What Could've Been: A Planar Chaos Review in Design
By Christopher French on January 26th, 2007 · Filed in General Magic · Comments not available just now
It’s that time again! Time to flood the Rumor Mill, time to jump up and down for joy, or sulk on the table, hitting it, and blaming Wizards for what they have done. Time to crack those shiny new packs and smell the new cards and go, “I can’t believe they printed something like this!”
That’s right, folks. Planar Chaos is here, and no matter what happens, Magic is going to have to adjust. This article is going to try and peek into how and why “they printed something like this.”
To the Heart of the Matter
If there’s one thing to talk about in Planar Chaos, it should be obvious by now: The 45 Timeshifted cards that have been making the Rumor Mill, and indeed all of the Magic community, rock back and forth. Black Wrath of God. White Drop of Honey. Blue Serra Angel. Red Elvish Spirit Guide. Green Ball Lightning. Why, gods of Magic, WHY??
Well, it’s a pretty gutsy move to print cards like that, but consider what Magic has always done in the past blocks. Black, red, and white have all shared Wrath-style variants in blocks of days past; it’s just that this time around, black gets the cream of the crop: Four mana for a wipe of the board.
But what about the rest of the timeshifteds? Well, most of them seem to make sense. A white Verduran Enchantress, green Soul Warden, blue Kismet, black Recycle, and the red Prodigal Sorcerer all make sense, since Magic has made big strides since the originals have been printed to ‘shift,’ if you pardon the pun, what the colors can do. We’ll be talking about the real culprits in this 45-card mixup. I'm not going to mention them all; the ones I don't mention are either in-color or not much of a stretch in terms of color pie loyalty.
Calciderm--While white does not normally get untargetability, it has been missing a solid creature like this one for some time. Planar Chaos is really trying to let other colors have weenies, so it's not entirely out of white's scope of possibility to get a solid 5/5 for cheap, even if it's temporary.
Mana Tithe--White has never really gotten a successful counterspell, and I don't think the game's going to cringe too hard when it sees a white Force Spike. Control players will like it, granted, but this card stretches white's capabilities.
Porphyry Nodes--This card is very confusing. Isn't white the king of weenies? Why would it want to kill critters with smaller power first? Drop of Honey helped green because it had fatties. White doesn't, as much. However, this isn't impossible for white. It's the color of Balance, after all. Still, it's quite a stretch.
Sunlance--White has never gotten direct damage of this caliber before. This card is a big experiment for Wizards, to see if white can get away with it. But again, this set is all about 'What ifs'. Still, not as flagrant as a white Shock. In any case, white HAS gotten direct damage, but usually in orther forms. Luckily it makes more sense since it's 'nonwhite.'
Ovinize--Humble makes its triumphant(?) return in blue, thanks to Ovinomancer. Blue has never gotten a creature removal card as potent as this; attack with a 1/1, they block with their larger creature.. it's a sheep. Perhaps more potent than Pongify, but we'll get to that in a moment.
Piracy Charm--This card seems okay on the first ability; but the remaining two seem highly non-blue at first glance. The third is what I'll touch on first. Discard seems to be unlike blue, but blue has always been the color of card advantage, and one-mana instant-speed discard seems to be a good way to shut down an opponent in a crucial moment. This is why the blue Headhunter, Merfolk Pilferer makes a little sense. The second ability, +2/-1, makes less sense, but short term strength is in flavor now, thanks to this purple card.
Serendib Sorcerer--If you're noticing a theme around blue these days, it involves changing power and toughness. Sorceress Queen did it well in the older days, so it's no REAL surprise it's around this time, and not out of blue's scope of possibilities.
Serra Sphinx--Vigilance!? VIGILANCE!? Well, don't get your panties in a bunch at seeing Serra Angel in blue. Zephyr Falcon and Bay Falcon weren't tapping back in the older days, so blue has had it before. However, the sheer fact that blue is getting an efficient blue creature for swinging and blocking is enlightening, to say the least.
It's what black would do in this alternate universe.
Damnation--What can be said about the marquee card in Planar Chaos that hasn't already been said regarding Damnation? It's going to change every format it's played in, to be sure. But can black get away with it? Of course it can. It's just never gotten this caliber of power before, compared to white (or red, for that matter).
Kor Dirge--Beside the obvious reference to white's redirection, why are we seeing damage redirection in black?? Again, it's what black would love to do. It's sneaky and underhanded and didn't seem to be white at all, except the fact that it prevented damage.
Rathi Trapper--Again, we see something in black doing what it only wished it could do: Tap creatures. Why is that black, though? Black would rather kill the creature, indeed, but tapping it is the next best thing when it comes to the red zone and blocking.
Vampiric Link--I'm beginning to see a pattern, aren't you?
Blood Knight--The only thing surprising about Blood Knight isn't its abilities but the fact that it's 2 mana. Red is getting weenies! Well it's certainly a surprise, but not impossible.
Reckless Wurm--Red isn't always big on trample, unless it's on fast, temporary creatures. But since this is Planar Chaos, green's gotten the haste, so why not let red get trample? Still, it's surprising to see red have both an efficient weenie, AND an efficient fattie.
Simian Spirit Guide--This shouldn't really be on the list of 'problematic' shifted cards; it makes sense that red gets mana advantage, but I'm only really including this card because Elvish Spirit Guide didn't make much sense either.
Groundbreaker--This card made people's eyes widen considerably, myself included. But if you think about it, since green's really swapped roles with red concerning fast, temporary 'growth', this doesn't really seem too far fetched.
