Commanding the Planes

Posted in Feature on May 22, 2012

By Gavin Verhey

When Gavin Verhey was eleven, he dreamt of a job making Magic cards—and now as a Magic designer, he's living his dream! Gavin has been writing about Magic since 2005.

Author's Note to the Reader: I am not involved with Magic's creative team. All of the story and how magic works below is completely non-canonical in the Magic Multiverse and just serves as a unique way to feature everything this week has to offer.

Enjoy!

Gavin (@GavinVerhey)

 
Academy at Tolaria West
 

Breeeeee! Breeeeee! Breeeeee!

Curses! I knew this was too easy!

I should have expected some kind of magic alarm on the more powerful scrolls! I was told there wouldn't be any problem, but then again, bad information was plentiful in my... industry.

Note to self: stop trusting my employers.

Looking toward the stained glass windows I glanced around for an alternative exit. The pinks and oranges bouncing off them make for blinding colors on this mostly desolate plane. They're almost enough to distract you from the acid rainstorms brewing outside.

Right, the rainstorms.

There's always a chance there might be a period of calm weather outside... but betting against acid rain is not a gamble many people have had success with.

Secrets of the Dead | Art by Karl Kopinski

I swiveled my head back toward the wooden door I came through. It was only a matter of seconds until some sort of guardian arrives. I was sure they were only expecting to find a renegade student, not a Planeswalker... but still, having ten of the Academy's best-trained wizards standing across from you with their arms raised is not my idea of a successful burglary.

CRASH!

As expected, the door sprung open. But less expected was who was behind it. Instead of an entire wizardly army, it was just one man, cloaked in raven black with distinguishable white markings on his face, his hair a light blond that trailed off into a dark shade of red at the tips. His right hand was covered by a silver gauntlet, pulsing red with magic.

"I knew these would attract another Planeswalker eventually," he said.

Another!?

If I was indeed fighting another Planeswalker, I was going to need some ammunition.

I tried to summon Stoneforge Mystic and clenched my fist in frustration—nothing happened except the scroll I had pilfered began to glow. I had heard of this before—scrolls that only allowed you to channel your mana to cast spells written on them. It's an aid for mages—but a terrible curse for Planeswalkers.

Opening the scroll, I quickly tried to memorize some of its contents. That might be one of my few chances to. Luck was on my side—it was a long list of creatures and spells. Hopefully it would give me some options to fight with.

Inferno Trap | Art by Philip Straub

I looked back up. A spinning red cloud swirled my way, its ends crackling with fire. A corner of the cloud knocked into one of the shelves full of scrolls, instantly igniting the wood frame. The flames licked the scrolls, which kindled the blaze further. Fire leapt from one end of each scroll to the shelf it was on, and then to the next scroll. In moments the entire room would be ablaze.

Time to go.

The air around me dissipated as I vanished, the scroll's contents running through my mind:

Jon Palmer's Maelstrom Wanderer Commander

Download Arena Decklist
Planeswalker (1)
1 Garruk Wildspeaker
100 Cards
 
Murasa
 

I picked myself up off the ground and took in my surroundings. Murasa. Zendikar. I had been here before. It was certainly not the same as it was before the Eldrazi invaded, although life still found plenty of ways to teem.

My foe appeared, hot on the scent of my trail and giving me little time to collect myself. He was looking to pick a fight.

I supposed I could be kind enough to oblige.

The scroll I had been sent for unsurprisingly contained several powerful spells. Mages don't tend to hire Planeswalkers to find a scroll unless it is worth its weight in dragon's blood. The problem with powerful spells is that I was going to need to form enough mana bonds to cast them—and the long list of spells was woefully short on ways to quickly form additional mana bonds!

Recross the Paths | Art by Greg Hildebrandt

Normally, I would reach into my robe and grip my collection of Ravnica signets and a Mind Stone. Those could greatly improve my access to mana, but the list didn't contain any of them. For a low cost early in any battle, they can ensure you can draw upon the right colors of magic while helping you cast more powerful spells.

Recross the Paths was a trick I picked up from the elves of Lorwyn—while overly gaudy and formal, if you can stand to sit through their ornate ceremonies you can learn quite a bit. Recross is a unique spell in that it can potentially help you form mana bonds multiple times, or even with more far-flung lands than normal.

Speaking of elves, the elves of Zendikar know a thing or two about mana as well. The various Oracles of Mul Daya are invaluable: their ability to see into the future of your mana bonds and aid you with accessing them not only provides you with more mana, but also clears up the future so you can focus on spellcasting.

Oracle of Mul Daya | Art by Vance Kovacs

Any good nature mage should know how to coax the land into forming Explosive Vegetation. It accelerates your spellcasting ability quickly, allowing you to overpower any other Planeswalkers you might encounter.

