Browsing the Dominaria card image gallery, it seems like one of the most powerful cards is Teferi, Hero of Dominaria.
Obviously the hero is going to be good, right?
I've been the spikiest of spike competitive player for so long that sometimes I lose sight of what it means to enjoy Magic casually as a fan of the art, lore, and even the sense of community. I can't speak for all professional players, but I prefer to look at the cards as pieces in a game of chess and oftentimes, I don't even know the rarity of a card or anything behind the meaning of the name or the artwork.
This is especially true for me because every Pro Tour has six rounds of Draft which means preparing for Limited is a hard part of my career. At Pro Tour Magic 2015, William Jensen and I both made the top 8 with the exact same 75 cards and it lead to one of my favorite moments ever where I got eighth place on tiebreakers at 12-4 when I was competing against a couple other people with the exact same record.
For our Limited preparation for Pro Tour Magic 25, we did 25 individual drafts on Magic Online, maybe five house drafts, and a one or two hour Limited meeting. In the Limited meeting, we argued passionately about what to take Pack 1 Pick 1 if you were to drafting the following two cards:
Teammate Paul Rietzl famously said, "I take Garruk because it's on the pack!" He was trying to convey that because the game designers advertised the strength of the card on the front of the booster packaging, they have inside information that it's very good. It's a funny story because he was dead wrong; Garruk was extra medium in that format and Triplicate Spirits was better than all but ten or twenty cards in the set.
Did I tell this story to mock Paul? A little, yeah, but the point is as a competitive tournament player to need to remind yourself to boil the cards down to stats and nothing else, even ignoring rarity. Just because the lore says it's going to be good doesn't mean it's any good. But how does Teferi, Hero of Dominaria stack up? Is he good because he's the hero of Dominaria or despite it?
Teferi looks great to me. I wouldn't go so far as to say busted, but it's on the stronger side and there's no question in my mind about that. The first thing that caught my attention was the fact that if your opponent only has one creature on the battlefield, you can cast it and force them to untap facing a planeswalker on an empty battlefield. This has been one of the most common play patterns in Standard for as long as planeswalkers have existed and all the planeswalkers I can think of that do this have been widely adopted as solid options in Standard.
Ob Nixilis Reignited comes to mind, as most decks that could make black mana had one or two of this fella in their decklist somewhere because planeswalkers that remove creatures almost function like Flametongue Kavu. If you have a big creature and I play Teferi, Hero of Dominaria; Ob Nixilis Reignited; Chandra, Torch of Defiance; Liliana of the Veil; or Jace, The Mind Sculptor, I get to remove your threat and produce my own. It's one of the most efficient and reliable ways to seize the initiative in today's era of Constructed Magic. I'd argue that Standard as a format has been warped by the existence of planeswalkers, and aggressive decks tend to overperform as a result.
Teferi starts with four loyalty and when you cast it to remove a creature, it's going to end the turn on one loyalty. There are a plethora of one-power haste creatures that can eliminate the advantage produced by Teferi, but not all decks have access to a unique card type like this. All decks can play Walking Ballista, and many might start to help make sure Teferi doesn't just run roughshod on the game, but it's sometimes difficult for control or midrange decks to have the right answer at the right time, and some of the time Walking Ballista needs to be traded as a full card for Teferi after its ability has been used. This is the definition of card disadvantage.
I'm this far into the strategic depth of Teferi, and I haven't even mentioned that its ability can remove not just creatures but any nonland permanent. I've been going ham lately raving about how good Commit is because it's giving blue this ability to effectively destroy artifacts and enchantments. Time is money in real life and the same is true for games of Magic, as I don't need to destroy a God-Pharaoh's Gift to manage it if I can bounce it to buy myself enough time to increment other advantages which let me win the game. By the time God-Pharaoh's Gift shows back up, it won't be good enough anymore, which means I basically did destroy it.
