2-Mana and 3-Mana Planeswalkers: How Broken Are They?

Oko is certainly a problematic card, but is the same true of any cheap planeswalker? There are more of them than one might think. We'll examine all 43, properly evaluating their "brokenness" in order to address the design sustainability of a planeswalker that can naturally drop on turn two or three.

The Complete History of 2- and 3-Mana Walkers

1. Jace Beleren (Lorwyn, 2007)


jace beleren

Lorwyn is where the planeswalkers started their journey and, lo and behold, a 3-mana version was already among them, right from the beginning. The original Jace is a very tame walker, essentially a colorshifted, almost strictly worse Phyrexian Arena: much easier to get rid of, and either symmetrical every third turn or expiring before long. Sure, you could pursue the ultimate as a support to a milling endgame, but it'd take five undisrupted turns to get there; it's never been a competitive proposition. Li'l Jace just works as a fair card advantage engine whose casting cost nobody ever marveled at.

Brokenness Factor: Low

2. Liliana of the Veil (Innistrad, 2011)


liliana of the veil

It might have taken a few years for Magic's R&D to feel comfortable attempting a truly powerful design for a 3-mana walker, but then the second appearance of Liliana really pushed the envelope with its disruption and control elements, resulting in one of the most feared, and economically expensive, planeswalker cards ever printed. A bar was set right there, and it wasn't set low. But this is also an accomplished design because it involves critical decision points. The plus requires you to expend an additional resource; the minus must be timed right — it can be situationally explosive, but at the end of the day it's still an edict effect, therefore close to useless against go-wide strategies. Here we see considerable strengths accompanied by a few self-balancing dynamics.

Brokenness Factor: High

3. Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded (Avacyn Restored, 2012)


tibalt, the fiend-blooded

You can picture the designers asking: what if we lowered a planeswalker's converted mana cost even more? Tibalt was the first to experiment in that extreme area, if very timidly. Draw and discard at random? Conditional, player-only damage two turns later, resulting in Tibalt's death? Let's just say this was not a bold design. If Liliana of the Veil would go down in history as one of the most respected planeswalkers, this Tibalt could easily win the prize for most ridiculed.

Brokenness Factor: Null

4. Ajani, Caller of the Pride (Magic 2013, 2012)


ajani, caller of the pride

With 3-mana Liliana at one end of the scale, and Tibalt at the other, this go-tall Ajani resides fairly in the middle; playable, but not exceedingly impactful. It's a reworking of the kind of creature-based planeswalker along the lines of Shards of Alara's Elspeth, Knight-Errant. Giving flying and double strike to your beater can be quite damaging, but you'll have to wait a while before you can do it again, and in the meantime Ajani won't have any way to defend himself. Nonetheless, the Caller of the Pride saw some play as aggro's little helper for a while, but is mostly forgotten now. Even Pioneer didn't really succeed in bringing him back so far.

Brokenness Factor: Low

5. Domri Rade (Gatecrash, 2013)


domri rade

Similarly to the Ajani above, the first Domri supplies one good creature-centric ability, in this case the fight, which however can't be repeated too often. Unlike Ajani, Domri also boasts a card advantage mode that makes him somewhat useful even on a board devoid of creatures, but it's not a very deep dig.

Brokenness Factor: Low

6. Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver (Theros, 2013)


ashiok, nightmare weaver

By this point in time, the 3-mana walker has established itself as a tool of the Magic trade, and Ashiok continues the series without improving much on the average power level. In fact, this card starts as a 3-mana "does nothing" spell and its ultimate is egregiously bad. The chance to cast some of the opponent's creatures in exchange for loyalty is the main allure, but you're not guaranteed to hit a suitable target at the first attempt — or ever, depending on what type of deck you're facing. In the meantime, Ashiok doesn't affect the board or the life total in any way.

Brokenness Factor: Low

7. Dack Fayden (Conspiracy, 2014)


dack fayden

The late Dack was the very first planeswalker that didn't have to pass through Standard. Instead he only became legal in Vintage, Legacy, and Commander, as well as kindred formats like his native Conspiracy. Our Izzet scoundrel enjoys stealing artifacts in environments that are naturally rich of those, and the double looting can help set up graveyard combos and recursion. His power level appears higher than that of any previous 3-mana walker except Liliana of the Veil, and Dack still occasionally shows up in Vintage to this date, a clear indicator of being good enough, if still far from broken. Evaluated in a vacuum, the minus ability could easily find no target at all, the plus has diminishing returns, and the ultimate is contingent on casting specific spells afterwards.

