One of my favorite things about planeswalkers is how generally hard they are to evaluate, despite over 150 examples and a dozen years of existence as a permanent type. We're pretty good at determining whether or not creatures are good in a vacuum at this point, but it still tends to take some games to determine if a new PW is good, and if so, how good.

In Elspeth, Sun's Champion case, the skepticism was justified. Other than Karn Liberated (which could be cast as a gimmick off Tron mana), the higher cost planeswalkers were largely ignored as Constructed considerations. The other reference points at the time were the first Nicol Bolas, Chandra Ablaze, Sorin Markov, and Garruk, Caller of Beasts. And they rarely made an impact in Standard, let alone older formats.

However, this time the six-mana planeswalker was insane and served nobly as a pillar of Standard for its entire tour of duty. I got a copy at the Theros Prerelease, and it took about two games before I was certain it was bonkers. It can absolutely take over a game whether you're ahead or behind, making it one of the higher impact planeswalkers in the entire pool.

Mechanically, we don't have a tremendous amount to go on other than maybe not playing too many four-power creatures. It's just a generically strong card that creates advantages every turn. For flavor, I found some inspiration with Elspeth, Sun's Champion status as a Sun Champion. There aren't a ton of great payoffs for white devotion or Plains matters, but maybe there's a few potent options to explore.

Magic: The Gathering TCG Deck - Elspeth, Sun’s Champion by Andy Hurst

'Elspeth, Sun’s Champion' - constructed deck list and prices for the Magic: The Gathering Trading Card Game from TCGplayer Infinite!

Created By: Andy Hurst

Event:

Rank:

Freeform (Casual)

Market Price: $24.82

Cards

Dawn Elemental

Color Identity:W

Market Price: $0.42

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/10836_200w.jpg

Flying
Prevent all damage that would be dealt to Dawn Elemental.

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Celestial Crusader

Color Identity:W

Market Price: $0.05

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/233709_200w.jpg

Flash
Split second (As long as this spell is on the stack, players can't cast spells or activate abilities that aren't mana abilities.)
Flying
Other white creatures get +1/+1.

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Banishing Stroke

Color Identity:W

Market Price: $0.13

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/171142_200w.jpg

Put target artifact, creature, or enchantment on the bottom of its owner's library.
Miracle {W} (You may cast this card for its miracle cost when you draw it if it's the first card you drew this turn.)

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Saltblast

Color Identity:W

Market Price: $0.02

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/233508_200w.jpg

Destroy target nonwhite permanent.

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Oblivion Ring

Color Identity:W

Market Price: $0.29

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/98747_200w.jpg

When Oblivion Ring enters the battlefield, exile another target nonland permanent.
When Oblivion Ring leaves the battlefield, return the exiled card to the battlefield under its owner's control.

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Serra Advocate

Color Identity:W

Market Price: $0.15

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/93599_200w.jpg

Flying
{T}: Target attacking or blocking creature gets +2/+2 until end of turn.

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Reya Dawnbringer

Color Identity:W

Market Price: $1.93

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/180827_200w.jpg

Flying
At the beginning of your upkeep, you may return target creature card from your graveyard to the battlefield.

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Karoo

Color Identity:W

Market Price: $0.85

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/94474_200w.jpg

Karoo enters the battlefield tapped.
When Karoo enters the battlefield, sacrifice it unless you return an untapped Plains you control to its owner's hand.
{T}: Add {C}{W}.

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Acolyte's Reward

Color Identity:W

Market Price: $0.11

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/79093_200w.jpg

Prevent the next X damage that would be dealt to target creature this turn, where X is your devotion to white. If damage is prevented this way, Acolyte's Reward deals that much damage to any target. (Each {W} in the mana costs of permanents you control counts toward your devotion to white.)

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Forbidding Watchtower

Color Identity:W

Market Price: $0.72

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/15130_200w.jpg

Forbidding Watchtower enters the battlefield tapped.
{T}: Add {W}.
{1}{W}: Forbidding Watchtower becomes a 1/5 white Soldier creature until end of turn. It's still a land.

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Angelic Page

Color Identity:W

Market Price: $0.08

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/216545_200w.jpg

Flying
{T}: Target attacking or blocking creature gets +1/+1 until end of turn.

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Ardenvale Paladin

Color Identity:W

Market Price: $0.01

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/199208_200w.jpg

Adamant — If at least three white mana was spent to cast this spell, Ardenvale Paladin enters the battlefield with a +1/+1 counter on it.

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Clockwork Servant

Market Price: $0.03

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/199110_200w.jpg

Adamant — When Clockwork Servant enters the battlefield, if at least three mana of the same color was spent to cast it, draw a card.