Harmonize--Green direct draw?? Not completely out of the question concerning green. Considering 3 cards for 4 mana is all that the card does it's not horrendously overpowered, and the best argument for green's Concentrate is that it's 'growth', but instead of mana, lands, or creature size, it's hand size. Hopefully making other colors have access to direct draw will not only let blue have a chance to expand its horizons, but allow the other four colors to keep a full mitt.
And Now, the Rest of Them
Since there are 120 'normal' cards in comparison to the 45 timeshifted cards, I'm not going to go down the cards individually, but by color.
Most of white seems to be plain and fair, taking vanishing, as well as 'saving' your creatures with the new gating creatures. Its theme extends even to the new Crovax, taking advantage of returning your critters to your hand. A new look for white, which is refreshing. The rest fit the color well enough, or expand on what Time Spiral did for the color. Nothing surprising, really. The only one worth mention is Serra's Boon, because it's actual white spot removal. Same for Saltblast, but we've already seen something like that in green and a bit of white.
Blue got a whole new bag of tricks this time, to kind of take a new avenue of play for blue as well. A blue Maro, Serra's Embrace, and spot removal. The Maro isn't surprising. The Embrace? Well, vigilance is an old ability of blue's, so it's not surprising. What IS surprising is how big of a boost Auramancer's Guise grants, in addition to the other boots of the auras involved. The real kick in the pants comes in the form of two cards: Pongify and Reality Acid. Pongify, while not the best removal in the game, is definitely some of the cheapest, but again, like most of Planar Chaos, It's nothing new to blue. Reality Acid is gradual, and is a small, but new opportunity for blue to expand its dwindling repitoire.
Another big boost for blue is twofold. First, the tails-side of card advantage: Discard. While it's most prominent in the blue Charm mentioned above, cards like Wistful Thinking and Dismal Failure are really mirror images of their two counterparts. The second boost is small but formidable: Land advantage. With all the Moonfolk in Kamigawa, it was surprising to not see a card like Dreamscape Artist before.
Surprisingly, black seems to be the most unchanged of the colors at its base; it still has a lot of discard, life drain, and efficient powerful creatures with a steep cost. The only difference? The form the life drain comes in--conditional counters let your opponent decide if your spell or their life total is more expendable. Madness shines once again in this color, as one of the best mechanics for the game's tempo since Buyback. The only major notable about black seems to be that it's gotten first strike from red and white, as well as more temporary conditional effects.
But where's the blue Phage?
Red shifts with a good result in this set. Rough and tumble creatures, web effects, and attack power boosts enhance red's repitoire of burn. Most of it isn't out of red's scope: The red Berserk seems long overdue, and red's manipulation of time counters seems chaotic enough. Red Fear seems a bit of a stretch, but it's a minor addition. Akroma seems to be the big baddie this time, with not as many keywords as her white counterpart, but they do make a definite splash, especially with Ixidor's addition of morph. Of course, it's hard to tell but red has also added a solid kill spell to its mix.
Finally, as a footnote to red - The split cards are more or less hit or miss, depending on your play style, but the fact that they're red-exclusive shows the color's creative, freeform style well.
Green plays tango with the rest of the colors and takes flying and haste as the notable changes in its repitoire. Still, those few cards aside, the rest of green fits the color well enough, with land searching, drawing on creatures, and a very potent little Snake that's changed landwalk abilities. Is it too much for green? Is it out of its color? Well, not entirely; green is all about creatures, and nature, so why leave the birds and the flying behemoths out? Haste has been with us all along, but not as pronounced. Now it's green's chance to smash face when it hits the table.
Not much to say here--most of them are Slivers with old classic abilities attached to them, and Radha is in color and dripping with flavor. The real cards we want to talk about are the five new Tri-color Dragon Legends.
Are they broken? Well, looking at them, they're not really breaking any sort of rule for three-color Dragon Legends. People forget that a tri-color card is more than just the sum of its parts, and has an identity all its own. If you take into account the rest of the set's shifting, then you'll see that it's by no means a stretch for these dragons to do their thing.
This card is without a doubt the lonliest land I've ever seen on a card list, even above Temple of the False God. However, it is very in-color for black, both in and out of the Planar Chaos going on.
By now I'm sure most of you out there have already formed your opinion on Planar Chaos as is. Some of you think it's good, and that it should spell the future of Magic, some of you think it's god-awful and it should never have done what it did. I'm going to take a third angle, and I encourage you all to listen to it.
Planar Chaos is a set unlike any other before it. It changes the conventions of the colors without tipping the scale too far. It's a small set, so keep in mind that these cards, while powerful and splashy, make up for a very small percentage of what Magic is as a game. It would take a lot more sets like Planar Chaos to upset the color pie. This set just stirs it up a little, and then lets it alone. If you honestly look and play with the cards you'll see that white still has weenies and mass removal; blue still has counters and card advantage; black still has life loss and destruction; red still has burn and quick hasty critters; green still has fatties and mana acceleration. For thirteen years Magic has been like that, so it would take another thirteen (or more) for Planar Chaos to change that.
Planar Chaos has been a wild ride, but it's a one-set show.
What will Magic's future of the color pie look like? Time Spiral showed us what it looked like before. Planar Chaos showed us what it could have looked like. We'll see what it will become for sets beyond the block in Future Sight.
Thank you for your time, and I hope to be cracking my own foil Damnations soon enough.
By Christopher French on January 26th, 2007 · Filed in General Magic · Comments not available just now