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By: Cheater Hater, Vincent Borchardt
Jun 14 2017 12:00pm
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Hey, this is something different—turns out my next article was neither Iconic Masters nor Hour of Devastation related. The Battle of the Planes is an interesting Phantom Sealed event where you choose a plane, then build a sealed deck with sets from that plane (generally two full blocks). As such, while this isn’t a “flashback” in that sense of the word (since I’m pretty sure no one’s done something like this before), it is a format with old sets that can be analyzed, so it seems like an interesting project. However, I’m obviously not going to go in-depth since there are 27 sets in the pool (though I will link my previous relevant articles if you’re interested). Instead, I’m going to focus on the synergies between the different blocks first, then try to get an idea of what a metagame could look like for the format as a whole.
 
Plane Choices:
Dominaria: Onslaught, Legions, Scourge, Time Spiral (Mechanics, Colors), Planar Chaos, Future Sight
After just saying I wasn’t going to go into detail on the sets, I am going to make an exception and do a brief overview of Onslaught block, since it was neither recent nor part of the Modern Flashback Series. Put simply, Onslaught was a tribal block, but with a lot less order than Lorwyn. There were eight main tribes throughout the block: Beasts in red/green, Birds in white/blue, Clerics in white/black, Elves in green, Goblins in red, Soldiers in white, Wizards in blue, and Zombies in black. Other than that, Illusions serve the Changeling role in a clunky way, as they only appear in blue and are only one creature type at a time. Legions brought back Slivers as a tribe, and Scourge has a minor Dragon tribal theme as well. Other than that, the important thing about the tribal synergies is that they affect your opponent’s creatures as well.
 
As for the mechanics, Morph made its debut here, without any of the rules we saw in Tarkir block (and best illustrated by the guessing game between the red common Morphs Battering Craghorn and Skirk Commando—one wins combat, while the other punishes you a lot for letting it through), and Cycling made its return as well. Legions introduced Provoke as a combat mechanic (one of the many preludes to Fight) and Amplify as a way to take advantage of being an all creature set. Scourge debuted Storm to the delight of combo players everywhere, but its main theme was a converted mana cost-matters theme which rewarded you for playing big things with cards like Torrent of Fire and Rush of Knowledge.
 
Now let’s start our look at the synergies between Onslaught and Time Spiral block by first looking at Onslaught’s tribes in Time Spiral. Time Spiral block’s commons have 2 Beasts, 5 Birds, 6 Clerics, 5 Elves, 6 Goblins, 5 Soldiers, 9 Wizards (6 of which are blue, including the tribal Vedalken Aethermage), and 9 Zombies. That’s more than I thought, especially since I was just looking at commons. Onslaught’s cycling theme also gets some help from Future Sight, especially the free cycling from Street Wraith and Edge of Autumn. Morph also gets a lot of support from the entire Time Spiral block, though only Unblinking Bleb really continues a Morph theme. Finally, the converted mana cost theme from Scourge surprisingly gets a lot of help from Time Spiral block, as Suspend means the average converted mana cost of your deck is higher while still giving you early plays.
 
Next, let’s see how Time Spiral’s jumbled ball of mechanics are helped by Onslaught block. The obvious place to start is Slivers, as it’s the only one that’s a major theme of both blocks (though you only have the one pack of Legions), though Legion’s Slivers aren’t that good (and the good ones are in different colors than Time Spiral’s good Slivers). Onslaught’s Storm cards are also more interesting in a Suspend world, as cards like Temporal Fissure and Astral Steel have more impact than something like Grapeshot per spell cast (though unfortunately cards like Wing Shards don’t benefit nearly as much). One surprise is that Onslaught actually has a Rebel, and Whipcorder is actually really good even without a searcher. There are some minor discard synergies, as Chain of Plasma and Chain of Smog are better if you can Madness something out. Unfortunately, Thallids don’t get any support (not even a single Saproling), and obviously anything involving Time Counters doesn’t either.
 
