When people think of Magic the Gathering, most of them are thinking about the cards, which is fair since it is a trading card game. Behind that game though there is a story, told through novels, and other print. It’s an epic tale spanning thousands of years and featuring hundreds of characters, from “planeswalkers”, to gods, to strange mythical beasts. Collectively this group of fiction is called ‘The Lore’ by players of Magic. To some of these players, this story might be an afterthought, an unneeded addition to the game. Whether or not that is true is a debate for another article.
In the “Lore” of Magic the Gathering there are a lot of cool concepts, but one of the most interesting presented is the idea of planeswalkers. They are counted among the most powerful beings in the multiverse and are meant to be the thematic identities of the players of the game. Not an actual “race”, but rather beings that can be born at random in any sapient species. These beings get their name from their ability to “planeswalk”, a power that allows them to travel throughout the multiverse at will.
Just how powerful these beings are has changed a lot over the years, with Wizards of the Coast making various adjustments the storyline to try and make the characters more dynamic, and relatable. In the beginning, the Planeswalkers could reach levels of power that effectively made them Gods. They possessed immortality and were known to be able to create new planes of existence, and new life. Traveling the multiverse at will, it seemed very little was beyond their power. This all changed with the event known as “The Mending” Which saw the source of the Planeswalkers’ abilities, the “Planeswalker’s Spark” greatly reduced in power.
Regardless of their level of power, though, the Planeswalkers of Magic the Gathering are the game’s most interesting characters. Today we will be attempting to list the top ten planeswalkers, with key factors in the determination being fictional power, and significance to the storyline, as well as popularity and influence on the game itself. So without further delay let’s begin.
#10 Chandra Nalaar
Chandra Nalaar is a planeswalker very closely associated with red mana, and fire-magic. I imagine you probably guessed as much by her flaming hair, and eyes, though. She was first introduced in the 43rd Magic expansion, Lorwyn, back in 2007, and since then has remained a central character. Chandra rose from tragic beginnings, her Planeswalker’s Spark being ignited during her attempted execution, which came after she witnessed the slaughter of her entire family.
Traveling the various planes has brought her into the paths of several other planeswalkers, including Jace Beleren and Gideon Jura, and Nissa Revane with whom she eventually formed The Gatewatch, a group of planeswalkers initially allied together to fight the Eldrazi on Zendikar.
Chandra’s level of power, which allowed her to kill even the Eldrazi, Ulamog, and Kozilek, is considerable. This along with the fact that she has been a main character in the storyline since her introduction lead to her landing in the 10th spot on our list.
#9 Elspeth Tirel
Elspeth Tirel (also known Elspeth, Knight-Errant), was a planeswalker tied to white mana. She was first introduced to Magic the Gathering back in the 2008 expansion “Shards of Alara”. Elspeth has not had what anyone would call an easy life. Most planeswalkers are in fact created by rather tragic events, but Elspeth, in particular, is just never allowed to be happy in her story.
As a youth, she was a prisoner of the dreaded Phyrexians, a race of biomechanical abominations bent on the conquest of the multiverse. What horrors she had to live through during this time I will leave to your imagination. Once she gained the ability to planeswalk she ended up in a place called Bant. It was in Bant that Elspeth was trained as a knight, and gained her signature armor. Tragedy followed her however and her time in Bant ended in sadness.
After Bant, Elspeth traveled the planes and played a very important role in the Mirrodon saga, which saw her cross paths with several other notable planeswalkers. After Mirrodon, Elspeth ended up in Theros, where she came into the service of the god Heliod. During this period it seemed for a time that Elspeth might finally find happiness, however, she was tricked by a villainous, wannabe god named Xenagos into murdering the man she had fallen in love with. She was eventually able to get her revenge and seemingly kill Xenagos, however, in the end, Elspeth lost her own life as well. It has been hinted at in the storyline that Elspeth will make a return at some point, but only Wizards of the Coast can say for sure.
Elspeth Tirel had a level of power that frightened even gods, and a heart full of conviction. Her abilities along with the tragic, but memorable story of her life landed her in the 9th spot on our list.
#8 Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
So Ugin is the “newest” planeswalker on this list, and that is probably the only reason he didn’t rank higher. First of all, Ugin is a dragon, and a “spirit dragon” at that, which makes him awesome by default. Although very powerful, he arguably plays second fiddle to a much more powerful dragon planeswalker that you will be seeing later in this list. Ugin’s significance in the storyline involves the Eldrazi, Ugin being the mastermind behind their imprisonment. This makes him a very important figure in the Magic universe, and he will undoubtedly be playing a large role in events to come.