Speaking of explosive vegetation, Murasa has quite a bit of that going on itself thanks to its mana-rich atmosphere. While I was busy making mana bonds using spells, my foe summoned a Vampire Nighthawk. The Nighthawk glowed green, and I could tell Murasa was providing my opponent with more sources of mana.

If I didn't leave here soon, I'd be overwhelmed by my opponent's massive mana production. Not to mention, if we continued battling for long enough and caused a ruckus in Murasa, it was only a matter of time before Kozilek showed up. That was no place to stay at all.

I focused, trying to planeswalk away—and quickly found the Nighthawk on me, its teeth struggling for my neck! I fought back, pushing it off—but the damage was done, as its strength sent me hurtling to the ground. It would be back for more soon.

Okay, now seriously, it's time to go.

Vampire Nighthawk | Art by Jason Chan

I ran down the scroll's contents in my mind and stopped the Nighthawk right in its tracks with a Clone of itself. I bought myself a little bit of time—this was my window to leave! I focused, dragging my Clone along with me, and began to drop through the planes yet again.

 

I reached out, choosing a plane seemingly at random.

This is going to have to work.

I appeared, dropping down on my knees from the rough travel. The sound of galloping horses startled my senses as my eyes surveyed the surroundings. Two sides were busy fighting in the foothills, and hundreds of corpses lay below. This was nowhere I recognized. Where was I? Alara? Kamigawa? Rabiah?

No, something about that place seemed familiar... I might have heard stories of the plane in whispers. Stories about an endless war between rival warrior hordes; a place that should be avoided unless you want to take sides in a perpetual fight that has lasted generations. The stories speak of a plane named Mongseng.

Amid the galloping I heard an all-too-familiar sound: the displacement of air that accompanies planeswalking. My dark-cloaked enemy refused to give up pursuit.

"Hand over the scroll and I'll only imprison you," my opponent said, knowing he had the upper hand.

That wasn't an option. I took the opportunity to try and learn more about who exactly I was facing. "You aim to protect the scrolls, yet you were willing to torch the entire library. Sounds to me like you're doing a pretty poor job."

"I don't protect the scrolls. I protect the scroll," my enemy continued, gesturing toward me. He continued, "Not interested in turning it over? Fine."

Kharasha Foothills | Art by Trevor Claxton

The mysterious figure sent his Vampire Nighthawk into the fray, tussling with my Cloned Nighthawk. But it was something else he summoned that drew my attention: a creature so graceful, war-driven, and adorned that could only be described as a general: Kaalia of the Vast.

I wish I had some easy way to get rid of it at hand. A huge gap in the array of the scroll's spells are methods to outright defeat creatures. There are several powerful creatures, but few ways to deal with major threats from the opposition.

As someone perfectly okay with a little "reappropiation," learning how to both inspire Treachery and how to commit Blatant Thievery via spellcasting has proven quite effective. Everybody has a price, and I wished I had access to that option then. Speaking of stealing, while we're on the topic, a little Bribery never hurt anyone.

When you can't steal, sometimes you just want to run away and buy time. Erratic Portal and Crystal Shard both accomplish this goal, unsummoning other creatures. On some occasions, it might even be correct to continually unsummon your own powerful creatures to protect them from your opponent... or even reuse their unique talents! Eternal Witness, Sphinx of Uthuun, and Maelstrom Wanderer are all worth returning to the Æther to use once again.

Speaking of reusing a creature over and over again, summoning one of Mirrodin's Duplicants is a fantastic way to remove enemies. In conjunction with Crystal Shard, I would be able to lock down the hopes of any creatures other Planeswalkers summon. Of course, I also hear Mirrodin isn't a very pleasant place these days—I have been trying to stay away.

Kaalia swooped in toward me, staff crackling. I shut my eyes as a blinding burst of lightning shot toward the skies—and things didn't look much better upon opening them. The legendary Ryusei, the Falling Star was headed my direction! I dived to the right to avoid the dragon's gigantic mouth, but its huge body shoved me right into the cliffside.

Nails deposited in the ground by roughshod horses scattered as I impacted the jagged terrain. Both sides of the Mongseng war below began to run back toward their capitals, taking a moment of reprieve as Ryusei circled around to come toward me once more.

I racked my brain for options as Ryusei drew closer, its stream of fire burning the clouds in its path. It was time to fight fire with frost—perhaps Frost Titan would help.

Frost Titan | Art by Mike Bierek

Usually I would prefer other titans to frost. Primeval Titan's ability to significantly increase your mana bonds is unbelievable, and it certainly feels missing from this scroll. But, in that situation, Frost Titan will do quite well.

