If it's possible for a man to be in love with a Magic product, then Planechase and I are a match made in Serra's Realm. Planechase appeals to both the randomness-loving kitchen-table player in me and the flavor-goobing backstory-reader in me. I'm enchanted with the correspondences of mechanics to planar flavor and with the jaw-dropping, enormous, landscape-aspect art. I adore saying "I'm going to planeswalk out of here" as a legitimate game action. Whatever demographic this product was designed for, I exist entirely inside its borders.
This article is what you might call a content bargain. For your eyeball-time and click-energy, you get around 5,000 words of me blabbing and high-res art of all those Planechase planes. Ask any writer on the site—whenever you decide to do one of those list articles about the "the Top 10 stories about Mirrodin" or "the Top 25 reasons to play Legacy" or whatever, it always grows into a monster of unintended verbiage. But what can I say? This product is my cardboard paramour. I owed it to Planechase to describe every single one of its forty planes, word count be summarily darned.
Enjoy your holidays. I wish you many wise relatives who gift you in booster packs. And Planechase.
This article originally ran on September 2, 2009.
A stolen moment on a utopian Bant savannah. A whiff of the sulfurous air of Shiv. A glimpse of the ætherscape of Iquatana. The four planeswalkers pursued one another from plane to plane, wielding realities like weapons, their sparks igniting wild magical effects as they ventured through the unknown reaches of the Multiverse.
We kick things off here in the angel-watched fields of Bant, familiar territory with its towering castles and leotau-riding knights. Your armies will come to know the power of exalted here, a kind of instantaneous membership in the sigiled caste—and Bant-friendly creatures might even get the benefit of Elspeth, Knight-Errant-style protection (or myojin-style, if you think back to the last time you saw divinity counters) with the chaos ability.
Art director Jeremy Jarvis selected many of Planechase's artists for their experience illustrating those same worlds in card sets. Michael Komarck was an easy choice for illustrating this beautiful Bant scene, as he was one of the primary Bant illustrators in Shards of Alara block. You can see his work on cards like Finest Hour, Clarion Ultimatum, and Knight of the Reliquary.
A landscape founded on the oozing strata of bygone corpses? This must be Grixis. Grixis is a prime world to try your hand at some necromancy—your appropriately colored dead creatures all gain the unearth ability as soon as you arrive here. If you roll the chaos symbol, even mighty green, white, or colorless monsters can join the zombie party.
Again, Nils Hamm was one of the artists who became an expert on the grim world of Grixis—his palette and style fit with Grixis's creepy atmosphere. Just look at the titles of some of the cards he's illustrated: Grixis Battlemage, Grixis Panorama, and Obelisk of Grixis!
Naya is a world of gargantuans, and planeswalking here helps you out with that hefty summoning task by letting you dump lands onto the table with reckless abandon. Then the chaos ability kicks in, letting you make a behemoth out of a Bear Cub. (Yes, I'll draw a card from Drumhunter, thanks.)
You can see the light-filtered jungle scene illustrated by the artist team of Zoltan Boros and Gabor Szikszai. Their work can be found on other Naya-flavored cards such as Nacatl Outlander, Wildfield Borderpost, and Volcanic Fallout.
Note that plane cards for Esper and Jund are missing from Planechase. A travesty! But it means that there's room to grow, and it means that Alara doesn't dominate the planes available. One hopes that we'll be able to revisit plane cards sometime down the line and fill in some of those gaps!
The Maelstrom, Alara
The Maelstrom was never a plane—it's the storm of mana that developed at the chaotic center point where all five shards of Alara overlapped. There are many more plane cards than there were known planes of the Multiverse, and many planes have several famous locations within them (Alara included, now that it's one plane in the aftermath of the Conflux), which is part of why Planechase plane cards represent regions or sites within planes rather than planes as a whole. Most planes are just too huge and diverse to be captured in the mechanics of a single card—imagine trying to confine Dominaria or Ravnica to a couple lines of rules text.
So now you can planeswalk right into the middle of the Maelstrom. Just as creatures like Fusion Elemental or magics like cascade spawn off from its fierce generative energies, just arriving at the Maelstrom gives you a chance to plop down a Darksteel Colossus or Progenitus off the top of your library.
