Jesse T: Hey there, planechasers! Welcome to volume 2 of our Planechase Anthology flavor review. In part one, we looked at half of the planes from the original Planechase, which is less than a quarter of the planes included in the Anthology, and only an infinitesimal fraction of all the planes in the entire multiverse. Today we’ll take a look at the rest of those classic planes, and share some of our knowledge, wisdom, and baseless speculation with you.
T: Otaria is the setting of Odyssey and Onslaught blocks, or as I like to call them, O-for-two. Ironically, the best thing to come out of a set that nobody really wants to remember was flashback. I assume the extra turn ability is a reference to Time Stretch, wisely eschewing the increasingly ridiculous slivers, squirrel tokens, and octopus people that inhabit the continent.
Jesse K: Otaria is a big continent with, honestly, not a lot of defining characteristics. It’s surprising to me that they went for this big, pushed out view to depict the whole thing, rather than visiting one of the few memorable locations, like Cabal. If you don’t remember Cabal, it was home to a variety of surgeons, patriarchs, and professional therapists. Just imagine Phyrexians but more upper-middle class, and not as scary looking.
T: This plane is fine, but it would be better if you could draw more cards somehow. The Panopticon was originally described by the 18th-century English philosopher Jeremy Bentham as a darksteel tower constructed by the mad golem Memnarch. Michel Foucault later criticized Bentham’s Panopticon, arguing that a golem could easily be corrupted by glistening Phyrexian oil, and an evil alien praetor such as Jin-Gitaxias could seize control of it. Foucault was summarily executed by the Phyrexians, and the tower was returned to its original intended purpose of reading our emails and watching us while we use the bathroom.
K: The Panopticon is notable for being the location from which Memnarch was able to monitor Mirrodin, as depicted in Eyes of the Watcher. It’s also notable for being the location in Magic most similar to the evil lair of a saturday-morning cartoon villain. I don’t know about you, but I can’t picture Memnarch not having a Krang voice.
T: The Pools of Becoming are part of Nicol Bolas’s bachelor pad. It’s important to note that bolas means “balls” in Spanish, making this plane translate as Meditation Realm of Balls, which is also how I frequently refer to my shower. This card has an interesting design that directly interacts with the planar deck in a novel way, but it may also make you regret buying those giant fuzzy planar dice.
K: I’m a little unclear on the nature of these ‘private planes’ that old-school walkers like Urza and Bolas seem to have cornered the market on. Did they just find them, floating abandoned in the Blind Eternities, and claim them? Are they created by some magical process? Or, are they, as I suspect, planes that formerly contained advanced, but not particularly hard-to-eradicate societies? Still, it’s a power play to erect an enormous monument shaped like your own horns that no one but you are going to see. That’s a lot of ego for a dragon planeswalker whose every plan seems to end in failure.
T: Shadowmoor, the dark sister plane of Lorwyn, is home to numerous hobgoblins, faeries, and Tim Burton films. If you look closely in the mists, you can see a pack of Shadowmoor’s cloven-hooved elves prowling through a forest of gnarled treefolk pubic hair. Remember to wash your hands thoroughly after a trip to Shadowmoor or you might end up with -1/-1 counters.
K: Ah yes, the twisted inversion of Lorwyn, where elves are dicks, kithkin are hideous looking, and faeries are endlessly annoying. Wait, how did the plane change again? Oh right, all the trees look gross and everything’s all slimy now.
T: Serra’s Realm is supposed to be an idyllic land without suffering, but I’ve seen plenty of Michael Serra’s movies, and suffered through the vast majority of them. After fighting off a Phyrexian invasion, Serra’s Realm adopted a militant zero-tolerance policy against corrupting influences, and wiping the slate clean is a good way to represent that mechanically for visiting planeswalkers. Serra is most famous for her iconic angels, and it’s a good thing, because otherwise it’d be anyone’s guess what those greyish smudges in the middle of the picture were supposed to be.
K: Although we’re never going back to this plane for obvious, planar collapse-related reasons, it’s a shame because I feel like there’s some unfinished business here. Namely, when will we ever get a Serra card? I thought for sure it would’ve happened in one of the supplemental products by now, but it seems less likely with each passing year. Eh, maybe I’m just a sucker for a good floating plains, and where else am I going to find that, Zendikar? No thank you, they’d just mess it up with a bunch of hedrons.
