Saying Yes to Planechase

Planechase 2012 comes out today, and that makes me really excited. I really love those oversized planes, and I’ve been waiting for this day to come for a while (placing far after the birth of my first child, which has come. Everyone’s doing great). As I’ve been reading on the interwebs, it seems that players have been divided into two groups: those who like Planechase and those who think that Wizards of the Coast has screwed them over. If you’re in the first group, feel free to skip down some number of paragraphs if you wish; this is for the second group.

Dark Confidant
I know you’re mad at WotC. After all, they promised they would print Modern and Legacy staple cards. Planechase 2012 would’ve been the perfect place for throwing some Modern and/or Legacy players a bone. How about something like Tarmogoyf or Dark Confidant, right? It doesn’t have to be something like that, but maybe a Ravnica dual land or even a fetch land. Any and all of those would be pretty awesome to have in there. You make both the casual players happy and the tournament players happy by doing that. More Planechase decks would, sell and everyone would be ecstatic! Come on Wizards, wake up!

But alas, WotC decided to not do anything of the sort, and now you’re pissed. You weren’t going to buy it in the first place—because you don’t play Planechase—but now you’re really not going to buy it. You felt lied to, cheated, and, dare I say, entitled to get some reprints that would be great to acquire more copies of. If not that, some great cards that you could run in Legacy. Commander has Flusterstorm and Scavenging Ooze, so it’s been done before. Instead, they give you practically nothing, and the decks aren’t even all that great. You’re slamming your fists on the table and wondering where you product is. Casual players get Planechase and Commander and Duel Decks and Intro Decks.

You know what your product is? It’s called “every set” and you get new toys every three months.

Dark Hatchling
This product, it’s called: Planechase. It’s a variant on Chaos Magic, a multiplayer casual format. Planechase is not designed to be played on the Pro Tour or to be grinded out at weekend Pro Tour Qualifiers. This is a format designed for kitchen table players and friends who want to get together to have fun. Expecting these decks to have four-ofs and tournament-defining cards is just plain silly. The focus on this product is first and foremost the planes; without the planes, you don’t have a format.

WotC knows that most people will end up taking apart the decks that come with the planes, but they still want to give something people to play, something that goes along with the planes. Could the decklists have been improved? Of course; I am tired of seeing Dark Hatchling again especially after we saw it in two separate Commander decks last year. I get upset when the product fails to live up to its intentions. I didn’t feel any of the reprinted cards in the From the Vault: Legends were actually very legendary when we had seen most of them in the past few years. But when the focus of this product is the planes, expecting these decks to be fully powered, or even have some power is truly silly.

Look at the Commander deck: Counterpunch.

This is a product to get people interested into Commander, and it sells for $65. Why? Scavenging Ooze is $40. This one card makes up almost two thirds of the price in a hundred-card deck. This is the only place you can get it, and it’s a Legacy staple card. So, speculators went out and bought up as many of these decks just for one card. If I find one at MSRP, I will snap it up.

Scavenging Ooze
I will feel like a jerk, but I will do it because the price is just too good.

Scavenging Ooze started out at $18 and finally shot up to $40 in March, months after the release. And this was an unknown card (though assumed to be good). I argued when Commander came around why certain cards weren’t put in the decks even though they were the perfect spot for them. Of course, all of that was theory, and Counterpunch is that theory in action. Now imagine that WotC put out Tournament Decks, which contained those cards you want reprinted; how expensive would those decks be? Even if every one of these Planechase decks had a Ravnica dual land, and it’s MSRPing at $20, what do you think the StarCityGames and local game store price of those decks are going to be?

Breeding Pool
Even though they would all instantly make the decks much more sought after, don’t you think there would be some decks more popular than others. (Assume they’re the ones with the blue mana.) Would the decks run that much smoother with one land like that (arguably the G/W deck with the Korsan Verge, but no tournament player cares about that color combination).

Plus, this isn’t even enough time to put anything Modern-reprint-viable in here. Planechase was probably getting near the stages of being done right around this time last year, and Modern wasn’t even a format. You have to give WotC a little more time than that to reprint more Modern staples.

Then, let’s take a look at the new cards. WotC found that people like having new cards in these types of products last year, so why not create new ones again? Of course, the people complaining are wondering why not more Legacy-playable cards since that’s obviously the focus of the set. He believes that Illusory Angel might be a great candidate. Some think Sakashima’s Student, Baleful Strix, and Shardless Agent all have possible Legacy applications. (Again, since they’re all blue, it gives them a leg up.) But the real beauty of these new cards is the way the decks are laid out.

Each of the decks has a focus, and each of them has a returning keyword:

Higure, the Still Wind
  • Chaos Reigns – Cascade
  • Night of the Ninja – Ninjutsu
  • Primordial Hunger – Devour
  • Savage Aura – Totem armor

None of these keywords has a high chance of being brought back due to flavor or lack of being able to grow (devour being the only exception). Yes, even fan-favorite ninjutsu had a poor chance of ever coming back due to nobody liking Kamigawa block. From products such as Planechase, this represents a new second life that these mechanics can have a new home, all while generating new cards.