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Illuminated Folio

Market Price: $0.20

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/18667_200w.jpg

{1}, {T}, Reveal two cards from your hand that share a color: Draw a card.

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Aerial Responder

Color Identity:W

Market Price: $0.13

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/212320_200w.jpg

Flying, vigilance, lifelink

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Quarry Colossus

Color Identity:W

Market Price: $0.08

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/82302_200w.jpg

When Quarry Colossus enters the battlefield, put target creature into its owner's library just beneath the top X cards of that library, where X is the number of Plains you control.

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Prismatic Strands

Color Identity:W

Market Price: $0.27

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/196483_200w.jpg

Prevent all damage that sources of the color of your choice would deal this turn.
Flashback—Tap an untapped white creature you control. (You may cast this card from your graveyard for its flashback cost. Then exile it.)

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Everdawn Champion

Color Identity:W

Market Price: $0.07

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/155807_200w.jpg

Prevent all combat damage that would be dealt to Everdawn Champion.

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Mind Stone

Market Price: $0.66

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/243923_200w.jpg

{T}: Add {C}.
{1}, {T}, Sacrifice Mind Stone: Draw a card.

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Elspeth, Sun's Champion

Color Identity:W

Market Price: $9.32

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/96065_200w.jpg

+1: Create three 1/1 white Soldier creature tokens.
−3: Destroy all creatures with power 4 or greater.
−7: You get an emblem with "Creatures you control get +2/+2 and have flying."

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Radiant's Judgment

Color Identity:W

Market Price: $0.30

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/6372_200w.jpg

Destroy target creature with power 4 or greater.
Cycling {2} ({2}, Discard this card: Draw a card.)

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Razor Golem

Market Price: $0.13

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/11646_200w.jpg

Affinity for Plains (This spell costs {1} less to cast for each Plains you control.)
Vigilance

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Seal of Cleansing

Color Identity:W

Market Price: $0.10

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/239775_200w.jpg

Sacrifice Seal of Cleansing: Destroy target artifact or enchantment.

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New Benalia

Color Identity:W

Market Price: $0.15

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/171240_200w.jpg

New Benalia enters the battlefield tapped.
When New Benalia enters the battlefield, scry 1. (Look at the top card of your library. You may put that card on the bottom of your library.)
{T}: Add {W}.

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Evangel of Heliod

Color Identity:W

Market Price: $0.10

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/231222_200w.jpg

When Evangel of Heliod enters the battlefield, create a number of 1/1 white Soldier creature tokens equal to your devotion to white. (Each {W} in the mana costs of permanents you control counts toward your devotion to white.)

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Exalted Angel

Color Identity:W

Market Price: $5.49

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/10387_200w.jpg

Flying
Whenever Exalted Angel deals damage, you gain that much life.
Morph {2}{W}{W} (You may cast this card face down as a 2/2 creature for {3}. Turn it face up any time for its morph cost.)

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Asha's Favor

Color Identity:W

Market Price: $0.22

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/28499_200w.jpg

Enchant creature
Enchanted creature has flying, first strike, and vigilance.

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Serra Angel

Color Identity:W

Market Price: $0.09

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/216563_200w.jpg

Flying, vigilance

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Plains

Color Identity:W

Market Price: $0.05

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/215714_200w.jpg

({T}: Add {W}.)

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Aven Warcraft

Color Identity:W

Market Price: $0.15

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/10155_200w.jpg

Creatures you control get +0/+2 until end of turn.
Threshold — If seven or more cards are in your graveyard, choose a color. Creatures you control also gain protection from the chosen color until end of turn.

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Kor Cartographer

Color Identity:W

Market Price: $0.10

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/231239_200w.jpg

When Kor Cartographer enters the battlefield, you may search your library for a Plains card, put it onto the battlefield tapped, then shuffle.

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Planar Cleansing

Color Identity:W

Market Price: $0.23

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/192604_200w.jpg

Destroy all nonland permanents.

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Daxos, Blessed by the Sun

Color Identity:W

Market Price: $0.40

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/206144_200w.jpg

Daxos's toughness is equal to your devotion to white. (Each {W} in the mana costs of permanents you control counts toward your devotion to white.)
Whenever another creature you control enters the battlefield or dies, you gain 1 life.

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Reverent Hoplite

Color Identity:W

Market Price: $0.09

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/206673_200w.jpg

When Reverent Hoplite enters the battlefield, create a number of 1/1 white Human Soldier creature tokens equal to your devotion to white. (Each {W} in the mana costs of permanents you control counts toward your devotion to white.)