T: Play Oasis for bonus flavor! Play Desert for negative flavor. For those of you who missed our recent Arabian Nights flashback review, Rabiah is the setting of Magic‘s first and arguably most orientalist expansion. I’m sure you have lots of questions, and the answer to all of them is yes. The set is based on that Arabian Nights, and the plane is named after that Rabiah, making this the first place in the multiverse accessible via Emirates airlines.
K: This seems like a fun top-down design for a desert plane, making this the second time Arabian Nights has surprised me in a positive way. You’re in the dunes, desperately searching for water, getting closer to death every turn you don’t find it. You might think you’re having a fun, casual multiplayer experience, but that’s just a mirage.
T: Shiv, not to be confused with Shank, is the home of one of Magic‘s most majestic creatures, the Shivan Dragon. Most of these landscape paintings are breathtakingly gorgeous, but this giant pile of dragon dung is a notable exception. It’s cool that all of your creatures gain Firebreathing from Shiv’s Embrace, but it’s a bit of a flavor fail that the dragons lose it when they leave the plane. I guess that’s why knights usually fight dragons with swords. When you take the dragon out of Shiv, you take the Shiv out of the dragon.
K: I love how transparent the inspiration for many of these early Magic locations is. Like, clearly they just made up a bunch of proper nouns in Alpha and filled things in from there. Shivan Dragon was a popular card? Well, here’s Shiv, it’s got a lot of dragons. You like Serra Angel? You’re gonna love Serra’s Realm, there are tons of angels there. I’m surprised Fungusaur never got its own plane.
T: You can never have enough generic Norse fantasy worlds. Kaldheim, which literally translates to “Cold World”, is a location from one of the Duels of the Planeswalker games, which also features those ugly Core Set slivers that look like the Predator, and an inexplicable pop-punk theme song. Somehow, even with all of these abysmal design decisions, DotP still manages to have a better user interface than Magic Online.
K: Featuring an image too shrouded in snow to make any clear observations and a series of abilities that could be generously described as random, Kaldheim is a mysterious plane to be sure. It’s good to let your audience fill in the blanks sometimes, which brings me to my favorite plane, Blanksia, which has no art or abilities. You visit it every time you forget to bring your planechase deck to a game of Magic. Just let your imagination carry you away!
T: Sokenzan is a treacherous mountain range on Kamigawa, a plane inspired by a fictional location from ancient Eastern mythology known as “Japan”. Art and abilities don’t really line up here, as one depicts a peaceful montane sanctuary, and the other implies a sudden Relentless Assault. You’ll definitely want to keep quiet to avoid an avalanche, but that’s pretty hard to do when you’re getting attacked by a horde of bandits and ogres.
K: Remember how red’s thematic identity in Kamigawa was even divided between overcosted creatures and keeping things from entering graveyards? Boy those were fun little build-arounds for the players. Much like Kamigawa itself, this card is nice to look at, but probably has a pretty negative effect on the game overall. Remember, we’re playing EDH here, there’s no real reason to attack unless you’re winning the game with one giant creature. Let’s visit one of those nice durdle-friendly planes instead.
T: Rath is the setting of Magic‘s awkward adolescent years, when the creative team fumbled their way through the convoluted narrative of Gerrard and the Weatherlight. Over the course of six agonizing years, we eventually learned that Rath was an artificial plane created by the Phyrexians as a staging ground for the invasion of Dominaria. This storyline led to such unforgettable moments as Gerrard’s Command and Gerrard’s Verdict, based on that one time he gave an order, or made a decision. Despite all that, Furnace of Rath had a fun, swingy, symmetrical effect, and it’s a great choice for a casual format like Planechase.
K: That’s breakneck storytelling on pace with Mary Worth! And yeah Furnace of Rath was a cool card and all, but I do caution again that we’re going to a whole lot of planes today that are going to end the games very abruptly. On the one hand, maybe the randomness is an intentional and embraced element of this product, but I feel like a lot of people would lose to this plane coming up and then say, “Okay, can we play a real multiplayer game now?” Maybe this is why Planechase never really took off.
