Niko Aris – Kaldheim
Date Reviewed: February 22, 2021
Commander [EDH]: 3.25
Ratings are based on a 1 to 5 scale. 1 is bad. 3 is average. 5 is great.
When we get another Un-set with the next evolution of red’s anti-“wordy” cards, expect them to be used against Niko Aris (assuming they can be!). But I don’t mean that as a point against Niko: they have a lot of interesting abilities, living up to this color combination’s reputation for cunning-craft, and perhaps previewing a mechanic we’ll see in Theros III: Xenagos’ Arrow Paradox. The shard tokens have a number of uses beyond their innate abilities, not least triggering constellation abilities multiple times in a turn, and a casting of Niko will sometimes pay for itself just from things like that. Once they’re on the table, opponents will be forced to exercise even more caution, as that -1 ability will kill lots of things and that +1 will get more dangerous the more creatures you play. I like what Niko offers to plane-vikings setting off for Strixhaven and beyond – not least since a game like ours needs new abilities and tools as the horizon gets pushed farther and farther back.
Another “value” planeswalker without a conventional ultimate, Niko Aris is an interesting one, aiming to eke out incremental value. They’re capable of coming out on turn 3, but they function better as a mana sink, giving you a bunch of redeemable card-draw tokens in the process. All that card draw is good for fueling their first -1, which acts as removal (and can remove a very big creature with those Shards getting cracked all at once). They’re also able to make more shards, and the +1 is good for enabling a big swing. Or reusing comes-into-play triggers. It’s an interesting ability with a bit of flexibility to it in terms of getting damage through at all costs.
Niko’s main issue is that their presence on-board tends to be fairly passive without a lot of mana investment. They can blow up a creature, but you’re usually needing to spend a lot of mana to power that -1 up for it. The +1 needs a creature to work, and the other -1 is sort of passive value. All the while, Niko has a rather low loyalty base, and while this isn’t insurmountable, they’re definitely hard-pressed to protect themselves turn after turn to keep cranking out the value. A harder planeswalker than most to really evaluate, I do think Niko’s decent overall.
Limited: 4.25 (Niko’s repeatable removal is really good here, and card advantage in limited is valuable)
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