June 09, 2015

Stamping Your Planeswalker Passpost

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I fancy myself as something of an experienced world traveler. Some of the wondrous places I've seen in include Moose Jaw, Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, and Butte. In fact, I'm currently writing to you from the wondrous Land of Cleve! But rather than bore you with tales of my exotic travails, I thought we'd look at the worlds and planes of Magic. In fact there is a Magic variant that lets its players jump from one plane to another, bringing a new level of excitement to your casual multiplayer games: Planechase!

Kharasha Foothills | Art by Trevor Claxton

For those of you who haven't been introduced to Planechase, this variant uses plane cards to create a planar deck. That planar deck is used separately from your regular deck. Plane cards are about the size of two Magic cards, so there's no chance you'll mix up your planar deck with your Constructed deck. The planar deck sits in the Command Zone. At the start of the game, the first player flips over the top card in their ten-card planar deck. Plane cards generally have an ability that happens immediately and on every upkeep, or simply changes something in the game. They also have a Chaos ability. On your turn, at sorcery speed, you can choose to roll the planar die. This six-sided die has four blank sides, with a Planeswalker symbol on one side, and the Chaos symbol on another. While the first roll is free, every roll after that costs one more mana than your previous roll. If you roll Chaos, you get the Chaos effect on the Plane card. If you roll the Planeswalker logo, then everyone in the game planeswalks to the new location, which is discovered by flipping the top card of your planar deck.[1]

Plane cards were made available at two separate times. They came prepackaged with a regular Constructed deck, much like Commander decks are packaged. There are currently over 40 planes available, so the variety in planar decks is already solid.

This format really focuses on those players who love to build decks. Now you can build a deck and a planar deck to perfectly complement each other! Will you find ten planes that blend well together (you may only have one of each plane in your deck), then build a deck that works with it, or choose your favorite deck and build a planar deck to make it even better. You can even opt to build both decks in conjunction, creating a slick, smooth-running behemoth.

This can make for some exciting games, but it can be difficult to get all of your friends on the same page. If you don't all have plane cards, keeping a balance in your games can be difficult. When someone has access to all the cards, they have the ability to create better decks. If you have players who don't have the time or aren't particularly interested in building decks just for this format, the games can deteriorate even further. Planechase decks can make for fun games, but there is a risk that they tilt card quality even further.


Planechase Draft

With a Draft, each player chooses a deck, then drafts all the plane cards. How you choose to separate the cards into "packs" is up to you, but I'd recommend a pack size of at least twice the number of players to get a real drafting experience.[2] You can really double down, drafting plane cards, then running a booster draft to determine your regular deck. Perhaps a Conspiracy draft would make this whole idea just insane?

Single, Shared Deck.

This is the most common way I've seen to use plane cards. Most groups have a single player who is excited enough about these Magic variants that they accumulate as much of it as they can find. My group's player is Jesse. He has accumulated every plane card ever made and we use them in a single stacked deck. We start on one of the planes, then each person flips the top card when they roll the Planeswalker logo on the die.

This variant doesn't require everyone to have plane cards. The Jesse in your group can provide the cards. While we have all the plane cards, you don't need them all. A stack of ten or fifteen cards is likely enough. If you get through all of them, you can just shuffle up the discards and start again.

This format also requires less effort from your playgroup. No one needs to build Planechase decks or decks that work with the planar deck. Your group just shows up to play for the night, and you provide the cards!

Unlike drafting or requiring each player to build a planar deck and deck to use with it, the variance goes up. This format doesn't let you control which plane cards are in your deck. If you decide to roll the planar die, you do so without knowing what plane you might end upon. While I love the chaotic nature of this style, others might not. I find that most groups have a range of play skill and the unpredictability of Planechase tends to help the less skilled player, since planning your strategy too far in advance is something most Planechase games don't allow.

Planes Map

This variant takes the single, shared deck version and adds a little predictability. Instead of drawing blindly off the top of the deck of plane cards, arrange the top cards into a 3x3 pattern, with the cards on the corners being face down. The group starts on the plane in the middle. When someone rolls the die to planeswalk, they can choose to planeswalk to any of the eight other planes. Wherever the player goes, that card becomes the new center of the grid. For example, if Jesse were to planeswalk directly south, the cards to the north, northeast, and northwest remain, the cards to the east and west remain, but are exposed, and a new row of cards is arranged, creating a new south, southwest, and southeast. Since everyone has seen what are now the northern corners, they remain exposed. The original northern row is removed from the grid and placed in the discard pile. Check out the pictures below.

