Planeswalker Rules

Planeswalking the Walk

by Mark Rosewater

In the art of the tease, there comes a time known as the "payoff". While an audience enjoys being slowly led along, there's a point where you have to give them what they've been waiting for. Today is that day. This is that article. For many weeks (or many months depending on how you look at it), we've been teasing out information about planeswalkers. Yes, Lorwyn is bringing forth a brand new card type that will permanently become part of the game. Yes, these cards will function differently than any previous card type. Yes, they are going to feature characters that are equivalent to the role taken by people when they play Magic.

Today's column is going to answer two big questions. Number one – How does the new card type work? Number two – Why did Wizards of the Coast choose to add planewalkers to the game? Hopefully that's the payoff you all have been looking for. (Okay, I guess there's being able to actually play with them but you'll have to wait for theLorwyn prerelease for that.) For good will, before the column ends, I'm even going to give you a preview of a second planewalker card, my personal favorite of the five. But that tease has just begun so you'll have to wait a while for that payoff.

How Does The New Card Type Work?

When first started I had the chance to preview some new mechanics. Not being a real rules stickler, I kind of explained them colloquially. That didn't go over all that well. When players hear about a new mechanic (let alone a new card type) it seems they want to know exactly how it works instead of "kinda" how it works. As such, a rule was passed down from on high that said. "Don't let Rosewater explain technical rules stuff." Because of this dictum, I'm not going to answer the first question. Instead, I'm going to pass you off to someone that does the "technical rules stuff" every day - yes, my arch-nemesis and Magic's Rules Manager, Mark Gottlieb. He'll explain what exactly is going on with this new card type and then I'll be back to do what I do, explain why we do things.

Mark? Take it away.

It's about time they injected some law & order into Rosewater's articles! That's one guy who needs some Rules Management, if you know what I mean.

Before I get into the nitty-gritty details, take a deep breath. Planeswalkers are complex. They have deep rules, not all of which are intuitive, and what you need to know simply isn't printed on the cards. I've seen a couple of negative comments on the message boards about that, but it's no different than what we do for other card types. Imagine if we had to explain how the stack worked on each instant, or how attacking and blocking worked on each creature! Done with that deep breath? Then dive on in. What follows is the planeswalker section of the upcoming Lorwyn FAQ.

Planeswalker is a new card type. Planeswalkers are powerful allies you can call on to fight by your side.

You can play a planeswalker only at the time you could play a sorcery. A planeswalker is a permanent, so when a planeswalker spell resolves, it comes into play under your control. Any spell or ability that affects a permanent (for example, "destroy target permanent") can affect a planeswalker. Note that planeswalkers aren't creatures; if a card says it affects a creature, it won't affect a planeswalker.


Each planeswalker has a subtype. For example, Garruk Wildspeaker says "Planeswalker -- Garruk" on its type line. These subtypes are also called planeswalker types. These are not creature types; they're an independent list.

* If two or more planeswalkers that share a subtype are in play, they're all put into their owners' graveyards as a state-based effect.


Loyalty is a characteristic only planeswalkers have. Each planeswalker has a loyalty number printed in the lower right corner of the card. This isn't a power or toughness -- it's a new value.

  • A planeswalker comes into play with a number of loyalty counters on it equal to its loyalty number. While a planeswalker is in play, its loyalty is equal to the number of loyalty counters on it, and its printed loyalty number is ignored.
  • Damage dealt to a planeswalker results in that many loyalty counters being removed from it; see "Dealing Damage to Planeswalkers" below.
  • Playing an ability of a planeswalker causes it to gain or lose loyalty; see "Planeswalker Abilities" below. As a planeswalker loses loyalty, that many loyalty counters are removed from it. As a planeswalker gains loyalty, that many additional counters are put onto it.
  • If a planeswalker's loyalty is 0, it's put into its owner's graveyard as a state-based effect.
  • While a planeswalker card isn't in play, its loyalty is equal to the number printed in its lower right corner.

    Each planeswalker in the Lorwyn set has three activated abilities. These abilities have specific restrictions that aren't spelled out on the card, and their costs use a new symbol.

  • An ability of a planeswalker may be played only by that planeswalker's controller, and only any time he or she could play a sorcery. A player may play a planeswalker's ability the turn it enters play. A player may not play a planeswalker's ability if any of its abilities have been played already that turn. In other words, you're limited to one ability from each of your planeswalkers during your turn.
  • The cost to play a planeswalker's ability is represented by an arrow with a number inside. Up-arrows contain positive numbers, such as "+3"; this means "Put three loyalty counters on this planeswalker." Down-arrows contain negative numbers, such as "-1"; this means "Remove one loyalty counter from this planeswalker." You can't play a planeswalker's ability with a negative loyalty cost unless the planeswalker has at least that many loyalty counters on it.

    Planeswalkers aren't creatures, so they can't attack or block. However, planeswalkers can be attacked.

