The Five Worst Things That Happened To Ajani

Ciel Collins • June 20, 2024

Ajani Goldmane debuted alongside the Lorwyn Five in 2007. That original crew was designed as "signposts" for their respective color identities, and most of them stuck with it. While Ajani never fully dropped from the narrative for years at a time, like poor Garruk Wildspeaker, he also never really took the main stage as often as Jace, Chandra, or Liliana. All the same, he's made it count and has racked up a list of tragedies even while merely skirting the sidelines of Magic Story. 

I'm not saying Ajani definitively had it worse, but for a character who only got to be the main character once, he's been given a lot to power through. Someone give this lion some catnip and the world's biggest scratching post while we dive in to what's made Ajani's life suck for the last 17 years!

Tragic Origin

It's an inevitability of fiction that heroes have bad things as part of their past. Luke joins the rebellion after finding his aunt and uncle murdered. Spider-Man learns responsibility after his Uncle Ben dies. Sometimes, the hero is basically considered an outcast right from the get-go.  There's a whole sub-genre of 80s and 90s movies based around the concept. Ajani gets to be both! Right from birth, Ajani was hated for being born albino. It's not a great survival trait for Naya hunters, admittedly, but I don't think kicking the cat while he's easily spotted by predators down is necessary. 

As the flavor text on Silvercoat Lion here suggests, Ajani's color was "an aberration," but there was more to it: he was on the outs with most of the other nacatl. "Most" in this case does not include his big brother, Jazal Goldmane. The opposite of Ajani in some respects, Jazal was the kha of their people, one who was determined to not just lead his own little group but to also unite the various groups. Unfortunately for Jazal, uniting the peoples of Naya went against the plans of one Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker, who would send Marisi, Breaker of the Coil to kill him and incite violence on the shard. 

To sum up: Ajani grew up largely alone and unwanted, and the only person who cared about him was murdered for dispassionate political purposes. 

Saves His Home, Loses it Anyway

As part of that Tragic Origin, Ajani gets really angry and goes out on a long quest to defeat Nicol Bolas. He journeys a long way, meets a pair of planeswalkers who should be filed under "what happens when you just never get therapy," and gets his final showdown with Nicol Bolas. 

Ajani manages to find Nicol Bolas at the center of the Maelstrom, and there they begin one of the biggest confrontations in Magic Story. Nicol Bolas had engineered the Conflux, knowing that when the shards re-merged, it would generate a ton of wild energy he could absorb to re-gain some of his pre-Mending power level. What he didn't know, what even he couldn't have possibly predicted, was that one mad cat could actually oppose him. 

Ajani's soul magic was able to manipulate the Maelstrom such that he was able to make a soul-duplicate of Nicol Bolas. The logic was obvious: the only thing equal to Nicol Bolas was another Nicol Bolas, and neither of them could allow for that to continue. Too much ego. This was also a hilarious moment in fiction where the legendary rule of time was applied! (Back in the day, if a player played a legend that shared a name with a legend already on the battlefield, even if that legend was controlled by another player, the second legend had to be immediately sacrificed upon entering)

"But wait, this is about how Ajani's life sucks," you say. 

And to that I say, "Have you seen Ajani hanging out on Alara ever since?"

Ajani triumphantly saved Alara from having its soul devoured by Nicol Bolas, but his home, Naya, was still irrevocably changed. Elspeth had a similar reaction to Bant, actually, saying its innocence had been ruined by the merge and that it no longer felt safe. He saved his home, but Nicol Bolas still won in a way.

Truly sad.

Underused During Gatewatch

I would have put "watching Elspeth die" as the number three on this list, but she got better, so onward! 

This one isn't a tragedy done to Ajani, per se, merely surrounding the meta narrative with his character. He joined the Gatewatch at the end of Aether Revolt upon hearing about Nicol Bolas's involvement in the schemes there. Full disclosure: I was incredibly excited about this. You can imagine how I was immediately disappointed when the next two blocks (that's "four sets" for those of you Magic players who jumped in around 2019 or so) featured absolutely zero Ajani.

This happened because the rest of the Gatewatch found out that Nicol Bolas had work going on on a plane called Amonkhet and wanted to go check it out. Ajani, rightfully, called this a bad move and went elsewhere to gather support. During Ixalan block, we got a brand new planeswalker who sparked as Boros and then moved to Selesnya to represent character growth, but no Ajani. (Sidenote: Nahiri also stole his shtick as far as being a mono-white planeswalker who turned Boros as part of her vengeance arc. She just never let go of the vengeance.)