T: Tazeem is the umpteenth sort of jungly green location on Zendikar. It’s a good thing there are so many of them to spare, since the Eldrazi have turned most of them into chalk dust. An astute observer will notice those aren’t elves in the artwork, but merfolk. The planeswalker Tamiyo famously wrote of Tazeem in her books of collected poetry: “On the plane of Zendikar the moon is made of cheese. / Merfolk wearing underwear are flying through the trees.”
K: I like how the text on this card is a joke about the original Zendikar limited format. No one blocks here, this is Zendikar! It even taunts you with a bunch of cards you’re going to have in your hand when you die to a bunch of plated geopedes and steppe lynxes! An incredible callback to a fondly remembered experience.
T: Ulgrotha is the setting of the ill-fated Homelands expansion, which most players at the time didn’t even realize was a different plane from Dominaria. To make matters even more confusing, Ulgrotha and Dominaria both featured characters and locations with the exact same name. The Dark Barony is the part of Ulgrotha ruled by Baron Sengir, who is a real jerk. He sucks not only because of the terrible things he’s done to the people of the Barony, but also because he’s a vampire.
K: Sure his set was an unmitigated failure creatively and financially, but Baron Sengir was the card you were hoping for when you opened a pack of Homelands. He’s a fun character, and I don’t see why he shouldn’t make a comeback. The Magic version of The Addams Family would be right at home on Innistrad, and he could take advantage of Sorin’s current position (trapped in a wall), to unify the vampire clans there. Before you scoff and tell me it doesn’t make any sense, remember that the last time we went to Innistrad it involved the Eldrazi randomly showing up.
T: Equilor is the oldest known plane in the multiverse, dating all the way back to 1998. The plane is so old that it’s already completed whatever journey planes are supposed to make during their existence, and nothing really needs to happen anymore. There’s no more need to untap. It’s over. This must be the plane you go to after a game of Magic is finished, which I had always mistakenly believed to be Denny’s.
K: Glad they included this one in there, boy what a thrill ride. The players faces fill with joy when this card gets turned over. “Oh boy,” they say, “This game’s about to go crazy!” I guess one thing that’s good about this plane is that it depicts a ‘post’ state for the kind of plane-wide disaster we’re always trying to avert in Magic story-lines. Just think, the next time you’re bored of fighting Eldrazi, this is the outcome you’re trying to avoid: Stasis forever.
T: Phyrexia is the homeworld of Magic‘s greatest villains, a swarm of imperialistic interdimensional demon machines created by the dark lord Yawgmoth. Phyrexia comprises nine nested spheres, with the sanctum of Yawgmoth located at their center. This sphere is where Phyrexia’s nightmarish creations are born and perfected. The artwork captures this nicely, featuring creeping insectoid monsters and pulsating rivers of molten metal. The text box is covering up a horrible humanoid mouth gaping forth from the landscape, and mentioning 2/2 zombie tokens for some reason, so it kind of ruins the card in two ways.
K: Phyrexia’s metaphorical fourth sphere is where the audience sits. It’s also where the audience literally sits, having all been grafted to hideous fleshchairs. You definitely don’t want to ‘break the fourth sphere’ and look directly at them, because you’ll been overwhelmed with dread and nausea. It’s too bad that this card is our only representation of Phyrexia, because it’s such an interesting and under-developed locale. It’s a good, fairly flavorful representation nonetheless.
T: This forest is ok, but I don’t know about great. This is the home of Doran, the Siege Tower, and it grants all of your creatures his ability. The treefolk of Lorwyn have a rich and diverse culture, unlike Dominarian treefolk who are kind of boring and interchangeable. One notable exception to this is the race of Ironroot Treefolk, who reproduce through awkward treefolk sex. Seriously, read the original flavor text. It gives a whole new meaning to the word wood.
K: Jesse’s not kidding, oaks, ashes, poplars, even flowering and fruiting trees were represented. Lorwyn definitely has the best treefolk, whatever else you want to say about the set. Aside from Kithkin, and a very overpowered faerie tribe on the constructed side of things, I actually really liked that half-block. It was super pretty to look at and was a welcome break from the usual doom and gloom of Magic plots.