It's like if I use Unsummon on a 7/7 and if I win before the 7/7 gets recast, I basically exiled it for one mana. I like to use this type of theory when evaluating bounce in Limited, and experience shows us that bounce is better in aggro decks than it is in control decks. While Teferi doesn't literally destroy nonland permanents, it does remove them from the battlefield (and hand zone!) with the only downside being that it's only temporary. Third from the top is huge, as three turns in a game of Constructed is not to be underestimated, not to mention the obvious synergy with Field of Ruin.
The plus one ability also seems to slot in perfectly with what a U/W Control deck wants. Often when I talk to my teammates, we like to highlight a card's strengths and weaknesses when evaluating it. Something I might catch myself saying is "this looks pretty strong for being a five casting-cost sorcery." Of course, it's not literally a sorcery, but it's to keep in mind that adding a card to a U/W Control deck that you can only cast on your own turn is normally a huge cost.
The reason more decks in Standard don't play four copies of Disallow is they have too many cards that can only be cast at sorcery speed. The cost of being unable to use a counterspell when your opponent casts a great spell because you tapped out and the aftermath of being stuck with a counterspell, a card that's only use is to occupy space in your hand that could be better spent occupied by a more versatile and reactive card, is so incredibly high. U/W Control decks can get away with it because they try to play cards that can be cast at instant speed, so they give themselves the most optionality in a game. Throughout the history of blue control decks in Magic, you can see that if they play a card that isn't an instant, it's almost always one of the best options in the format for them. They only play these types of cards if they feel they must.
Teferi breaks all the rules and gives you a two-mana rebate when you can resolve it and use the plus-one ability. Two mana is sorta the sweet spot in Standard too, as I often advocate for cards like Censor, Essence Scatter, Negate, and Revolutionary Rebuff. Seal Away also fits into this narrative as it's a two-mana answer to Hazoret the Fervent, Scrapheap Scrounger, Earthshaker Khenra, and Adanto's Vanguard. What Seal Away doesn't do is exile Heart of Kiran and that makes me very nervous. It also is a pipe dream to hope that Seal Away will exile The Scarab God since when most people control this card, they do everything in their power to protect it and that often means not risking it in combat. That said, Seal Away screams efficiency and it could still be a great option in smaller numbers even if it isn't a total game changer, and the fact that it pairs cleanly with Teferi is rather convenient.
I strongly suspect Settle the Wreckage will be the most offensive card when paired with Teferi.
No matter how you slice it, at the end of the day Settle the Wreckage will always be at least a Fog, as when you can cast it and it doesn't get countered it will prevent all combat damage dealt that turn and that's a fact. Once you get to seven lands, you can use Teferi to untap two and leave yourself with Settle the Wreckage mana available, ensuring that you can untap the following turn with the powerful planeswalker on the battlefield.
I always feel like when I have a card like Teferi or even Jace, the Mind Sculptor out, all I need to do is prolong the game and as each turn goes by, further cement my advantage. Sure, I could lose, but I know the late game favors me. I use every card I must to give myself the opportunity to use my planeswalker again and hope that my ensuing draw steps and planeswalker advantage allow me to buy enough time to do it again next turn. It's as simple as that, and it's a formula we've seen for years.
I'll be honest: I've never read Teferi all the way to the end until exactly this moment of me typing and all I have to say is LOL. I rarely read the planeswalker ultimates until I have them on the battlefield because often it's just an embarrassment of riches anyways. I may not be a learned man, but I know if I have a Teferi on eight loyalty, the game is going exceptionally well for me and even if it's a weak ability, I'm likely a huge favorite to win.
Usually with planeswalker ultimates I like to slot them into categories of "I win" or "I don't win," and this is absolutely in the "I win" category. Chandra Torch of Defiance; Jace the Mind Sculptor; and Nissa, Sage Animist are all ultimates that are clean "I wins." Jace, Telepath Unbound; Angrath, the Flame Chained; and Hautli, Radiant Champion are obviously "I don't win."
The Teferi ability is amazing. I don't really know what else there is to say. I guess you could fizzle just like Chandra, Torch of Defiance, but casting an Opt and pasting a Vindicate onto it should be lights out. If you have a Glimmer of Genius, the party is just getting started.
Teferi, Hero of Dominaria looks like the real deal, and I can't wait to cast one.