Pattern Recognition #186 - Planar Chaos
4 March 2021
4 March 2021
Hello everyone! This is Pattern Recognition, TappedOut.Net's longest running article series as written by myself, berryjon. I am something of an Old Fogey who has been around the block quite a few times where Magic is concerned, as as such, I use this series to talk about the various aspects of this game, be it deck design, card construction, mechanics chat, in-universe characters and history. Or whatever happens to cross my mind this week. Please, feel free to dissent in the comments below the article, add suggestions or just plain correct me! I am a Smart Ass, so I can take it.
Many, many, many moons ago - actually, not that long, like less than two years - I talked about Time Spiral, the set in the lead up to Modern Horizons. It was an explanation of the set, that's for sure.
So, with the impending release of Time Spiral Remastered, a set that is all three sets of that block combined into one for optimization and drafting purposes, I decided to go back and talk a bit about the middle et of that block, the one that has caused most - but not all - problems for Wizards from that block.
As a quick recap, Time Spiral was a set about the Past. It was old cards reprinted, old mechanics pulled forward, and every card in the set was a reference to an older card in name and effect. Oh, and they actually reprinted old cards too on a special sheet just for added flavor!
Now, Planar Chaos' thing was the Present of Magic, the current state of the game and how it could have been and could be. That's a bit confusing. Let me try to break this down. First, and most obviously was a subject of Colourshifting, a subject that I have covered before. In these cases, Wizards took fourty-five cards that were existent in a certain colour, and reprinted them - but in an alternate colour that could just as easily been viable if the state of the game had changed even a little. Some, like Vampiric Link, were an early foretelling of changes that actually happened in the game (in this case, getting primary access to Lifelink), while others were logical choices, but were slowly phased out as the game evolved, such as Pestilence moving from to with Pyrohemia.
The other major flavor theme of the set was in presenting mechanics and abilities not normally found in each colour and experimenting with what they would look like in that colour. And this is where the long term headaches began.
I'll get back to this in a moment, as there is something else I want to hit up first, or rather, lastly.
Last, but not least, there were a cycle of Legendary creatures in the set that represented 'what might have been' for those individuals should things have turned out differently. This was more than just colour-shifting the cards in question, but rather they are the results of the story moving in a different direction than it actually wound up going and the knock-on effects of them all.
Oh man, I'm going to have to come back to them too, just after I get to the real fun stuff aren't I? OK, I can live with that, and I know you can too, after all, you're still reading this, right?
So, mechanics moved around. To start with, got Shroud - or for those of you who weren't around back then, sucky Hexproof because it also prevented you from targeting your stuff. Anyway, this was an alternate exploration of 's use of Protection, making it so that the Protection was in a different manner, but also serving as a sort of drawback in the process. Look, when Shroud got replaced with Hexproof, no one lamented the change, but given that is the colour of protection, WHY DO AND DO IT BETTER as they get Hexproof and not ? Huh?
Sorry, I just had to get that off my chest.
They also got Regeneration as a variation of their shared ability of and to bring stuff back from the graveyard by preventing them from going there in the first place. And while this and the previous moved ability is logical, the next one isn't so much.
got Mana Tithe. While also a colourshifted version of Force Spike, this card is more than just a counterspell. It's a representation of 's ability to Tax the game. Cards like Rule of Law, or Ghostly Prison demonstrate one of the more oppressive facets to 's play style, and when combined with , well, slow games happen. I should know, I've done that!
They also got self-bounce, a way to return creatures to their hand vis-a-vis Whitemane Lion. While known for their Flicker effects since the printing of Flicker and the like, this variation of the ability is stolen shamelessly from , but only affects their own stuff. Bounce and recast is slower and more inefficient than and outright Flicker effect, but does have the advantage of controlling when the creature returns to play, as well as the effects on the battlefield when it does.
got Vigilance, though this was more an extension of their Twiddle effects, allowing for creatures they control to uptap for a cost, such as with Horseshoe Crab. This just made it a static keyword, and not an activated ability for simplicities sake. Of course, this change would prevent large amounts of infinite loops, as anyone who has ever loved Freed from the Real or Pemmin's Aura can attest to.
