Ever since Magic: The Gathering‘s inception, the game has been subject to a certain degree of power creep and feature creep. This is unsurprising, given that its makers make money off it by bringing out periodic expansions and revisions: while the competitive tournament crowd is kept coming back by periodic changes (or “format rotations”) of tournament-legal cards, casual players have to be kept interested by new cards more or less trumping old ones. However, recently the power creep effect has been (probably intentionally) slowed down a bit by Wizards of the Coast, and instead the company has been introducing new products, particularly for the casual groups.
The latest is Planechase, which introduces a new aspect to the game, and is particularly intended for larger games (free-for-alls and other multi-player formats). In Planechase, players now also have a smaller deck of larger cards, which depict either special locations (“planes”) or special events (“phenomena”). At any given time, one plane is in play, providing some sort of global effect. A special die is also used, with one side marked “chaos”, one marked “order”, and the remaining four left blank. Players may roll this die whenever able to play a sorcery, with an escalating mana cost for multiple rolls. Blank faces result in no effect, “chaos” results in whatever activated ability the current plane offers, and “order” results in flipping to the next card. If it’s another plane, then it now takes effect; if it’s a phenomenon, its effect is applied, and then the next card is flipped.
The concept is sound, and lends itself well to various play approaches: every player can construct synergistic main- and plane-decks to complement each other, or players can use one communal plane-deck with separate main decks for a more chaotic game. Either way, this format is not really suited to competitive play as it has such an intrinsically random nature: a second deck is shuffled into a random order, and whether things happen as planned depends on rolls of dice. This makes it less a game of skill and more a game of chance, though certainly in a casual environment it can be great fun.
The downsides? Yet more accessories to misplace (specifically the non-standard dice, though these can easily be simulated by regular dice), and the oversized plane cards take up yet more table space – as though there wasn’t already usually a shortage of that! Although this format is quite plainly something of a gimmick to try to sell more product, it is well designed and presented, and I definitely recommend it to “kitchen table Magic groups”.