Players are always excited about Planeswalkers, but Arlinn Kord has the community howling. The confirmed return of flip cards in Shadows over Innistrad meant that the possibility of a flip-card Planeswalker was on all of our minds, but Arlinn Kord and its alter ego, Arlinn, Embraced by the Moon, have exceeded expectations. Arlinn Kord is not only poised to become the most iconic figure from Shadows over Innistrad, it also threatens to become a defining feature of the Standard metagame. With the ability to turn into Arlinn, Embraced by the Moon, the card has five total abilities that offer its controller multiple ways to progress its battlefield presence and find a path to victory. Arlinn Kord has great potential in all sorts of decks, so today I'm going to explore its abilities and the cards that could help it excel in Shadows over Innistrad Standard.
The first ability of Arlinn Kord gives a creature +2/+2 and haste & vigilance until end of turn. +2/+2 is especially useful for pushing a creature past a blocker. Allowing a 2/2 that would otherwise be held back by a 3/3 to attack means the ability actually did four extra damage, so it's easy to see why this ability can be so useful. Haste might seem like a throwaway ability, but it makes future creatures more aggressive, and it means Arlinn Kord is more explosive than it looks on paper. Arlinn Kord presses the advantage, and it will cement an early lead by pushing the opponent onto the backfoot and keeping them behind.
The vigilance ability allows one to maintain aggression while still retaining a blocker to protect the Planeswalker. Protecting itself from attackers is the most important ability of any Planeswalker, and giving vigilance to a creature is a subtle way to accomplish this. Vigilance also has the potential to be abused by creatures with tap abilities. An obvious example is a mana accelerating creature, like Leaf Gilder, which can attack and then tap to make mana after combat.
Hangarback Walker is another card that uses the vigilance ability very well, allowing it to both attack and grow every turn, which eliminates the conundrum usually associated with the card; it can even tap to add a counter and grow larger before it deals damage. Hangarback Walker is a great way to maintain a battlefield presence and ensure a target for Arlinn Kord's +2/+2 ability, and a large army of Thopter Tokens is excellent with Arlinn, Embraced by the Moons +1 ability, so it's a card that will go hand-in-hand with the Planeswalker throughout the coming Standard season.
Another card that works surprisingly well with Arlinn Kord is Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh. Following up Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh with Arlinn Kord allows it to tap to deal a damage, untap, and then receive a bonus from the +1 ability of the Planeswalker. Vigilance allows it to deal another damage after attacking, but the real benefit here is the +2/+2 making it a 4/4 that the opponent will have a hard time blocking successfully. If it connects with the opponent, it will deal four damage and trigger the transformation into Chandra, Roaring Flame, which is an excellent damage-dealing engine and a fine complement to Arlinn, Embraced by the Moon's ability to destroy creatures.
The +0 ability of Arlinn Kord generates a 2/2 Wolf Token, which is a tangible source of card advantage and board presence, and thus the go-to ability of Arlinn Kord. Producing a token puts two sources of pressure on the opponent—the creature and the remaining Planeswalker—which makes it a fundamentally strong card and a great inclusion for an aggressive deck. The 2/2 Wolf Token is also an excellent way to protect the Planeswalker, whether it trades with a small creature or chump blocking a large one to buy time. Activating the +0 ability also flips Arlinn Kord into Arlinn, Embraced by the Moon, where the Planeswalker's remaining abilities can be found.
Arlinn, Embraced by the Moon's +1 ability to give creatures +1/+1 and trample functions like an anthem effect that benefits from having as many creatures in play as possible. It's great in aggressive strategies that rush the board, and it's especially useful with cards that produce creature tokens. For that reason I expect token-generating cards to be right at home alongside Arlinn Kord.
One path to take with Arlinn Kord is an Atarka-Red style deck with Atarka's Command and Reckless Bushwhacker. Dragon Fodder on turn two is a great start on the way to a turn four Arlinn Kord. Hordeling Outburst is out of Standard, but Thopter Engineer and even Ghirapur Gearcrafter are possible alternatives. Pia and Kiran Nalaar is a great accompaniment Arlinn Kord. Three creatures for the price of one is exactly how to make the most of the +1/+1 and trample ability and any other anthem effects that these decks will contain. A post-rotation Atarka Red deck with Arlinn Kord might look something like this:
For decks focused in green, Scion Summoner could be a great pairing with Arlinn Kord. Nissa, Voice of Zendikar stands out as an especially powerful token-generator, and with its -2 anthem ability it's perfect in a token-themed deck.
Arlinn, Embraced by the Moon offers what might be the most exciting ability of the Planeswalker, the -1 ability that deals three damage to target creature or player, effectively a Lightning Bolt. The ability to destroy creatures, or even Planeswalkers, makes it a threatening presence that the opponent must deal with, lest they get buried by the incremental disadvantage.