Everything mentioned above aside, to me the reason that Ugin is awesome is a card that was printed way before he was added to the story, Ghostfire. This was one of my favorite cards back in the day, and I had no idea it would be linked to a future planeswalker in such a cool way. The card represents the invisible fire that Ugin is known to use as a weapon. This along with his enormous power level and role in containing the Eldrazi landed Ugin in a solid spot at number eight.
Jeska… there was a lot of debate about whether or not to include ‘Thrice Touched by Infinity’ on this list, or where she should rank. Ultimately the significance she played in the Magic the Gathering storyline made her inclusion mandatory. For those who don’t know, Jeska started life as a barbarian, and the sister to the also awesome character, Kamahl. She would eventually be transformed into Phage, the Untouchable, an extremely dangerous character, and awesome card.
During her time as Phage, Jeska was responsible for a great many terrible deeds. Ultimately she was killed when her brother intervened during a battle between her and Akroma, the Angel of Wrath. Kamahl killed them both with one swing of his sword, but in the process a new being was created, Karona, goddess of magic. Karona was extremely powerful (although her card is not nearly as cool as Phage) and was a great threat to the multiverse, causing chaos and destruction on a grand scale. Eventually, she was betrayed and killed, which resulted in the resurrection of Jeska, now a full-fledged planeswalker.
She would spend the next several centuries traveling with her mentor, Karn. Eventually, she returned to her home to find it being torn about by time-rifts. She was instrumental in closing many of these rifts, even if at the time she was being manipulated by the evil planeswalker, Leshrac. Under his influence, she did some questionable things, but ultimately with the assistance of several other planeswalkers, she managed to close the last rift, although she paid with her life to do so.
This event became known as “The Great Mending”, and was responsible for the change in the nature of the Planeswalker’s Spark that led to the current generation of planeswalkers. So the present storyline of Magic the Gathering can be traced back to Jeska’s sacrifice. The great amount of influence she has had on the story, along with the popularity of her various forms has landed her in the number seven spot on our list.
#6 Liliana Vess
Liliana Vess is pretty much the definition of an evil temptress. Highly intelligent, witty, and very attractive, she is quite good at getting what she wants. She has remained a very popular character since her introduction back in the Lorwyn expansion. “Lili” as she is called by many has been a planeswalker since before ‘The Mending’ and despite her ill-begotten youth, she is actually over a century old. During her adventures, she has had significant encounters with the elder dragon, Nicol Bolas, as well as the vampire Sorin Markov.
She was for a time the lover of the planeswalker, Jace Beleren, although Jace eventually saw through her manipulations to see her true agenda. Her primary goal in the story revolves around destroying the four demons she made pacts with to secure her youth. This quest eventually leads her to don the Chained Veil, an ancient cursed artifact of immense power. With the Veil she is able to destroy two of the four demons, however, the Veil’s curse is too much for her and she tries to relinquish it. Liliana’s attempts to remove the artifact fail, and for the time being she is stuck with it.
Her popularity, along with the power she currently wields would be enough to make this list. The cards that represent her in the game are also very useful and frequently used. With these factors in mind, she easily claimed our sixth spot.
#5 Sorin Markov
With “The Mending “the planeswalkers lost their immortality, and as such began to age like normal mortals. You would think this would mean the writers could no longer present millennia old planeswalkers the way they once did, but Sorin Markov proves that’s not the case. This is because Sorin isn’t just any planeswalker, he is a vampire planeswalker. The immortality granted by his lineage has allowed Sorin to live to be one of the oldest planeswalkers in the multiverse.
Sorin is known for his hedonistic and self-serving nature. Despite that tenacity, he has been shown to take an interest in and seek to contain threats to his plane of Innistrad and the multiverse itself. The primary example of this is his hand in imprisoning the Eldrazi, one of the greatest threats the multiverse has ever known. He also created the angel Avacyn to safeguard humanity from his vampiric brethren.
We are also very fond of his cards and have included them in many of our deck builds. It should come as little surprise to any fan of Magic that Sorin Markov made our list.
#4 Jace Beleren
I hate Jace… not the character, he is fine, but I do hate the cards that represent him in the game. When Jace is played by someone at our table, the responses range from groans to extreme profanity. With that said Jace himself is actually pretty cool, as would be expected from one of the faces of the franchise. The planeswalker possesses unique telepathic abilities that make him one of the most powerful being in the multiverse. That along with his powerful blue mana-based magic would make him a dangerous threat to anyone. So it might come as a surprise that in the story line he tends to get his butt handed to him when he fights any other planeswalkers. This could be part of Wizards of the Coast’s attempts to make him relatable to the players.
