Planechase 2012: Chaos Reigns Review (Part 2 of 2)
The three-way format we chose for our reviews has been a hit, and we’ve really enjoyed the novelty of the Planechase games. For today’s bout, I’m at the helm of the cascade-filled five-colour Chaos Reigns deck, while continuing clockwise we find Jimi (with Night of the Ninja) and Sam (back again with Primordial Hunger). As before, we’ve implemented an attack-left/defend-right rule, to give the game enough room to develop that we get a good look at the decks.
I’m leading things off, so after we settle into our hands and are ready to go, I turn over the first Plane: Trail of the Mage-Rings. This gives sorceries and instants rebound, and with a pair of See Beyonds and an Arc Trail in my hand I’m pretty happy with the flip. All three of us drop lands in the first turn, but only Sam (player three) has a one-drop, a Tukatongue Thallid. Next turn I play my first See Beyond, going up a land in hand while Jimi drops an Island. Sam’s up again with an early play, deploying a Viridian Emissary after an opening attack on me with the Thallid.
Now turn 3, my See Beyond rebounds to give me another go at sculpting my hand. Again I keep land by refunding a Peregrine Drake, with my eyes firmly fixed on playing a turn-8 Maelstrom Wanderer. I then play another See Beyond and pass. Jimi plays her first card with a Sai of the Shinobi, while Sam follows up a 3-point attack with a Nest Invader, dropping a 0/1 Eldrazi Spawn token into place beside it.
My second See Beyond rebounds on turn 4, after which I play an Arc Trail to kill off Sam’s Next Invader and Viridian Emissary- though the latter lets her tutor up a Mountain. I then drop a Rupture Spire, pay for it, and pass. Jimi goes up to 21 life after playing a Jwar Isle Refuge, then adds a Walker of Secret Ways to her board. This triggers her Sai, and she equips it for free. Finally deciding that any advantage she might have been waiting to get off of our current Plane has been more than overtaken by the value I’ve already wrung from it, Jimi takes her free roll of the planar die, but it comes up blank. Over to Sam, she plays a Brindle Shoat after swinging in for 1 with the Thallid, putting me at 15 life. She too takes a roll of the die, and comes up with a hit- we’re headed to Jund!
Now turn 5, the Arc Trail returns to kill off Sam’s 0/1 Spawn and Tukatongue Thallid, though the latter replaces itself with a 1/1 Saproling token. Desperate to get off of Jund, I roll three rolls of the planar die, but come up empty. Next up, Jimi plays a Cadaver Imp, stacking the triggers so that she can devour her Walker to give the Imp five +1/+1 tokens, then return the Walker to hand when the Imp’s trigger resolves- some value! She then decides to get off of Jund before Sam has a chance to maximise it, and rolls the die. Her first roll comes up with the Planeswalker symbol, and away we go! Sam puts Jund on the bottom of her library, and Jimi reveals… Morphic Tide.
After she reads it out, I groan inwardly. I’ve sculpted my hand with an eye towards nailing a turn-8 Wanderer, and that grand work is about to be set back. We all shuffle our permanents into our graveyard: Jimi with seven (five land, the Imp, and the Sai), Sam with six (four land, a Brindle Shoat, and the 1/1 Saproling), and me with only five (all land). Jimi flips first, and turns over: Assassinate (whiff), Baleful Strix (drawing a card as it enters the battlefield), Swamp, Terramorphic Expanse, Tainted Isle, Dimir Infiltrator, and Okiba-Gang Shinobi. Next is Sam, revealing a Forest, Gluttonous Slime, Mudbutton Torchrunner, Mountain, Forest, and Awakening Zone. For me, it’s an Armillary Sphere (praise the Maker), Mountain, Swamp, Deny Reality (whiff), and another Mountain. So I’m down two land, and with none of the variety I had at the outset- not good.
With the Phenomenon now resolved, Jimi shifts it to the bottom and flips the next one, an Interplanar Tunnel! This lets Jimi take her pick of the next five Planes in her deck, and she sends us to Quicksilver Sea. She then cracks her Terramopric Expanse to fetch an Island, and ends her turn. Back to Sam, she plays a Brindle Shoat and Flayer Husk.