    As the declare attackers step begins, if the defending player controls a planeswalker, the active player declares who or what each attacking creature is attacking: the defending player or one of that player's planeswalkers. All the attacking creatures may attack the same thing, or they may attack different things. If the defending player controls multiple planeswalkers, any or all of them can be attacked during the same combat phase.

    As the declare blockers step begins, the defending player declares which creatures he or she controls (if any) are blocking the attacking creatures. The blocking creatures don't care who or what the attackers are attacking.

    During the combat damage step, damage from unblocked creatures attacking the defending player, damage from blocked creatures, and damage from blocking creatures is assigned and dealt as normal. Unblocked creatures that are attacking a planeswalker assign and deal their combat damage to that planeswalker, which causes that many loyalty counters to be removed from it. Planeswalkers, like players, don't deal combat damage.

  • If a creature with trample is attacking a planeswalker and is blocked, the attacker must assign lethal damage to each blocker, and may assign excess damage to the planeswalker. However, a creature with trample that's attacking a planeswalker can't "trample over" that planeswalker and assign combat damage to the defending player.
  • If a planeswalker leaves play or changes controllers, it's removed from combat and stops being attacked. However, a creature that was attacking that planeswalker isn't removed from combat -- it continues to attack. It may be blocked. If it isn't blocked, it remains an attacking creature but assigns no damage during the combat damage step. If it is blocked, it will deal damage to any creature blocking it as normal. If the attacker has trample, the trample ability has no effect because there's nothing for the creature to assign excess damage to.
  • In the Two-Headed Giant multiplayer variant, a creature can attack the defending team or attack a planeswalker controlled by either member of that team. A creature attacking a planeswalker can be blocked by creatures controlled by either member of the defending team, not just creatures controlled by the planeswalker's controller.

    If a source you control would deal noncombat damage to an opponent, you may have that source deal that damage to a planeswalker that opponent controls instead. This is a redirection effect: you choose whether to redirect the damage as the redirection effect is applied, and it's subject to the normal rules for ordering replacement effects. The player affected by the damage chooses the order in which to apply such effects, but the controller of the source of the damage chooses whether the damage is redirected. Note that this redirection can't be applied to combat damage.

  • For example, although you can't target a planeswalker with Shock, you can target your opponent with Shock, and then as Shock resolves, choose to have Shock deal its 2 damage to one of your opponent's planeswalkers. If you do, two loyalty counters are removed from that planeswalker.
  • You can't choose to split the damage between a player and a planeswalker. In the Shock example above, you couldn't have Shock deal 1 damage to the player and 1 damage to the planeswalker.
  • If a source you control would deal damage to you, you can't have that source deal that damage to one of your planeswalkers instead.
  • In a Two-Headed Giant game, damage that would be dealt to a player can't be redirected to a planeswalker his or her teammate controls.
  • Thanks, Mark.

    I hope that all made sense to all of you. If not, don't be afraid to go back and reread it. I won't tell anyone, I promise. All right, now it's time to get to what I talked about above. No, not the preview card. That's coming. Question number two:

    Why Did Wizards Of The Coast Choose To Add Planeswalkers To The Game?

    Here's the thing. We didn't exactly choose to do it. I mean at least not consciously. We never had a meeting where we said, "Magic needs a new card type. Let's figure out what it is." In fact, if you had asked me several years ago if Magic would create a new card type under my reign as Head Designer, I would have said probably not. You see, this is an important part of the story. We weren't looking to make a new card type.

    A quick aside on tribal. (A quick aside on my aside before I begin. What I am about to say is my and only my opinion. Mark Gottlieb, The Rules Manager you just heard from, will probably write me many nasty emails because he vehemently disagrees with what I'm about to say.) Yes, tribal is a new card type and yes it's in Lorwyn (and Future Sight for that matter). But here's the confusion. I believe "card type" actually has two meanings. One is a technical definition that includes everything you get to name when you are asked to name a card type. The second meaning is more colloquial and it means a type of card that has its own identity and feel in the game. Tribal is clearly a member of the first category, but, in my opinion, not so much a member of the second. Tribal is an attribute that acts and feels in many ways like a supertype but for technical rules reasons has to exist as a card type.

    An example of the reverse is equipment. Technically, equipment is a subtype of artifacts and thus not a card type. But from a more casual "how does it feel" vantage point, it clearly seems like something unique and different. Why do I bring this up? Because I'm going to be talking about how we came to create a new card type, and I mean the second definition not the first. That's why after this paragraph I'm not going to be touching on tribal. My semantics has caused some problems in the past because I say things like Lorwyn is going to have the first new card type since blah and obviously Future Sight just introduced tribal. I'm the non-technical, right-brained, intuitive creative guy so I felt it only fair to explain my terminology to avoid causing confusion.