He has spent a considerable amount of his time in the city of Ravnica, where he currently functions as the ‘Living Guildpact’. When not in Ravnica though Jace has been a key player in the battle against the Eldrazi, and is one of the founding members of The Gatewatch. He also had a torrid affair with the planeswalker Liliana Vess, until he discovered her true intentions.
The popularity of Jace both in card form and in the lore of Magic the Gathering will most likely keep him at the center of Wizards of the Coasts plans for years to come. So it was inevitable that he would make our list as he comes in at fourth place.
Karn is one of the most important characters in the storyline of Magic the Gathering. A silver golem created by the legendary planeswalker, Urza as part of an experiment in time travel. Karn has played a significant role in several of the branching narratives of Magic over the decades. Eventually, at the height of the Phyrexian invasion a weapon called The Legacy was activated, and as a result, Karn was reawakened as the first and only artificial planeswalker. Since then he has gone on to do many important things, such as mentoring Jeska, and creating the artificial plane of Argentum which would eventually become New Phyrexia.
Karn is among the most important parts of the legacy of Urza, this alone makes him a key player in Magic. He is also very popular among fans, and his representation in the cards has been awesome. It will be very exciting to see where the story takes him next, for the time being he is still dealing with the aftermath of New Phyrexia, and probably will be for some time
#2 Urza Planeswalker
Urza is arguably the one of the most important characters in Magic the Gathering. He was the central character or driving force for many of the games narratives, and even after his death, his legacy continues to influence the story line to this day. He was responsible for the creation of several other prominent characters including Karn, and Gerrard Capashen. His war against his brother Mishra had a lasting impact on the planes that can still be seen today. The nearly lifelong battle he waged against Phyrexia and his nemesis, Yawgmoth is the stuff of legends. Being the central character, or ‘hero’ of the narrative saw Urza reach inedible high levels of power. His abilities as an artificer might be unmatched by any before or after him.
His various inventions and the knowledge he created are still used by individuals in the multiverse and references to him still pop up in new cards from time to time. With Karn continuing to have an active role in the Magic the Gathering story, the legacy that Urza created seems to continue to have a lasting significance. The only surprise about seeing him on this list is maybe that he didn’t take first place.
#1 Nicol Bolas
Nicol Bolas is a dragon… not just any dragon, though, a crazy powerful elder dragon, who possesses power and knowledge enough to effectively be a god. I mean this guy is over 25,000 years old, and during that time, he has done some very impressive things. He was the victor in an ancient war between elder dragons, he conquered the Madaran Empire, conceived of, and instigated the Conflux of Alara, and he was behind the release of the Eldrazi from their prison. Those are just a few of the things he is known for, he is considered by many to be among the greatest threats the multiverse has ever known.
In his travels, Nicol Bolas has crossed paths with many other prominent planeswalkers, and for the most part, these meetings end with Bolas the victor. He is responsible for the death of Ugin in a previous timeline, and easily defeated Jace and another planeswalker called Tezzeret in a duel. Of the planeswalkers currently alive, he is easily the most powerful. He commands an unmatched mastery of Black, Blue, and Red mana, as well as a devastating power called ‘The Touch’ which allows him to attack an opponent’s mind. Speaking attacks on the mind, Bolas also has telepathy powers comparable to Jace.
His age, unrivaled power, and knowledge, along with him being arguably the most dangerous antagonist in the multiverse left us with no choice but to declare the Elder Dragon, Nicol Bolas the top planeswalker in our list.
So that’s it… Honestly, I’m not 100% satisfied with the choice we made, but that happens sometimes when you decide by committee. There were a lot of runners-up and honorable mentions, including Taysir, Teferi, Jaya Ballard, Venser, Ob Nixilis, Lord Windgrace, and, many others. With only ten spots it was a tough process, though. Also, keep in mind that these choices mainly reflect the fictional version of these characters from the lore of Magic the Gathering, not their cards… if that was the case Jace would have the clear win and the rest of this list would be vastly different. If you want to let us know what you think, and if you have a planeswalker you think should have been on the list, please let us know in the comments.
Brian Cowan loves playing video games, football, Magic, and pretty much anything else that he can use as an excuse to waste time. When he is not doing the above or working, he is usually writing or reading.