Lethe Lake, Arkhos
Arkhos is the plane represented by the Future Sight card River of Tears (also illustrated by Chris J. Anderson). It's a dreamlike world where night and day intermingle according to its own strange internal logic—check out the delicate quality of the light in the art. Near Lethe Lake on Arkhos, memories ebb away like the current of an old stone watercourse. Most mages tend to steer clear of the psychic ravages of the Lake, but surprisingly, some seek it out, believing they need to be cleansed of all remnants of the past in order to make their minds free for new magical creations.
"The prerequisite of originality is the art of forgetting, at the proper moment, what we know."
Pools of Becoming, Bolas's Meditation Realm
Scott McGough's novels Assassin's Blade, Emperor's Fist, and Champion's Trial feature an enigmatic plane known only as the "meditation plane." It is a surreal, always-changing plane whose geography can mirror the thoughts and potential futures of its inhabitants. A certain fearsome, almost godlike dragon, then known by his title Emperor of Madara, used the pocket plane as a venue for meetings with his advisers. It's been a long, long time since Nicol Bolas battled Tetsuo Umezawa and lost his seat as emperor of Madara, but the ancient dragon may still travel to this plane to this day.
The Pools of Becoming are brimming with magical potential, although it takes a master to control their power and put it to beneficial use. Planeswalkers may even be able to manipulate the plane's fluid potential to shape effects that are normally only available on other planes.
Academy at Tolaria West, Dominaria
The mist-shrouded isle of Tolaria was home to the mages' school, the renowned Tolarian Academy—but it was Academy Ruins in the wake of the Obliterate of Barrin, Master Wizard. To begin to heal the wounds of Dominaria's apocalyptic past, scholars have built a new mage school, surrounding it with an artificial body of water to create a small island, and dubbing it the Academy at Tolaria West. Tolaria West represents a renaissance of advanced learning on Dominaria, and strict rules are in place to prevent researching dangerous time magic. Here planeswalkers can immerse themselves in deep study of arcane mysteries, but not without a price. Scholars say that the moat around the Academy is there not to protect the campus, but to symbolize the One with Nothing the mind must become before the torrent of knowledge may fill it.
Isle of Vesuva, Dominaria
Vesuva, a Dominarian island famous for its Vesuvan Doppelganger and other Vesuvan Shapeshifter, is a region where nothing is as it seems. The shifting illusions can produce magical doubles of visitors there, and such doppelgangers are notoriously, murderously envious of the "originals." You can see post-apocalyptic Vesuva in Boros and Szikszai's Time Spiral art for Vesuva; here in Planechase the island is shown in a more pristine state. Note how the reflections in the water create a mirrored double of the towers and buildings of the town there.
Krosa, a forested region on the Dominarian continent of Otaria, is home to ferocious beasts and races such as the Nantuko and the centaurs. The Mirari's Wake radiating outward from the Mirari artifact, planted there by the Kamahl, Pit Fighter-turned-Kamahl, Fist of Krosa Kamahl, caused creatures to grow even more huge and violent. To this day the forest is a site of powerful creature-magic and amplified mana, recovering its vigor and magical potential as Greenseeker and other druids restore it to its former glory.
The famous Llanowar Forest towers skyward, its broad canopies spreading in an exultant celebration of life, its vast redwood foliage almost blotting out the sun. The atmosphere of Llanowar is soaked with life energy, infusing its inhabitants with inherent powers of green magic. One of the first regions Llanowar Reborn since the impacts of Phyrexia and Karona, Llanowar remains one of the best sites for druidic training in advance of major magical undertakings—if you can convince the Llanowar Elves not to break your bones just for treading there.
Artist Kev Walker is no stranger to Llanowar, having illustrated the most recent versions of both Llanowar Elves and Llanowar Behemoth. I just love the quality of light in this art—it's a sphere where neither night nor day matters as much as the dominance of green.
This card represents a "wide shot" of the entire continent of Otaria, the setting of the Odyssey and Onslaught blocks and of the storyline of Kamahl and the Mirari. In the art you can see Cabal City, home of the famous Cabal Pit, and some of the area around Balshan Bay. This continent's memories of magic and power are soaked into the very land; many areas of Otaria support magic that can be cast from those memories. Some planeswalkers report that it feels as if Otaria itself yearns for its own past, aching to revisit times gone by.
