Recently the rules concerning planeswalkers have changed. Before, if you controlled two planeswalkers with the same subtype, you had to sacrifice one of them. Now planeswalkers are legendary – you need to sacrifice a planeswalker only if you control two with the same name. Having Jace, the Mind Sculptor together with Jace, Architect of Thought is perfectly legal. Controlling two Gideon Juras still isn’t.
Some cards care about the legendary subtype. Unfortunately most of them came from Kamigawa and are therefore unsurprisingly still unplayable. Honor-Worn Shaku got a bit closer to Worn Powerstone, as tapping planeswalkers usually carries no negative effects, but will still suffer consistency issues. Lay Bare the Heart got much worse, to the point of unplayability perhaps. Not that is was a great card to begin with. A card that is already solidly cube-worthy that got much better is Karakas. Now it can interact with animated Gideons and Sarkhans. Having Karakas will now basically prohibit the use of the animation abilities of those planeswalkers against you. If you control them, Karakas will save them from removals.
One card that actually leapt from the realms of obscurity and cuteness to possible mainstream play following the change is Thalia’s Lancers. As a 4/4 first striker for 5, the ability to find a legendary card is more about value than tutoring a specific piece. Lancers’ body have synergy with her effect as they provides effective defense to the planeswalker she is fetching. Especially nice for curving into Elspeth, Sun’s Champion. Now a cube deck can expect to have around three legendary cards on average, and that might well be enough for the lancers. White after all is the color with Restoration Angel and Flickerwisp to abuse the trigger a little bit more. White is also really thirsty for the card advantage.
Besides that single card, the rules changes will affect the planeswalker cards themselves. Some of them are definitely worth a new look. Which character benefits the most from the rules change?
The two strong Elspeths are hardly affected by the rule change. Every deck that can cast them wants them. Big Elspeth is by far white’s best 6 drop. Elspeth, Knight Errant has more competition in her slot, but is still arguably in the top 3 white four drops. As they are unlikely to travel long distances in the draft table, it is very rare to have both at the same deck in a large cube. You always played both if you had them, so not much changed. They have some minor synergy, as they defend themselves and each other so well, but having even one Elspeth surviving is such a beating it is almost a win more. Elspeth Tirel’s poor performance in cube has nothing to do with the type line, and all the recent white five drops destroyed any sliver of chance she had of seeing play. Play Thalia’s Lancers over her and get a better Elspeth into your hand!
Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Chandra, Flamecaller are the two versions commonly played in cubes. It is probably true that every decks that plays Flamecaller would play Torch, but not the other way around. A cool possible play is to use Torch to ramp into Flamecaller, then use her to swipe and protect both. A beating, but dreamland scenario. Overall, clashing between two specific cards in a 720 cube is so rare you will barely notice anyway.
Other versions of Chandra unfortunately do not gain enough from the change to be playable. Chandra, Fire of Kaladesh is the closest, but will not go into the same shells as the other two Chandras so the rules change will be invisible to her. Chandra, Pyromaster and Chandra, the Firebrand just cannot compete with new red four drops. When we get cards like Fiery Confluence, Hazoret and Territorial Hellkite, the weaker fire ladies have no real chance.
Daretti only has 2 iterations. That said, because they both belong to a narrow deck, there are much higher chances of snagging them both at the draft. It is a weird case where Daretti, Ingenious Iconoclast is the less narrow card despite being multicolored and not mono red. Iconoclast fits into Braids/Skullclamp/The Abyss shells. It is also great in superfiends decks as it is cheap, provides defense and removal. You really do not need much more than a few mana rocks and his own plus ability to make him worthwhile. As much as I dislike a non-aggro card in this guild, Iconoclast surpassed all my expectations. Daretti, Scrap Savant only fits in the artifact deck. It has some uses in reanimator decks too I guess. If you have drafted Savant, you will pretty much want Iconoclast at any cost, even if it includes splashing. Now you can play both of those cards that are so ideally played together in the same decklists.
The trio of Garruk Wildspeaker, Garruk Relentless and Garruk, Primal Hunter have seen in my cube since they were printed. Nowadays Primal Hunter is entirely skippable as green five drops are absurdly good, and the Nissas at that mana cost specifically so. That said, in green having the triple colored mana cost is not as hard as in other colors, and creating a sizeable token for a plus ability makes him very hard to overcome for some decks. The best part about him is that he offers a lot of card draw in a color that lacks it. He also fills the role of mass removal resilience better than the other Garruks. His ultimate is of the easiest to activate and finishes games quite reliably. He is worth a second look now if you do not play him. Garruk, Apex Predator could have had a chance except Vraska, Relic Seeker got printed and basically obsoleted him.
The Lilianas are of the greatest winners from the rules change. Three of them – Liliana of the Veil, Liliana, Heretic Healer and Liliana, the Last Hope cost exactly the same. LotV and Healer especially go into the same decks. The problem they had until now, is that if LotV flipped when you had Veil, you had to sacrifice one planeswalker. As you do not have full control of her flip trigger, it can bite you. I expect Healer to see a lot more play now. Liliana, Death’s Majesty is also fine, if weaker, but as she fits into different and slower decks, she is not greatly affected by the rules change.
Besides the top three cards in Orzhov, which consists of Vindicate, Sorin, Lord of Innistrad and Lingering Souls, I find the guild pretty weak. Sorin, Solemn Visitor is definitely a powerful card, as is Sorin Grim Nemesis. Having guild cards play badly with each other is much worse than having colored cards do the same, and as such it was hard fitting two Sorins in Orzhov. Now I am very likely to include Solemn Visitor as the fourth card in the guild. Grim Nemesis suffers from two main problems. First, Orzhov is not a very controlling color, he might as well be an honorary Esper card. Second, I prefer the black six drops to be reanimatable if possible. He is also bad against decks that go wide, such as basically all aggro decks. In a more midrange focused cube, he becomes more appealing.
