Ajani Goldmane – Lorwyn
Date Reviewed: October 22, 2021
Commander [EDH]: 3.42
Ratings are based on a 1 to 5 scale. 1 is bad. 3 is average. 5 is great.
In my opinion, planeswalker design has never topped the Lorwyn Five in terms of elegance. There are more powerful planeswalkers around now; there are ones that enable or push specific strategies more efficiently. But if I had to pick a set to show someone who’d never seen the card type before, for the purpose of illustrating what planeswalkers are all about, it would be Ajani Goldmane, Jace Beleren, Liliana Vess, Chandra Nalaar, and Garruk Wildspeaker. The trade-offs between their abilities’ loyalty costs and the effect you get are very finely balanced, and they add enough advantage to a strategy to make it more robust without having the entire table tilt towards them every time they’re cast.
Ajani’s first-ever card works best alongside a deep strategy filled out by the rest of the deck, perhaps fitting his character (he’s always been concepted as the “cleric” of the group, in D&D terms). That doesn’t mean he doesn’t win games. Two life can buy time and threaten a token that can’t be stopped in combat, and his -1 compares very favorably indeed with Overrun effects (it’s permanent and dissuades attacking back). Without that support, he can falter a little, but with it, your opponent doesn’t know what hit them.
Ajani’s another card that’s no longer a major part of tournament decks, but he (and the other Lorwyn planeswalkers) paved the way for everyone who came after them. There wouldn’t have been a War of the Spark without Ajani Goldmane, and he’s a true icon of Magic.
Ajani Goldmane is a perfectly functional planeswalker that’s been power-crept over the years; while its mana cost is manageable, its +1 is way too meager and its ultimate is one of those “looks cuter than it actually is” abilities. Sure, a big body is a nice threat to end the game, but it has little protection besides its own body, and its power fluctuates with life total. It makes Ajani vicious in Limited formats where he can protect himself, but in Standard? Not so much.
I didn’t mention his -1, but that’s because it’s probably Ajani’s highlight. A team-wide buff, with a permanent and temporary benefit, is a passable use of four mana, and if you have a lot of creatures, that represents way more than four mana worth of power. And it’s just a -1, so Ajani can do it thrice more if uninterrupted (or can weave between +1 and -1, as the case calls for).
He’s unfortunately on the weaker end of the “Lorwyn Five”, as that batch of planeswalkers often gets called, but Ajani 1.0 can have a home in decks that aim to go wide. He’s not flashy, and he was never an unstoppable ace, but there can be times where his -1 is just enough to push a game over its edge, which isn’t so bad for such an investment.
Constructed: 3 (not stone-cold unplayable, but there are far better planeswalkers for his mana cost)
Limited: 4.75 (supply the board, and kitty will end games)
Commander: 3.25 (his strength is largely in that he’s unassuming, though it takes a lot to make him work)
Good old Ajani, one of the original Lorwyn 5! After 10 years it is still a very good planeswalker despite being one of the first few that were printed. For four mana, which is a bargain, you get a card that can turn the tide of the game in your favor very quickly. The plus ability is fine, you gain 2 life, that isn’t bad and can save you from losing but unless you’re playing a lifegain strategy that’s not the text on the card that is calling out to you. My friends, the minus one ability is bah-roken! You put a +1/+1 counter on EACH, yes that is not a typo, EACH creature you control…EACH creature gets buffed! Your army of 1/1 tokens now just doubled, oh you have a Serra Angel, well she just got bigger and can trade with Baneslayer Angel and most other dragons. Not only that, THEY GET VIGILANCE UNTIL END OF TURN!! Your creatures will swing and then still be able to block and protect Ajani on the next turn so you can repeat the effect and give them an additional counter! At 4 starting loyalty you can do this ability 4 times and if you combine it with newer planeswalker focused cards you can cheat and do the ability an additional time when comboing or you can keep adding to Ajani’s counters with proliferate abilities! The minus ability is fine…but more often than not you aren’t going to use it unless you’re specifically running a life gain focused deck. Even if you do not have a massive army, with only one or two creatures on the board you can still do the minus ability and then if they have a big creature, you can bet that Ajani will be the target of the next attack or Dreadbore and not you so he saves you a turn at the very least! Constructed is the only place where I can see this card being used in the sideboard, besides life gain and white weeny decks you might not have enough creatures out (or in your deck for that matter) to gain real value from this card. That is why I gave it a 3 out of 5, solely because it isn’t an auto include if you’re running white/splashing white/heavy multi-color, it has to be a white focused strategy or creature heavy strategy.
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