A region shaken by volcanoes, permeated with ash-riddled gases, and lorded over by dragons, Shiv is one of Dominaria's most red-mana-centric regions. Recently phased fully back into Dominaria by Teferi at the cost of his planeswalker spark, Shiv has a deep history that dates back to the time of the Thran, who used it as a site of the immense Mana Rig, source of the powerstones that powered their civilization. These days you'll find more Shivan Dragon than Thran machinery, but it can still play a key role in powering a red-mana assault.
The Eon Fog, Equilor
Urza once said of Equilor:
"An old name. The oldest name. The farthest plane. It belongs to a plane on the edge of time."
–The novel Planeswalker by Lynn Abbey
The plane of Equilor is unthinkably ancient, making even Urza look like a young pup when he discovered it in his fourth millennium of life. Its very geography appears worn down by time, a final, unstirring gray fog clinging to eroded rocks, all the plane's processes having completed their cycles of change long before recorded memory. Equilor is not frozen or dead; it's just done, a world whose journey through time appears to be complete. The subtle mysteries of this plane intrigue those planeswalkers who manage to encounter it in the remote reaches of the Blind Eternities.
The Æther Flues, Iquatana
Iquatana is a world whose atmosphere is almost pure æther. The æther has a strange effect on the ecosystem here; creatures tend to warp and vacillate, turning into other organisms. The world's land is an expanse of chimneys and sinkholes that vent the plasma-like æther, supporting vapor currents ridden by the dreamlike, fickle-formed creatures.
Some planeswalkers visit here to attempt massive summonings, or to study the intelligent Iquati, who created the many Narcomoeba that float above the flues. The narcomoebae were created as living recollections, as the genealogical memory stores of the Iquati were sundered in some unknown past event.
Turri Island, Ir
On the obscure plane of Ir is the mysterious Turri Island, a rocky isle beaten by choppy ocean waves, topped by a mountainous, rough-hewn stone fortress. This is the home of the Fomori, barbaric giants like the one seen on the Future Sight card Fomori Nomad (also illustrated by artist Raymond Swanland). The hulking Fomori leer over their battlements, threatening a boulder barrage toward anyone who should attempt entry—but many planeswalkers try, as the island is said to be a mana haven for summoning not only giants, but other cloudscraping creatures as well.
Skybreen, a blizzard-wracked mountain range on the plane of Kaldheim, is no place for the meek to visit. The scouring winds tear at gear and skin alike; the frigid temperatures congeal the blood and generate a frosty deterrent to magic; ice sheets, as sharp as straight razors, slice up travelers and form blind cliffs in the constant blizzards. The primitive barbarian race that survives here is not known for its hospitality or reasoned discourse; they practice both surgery and diplomacy with axes.
The Minamo "campus" in Kamigawa floats in the misty air over a waterfall, supported by columns of water and sturdy magic. Arcane magic flows as steadily at this Minamo, School at Water's Edge as the great river pouring over the falls, producing chains of spellcraft that decorate the floating islands. The location is a favorite of blue mages, although any planeswalker looking to choreograph a dance of swift magical steps is sure to enjoy his or her stay here.
In contrast to the serene halls of Minamo, School at Water's Edge are the daggerlike peaks of the Sokenzan mountain range. The impossibly steep crags and treacherous snowfields of the Sokenzan Mountains have hosted countless battles among the akki, barbarian warlords, and fierce frost ogres who lurk there. If you travel there, be prepared for either avalanche or ambush; it's said that although many trails lead into Sokenzan, none lead out.
Goldmeadow and the fields around the clachan are such a perfect union of golden sun and green grass that they've been a sanctuary for springjacks for as long as anybody can remember. Kithkin jackherds admit that the beautiful, rolling pastures do tempt packs of boggarts to happen by and steal a springjack now and again, but the knights of Kinsbaile and Cloverdell appreciate the loyal, strong Goldmeadow stock.
