Friday, 29 April 2022 09:05

Magic History: Remembering 'Planar Chaos'

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Magic History: Remembering 'Planar Chaos' WOTC/MAGIC UNTAPPED

Sometimes it's nice to look back and see just how far things have come since the early days of Magic: The Gathering.  To that end, we're bringing you a series of short videos that highlight Magic: The Gathering expansions throughout the years.

In this video, we take a look back at Planar Chaos, the middle set in the Time Spiral block.

You can check it all out in our retrospective video (below).

Video transcript:

In February of 2007, the second set in the Time Spiral block, Planar Chaos, came out.

Whereas its predecessor, Time Spiral, was all about the past, Planar Chaos was themed around the present – and not just the “now,” but an alternate “now” that could be.

The set symbol is that of two overlapping planes, meant to symbolize an alternate reality overlapping with our own (Magic-wise, that is).

The set’s story can be experienced by reading the Planar Chaos novel, written by both Scott McGough and Timothy Sanders, and takes place immediately after the events of Time Spiral with Teferi sacrificing his planeswalker spark and subsequent powers in order to seal the temporal rift above the continent of Shiv, allowing the phased-out continent to return to Dominaria safely.

Noticing Teferi’s weakened state, his companions, Jhoira and Venser take him to see the Shivan people known as the Ghitu.  Adept at fire magics and artifice, the tribe assist Venser in creating a new ambulator so that he and his friends may still traverse the globe in their efforts to seal Dominaria’s remaining rifts.

Using the new ambulator, Jhoira and Venser travel to Urborg in hopes to ask Lord Windgrace, the area’s planeswalker protector, for help. Teferi is, for now, left behind in Shiv.

Shortly after the pair’s arrival, however, they become separated.  Venser finds himself captured by Windgrace, the planeswalker having a violent disdain for technology and artifice.  Meanwhile, Jhoira encounters Jodah, – an ageless wizard not too different from herself.

The Archmage informs Jhoira that he has traveled to Urborg to confront a hundreds-year-old psychic vampire known as the Weaver King who, in the time before the Rathi overlay of Dominaria and subsequent Phyrexian Invasion, had sworn allegiance to the Phyrexian pawn, Volrath, the then-ruler of Rath.

Trapped in shadow within the Stronghold that appeared on Urborg during the overlay, the Weaver King had been filling his time creating psychic connections with the island’s inhabitants, influencing their actions.

While sadistic and insane, the Weaver King rarely lets things go unnoticed.  And this includes the arrival of Jodah and Jhoira, both of whom the shadow vampire take a keen interest.

The pair make their way to Lord Windgrace, but find the panther planeswalker less that willing to assist as he already has his paws full protecting Urborg from the flow of Phyrexians that are appearing from the local rift.  Seeking answers, Windgrace planeswalks to Shiv to seek counsel from Teferi.  The time mage deduces that these Phyrexians are coming from an alternate timeline – possibly one in which Yawgmoth succeeds in defeating and taking over Dominaria during the time of the Invasion.

Lord Windgrace then takes Jhoira, Venser, Jodah, and Teferi all to the Blind Eternities – basically the space between plains – and meet with Freyalise, another of Dominaria’s planeswalker protectors.

She confesses to the group that not only are Phyrexians appearing near her Skyshroud Forest, but an unnatural cold is beginning to set in.  Despite Teferi’s argument that everyone should work together to close the rifts and repel these threats, Freyalise and Windgrace decide to go their separate ways and deal with their respective rifts independently.

Freyalise, however, does request assistance from Jhoira.  Against Jodah’s objections, the elven planeswalker returns to Skyshroud with Jhoira at her side.  Windgrace then brings the rest of the group back to Urborg.

In Skyshroud, Freyalise shows to Jhoira that she has been able to temporarily take over the hive mind that controls the slivers in the area, using them as a short-term solution for beating back the Phyrexians that threaten the forest.  She then confesses that she has only but a fraction of her former power as she is growing increasingly exhausted trying to protect Skyshroud as the rift above continually saps mana from the land.

Seeking additional aid, she asks Jhoira if she would please venture to the Pardic Mountains region of Otaria and locate Radha, then ask her to return to Skyshroud.  Reluctantly, Jhoira agrees.