The Titan appeared, freezing Ryusei midair. The soldiers remaining below cheered as the dragon stopped in place—but their celebration was short lived.

While this was my first time here, the other Planeswalker seemed to know the area much better. He channeled his mana, focusing on the land around him...

And then, there was nothing but a relentless ringing in my ears; the endless sound of drums, repeated over and over again. Ryusei exploded in a gargantuan blast, casting fire down upon the foothills like crisp, brown leaves falling from a tree. The skin on my Frost Titan burst open from the blast, a mixture of ice and water leaking out into lumpy puddles.

I'm sure that was not the worst those foothills had seen. Soon, the land would recover and the war would continue. But at that moment in time, we were trapped in an inferno.

The fires raced toward me and I needed to tap into my planeswalking ability once more. But first, I had to get to the Blind Eternities. As I reached for them, it became apparent something was wrong. Some kind of phenomenon was occurring.

Reality was being shaped anew.

I could feel my imagination tapping into the sky, creating something out of nothing.

The flames of the fire tempered at the freshly materialized Conquering Manticore's wingbeat. The Manticore roared, stealing Kaalia's mind away from my foe. Both of them soared toward the enemy Planeswalker, and Kaalia's staff once again crackled—only this time the lightning summoning was in my favor. The genius Niv-Mizzet answered her call, descending right at my enemy.

Reality Shaping | Art by Dan Scott

Now! This is my opening!

I focused all of my mana on one thought: Maelstrom Wanderer. The elemental appeared through a gaping portal in front of me, bringing Inferno Titan and Simic Sky Swallower along in its wake. The mighty creatures converged on the human speck in the distance.

That should keep him busy for long enough to keep him off my trail.

Before I could see the carnage, I snapped back, trying to shift between planes again—successfully this time.

Planeswalking takes a lot of energy out of you. Earlier, it felt like opening a window. Now, it felt like squeezing through a crack between the window and the windowsill. I was spent.

I focused, navigating through the eternities toward my target. It was time to head back to collect my reward at Aretopolis.


 

Aretopolis—the scholar's refuge of Kephalai. Here, mages gather to study magic in peace... well, mostly in peace. They certainly aren't above making deals with Planeswalkers from time to time.

I trod toward my destination and handed off the scroll to my client. No explanation. No questioning the blood on my arm. Just another on-time delivery.

As for me, I survived. But, like any perfectionist, my mind kept running through how I would improve the spells on that scroll for next time around.

Aretopolis | Art by Christopher Moeller

With only space for a hundred spells on the scroll, how do you even begin to choose?

I thought back to the fight on Murasa. Additional mana-bond acceleration would be crucial, even though there's a chance Maelstrom Wanderer might drag them through and have them be disappointing. All of the pieces I mentioned would definitely move in.

And the ways to deal with creatures—yeah, the scroll was a bit short on those too. There's plenty to add. But what would go off the list?

Some of the creatures weren't necessary with so many good options already available to cast. I wanted to narrow those down to the best larger creatures. If I get to the point where I can cast Maelstrom Wanderer, I should be in fantastic shape to win the duel anyway.

Some creatures, like Burning-Tree Shaman, aren't very strong overall. (Not to mention it would singe me if I had already conjured up a Sensei's Divining Top or Crystal Shard!) Some of the larger creatures would have to be taken off to make room for all of the extra mana-bonding spells.

Additionally, some of the spells and artifacts would need to be taken off the scroll, both for mana-bonding spells and new artifacts, and to make room for more ways to fight creatures one-on-one. You just want to ensure you can stay alive until you get to Maelstrom Wanderer and can continually reuse it, so items like Darksteel Plate would tend to be a little extraneous.

Additionally, after adding mana-bond acceleration to the scroll, that brings the number of weak spells Maelstrom Wanderer might bring along with it out of the Maelstrom to a higher number than ideal. The next entries to get replaced on the list are some of the weaker spells.

In the end, I would go with a scroll that looked something like this:

Gavin Verhey's "...Then Do it Again"

Download Arena Decklist
Planeswalker (1)
1 Garruk Wildspeaker
99 Cards
 

I have seen similar scrolls in my travels and kept mental archives of the most interesting ones. After having to use this one, my mind runs back through, recounting some of the ones I've seen in the past.

Phillip Konkle's Thraximundar Commander

Download Arena Decklist
Planeswalker (2)
1 Jace Beleren 1 Chandra Ablaze
100 Cards
 

Oren R. S. Meyer's Rasputin Dreamweaver Commander

Download Arena Decklist
Planeswalker (1)
1 Venser, the Sojourner
Enchantment (3)
1 Equilibrium 1 Flickerform 1 Future Sight
100 Cards
 

Mark Wischkaemper's Sheoldred Commander

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