Now turn 6, I scry my library thanks to the current Plane, finding a Bloodbraid Elf. I cast it, and cascade into an Illusory Angel, a most welcome development. Sadly, Jimi Cancels the Angel, uncomfortable with me having that much evasive power at my disposal. Over to Jimi, she attacks Sam with the Dimir Infiltrator and Okiba-Gang Shinobi. Sam gang-blocks the Shinobi with her Flayer Husk and Brindle Shoat, going up a 3/3 Boar token from the death of the Shoat. Jimi then adds a Walker of Secret Ways and passes after dropping a Dimir Aqueduct. For Sam’s part, she swings in with the Slime, the 3/3 Boar, and Mudbutton Torchrunner after playing a Hissing Iguanar. Bad news for me- though I trade my Bloodbraid Elf for the Boar token, I end up at 7 life.
Between the Iguanar and the Torchrunner, Sam has me in pretty good position and I’ll be happy if I can just cast the Wanderer now. I catch a break on turn 7, though, when my scrying finds me an Ondu Giant– a defensive body and a bit of ramp. I then grab the planar die and give it a toss, coming up with a Planeswalk. Flipping over the top card, I get a Phenomenon of my own: Mutual Epiphany. After we all top off our hands with four new cards, we move the show over to Mount Keralia. After discarding three cards to get down to 7 and putting a pressure counter on the Plane, I pass to Jimi. Jimi plays a Jwar Isle Refuge to go up to 22 life, as I’ve not threatened her at all thus far. She then attacks Sam with her Dimir Infiltrator, Walker of Secret Ways, and Baleful Strix. Sam declares no blockers, and Jimi’s Ninja leap into action. First the Walker is replaced by a Mistblade Shinobi, bouncing the hated Iguanar back to Sam’s hand. Next the Strix gets yanked, and in its stead appears a Throat Slitter to destroy Sam’s Gluttonous Slime. With a stroke, Sam’s capacity to wage war on me is crippled, and I breathe a sigh of relief.
With Sam down to 15 life, Jimi discards a couple of land to get to seven and passes. Finally, Sam leads off with another 0/1 Eldrazi Spawn token from the Awakening Zone (her third since it landed), then summons a Hellkite Hatchling, devouring the Torchrunner and a pair of Spawn to make it a 5/5. Sam then directs the Torchrunner’s death damage over to Jimi’s Throat Slitter, and again I silently cheer. Lastly, Sam pops her remaining Spawn token to play a Flayer Husk. Before passing, Sam gives the planar die a roll, and she’s in luck! Mount Keralia erupts, doing 2 points damage to every creature on the board. This kills Jimi’s Mistblade Shinobi and Sam’s Germ token (on the Flayer Husk), and we move the battle over to Kilnspire District. It gets a charge counter, and off we go!
It’s now turn 8, and the District has given me to play with. I use it to help fund a Fiery Fall, picking off Sam’s Hellkite Hatchling. I then play an Illusory Angel to shore up my defenses, and whiff on a roll of the planar die. I attack for 2 with my Giant to put Jimi back to 20 and pass. For her part, Jimi plays a Silent-Blade Oni, then resummons her Baleful Strix. She attacks Sam for 1, rolls the die (blank), and passes. Sam gets another 0/1 Eldrazi Spawn, then plays a Beetleback Chief and Preyseizer Dragon, devouring the Spawn and pair of Goblins to make the Dragon a massive 10/10. Without an answer, that’s me dead next turn as Sam shows the strength of the devour mechanic which lets creatures get massive out of virtually nowhere.
Lucky for me, the Kilnspire District delivers a ton of mana at my doorstep to kick off turn 9, meaning that no matter what else happens I’ll at least get to experience the feeling of casting my Maelstrom Wanderer. I tap the remaining three mana, and roll the dice. The first cascade comes up with a Mass Mutiny– hallelujah! I take command of Sam’s 10/10 Dragon and Jimi’s Silent-Blade Oni. Then the second cascade fires off, which lands on a Bloodbraid Elf. The Elf cascades in turn, eventually finding a Whirlpool Warrior. With two lands sitting idle in hand, that’s a fine reveal, but I go ahead and respond to my own Warrior with a Bituminous Blast to kill Sam’s Beetleback Chief. That in turn cascades into a Cultivate, tutoring another pair of land out of my library (one for the battlefield, the other to hand). Next, I attack Jimi with the 10/10 Dragon, 4/4 Angel, 7/5 Wanderer, and her own 6/5 Oni. Attacking with the Dragon lets me send 6 points of damage at any target I choose. Sending it to Jimi would make sure she’s dead, but instead I opt to direct it at Sam. Jimi needs to be given the prospect of surviving the round, which is also why I held back from attacking with more. This leads her to the desired outcome- blocking the 10/10 Dragon with her deathtouching 1/1 Strix. When the damage is tallied up, Jimi’s left at 3 life, and thanks to the Oni’s combat damage ability, I then get to look at Jimi’s hand and cast a free spell from it. She doesn’t have much that’s appealing, but I choose a Dark Hatchling I find there, even though it means I have to kill my own Bloodbraid Elf when I ‘cast’ it (Sam has no creatures, and Jimi’s all are Black). Though I hate to lose her, it’s a far better prospect than her killing my Wanderer with it. I roll the planar die for the heck of it, and come up blank and pass- that was one helluva turn!