Back in Urborg, Jodah comes up with a plan to rescue Jhoira.  Enlisting Venser’s aid, the two use the artificer’s ambulator to teleport to Skyshroud.  As they attempt to do so, however, the Weaver King activated the psychic connection he had established in the Urborg native’s mind and uses it to tag along.

Once in Skyshroud, he makes himself known and quickly takes psychic control of both the area’s Phyrexian forces as well as of the slivers’ hive mind.  Freyalise, knowing that her last defense for Skyshroud has been lost, decides she has no choice but to follow in Teferi’s footsteps.

The elven planeswalker sends the visitors back to Urborg, then pulls back into herself all of the mana and energy she had been using to protect Skyshroud.  She then redirects everything directly into the temporal rift above, which greedily consumes every bit of it.

By the time all is done, the rift is sealed.  Freyalise, however, is no more.

Back in Urborg, Lord Wingrace notices a disturbance.  He knows that Freyalise is now dead, but isn’t afforded the opportunity to mourn as he is busier than ever trying desperately to defend Urborg from the strength of the Weaver King-controlled Phyrexians.  This is when another planeswalker – one made of silver – appears.  The silver golem, Karn, who had arrived at the behest of his friend, Jhoira, is able to convince the prideful planeswalker from Urborg to return to the table and listen to Teferi’s advice.

Back in Teferi’s audience, they learn that the time mage had figured out that these alternate-reality Phyrexians are largely a result of the temporal rift above the island of Tolaria where Urza’s academy once stood, but that the rift had grown far too large to repair in the time since the Invasion.  Due to that, Karn – whose silver body allows him to safely travel through time – will need to go into the past to seal it.

That said, the Tolarian rift wasn’t the priority as the rift above Urborg was more pressing.  After some discussion, Karn convinces Windgrace that he will need to attempt to close it regardless the cost.

The panther planeswalker returns to his home island and, in preparation, channels part of himself into the land itself, stating that he will always be protector of Urborg.  He then turns his attention to the rift and focuses all he has left into closing it.  Windgrace succeeds in wiping it out of existence, but he, too, fades away.

Lord Windgrace apparently gone for good, the Weaver King now feels free to do as he pleases.  The psychic vampire once again activates the mental link he has with the Urborg artificer, Venser.  Posing as Karn, the Weaver King convinces Venser to use his ambulator to travel into the Blind Eternities.  The real Karn, however, rejoins the group and Venser realizes his mistake.

The artificer does planeswalk away, but not before rupturing a pair of powerstones he had on him.  The explosion does away with the Weaver King and Venser’s mind is once again his own.

Venser then stepped in the Blind Eternities with the real Karn.  The two talk for a moment, then, with Venser’s assistance, the silver golem went back in time to the point just before a Barrin, the grief-stricken master wizard of the Tolarian Academy whose daughter, Hannah, had just been slain by the invading Phyrexians, was to cast his obliteration spell on the Tolaria, wiping out everything on the island – Phyrexians and all.

Calculating that he should be able to survive the catastrophic spell, Karn begins work on sealing the juvenile rift that is forming above the island as it is being destroyed.  And, while the silver golem succeeds in sealing the rift, he feels a new darkness begin to creep into his mind.

Karn reaches out through time and space, telling Venser that he regrets that he won’t be able to assist with the remaining time rifts, then planeswalkes randomly throughout the Blind Eternities as to prevent anyone from following him.

Back in present time, Venser, Jhoira, and Teferi are once again all together in Urborg.  Before the trio can figure out what to do next, though, Jeska – a planeswalker from the island of Otaria and Karn’s protégé arrives and asks the group if they know where her mentor has gone.

As for what happens next, that’s a discussion for the future.  As in Future Sight, the final chapter in the Time Spiral story.

For now, though, let’s stay in the present and talk about Planar Chaos as a set.

But, what, exactly, constitutes a set based upon the “right now” of Magic as it is taking place?  It was a question that Mark Rosewater, who was on the set’s design team led by Bill Rose, was trying hard to tackle.

