Among other things, Magic Con Philadelphia gave us our first taste of what players can expect from March of the Machines. We have dual-faced Praetors who are also sagas, we have legendaries showing traditional enemies banding together to oppose the Phyrexian invasion…
Oh. And Planechase is back.
My eyebrows shot up when I saw the weird landscape cards mixed in with the Magic Con Philly spoilers. I’ve seen Planechase cards before, but that was last printed something like 11 years ago. Well before I started playing Magic. What new nonsense is WotC throwing at me THIS time?
The background: What is a plane?
The multiverse of Magic: The Gathering is comprised of myriad planes. These are separate worlds with unique cultures, biology, magic systems, and ecology. Like the name says, Planeswalkers can move between these planes. Some Planeswalkers use this power for good. Many abuse their gift for evil. Traditionally, MTG sets focus on a single host plane: most recently Mirrodin/New Phyrexia. March of the Machine promises to break that pattern as it follows the Phyrexian assault on the multiverse.
So we chase the planes?
Planechase is its own format, though “subformat” might be a better term. It is designed for groups, but can be added on to any 60+ card game. Planechase isn’t necessarily singleton or 60 cards. If the spirit moves you, you can add a Planechase deck to anything from kitchen table to CEDH. All you need are 10 planar cards for each player and no more than 2 phenomenon cards per player. You can choose to either have a shared Planechase deck or individual decks. You will also need a special Planechase die, a d6 with four blank faces, a Planeswalk face and a Chaos face. Or you could just use a d6 and assign specific numbers to Planeswalk and Chaos.
During their main phase, a player MAY roll the Planechase die. May, not must. Very important. Rolling is sorcery speed, and while the first roll is free subsequent rolls have an additional one colorless for each extra roll. (The second roll costs 1, the third costs 2, and so on.). If the Planeswalk symbol comes up, the current plane is bottomed and the next in the deck becomes active. If the Chaos symbol comes up, the current plane ‘s chaos effect goes off.
The player whose roll triggers Chaos MUST use that effect. It could hurt you, it could help you, but it must go off. That said, Chaos is considered a triggered effect and does use the stack. This means that cards like Wash Away and Defabricate can counter the trigger. You can Stifle the trigger. With how crazy some Chaos effects are, it may be worth burning a counter on it.
Planechase and March of the Machine
Planechase cards are being included with the March of the Machine Commander precons. That much we know. We have seen a few of these planes, but not enough to judge if we’re getting a full new set of cards or just a small supplement to the existing Planechase settings. MagicCon Philly showed us a Kamigawa card playing with Modified and a Dominaria card that amps tokens. We also got a (reprinted) Phenomenon card that looks pretty cool. Phenomenon is a lot like Chaos in that it’s a one-time effect. Of course, Chaos can keep getting triggered if you hit on Chaos more than once before Planeswalking. Not so with Phenomenon. Most cards, once their Phenomenon effect is triggered, state you then Planeswalk away. In other words, ditch the Phenomenon and turn another Planechase card face up.
Flavorful or Flavor Fail?
As flavor goes, Planechase is on the Strawberry spectrum. It’s not vanilla, like Coven, which is there and okay and doesn’t add much to the game. And it’s not chocolate, like Adventure, that adds a lot of value and unique gameplay interactions. Fortunately, Planechase doesn’t go all the way to Pistachio like Initiative. It doesn’t overcomplicate and warp the entire game.
Planechase is strawberry. A lot of people like it, or are at least okay with it. Some people hate it, sure, but those people probably only like one or two flavors of ice cream anyway. As something that tries to capture the power and experience of Planeswalking, it does an okay job. I’ve never actually played a game that used a Planechase deck, so I have no idea how to feel. It feels completely tacked-on and unnecessary to me, but without seeing more of the product it’s hard to say how it fits into the bigger picture.
And there you have it. Planechase is back, fam! Now you know what they’re talking about so much on social media. And don’t forget: March of the Machine releases at your FLGS on April 21, 2023.