T: Segovia is a miniature plane, and it’s cute that all of your creatures Shrink when you planeswalk here. The artwork is beautiful, and it almost looks photo-realistic with the way focus racks through the middle-ground of the painting. Why your creatures randomly die sometimes while watching a chariot race is anyone’s guess. Maybe it’s because they’re outdoors, so they all drown in the normal-sized rain.
K: Honey, I shrunk the plane! To be honest, a physically smaller plane doesn’t seem all that ripe for interesting situations or stories. I mean, you clearly shrink when you go there, and everything else there is appropriately sized. How would you even know that things are smaller? What if our whole universe is just inside of a cell of a segovian leviathan?
T: What, no cascade? The Maelstrom is a chaotic storm at the center of Alara. If you’ve ever reached the boss of a Final Fantasy game before, you’re probably familiar with the concept. I like how the artwork is from a perspective where it looks like you’re both above and below the Maelstrom at the same time, which I’ll just assume is intentional out of good will.
K: Yeah, the Maelstrom was the final dungeon of Alara block for sure. So, like, what happened to Alara anyway? I know I could probably look it up, but just looking at the cards, I’d never know what happens. They do a great job of setting up the big world-ending catastrophe, but until recently there was a real lack of plot resolution in-game. Thankfully, they’ve started doing more of those story showcase cards, which helps a lot. We leave Zendikar Resurgent and Emrakul Imprisoned in the Moon at the end of the last couple of blocks. I can only assume that a giant baby comes out of the maelstrom and destroys everything in Alara’s exciting conclusion.
T: The atmosphere of Iquatana is mostly aether, so get ready to be really really high the entire time you’re there. It’s pretty sweet as long as you don’t get narced on, so don’t forget about the Narcomoebas. Not that you can.
K: Probably the vast majority of planes you walk to are just like this, where you pop out of your plane portal, and look around and are like “Yup, looks like the whole thing is just like this, I’m good,” and away you go. Surprised that no solipsist has turned this into his own private meditation plane, but the real estate’s there, and it seems like it’d be a good fit for Jace.
T: Turri Island is home to the Fomori, who are a race of giants from Irish mythology. In fact, all of the creatures on the plane of Ir are technically Irish. Turri Island has no airport, but it is accessible by a ferry from the mainland, making it yet another plane of the multiverse you can reach via the incomparable Emirates airlines. Fly Emirates: Hello tomorrow!
K: What kind of defining features would Ireland the plane have, I wonder? Obviously green would be strong. The mechanics and tiny bit of story here seem to imply that this is a giant-friendly plane, but much like Segovia, what would that actually mean? I guess I can imagine a cool scenario in which a group of planeswalkers has to fight their way out of a giant’s body, Magic Schoolbus style. It’ll be just like my fan fiction!
T: This looks like the Dimir part of the Undercity because the artwork is mostly black and blue, and all of your creatures turn into Shadowmage Infiltrators. Given that, I’d expect the chaos ability to have something to do with milling, or maybe vampire ghosts, but instead there’s this weird hand size ability that never even appeared in Ravnica. As if that’s not disappointing enough, despite copious Simic mutants, Ravnica’s sewers have never been home to a single ninja or turtle.
K: I like the hand size ability. It means you’ll always hold all the cards, just like my favorite memorable Dimir character… Any names escape me, but that’s the mysterious Dimir for you. A guild so dedicated to secrecy that they decided to have no playable constructed cards, just to stay out of the spotlight. Ravnica also continues to have the best land art, even in Planechase.
K: You know your card is gonna produce some confusing situations when you don’t have reminder text, but example text. Still, Coat of Arms make sense for the home of the shapeshifter tribe. Now that I think about it, the changelings and Velis Vel always seemed slightly slightly too disturbing, a bit out of place, for the storybook world. Just look at this image. It doesn’t even look like Lorwyn.
T: Oh no! Is Lorwyn going to be the next plane taken over by the Eldrazi? I think I detect signs of Kozilek’s presence in the unsettling regularity of the stone walls of Velis Vel. Normally the only unsettling regularity is those ugly baby-faced changelings (technically also Eldrazi!) returning here once a year. Speaking of returning, be sure to planeswalk back in two weeks for our full-on Kaladesh Block Flavor Awards Spectacular. See you then!
You can find Two Jesses on Twitter @TwoJesses.