Over to Jimi, she gets a nice infusion of from the Disctrict, using it to help deploy a Sai of the Shinobi, Cadaver Imp, and Throat Slitter. She attacks in on the helpless Sam for 7, leaving her at 1 life. This time the Oni puts its power to work for Jimi, and she ends up casting a Dragonlair Spider from Sam’s hand- just the thing she needs to fend off my aerial forces and cling to life. She then plays a Wall of Frost and passes. Back to Sam, she brings out a Viridian Emissary and Hissing Iguanar, then plays Thromok the Insatiable. Thormok devours the Iguanar and a pair of 0/1 Spawn, dealing me 2 damage to go down to 5 and making the Hellion a 9/9. Sam then equips a Flayer Husk to Thromok, then tries her hand at the planar die coming up blank each time. Thanks to the Spider’s Insect-spawning ability, Jimi’s already up a trio of 1/1 tokens.
Now turn 10, I play a Sunken Hope from my hand, then pop the Whirlpool Warrior to have all three of us flush our hands into our library and draw new cards. This brings me an Enigma Sphinx, which when cast cascades into a Rivals’ Duel! This solves the problem of getting past the Dragonlair Spider as I target it along with Sam’s Thromok. The 9/9 Hellion crushes Jimi’s Spider, letting me finish Jimi off with my Illusory Angel and her own Dark Hatchling. With Jimi out, the Hatchling goes with her, but it’s served its purpose. Hoping to deny Sam the massive mana dump, I take my free roll of the planar die and come up blank. With two land left open, I pay for a reroll and hit the Chaos! With me having one land open and Sam at one life, the game is won on the spot as I burn her out with the District. Truly a gift that kept on giving!
Thoughts & Analysis
No matter how long or how short, or how many loops, turns, and corkscrews they may or may not have, roller coasters the world ’round almost always start off the same way: with a slow, steep climb to the top followed by a rush as you crest the first summit and race for the bottom. This analogy perfectly describes what it feels like to play Chaos Reigns. Because so much of the deck’s playability involves getting incremental value off of cascade, you have to be able to play expensive enough cards that let you maximise the potential available to the mechanic. For all the money the card may be worth, Shardless Agents won’t get you to the finish line on their own. You might enjoy a free See Beyond or Armillary Sphere, but these spells aren’t going to win you games. You need to climb as steep a hill as you can before deciding to go into free-fall, or your prospects of victory rapidly diminish.
I was quite lucky in the above match to pull off the win. Although I was on-course for a turn-8 Maelstrom Wanderer, I was set back crucial turns by Jimi’s Morphic Tide. Luckily, the Kilnspire District eventually let me make up the lost ground, and being able to kick off the alpha cascade card set off the chain of events that turned the game on its axis and let me pull ahead. Up until that point, the deck’s performance was quite underwhelming.
Indeed, that’s likely the deck’s biggest weakness. It’s terribly expensive, and because of cascade a lot of what you’re paying for is (at least initially) overpriced. Because of the lack of library manipulation, the deck’s cascades are truly random, and you never know what you’re going to end up with. I lucked into a Mass Mutiny and Rivals’ Duel at exactly the right times, and the game may have gone in quite a different direction had I ended up with a Noggle Ransacker and Fractured Powerstone.
I suppose it’s unfair to ask for more consistency in a deck called Chaos Reigns, but this is truly a feast-or-famine construction. Piloting this deck is going to give you the kinds of games you keep with you a long time (the one above is already being filed away in my mental Scrapbook of Awesome Victories), but in return for that you’re going to get force-fed a lot of losses. Not for the faint of heart or easily discouraged.
Hits: Cascade mechanic brings a tremendous amount of random fun to the deck above and beyond that already provided by the Planes; some of the most exciting new cards (Shardless Agent, Maelstrom Wanderer) are found here
Misses: Poor ramping suite and expensive cot to play means the deck is slow, even in an environment already not known for speed; highly random, deck will have a very wild variance in possible outcomes for its pilot (for some, this may be a Hit)
OVERALL SCORE: 4.10/5.00