Oversized Threats: Optimizing Planechase

Editor’s Note - I’ve linked the cards into the title of each plane, if you highlight the title the plane should appear.  I did resize some of the planes and put them into the article for emphasis.

We’re about an hour into our Chaos multiplayer game, and we’re Planechasing it.  Our playgroup is a big fan of Planechase, but we’ve abandoned the idea that specific sets should go with preconstructed decks.  Instead, we’ve mashed up all our planes into one massive 50+ card Communal Deck, customized for fun and balance factor.  Currently, we’re slumming it on Mirrodin, in the  vast expanse of the Glimmervoid Basin

At the moment, there are four players left standing – Vlad is running a 60 card, four color casual deck that  runs Tamanoa and damage dealing effects to secure a high life total.  I’m playing my own Green/Black Commander deck (my EDH general is shuffled in). Peter isn’t really prepared for the long game with his 60 card Vampires, and Ian is playing a 60 card U/R deck built around Wee Dragonauts that really isn’t built for multiplayer matches, but he’s doing his best.  We’ve been trying to knock out chunks of Vlad’s life total with varying degrees of success…


Vlad’s turn.  He draws and casts a very timely Lighting Helix, and since it’s multiplied by Glimmervoid Basin, the Tamanoa carries him into into a rather fat life total of 99.


Vlad decides he’s finished sucking away all all our life and passes the turn to Ian.


Ian untaps Gelectrode and Dragonauts (alive only because of Clout of the Dominus)  , draws for his turn, frowns, and picks up Glimmervoid Basin for a bit.   You can tell that he wants to do the math but he’s not really up for it.  He shrugs his shoulders, and puts Glimmervoid Basin back down.
Ian announces “Fire” (of Fire/Ice). (with one target for the two damage)

Twincast it …. and…

Twincast it.
After doing all the math,, there are 42 copies of Fire on the stack.

This allows Ian to activate Gelectrode 43 times, wiping out both Peter and myself, and knocking down Vlad enough to finish him with a 88/6 Dragonaut.

The Case for Planechase

Planechase can certainly be an interesting beast – on the one hand it can create some absurd  game states but on the other hand it can be a huge amount of fun.  While our playgroup didn’t find the deck-specific plane set up that Wizards sold us all that interesting, the Communal Deck optional format proved itself as  a much needed equalizer to multiplayer when decks misfire or a deck starts to rule the casual circle.  By slowing down the game at points it can help mana light players get to the mana they need, or provide a random, huge boost to an underdog deck. In addition, planes can allow for political maneuvering where the effect can be used to hinder the most threatening player on the board.


One criticism about Planechase is that it can make your multiplayer games a bit slow.  Honestly, your mileage may vary.  I would hazard a guess and say, depending on the planes you wind up with, it can add anything to half an hour to an hour to your average four player game, or even more if you’re playing EDH with a full 40 life.

One fix for this has been to make the “free” roll mandatory every turn.  This does two things – for one, people can’t plan on sandbagging on a deceleration plane for too long. Secondly, it reinforces the idea that a player MUST roll every turn, so that people don’t randomly forget to roll.

Speaking of customizing the play experience – I’ve been hunting for the various promo planes on the net, and they tend to be a little difficult to find.  Since I’m on the various online stores anyway,  I decided to pick up extra copies of the planes I like and lead to serious tweaks to the Communal Deck. For example we have an extra Celestine Reef in the deck which has created some hilarious situations, (Let’s roll off the Reef into… Reef?!)  but the sky is the limit on how any particular group would want to customize the deck.   There’s even software online that allows you to build your own planes, if you wanted to go that route.


Even if you only have the original planes, you can break them down into four basic groups – Acceleration, Deceleration, Finishers, and Miscellaneous.

Acceleration Planes at a glance

These planes are the meat and potatoes of the Planechase experience.   I think everyone can agree that it’s cool to see your deck operate in “turbo mode” sometimes.  The effects are strong, but fair – on a related note one of the criticisms we had of the Archenemy set was that some of the cards were just ridiculously over the top, and that sort of thing just doesn’t happen here – after all, even if you managed to get a free spell or extra turn, it’s just a likely that someone else might get the same effect – thus it’s still important to maintain and manipulate your political ties.

On to the planes:

Eloren Wilds

Your classic mana flare plane.  Everyone loves the flare, and  it also creates an interesting game state where YOU would like to take advantage of the flare but you also don’t want your neighbor to get it  The Chaos ability is a little mismatched, because if someone can’t cast spells, they’re just going to spend all that mana on getting off the plane.