Brokenness Factor: Medium

8. Gideon, Battle-Forged (Magic Origins, 2015)


kytheon gideon

It's debatable whether or not the transformers from Magic Origins should even count as planeswalkers, given that they start as creatures. Still, they all represent an investment of 3 or fewer mana that can result in a planeswalker appearing on the battlefield, so they should at least be mentioned in this review. Gideon is the cheapest of the lot, and the transforming clause suits the kind of White Weenie list that would run Savannah Lions. After all is said and done, you get a miniature Gideon Jura, albeit sans removal. All in all, it's a decent card, but not particularly game-breaking by any metric, especially considering how hard it is to transform Kytheon into Gideon when you draw into him on an empty board.

Brokenness Factor: Low

9. Jace, Telepath Unbound (Magic Origins, 2015)


jace, vryn's prodigy jace, telepath unbound

Getting Jace, Vryn's Prodigy to spark into his planeswalking form doesn't take much work, but his summoning sickness prevents that outcome from happening right away, even with enough cards already in the grave. Still, the Prodigy is a serviceable looter and the Telepath provides a Snapcaster Mage routine, if fueled by an underwhelming plus ability. He has his supporters, going even as far as Vintage, but I challenge anybody to call this guy oppressive.

Brokenness Factor: Low

10. Liliana, Defiant Necromancer (Magic Origins, 2015)


liliana, heretical healer liliana, defiant necromancer

Liliana, Heretical Healer asks for a modicum of build-around to make the death trigger happen smoothly, but then you get a Zombie token and likely a symmetrical discard followed by reanimation. Functional, yet nothing groundbreaking, which is evidently a theme with the Origins Five. Pioneer has reevaluated their usefulness to some extent, but they still have ways to go before breaking any format.

Brokenness Factor: Low

11. Chandra, Roaring Flame (Magic Origins, 2015)


chandra, fire of kaladesh chandra, roaring flame

There are some hoops to jump through in order to make Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh ascend to Roaring Flame. You either have to connect with her — which seems unlikely with an unevasive 2/2 that attacks on turn four — and then cast a red spell to enable her pinging; or chain two red spells so she can ping a grand total of three times. After all this, the planeswalker side will do little more than just throwing a Shock alternatively at the opponent or a creature. Serviceable, but forgettable.

Brokenness Factor: Low

12. Nissa, Sage Animist (Magic Origins, 2015)


nissa, vastwood seer nissa, sage animist

At the time of their release, Nissa, Vastwood Seer was considered the best of the five Origins transformers, as her first couple of copies are sheer card advantage and board presence. Then comes a turn when the condition is already fulfilled, or one land drop away, so Nissa can hit the battlefield and transform immediately, creating a 4/4 and then casting Explore every turn thereafter. She's also the only one whose ultimate has the potential to win the game on the spot. But once again, there's nothing remotely broken in this design. Despite the modest initial mana investment, the planeswalker has no chance to get online in the early game.

Brokenness Factor: Low

13. Nissa, Voice of Zendikar (Oath of the Gatewatch, 2016)


nissa, voice of zendikar

Now, this Nissa, on the other hand, is a veritable 3-drop. She cycles between churning out bodies and boosting the entire team, which is a good line to follow for most aggro strategies. This straightforward approach, along with a desirable ultimate, places her on the upper echelon of the 3-mana walkers ecosystem. But it still doesn't make her a problematic card. After all, when she first activates on turn three, or even turn two with an accelerant, there's not going to be much on the battlefield to pump, so you'll just look at a 4-loyalty Nissa and a 0/1 Plant — not enough to call in the fun police.

Brokenness Factor: Medium

14. Liliana, the Last Hope (Eldritch Moon, 2016)


liliana, the last hope

The second 3-mana Lili is arguably even better than her previous, more celebrated low-cost incarnation. Her removal capabilities are limited to 1-toughness creatures, but also obtained while increasing her loyalty. The power-crippling portion of the deal even remains relevant during the opponent's turn. Her minus provides roundabout card advantage through self-mill, something that black is typically equipped to further exploit. The Zombie apocalypse ultimate is also quite cool, if rarely necessary. And being legal in Pioneer, where Liliana of the Veil is not welcome, definitely raised this Liliana's profile and value.

