Last updated on January 14, 2021
Planeswalkers. You’ve probably heard the word before, but what exactly are they? Who are Planeswalkers? How many are there? What do they do? If you’re wondering any of these questions, then you’re in luck! We’ve got the answers for you with all there is to know about Planeswalkers.
The first thing to know is the origin of the word, because it’s been around since the very beginning. In the first set of MTG, Alpha, the word referred to Magic players—that’s right, you! Players took on the roles of a Planeswalker to do battle.
There are also Planeswalker cards within the game, though this was introduced much later. They represent powerful beings that can move from plane to plane (think of planes as different universes). If you want more info, we’ve got a crash-course on the multiverse in our Ob Nixilis tell-all.
Because each new set usually takes place on a different plane, being able to travel between them is crucial for MTG’s main characters (i.e., Planeswalkers) to be able to come back again and again. Throughout Magic’s history, we’ve followed different Planeswalkers, but we’ll get to them later on. First, let’s break down how these cards actually work because they can be pretty confusing if you’re new to the game. Let’s start this journey!
Planeswalker Rules: How They Work
So, you’ve opened a Planeswalker and are now wondering how they work, because they look so cool and so different and they must be great to have in play, right? You’re not wrong, for the most part.
Whether you’re new or an old school player coming back after having been gone since before Planeswalkers were introduced, here’s what you need to know:
Planeswalkers are a unique type of permanent spell in Magic with some very special rules.
Just like any other Magic card, Planeswalkers have a name, mana cost, and type, but there are some extra pieces that you need to know that are unique to them: loyalty counter, static abilities, plus abilities, minus abilities, and ultimates.
1. Loyalty counter. All Planeswalkers have a number of loyalty counters that they enter the battlefield with upon being cast called “starting loyalty.” Ashiok, Sculptor of Fears enters the battlefield with 4 loyalty counters. If a Planeswalker’s loyalty is ever reduced to zero (or less), it dies and goes to the graveyard.
2. Static abilities. Some Planeswalkers have a static ability that applies as long as they’re on the battlefield. Take Ugin, the Ineffable as an example: “Colorless spells you cast cost less to cast.” As long as Ugin is on the battlefield, your colorless spells will be two mana cheaper. Sometimes this is called a “passive.”
3. Plus abilities. These abilities add loyalty counters to the Planeswalker’s loyalty equal to its number. Our Ashiok’s plus ability is +2, which means two loyalty counter would be added to its total loyalty when the ability is used.
4. Minus abilities. Using these abilities removes loyalty counters from your Planeswalker’s loyalty. Our Ugin’s minus ability is -3, which means three loyalty counters would be removed from his total loyalty when the ability is used. You can’t put your Planeswalker into negative loyalty using their abilities, so they need to have loyalty counters equal to the minus ability you want to use.
5. Ultimates. The ultimate is the ultimate pay-off for your Planeswalker. It will always be a minus ability and can cost anywhere from -X to -14. Our Ashiok’s ultimate is -11 and will remove 11 loyalty counters from its total loyalty when used. Just like minus abilities, Ashiok would need to have at least 11 loyalty counters to use its ultimate. Ultimates frequently have very splashy abilities that often equate to “you win the game.”
6. You can only activate the loyalty abilities of Planeswalkers as a sorcery. This means you can only activate it on your turn and, unless you have something like The Chain Veil or Teferi, Temporal Archmage’s emblem in play, you can only activate one ability per turn. You can, however, use a loyalty ability the turn your Planeswalker enters the battlefield.
7. You can attack Planeswalkers with creatures. If your opponent has a Planeswalker and you want to get rid of it, you can attack it directly instead of attacking your opponent. They can then block with their creatures as they normally would. The Planeswalker loses a number of loyalty counters equal to the damage done by each unblocked creature attacking it. You can also target Planeswalkers with instants and sorceries if “any target” or “Planeswalker” is the potential target of the spell.
8. All Planeswalkers that can become a creature—think Gideon of the Trials—have summoning sickness the turn they enter the battlefield like any normal creature, meaning they can’t attack that turn. Unless you have a card that gives creatures haste, like Fires of Yavimaya, of course.
9. Creatures and spells that are attacking/targeting Planeswalkers don’t do damage to the player, just the Planeswalker they’re attacking/targeting.