Artist Warren Mahy worked as a designer and sculptor for Weta on the Lord of the Rings movies, and provided much of the storybook look for cards throughout the Lorwyn and Shadowmoor blocks.
The Great Forest, Lorwyn
The Great Forest of Lorwyn, a seemingly endless expanse of stout-trunked oaks and other mighty trees, is also a grove of the Rising, a protected birthplace of treefolk. Some of Lorwyn's most famous treefolk warriors and shamans, such as Doran, the Siege Tower, originated here, and some of that sturdy oak and rowan attitude graces any who travel here. If you remain perfectly still, you may be able to hear the trees gossiping among one another; then again, by remaining perfectly still in the Great Forest, you might be asking to be taken for a sapling, and have your roots fertilized by the seedguides. Take that as you will.
Velis Vel, Lorwyn
Velis Vel is the legendary cavern of the changelings, the place to which many of that reflexively chameleonic race return once per year. On that day, as rays of sunlight penetrate the chamber through cracks in the ceiling, its walls glint and glimmer with the same quality as changeling's mutable skin. The crystalline halls of Velis Vel can have strange effects on other creatures, especially those with racial kinship, giving entire races newfound powers—but only while inside the cavern. There's an unwritten understanding among planeswalkers that no Slivers should be summoned within Velis Vel, for fear of causing an ecological catastrophe within Lorwyn's underground.
Cliffside Market, Mercadia
When you come to Mercadia, get ready to do some trading. The High Market is open all day and night, year-round, and it's easy to drive a hard bargain. Then again, it's also easy to get stiffed by a fellow planeswalker in a deal gone very, very wrong. If I were you, before I headed to Mercadia, I'd cast Invulnerability on my coin purse. And my back.
Mercadia City resides on a huge, inverted mountain that balances on its peak, and this is where the Market resides. As you can see in Matt Stewart's art, the architecture and dress of the region takes artistic influence from a mixture of Persian and Elizabethan sources.
Glimmervoid Basin, Mirrodin
On the metal world of Mirrodin, the closest thing to a desert is the Glimmervoid, an expanse of mirror-like metal hexagons. Thanks to the reflective qualities of the landscape, a spell can double, triple, or even radiate in dozens of directions as its targets demand. In some cases, even creatures can find themselves magically reflected in the glassy hexes—which can be handy for planeswalkers looking to build up an army in a hurry.
Deep in Mirrodin's hollow center stands a strange "mage's tower" called Panopticon. Panopticon is surrounded by huge pillars of mycosynth, a fungus-like metal that grows from Mirrodin's interior surface toward the plane's mana core. Memnarch spent centuries magically monitoring the ecosystem of the plane from this hidden surveillance tower, and planeswalkers who travel here can take advantage of its powers of near-universal perception.
Fields of Summer, Moag
According to Lynn Abbey's novel Planeswalker, Moag is "a truly hospitable world with abundant, rich soil, a broad swath of temperate climates and a wealth of vigorous cultures." Urza and his traveling companion Xantcha spent a few peaceful decades there, and indeed the natural recuperative properties of the plane may be unmatched.
Feeding Grounds, Muraganda
"An ancient, powerful force has overtaken the valley. I sympathize for its former inhabitants, but I rejoice for the land itself." —Olanti, Muraganda druid
Muraganda's steaming, primordial jungle seems naturally suited to enormous reptilian beasts. You probably won't be surprised to find not only that your instinct-driven, from-the-gut red and green magic is easier to cast, but also that the plane exerts natural selective pressure on its inhabitants to grow momentous in size and strength.
The Fourth Sphere, Phyrexia
The dreaded Phyrexia, a plane overrun with creatures of foul artifice fused with twisted flesh, is at once one of the Multiverse's most unstoppable forces and one of its most horrifying places. Phyrexia is divided into nine nested spheres, each with a different grisly role. The fourth sphere of Phyrexia was both killing field and testing ground, where unnatural creations were set loose into a hellish artificial ecosystem to see which of them survived. If your circuitous route takes you here, prepare your minions for a hellish fight, and prepare yourself for casualties. Most planeswalkers will want to prepare to planeswalk away, as drawing the attention of Phyrexia can bring only doom. Check out the art by Dave Kendall, one of the most delightfully twisted minds illustrating for Magic today—you can see other pieces of Dave's set in places like Grixis, Shadowmoor, and the fouler parts of Terisiare.
