Jeremy casts spells in between his careers as a chemical analyst and campus manager.
Planeswalker Ultimates in Magic
Planeswalker cards can use a single loyalty effect each turn by adding or subtracting the appropriate amount of loyalty, which also serves as their health (they lose loyalty when attacked by creatures). Most planeswalkers have three abilities: one that adds loyalty but is weaker and two that subtract loyalty but offer devastating effects.
If a planeswalker manages to pull off their biggest loyalty-subtracting "ultimate," it often spells game over—but which effects are most brutal? Looking solely at their finales, these are the 20 best planeswalker ultimates in Magic: The Gathering!
20. Liliana, the Last Hope
CMC (Converted Mana Cost): 3
Most planeswalkers require at least four mana, but Liliana here wields an impressive -7 despite only costing three. Her effect gives you an emblem (an object that can't be destroyed and is basically invincible) that provides X 2/2 zombie tokens at the end of your turn, where X is the number of zombies you control plus two.
So even if you have zero, you'll get two, then four, and so on, rapidly amassing an enormous army of undead. And if you're running zombies, you can very easily swarm ten or more on the first dose, likely scoring a combat victory on your next turn.
19. Ajani Steadfast
Most ultimates are aggressive, but Ajani's -7 provides a fierce defense, giving you an emblem that reduces the damage you and your planeswalkers take to one. This makes it ridiculously difficult to whittle down you and your allies' health. Just don't get too cocky; you can still lose via milling or poison counters.
18. Jace, Architect of Thought
Jace's -8 searches each player's library for any non-land, exiles it, then lets you cast those cards for free! You can bring out your strongest unit while also stealing your opponents' biggest spells. Plus the effect scales well in multiplayer; the more rivals you have, the more freebies you'll snatch.
A frequent member of my own blue decks, Jace is also one of the game's cheapest planeswalkers, costing well under three dollars!
17. Chandra, Flame's Fury
Chandra's -8 deals 10 damage to a player and each creature they control, slamming both their life points and army.
This is especially brutal in formats like standard where you start with 20 health, very likely outright killing a rival. And even if they survive, most if not all of their creatures will have died, leaving them open to a finishing blow.
16. Chandra Nalaar
Chandra's Nalaar form has a similar -8 to Flame's Fury, dealing 10 damage to a player and their creatures. However, an unwritten errata lets her hit a planeswalker instead of a player for 10, helpful when you need to remove a threat more than reduce someone's health. And despite costing less mana than Flame's Fury, she joins with more loyalty, needing only three turns to trigger the effect.
15. Chandra, Bold Pyromancer
Bold Pyromancer further improves upon Chandra's previous ultimates, now hitting a player and their planeswalkers and creatures for 10 damage each. It's also now a -7 effect, requiring slightly less loyalty to activate.
14. Tezzeret, Artifice Master
Tezzeret's monstrous -9 offers an emblem that places a permanent card from your deck onto the field at your end phase for free! You avoid the trouble of both drawing and casting the spells, and even if an opponent scrapes together a removal, you'll just get more freebies in your upcoming turns.
13. Narset Transcendent
Narset arrives with an impressive amount of loyalty (six) by default, meaning her ultimate -9 isn't too far out of reach. Triggering it provides an emblem that prevents your opponents from casting non-creature spells.
Admittedly, this emblem's effectiveness depends on what types of decks your opponents run, but locking them out of all spell types except one is a huge advantage, even against creature-oriented themes.
12. Jace, Unraveler of Secrets
One of my personal favorite planeswalkers, Jace's -8 grants an emblem that automatically counters the first spell each opponent casts each turn. This means to play anything, they first have to "waste" a spell in the same turn, and doing so should rapidly deplete their mana and hand.
Unless the field state was already overwhelmingly against you, there just aren't many decks that can retaliate against this massive disadvantage.
11. Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God
Nicol's ultimate -8 can force multiple losses on opponents—given the right condition. It makes each opponent who doesn't control a legendary creature or planeswalker lose the game, a situational but brutal ability.
Remember that Nicol's -3 can destroy a creature or planeswalker, helping meet the condition, and his passive grants him the loyalty effects of other planeswalkers. So even if you're not ready for his -8, you can potentially duplicate a more-needed ultimate.
10. Tamiyo, Field Researcher
Tamiyo's ultimate isn't terribly expensive at just -7, and it grants you an emblem that lets you cast non-land cards from your hand for free! You've got easy spells for the rest of the game, and the ability also draws three cards, ensuring you can immediately put the effect to good use.
9. Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
Ugin is one of the game's most expensive planeswalkers, but he arrives with seven loyalty and can gain two more each turn. Once he triggers his -10, you gain seven life, draw seven cards, and can place up to seven permanents from your hand onto the field for free!
Talk about an advantage; the seven draws ensure you've got lots of tempting spells to field, and the lifegain provides a defensive fallback if something goes wrong.
8. Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Jace here rarely triggers his -12 since he only arrives with three loyalty and you'll often opt for his +0 instead of +2. But in the rare case that it resolves, -12 exiles all cards from a player's library, then shuffles their hand into their deck.
So, you've both cut their hand to zero and placed them agonizingly close to a deck-out mill loss, especially if their hand was running low.
7. Nicol Bolas, the Arisen
To play the Arisen, Nicol first has to transform from his Ravager creature form (thumbnailed above), who requires four mana to cast and seven to flip over. But once transformed, Nicol wields four loyalty effects, with -12 exiling all but the bottom card of a player's library.
Basically, this gives someone one turn before they lose—they'll draw their deck's last card during their next turn, then lose via deck-out on the following. Just survive until then and you've won (at least in 1v1).
6. Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh
Nicol offers not three but four effects, and even his basic +2 is pretty brutal, exiling cards from an opponent's deck until they reach a non-land, which you can cast for free. But once he initiates his -12, you exile all non-land permanents your opponents control!
This massive field wipe eradicates all threats, bypasses defenses like indestructible and hexproof, and works well in multi-player since it affects all foes, not just one opponent.
5. Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker
Compared to his last ultimate, Nicol's effect here is worse for multiplayer, but usually better in 1v1. -9 deals seven damage to a player and forces them to discard seven cards and sacrifice seven permanents. Assuming they survive the damage, their hand and field will be so depleted that it's probably game over.
4. Ral Zarek
Extra turns in Magic are rare and powerful effects, normally requiring at least five mana for one. But Ral's ultimate -7 flips five coins and grants an extra turn for each heads, averaging 2-3 per use!
That's back-to-back draws, land plays, planeswalker effects, combat steps, and more, usually more than enough to achieve whatever endgame you're building towards.
3. Vraska, Golgari Queen
Many green planeswalker ultimates give creatures enormous power boosts for the turn, but the thing is, all it takes is a "Fog" combat-dampener to nullify it. But Vraska here grants an emblem that lasts indefinitely, making a player lose whenever one of your creatures deals them combat damage.
This has the same lethal edge without the brevity—all it takes is a big enough trampler or unblocked attacker to force a loss, and since the effect lasts, you can simply attack again on your next turn if you get Fogged.
2. Liliana, Dreadhorde General
Liliana's ultimate takes the best traits of Nicol's last two effects, affecting multiple opponents as well as lands. -9 has each opponent choose a permanent they control of every type, then sacrifice the rest—they'll be down to one creature, one enchantment, and so on.
Since the ability also affects their lands, everyone else's mana production will be set so far back they just shouldn't have time to bounce back, making them easy pickings.
1. Karn, Liberated
Sure, Karn's -14 sounds like a lot, but remember he can use a +4 effect to rapidly accumulate resources. Once -14 triggers, you reset the game, except you begin play with any cards Karn exiled with his other effects (+4 exiles a card from an opponent's hand while -3 exiles one on the field).
As of this writing, this is both the only way to restart the game and the only way to remove opposing emblems. So no matter how depleted your life or deck is, you'll be back to full health. The same applies for opponents, true, but beginning play with the exiled cards ought to put you so far ahead you'll easily emerge the victor. You also get to go first in the reset game, regardless of who the original starting player was.
Increasing Planeswalker Loyalty in Magic
As powerful as today's ultimates are, they're only helpful if you can manage to use them—try increasing the loyalty of your planeswalkers with cards like "Doubling Season" and "Pir, Imaginative Rascal".
And if you're struggling against planeswalkers, consider anti-planeswalker cards to ease your troubles. But for now, as we eagerly await Wizards of the Coast's next expansion of planeswalkers, vote for your favorite card and I'll see you at our next MTG countdown!
© 2019 Jeremy Gill
Jeremy Gill (author) from Louisiana on January 20, 2020:
Cool find, which version do you have? Check tcgplayer.com to view different renditions, which currently range in value from about $9-$50. Also depends on what format you're playing and what colors you intend to use; he's a good card, but you might get more bang for your buck by selling him.
Rex H on January 20, 2020:
I just opened a Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God in a booster pack. I am wondering weather I should use him, or sell him for $80 and get a ton of cheaper cards, like void Winnower or Paladin of Atonement. Suggestions?
Guy who likes milling on December 15, 2019:
My favorite planeswalker is Nicol Bolas, God- Pharaoh.
Tim Truzy from U.S.A. on August 23, 2019:
I am learning from great writers such as yourself, Jeremy. Yet, I love the work of Terry Brooks and of course, Ms. Rowland. I learned a lot from your well written work. Your articles are very informative for your readers. That's why I will be following you. Thanks again. Respect and admiration.
Jeremy Gill (author) from Louisiana on August 22, 2019:
Thanks! If you're into Magic, I'd be curious who your all-time favorite planeswalker is.
Tim Truzy from U.S.A. on August 17, 2019:
Really Cool article. Very informative and sounds like fun. Thanks.