All that said, I can't help but notice that Magic has been a little short on the actual planeswalking part ... until now. What's different? Planechase, that's what.
What's Planechase? It's four things, actually—four preconstructed 60-card decks, each of which comes with ten unique oversized plane cards and a special planar die. Each also comes with an insert containing the rules for Planar Magic, a new variant designed for use in multiplayer Free-for-All.
You can read the full rules here, courtesy of that dashing, handsome magicthegathering.com staff, but I'll give you the rundown.
In addition to a normal deck, each player has a planar deck composed of a minimum of ten plane cards with different names. (Alternately, you can use one big planar deck for everybody.) Everyone shuffles their planar deck, and the game starts with one random plane card face up "in the command zone." That means, basically, that it isn't a permanent, can't be destroyed, etc. It's just there.
Each plane card has two abilities: one that's always on, and one that triggers "when you roll ." What you're rolling there is the planar die, which has four blank faces, one face with the planeswalker symbol, and one face with that other thing, called the chaos symbol. When you roll the chaos symbol, the current plane's "chaos ability" triggers. When you roll the planeswalker symbol, you put the current plane on the bottom of its owner's planar deck and reveal a new plane from the top of yours. There's only ever one plane card face-up at a time.
You can roll the die on your turn whenever you could cast a sorcery. The first roll each turn is free; each roll after that costs more for each time you've rolled the die already that turn. Oh, and when it's your turn, you control the current plane even if it's not from your planar deck, so when it says "you," that means, yes, you.
And ... that's it, really. Beyond that, it's a normal game of Magic ... played on a chaotic, ever-shifting, multiplanar battlefield.
These Planes Were Made for Walkin'
A few days ago, I sat down to play Planechase with fellow web teamer Monty Ashley, Planechase lead designer Brian Tinsman, and my buddy Laura, who was there to provide an outsider's perspective (and because she really, really wanted to try Planechase). To keep things simple, we used the four Planechase decks and their associated planar decks "out of the box."
I was playing the red-white Strike Force deck. Brian was on my left with the artifact-centered Metallic Dreams, Monty was on my right running the mono-black Zombie Empire, and Laura was across from me with the red-green Elemental Thunder.
The rules on the insert say that the player going first flips over the first plane, but Monty suggested randomizing first turn and first plane separately. I like that; since each deck's planar deck tends to complement it, going first with your own plane out could be an unfair advantage. (When Monty has played Planar Magic around the office in duels—yes, you can do that—he's had the person going second flip over the first plane, for the same reason.)
We started out the game in The Dark Barony, which Monty was fine with and the rest of us decidedly were not.
Monty decided to roll anyway, taking us on to Raven's Run on Shadowmoor (which gives all creatures wither). Each of us built up our forces, and I rolled another planeswalker symbol on my third turn and sent us along to ... Bant!
(Incidentally, I've realized since the game that Brian and I actually had our planar decks switched. The fact that I didn't notice the swap until I sat down to write this article says a lot about how important it is to use a planar deck tailored to your deck—as in, not very.)
All through this, everyone was rolling the planar die as much as they could each turn, even knowing that a chaos symbol would make my Hedge-Mage indestructible. It was Monty who finally rolled chaos, granting my Hedge-Mage a divinity counter. On my turn, we planeswalked on to Goldmeadow on Lorwyn.
That's a lotta Goats!
The battlefield quickly filled with bleating, ornery doorstops, which is a hilarious image. We are trying to have an epic planeswalker battle here, but none of our creatures can get through ... these ... blasted ... Goats! That left Laura's Taurean Mauler (a fellow Goat!) looking a lot less scary. Brian's Goats, however, had a huge technological advantage in Loxodon Warhammer, and they got in a swing or two.
We made a brief layover at Lethe Lake on the plane of Arkhos, but I rolled another planeswalker symbol the very next turn and sent us along to the Sanctum of Serra in Serra's Realm.
Now that is an interesting one! I rolled again, hoping to blow up all the Goats, but instead I rolled the chaos symbol and restored my life total to 20—less than exciting given that I was at 19, but hey, I'll take it. Laura got a rather better deal out of the Sanctum, jumping from 13 life back up to 20, before Monty planeswalked. The Sanctum's "planeswalk away" ability triggered and destroyed everything (except my Hedge-Mage!) as we headed to our next destination. That turned out to be Pools of Becoming, in the ominous-sounding Bolas's Meditation Realm.
Wow! The plane's full-time ability keeps things moving, which I'm always game for, but it's that chaos trigger that I fell in love with. My only fear was that we would planeswalk away before it triggered.
Oh ... I guess I sort of forget to mention it, but we were still, you know, playing Magic this whole time. The planes are new and shiny, so they're mostly what I took notes about ... and there's definitely a tendency when playing Planar Magic to start paying more attention to the backdrop for our battle than to the actual battlefield. This planeswalking thing is fun.
Still, there was good Magic happening. Brian was filling the board with robots. Laura was having mana problems. I was still hiding behind my indestructible Hedge-Mage, not taking much heat. And Monty was amassing quite the Zombie horde.
We all chewed through our decks and rolled the die a lot, doubtless hoping for the chaos symbol rather than the planeswalker symbol. It was Monty who hit a symbol on the die at last ...
We all pumped the fist as Monty revealed the planes that would plunge us into chaos. Those turned out to be three big scoops of old-school Magic storyline: the Fields of Summer on Moag, The Fourth Sphere of Phyrexia, and the Sea of Sand on Rabiah.
Monty happily gained 10 life, put a 2/2 black Zombie token onto the battlefield, and put a permanent on top of its owner's library (I honestly forget what, but I think it was something of Brian's). On my turn, my roll came up empty.
