For anyone that isn't aware of this radical new format (and there might be some, who knows?), here's the skinny. Planechase is a new way to play multiplayer Magic, introducing a new card type, a new die, and a new zone, all at once! In my totally non-rules-technical speech, each player in a multiplayer game controls plane cards, each of which has an effect that applies to the whole board. These planes are quickly walked to and from during the game, creating chaotic shock waves that rattle the board with fun surprises! (For the totally rules-technical speech, here's the official Planechase Rules Feature Article Link.)
So now you're all caught up to date with Planechase. You may be wondering how I, a totally break-anything-I-see-in-half-if-I-can Johnny, can stomach the very controlled yet chaotic world of the new planes. I mean, if cards like Glimmervoid Basin, Skybreen, Naya, or Sea of Sand existed as somewhat similar versions of themselves as regular old artifacts or enchantments, then I'd probably be having a ball right now. A big ball.
But in the real world of Planechase, building decks around specific planes is very different. You could be constructing the perfect board situation for one plane when all of a sudden it's whisked away at the drop of a die. You might think this would upset me. To the contrary; it delights me. Many numerous random effects flying in and out of tandem with the board? That's the kind of craziness I can dig.
Still, though, I was a bit cautious on my opinion of the new release. It looked like tons of fun, but how was I to know until I tried it out? Fortunately, about two weeks before the official release of Planechase, I had a glorious opportunity to visit Wizards of the Coast itself, and play the new set with editor extraordinaire and fellow columnist Kelly Digges, web-team warrior Monty Ashley, and R&D designer Gregory Marques.
Offered the choice of the four preconstructed Planechase decks (the contents of which I was completely unfamiliar with) I went with the red and green Elemental Thunder deck. Kelly chose the artifact-y Metallic Dreams deck, Monty went with the Boros-tinged Strike Force deck, and Gregory opted for the mono-black Zombie Empire deck.
It was Greg's turn first, and he revealed a lovely vacation spot, The Fourth Sphere. We all chuckled as he took his free roll at the prospect of a chaos symbol on the first turn, when, sure enough, the curious planar die came up that way. Up a 2/2 Zombie token, Greg passed the turn to me. I tried to work that die magic, but to no avail.
Monty's die roll planeswalked the board to Stronghold Furnace. Uh-oh. Suddenly Greg had (effectively) a 4/2 token in play before Kelly had even gone yet! Monty tried to roll into a ping to kill the Zombie, but failed.
Kelly played an early land and passed after missing his early rolls, and it was back to Greg. "Since you tried to kill it first," he growled menacingly, "Take 4, Monty."
My turn rolled around, and still on the Stronghold Furnace, I went for my free roll. Chaos! I opted to Spark Spray-plus-1 the Zombie token, balancing the board and earning an evil stare from Greg. My hand (containing some bomby things) was beginning to give me a good idea of my deck, so I cast Rampant Growth and passed.
The early game activities (namely, regular old Magic) started eating up mana as the four of us developed our boards. Monty's deck revealed itself to be truly Boros-tinged, showing Garrisons, Signets, Guildmages, and Swiftblades from the Ravnica guild. At one point he planeswalked to Sokenzen after casting a Boros Swiftblade, earning a table-wide grin/grimace.
Greg's side of the board was a grisly mass of Zombies. Death Baron, Undead Warchief, and Cadaverous Knight made for a formidable team. He wound up planeswalking the table to Lethe Lake, which stuck around for a full cycle of turns without one chaos activation.
I was still developing my board, but the shenanigans really began when Kelly rolled the die and had us planeswalk to Minamo, School at Water's Edge. At this point Kelly's graveyard was full of cards from Lethe Lake, so he had the motivation for rolling the die (to hit chaos.) The rest of us were content with having everything cantrip, and we all laughed at how Kelly was the only one trying to roll away from his own plane.
With Minamo, School at Water's Edge still in effect, I wound up having a pretty nice turn. My deck was an Elemental-based deck (no shock there) so I had fun casting cantripping Smokebraiders and scary things like Ivy Elemental, Bogardan Firefiend, and Cinder Elemental. A timely Hull Breach of my design managed to destroy Greg's Grave Pact and Kelly's 8/8 Arsenal Thresher (which had revealed terrifying things like Bosh, Iron Golem and Darksteel Forge.)
