Soldevi Surveyor: Planar Chaos
Eccentric looking cards. Effects not in the colors you would expect to find them in. And rumors of a sixth color of Magic. In this first installment of our new series Soldevi Surveyor, Sancho digs into a time of confusion and disorder as he unearths the incredible expansion known as Planar Chaos.
Returning toward the end of Kaladesh after drifting away from Magic during Urza Block had me feeling rather like Fry in Futurama or "Link" (Brendan Fraiser) in California Man. Probably 10.000 cards and what felt like a gazillion sets were released during my long absence. It was like I had woken from a long cryogenic sleep into a strange and somewhat overwhelming world.
In this series, I'll attempt to make sense of the expansions that I didn't get to experience live. Welcome to Soldevi Surveyor, where I try to paint the past in broad strokes and lay the groundwork for anyone willing to dig the deep excavation trenches to explore and catalogue the past more thoroughly.
In this first installment of Soldevi Surveyor, we pan our Surveyor's Scope across the landscape of Dominaria looking for traces of a time when the temporal fabric of the plane was torn, and alternate realities broke through creating unheard of color shifts and general disorder. Mashed in between Time Spiral and Future Sight we find 165 never before printed cards of which some were bound to have a lasting and profound effect on the game.
Today we examine Planar Chaos from 2007, a set about which Mark Rosewater has since stated: "We consider Planar Chaos a mistake that we chose to not repeat." But first, in the spirit of Time Spiral Block, let's jump ten years into the future of the past we are about to explore.
Streets Paved with Gold and Card Draw Spells
The year was 2017 and Magic had returned to my life. After playing some games at home using a big common deck and then finding a local game store to buy Planeswalker Decks, I made a couple of ridiculous orders from Star City Games. I paid through my nose to have what I, as a returning player, thought were bombs (cough) – Reverse Engineer and Harmonize – shipped across the Atlantic.
Before placing a third order from the land of milk, honey and Magic cards, I smartened up and used entry level Google-jutsu to discover a much faster and cheaper way for Europeans to get all the Magic singles they could ever dream of. I, of course, am speaking of the one and only Cardmarket. And while cards were still drifting leisurely across the pond at the speed of bullion carried by galleons in the treasure fleets half a millennium ago, I had placed and received my first 10 orders using Cardmarket.
Some of my first orders on Cardmarket were aimed at updating my trusted and beloved Stasis-deck, and as it turns out, one very important card was from Planar Chaos. Digging into the seemingly inexhaustible pool of new cards available to me, I found a replacement for the important lock piece Kismet so simple and perfect for my deck, I could hardly believe it.
The card frame of Frozen Aether was not the familiar blue frame, and the name and card type were oddly set in white type instead of black, but the card was indeed real enough, and I could eliminate white completely from my favorite deck (along with Forsaken City removing the need for green for Birds of Paradise and Instill Energy the deck became mono-colored in a single stroke). I had had my first encounter with Planar Chaos or, as it turns out, the first encounter that I was aware of.
The Decline and Fall of the Color Pie
Ok, long ado aside, what was Planar Chaos, and why has Mark Rosewater who was also part the design team for that set disowned it so unequivocally? Here you may want to take a step back and read what the same Mark Rosewater wrote to defend the design choices made with regards to the color pie just before the set was released. Perhaps in an alternate timeline he is still happy with those decisions, who knows?
The big new thing for Planar Chaos was that, among the sets 165 cards, 45 were colorshifted, in that they were reprints of older cards changed to another color from their original versions. Most were quite innocent such as red getting its own Giant Growth in Brute Force, green getting a Ball Lightning in Groundbreaker, and indeed blue getting Frozen Aether as its own Kismet, which while truly awesome for me never affected the game and the metagame on a larger scale. Simian Spirit Guide and Mana Tithe were more dubious, and even more problematic was the Harmonize that I had not known as a Planar Chaos card, as it had been reprinted to death when I ordered my copies from Star City Games.
Harmonize has for many become the poster boy for what went wrong with the seemingly innocent idea of breaking with the color pie (the guiding design philosophy about what each color should be able to do and not to do) for just a single expansion. Because since the original printing, the card has been reprinted in about a dozen different supplemental products, Masters sets and player rewards versions, shifting the idea of unconditional card draw in green from a cute one-time deviation to a staple part of the color.
But what really damned the set in the eyes of pie purists was the printing of Damnation – the black version of Wrath of God – an effect that many think black should not have access to in this way. Due to its usability and its higher rarity than Harmonize, there is continued pressure to have Damnation reprinted again and again to make the card affordable, and in the end, the effect as it was with Harmonize, is to cement the shift in the color pie and make unconditional board wipes a part of black's arsenal.
Only Want to See You on the Purple Plane
This is something that completely escaped my attention during my initial research, but luckily a graphical slipup by ChannelFireball Events in the live coverage from Magic Fest Dallas and the following light commotion was enough to catch my attention and lead me to the untold story of Planar Chaos.
When revealing a beautifully Mark Tedin illustrated Sol Ring as a Commander Celebration promo for the upcoming Magicfest Las Vegas, someone had picked the wrong card back for the graphics. Instead of the five colored dots on the back of the card used in the reveal, the back had six colored dots with the sixth dot being a purple one placed between blue and black. I had indeed come across stories of a planned sixth color of Magic randomly over the last two years, but never really bothered to investigate it.
But with someone mentioning that purple was part of the discussion when developing Planar Chaos this time of course I had to actually find out, what the story behind the sixth color was. And once again this led me to some interesting reads such as this one on WotC's website which due to the company keeping decades old articles up for reading is something of a Library of Alexandria for anyone wanting to dig into the history of Magic.
To be honest, I discovered so much more about the set, that I feel like I could go on and on, but this piece has already shattered the intended boundaries that I set out to stay within, so let's leave it at this.
As always, I'd like to hear what you have to add about anything related to the subject at hand. If you took a long break from the game, which cards that were printed during your absence impacted your favorite decks and strategies the most? If you were an active player when the set came out, how did you experience Planar Chaos and color shifted cards? And what do you think of the idea of a sixth color? Feel free to leave your comments and insights below.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.