Brokenness Factor: High

15. Daretti, Ingenious Iconoclast (Conspiracy: Take the Crown, 2016)


daretti, ingenious iconoclast

Another walker that only got admission to the older Eternal formats, the black-red Daretti is consequently not a widely seen card, but his abilities are pretty strong. The first two allow for a self-sustained creature or artifact removal every other turn, on top of enabling artifact synergies. Finally, we get an enjoyable over-the-top ultimate.

Brokenness Factor: Medium

16. Saheeli Rai (Kaladesh, 2016)


saheeli rai

Saheeli was notorious as a piece of the infinite combo with Felidar Guardian in Standard — which, alas, Pioneer won't get to replicate. That gives her good credentials, although her casting cost wasn't entirely a factor there. Sure, it helped speeding up the combo, but being able to drop her on turn three doesn't lead to a particularly amazing board state. Her scry ability is also unimpressive, but complements her main role of combo enabler.

Brokenness Factor: Medium

17. Gideon of the Trials (Amonkhet, 2017)


gideon of trials

The Gideon from Amonkhet saw play in Standard; a well-balanced card that can blank one of the opponent's permanents — which isn't removal, but close enough — and demands to be dealt with because of the emblem. The lack of interaction with his own team puts him at a slightly lower level than Gideon Blackblade, but the package still makes for a rather commanding board presence.

Brokenness Factor: Medium

18. Nissa, Steward of Elements (Amonkhet, 2017)


nissa, steward of elements

I firmly believe the green-blue Nissa was severely underrated. Although she never found a proper home during her stint in Standard, she would be great, for one thing, in the current metagame. I count her as a 3-mana walker, not only because that's the bare minimum cost required to drop her onto the battlefield. It's also the correct amount, unless you already have enough mana available to send her into the ultimate zone right away. In Pioneer, this is something the Steward of Elements could easily achieve with the help of Nissa, Who Shakes the World. Target two of the lands already animated by the latter means suddenly hitting for 16 in the air. There's untapped potential there, though none of it translates into an unfair card.

Brokenness Factor: Low

19. Jace, Cunning Castaway (Ixalan, 2017)


jace, cunning castaway

Sexy Pirate Jace is not the scariest Jace in existence. His plus is pretty bad, creating that fragile 2/2 leaves him at 1 loyalty , and the ultimate is basically a meme.

Brokenness Factor: Null

20. Sarkhan, Fireblood (Core Set 2019, 2018)


sarkhan, fireblood

You only play this Sarkhan in a Dragon tribal deck, and let's be honest here, that's as casual as it gets.

Brokenness Factor: Null

21. Aminatou, the Fateshifter (Commander 2018, 2018)


aminatou

This little girl with the presumably godlike fate powers was designed for Commander, and her zany "musical chairs" ultimate is especially entertaining in multiplayer. For the rest, she seems a long way from overpowered, with a plus that's not real card advantage while her minus flickers a permanent. The latter is certainly a powerful effect to have repeatable access to, but one that you can find on other cards for a comparable cost.

Brokenness Factor: Low

22. Dovin, Grand Arbiter (Ravnica Allegiance, 2019)


dovin, grand arbiter

Here's something interesting to note: this list has 43 entries, but as we start to cover the cards released in 2019, we have yet to reach the half point. This is of course due to War of the Spark and its whopping 39 new planeswalkers. Even before we get there, we find that Ravnica Allegiance already contributed a couple of 3-mana walkers too. The first is this Dovin, which mostly acts as a Thopter factory. Surely not the worst type of creature to keep generating, though being so one-note is not going to raise Dovin's street cred.

Brokenness Factor: Low

23. Kaya, Orzhov Usurper (Ravnica Allegiance, 2019)


kaya, orzhov usurper

The second walker from Allegiance is similarly specialized; in Kaya's case, her shtick is exiling cards from the graveyard or small permanents from the battlefield. She's a good card, with even a built-in win condition, albeit one that requires some external help to be viable. Nevertheless, I'm sure nobody ever lost their cool while facing this Kaya.

Brokenness Factor: Low

24. Gideon Blackblade (War of the Spark, 2019)


gideon blackblade

One thing War of the Spark has done for many planeswalkers is to give them their best incarnation ever, which makes sense. After all, the stakes had never been so high, so they all needed to bring their A-game against Bolas. Of course the assertion that Gideon Blackblade is the best Gideon is entirely disputable; but he's undeniably a strong Gideon, not least due to his reduced casting cost compared to, say, the original, irremediably midrange Gideon Jura.

Brokenness Factor: Medium

25. Teyo, the Shieldmage (War of the Spark, 2019)


teyo, the shieldmage

Teyo creates … two 0/3 Walls. All right, move along, people, nothing to see here.