Another direction to take Arlinn Kord is down the windy, grindy road that seeks to advantage of the Planeswalker's ability to slowly accrue value. In practice, each turn it will flip between sides and alternate between producing a 2/2 token and dealing three damage to a creature. Like any Planeswalker, if the opponent can't destroy Arlinn Kord then it will eventually win the game with its stream of value, so keeping it alive and seeking to extend the game is a path to victory. Combining Arlinn Kord with robust creatures and removal for opposing threats is an equation that could prove effective.
Red now has an efficient Planeswalker that it wants to play four-of, and that brings Oath of Chandra into the picture. Previously there weren't any red decks with many Planeswalkers, and three damage for two mana at sorcery speed fell short. In a deck with planewalkers to trigger its secondary ability, Oath of Chandra starts to look a lot like Draconic Roar, and giving up instant speed is repaid by the potential to deal four, six, or even more damage over the course of a game. Arlinn Kord doesn't trigger Oath of Chandra every time it flips, so it's not Standard's next broken combo, but four copies in the deck mean you'll get value often enough, and any additional Planeswalkers in the deck make Oath of Chandra that much better. Rotation means that Oath of Chandra has less competition, because Siege Rhino and Anafenza, the Foremost leaving the format means Roast isn't so important.
Deathmist Raptor and Den Protector survive the rotation, and they are exactly the kind of creatures that would work well with Arlinn Kord through a long and grindy game. Deathmist Raptor can attack into anything, so it will reliably convert any +2/+2 bonus into extra damage. It can block anything too, so it's a great turn three play to ensure turn four Arlinn Kord is safe from attackers. Den Protector is the best way to return Deathmist Raptor from the graveyard, and it's an extremely grindy card in itself, capable of returning removal spells or even other copies of Den Protector. Opponents will destroy Arlinn Kord any chance they get, so Den Protector is also useful to return it from the graveyard and keep the value train rolling. Den Protector is also interesting with the +2/+2 ability, which grows it larger to slip past blockers that would otherwise hold it back. One home for the combination of Deathmist Raptor and Den Protector with Arlinn Kord is a Planeswalker-centric deck with Oath of Chandra for a removal spell and damage engine, and Chandra, Flamecaller at the top-end:
Arlinn Kord will often be compared to Huntmaster of the Fells, and although it's functionally a very different card, it shares the same ability to create creature tokens and to destroy opposing creatures. It's the sort of card midrange decks love, but it could also play a part in decks operating higher up the curve. Brian Kibler added Huntmaster of the Fells to his Valakut Ramp deck and bridged the gap between early mana acceleration and Primeval Titan en route to winning Pro Tour Dark Ascension. It's possible that Arlinn Kord could fill the same role in current R/G ramp decks.
The ultimate ability of a Planeswalker is rarely an important aspect of the card because it comes up so infrequently. The real value in a Planeswalker is in its bread and butter abilities, and the ultimate is more of a bonus. That being said, a powerful ultimate capable of winning the game is surely a boon to a Planeswalker, and it's what elevates a card like Jace, the Mind Sculptor or Elspeth, Sun's Champion from a role-player to an all-star. Arlinn, Embraced by the Moon's ultimate is the perfect way to break a creature stalemate, which is impressive because it's in these stalemates that reaching six loyalty is most likely. It's not a huge aspect of the card, but it means that Arlinn Kord will inevitably dominate the game.
I'm eagerly watching the spoilers for more cards that could work well with Arlinn Kord. As far as cards currently spoiled, anything that draws a card catches my attention, so Sage of Ancient Lore stands out as an excellent follow-up to Arlinn Kord in a midrange deck focused on value. It's not going to be a large creature most of the time, but it's a reasonable threat that gives you some control over its size, and when flipped, it will be something the opponent can't ignore. The combination of Falkenrath Gorger and Ravenous Bloodseeker form the backbone of a Vampire madness aggro deck, and maybe even that deck could be interested in Arlinn Kord.
Arlinn Kord has a bright future ahead of it in Standard and beyond. Players are discussing its applications in Modern Jund decks, and I expect many have already opened up slots for the card in their cubes and Commander decks. It's an option for almost any R/G deck in Standard, and a strong incentive to play R/G in the first place. I haven't even discussed its potential in three-color decks, which, if they can survive into the rotation, will include Arlinn Kord whenever possible. The best cards, Planeswalkers especially, can be the hardest to figure out. It will take some time and tuning to figure out how to best wield the card, so I can't wait to play with Arlinn Kord! Where do you see the new Planeswalker fitting into Standard? If you have any Arlinn Kord homebrews, share them in the comments!