Niko Aris, Magic the Gathering’s first nonbinary planeswalker, makes their debut in the Kaldheim set. They have some very interesting abilities as a three-mana walker that gets better as the game goes on. Their mana cost includes X, as well as a base mana cost of two Blue and one White mana. The X cost is optional, but for each generic mana you pay for X, you get to create X amount of Shard tokens.
A Shard token is similar to the Clue tokens from Shadows Over Innistrad. Like Clues, you can sacrifice Shard tokens for two generic mana to draw a card, except that Shards allow you to Scry for one before drawing that card, ensuring that you wish to actually draw the card that you see on top first. The other major difference is that Clues are artifacts, whereas Shards are enchantments, therefore gaining them synergy with Enchantment decks.
Niko Aris comes into play with three loyalty counters. That’s not a large amount, but Niko has no abilities that cost more than one loyalty counter to activate. Their plus one loyalty ability allows you to choose a creature and have it unable to be blocked that turn. But, if that creature deals any damage you must return it to your hand. It’s not one of the best plus abilities we’ve seen, but it could also prove to be game-ending under some circumstances.
The other two loyalty abilities on Niko Aris each cost minus one loyalty. The first minus ability deals two damage to a target tapped creature for each card you’ve drawn in a turn. Again, not all that exciting an ability, unless you’ve drawn multiple cards in a turn, in which case it can deal four, six, eight, or more damage. Who knew that card draw could turn out to be so deadly? Niko’s other minus ability is simply to trade a loyalty counter for a Shard token.
Notably, Niko’s Shard tokens work very well with Constellation abilities. These abilities activate whenever an Enchantment enters the battlefield under your control. Archon of Suns Grace is a popular example, creating a 2/2 flying Pegasus creature token with lifelink each time an Enchantment comes into play. The synergy there is very strong. If nowhere else, Niko is excellent in an Enchantment themed deck.
Also, don’t underestimate the power of that second ability. Most of the time you won’t use it unless you’re dealing at least 4 damage to a creature, making it very efficient removal. Keep in mind that Yorion, Sky Nomad will happily blink Niko Aris, too, allowing you to reset their loyalty counters.
Magic players have gotten used to the busted Tefrri planeswalkers in blue and white and may be underwhelmed by Niko Aris. But, that plus one ability is better than some people may realize. For example, using this ability on Yorion allows you to replay Yorion to blink everything again. Also, that plus one ability can force damage through a stalled board state, something that bouncing that creature back to your hand is well worth. That’s especially the case if you want to re-use enter-the-battlefield abilities.
Niko Aris seems very strong in the right shell, especially decks that need to keep their hands full such as Control decks. Most of all, Enchantment decks will love Niko just for all of the Shard tokens they can create. Also, unlike some three mana planeswalkers, Niko can be good in the late game by using the additional X cost. Those Shard tokens can prove to be very useful in situations where you may otherwise be top decking. It could even be argued that these Shards, thanks to their additional Scry ability are as valuable as Food tokens giving you 3 additional points of life.
While not the most exciting planeswalker we’ve seen in these colors, Niko Aris is more than the sum of their abilities. True, Niko doesn’t protect themselves that well, and having only three loyalty counters makes them quite fragile. All that being said, Niko should see a fair amount of play during their time in Standard, but probably won’t survive long enough in other formats like Modern thanks to having such a low loyalty count.
Commander is a different story. Niko Aris is remarkably good in any deck that can blink them to reset the loyalty counters. Several Enchantment focused Commanders such as Alela, Artful Provocateur will want to try Niko. Planeswalker decks may not be all that excited by Niko since they lack any game-breaking abilities. Still, those Shard tokens could prove quite valuable in Commander. Niko is definitely a clever walker, but unless they’re coming into play along with a bunch of Shard tokens, it’s hard to say just how good Niko will be in competition.
How would you play Niko Aris?
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