Brokenness Factor: Null

26. Narset, Parter of Veils (War of the Spark, 2019)


narset, parter of veils

To work as a Limited environment, War of the Spark needed planeswalkers at uncommon. Some of those designs missed the intended mark by just a little, others by a mile. Narset belongs to the latter category. She ended up with a tremendously oppressive static ability, in addition to a pretty valuable eight-card-deep double draw over two turns. The frequency of her appearances within competitive lists across all formats tells it all.

Brokenness Factor: High

27. Davriel, Rogue Shadowmage (War of the Spark, 2019)


davriel, rogue shadowmage

In stark contrast to Narset, here we have the average uncommon War walker with no way to increase loyalty. Davriel is the perfect example of restrained power level; he's completely playable, does his job well, but his overall fairness is never in question.

Brokenness Factor: Null

28. Tibalt, Rakish Instigator (War of the Spark, 2019)


tibalt, rakish instigator

Same as above, Tibalt finds a satisfactory incarnation at last. His static ability is useful though situational, and the two bodies he provides make him akin to a sorcery with rebound.

Brokenness Factor: Null

29. Jiang Yanggu, Wildcrafter (War of the Spark, 2019)


jiang yanggu

A few of these "consumable" walkers at uncommon feel quite naturally subpar. Yanggu, for instance, really does nothing special. But hey, it's cool to see the two characters originally conceived for the Chinese market — the other being Mu Yanling — incorporated into the larger storyline.

Brokenness Factor: Null

30. Vivien, Champion of the Wilds (War of the Spark, 2019)


vivien, champion of the wilds

Vivien has had an enviable track record so far, with all incarnations in booster packs bona fide hits. This one, the cheapest in cost, is neither as powerful nor as popular as either Vivien Reid or Vivien, Arkbow Ranger, but still has a lot going for her. In the right deck, she provides card advantage with a clever wording that ensures against disruption.

Brokenness Factor: Medium

31. Dovin, Hand of Control (War of the Spark, 2019)


dovin, hand of control

Stopping one source of damage for a few turns and slightly taxing a handful of card types does not make for a broken planeswalker.

Brokenness Factor: Null

32. Teferi, Time Raveler (War of the Spark, 2019)


teferi, time raveler

And here we are. Here we get into truly treacherous territory. With the sole exception of Oko, this card has to be the most ferociously hated 3-mana planeswalker that ever haunted a Magic table. Teferi is so widely despised that he even managed to overshadow the maddeningly game-crushing Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. It's the combination of the tempo gain from the bounce, plus the card advantage from the draw, plus the fact that he shuts down the very concept of instant speed for the opponent. Admittedly, his relevance subsided with the great collective Oko Nightmare that followed the release of Throne of Eldraine. But there's no denying that 3feri's static ability was a design mistake. The brokenness here is real.

Brokenness Factor: Severe

33. Ashiok, Dream Render (War of the Spark, 2019)


ashiok, dream render

Mostly a fine sideboard cards against graveyard shenanigans and land search, Ashiok's milling plan just isn't competitive.

Brokenness Factor: Low

34. Domri, Anarch of Bolas (War of the Spark, 2019)


domri, anarch of bolas

I consider this 3-mana Domri a better card than the original, and somewhat similar, Domri Rade. He doesn't generate any card advantage. But the power boost is very relevant for the type of deck that wants him, the fight is still there at the same cost, the mana can be useful, and the uncounterability is neat, if obviously situational. All this said, he's just an utility player, nowhere near a broken card.

Brokenness Factor: Low

35. Huatli, the Sun's Heart (War of the Spark, 2019)


huatli, the sun's heart

Well, if we wanted a card to showcase how completely harmless a 3-mana walker can be, we shouldn't look any further. I mean, at least Teyo creates tokens to chump with. Huatli is an incredibly narrow build-around card that's not even that good in the very deck that's built around it!

Brokenness Factor: Null

36. Saheeli, Sublime Artificer (War of the Spark, 2019)


saheeli, sublime artificer

The right list can make it tough to beat Saheeli and her Servo. Once again the character lends herself to combo hijinks, though less effectively than with her previous version.

Brokenness Factor: Medium

37. Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner (War of the Spark, 2019)


kiora, behemoth beckoner

The Behemoth Beckoner is, surprisingly, the best Kiora. Granted, this says more about her past incarnations than it does about this one. There's a wealth of significant stuff to untap for value, as well as a ton of creatures that trigger her card-draw ability. Of course she's hardly an unfair card all the same.