<Maro DTW: “That was the hard one…alternate realities.”>

The design team even briefly considered using Planar Chaos as a way to officially introduce a sixth color.  It was an idea that really didn’t go very far.

<Maro DTW: “And the idea was, well…we might one day do it.”>

But it’s through Magic: The Gathering’s color pie that Planar Chaos’ designers decided to best show these alternate realities – essentially, what would cards from Magic’s past look like now had things been different either story-wise or color pie-wise.

<Maro DTW: “So essentially what we did…new color pie to fit.”  “Like, if Serra Angel was…you flavor that card.”>

What wound up happening was each color was assigned mechanics that, while they “could” fit in that color, they were really supposed to be in another.

Examples of this can be seen with Mana Tithe (a white counterspell), Pongify (blue spot removal), control effects in Black via Enslave, red getting bounce effects with Stingscourger, and green gaining efficient card drawing with Harmonize.

Of course, while it’s all fine and dandy in a vacuum, not everything went completely to plan in the long run.

<Maro DTW: “The problem is…added to Magic.”>

And what did they add to Magic?  Well, for one, a cycle of alternate legendary creatures – essentially a “what if” of a few of Magic’s important past characters, such as Mirri the Cursed, which shows what the Weatherlight Saga era cat warrior, Mirri, would be had she not been killed after being turned into a vampire.

There’s also a cycle of charms, which are modal spells that (in this case) each feature an ability that its color isn’t supposed to have, such as Piracy Charm (a blue spell) causing a player to discard a card.

Furthermore, there’s a cycle of mono-colored slivers that each feature an attribute not normally associated with that color, such as Reflex Sliver (a green creature) having and granting haste.

Wizards also made a cycle of color-shifted reprints, each of which are functional reprints of cards found in Time Spiral’s Timeshifted sub-set, but in a different color, such as the card Prodigal Pyromancer being a red-shifted reprint of Prodigal Sorcerer.

And there’s more beyond that, including a new cycle of Magus creatures that (unlike the ones found in Time Spiral, which grant abilities of powerful spell from the game’s past), each have the ability of a non-basic land from Magic’s past, such as Magus of the Tabernacle having the same ability as The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale or Magus of the Coffers having the same ability as Cabal Coffers.

Beyond all this color shifting and card re-imagining, Wizards of the Coast did include one new mechanic (in addition to all of the returning mechanics like echo, kicker, madness, and whatnot.)

This new mechanic, vanishing, works very similar to the fading mechanic from Nemesis, expect that it used time counters to be more consistent with the suspend cards introduced in Time Spiral and, really, just to be more mechanically intuitive than its predecessor.

<Maro DTW: “Really quickly, so what happened was…if vanishing will come back.”>

Honestly, none of the cards with vanishing every made that much noise in the grand scheme of things, but there were a handful of cards that are worth mentioning, starting with:

  • Aeon Chronicler, which saw a lot of play as an uncounterable card advantage machine as well as a finisher in blue control decks.
    The card was actually a key item in Guillaume Wafo-Tapa’s 2007 Pro Tour Yokohama winning deck.

<SOUND BITE>

His deck also featured a couple of other strong cards from Planar Chaos, such as;

  • Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, a card that turns all lands into swamps and still sees widespread play today across a number of formats.
  • Extirpate, a combo deck punishment card that was a one-of in the sideboard.
  • Wafo-Tapa’s deck also included four copies of Damnation, which is a white-to-black color-shifted Wrath of God.

And, as for cards that didn’t fit into that Pro Tour winning deck, there’s:

  • Detrivore, a red card that was great at destroying non-basic lands in a time when Standard was riddled with them;
  • Essence Warden, a color-shifted Soul Warden that helped to breed the competitive “Soul Sisters” deck in Modern, and;
  • Pyrohemia, which is just a color-shifted Pestilence, but became rather popular with the Commander crowd.

Also, the set’s prerelease card was a foil, alternate art version of Oros, the Avenger and its release promo was Hedge Troll, which is a color-shifted version of the “O.G.” Magic card Sedge Troll.

So, what are your thoughts on Planar Chaos?  Is it amongst your favorite Magic: The Gathering sets?  Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.

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