10. You can have a maximum of four Planeswalkers with the same card name in your deck, just like any other MTG card. You can have more than one of the same type of Planeswalker in your deck, however. For example, you can have four Ashiok, Nightmare Muses and four Ashiok, Dream Renders in your deck (depending on the format and legality of the cards, of course).
The Legendary Rule: All Planeswalkers Are Legendary
With the release of Ixalan, all past and present Planeswalkers gained the “Legendary” supertype. This means that Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver’s card type officially reads as “Legendary Planeswalker – Ashiok” even though it doesn’t have the word “Legendary” actually printed on the card. This also means that the legendary rule now applies to Planeswalkers.
The legendary rule states that you can’t have two legendary permanents with the same name under your control. For example, if you have a Nissa, Steward of Elements in play and you cast a second one, you have to pick one that you keep in play and the other will go to the graveyard. This would really only make sense if your Nissa had less than her starting loyalty, but you may as well wait until she’s actually died and then cast the new one.
Note that you and your opponent can both have Nissa, Steward of Elements in play, but you and your opponent cannot have more than one of them on your respective sides of the battlefield. You can’t control more than one legendary permanent, but there can be more than one that exists on the battlefield if they’re controlled by different players. If you were to steal your opponent’s Nissa, you would again have to pick which one to keep and the other would go to the graveyard. This move would actually make some kind of sense since you’re taking away their Planeswalker and, potentially, boosting your Nissa’s loyalty.
As we mentioned, even though you can’t have two Planeswalkers with the same name in play, you can have more than one of the same type of Planeswalker in play as long as they have different names. You can have Elspeth, Sun’s Champion, Elspeth, Sun’s Nemesis, and Elspeth, Knight-Errant all in play at the same time under your control because none of them shares an identical name with the other even though they all have the “Legendary Planeswalker – Elspeth” type.
That’s pretty much everything you need to know about the rules of Planeswalkers and how they work. They can be pretty daunting when you first start to play with them, but they’re well worth the effort. They bring so many interesting and powerful plays to the game that even if you don’t play with them, you’ll come across them for sure and it’s good to know how to deal with them.
A Deeper Dive: The Exact Rules
For those of you who like to read the exact rulings concerning, here’s what the Comprehensive Rules say about Planeswalkers:
- 306.1. A player who has priority may cast a planeswalker card from their hand during a main phase of their turn when the stack is empty. Casting a planeswalker as a spell uses the stack. (See rule 601, “Casting Spells.”)
- 306.2. When a planeswalker spell resolves, its controller puts it onto the battlefield under their control.
- 306.3. Planeswalker subtypes are always a single word and are listed after a long dash: “Planeswalker — Jace.” Each word after the dash is a separate subtype. Planeswalker subtypes are also called planeswalker types. Planeswalkers may have multiple subtypes. See rule 205.3j for the complete list of planeswalker types.
- 306.4. Previously, planeswalkers were subject to a “planeswalker uniqueness rule” that stopped a player from controlling two planeswalkers of the same planeswalker type. This rule has been removed and planeswalker cards printed before this change have received errata in the Oracle card reference to have the legendary supertype. Like other legendary permanents, they are subject to the “legend rule” (see rule 704.5j).
- 306.5. Loyalty is a characteristic only planeswalkers have.
- 306.5a The loyalty of a planeswalker card not on the battlefield is equal to the number printed in its lower right corner.
- 306.5b A planeswalker has the intrinsic ability “This permanent enters the battlefield with a number of loyalty counters on it equal to its printed loyalty number.” This ability creates a replacement effect (see rule 614.1c).
- 306.5c The loyalty of a planeswalker on the battlefield is equal to the number of loyalty counters on it.
- 306.5d Each planeswalker has a number of loyalty abilities, which are activated abilities with loyalty symbols in their costs. Loyalty abilities follow special rules: A player may activate a loyalty ability of a permanent they control any time they have priority and the stack is empty during a main phase of their turn, but only if none of that permanent’s loyalty abilities have been activated that turn. See rule 606, “Loyalty Abilities.”
- 306.6. Planeswalkers can be attacked. (See rule 508, “Declare Attackers Step.”)