Innistrad: 2x Innistrad, Dark Ascension, 2x Shadows over Innistrad, Eldritch Moon
Now that we’re to sets that were meant to work well together, the synergies should be much more obvious. Starting with Innistrad’s mechanics, the tribal aspects are much stronger there, so that can easily be the focus of your deck. The self-mill is also in a strange place, as it exists in both blocks, but it’s used for different purposes in each block (value from blue Zombies/Flashback in Innistrad, enabling Delirium in Shadows over Innistrad). There is a lot of sacrifice in Shadows over Innistrad, which helps with Morbid. Flashback isn’t something that needs synergy to work either, though Burning Vengeance isn’t something that can be supported. Nothing really pairs with Fateful Hour or Undying either (other than the aforementioned sacrifice stuff), but nothing really did in their original format either.
 
Shadows over Innistrad is also in a weird place, as its themes are a lot more linear than Innistrad. There aren’t many Madness enablers for instance, though the ones that do exist (Faithless Looting, Civilized Scholar, Murder of Crows) are very good. Delirium will also be harder, as there are fewer enchantments that are easy to get rid of (though there are plenty of good “removal” enchantments like Dead Weight, Sensory Deprivation, and Bonds of Faith among others) and the artifacts stick around (Blazing Torch and (Traveler’s Amulet) being the notable exceptions). The lands are interesting though, as both Evolving Wilds and Haunted Fengraf are lands you will sacrifice, and Ghost Quarter seems interesting in a format where you’ll be facing artifact lands and the gold manabases of Ravnica. Investigate and Escalate are both standalone mechanics, and Emerge doesn’t need much support either (although don’t expect Eldrazi tribal obviously).
 
Mirrodin: Mirrodin, Darksteel, Fifth Dawn, Scars of Mirrodin, Mirrodin Besieged, New Phyrexia
Artifacts! Artifacts are most of what the original Mirrodin was, and since Scars of Mirrodin block still has plenty of them (even in New Phyrexia), Affinity will still exist (and colors won’t matter as much). The important difference between Mirrodin’s artifacts and Scars of Mirrodin’s artifacts is that Mirrodin’s non-creature artifacts are better while Scars of Mirrodin’s artifact creatures are better. I also want to play some of the Modular creatures with Proliferate—that was an underrated Masters theme back in Modern Masters 2015 when you were proliferating Graft creatures, and it should be even better when you can reuse the counters. The one theme that doesn’t carry over as much is Fifth Dawn’s Sunburst theme, since there aren’t as many color-fixers—you have the mana Myrs and Alloy Myr, but land sources from Viridian Emissary and Horizon Spellbomb have an actual cost (compared to an artifact land or Talisman).
 
The elephant in the room with regard to Scars of Mirrodin’s themes is Infect, and while you obviously won’t have enough cards to build an Infect deck (heck, you often didn’t have enough in full-block sealed), don’t forget cards like Blightwidow, Fallen Ferromancer, and Phyrexian Juggernaut are either good enough threats on their own or have other utility. On the other hand, getting Metalcraft should be even easier with the original Mirrodin block, and you might have enough artifact density to make swingy cards like Auriok Sunchaser and Vedalken Certarch playable (though just like the original blocks, you can’t have too many colored cards). The other mechanics generally can stand alone, which is nice for Sealed Deck as well.
 
Ravnica: Ravnica, Guildpact, Dissension, Return to Ravnica, Gatecrash, Dragon’s Maze
So many gold cards! The nice thing here is that the design team of Return to Ravnica block at least tried to make the new mechanics for each guild fit thematically, whether through direct synergy (Graft → Evolve, Dredge → Scavenge) or a similar theme/strategy (Hellbent → Unleash, Replicate → Overload). The main explicit synergy between the blocks is that Graft means that all the cards that rely on +1/+1 counters like Bred for the Hunt and Mutant's Prey have an easier time activating. However, no matter what synergies exist, you’re still being spread very thin by having only one pack of each original Ravnica guild.
 
The biggest question is if you’ll be able to actually play these cards with the limited amount of fixing you get in these packs. The one key is that the guilds in the original Ravnica set (Golgari, Dimir, Selesnya, and Boros) are going to be spread slightly thinner (that, and it includes Dimir, which is still awful in Gatecrash, despite Dinrova Horror’s resurgence in Modern Masters 2017), so those probably won’t be where you go. You still have bouncelands, Signets, and Guildgates, but maneuvering those into a three-plus color deck seems difficult. As such, I think this pool will have the most variance—gold cards mean your average power level is higher (especially in Return to Ravnica block), but building the decks could easily be too difficult for the average person playing a flashback queue (and hasn’t mastered the intricacies of original Ravnica).
 