It is unsurprising Jace gains quite a bit the rules change with so many playable versions of him lying around. Only two or so iterations of him are unplayable, and most are actively good. Now the dream of a Jace tribal deck can be a reality!
Jace is the best example of a planeswalker that has one version being clearly better than the rest. Mind Sculptor is more desirable than all other Jace versions basically always, perhaps barring Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy. Consider Jace, Architect of Thought. He costs the same as Sculptor, yet is clearly worse. As such, if you would cut one of them from your maindeck, it would always be Architect. The result is that TMS does not gain anything from the rules change but AoT does. This is true for all other versions of Jace as well. Before, people would prefer cards such as Deep Analysis to AoT, now I expect this to change.
Jace, Memory Adept is another member in the pantheon of broken Jaces. He is still as brutal and quick as ever, but as he just does that it was hard sometimes to play him alongside the cheaper Jaces that aid in stabilization. Now Jaces can be both your defense and your offense. Jace Beleren saw relatively high amounts of play since he was printed given the low competition in his mana cost. It is the worst of the Jaces mentioned so far however, so gains a lot more viability nowadays and for smaller cubes not running him, I’d strongly consider him now.
Jace, Unraveler of Secrets is perhaps the clearest historical case of a fine cards that saw no play due to the planeswalker type rule. I’d actually playtested him. He is broadly playable, with a good spread of card advantage and selection and some defensive capabilities. I believe that cubes that will try him will be pleasantly surprised. However, recent blue five drops give him a very hard time nowadays – Arcane Savant, Mystic Confluence, Spell Swindle and Baral’s Expertise all basically bury his playability.
Jace, Cunning Castaway is the only tempo-oriented Jace (although TMS is also a great card in tempo decks) so gains little from the type-line rules change. I do not believe he will see any more than fringe play. That is mostly due his first ability seriously lacking in power and the ultimate being underwhelming.
Tezzeret the Seeker and Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas fit into exactly the same narrow deck. You can wheel them around sometimes, so the chances of getting both at the same pool is actually not too low. That was a real problem, and I contemplated cutting Seeker in light of the new strong blue five drops. The rule change made me seek a different cut. Tezzeret the Schemer was also cut for similar grounds – having two cards with the exact same mana cost in a guild slot, for exactly the same narrow deck was too much. Now it might we worth revisiting if you really want to enforce the archetype. With the printings of The Scarab God and Hostage Taker however, I think few cubes would bother trying, mine included.
There are three very strong Gideons. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar is likely the strongest, despite being in one of the most contested slots in cube, including his rival Elspeth, Knight Errant. It just fits effortlessly into every deck type and threatens from many angles. I used to underrate his last ability, but with time found out I sometimes just cast him to immediately cash for a Glorious Anthem that cannot ever be interacted with as that gave me more immediate board impact. If I can pump 3-4 creatures, and force my opponent to now chump them and can kill 2-3 of his defenders, it is very much worth it. The highlight is that Gideon is not just about incremental advantage, it is a threat from the moment it is cast, just like Elspeth, Knight Errant.
The most playable Gideon is Kytheon. It is simply the best white one drop with two power. Not much else needs to be said. I’d expect the top two Gideons to be present in every cube of every size. Gideon Jura did not age too well. It once was a premium white five drop. It is still okay, but creature power creep means that 8 loyalty is not as high as it once was. Also the prevalence of planeswalkers increased the number of available answers to them in cubes and it is now dangerous to rely on the bearded guy to keep you alive. It needs a bit of help. If you combine him with other defensive cards he will still stall forever, give you a lot of life and time to draw a mass removal, then attack for 6 a turn to seal the deal. A wanted card in control and superfriends decks.
The planeswalker that is suddenly a lot more viable for cube is Gideon of the Trials. He is cheap, color intensive and defensive – not a good combination. What he does have is amazing synergy with other Gideons, especially Jura. The emblem gains a whole new meaning when you can have several Gideons out there at once. Also, the protective layers of all the Gideons combine together to create a fort that is hard to penetrate. I do not think Gideon of the Trials will suddenly become a bomb, but he is now a much more comfortable inclusion at 720. Further printings of other strong Gideons will increase his value even more.
Nissa is one of the planeswalkers with most iterations in cube. Interestingly, most of her printed versions are distinct role players. Each green eyed characterless planeswalker does her own thing, and usually does it very well. Nissa, Worldwaker is perhaps the best ramp card for super ramp decks. If you want to cast eldrazis, look no further. She is also a very good win condition, a repeatable stream of 4/4 tramplers is hard to contain. Nissa, Voice of Zendikar is an enabler and reward for token and stacks decks. Nissa, Vastwood Seer is a great card in the control matchup, and long games in general. Nissa, Steward of Elements is the strongest Simic card and is a card selection engine as well as a finisher for UG decks.
Nissa, Vital Force does not do a required specific task as the others fill so well. I cut her due to Nissa oversaturation. She is a card I am excited to bring back. She brings some fresh things to green. First, she is a hasty source of damage. She also ramps by one if you need. She defends herself quite well, so her ultimate is very achievable and gives green much needed help in control games. What she does not do well is finish games alone, as the 5/5 lacks trample or evasion. That said, the question of who is better, Nissa, Vital force or Garruk, Primal Hunter remains open.