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By: Cheater Hater, Vincent Borchardt
May 11 2016 12:00pm
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Welcome back to the Modern Flashback Series! I'm really running out of things to say in these opening paragraphs—anyone have any ideas? One thing I had planned was to do quick updates on Eternal Masters spoilers in this space, but Wizards has been really slow with the spoilers. Anyway, onto this week's set!
 
With Time Spiral block going for a time theme, the “past, present, future” division for the three sets was just too obvious to ignore, but it did put the middle set in a weird place: how do you do a set based on the present? What Planar Chaos decided to do was an alternate reality set, but decided to go farther than just alternate story possibilities. Instead, Wizards decided to take an alternate view of the color pie, and give a lot of colors things they don't normally do. The theory on this is very complicated (Mark Rosewater wrote two articles on what went where and why), but it means you'll see things like Haste and Flying in green, Vigilance in blue, and counterspells in white among other changes. These changes only apply to Planar Chaos (though some have become natural color pie bleeds and shifts over the years), and between these changes, the old color pie cards from Time Spiral, and the “normal” cards throughout the block (especially in Future Sight, which doesn't mess with the color pie as much), each color can do a lot more things than it normally can—add another bullet point to the long list of reasons why Time Spiral block is too complex. The one good thing about this theme is that in most cases the shifted effects each show up at least three times in the set (like a Masters mechanic), so there's at least a little consistency to the craziness.
 
Most of the mechanics return from Time Spiral, but it adds some more (both new and returning), while downgrading others. As always, I'll be focusing on the mechanics that have been changed significantly, while rounding up other changes at the end of the mechanics roundup.
 
Healing Leaves Simian Spirit Guide Revered Dead
Timeshifted Cards:
The alternate reality theme of “mechanics in different colors” is shown most directly in the Timeshifted cards, as they are literally existing cards printed in different colors. The only changes are minor wording changes (creature type changes, as well as cleaning up the wording on some old cards), as well as changing color words and land types to correspond with the card and/or its enemies. The weirdest part is that they were an entirely separate rarity, with each pack containing three Timeshifted commons and one Timeshifted uncommon or rare. This changes the distributions slightly (as each pack only has eight normal commons and two normal uncommons), but I'll be treating the timeshifted cards as normal commons and uncommons for the purposes of my limited review.
 
Aven Riftwatcher Reality Acid Waning Wurm
Vanishing:
The one new mechanic in Planar Chaos, Vanishing is a rework of Fading from Nemesis. The two major differences are that Vanishing uses time counters (to combo with all the Suspend manipulators like Jhoira's Timebug), and that the permanents go away when the last counter is removed, rather than when it tries to remove a counter and can't. There also aren't any cards that remove their own counters to do things, so the implementation is overall simpler than in Nemesis. As for the cards themselves, with Vanishing being a downside mechanic, only the cards that really go above the power curve are worth playing, and I generally don't think trying to build around time counters is worth it here.
 
Citanul Woodreaders Dead/Gone Pouncing Wurm
Kicker/Split Cards:
Both of these mechanics return after only showing up on the Timeshifted sheet in Time Spiral, and each is limited to a single color. Kicker shows up on four green cards, while there is a vertical cycle of split cards where each of the halves is mono-red. Each of these mechanics provides flexibility, and each of the individual cards is very powerful.
 
Stingscourger Uktabi Drake Hammerheim Deadeye
Echo:
Echo is the mechanic that changed the most between sets, as all five cards with Echo in Planar Chaos have Echo costs that differ from their mana cost. To compensate, all the Echo cards have an impact on the board before the Echo cost is paid, through enters-the-battlefield effects on the red cards and Haste on the green cards (new to this set). As such, the cards are more impactful, but more expensive overall—it just makes Thick-Skinned Goblin that much more valuable.
 
Pallid Mycoderm Blightspeaker Saltfield Recluse
Rebels/Thallids:
Both of these tribes expanded into a second color, and vastly increased their power level as a result. Thallids expanded into white, and while Mycologist isn't the best card (mostly since it isn't a Fungus), Pallid Mycoderm gives the archetype both a durable Saproling maker as well as a pump effect in one package. However, Rebels got a lot more power when it expanded into black. To start with, Blightspeaker is a great searcher, allowing the flexibility to either search or ping an opponent. Next, black Rebels include multiple high-quality removal spells in Rathi Trapper and Big Game Hunter. Finally, white's Rebels include Aven Riftwatcher and Saltfield Recluse, both of which further the controlling angles of the block in general.
 
Sinew Sliver Synchronous Sliver Necrotic Sliver
Slivers:
There are 11 new Slivers in Planar Chaos: a cycle of common Slivers, a cycle of enemy-colored Slivers at uncommon, and the Timeshifted Sinew Sliver. Other than Sinew Sliver, all the common Slivers give “shifted” keywords, and they're noticeably all more expensive than average. The enemy-colored Slivers are also different, ranging from very powerful (Cautery Sliver and Necrotic Sliver are both removal spells) to just weird (Dormant Sliver can either drive a Sliver engine when paired with a sacrifice outlet or serve as a defense against Slivers itself). Overall I feel like the Sliver deck got slightly weaker, as only Sinew Sliver and Cautery Sliver further the aggressive plan.
 
