The Magical History of Color Shifting Planeswalkers

Planeswalkers have been around since Lorwyn, so it’s been more than 10 years. There’s 107 of them currently in circulation. During that time with that many planeswalkers, some of them have changed their outlook to life. Sometimes quite radically. They are major characters in the story, so it should be expected of them to have some sort of an arc, which might affect them mechanically as well.

We did learn in Amonkhet that the colors of a planeswalker doesn’t necessarily limit what they can do, because Nicol Bolas doesn’t seem to have any limitations on colors of spells.

I’m going to do this differently. I’m not adhering to chronology, because these things are so intertwined if we look at them this way. Instead, I’ll just go through the planeswalkers that have changed color in an alphabetical order.

Starting with Ajani…

[draft]Ajani Goldmane
Ajani Vengeant
Ajani, Caller of the Pride
Ajani, Mentor of Heroes
Ajani Steadfast
Ajani Unyielding
Ajani, Valiant Protector[/draft]

Part of the reason Ajani has lost his pure whiteness is that he has competition. Both Gideon and Elspeth share that very same piece of property on the color wheel, although Elspeth is gone for now. Gideon, on the other hand is the representative of the color in the Gatewatch, which puts Ajani into a bit of pickle.

First, he changed colors to half red, when Sarkhan (whom we’ll get back to later on in this article) thought him to use his anger. He calmed down later on, and when he returned in the story, it was the same block in which Elspeth was the central character, so it was natural that he take on another color. In his new role of helping others, he took on a green mantle, which his next version in the story, has maintained. There was a full white version of him in Core Sets, but we probably shouldn’t take those very seriously.

[draft]Daretti, Scrap Savant
Daretti, Ingenious Iconoclast[/draft]

Daretti’s change feels like “we haven’t had a black-red planeswalker since Sarkhan el Loco, so we should have one now”. It could be argued that it was in response to Marchesa’s ascendance to the thronw, but on the other hand, rebellion is red already, no black needed, which actually sort of taints the rebellion.

[draft]Garruk Wildspeaker
Garruk, Primal Hunter
Garruk Relentless
Garruk, Caller of Beasts
Garruk, Apex Predator[/draft]

Garruk’s transformation is very understandable. He has been cursed and thus he has moved to half-black. Feel free to disregard the Core Set card in the middle.

[draft]Huatli, Warrior Poet
Huatli, Dinosaur Knight
Huatli, Radiant Champion[/draft]

This one just feels wrong. She was a loyal servant of the emperor and then decided not to be and that latter version is green-white. What happened there? Shouldn’t green-whites be the most interested in society and keeping up it’s traditions, no matter what?

[draft]Nahiri, the Lithomancer
Nahiri, the Harbinger[/draft]

Well, we all know what happened here. Thousands of years of imprisonment just because Sorin wasn’t feeling like discusisng an issue, does make people angry.

[draft]Narset, Enlightened Master
Narset Transcendent[/draft]

Here the change came from an alternate timeline. All the khans lost colors, Narset only lost one. This has a lot to do with how the new version of Tarkir is structured. Wedges are no longer a big thing, but the philosophy in the world emphasizes allied colors and this must have affected Narset as well.

[draft]Nissa Revane
Nissa, Worldwaker
Nissa, Sage Animist
Nissa, Voice of Zendikar
Nissa, Vital Force
Nissa, Nature’s Artisan
Nissa, Steward of Elements
Nissa, Genesis Mage[/draft]

Nissa is, thusfar, the only one of the core Gatewatch to have changed colors. She learned to employ blue in a Trial in Amonkhet. This came after she heard the voice of Emrakul, so there might be more drastic changes to her… or it was just a part of the Trial. Who knows. On the other hand, who cares? I find Nissa the least interesting planeswalker after she lost her edge in a retroactive change to her character. Sure, having a racist character as your hero is not a good idea, but it would have worked better if she had changed her outlook in a story, not just handwaving.

[draft]Samut, Voice of Dissent
Samut, the Tested[/draft]

She just lost a color in an activated ability, so not really even a color, just color identity. I guess we can assume that the pre-ignition Samut knew a white spell or two, which she no longer needs to employ.

[draft]Sarkhan Vol
Sarkhan the Mad
Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker
Sarkhan Unbroken[/draft]

The master of changing colors, Sarkhan has been in four. More than any other planeswalker. First, he was green-red, but soon changed into red-black under Bolas’s “tutelage”. After that, he was gone for a while, before returning in Khans of Tarkir and going back to his simple one-colored roots. After the world changed, he became Temur, when everything else fell back to two colors. Is he happy now? Probably for a while. He was only the second planeswalker to be three-colored as well and only one has been that since.

[draft]Sorin Markov
Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
Sorin, Solemn Visitor
Sorin, Grim Nemesis[/draft]

Sorin feels like one of those planeswalkers they don’t really know what to do with, but on the other hand, it also felt like he was pushed into the sets without a real reason for doing so. He is supposed to be extremely powerful, but only the la(te)st version feels like that. Why did he become black-white? Probably one of those “we don’t have one of these yet” situations. I guess he sort of became a semi-benevolent tyrant of Innistrad, which sort of fits the color combination.

[draft]Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
Tamiyo, Field Researcher[/draft]

I think this one is a very bad change from a thematic point of view. I mean, she supposedly embodies the need carefully study things. She should be pure blue. Even her abilities could easily fit into blue, which is directly against the philosphy Maro talked about recently about not having multicolored cards that would fit nicely into one of its colors.

[draft]Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir
Teferi, Temporal Archmage
Teferi, Hero of Dominaria[/draft]

(As of this writing, the last one won’t show up. It’s Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, a blue-white card.)

At least Teferi does something that couldn’t be done in blue only… in his ultimate ability. I guess this change was sort of foreshadowed in the Commander product last year.

[draft]Tezzeret the Seeker
Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas
Tezzeret the Schemer
Tezzeret, Master of Metal[/draft]

This one is Bolas’s influence. Tezzeret seems to have become his major tool.

[draft]Venser, Shaper Savant
Venser, the Sojourner[/draft]

Hey, another blue mage having to step down because Jace is jealous.

[draft]Vraska the Unseen
Vraska, Relic Seeker
Vraska, Scheming Gorgon[/draft]

Vraska lost a color mostly probably just to make her better suited for the Planeswalker Deck. I wouldn’t see this as a major change in her. I guess it could be argued that her previous versions didn’t really feel that green. Those versions of her are able to destroy both artifacts and enchantments, which black can’t do, but it’s highly dependent on the metagame whether this comes into play at any point.

Conclusions

There’s been plenty of planeswalkers, who have changed their color at one point or another. Fifteen, to be precise, as of this writing. Some less meaningful than othes. Of these only two (Ajani and Sarkhan) have tipped their toes into different combinations.

Sometimes these changes are clearly motivated by the story and are thus nice ways to show what’s going on with the character. However, there’s also plenty of situations where these changes just feel arbitrary and “box checking” in a way Maro seems to talk against quite often, but which also seems to happen way too often. Of course, there are limitations on what kind of planeswalkers there can be. They are always mythics, so their numbers need to be balanced. This probably leads to various situations where they gain colors just because.

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