Planechase, Magic’s latest casual format, came out a few months ago, but it took me this long to find some people and play a few games. This updated version of the old Vanguard rules is an unpredictable trip through Magic’s many planes.
Each Planechase pack costs $20 (or less), comes with a 60 card deck, a special six-sided die and a deck of ten oversized plane cards. The play decks included in the initial four sets are good casual decks — they have a lot more rares than most pre-constructed decks, they draw from a wide variety of sets going back quite a few years, they have some big splashy spells and creatures, and they generally include only one or two copies of a given card. If nothing else, you could have a lot of fun playing these decks against each other even without the Planechase rules.
The Planechase stuff adds so much bizarre randomness to the game, though. Each plane card represents a location on one of the Magic’s magical planes. Llanowar, pictured above, is pretty straightforward, but some of them are strange realms with esoteric effects (like no one ever having an untap phase). At any given point in the game, only one plane card will be active, with one effect that continually affects all players.
During her turn, a player can roll the special die, which has one planewalk symbol and one chaos symbol. If the chaos symbol is rolled, an additional special ability on the plane card is activated, a one-time use that affects the player that rolled. If the planewalk symbol is rolled, the current plane goes away and the next one in the pile is turned face up. All the players take a trip to another place altogether. You can roll additional times per turn on a sliding scale mana cost (the first roll is free, second costs 1, third costs 2, etc.).
All the randomness obviously makes for a very casual format — there are times where you’ll win or lose totally based on a lucky die roll or by tripping to a new plane that sets you up for the win. It still makes you think, though. Often, you’ll be on plane that’s very helpful to you, so you want to stay there. At the same time, the chaos effect might be incredibly beneficial. If you roll to get the chaos ability, there’s an equal chance you’ll end up leaving the plane entirely. Decisions, decisions. There are also timing issues to consider, since some plane effects will come into play at different times during your turn, or have vastly different results depending on whether you’ve already tapped your lands or attacked, for example.
You can get limited edition plane cards to juice up your planes deck at certain Magic events and tournaments (they gave one away at Zendikar prereleases, and at Planechase launch parties). Stop by trollandtoad.com and grab a Planechase set or three (they’ve got a holiday sale going on, too).