During the Dominaria story, when Gideon wants to further waste the Gatewatch's time by trying to kill Razaketh for Liliana, Ajani calls him out for it and gets... ignored. No wonder the Gatewatch dissolved. They recruited the only planeswalker to have actually beaten Nicol Bolas in a fight and then proceeded to ignore him for the rest of the time. In the end, Ajani wouldn't even end up being crucial to the final confrontation. At least he got some cool cards... (Ajani, the Greathearted is his most played card by EDHrec metrics.)

This little tragedy could maybe be undone in 2032, when Nicol Bolas finally escapes through an omenpath and tries for his next multiversal bid. Come on, Wizards! Make it happen.


Nicol Bolas was defeated, if not by Ajani, but we still had some other villains teed up a while back that needed to be resolved. Phyrexia. The key feature of the Phyrexians is the way they overtake their enemies and turn them into allies. It used to be the case that this required killing the person and partially resurrecting them, but Jin-Gitaxias's experiments on spirits in Kamigawa allowed him to Phyrexianize a planeswalker without actually killing them. Their soul would remain intact, a fun little detail which will come up later.

Tamiyo's compleation was genuinely shocking. Planeswalkers hadn't been compleated before; it was metaphysically impossible! Ajani's was a perfect twist of the knife. It's possible, and they're going to keep happening. The particular tragedy of Ajani's state was that he still believed in unity, harmony, and peace... just a Phyrexian version. He pleaded with Elspeth to come to their side, believing his friend would find joy in compleation.

Then Elesh Norn sent him to Theros.

Ajani and Heliod have no love lost, but Brimaz was a close friend of his, established in the original Theros block novels. Even without the named characters confirmed dead, the tremendous loss of life on a plane Ajani himself stayed on and played guardian to... Harrowing.

And worst of all?

Living With It

I am not advocating for Ajani to die as a way to solve his problem, but I am saying that curing Ajani's compleation and bringing him back wasn't a one-way ticket back to the good life. Ajani has been a deeply wounded person his entire life, with few constant companions. His brother, dead. Elspeth, dead, then brought back but angelic and less connected, more alien now. Brimaz, dead because of him

We only see Ajani briefly in one of the two March of the Machine: Aftermath stories. In Beyond Repair, we see a beaten and barely-holding-together Nahiri find herself discovered by a somehow-worse-off Ajani. He claims he's there to check on her, and then proposes that they go planeswalking together to heal the Multiverse in the wake of Phyrexia. He pleads with her to do this, to help him as the only living planeswalker who survived compleation. Nahiri is overly paranoid and convinces herself that he's there to kill her, but correctly ascertains that every single molecule in Ajani's body is being pushed along by guilt.

"Doesn't it haunt you, what we did? I remember everything as a . . . a Phyrexian." It seemed to cost him to say that word. "Every evil act, every memory. It's there, intact. Is it the same for you?"

He remembers everything he did. Ajani, who has spent his entire life working to heal the wounded and empower the small, has vivid memories of his time under Phyrexian's control. 

And that's truly the worst possible outcome for him.

Another Day is Dawning

Magic design is all about pendulums as a way to keep the game fresh and fun. Some years, control gets all the good toys, and some years, Breeding Pools are in more decks than basic Plains. So it is with Magic Story. We'd gotten a lot of grim stories, so it made sense to pan away to (comparatively) brighter pastures for a while. Similarly, some of our characters are in the midst of dealing with their wracking trauma. It took a full year to finally pinpoint what Jace and Vraska had been up to, and we discovered they spent most of their time just trying to get their bodies working again. Consequences, and all that.

All that to say, I don't know when we'll see Ajani again, but I suspect it will be when the pendulum is ready to swing back towards a darker tone. 

I don't think we're going to find a very happy cat when we do meet again.

Ciel got into Magic as a way to flirt with a girl in college and into Commander at their bachelor party. They’re a Vorthos and Timmy who is still waiting for an official Theros Beyond Death story release. In the meantime, Ciel obsesses over Commander precons, deck biomes, and deckbuilding practices. Naya forever.