Whitemane Lion Reckless Wurm Shaper Parasite
Returning Mechanics:
Planar Chaos cleans up the slate a bit, as Buyback, Flashback, and Storm are gone, while Flanking and Shadow only appear on a single card each. Even the new mechanics aren't immune to this, as only two Split Second cards and five non-rare Suspend cards appear, and little new is done with either (outside of the rare Suspend cycle). Even Flash only has six cards (only one of which is common), which feels low for a set in the time block. Madness has four cards, but other than it moving into red slightly with Arrogant Wurm nothing is new there. Blue does continue its Morph theme with four cards (not counting Akroma, Angel of Wrath), but the most important card there is Shaper Parasite, which not only violates the “five-mana rule”, but is easily the best common Morph so far.
 
Now, as I do with all the follow-up sets in a block, let's look at where the color pairs are at this point—don't forget these aren't quite set in stone, as splashes are very easy with all the fixing in Time Spiral:
White/Blue: Evasion (fliers and Shadow), either aggro or control
Blue/Black: Very controlling, very flexible
Black/Red: Tons of removal, but less aggressive than normal (maybe Storm?)
Red/Green: Ramp deck (with Suspend filling holes) or Slivers
Green/White: Token deck, but feels underwhelming
White/Black: Good card quality (maybe Rebels?)
Blue/Red: No synergy or card quality (avoid)
Black/Green: Thallids, but not much synergy at low rarities
Red/White: Aggro, but one-dimensional (weak Suspend cards)
Green/Blue: Lots of Suspend cards, not much synergy
 
Shade of Trokair Sunlance Whitemane Lion Calciderm
White:
Commons Uncommons
White's flashiest shift is adding counterspells to its repertoire, but cards like Mana Tithe aren't going to affect limited that much. Instead, the “white-matters” theme taken from black leads to the most-powerful cards in white. Shade of Trokair gets by mostly on being a one-mana Suspend creature, and Saltblast is flexible, but Sunlance is the real break—this is better than the one-mana removal red was getting at the time! White also got a vertical cycle of gating creatures with Flash, and weirdly the rare Dust Elemental is probably the worst of the cycle. Instead, common gets Whitemane Lion, allowing you save creatures from removal while getting a decent body, while uncommon has Stonecloaker, which has even better stats along with incidental Flashback hate. In addition to the Flash gating creatures, Stormfront Riders lets you build-around gating slightly while getting great stats, even by itself (as on an empty board it's 5 mana for a 1/1 that doesn't cost you a card—I wonder if that's too powerful?). White also gets the best Vanishing creatures, as Aven Riftwatcher lets you survive for a long time and Calciderm just has raw stats.
 
Erratic Mutation Shaper Parasite Reality Acid Jodah's Avenger
Blue:
Commons Uncommons
The trend of colors getting removal they don't need continues, as Blue gets “+X/-X” from Black. While Erratic Mutation and Piracy Charm are both fine, the star here is Shaper Parasite, as even with a slight power downgrade (due to damage leaving the stack), it is still a reasonably-priced Morph that gives you removal along with flexibility. However, the card most likely to go under the radar is Reality Acid. While it looks like an awful delayed Vindicate at first glance, notice that it doesn't say that it has to die to the Vanishing trigger to sacrifice the permanent—or that it has to die at all! That means you can bounce it to remove the permanent, and Time Spiral includes both Dream Stalker and Tolarian Sentinel to abuse this fact—and top it all off, all of these cards are common! The one trade-off to all this crazy removal is that blue's creatures are awful outside of Shaper ParasiteGossamer Phantasm is fine, Jodah's Avenger is great, and Primal Plasma is flexible, but not much else is spectacular. However, considering you still can get Errant Ephemerons and the like in Time Spiral, that isn't much of a trade-off.
 
Rathi Trapper Kor Dirge Enslave Muck Drubb
Black:
Commons Uncommons
With black giving all its removal to other colors, it doesn't have much traditional destruction in this set (just Cradle to Grave and Big Game Hunter, and the former is basically Essence Scatter). Instead, black gets its removal from other mechanics, including tapping (Rathi Trapper among other cards), damage redirection (Kor Dirge), and even stealing (Enslave). Again, the trade-off is that other than the Rebels, the creatures are awful. Sure, Spitting Sliver and Muck Drubb are fine, but they're also five mana.
 
Dead/Gone Skirk Shaman Pyrohemia Fury Charm
Red:
Commons Uncommons
The removal carousel continues, as while red didn't lose burn (and both Dead and Rough are both great “normal” removal spells), it gained bounce, but only to opponent's creatures. This is much better than it looks, as the aggro red deck's main weakness is supposed to be big creatures, and it gets much better if you can just Stingscourger or Gone one out of the way. Red also somehow got a lot of decent creatures, starting with Skirk Shaman at common, then moving up to Blood Knight, Sulfur Elemental, Hammerheim Deadeye, and Reckless Wurm all at uncommon. Also at uncommon is Pyrohemia, as Wizards thought Pestilence was fair in modern limited formats for some reason. Finally, red gets surprisingly good combat tricks for the era—you know of Brute Force from both Modern Masters sets, but Fury Charm is even better here than in the original (Modern Masters), as it adds killing Vanishing creatures to the already long list of speeding out Suspend creatures, pushing through damage, and being a strictly better Shatter.
 