- 306.7. Previously, planeswalkers were subject to a redirection effect that allowed a player to have noncombat damage that would be dealt to an opponent be dealt to a planeswalker under that opponent’s control instead. This rule has been removed and certain cards have received errata in the Oracle card reference to deal damage directly to planeswalkers.
- 306.8. Damage dealt to a planeswalker results in that many loyalty counters being removed from it.
- 306.9. If a planeswalker’s loyalty is 0, it’s put into its owner’s graveyard. (This is a state-based action. See rule 704.)
This should help you find all the solutions to the interactions you can encounter when dealing with this bunch! And now that you know that we, as players, are all Planeswalkers and that there are also cards that are Planeswalkers, let’s find out where it all started for the latter. They weren’t always present as physical cards even though the word “Planeswalker” already existed and there was lore out there that dealt with them.
Are Planeswalkers Creatures?
This should be clear after reading the comprehensive rules, but no, planeswalkers are not creatures. They are a distinctly different type of permanent that have very different rules. Some planeswalkers can become creatures like Gideon of the Trials or Sarkhan the Masterless, but this is the exception, not the rule.
This also means that the vast majority of planeswalkers cannot “attack” in the traditional sense. Unless it’s animated into a creature via a spell or ability, it can only “be attacked” and not do the attacking itself. Planeswalkers often have the ability to do damage (like Chandra), so they sometimes could indirectly “attack” other planeswalkers by targeting them with damage abilities.
How Many Planeswalkers Can You Have Out?
There’s no limit to the number of planeswalker permanents you can have in play! It may hurt your head trying to manage 100 passive and loyalty abilities, but that’s completely fair game. The only restriction is that you can’t have two copies of the exact same planeswalker card in play.
How Many Planeswalkers Can You Have in Your Commander Deck?
Again, there is no limit. Just make sure you abide by the singleton and color identity rules of the format.
History of Planeswalkers in Magic: The Gathering
The First Planeswalkers
Even though Planeswalkers have always existed in some form in the game, they haven’t always existed as actual, physical, printed cards. Their inception came about to give the game a physical representation of one of the two biggest pillars of Magic: the color wheel and wizards fighting with magic. The color wheel was already well represented, but the “wizards fighting magic” aspect proved more difficult to realize. At the time, we, the players, fighting each other in a game of Magic, were the best representation as the physical Planeswalkers of the game.
Matt Cavotta, a member of the design team for Future Sight, came up with the idea to create actual Planeswalker cards for a new set. Believe it or not, it took some convincing. But, eventually, Mark Rosewater realized that this could be the perfect way to finally represent “wizards fighting with magic” in the actual game. The idea proved too big for Future Sight, already a time-consuming set to create, so this bold new move was pushed forward to Lorwyn and the rest is history.
WotC said they were introducing a new card type to the game in 2007. This hadn’t happened yet up to that point, so needless to say, this was a historic moment for Magic. Planeswalkers hit center stage in a big way with the first five Planeswalkers created for the game:
If you were paying attention to the first Planeswalker cards, you’ll have noticed that they were printed as rares. The simple reason for this is that mythic rare hadn’t been introduced yet and wouldn’t come up until late 2008 with Shards of Alara. After that, all Planeswalkers have been printed or reprinted at mythic rare, even the original five. Well, I say all, but you know that there’s one set that changed all this. We’ll come back to that in a bit.
Wizards decided to print Planeswalkers as mythic rares because, within the lore of the game, someone finding their “spark” and ascending to Planeswalker-hood is a very rare occurrence—mythically rare, if you will. So, it’s only natural that the chances of opening them mirror the lore of the game. Then, when you do open one, it feels like something special, a feeling that invokes opening something powerful and exciting. Mythic rare makes all that possible. It deepens the bond between real life and mythos, something that Magic has always been very good at intertwining.
Before War of the Spark, all Planeswalkers had been set at mythic rare, but this set changed all of that. Not only did they print a whole slew at rare, but uncommon Planeswalkers were popping out of packs left, right, and center. This changed a fundamental rule that Wizards had set for themselves: that they would print Planeswalkers only at mythic rare going forward from the Alara block.
However, with the original inception of the Nicol Bolas story arc, a big war was always going to happen. Planeswalkers were always going to be part of this equation and there are only so many slots for each rarity when building a set. This means they had to revisit their own rule.