A cascading Minotaur that you can return to your hand to recast? A totem armor Aura that you can move around between your creatures saving you from direct damage? A Ninja that lets you steal cards from an opponent’s hand? A creature with super-Devour? None of these were possible if WotC didn’t want to go back and revisit mechanics.

Gorger Wurm
And really, who does this hurt if a few of these cards were printed instead of the next Legacy must-have? Tournament players who were going to hoard and speculate on this product? Something like this makes me think of this old SNL sketch with Phil Hartman. (Did I just call speculators Warlords? I might have.) Does this mean that I think it should never be done? No, this is a great opportunity to have powerful cards printed without them affecting Standard. Illusory Angel fits that mold.

Last, to the people who don’t feel the decks are worth the MSRP of $20: I want to know how much you think the Planes are worth. If they’re $1 a piece (and Planechase 1’s planes were that price until recently), the deck should be around $10. Does that make the decks look and seem a little better? Hopefully?

Now back to the good part.

We get thirty-two new planes and eight new phenomena, which is pretty cool. Since we’ve had planes before, I’ll start with the phenomena. I was worried when WotC first started previewing them that we were going to get a majority of them like Interplanar Tunnel. Now, some of these type of effects are cool when they’re not done in high quantities; if a majority of the phenomena had, “Draw and select your next plane,” I would be very disappointed. This would take away the randomness that I—and what I believe is a good number of players—enjoy about Planechase. Luckily, that wasn’t the case, and a bullet was dodged.

With the phenomena, it drastically changes the tide of the game and forces people to think differently. Again, I believe that this is the variance that people love with the format. These phenomenon cards will create the most memorable moments that players are going to be telling for a while. I’m really happy and excited about this new change.

As for the actual planes, I’m itching to play those as well. I’m no Vorthos, so I can’t tell you which plane is proper (beside the obvious Jund-has-devour situation). I’ve heard that players are upset at a lack of Esper (since Bant was in the first Planechase). I hope this is a great sign for Planechase 2015. The art is amazing, with my favorite one being Trial of the Mage-Rings. (Again, I have no idea where it’s from, but from the immortal words from Liz Lemon, I want to go to there.) I’m assuming that it’s like the Kessel Run (from Star Wars, not Innistrad).

Each of the planes play differently and if you build your own planar deck, you can totally open up the customizations of how you want it to work. For my own small Vorthos reason, I like to play with one giant planar deck, as I can’t fathom a battle between me in Seattle and my opponent on Mars. Go, Craw Wurm, shoot through space and attack!

I’ll be shuffling this up with Planechase 1’s planes and the promo cards to create a big, giant planar deck. This is why I’m not looking at each of the decks and planes separately: I’m getting them all. Yes, I’m super-geeked.

But we can’t end this conversation without looking at the commanders, since that’s the format I talk about on here. Each deck receives a new commander, which loosely or majorly ties into the mechanics of the deck. All of them enable different decks, but we’re only going to talk about one. See, here’s how I believe the popularity of the decks will be based on the decks with their respective commanders:

For those who aren’t buying all four decks for the planes, this is how I think it will go. Poor, poor Thromok. What did he do to deserve this? By not having the most exciting deck? Don’t worry; I’ll help you out, big boy.

This is just a first draft, as I’ll probably need more utility cards. But here’s the basic setup. Remember that with Thromok, his devour X means you square the number of creatures you sacrifice.

Sample Table:

Number of creatures you sacrifice Number of counters on Thromok
1 1
2 4
3 9
4 16
5 25
6 36
7 49

I remember my fourth-grade teacher had us see how many simple multiplication (1–12) we could do in five minutes. We had papers of a hundred problems and worked our way up from there. There were kids doing five hundred problems in five minutes (4 × 6, 5 × 9, and so on). So squaring numbers isn’t that hard to do as long as it’s 12 or under (but at 144, you’re just gloating anyway). If you notice, all it takes is sacrificing five creatures at the same time to deal lethal commander damage, so you don’t need to run the table out there in order to make it work.

The deck has another cute trick: Nissa and her Elves. You can keep sacrificing Nissa’s Chosen to something to keep bringing it back to help with the ultimate, with which you can completely take advantage of Elves that enter play. There’s the Beacon of Creation/Blasting Station combo in there with plenty of card-draw that triggers off those token creatures (I’m thinking I may need to up my Forests, but this is something I need to tinker with).

In case you’re curious, here are all the cards that I considered with this deck in a first pass:

In all, I hope you try out some Planechase, as it’s a pretty fun format to play along with Commander. Have plenty of dice, and don’t be afraid to roll; sometimes, the excitement is not knowing what happens next.