This color also got access to direct discard effects, something that is typically in the realm of . The logic behind this decision, given the existence of Piracy Charm wasn't that you were forcing a player to discard directly, but rather manipulating the opponent's maximum hand size and forcing them to discard as a consequence. No, I don't buy it either, and it's definitely a stretch. Thankfully, this never got carried forward. I mean, yes, has messed with hand sizes before, but usually in the context of "Now you have no upper limit", rather than punishing others by reducing theirs.
stole 's Flowstone ability, the one found on cards starting with Bloodlust that gives a target creature +X/-X or -X/+X. While this sort of creature manipulation is already in colour for , it is usually in context of setting a new baseline, or more commonly, cards that force -X/-0 to the creature. Though I have to admit, Meishin, the Mind Cage is certainly a fun option when likes to keep its hand full.
But in reality, the most problematic change happened here. Pongify. Yes, that card. This set is the one that gave access to direct destruction of cards, taking away one of their vital weaknesses. Of course, Wizards defends this choice by saying that it's not really destruction, but rather a replacement effect. But if you wanted to do that, wouldn't a card like Kenrith's Transformation have been better? No? Look, on behalf of everyone who has ever enjoyed this set and this block, I apologize. Some things just shouldn't have been.
regained access to First Strike, a mechanic lost around the same time did as well, as they used to have cards like Black Knight (which would get reprinted into core sets after Time Spiral. It's a thing they can keep in their back pocket for emergencies, but it never really stuck around, unlike the next thing they gained. As I mentioned at the top, Vampiric Link, the version of Spirit Link became one of the core aspects to , to the point where sometimes I feel like gets it more often, while just does more with it and has more effects like Soul's Attendant.
took a page from 's book and experimented with direct control of an opponent's creature with Enslave. Now, the justification for this is that is usually pretty good at putting creatures into the graveyard, then pulling them out for their own use, who why not skip the middleman, the graveyard, and just steal something directly? I mean, sure, mechanically it works, but there's resource costs to keep in mind, such as usually requiring multiple cards and having more interaction steps that can disrupt the effort to steal something from someone else's graveyard.
Of course, they went right back into rummaging through 's tool box and experimented with forcing tap-downs on creatures through Midnight Charm or Rathi Trapper. Huh, I need to double check the Charms in this set, see if they are the modal "this could have been normal" cards. Let's see... here's the preview article, but that just talks about the glorious John Avon artwork. I think so, but again, I'd have to check. The reasoning for this was ... uh... you know what? I have no idea. Anyone in the audience want to chime in?
Finally, gets taken out back and mugged again, though this time they share that fate with in getting redirect effects. Kor Dirge, a colour shifted card, as well as Muck Drubb are my examples here, showing off how .... you know, I'm not sure about the reasoning here. Again. I mean, I can sort of see it as a case of "this is sacrificed for the good of someone else" being in effect here, an extension on cards in 's purview that harm in the process of helping. It's there, I think.
But yeah, spent most of this set stealing 's stuff and never gave back half of it.
Moving on, received 's anti-air effects, in the form of cards with Reach, like AEther Membrane and Needlepeak Spider, Dust Corona and the Tumble side of Rough / Tumble. And got 's stuff, which I'll get to shortly. No theming here, just the two colours trying on each other's ability for a bit to see if it fitted.
This set also was the first to introduce Trample to , something that honestly is so basic to the modern colour pie, that it only really started in this set is something of a Shock to me. Yes, they had Ball Lightning before, but this was more of an early-game exception, rather that the rule. It also didn't hurt that a few of these cards were also colour shifts, while Battering Sliver wasn't, nor was Fury Charm.
also experimented with bounce effects, something that was horribly out of colour, even in Planar Chaos. While Dead / Gone was certainly a thing that I like to put into my decks when legal for the look on people's faces when it happens, and Stingscourger did the effect as well. And it was promptly dropped after this set as it didn't work out. I still have no idea why though, as likes to remove threats permanently, rather than delaying them.
on the other hand, grabbed 's Flying, and while it's been in the colour since the beginning with Scryb Spites and Killer Bees, this was an attempt to see how it would look in a New World Order setting. Not well, and this experiment left and with an appreciation of their friend's strengths and weaknesses.