Sea of Sand, Rabiah
The Sea of Sand is a sun-blasted, interminable desert residing somewhere in Rabiah. Whether you come upon a lush oasis or merely trudge all day toward the shimmering mirage of one (which, of course, will turn out simply to be yet more parching sand) is largely up to the whims of fate. Rabiah the Infinite was the setting of the Arabian Nights expansion, a mass of planes each of which is a story in itself. Bring a reliable compass, or else you're likely to become a bleached skeleton, and then just a sand dune among infinite others.
Stronghold Furnace, Rath
This is the magma-powered furnace that fuels Volrath's Stronghold on the plane of Rath. The heat here is blistering; woe to any planeswalkers who attempt to battle here, for they'll find their injuries magnified by the skin-melting heat of the very air, not to mention the touch of the lava itself. The magma channels that wind through the furnace spit geysers of molten stone at random; take care that you don't find yourself in their trajectory. However, if one could somehow harness the overwhelming heat and pressure of these caverns, as Volrath himself once did, the power would be great indeed.
The ghosts of Ravnica's dead linger. Agyrem, commonly known as the Ghost Quarter, is an area of that city-plane where many spirits have collected, going about their business like nothing was amiss—except that they're dead. Planeswalkers who travel here may notice the spectral phenomena in the area; you may find that your creatures return to you instead of rotting in the dirt. You may even notice that the strictures and laws surrounding the tattered Guildpact still have power to prevent conflict in that district.
Izzet Steam Maze, Ravnica
The Izzet guild wears many hats—esoteric experimenters, reckless magewright-engineers, elementalist puzzle-solvers—but one of their chief roles is the responsibility of keeping Ravnica's infrastructure functioning. The Izzet have networks of steam tunnels below the city, laden with pipeworks designed to conduct crucial materials and crackling energies where they're needed. To be sure, wild Izzet magic powers much of the machinery, and the rules are simply different down here than they are up on street level. You may find your spellcraft more efficient, more energetic, more cranked up, to a degree you've never evoked before. But be careful: other planeswalkers may experience similar gains in thaumaturgical performance; and will surely use it against you.
Undercity Reaches, Ravnica
Not all of Ravnica's subterranean levels belong to the Izzet, however. The sun-eschewing tunnels, forgotten catwalks, strangely well-maintained sewer lines, and shadow-belurked (yeah, belurked) passageways hold secrets that only a certain other guild can fathom, secrets that the minds of the common streetfolk will never absorb. If secrets had a natural habitat, this would be it—and so that is exactly where you go to prey upon those lore-engorged (yeah, engorged) whispers. Secrets are the very foundations of Ravnica; slink among them and enjoy the new edifices raised in your own mind.
Plus, this plane card represents something more. It's new Ravnica art by Stephan Martiniere. Just look, man. LOOKY.
The Hippodrome, Segovia
The riddle of the Segovian Leviathan, a massive sea creature that overshadows Segovian whales yet that somehow only weighs in at a meager 3/3, has been conclusively solved. The answer is that Segovia is a miniature plane, about a hundredth the scale of a regular plane of the Multiverse, and so its immense Leviathan is merely the size of a Dominarian elephant. Here we have the Hippodrome, an arena for chariot races, where the tiny Segovians zoom around its tiny oval, occasionally losing their tiny lives in the surprisingly brutal spectator sport. Travel here, and expect to get Shrink down to size, just like the locals.
It's hard to show "tiny" without showing something for scale, and everything in Segovia is tiny—nothing huge to compare its little inhabitants to. So artist Steve Argyle used a simulated tilt-shift technique in the art, narrowing the focus to a tight, sharply-detailed region in the center and blurring rapidly toward the edges, creating an effect that makes its subject look strangely miniature. It's a striking effect, quite well executed—nice job, Steve!
