Commander is all about identity. Most decks are focused on the commanders and the influence they have on the deck: the colors you can play are decided by them, and the themes and style of play are intrinsically linked to their abilities. Some of the most unique deck identities come from a particular type of commander: planeswalkers.
Some planeswalkers are unique in that they have the line “[CARDNAME] can be your commander,” which is an exception to the rule that your commander must be a legendary creature. Until last week, there were only 16 planeswalkers you could use as a commander. However, we’ve since seen three new additions from the ongoing Dominaria United preview season: Sivitri, Dragon Master, Dihada, Binder of Wills and Jared Carthalion.
These are exciting new commanders with a lot of scope to build them in many different ways. Dihada and Jared are at the helm of the new preconstructed decks, Legends’ Legacy and Painbow — which means a lot of players will be piloting planeswalker commander decks, possibly for the first time.
But decks with planeswalker commanders can be quite unlike most Commander decks, and it’s important to know how they differ from the usual deck experience. Some things get better with planeswalkers, others get worse and the ways you can support them differ greatly in comparison to most creature commanders. This is a quick primer on the differences with planeswalker commanders, and the considerations you need to be aware of when building a deck like this.
Pernicious Deed is especially good as a board wipe. It destroys any nonland permanents except for planeswalkers, since they didn’t exist as a card type when this was printed. Promise of Loyalty is also a very powerful political option, as it lets each player keep a creature — but that creature can’t be used to attack down your commander, afterward.
Luxior, Giada’s Gift
For years, commander damage wasn’t a reliable option for planeswalker commanders, given that they can’t usually attack. That changed, recently, thanks to Luxior, Giada’s Gift. This equipment can turn your planeswalker into a creature, allowing you to get into the red zone.
This is particularly effective with Jared Carthalion, since he can target himself with his -3 ability. That will make him into an enormous threat in no time!
The downside to Luxior, however, is that it can weaken one of planeswalker commanders’ biggest strengths: its ability to dodge creature removal. When your commander is a creature, opponents can hit it with removal, like Swords to Plowshares, and board wipes cease to offer the protection they usually do. It’s usually worth including if you want to get aggressive, but it requires careful planning to avoid being blown out.
I explained how to protect your commander in a previous article, but the options are very different for planeswalker commanders. It’s very unlikely that you’ll be putting Swiftfoot Boots into the ninety-nine of these decks (unless you really want to win with Luxior).
More often than not, your opponents will try to attack your commander directly to remove them. This is why spells that can interfere with combat are usually the primary line of defense for these decks.
Propaganda, Ghostly Prison and Sphere of Safety are staples of decks with planeswalkers as commanders, as the tax effect massively disincentivizes opponents from attacking you. Similarly, fog effects like Moment’s Peace and Tangle allow you to dodge massive swings, and Gideon’s Sacrifice will redirect all damage to another permanent, which helps against damage prevention effects like Questing Beast or Malignus.
Goad cards can be an interesting choice for protection, too. Not only do these keep opponents from attacking your commander, but they keep the game moving by forcing combat elsewhere.
If your planeswalker commander has red in their colors, like Dihada or Jared, you should consider cards like Disrupt Decorum, Geode Rager and Baeloth Barrityl, Entertainer. There are goad spells in other colors, like the Impetus cycle, but they’re much less effective than the widespread effects in red.
Most planeswalker commanders can benefit from the same effects, making it quite straightforward to provide solid support for them. The most important support you can give comes in the form of additional loyalty counters, which fit into a few specific categories.
These are effects that give additional counters when your planeswalker enters the battlefield or activates a loyalty ability. Pir, Imaginative Rascal and Lae’zel, Vlaakith’s Champion will add an extra counter when you activate an ability that adds loyalty counters — but not when you take them away.
Conversely, Carth the Lion won’t add additional counters when your planeswalker enters the battlefield, but he will add a counter even on a minus ability. It’s a slight difference, but altering a planeswalker’s costs like this can lead to activating some abilities far ahead of schedule.
Otherwise, Proliferate has long been used as a way to accelerate a planeswalker toward their ultimate abilities, or just to keep the loyalty high while using their minus abilities.
Contagion Engine is a popular choice due to it proliferating twice per activation, and Flux Channeler is used in most planeswalker commander decks as a way to proliferate off most of the deck’s spells. Karn’s Bastion is also an easy inclusion in any planeswalker deck’s mana base, and it’s a great way to increase your commander’s loyalty counters in a way that’s difficult to interact with.
If you really want to go HAM, you can look at spells that double counters, like Doubling Season, Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider and Deepglow Skate. These are among the most powerful options, considering these can cause most planeswalker commanders to be ready to ultimate right away. These do tend to push the power of a deck, so use these carefully — particularly if you play in more casual settings.
Extra Loyalty Activations
One of the most popular ways to make the most of a planeswalker commander is to add cards to your deck that double their activations. These effects give you two activations per turn instead of one, and that will give you a lot of extra value.
The Chain Veil is the hallmark card for this effect, and is known for going infinite with Teferi, Temporal Archmage. Oath of Teferi is similar, but it can’t be broken in the same ways The Chain Veil can. Rings of Brighthearth is the most flexible option, as it lets you copy any activated ability and not just loyalty abilities.
With a variety of these effects in your deck, you’ll have a seriously supercharged commander that will be ready to take on any table. If you like the idea of leaning hard into this support for your planeswalker commander, you might also want to consider making a superfriends deck.
Superfriends is a strategy where you use a lot of planeswalkers, protecting them until you eventually overwhelm your opponents with value and threats. All of the support I mentioned will also work for other planeswalkers in the ninety-nine, and a diversity of threats in the form of multiple planeswalkers can be very difficult for your opponents to deal with.
Planeswalker commanders are a lot of fun, and having a deck with a planeswalker at the helm of a deck can make for a nice change of pace — especially if you usually play creature-focused strategies.
Do you enjoy playing with planeswalker commanders? Are any of the new planeswalker commanders sparking any inspiration for a new deck?
If you have a planeswalker deck that you enjoy, or if you’re inspired to brew one, I’d love to hear about it. Show me your brews on Twitter, and if you have any spicy tech for planeswalkers, I’d love to see them!
Scott is an Irish content creator and the Head of Budget Magic for the Izzet League. He focuses on affordable decks in Pioneer, Modern, and Pauper, particularly ones that stray from the mainstream. When he’s not writing about his favorite decks, he can be found talking incessantly about them on Twitter and on The Budget Magic Cast.