Monty had been beating with Battlegate Mimic and gaining life with Soul Warden this whole time. On his turn he played a mere Relic of Progenitus, which looked meager until we realized it would harm Kelly and Greg the most (thanks to Minamo, School at Water's Edge's chaos ability and numerous Disentomb effects in Greg's deck). A simple pop and graveyards were wiped out.
This didn't dissuade Greg from having a monster turn, with Minamo, School at Water's Edge still in effect. Two Dark Rituals that drew cards (!!) and an activation of Cabal Coffers later, and Greg had enough mana to play his whole hand. A hand that had been refilling with an early Phyrexian Arena all game. Ghouls of the Phyrexian Ghoul and Noxious Ghoul varieties joined his crew. Noxious Ghoul in particular was devastating, as a double trigger of it killed all my Smokebraiders, all Monty's creatures, and Kelly's mana-making Myr. I pointed out that this killed my Bogardan Firefiend, and after some thought, I had the Undead Warchief bite the bullet. (Death Baron was long gone.)
Everyone's life total was slowly inching down, and Monty took revenge my casting a big and cantripping Akroma's Vengeance, killing everything ... even some of Kelly's lands! As everyone tried to recover, I pounced.
"Okay ... Verdant Force? A cantripping one?"
"Um, what?" said Kelly.
"Greg, you're the black mage! Kill it!" cried Monty.
While I started making Saprolings, Monty cast a big creature of his own in Rorix Bladewing. Kelly, defenseless and at a lethal Rorix range, pleaded with Monty. It didn't work, and Kelly was the first to leave the game.
I revealed a land for Sea of Sand and gained some life to go to 12. My free die roll didn't change anything. Thinking I could survive getting attacked from Greg, I attacked the defenseless Monty, who was also at 12. The 6/6 Force halved his life.
I tapped four lands. "Relentless Assault?" The slightly weakened Force managed to take out Monty after all! Monty revealed his hand, which contained an Insurrection that would have vastly warped the game if played on his next turn. Almost appropriately, the Force met a Hideous End from Greg at the end of my turn.
I was holding a Branching Bolt for the Evincar, but even after I let it fire, I was through. Cabal Coffers gave Greg enough mana to Profane Command (X equaling 6, restoring the Evincar to life and draining me for 6) and Beacon of Unrest, targeting my newly dead Verdant Force. And that, as they say, was that.
This game was incredibly fun to play and be a part of, and all without revealing a plane card of my own! I think this is proof that Planechase can always be a fun and chaotic way to play multiplayer Magic.
About a week ago, I received an interesting email from Brian M., who had this to say about that plane of insanity, Glimmervoid Basin:
I have a better idea. Play a spell that hits all creatures and players, for maximum impact, and make sure it has a fun side effect: Bandage will let you draw a lot of cards, Flare does the same thing and kills stuff, Ribbons of Night gains you a lot of life and cards (but maybe only one card, I'm not sure). Morbid Bloom does a great job making a TON of creatures for your spells to bounce off, and Pull from Eternity brings them all back so you can do it again! Beacon of Unrest can bring everyone back from the dead to fight for your team.
Glimmervoid Basin can be found with the Strike Force deck, so I built a deck with those same ten plane cards as my planar deck. While I understand it's unlikely the Basin will stay long or even show up, the following deck is designed to interact with each plane as much as possible. Consider it a casual alternative to the Strike Force deck, but then again, you don't have to keep the preconstructed decks together. Experiment! Try different planar decks with different decks you have at home! I know that's what I plan on doing when my playgroup acquires the 40 different plane cards.
All the instants and sorceries are great with the Basin and the Steam Maze, especially Cremate, which is a valuable "exile target card" spell. Implode is a bit crazy when super-Radiated as well. Coalition Relics help the mana and are non-land sources of it. Otaria allows for flashbacking of your instants and sorceries.
The unearthers don't mind being discarded from the Academy, as they can come back anyway. Hellspark Elemental fighting on Agyrem is pretty scary, as is Kathari Bomber. Sokenzan, Shiv, and Furnace help your creatures deal damage faster.
Skybreen was tricky to incorporate, but it turns out Extractor Demon is the perfect creatures for it. Unearth isn't a spell, so even if a creature is on top it can still enter the battlefield. And when it leaves, you can target the library with an instant or sorcery on top to free up your spells.
Naar Isle's damage can be prevented from Desperate Gambit, it you are lucky. Hopefully you'll have planeswalked somewhere else before it hits you for a lot.
That's just scratching the surface of the possibilities for customization—one alternate 60-card choice for one of the planar decks, without any swapping. Go out and have fun with Planechase!