Feeding Grounds

I tend not to like asymmetrical planes that give one particular color or deck type a boost to the exclusion of everyone else – I wouldn’t want more than one of these, if any, in my Planechase deck.

Horizon Boughs


The static ability does create some interesting attack decisions since creatures get pseudo-vigilance.  And the chaos land searching is absolutely huge, though it may create some monsters, kind of like dropping a mega sol ring out before anyone can do anything about it.

Krosa

Since all creatures get the bonus, it doesn’t really change the game state except for those players who have little or no defense (who will then be much closer to dying next turn. ) The chaos is really solid, you really feel like you hit the jackpot when you get it, but it balances out since you usually have to commit a permanent to the board as a result.

Llanowar

Most  times this plane’s been a blank for us.  Multiplayer, especially EDH, doesn’t really support hordes of dudes to abuse this unless they are a green token deck, which is really the last deck that needs the extra mana.


Minamo

The chaos favors blue, but the core ability is great.  Like Eloren, everyone loves drawing cards.  You could change the Chaos to allow any player to get any nonland permanent back (we haven’t done it yet, but I’m sure it would be fine.)


Murasa

Both abilities are good – if you have a creature, you’re getting ahead, and if you don’t happen to have a creature, Murasa will give you a solid man that’s good on offense, or you can change a pesky nonbasic into a guy and kill it.

Naya

Favors a color, and the main ability can push one player too far ahead, or do nothing at all if the plane shows up late. This plane is probably cut.

Panopticon

Howling Mine plane makes everyone happy.  Nothing to complain about here, but then nothing super splashy either.


Pools of Becoming


Lots of insane stories from this plane – it’s an interesting take on Randomness –  Whereas Mirrored Depths is a griefer’s view of  randomness (Will anything you do actually work?), Pools of Becoming creates a far more interesting decision tree (if I don’t use it now, I’ll lose it, so I might as well cast it.)  The Chaos is totally insane and elicits so many emotional responses –  from groans to cheers to collapsing into fits of laughter.  (Okay, I have no hand size limit… then I draw cards equal to the number of lands I control?  AWESOME!  Then I…  discard my hand?! FUUUUUUUUUUU!)

The Aether Flues

Polymorph plane is great, though I notice many players (especially new ones) will pass on the trigger because they don’t really understand how it works.   They just see a big wall of text and figure they’re safer not doing anything.  Too bad for them!


The Maelstrom


Possibly broken depending on the deck –  I’ve seen turn one Emrakuls into play.. but it’s a good story when it happens.  No one is ever sad to see this, it’s just a great Timmy plane overall.

Turri Island

It’s a modest card, and sometimes irrelevant. The 2 generic doesn’t always help you cast many creatures, and if you need to get a noncreature spell, Turri’s not much help to you. The chaos is solid though.

Undercity Reaches - Ophidian plane is pretty decent.  The chaos isn’t crazy, but it’s not horrible to have sometimes.  This plane is kind of a finisher plane as well since it encourages players to unturtle a bit.

Overall thoughts:

If could have to have doubles of any Acceleration plane, I’d go with The Maelstrom, Pools of Becoming, Panopticon, Eloren Wilds, and possibly  The Aether Flues. Horizon Boughs is really strong, and I would put another in if my games tend to go too slow.    The other planes are okay, but they either aren’t truly symmetrical or strong enough to make me want to have more than one. Feeding Grounds and Naya are out of the deck entirely.

Deceleration Planes at a glance:

In some ways you could argue that the deceleration planes are the worst part of Planechase – they just make the game last longer – but I’ve noticed that there are certain types of players that  enjoy turtling behind the cover of a plane, or enjoy using the breathing room it gives them to set up their combos.

Agyrem

Agryem makes combat a mess, since  it rarely gives anyone a reason to attack.  And it favors white too boot.  The Chaos is pretty irrelevant since everyone (except for the white player) wants to move on to more interesting pastures.  We’ve seen this do some silly things with [cardTeysa, Orzov Scion[/card as well.  For the moment it stays in, but we could probably figure out a better effect for it (global creature reset?  Bubble Matrix?)

Celestine Reef


What an effect. Half the time it elicits groans and the other half it has its own cheerleading squad.  In any case, here’s the insidious game mechanics at work – if you’re the player in the lead, you want off the plane because you can’t attack – so instead of developing you’re trying to roll off the plane.  But every other player is going to defer their rolls, because they want to draw into their mass removal or their own bombs. So instead of playing Planechase, we just take a long vacation on the [cardCelestine Reef[/card until someone resets the board or the strongest player rolls us off of it. Considering the game condition it creates, the chaos ability just seems tacked on (or maybe it’s there to stymie the skies players who’d like to abuse the plane)
(This has been fixed somewhat by forcing the chaos at least once during a turn.)

Fields of Summer

The first ability isn’t that bad. It’s the chaos that can just make the game longer than it needs to be – or maybe it’s just my group, but we always get thirty or forty extra life added the game which makes the game that much longer.

Goldmeadow

Not a Celestine Reef, but it does gum up the ground game for a bit.  People in my playgroup love the Goat Plane and we’ve got a stack of goat tokens to go with it.  My favorite story of this plane was watching thirty-some-odd goats get made among all the players, then the Planechase went to Velis Vel, where a massive Goatacalypse ensued.

Immursturm

I guess this could be a finisher plane, but often times it just turns all your creatures into 187s for whatever is the most annoying creature on the board, creating a massive political chain reaction until you’ve nothing left but scorched earth and the desire to move on to another plane.


Mirrored Depths


Possibly one of my least favorite planes from a design perspective.  Essentially you have a lot of text in the text box, which in short says “It’s not worth casting spells here, so it’s a better use of your time to move to the next plane.” I’ve also heard other opinions about it being a semi-prison plain (like Winter orb or Armageddon) – whoever is ahead already will probably finish out the game at this point.


Raven’s Run

More for the chaos – the Wither usually isn’t much of a game changer, but the incremental blight is always solid.  (Might be CRAZY good if the wither was changed to infect, but I’m not that brave)


Sanctum of Serra


As awesome as this plane is, if you’re playing multiplayer you probably have enough sweepers by default.  I like having one of it in the deck, because it gives losing players something to roll for (if I can just get to Sanctum of Serra and roll off it, I’m still in this game!) – but I don’t think I could handle multiples, as it would slow the game down too much.  And it’s kind of like Celestine Reef or Mirrored Depths where no one wants to play anything into it.


Sea of Sand

Yes, there is life loss here, but the chaos is a basically a timewalk against whoever is in the lead, and the life gain doesn’t hurt either.  for EDH decks you’re about 40 lands anyway.

Skybreen

Sometimes does nothing, other times stops the game entirely.  You’ll never kill anyone with this plane, unless it hits early, but an early skybreen can just put the breaks on the game, and the more players you have, the more obnoxious it gets.

The Eon Fog

Another groaner –  You just want to get off this plane as soon as possible, but it does create some interesting stories.  The chaos is perfectly balanced against the ability though.


The Fourth Sphere


Dislike. Someone blew the chance to have a functional Abyss plane, and instead decided that everyone except the black player gets screwed.  Probably the best example of an asymmetrical plane, because you lose so much.  At least with The Dark Barony you have to roll chaos and it doesn’t affect you.   The zombie is even more of an insult, since you can’t sacrifice it.  I’ve since errata’d this so it works like The Abyss.  It’s not like black creatures don’t get recycled (Reprocess, ironically enough, which is what the art for the plane is based on)


The Hippodrome

Usually this is enough to stop most decks in their tracks, and the chaos is great for political hits on players who’ve gotten too far ahead.  This is a great plane mechanically, unlike the Reef everyone’s motivated to risk rolling out, since they can possibly kill a general or some other annoying monster here.

Overall thoughts:

I enjoy the two Celestine Reefs already, and on reflection I don’t see any reason not to add another Hippodrome. Mirrored Depths is definitely out though..  Everyone loves Goldmeadow, so that’s another possibility, at least for my playgroup. And like I said, I’m putting errata on The Fourth Sphere.

Finisher Planes

I had an interesting discussion with a few weeks ago about what I call the Finisher planes – personally I love them, because they speed the game up, but my friend didn’t find the experience of dying to a plane very fun, since it’s out of your control.  In my humble opinion, I think they’re probably the most exciting thing about the game, since they put a clock on everyone, they force players into making commitments, and ultimately they make for great stories.

Cliffside Market


Technically it’s a miscellaneous plane, but it’s a great way to turn a totally dominant player into a throw rug.  Plus hilarious political hijinx interactions.  Sometimes it’s actually best to NOT go after the highest life total, or even the second highest life total.

Glimmervoid Basin

I think the story above says it all, and the chaos ability helps with balancing out the game.

Lethe Lake

We had a concern that 60 card decks would be disadvantaged when playing against 100 card decks, but what tends to happen is that the highlander deck gets hit with the chaos every time, which balances things out.  Love this plane, since it creates a lot of anxiety as people try to escape it, or find some gem in their yard to reanimate and win.

Naar Isle

This is the plane my friend specifically had an issues with, but I ADORE the Hot Potato plane.  At first no one pays any attention to it, and there’s always the revenge factor of people just handing off the plane to their neighbor so they take a few points – but what if it comes back around and gacks YOU for 6 or 10?   I like card decisions that create tension, and Naar Isle is famous for this.  This card can and will result in a TPK, so I’m not sure if I want to have more than one in the deck though.

Shiv

This plane is much more for the chaos, as 5/5 red dragons tend to end games pretty quickly. The core ability is nothing to write home about – to be honest, I’ll probably errrata this to read “all creatures have 2: +1/+0” on top of the base red ability. –   I’ve played mono red decks in Shiv and never used the ability, probably since those decks are already pretty mana hungry,  but in any case I don’t see an issue giving everyone dragon enginebreath.

Sokenzan

Haste has a subtle effect of getting people to go in the red zone when they otherwise wouldn’t, because they know they won’t always get the chance to sneak attack people.  The promise of a chaos fueled Alpha Strike right afterwords doesn’t hurt either.  This plane is worded perfectly since there’s no way to benefit from it without taking the plunge.  Just perfect.


Stronghold Furnace

I’ve had several games end on this plane.   Not much to write home about.  It’s crazy, but it’s symmetrical and has never created a complaint.  The chaos ability is useful as well.

Tazeem


I have two of these – Tazeem is definitely a monotony breaker and punishes the Fortress McDoNothingPants players (usually me) by letting an army in through the gates for the finishing blow. The chaos is totally over the top.  I can’t believe that it’s commanding the price that is on Starcity – none of the other planes even come that close, and I got mine for free since my store had a bunch of extras lying around.

Overall thoughts:

Two Tazeem: check. Furnace seems like a solid, if blander pick, and maybe another Glimmervoid.  Shiv errata’d.

The Miscellaneous planes

These planes don’t  necessarily  move the game in any particular direction but that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be in your Planechase deck.

Academy of Tolaria West

The core ability doesn’t seem that relevant, but the academy can depants you pretty quickly – dropping your hand of gas by accident because you don’t find the plane that interesting tends to happen once or twice.  In the long run, you’re almost never motivated to roll because usually your hand is better than the next seven, bird in the hand and all that.  Sometimes it works out, though.


Bant

The core ability usually only helps token planes, and it’s asymmetric.  The worst part about this is that the chaos isn’t optional, and it doesn’t make sense that as the controller of the effect, you might be forced to hand out indestructiblity to your opponent’s creature.  At the same time, the ability is cool.  Maybe reword to a “may” and be able to give thetoken to any creature.

Grixis

Asymmetric but fair.  I don’t want more than one but at least the chaos does something.

Isle of Vesuva

Good all around plane that everyone likes. You can hand out tokens to all the players that are behind, and it kills Commanders as well.

Izzet Steam Maze

The main ability just pales next to Glimmervoid, and the chaos is pointless most of the time. This is a pretty easy cut.


Otaria

A Grixis for spells, and the extra turns are awesome.  Good story telling plane, like the time I used it to get two attacks and take out two players, or how I started three lands ahead of everyone else on my first turn.

Tember City


Another hard to find plane, it’s a strange  cross breed between a finisher plane (life loss) and Deceleration Plane (wrecks permanents).   It’s a good package – it’s strong, but it doesn’t have an overwhelming effect on the game like the other promo planes tend to have. (those are Reef, Tazeem, Mirrored Depths, and Horizon Boughs)  You can plan around it, and in Commander games the life loss it pretty marginal.


The Dark Barony

Like the Fourth Sphere, if you take out the word Nonblack, I’m of the opinion that it would be a much more interesting plane, but I’ve left it the way it is

The Great Forest

Kind of a snoozefest – Neither of the abilities really justify running this plane.

Velis Vel

Could be jank, or it could cause the Goatacoalypse.  It’s worth its inclusion, but it makes people do a lot of math.

Overall thoughts:

The Great Forest and Izzet Steamvents are out.  Vesuva and Otaria[card]are pretty cool so maybe doubles of those.  And errata on the [card]Dark Barony.

Chasing into the Unknown

As I mentioned earlier, there’s really no limit to what you can do with the format – If you can get your hands on the correctly sized sleeves, you can make proxy planes, or you could even insert some Archenemy cards into the stack for some interesting effects.  I hope that by writing this I’ve inspired some people who were on the fence to check out this product, or reignited a player’s  passion for this often overlooked and under-appreciated format.
If you’ve enjoyed this article or this format, or if you have your own stories about it, or if you’ve made your own tweaks or planes, feel free to chime in on the comments section.

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