Hidden | The Great Forest | Hidden

Talon Gates | Llanowar | Murasa

Hidden | Stronghold Furnace | Hidden

In the picture above, we were in Llanowar, then in the picture below shows the jump to Talon Gates. You are just rebuilding the map to represent your current location as the center of the map.

Hidden | Orochi Colony | The Great Forest

Jund | Talon Gates | Llanowar

Hidden | Bloodhill Bastion | Stronghold Furnace

This format allows for some strategy. You can simply look at the available options and choose the best one, or hope you find something palatable on a "blind jump." Some players prefer to eliminate the planes that are good for some players, but not for them. Rather than head to the best plane, they simply choose a plane in the opposite direction in the hopes of dropping that plane off the map.

There is a practical constraint with this format, in that you need the space at the center of your table for the 3x3 grid. When you planeswalk, you tend to want to lay out the new grid before removing the older planes, so it can really take up a lot of space.

This is my favorite Planechase variant. I like the chaotic aspect involved in the randomness. I like that it can really be added to any multiplayer game (Commander Planechase is a good time). I like seeing a game get split when some players want a particular plane while others want another; watching the tug of war between planes.

The Game play

Our most recent game was a five-player, Commander Planechase game. Games with plane cards can go longer than a usual game. The chaotic nature of a Planes Map can result in a shorter game if one player happens to reap a significant early advantage, but generally you keep moving from one plane to another and no one garners too much of a benefit that the player gets a distinct advantage. The plane cards are designed to encourage you to always want to roll. Either you like the plane you are on, but you really want to get the chaos option, or you want off the plane. Either way, you find yourself rolling the planar die almost every turn. In a five-player game, that means you are moving from one plane to the next frequently.

Our game started on Llanowar, which would have been great, but none of us seemed to be able to get a creature out early on. Jesse (Jaya Ballard as Commander) planeswalked us to Talon Gates. We were there long enough to suspend several cards; probably too many cards in fact. The urge to put out bigger creatures so you don't have to pay for them is big, but it just means that they are sitting there for a long time. I was running my Tajic deck and I suspended Jor Kadeen. Johannes (running Narset) suspended three different Planeswalkers. Suspend counters on Planeswalkers can be rather confusing.

From this point we shifted to various planes and our boards began to develop. John (also running Narset) copied a handful of cards from Johannes' deck and was enjoying the benefit of having someone else running cards that would be directly beneficial to him. Tyler (Balthor the Defiled) was running mostly zombies. Things were calm for him in the early going, relying on a Shepherd of Rot and a Leechridden Swamp to get in some early damage.

It wasn't until I planeswalked into a Spatial Merging that things got particularly weird. Spatial Merging is a Phenomenon. Phenomenons are a type of plane card that is similar to an instant. When you flip it up, you do what it says, then go to the next plane card in the pile. It is an anomaly in the space between planes. The practical result of a Phenomenon on the planes map is to put another card under it. It just means that if you choose to travel through a Phenomenon, you don't know where you'll end up. With Spatial Merging, we put two card under it face down, since everyone ends up on two planes at once.

In our game we landed on Shiv, and the other card was another Phenomenon; Planewide Disaster! After resolving Planewide Disaster, leaving just Tajic and Jaya on the board, I flipped up the next card, since we still needed a second plane. Instead I hit another Phenomenon, Interplanar Tunnel! I looked at the next five planes and tried to find one that combo-ed well with Shiv, but had no luck. Instead I chose Izzet Steam Maze. The idea of duplicating instant and sorcery spells with two Narset players in the game should have frightened me, but I was pretty sure it would create the most interesting plays, so I picked that option.

We jumped back and forth between the double plane and Panopticon for the rest of the game, drawing cards and doubling spells. Everyone understood the Narset players were the most dangerous players in the game, particularly with Izzet Steam Maze floating around; so Jesse, Tyler, and I worked together to get them both out of the game. Unfortunately a doubled Army of the Damned from Tyler, working with a Grave Pact, made short work of any blockers…and soon our life totals.

If you have the chance to add Planechase to your list of regular Magic variants, I recommend it. Getting your Planeswalker passport stamped in some of the varied planes will allow you to create more of the amazing plays everyone remembers.

Finally, if you haven't already, check out Chas Andres' new article series, My Favorite Flavor. We'll be making Tuesday a home for casual players!

Bruce Richard

@manaburned

mtgseriousfun@gmail.com

 

[1] If you want a more thorough set of rules for Planechase, the Comprehensive Rules lay out everything, and this article does a great job too.

[2] I should note I’ve never done this, so there may be advantages/disadvantages to the draft that I haven’t foreseen. I’d love to hear from anyone who has done it.



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