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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Grim Tidings #13 - Planechase Aftermath

(Contributed by John Kozlowski)

Let me start off by stating that I hate being so negative.

I was really jazzed last week when I sat down and played with Planechase. The art is cool, and the mechanics are very interesting. I was intrigued with the decisions I would be faced with on choosing to spend mana on Chaos Rolls, or attempting to Planeswalk away from dangerous locations. I thought all 82 effects (well most of them) were terrific! I was ready to go.

Actual Planechasing
So last Monday my playgroup sat down with a stack of 40 of the Plane cards, and shuffled up our 5-Color decks. The game started off as a four player, and slowly increased to six as people arrived for the evening.

First turn, first plane we visit was… Cliffside Market! Wow! During the first upkeep, people immediately began exchanging life totals, 20 for 20. It was thrilling, seeing the massive swings of life back and forth! Okay, my sarcasm is dripping, but it was kind of neat, With only four players in the game, everyone was genuinely engaged with the Planar effect. Players spent a lot of mana early on rolling for Chaos, (probably because there was nothing else to do with your extra mana in your first few turns.) Several land exchanged control on Chaos rolls, and exchanged back again, and again. But overall, the effect was, well, irrelevant.

That’s OK though, right? Not every Plane has to be killer. Plus if you take into account that Cliffside Market occurred on turn one, you could expect it wasn’t too impressive. Eventually someone rolled a Planeswalk, and we left Cliffside Market, never to return (for that evening at least).

The following succession of Planes we encountered weren’t all boring though. On a positive note, I witnessed some really creative combinations and synergy!

While at Naya, I saw a clever infinite mana loop with a Planeshift Lair and a Ravnica Bounce land. The crafty perpetrator of this combo discovered that he could tap the Lair for mana each time before he played the Rav-land, bounce the other repeatedly. He played his entire hand that turn (over-extending a bit in the process!) Still a cool effect though!

I got the short end of the stick when Sea of Sands was flipped right before my turn. I cast Vampiric Tutor (Lose 2 life) at EOT, and put Wheel of Fortune on top of my library. I drew the Wheel (Lose 3 life from Sands) and then thought it would be cute to try and kill off the table with the Planar effect. Unfortunately when WoF resolved, and drew 6 non-land cards (Lose 18, Gain 3 = Overall Loss of 20!) Ouch! Oh well, such are the perils of Rabiah!

So far, it seemed to me that Planechase would be pretty fun. It was cool at first with a small game of 4 people. However, more people eventually showed up, and the game became far more complicated and my opinion changed.

Planechase Downside
What I observed was that there is a tendency later in the game to just altogether to ignore the Planar card. It seems that a well-constructed, 300-card, 5-Color deck is generally is more interesting than the random planar effects that you can’t really control. Late game, players would rather invest their mana on spells they can rely on than on the unpredictable Chaos rolls.

Evidence of this was observed when the game stalled out on boring dud-planes like Krosa. The effect +2/+2 effect is pretty inconsequential unless you have a swarm of Saprolings (or similar), and the Chaos roll hardly breaks even (Why spend all of your mana for a 16% chance to add WUBRG to you pool in a five color deck where you have all colors anyways?)

The other phenomenon I saw was that the group would “camp out” at great places like Pantopticon or Minamo, because they like drawing cards. Who doesn’t like drawing cards? In retrospect, Planes like this probably add to the staleness, because 1.) there is little incentive to leave, and 2.) you are filling up your hand with even better cards to spend than random Chaos rolls!

Not to sound elitist, I think Planechase is probably better suited to “lower caliber” decks than the Super-Mr.-Suitcase-Showcase-of-Sheer-Power in our particular 5C playgroup has. If our decks were just a little less innately powerful, visiting different planes might be relevant. But for the deck composition we have, Planechase is simply underwhelming.

Don’t get me wrong, I think its still fun to play, but its certainly not worth the $80 for the complete set of Planes.

Perhaps I should reverse my opinion from last week and suggest that Planechase IS better as a constructed format, where you choose teh ten planes your wish to frequent (rather than the 40 card random community pile.) At least in this scenario you have a reason to walk away from a location, and more strategy to make the Plane relevant to your deck composition.

So all in all, Planechase is nice, but not for every game. I won't give up on it quite yet.

Zendikar Bonus!
While Planechase might flop, I’m predicting a great October for 5C with Zendikar! The previews are just beginning, but I already have tagged six cards for First Reminder! I think these are essentials, so make sure you get a set early!


The_Magi said...

I may have over extended, but a turn 3 Akroma and Battlegrace Angel is awesome!

Magiholic said...

Sounds like I didn't miss out on a whole lot then. And I'm not surprised; the art of MTG is designing a clever/dependable/killer deck to be proud of, and introducing random global effects to a game with that foundation is bound to subtract and not add to the overall dynamic. At least for hardcore players (I on the other hand might've gotten a kick out of it).