Mark Rosewater said it best: “The main protagonists and antagonists got to be mythic rare. The rest of the Gatewatch was rare. The other Planeswalkers’ rarity placement was based on their design. If it could be hybrid, it was uncommon, and if it wanted to be a traditional two-color gold card, it had to be rare. Color dictated some slots (Vraska, for example, was the only black-green planeswalker in the set and thus had to be hybrid) as did slot placement (ten cards had to be monocolor uncommons), but mostly it was based on what rarity the best design for each planeswalker felt most suited.”
But are we going to keep seeing Planeswalkers being printed at lower rarities all the time now? Mark Rosewater also answers that question: “It’s a tool in our toolbox available to future design teams. The plan is for planeswalkers to be mythic rare by default, but if a design team feels that a rare (or uncommon) planeswalker would serve the set, they have access to it.”
So, there’s no need to worry that WotC is going to start throwing Planeswalkers around willy-nilly just yet. Core Set 2020 saw Chandra, Acolyte of Flame and Chandra, Novice Pyromancer, which shows the evolution of Chandra in a flavorful way. But neither Throne of Eldraine or Theros: Beyond Death featured any rare or uncommon Planeswalkers.
Personally, I think they should keep the appearances of rare and uncommon Planeswalkers at a bare minimum. From the flavor point of view that becoming a Planeswalker is a very rare occurrence and coming across one is as well. They’ve become the most popular card type in Magic and have even changed the face of advertising for Wizards, all because they are the perfect vehicle for storytelling.
Keeping them mostly at mythic rare makes their stories feel that much more special and important. It made sense for War of the Spark, but we probably won’t see quite such a dramatic story arc like that for a while.
Role in Storytelling
I already mentioned that Planeswalkers have become the most popular card type. In fact, they have become the face of MTG. But this wasn’t always the case. Magic was promoted differently before Planeswalkers. In promotional material, they mostly focused on the set, the creatures within the set, and the mechanics. Of course, this is still done today, but not without a face and that face was missing back in the day. Here are some examples:
Back then, it was the elements that made up the game that Wizards used to promote it. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it can be a little bit hard to connect with what they’re trying to promote. Even when Lorwyn, the set Planeswalkers were introduced in, came out, it took a long time for WotC to realize how they could harness the power of characters that we, the audience, could identify with, care about, follow, and learn from. But once they did, they never turned back.
As you can see from the above posters and products, Planeswalkers have changed promotional material significantly. They became the people you can walk alongside through the multiverse, discovering amazing new worlds, creatures, people, and civilizations. They became guides and even friends with familiar faces and features we can identify with.
You care about what happens to them whereas there weren’t any characters that you could apply that same feeling to before. It’s one of the smartest things Wizards has done over the years and has made the game better for veterans and new players alike. It has given MTG a globally recognizable identity.
Find Your Spark
In the beginning, Wizards consciously didn’t put Planeswalkers in every set because they wanted them to feel like a rare occurrence, just like the spark that enabled the person to start planeswalking. This gradually changed over time with more and more Planeswalkers coming into storylines until we got to the present day when there is a new Planeswalker “born” almost every set. To name a few:
All this beckons the question of how you actually get your spark? MTG Wiki says it best: “When that being is put through a period of extreme stress—in many cases death—the spark can trigger, causing the individual to ascend and become a Planeswalker.” This is often paired with the being planeswalking for the first time, which is how they discover their new-found ability.
Now that I’ve covered the importance of Planeswalkers in storytelling and how sparks ignite, let’s take a look at some of the most famous Planeswalkers in the game.
Most Famous Planeswalkers
The most well-known Planeswalkers that are still alive and kickin’ are some that we’ve been following for a long time and know very well. Let’s look at a few famous names and pair them with the most famous card they have:
- Nicol Bolas
A real big bad we’ve followed for a long time. Maybe there are worse out there, but we haven’t met them yet, so we’re content to say that Bolas is probably Magic’s ultimate bad guy. You may recognize him from the new player experience in MTG Arena as the “boss” you face—and ultimately defeat, go us—at the end of the tutorial. He’s also the face of our MTGA tracker, Arena Tutor.