Brokenness Factor: Low

38. Wrenn and Six (Modern Horizons, 2019)


wrenn and six

Behold the return of the 2-mana walkers! Modern Horizons circumnavigated all Standard concerns by starting its legality uphill at its titular format. This peculiar planeswalking duo composed of a Dryad and her symbiotic Treefolk became even more of a sensation in Legacy, where it would happily recur Wasteland and shoot down utility creatures until it was banned. It's the kind of card that doesn't look like much when you first read it, But then you see it in action while backed by the right tools, and yeah, it's pretty broken for 2 mana.

Brokenness Factor: High

39. Mu Yanling, Sky Dancer (Core Set 2020, 2019)


mu yanling. sky dancer

Yanling looks otherworldly pretty in the artwork for this card, but her overall power assessment has to be: good, not great. She's a respectable 3-drop, but not being able to create her 4/4 right away is a bit of a bummer.

Brokenness Factor: Low

40. Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord (Core Set 2020, 2019)


sorin, imperious bloodlord

This Sorin is 100% a tribal card, and although Vampire is a strong tribe, the limited scope keeps any potential brokenness in check.

Brokenness Factor: Low

41. Chandra, Acolyte of Flame (Core Set 2020, 2019)


chandra, acolyte of flame

Kid Chandra is adorable, and there are a few decks that are very fond of her, particularly due to sacrifice synergies. But the design can't be deemed broken. In fact, this is a textbook example of how to create a solid 3-mana walker with well defined purposes and integral weaknesses, so that it can be enjoyed in the appropriate deck without ever going too far.

Brokenness Factor: Low

42. The Royal Scions (Throne of Eldraine, 2019)


the royal scions

What I wrote about Little Chandra can be repeated verbatim about Rowan and Will's shared card. They were designed to complement the "draw two" strategy, and they fit any blue-red creature deck, as well as any deck that wants to fill the graveyard while digging for something. At the same time they can't win any game on their own, they primarily work as a key gear inside a larger machine.

Brokenness Factor: Low

43. Oko, Thief of Crowns (Throne of Eldraine, 2019)


oko, thief of crowns

And then there's Oko. Look, I still think this was a great, innovative design. Oko doesn't adhere to the same old, same old pattern of "+1: Draw a card, −3: Destroy a permanent." He does card advantage and removal, but in original, unconventional ways. The problem is that the implementation is terrible. The numbers are all wrong! It's a pity, really; if I were Oko's conceptual creator, I'd be terribly pissed, because such a brilliant design has been horribly, infuriatingly, criminally ruined.

Brokenness Factor: Extreme

The Results

After examining the currently 43 existing planeswalkers that cost 2 or 3 mana, I've found they can be divided as follows.

  • Not even a hint of brokenness: 9 cards
  • Low brokenness: 20 cards
  • Medium brokenness: 8 cards (and I might have been too generous in some cases)
  • High brokenness: 4 cards (the two Lilianas, Narset, Wrenn and Six)
  • Severe brokenness: 1 card (Teferi, Time Raveler)
  • Extreme brokenness: 1 card (Oko)

Conclusions: Oko is broko, 3feri is most annoying, but the vast majority (86%) of low-cost planeswalkers rank somewhere in between "just fine" and "completely irrelevant." Now feel free to resume your rant about how the one you just lost to should definitely be banned.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.



3 Comments

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woutva(2020-01-27 16:31)

I dont see how Vivien and Gideon are Medium, but you consider Jace, vryn prodigy low. That guy did a ton of work in standard, and also still sees play in the (not widely played) Goryo's Vengeance deck in modern, where he really shines. I personally have definitly seen more Jaces running arround than Gideon Blackblades and Viviens combined.

Fun fact: Jace Beleren was actually played in competitive under the old legend rule to stop The Mind Sculptor (which was clearly broken).

But yea, Jace VRYN should really have either be medium, or both Gideon and Viven should also have been low. Its also a bit unclear what the difference is between good and broken, and if we are looking at specific formats.

env03059(2020-01-23 10:31)

Honestly, No Liliana has ever broke a format. Wrenn and Six probably deserves to be higher, at least Severe. Her dominance in Legacy was far greater than what Oko is doing right now in the format, which says a lot.

TobiHenke(2020-01-22 22:00)

"Huatli is an incredibly narrow build-around card that's not even that good in the very deck that's built around it!"

This is a great description!

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