Sanctum of Serra, Serra's Realm
Created on the foundations and principles of white mana by the planeswalker Serra, this world is an ultimate refuge from pain and misery. Urza fled here to escape the marauding Phyrexians, but in their pursuit they caused Serra's Realm to become tainted with black mana. Serra herself was forced to flee her Realm as it began to Planar Collapse under the corruption. If you visit this world in a game of Planechase, intending to recuperate among its heavenly Drifting Meadow and unending sunrise, do make sure to keep track of your belongings as you exit.
Raven's Run, Shadowmoor
If you visit Shadowmoor, the creepily charming night-cycle of the plane of Lorwyn, you should of course expect mischief—but it's not the mischief of a mislaid springjack-saddle or a stolen rambleberry pie. Shadowmoor's mischief is malicious—prepare yourself for a mislaid finger or a stolen daytime. Here in the lurid moonlight of Raven's Run, the gloomy forest once known as Wren's Run, your creatures will take on a malevolent cast, and you'll occasionally be able to commit dire trickery upon the forces of your foes. Take the art of Omar Rayyan, also the artist of such Shadowmoor ghoulies as Cemetery Puca and Mistmeadow Skulk, as inspiration as you travel through the storybook night.
Eloren Wilds, Shandalar
The plane of Shandalar has no fixed location in the Multiverse, instead wandering an irregular course through the Blind Eternities. Shandalar is rich in mana, so planeswalkers covet control over locations such as the Eloren Wilds, a land of riotously overgrown fields of wildflowers and other flora. Innocuous though they may seem, the Eloren Wilds harbor dangers to spellcasters: magical barbed vines that can quickly tighten around a roughly-humanoid-sized object and "lose" it forever.
The Dark Barony, Ulgrotha
On the plane of Ulgrotha, the vampire known as Baron Sengir controls a whole region of tightly clustered small villages, cast in perpetual night: The Dark Barony. Castle Sengir looms over this region, symbolic of the Baron's rule. The art, fittingly by the artist of most of the Sengir family's cards in Homelands, Pete Venters, shows the Barony from the point of view of one of the castle's balconies. Travel to this world only if you're prepared to take the reins of the Barony for yourself, dispensing edicts and mind-destruction effects with power-mad abandon.
The Immersturm is the continual storm of war, chaos, and lightning that rages across a plane called Valla. The combatants strike back and forth with lightning's fury, forever falling and returning for another assault, the clang of sword-clashes and the death-screams of the vanquished rolling incessantly along the bellies of thunderstruck clouds. You'll be amazed at the change in your own creatures here; bloodthirsty shouts will coincide with the buzzing æther of your summonings as your trusty forces inherit Valla's inbuilt warrior spirit.
I think artist Raymond Swanland earns the Planechase "worked hard for the money" award here—check out the incredible detail in that mass battle scene. (Anyone care to count warriors? Ever since Xantid Swarm, I'm out of that gig.)
Naar Isle, Wildfire
You've already met the Shah of Naar Isle in Future Sight, the efreet-lord who rules this brass-towered city-state afloat on a sea of lava. Now you can visit the flame-drowned plane of Wildfire itself—oh goody!—and meet its Emberwilde order of djinns and efreet, and beg their leave to protect you from the plane's periodic tides of raw fire. Seriously, this is not a world to visit for a relaxing vacation; there isn't even all that much interesting planar study to do. The only fun thing to do on Wildfire is to pad your life total and then chase your planeswalker enemies here, and watch them suffer under the Shah's fiery whims.
At last we come to Zendikar, a vibrant new world to explore. As Zendikar previews begin next week, I don't want to say too much about this world yet, but rest assured that there's plenty to dig into—there's over thirty thousand words in the Zendikar style guide alone, not even counting the art. For now, suffice it to say that Murasa is a continent on the plane of Zendikar, and it looks like the art above, and you'll learn more—much more—very soon.
What's this? A forty-first plane card, representing another glimpse of Zendikar, with art by one of Zendikar's concept artists? It's true—but Tazeem is not available in any of the Planechase decks themselves. It's a promo card available at the Planechase release events this weekend, September 4-6, 2009.
No Letter of the Week today, as I'm way over my word-count and a game of Planechase is firing up with some of my buddies here in the office. But tune in to next Wednesday's Savor the Flavor article, as an important Zendikar-related question that many of you have been asking will be answered.