    So how did planeswalkers come to be if they weren't planned? The way that many cool creative things come to be: by happy accident. One thing lead to another and before anyone knew it we had something awesome that no one saw coming. I'm not going to get into the nuts and bolts on how we designed the planeswalkers. It's a very interesting story and I plan to tell it in my column during Planeswalker Week (which should be happening sometime in the next few months). Today I'm just going to touch upon why, and a little bit how, planewalkers came to exist.

    You Spilled Peanut Butter In My Chocolate

    Okay, there were several forces in play, so let me quickly walk through the relevant ones for our story. First, let's discuss planeswalkers. (By the way, if you haven't read Brady Dommermuth's article "You Are a Planeswalker" on this very minisite, I highly suggest you do so.) One of the big pushes from the creative team for the last few years has been to repurpose planewalkers to make them more relevant to the story. Old school planewalkers were essentially gods and didn't lend themselves well to telling stories that people could easily relate to. ("I remember when I got so mad, I eradicated an entire plane of existence.")

    For those that don't pay attention to the storyline, that is what the Time Spiral block was about. (Warning: spoiler ahead. If you plan on reading the books and don't want to have your fun ruined, skip this paragraph now.) A major temporal crisis threatened the multiverse and the planewalkers had to give up their power (some voluntarily and some not) to stop it. In the end, the nature of the universe was forever changed and planeswalkers were shifted to their new definition. Having "the planewalker spark" no longer means having near omnipotence. Yes, there are some very powerful planeswalkers, but there are also planeswalkers that are just a hair breadth's away from normal folk.

    Anyway, there was a strong desire on the behalf of the creative team to find more ways to make planewalkers relevant to the story and to the game. At the same time, the Future Sight design team was starting up. And we were on the lookout for new and crazy ideas. The idea was that we were going to have a timeshifted sheet from the future and we wanted to glimpse at many of the cool and wacky ideas that lay in Magic's future. As such, we were brainstorming on the kinds of things that the future might hold. One of the items on our list was "new card type".

    The last important piece of info was that I had made a conscious effort when putting together the Future Sight design team to create an eclectic team. Because we had to think so far outside the box I chose to include numerous people that had never done Magic design but that I thought would have interesting insights. One person I tapped was Matt Cavotta. Matt had always said that he'd love to be on a design team and having an artist and creative team member's insight seemed like a great idea.

    So all the pieces were lined up. The creative team was pushing for ways to make planeswalkers more relevant while the Future Sight design team was looking for radical new ideas. Everything came to a head when Matt emailed out an idea to the team. "The new card type should be planewalkers!"

    From Here To Eternity

    Let me stress that the Future Sight design team wasn't trying to create a new card type as much as we were looking for a single card that could hint at what potential a new card type might contain. So why wasn't there a planeswalker card on the future time sheet? Because we succeeded a little too well at our task while simultaneously not well enough. Huh? Our first pass proved successful enough that most of R&D believed that creating a planewalker card type was within our grasp yet we did a poor enough job on our brainstorming pass that no one thought we had solved the problem yet. (As you will see when I tell this story, the creation of a new card type was a long and arduous process.) Definitely not enough to showcase a card on the timeshifted future sheet.

    Everyone decided that we should push planewalkers back as far as we had to. We needed to take the time to get them right. If they were done by Lorwyn then the next set would have them. If it took several years then we'd wait until whatever set came several years down the road. And if the problem was never solved, R&D was fine with never doing the card type. So how'd the cards end up in Lorwyn? A lot of elbow grease and quite a bit of luck. (Once again, a story for another day.) The important point is that we found a solution to every problem we had said must be solved before we would roll out the new card type.

    Why did Wizards choose to add planeswalkers to the game? Because we stumbled upon an amazing idea and were smart enough not to let it go. Then we put the time and energy into making sure that we did it right.

    Wild About Garruk

    Now that I'm pumped up on the planeswalkers it seems like a good time to show you today's preview. While I think all five of the planeswalkers are very solid designs, the green one has a soft spot in my heart. Perhaps because this is the one that led the way for the most of the design process (and is the one closest to its original version from way, way back) or maybe just because I like attacking with lots of creatures, Garruk is my personal favorite.

    So without further ado, if you want to see Garruk Wildspeaker, the green planeswalker, click here.

    What do you think? I'm curious to check out the thread to get all of your impressions.

    One of the things I really like about Garruk is that he provides his own bodyguards. Sure you can attack him if you can get by his mighty beasts. For a while in design, by the way, he was known simply as Beast Master and for an even briefer point in time he made ferret tokens. (What I love about writing for this audience is that some portion of the readers will actually get that reference; if not, go to and look up Marc Singer and Tanya Roberts.)

    Anyway, tell me what you all think both about the planeswalkers in general and Garruk in specific (or Liliana for that matter). Inquiring minds want to know.

    And thus "the payoff" is complete. See you in the threads.

    Mark Rosewater

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