This set is also where first looked into officially getting Haste, again in a post New World Order world, something that nearly 15 years later, finally became a proper part of the colour pie. Groundbreaker for one, and Reflex Sliver for another. Yes, I know about Concordant Crossroads, but that was positively ancient, and it was a global effect, not just for the player of that card.
With Essence Warden, dipped a bit back into the same vein of cards that began with Stream of Life, asking what if this colour had kept Lifegain, rather than giving it up to for the most past? Well, they got this colour-shifted card, which synergizes well with the token generation aspect of the colour, that's for sure.
Wierdly, my source for this research indicates that this is where took over the ability of a colour to return a card from the graveyard to play. Normally the bulwark of , I call this out as not being right as we just had Dredge in Ravnica, and Reclaim was a thing. Sure, in that case, it went to the top of the library rather than to the hand, so I should have said Elven Cache instead. Yeah, not buying it. Moving on!
Oh yeah. This. The other thing that is the most regretted decision made by Rosewater with regards to this set. Harmonize. Right. Who thought giving access to pure card draw was a good thing? Anyone? No one is going to take responsibility for this card? The one that opened up the floodgates to other cards that basically made the best card drawing engine in the game? No one? Shame. I have words for you.
Now, I mentioned that I was going to talk about the Legendary cycle, and that's not the five Primordial Dragons. No, Planar Chaos was headlined in part by five legendary creatures that were more than just colour shifts of previous creatures. They were from a different story entirely.
But the real draws for me where the two alternate stories shown in two pairs of cards. First, Mirri, Cat Warrior became Mirri the Cursed and at the same time, Ascendant Evincar became Crovax, Ascendant Hero. In this version of events, rather than falling to Selenia, Dark Angel's death curse when he killed her by accident, it was Mirri who did the deed. This caused the vampiric curse to go to her, and she fell/jumped off the Weatherlight rather than be a threat to the rest of the crew. Wracked with (more) guilt at abandoning her on Rath, Crovax made a cloak from Selenia's remaining wing feathers, and stayed loyal to Gerrard. When Gerrard went to his destiny as the epitome of the Legacy Weapon, it was Crovax who rose to the challenge and led the armies of Dominaria against the invading Phyrexians. In the darkest hours of the Apocalypse, it was his leadership that turned the tide as Gerrard did his thing. Mirri, cursed, became loyal to Phyrexia and aided Volrath in the invasion, only to be struck down by Crovax himself, freeing the vampiric cat from her un-death.
The other interesting pair was in how Braids, Cabal Minion became Braids, Conjurer Adept and how this led in part to Akroma, Angel of Wrath becoming Akroma, Angel of Fury. You see, Braids in this timeline, instead of becoming a Dementia Mage and joining the Cabal, turned her power towards not Nightmares, but Dreams, becoming someone who brought forth the best in people, rather than their worst. Because of this, she was not the one who instigated the chain of events that led to the death of Ixidor, Reality Sculptor's love. Rather, while she still died, the nature of her death led Ixidor into a more ... angry approach to what he considered his retribution. Instead of focusing more on what he saw in her pureness and righteousness, he created a Angel to channel his fury.
These are the other stories that could have been told, and that is the story of Planar Chaos. That drop of randomness and yes, chaos, that has spread throughout Magic since then. Some things have become the everyday, while others are forgotten. We'll never get another set like this again, I assure you. But the mark it left was undeniable.
Join me next week when I finally bite the bullet and start one of my long term plans, one that I've been laying the groundwork on with my articles here for years now.
Until then please consider donating to my Pattern Recognition Patreon. Yeah, I have a job, but more income is always better. I still have plans to do a audio Pattern Recognition at some point, or perhaps a Twitch stream. And you can bribe your way to the front of the line to have your questions, comments and observations answered!