Raise your hand if you hoard Magic cards! It's okay, I'll start. This is a safe place.
My name is Andy, and I've been playing MtG for a long time. I share my collection with two of my friends and have for the past 20+ years. Although I don't get to play as much as I'd like these days, I still buy a box of the latest set, and enjoy the occasional FNM when the draft environment seems fun.
Although FOMO has kept us from cashing out, I often wondered what to do with our large stash. The vast majority of cards aren't playable in the big formats, and even EDH seems to grow more homogenous the more WotC subsidizes it with Commander-specific entries.
But some cards, even though they don't see much play in any format, are too awesome to get lost in the mix. Former greats like Tradewind Rider or Exalted Angel, old favorites like Phantom Centaur or Shower of Coals, or draft studs like Embodiment of Agonies deserve their time in the limelight again.
So the question became: How do I make sure that these cards—and there's a lot of them—see the light of day somewhere?
A few years back, I was hanging out at the local game store, and I bought Duel Decks: Jace vs Vraska. Sometimes I see Magic cards and the years of conditioning compel me to open my wallet. I had some fun memories a few years prior of playing the Jace vs Chandra decks; maybe these would be similarly enjoyable.
There was a Small Child there at the shop who wanted to battle, so we played a dozen or so games with the decks, swapping them around a few times so we could get reps with each of them. I was impressed by how much fun I had; the Duel Decks seemed to not only play well but also play flavorfully. It was fascinating how Jace, Architect of Thought had a different spellbook, and different tools in his arsenal, than old Jace Beleren.
I also thought that the decklists resembled the best version of cobbling together a pile from a shoebox of cards like Dr. Garfield intended. My heart broke a little bit when I learned that the product was discontinued. I thought maybe in some world, all the Planeswalkers might get their own decks. But now I guess they won't.
Or will they?
Thankfully, I eventually realized that these questions answer each other and thus the Planeswalker Deck Project was born! Here are the stipulations, as I figured that a set of restrictions would make this project extra fun to construct:
- Each Planeswalker that isn't foil, starts as a Planeswalker, is black-bordered, and doesn't have the word "Commander" on it gets one of these decks. Jace, Cunning Castaway gets a deck. So does Jace, the Mind Sculptor. But Jace, Vryn's Prodigy does not. Nor do any of the ones that come in those Precon decks made for newer players. The game is hard enough to keep up with already!
- Each deck will consist of 60 cards, including the Planeswalker and 4 other Rares (or 5 if the Walker is an Uncommon one). Mythic Rares are not allowed unless they got downshifted somewhere. The Planeswalker should be the star of the show!
- When possible, the contents of the deck will be linked mechanically or flavorfully to its Planeswalker. Sometimes there are a whole bunch of one specific Walker that are pretty similar to each other (I'm looking at you, Chandra!), in which case I've tried to make that deck mechanically or flavorfully line up with that Planeswalker's color(s) instead. Very occasionally there won't be much of a link at all, but I hope to make up for that dissonance with a really fun deck!
- Since the goal of this project is to explore the breadth and depth of everything Magic has to offer, the card pool is Unified. It's easy to jam a Lightning Bolt into all of the Red decks and call it a day. But what if only 4 total Bolts were allowed? Turns out, there's a ton of solid cheap burn out there, and some of it is pretty fun to play! Incidentally, I believe that WotC has gotten A LOT better over the years at making run-of-the-mill decent commons. As a result, you'll generally see more representation from modern sets, although there are plenty of old classics, too.
- Rares are Unified Highlander. So once I've assigned my Shivan Dragon, I can't assign a second copy to another deck. Again, the goal is to explore all that's available to us in the game, and repeating Rares would limit that exploration.
- For the most part, commons and uncommons will be 1x or 2x in a given deck. Sometimes, a deck might contain a 4x common, but only if it's a card that makes sense to include as a set (Kindle, Accumulated Knowledge, Squadron Hawk, etc). The idea here is to try and mirror the structure and contents of the original Duel Decks.
- The budget was a big concern. Since I had to make hundreds of these decks, I realized that I might need to go buy random cards that fit perfectly but I didn't have laying around, and I wanted to make sure they would be affordable! Thankfully the very nature of the cards I was trying to include contributed to that plan nicely. After all, the goal is to find homes for the Has Beens and the Never Weres; Cryptic Command and Thoughtseize need not apply. I tried to stay around $20 to $25—not counting the Planeswalker itself, of course—for each deck, although every once in a while I was compelled to include an old battle axe that has for some unknown reason retained its value.
- In addition to the budget, there's another reason why I wanted to focus on some of the other rares that don't get as much attention. You see, in most Constructed formats these days, the pillars of said formats are generally R&D's screw ups and success hinges on playing and taking advantage of those mistakes as much as possible. Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath, Omnath, Locus of Creation, Once Upon a Time, Fires of Invention, Aetherworks Marvel, Urza Lord High Artificer, and Sol Ring are classic examples. These are cards WotC would likely take back if they could, and they've all defined formats.
But there's tons of great designs that show up in every set, and because they're not broken they're often soon forgotten. Gadrak, the Crown-Scourge is awesome! Dread Presence is a very cool Magic card! I wanted this project to help showcase the fact that, for all the times WotC messes up with a broken mythic, there are so many more examples of fun, flavorful, and interesting designs pumped out in almost every set, and those fun ones deserve homes.
Keeping an eye out for these cards has made spoiler season a much richer, more satisfying experience as I've come to identify "Planeswalker Deck Rares" and I hope to impart some of that joy. This project—and the resulting deep dives of everything Magic—allow me to dodge burnout and retain my interest, no matter which new set is coming out next or what overpowered strategies are currently sucking the fun out of Standard.
- Lastly, I wanted to try and conserve resources as well as I could since this is a Living Project. WotC has made it very clear that they will not stop printing Planeswalkers anytime soon, so this provides a fun way to remain interested in new sets coming out. As new sets get printed and more Planeswalkers join the Multiverse, we'll walk through the process of creating new designs and carving out space for new decklists within the scope of this project.
Each column, we'll explore a different Planeswalker and the unique spellbook that accompanies them from Magic's massive card pool. I hope you'll enjoy the ride! I know I will. Which are your favorite Planeswalkers? Least favorite? Most flavorful? Drop me a note on social media and let me know!