Recently, Wizards announced that there was a big change coming with Ixalan that changes the planeswalker rule. Before going into this change, I’m going to briefly cover the history of how planeswalker rule has worked historically.
For all of these examples, Player A will have a Gideon, Martial Paragon on the battlefield. In the beginning, there could only be one copy of each different kind of planeswalker on the field at one time and if another came in, they both blew up. If player B cast Gideon of the Trials, both Gideons exploded as a state-based action. There were no survivors.
Then, the planeswalker rule was updated so that each player got to control one copy of each type of planeswalker, regardless of what their opponent had. Now, that Gideon of the Trials got to live across the board from the Gideon, Martial Paragon, but player A would not be able to have both a Gideon, Martial Paragon and a Gideon of the Trials themselves.
So how will the planeswalker rule change with Ixalan? The rule is changing to be exactly like the “Legend rule”, insofar as a player may only have one copy of a Legendary card of each name. In fact, all Planeswalkers will have the “Legendary” supertype from Ixalan forward. This means that player A can have both Gideon, Martial Paragon and Gideon of the Trials active at the same time because they have different names.
Now that we’ve gotten the technical bits out of the way, let’s talk about what this actually means for players on the ground. This change is going to impact different formats in different ways. Limited formats aren’t really going to be too affected by this change as having multiple copies of different planeswalkers is pretty rare (chaos drafts excluded). Constructed formats are going to be a different story.
Modern is most likely going to see a lot of what I’m calling “double-Lili Jund” or Jund decks that run both Liliana of the Veil and Liliana, the Last Hope because they are both high-value three-mana planeswalkers. Legacy will definitely see more players running Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy and Jace, the Mind Sculptor side-by-side for maximum control. There may also be some decks in both formats that play Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas and Tezzeret the Seeker together for artifact shenanigans. However the biggest impact will be the increase in power of “superfriends” Commander decks as they will be able to have an even bigger board presence with many more planeswalkers.
You’re probably wondering why I didn’t mention Standard as being effected by this change and that’s because I’m not entirely sure if it will have a major impact on the format. Once Ixalan drops, we’re going to have 19 planeswalkers but how many see consistent play? I can pick maybe 4 (Chandra, Torch of Defiance; Nicol Bolas, God-Pharoah; Liliana, Death’s Majesty in reanimator decks; and maybe Gideon of the Trials) and none of them have the same type as another so there won’t be any danger of abuse of the new rules.
I also think this heralds a really positive change for Standard going forward. Some people may not see it, but Wizards’ R&D department has been pretty good about making sure that nothing is too abusable and/or broken in Standard (save for the stuff they made when they thought rotation was going to change the first time) and I think this rule change is going to force more diversity. I, for one, am pretty dang tired of always seeing members of the Gatewatch pop up every 2-3 sets (which is partially why we currently have 3 Gideons, 3 Chandras, and 5 Nissas in Standard). This change will mean that Wizards has to be more careful about which planeswalkers they use in order to properly space them out across the sets. It will also mean that they will probably get more creative with their designs of planeswalkers so that they are not always doing the same shtick every time to prevent any possible overlap in power.
There are a lot of doomsayers out there right now saying that this will be the “death of Magic” or it’s at least the event horizon of its downfall, but I really can’t see that happening. Will some environments be different because of this change? Definitely, but the metagame will just have to adapt to meet it (get your foil Liliana’s Defeats right now folks). Will someone come up with some broken combo? Maybe in casual or Commander, but that’s not going to warp anything irreversibly or destroy a format. If you look at this critically, this change is good for the health of Magic, R&D, and the future of the game.