- Liliana Vess
A self-centered, yet charming woman who continually switches sides. In War of the Spark’s story, she started off serving Nicol Bolas but inevitably had a change of heart and was ready to sacrifice herself to help save Ravnica (and probably the multiverse, let’s face it).
- Jace Beleren
A powerful mind mage. He’s not exactly a… fan favorite. But he’s… well, we know who he is. For better of for worse.
- Chandra Nalaar
A fly-off-the-handle-quickly but good-at-heart pyromancer. Her iconic flaming locks and Pyromancer Goggles are pretty in-line with her personality.
- Nissa Revane
Always attune with nature and its preservation. The self-appointed protector of Zendikar with a straight-line connection and bad ass elemental sidekicks.
Where there is life, there is death, and the same goes for Planeswalkers. A lot of Planeswalkers have died over the history of Magic, but let’s light a candle for the ones that died after the Great Mending took place:
Because of the passing or desparking of some dominant storyline characters, Wizards has been pushing a couple of characters to the forefront. You’ll be able to follow these returning characters on their no-doubt exciting adventures going forward. Who to follow? Take your pick:
These are a bunch of great characters that have been getting a push over recent years, as well. We might be seeing them team up, or go head to head with, a couple of other Planeswalkers that have been getting a decent amount of attention as well:
With so many great characters to choose from, together with the main characters, this leaves a lot of room to weave some very interesting stories. I don’t know about you, but personally I’m rooting for a more diversified focus on multiple characters and less of the “let’s follow these five characters to eternity and back” type of setting that we’ve had to endure in the past.
Switching between characters creates tension and excitement to what will happen to our favorites when we see them again. Will we be going to Phyrexia? Kamigawa? An amazing new plane? I’m as charged up as you to find out!
Which Ones Can Be Used
I mentioned before that there are a handful of Planeswalkers that you can use as your commander. This is a sweet alternative to choosing a legendary creature that makes for different deck building and themes to build around. Here’s a list of all 11 you can currently choose to lead you in battle:
- Aminatou, the Fateshifter
- Daretti, Scrap Savant
- Estrid, the Masked
- Freyalise, Llanowar’s Fury
- Lord Windgrace
- Nahiri, the Lithomancer
- Ob Nixilis of the Black Oath
- Rowan Kenrith
- Saheeli, the Gifted
- Teferi, Temporal Archmage
- Will Kenrith
How Do They Work
A commander Planeswalker works exactly like a legendary creature as your general would, except that it can be attacked by creatures. Just in case you have any doubts:
- The card sits in the command zone
- It can be cast from the command zone
- You can choose to return it to the command zone any time the card changes zones (i.e., battlefield, deck, hand, graveyard, or exile)
- Every time it’s returned to the command zone it costs an additional two mana to cast
- The card’s color identity are the colors allowed in your deck
So far two Commander products (Commander 2014 and Commander 2018) and Battlebond have contributed to this list of great commander options. I’ve got a feeling that you haven’t seen the last of these yet and that Wizards will add some more interesting characters to this list. Great news for those of you who like to have many different faces for their commander decks!
The Best and Worst Planeswalkers
Defining which are the best and worst Planeswalkers highly depends on what format you’re looking at. We’ve taken the impact a Planeswalker has on the game when entering the battlefield into account as the main factor. In general, I’d like to think that an amazing Planeswalker should be able to be great in more than one format. So much so that they’ve become staples or cards that you cannot imagine not putting in your deck.
The opposite goes for the worst ones: they should be unplayable in generally all formats. For the best representation of these lists, I won’t be sticking to any banned list.
- Chandra, Torch of Defiance
- Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
- Garruk Wildspeaker
- Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
- Jace, The Mind Sculptor
- Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy
- Karn Liberated
- Nicol Bolas, The Ravager
- Oko, Thief of Crowns
- Teferi, Hero of Dominaria
- Teferi, Time Raveler
- Ugin, The Spirit Dragon
- Wrenn and Six
- Ashiok, Sculptor of Fears
- Ajani Unyielding
- Chandra Ablaze
- Chandra Nalaar
- Daretti, Scrap Savant
- Gideon Jura
- Huatli, Dinosaur Knight
- Kaya, Orzhov Usurper
- Ral, Caller of Storms
- Samut, the Tested
- Tamiyo, Collector of Tales
- Tibalt, The Fiend-Blooded
These are my picks for the best and worst Planeswalker cards in the game. If you’d like to share your opinion or give your own picks, leave them in the comments below. I’m interested to hear what your nominations for these lists are!