Then it was Brian's turn, and he added a few more artifact creatures to his army before rolling ... chaos! His mix was of a newer vintage, with Agyrem on Ravnica, Sokenzan on Kamigawa, and Skybreen, on the thus-far unvisited plane of Kaldheim.
He hadn't attacked, so Sokenzan was a bust, but he happily dinged Monty for the number of cards in his hand and noted that he now couldn't be attacked until we left the Pools of Becoming.
By this time, though, Monty had access to an absurd amount of mana thanks to Cabal Coffers, and he wasn't afraid to spend it on die rolls when his turn came around. He quickly took us to the Cliffside Market on Mercadia (which allows life-total swapping, something Monty wasn't interested in) and then on to The Æther Flues on Iquatana, home of Future Sight oddity Narcomoeba.
This looked good to me—especially because I had Razia, Boros Archangel in hand and was just short of having enough mana to cast her. I declined to sacrifice anything on my upkeep, but I did roll as much as I could, fingers crossed for a free Razia, Boros Archangel. Alas, no dice.
Brian got back a Myr Enforcer with Skeleton Shard at the end of my turn, then sacrificed a mana Myr on his upkeep and pulled ... another Myr Enforcer. He tried his hand with the die, with no luck—but his Myr Enforcer was free anyway.
Laura, however, got lucky on the chaos and slammed a Verdant Force onto the battlefield that she wouldn't have been able to cast otherwise. She amassed an army of Saproling tokens over the next few turns as the game skipped to Grixis on Alara, back to The Dark Barony (having gone through Monty's whole planar deck!), and then, on my turn, on to The Hippodrome, on Segovia.
I was running low on life at this point, mostly because of Brian's Qumulox, so I was happy to get a reprieve—even if it was liable to vanish inconveniently on someone else's turn. And on Brian's turn, vanish it did, as he planeswalked to the Academy at Tolaria West on good ol' Dominaria ...
... then played the last card in his hand and drew seven. Whoa.
When it got back around to me, I finally drew my eighth land and cast Razia, Boros Archangel. Even better, the land was Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion, so if all went well, next turn I'd be hitting for 12. Razia, Boros Archangel smacked Brian upside the head, and I passed the turn feeling pretty good about things ... until Brian cast Darksteel Forge and made his army of robots indestructible. Oof.
On his turn, Monty rolled a lot and took us back to Raven's Run on Shadowmoor—bad news for the aforementioned indestructible robots. On my turn, I now had 12 damage to throw around thanks to Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion, and I thought about where to aim it.
Monty had something to say on the subject, as it turned out. "Kelly, as your co-worker and, I'd like to think, friend, I advise you not to attack me."
"I appreciate that," I said, "but I’m going to do it anyway."
Monty, true to his word, hit the angelic battle cruiser with Cruel Revival and scuppered my plans but good. Maybe next time I’ll listen to him.
I passed the turn with a sigh. I needed one more Mountain to enact my master plan.
Despite their nigh-invulnerability, Brian's artifact creatures couldn't really get through my indestructible Hedge-Mage (still there!), Monty's regenerating Cadaverous Knight, or Laura's Saproling infestation. He got in one last hit with his still-quite-destructible Qumulox before Laura's Tornado Elemental killed it. Laura then swarmed past my defenses to take me to 3, though she was down to 6 herself. Gulp.
On his turn, Monty tapped his huge pile of lands for an astonishing eighteen mana and hit Brian in the face with a Consume Spirit for 16, putting Brian at 3 and Monty at 39. He passed the turn to me, sitting pretty.
The battlefield was packed with creatures—Laura's Saprolings and Elementals, Brian's artifact creatures, Monty's Zombies, and a few of my little strikers. There was only one way I could win. If I drew a Mountain, I was going to do something awesome.
So I did.
"INSURRECTION!" I yelled, slamming it down onto the table.
Then I started doing the math, with Monty's life total the only obstacle. I set aside the one creature I was going to send at Brian and the two that would head Laura's way, then started adding up the power of all the other creatures. The sum was way over 39—not close—and I had just announced my glorious victory ...
... when Brian said, "Now, hang on."
"What?" I said, noticing suddenly that he had mana untapped. Did he— Had I just—
"Whiplash Trap," he said, calmly showing me the Zendikar preview card.
"Bounce the creature you sent at me," he continued, "and, I don't know, that guy," pointing to one of my own creatures that I'd left back. I hadn't actually said I was pointing more than one creature at him, and that left him in position for a lethal counterattack.
"Whu—" I said, and "Buh ....", and possibly, "Wb!"
When I finally put a whole sentence together, it was: "Ya got me. Good game!"
A Plane to Catch
Planechase is good, solid fun. I've played three or four games now with the four out-of-the-box decks, and they've been a ton of fun. Just using them as-is, the decks and their corresponding plane cards have a good back-and-forth that makes for enjoyable Magic.
But that's just the beginning. You can bring the full stack of 40 to your usual Free-for-All for total randomness. You can tailor a ten-card plane deck to work masterfully with a particular deck, and run it against friends who've done the same. You could even—flavor problems aside—experiment with having multiple planes out at once, although the very thought gives me a headache. It's a casual format—do what you want!
Planechase goes on sale this Friday, September 4. Even better, there are Release Events at stores across the country where you can get a unique promo plane. Check out the event fact sheet—if there's a Release Event near you, it's definitely worth the trip. Have fun!
If something awesome happens in a Planechase game, especially over the Release weekend, I want to hear about it! Snap a photo or jot down some notes and share your story, either by emailing it to me at the link below or posting it in this thread in the Magic General forum. Cool? Cool.