Zendikar: Zendikar, Worldwake, 2x Rise of the Eldrazi, Battle for Zendikar, Oath of the Gatewatch
The Zendikar pool is the most-unique since it’s three distinct blocks: Zendikar goes fast with Landfall and Allies, Rise of the Eldrazi goes slow with Eldrazi and Levelers, and Battle for Zendikar tries to split the difference with everything. As such, discussing synergies doesn’t have much of a point, unless insights like “there are land synergies in both sets, the Zendikar allies are better, and ROE Eldrazi support cards are dumb with Devoid Eldrazi” are groundbreaking. The biggest thing I’m worried about is the speed of the format—the Eldrazi (and Rise of the Eldrazi in general) were built around being able to go ten turns, and I think this format is much faster than that. Speaking of which…
 
Overall Metagame Analysis:
While I obviously haven’t done any actual testing of this format (though to be fair, I don’t know how much WotC did for something that’s supposed to be fun), level one thinking says that the Mirrodin plane is the best by far. Having a large percentage of your cards be colorless means your mana isn’t a problem, and the Affinity/Metalcraft deck seems very fast as well, even before you consider all the crazy cards in Mirrodin block (all the Equipment, Spikeshot Goblin, Blinding Beam, Affinity). As such, level two says to look for artifact removal, and while Mirrodin is obviously going to have the most, there are other possibilities that are either easily maindeckable or get a massive advantage:
 
Dominaria: Ancient Grudge, Break Asunder, Harmonic Sliver, Fury Charm, Nantuko Vigilante
Innistrad: Afflicted Deserter, Ancient Grudge, Angelic Purge, Crushing Vines, Mockery of Nature, Root Out, Torch Fiend
Ravnica: Batterhorn, Indrik Stomphowler, Nullmage Shepherd, Putrefy, Rakdos Charm, Rust Scarab, Seed Spark, Shattering Spree, Sundering Growth, Tin Street Hooligan, Trygon Predator, Vandalblast,
Zendikar: Baloth Cage Trap, Kor Sanctifiers, Tuktuk Scrapper
 
Wow, Zendikar feels very sparse here—both Dominaria and Innistrad have Ancient Grudge and Ravnica has two Shatterstorm variants along with two ETB Shatter creatures, but Zendikar only has two decent ETB creatures and a cheap 4/4. An advanced form of level two thinking means looking at the colors the artifact removal is in, which means Naya colors (mostly RG). Ravnica again hits well here, as Boros is fast in both blocks, Selesnya can stall with tokens, and Gruul has efficient creatures. Dominaria is decent, since Goblins and Elves should be fast enough, though I worry about dying before your suspend creatures come back. Innistrad doesn’t fare as well here, as a Mirrodin opponent is less likely to stumble and let you flip your Werewolves, and the Humans don’t have as many good cards (remember, Avacyn Restored isn’t in the pool). Zendikar is the wildcard here, as while green’s weakness in BFZ is well-known at this point, you have a lot of Spawn-producers in both BFZ and ROE to stall. Overall I think while Mirrodin still seems like the most-consistent, Ravnica probably has the highest ceiling (if you get enough fixing) and Dominaria should be competitive if your packs aren’t awful (notably, it’s the only Plane where both blocks were before the small set size/New World Order).
 
That’s all for now—I don’t know how many games people will play of this format, but it certainly seems interesting for the week it’ll be around at least. As for future content from me, I’m obviously going to do my content around Hour of Devastation as soon as the relevant information is released, but the real question is Iconic Masters. I’ve really struggled with this design, but a recent push got me pretty close to a full set. Unfortunately I’m still struggling on a couple of the archetypes, so I missed my self-imposed deadline of last week, then Battle of the Planes took my attention this week. Hopefully I’ll have it for next week so I can move on to other projects.
 
Vincent

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