Utopia Vow Giant Dustwasp Pouncing Wurm Deadwood Treefolk
Green:
Commons Uncommons
The removal train even made a stop in green, as while Utopia Vow is obviously a lot worse than Pacifism, you need a way to kill the bombs in the other colors. Green high-profile shifts are Flying and card draw, and like bounce in red, cards like Giant Dustwasp, Citanul Woodreaders, and Harmonize are much better in green than in blue. The shifted dud in green is Haste—not necessarily because the synergy is bad (as cards like Vengevine and Mistcutter Hydra have shown), but because cards like Uktabi Drake, Reflex Sliver, and Vitaspore Thallid are just awful cards (though Pouncing Wurm is good at uncommon). The final shift (minor as it is) is green getting “Raise Dead,” and while it just adds to the versatility of Evolution Charm, Deadwood Treefolk is a great Gravedigger variant (and again, it doesn't have to die to Vanishing to get the second creature)
 
As there are basically no colorless cards in the entire set (only Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth), let's see how the color pairs have changed:
 
White/Blue:
The evasion theme of White/Blue continues, even with the lack of Shadow in the set. While Gossamer Phantasm and Aven Riftwatcher aren't the best creatures for sustained damage, (Veiled Oddity) gives you another angle for an alpha strike.
 
Blue/Black:
The lack of Flash really hits the Blue/Black control deck hard—all you get on that front at common is Cradle to Grave, Erratic Mutation and a couple one-mana Charms. Blightspeaker does give you a mana sink, but I'd say Dreamscape Artist is much better in this deck since it enables (Madness), ramps you for more Mystical Teachings combos, and thins your deck to let you draw more spells.
 
Black/Red:
The Black/Red deck is conflicted. On one hand, red got a lot more aggressive between bounce, combat tricks, and creatures like Keldon Marauders. On the other, black got a lot slower with the lack of top-tier removal and the addition of grindy creatures like Blightspeaker. Combined with the lack of Storm in the set, I'd stay away from this archetype.
 
Red/Green:
Like BR, the Red/Green deck is missing both of the defining traits from the Time Spiral archetype: the Slivers are awful, while Giant Dustwasp is the only decent Suspend creature. However, what it lost in creatures it gained in tempo—between the red bounce and Utopia Vow, the Red/Green deck's creatures should be unmatched.
 
Green/White:
The Thallid token deck finally comes into its own here, with Pallid Mycoderm finally giving the deck a reason to go into white. The deck also gets lots of utility, between Essence Warden for sustainability, good Slivers that might be enough to sustain a deck on their own, and Utopia Vow and Sunlance providing removal.
 
White/Black:
While I hinted that the White/Black might appreciate Rebels more than others last time, the addition of Blightspeaker cements that. Unfortunately, other than Rebels the White/Black doesn't get that much—in particular the lack of Flash really hurts when you have a reason to hold up mana all the time.
 
Blue/Red:
With bounce being in both blue and red (once you add Time Spiral to the mix), a Blue/Red tempo deck might actually work here. The problem is that you still have the lack of card quality in Time Spiral to overcome to get there.
 
Black/Green:
Again, there's no support for anything in Black/Green at higher rarities—Vitaspore Thallid supports the Thallid theme, I guess, and if you stretch it Fa'adiyah Seer helps a graveyard theme? At this point the other colors are doing better things, so I'd stay away.
 
Red/White:
This is the actual aggressive deck, even if the roles are reversed from the usual archetype—white gets rid of small creatures with Sunlance, while red gets the big creatures out of the way with Stingscourger (though Dead/Gone does both). The one downside is that white doesn't get many aggressive creatures (though the combination of Keldon Marauders and Whitemane Lion excites me).
 
Green/Blue:
While Giant Dustwasp is good, there isn't much other support for Suspend in these colors. Instead, the best path for these colors might be Green/Blue evasion, as weird as that is to say. The problem is that you're punting the first two packs under that plan, so it might be best to stay on the Suspend plan and just hope you open a Giant Dustwasp or two.
 
Overall Planar Chaos is a very interesting set. I'm not sure if it was worth the future design headaches (as the majority of the color pie shifts in Planar Chaos were only for this set, but that doesn't stop aspiring designers from trying to justify green fliers, red bounce, or white regeneration), but it did lead to cards that could never be made in other sets. The experimentation also led to other interesting color pie bleeds such as Stabbing Pain or Mindculling, or even the color pie shift that led to things like Haste in black or Vigilance in green becoming commonplace (even if some of them didn't actually show up in Planar Chaos itself). Next time we travel to the future in Future Sight—I just hope we can find our way back through the forest of mechanics.
 
Vincent

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