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Secluded Steppe

Color Identity:W

Market Price: $0.08

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/236160_200w.jpg

Secluded Steppe enters the battlefield tapped.
{T}: Add {W}.
Cycling {W} ({W}, Discard this card: Draw a card.)

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Thraben Inspector

Color Identity:W

Market Price: $0.26

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/218615_200w.jpg

When Thraben Inspector enters the battlefield, investigate. (Create a colorless Clue artifact token with "{2}, Sacrifice this artifact: Draw a card.")

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Devout Witness

Color Identity:W

Market Price: $0.15

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/6509_200w.jpg

{1}{W}, {T}, Discard a card: Destroy target artifact or enchantment.

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Sunlance

Color Identity:W

Market Price: $0.02

ImageURL: https://tcgplayer-cdn.tcgplayer.com/product/233451_200w.jpg

Sunlance deals 3 damage to target nonwhite creature.

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The Game Plan

Unlike lots of our other white planeswalkers, Elspeth, Sun's Champion isn't interested in finishing a game quickly. She won't be coming out for a while, so why not stretch the game a little longer and take more of a controlling route? To that end, we've got a lot of solid impediments.

Thraben Inspector, Daxos, Blessed by the Sun (Elspeth's BF in the lore, and also plays into our minor devotion theme), Ardenvale Paladin, Everdawn Champion, and Aerial Responder are all great at stalling out the board or providing useful speedbumps. Angelic Page and big sister Serra Advocate make combat a nightmare for your opponent. Razor Golem can come out as early as turn three and play offense and defense. And once the board is established, our big devotion guys Reverent Hoplite and Evangel of Heliod flood the board with bodies, and Quarry Colossus can bury a creature miles deep.

The removal here is pretty decent. Our tricks are fine—Acolyte's Reward can catch opponents unaware and Prismatic Strands is an All Star. Banishing Stroke, the two different Judgments, Saltblast, and Oblivion Ring are all a bit slow but can catch a wide variety of permanents. The clue from Thraben Inspector, the enters-the-battlefield trigger from Clockwork Servant, Mind Stone sacrifice, and Illuminated Folio provide an unusual amount of card draw than white is generally used to.

The Rares

Talk about devotion! It makes Acolyte's Reward or Reverent Hoplite very potent very fast. Land this guy against a red or green deck and I like your chances. It's evasive and hard to kill. A 3/3 for four isn't the greatest rate, but we're paying for the ability, and in this deck we're also paying for the pips.

Creatures used to be so much worse, and for a while Exalted Angel could make a claim at being one of the best. It doesn't lifelink per se, but it's pretty close and allows for large life total swings in a race. It could also be played as a morph on turn three and turned over on turn four, putting on immense pressure swiftly if not removed. This was a chase rare for its entire time in Standard, and a major player in older formats for a while, too.

Eventually, better creatures came along (Baneslayer Angel has completely invalidated it, for example), and this lady doesn't really see play anywhere except maybe a Cube variant or two. But don't get it twisted—she used to be the queen in her day. She does get nuked by Elspeth, Sun's Champion ability, but fortunately you get to choose when to activate that ability. I'd highly recommend not doing so while Exalted Angel is getting her beatings in.

Another thing we take for granted these days are reprints (even though they don't print fetchlands as often as we'd like). But back in the day, they mostly only reprinted stuff in Core Sets (which were 100% reprints) unless it was a random like Disciple of Grace or Juggernaut. And let's face it—the demand for those just wasn't that high. Reya Dawnbringer had massive casual player appeal, and as a result her price tag was much higher than expected since she never sniffed competitive play.

WotC took note, and not only flooded the market with new copies as the 10th Edition release foil, it became one of the most reprinted legendary creatures of all time! If you can make it to nine mana and untap with her, you'll be in great shape. And the game plan here is to take things slow and get to later turns.

As we established in the game plan, we're looking to last a while, and this is different than most other white planeswalkers, which usually skew to the aggressive. Fortunately, this lets us take advantage of a plethora of different board sweepers. I chose Planar Cleansing because it's comprehensive and also seemed flavorful given our white mana intensive choices thus far.

Unsung Hero

Please forgive me—I don't really play any Pauper, so I don't have a good grasp of which cards are widely played there. But I really hope Prismatic Strands gets its due in that format. It's an absolute unit as a combat trick. Unless you're in a mirror match, it's a one-sided Fog that also prevents big damage from a Pyroclasm or similar effect. And we all know at this point that flashback is a powerful mechanic—you get two spells despite only one card! But what you might not realize until you play with it, is how much stronger flashback spells are when their costs don't require a mana payment.