle-style effects, so you can still work around the emblem’s abilities even when it’s out.
If you want to get rid of an emblem that’s already on the battlefield, you need to get a bit tricky. While you can’t destroy it, you can wipe the slate clean if you restart the game using a card like Karn Liberated. And if you’re feeling really funky, the emblem won’t exist when you start a sub-game. So Shahrazad or something silver-bordered like Enter the Dungeon are both ways to work around emblems if your playgroup or format allows!
Are Emblems Triggered Abilities?
Some emblems have abilities that are triggered, like Tyvar Kell’s emblem which triggers when you cast elf spells.
Is an Emblem an Artifact?
Despite possibly looking like an artifact from their coloring, emblems are not artifacts.
Are Emblems Colorless?
Emblems don’t have any characteristics other than their effect, including color. If a card cares about the color of a source, like damage and Torbran, Thane of Red Fell, it doesn’t affect emblems.
Is an Emblem a Token?
Emblems are not tokens. They’re not really cards, either.
Is an Emblem a Permanent?
Emblems are more of a reminder that the effect is in existence. They also aren’t a card type, but you can search for them on most good sites as if they were just for ease of use.
Can You Have Two of the Same Emblem?
Yes, you can have two of the same emblem active at once. This is particularly relevant with cards like Chandra, Awakened Inferno.
Are Emblems Legendary?
No, emblems are not legendary.
Can You Have More Than One Emblem?
Yes, you can have more than one emblem. Whether from different planeswalkers, the same, or a mix, you can have as many emblems as you’re able to create.
Can You Copy an Emblem?
Currently? No, you can’t copy emblems. In the future? It’s certainly possible!
Do Emblems Stay When Their Planeswalker Dies?
As I mentioned earlier, emblems were created to help with this issue and do in fact stay in play when their planeswalker dies.
Do Emblems Stay When Their Controller Dies?
If you give an emblem to another player in a multiplayer game using a planeswalker like Garruk, Apex Predator and you leave the game, the emblem will stay around. The emblem only leaves if its controller leaves the game.
Do Any Other Cards Besides Planeswalkers Create Emblems?
Currently only planeswalkers create emblems, but there are some edge cases that act just like the original Elspeth ultimate did. These could theoretically use emblems, but don’t. Some specifically include Sea Gate Restoration, giving you no maximum hand size for the rest of the game.
The Best Emblems
Vraska, Golgari Queen
Vraska, Golgari Queen is a great example of a powerful and interesting emblem. The Golgari Queen’s emblem actually says “you win the game” on it, but there’s another hoop you have to jump through to get there. It’s also a fantastic flavor win for a Golgari () planeswalker.
Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor
Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor is interesting for another reason. It creates the emblem as it enters the battlefield, which is unique to this planeswalker. But it’s not a small effect. It gives you some fantastic card advantage which, to be fair, is what you’d want from a 7-mana walker.
Gideon of the Trials
A really interesting design comes with Gideon of the Trials. For starters, it says that you can’t lose the game. And it doesn’t just care about itself but any Gideon planeswalker. Super interesting to see a planeswalker refer to its own subtype.
Liliana, the Last Hope
The thing that makes Liliana, the Last Hope’s emblem interesting is that it creates an ever-increasing number of Zombies. If you don’t control any zombies, it creates two. Next time it creates four, giving you a total of six. Then you’ll have 14, then 30. It gets out of control quickly and I love the exponential nature of it.
Teferi, Temporal Archmage
Teferi, Temporal Archmage’s emblem straight up breaks games in two if you’re playing superfriends in a multiplayer game. Activating your planeswalkers on every player’s turn, at instant speed? Most walkers weren’t designed for this to be a fair way to use them. Breaking game mechanics within the rules of the game? Count me in!
Vraska, Golgari Queen | Illustration by Magali Villeneuve
Love it or hate it, emblems go hand-in-hand with modern planeswalker design. Despite only around a quarter of planeswalkers making them, it kinda feels like a planeswalker isn’t a real planeswalker unless it has a super-powerful emblem to go with it.
But are these incredibly strong and un-interactive components a problem for the game? I don’t think so. The most powerful are usually difficult to pull off without help from Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider or something similar, and it’s always fun to see a planeswalker with an ability that can create an emblem when it first enters, like Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. But a bit of variety wouldn’t be bad. We’re already seeing some emblems with similar effects. Mordenkainen and Wrenn and Seven have identical emblems, even if they’re created by different effects.
Anyway, what do you think about emblems? What would you like to see on them in future? I’d love to see your thoughts in the comments or over in the Draftsim Discord.
I’ll catch you around. May your ultimates not get Stifled!Follow Draftsim for awesome articles and set updates: