“Ferrett’s at a multiplayer event?” said my friend. “Who would have thought?”
And it’s true, I did go out for the Planechase release party. Though I haven’t been playing much multiplayer lately; between an emergency appendix surgery, some non-emergency gum surgery, my stepfather dying, and my Dad coming to town to visit, my schedule has been too packed to multiplay.
So I was eager to get out there and tussle it up with the new Chaos â€” er, I mean Plane cards. I wanted to see whether this new twist would resound with multiplayers around the world, or whether it’d just be some barely-played variant like Vanguard.
First off, let’s talk about the goodness of the planes:
- The art is gorgeous. Wizards really took advantage of the bigger size to have the artists knock themselves out; it was a pleasure to turn each card over.
- The mechanics are very well done. At first, we muffed the rules and played it like it was chaos multiplayer (mandatory roll at the beginning of every turn), and the games were too chaotic; with a new effect coming in every other turn, there was no ability to plan. But when we re-read the card and started playing it the way it should be played, it was semi-chaotic.
- The optional die roll means that you have a nice tension between playing nice (let your neighbor get your hands on that Naya, thus letting him get his first four land drops on turn 1) or nasty (roll your way out of it to be the only one with four lands out in the early game, but take the heat of being the biggest target).
- The ability to keep rolling at the expense of board development also adds a lot of strategy. People were winning or losing based on how often they chose to roll, which meant that unlike normal chaos multiplayer, skill still counts.
- The planes themselves are nicely tricky; some of them have synergies that aren’t readily apparent at first. All of them made a difference in game play, forcing us to shift our strategy to adapt to them. Of course, like any chaotic addition to the game, there will be times that a plane flipping over steals a validly-worked lead or hands the weakest player a dumb win â€”Â but if that really bothers you, then you wouldn’t be buying the planes in the first place. But you’ll be happy to know those effects are minimized.
- The flavor of the planes is outta sight. It really does make you feel like a Planeswalker, so score for Vorthos.
- I suspect it’ll be a lot of fun to try to match a good, custom-built Constructed multiplayer deck with a set of planes. I think it’ll be fun for all the Johnnies out there.
And the badness:
- The decks that came with the sets were really bad. I generally like the preconstructed decks, but the decks that came with the Planechase boxes were designed for big, splashy plays â€”Â and almost no instant-speed outs. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for laying down the thunder, but when you’re facing a 14/14 trampling Living Hive (thanks to a Chaos roll on Feeding Grounds) and all you have in your deck to match it is sorcery-speed effects, then you are going to lose. Out of the four decks, there were only three cards in all four decks that could handle that â€”Â the Black “Zombie Empire” deck had Cruel Revival and Hideous End, and the “Strike Force” deck had Order/Chaos (and arguably Captain’s Maneuver, if you had sixteen mana open). For a set that encourages multiplayer games, the sample decks sure as heck didn’t really encourage you to interact with each other â€” you do almost everything on your own turn, then wait for other players to attack you and hope you don’t die. Not good.
- Likewise, my impression was that the Zombie deck was overpowered â€” despite the fact that the weakest player by far was playing it, it almost destroyed us if we didn’t gang up on it. Between comparatively copious removal, life gain, Beacon of Unrest, and the terrible power of Shepherd of Rot (no, really), it was all we could do to stomp it down. (And yes, we played all four decks in about six different games, so I did see all of them in action. Though, admittedly, it’s a small sample size.)
- The planes themselves made a difference, but it was all too easy for us to agree sure, this is a pretty good place, let’s stay here. On average, the planes made it nearly two turns around a five-player board unless it was someplace lethal like Naar Isle or someplace irritating like The Eon Fog. That made the planes, well, a little homey for me. I would have actually liked a little more chaos.
In the end, I think Planechase is a vital experiment, and I’ll probably try to encourage players to give it a shot the next time I manage to get folks over. But ultimately, I’m not sure how fun it is for a long-term game; it’s the Goldschlager of Magic, fun for a couple of enjoyable shots before you return to your whiskey and beer. I’m not seeing anything so compelling that everyone would jump onto it.
I could be wrong; after all, I haven’t seen what happens when we play them in conjunction with our normal decks (and not the handicapped precons). I’ll play a little further, and let you know later on. But my preliminary impression is that I can’t see this really taking off to the point where a year later, a large percentage of multiplayer tables will still be going, “Man, we only play with Planes!”
That said, let’s give some feedback on the Planes that I interacted with the most (or least!) profitably:
Academy At Tolaria West
Actually, assuming you’re low on cards, it’s often worth it to roll, roll, roll your way out of this one. There are, as of now, no cards that can force a planeshift at instant speed â€”Â so while people have been taught (rightfully) that a One with Nothing effect is terrible, think of this more as, “Skip one main phase to draw seven cards.”
This card is surprisingly dangerous to navigate away from in the early game. What happened was this: the first player (a R/G guy, not surprisingly) laid a Mountain and cast a Smokebraider. The second player, trying to get to a plane that was more advantageous to him, rolled chaos â€”Â and discovered the effect is not optional. So whoops, he just gave his opponent a free +2/+2, permanently.
So if you have no creatures, trying to get out of the Feeding Grounds is potentially lethal. Be cautious!
Also a dangerous one to try to move away from when you have no creatures. If you have to Flicker one of your opponents’ big men, he can use it to hit you in the face something fierce. He might not, but why chance it?
I have to applaud the mechanic on this one: it’s a large game of chicken, wherein everyone determines just how much damage they can take. I, being conservative, wanted to move away stat; the other players sat back and said, “Well, Peter screwed me by not trying to escape Naar Isle, so I’ll just hope it gets back around to him.” Hilarity ensued as I took six damage.
Like a lot of the more chaotic effects, I’m not sure if you can use this to your best effect strategywise, but it sure is fun to watch other people burn.
Ludicrously unfair on turn 1. Also makes you a ludicrously large target on turn 1. Oh, it’s tempting to cast that Forgotten Ancient on the first turn, but you’re probably better served by using all those extra lands to navigate away instantly so that no one else has access to it. Or, perhaps, you let it stay in play as a political gesture, trying to spread the love so you’re all on even footing (and so people don’t annihilate you). A rather nice card.
Who doesn’t love a Howling Mine? Well, me, for one. But even though I don’t like giving out card advantage to my opponents (which means that yes, being a selfish jerk, I tried to navigate away instantly), it’s probably going to be a popular plane.
Sea of Sand
Another example of excellent design, you can not only screw your opponent by Excommunicating his biggest dude, but then you force him to take three on his next draw step. (Assuming the Sea sticks around, of course.)
More games seemed to be lost (or won!) by this plane in play. Haste has always been a ludicrously powerful mechanic in multiplayer, and granting all your critters +1/+1 ensures a lot of power on the battlefield. If you’re under ten life, this one can spell your doom instantly.
Predictably, if it wasn’t Sokenzan destroying idle players, then Stronghold Furnace was using its Furnace of Rath effect to absolutely annihilate folks. Another “power” plane, if such a thing can be said, although like most of the planes it can turn against you at a moment’s notice.
However, they were also kinda dippy. “You got three chaos rolls in a row!” they griped. And it’s true, while under The Eon Fog, I did manage to dominate the battlefield with a smidge of luck. But while they were like, “Ooo, I don’t want to tap a land, it won’t untap,” I was using every single one of my free lands to roll again. Hence, I had like three rolls to every one of theirs. No wonder I was getting someplace.
If you’re in the Fog, roll your buns off to get out. You will eventually, or you’ll luck out with the chaos. Just go with it, man.
Absolutely killer with any swarm deck composed of token-style weenies (generally Kithkin, Insects, Elves, or Saprolings) â€” though just like its cousin Coat of Arms, it can bite you in the butt if you’re not careful.