We talked about great starter products in our best starter decks article, and Planeswalker decks were high on that list (and on the list of decks that come with free MTGA codes). If you’re not familiar with them, these are ready-to-play 60-card decks for beginning players. They offer a fun and simple way to get better acquainted with the game using a deck that’s well-balanced against other Planeswalker decks from the same set. This means that you and a friend can both get one and start battling each other right out of the gates!
On top of all this, it’s also an easy way to get into Planeswalker cards. Each deck is represented by one and there’s usually a theme built around that Planeswalker to show off what they can do. This is a great way to see what Planeswalkers can do and what impact they can have on a game of Magic when you’re a beginning player. So, don’t be afraid to pick them up, let out your battle cry, and charge!
Power Level Debate
There have been several discussions over the years about Planeswalkers being too powerful and the arguments have heated up again with the recent bannings of these two bad boys:
So, the question is, are Planeswalkers too powerful? I believe the short answer is “no.” In general, Planeswalkers aren’t too powerful. It’s kind of unbelievable that Oko and Wrenn in particular left Wizards’ R&D without being flagged as broken in the first place. “Why is this bad,” you ask? I’ll tell you.
Now, it’s only fair to point out that the playtesting group withing R&D already has a tremendously difficult task in playtesting unreleased cards and finding faults. Combine this with the number of cards that are available in MTG and you can see how it’s hard to see every possible combo or interaction out there that could make an otherwise OK card completely broken.
That said, Oko and Wrenn seem to have either been intentionally pushed or their potential to break the boundaries of power level was somehow not noticed. Upon release, this quickly caused multiple formats to feel the warping effect these cards had on the game. This meant that when they hit the battlefield the game centered around them and nothing else. You either hadto remove them or steal them or copy them. If you couldn’t, the chances of you being able to win were incredibly slim.
Constructed formats specifically are affected by cards like these because you’re able to get four copies of each, optimize your decks, and abuse them very effectively in those formats. All of this in a way that simply locks the opponent out when you play these cards and they don’t have an immediate answer to them.
You might say, “But hold on, there are other cards that lock opponents out!”, and you’d be right. The difference is that those other cards need more than one card to achieve their goal. The problem with Oko and Wrenn is that just the one of them that does all that in one foul sweep. That’s why so many people are up in arms about the power level of Planeswalkers.
Balancing the Game vs the Story
Both Oko and Wrenn play a significant role in the storyline of their respective sets and it would be a shame if they wouldn’t have been printed, because they add a lot of flavor and depth to the game. This is something we all love to see, so depriving us of the cards entirely isn’t the answer in my opinion.
Balancing the cards out to make them more reasonable to play with, however, is the answer. Tinkering with mana-cost or the abilities of these cards would solve a lot of their power problems and, with it, their ability to warp games and formats around them. Once this balance has been established, you can enjoy both the game and the story together.
There’s no shame in trying to push the boundaries every now and then, it’s something that keeps the game exciting and appealing. Wizards needs to find a way to pick out the bad seeds that take the game into a realm where it stops pushing boundaries and starts breaking in a way that makes it no fun to play. “Fun” is the key word here. Time has taught us that when the game is fun it makes you want to play more, not less.
How to Get Planeswalkers on MTG Arena
Getting your hands on Planeswalker cards in Arena isn’t difficult as it might seem. The first is pretty much what you’d expect: open them in packs. If you’re wondering how you get packs, there’s a bunch of ways. You can snag some free ones using Promo codes, buy them in the Arena store using gold or gems, or earn them by playing the game or participating in events.
These are the three simple ways you can add all the Planeswalkers on MTG Arena to your digital collection!
List of All Planeswalkers
Time to Planeswalk Away
Would you have believed that there are already 200 different Planeswalker cards before seeing this list? Me neither! Now you can view them all neatly in the tables up there and wonder at all the work that has gone into them all the way from creating this new card type 13 years ago to the present day.
With that, we’ve come at the end of this article. Hopefully you find it helpful as I’ve had fun writing it. See you again soon, Planeswalker!