Grapple with the Past – Planar Chaos

(Damnation | Art by Kev Walker)

Colorology

Greetings, everyone, and welcome back to Grapple With the Past, a series in which we look back at the set pages for old releases to discuss the cards that made it and the cards that fell into obscurity in EDH. Once a set releases, Commander players write and read reviews, test out the new cards, and incorporate winners into their EDH repertoire. But with the constant stream of new products, it’s easy for cards to slip through the cracks. I’ve found that by exploring set pages on EDHREC, I frequently stumble upon cards that could easily find a spot in one of my decks. In this series we look for irregularities in the data, try to identify sleeper cards from formats past, and discuss the legacy of particular sets in Commander.

 

The Magic: the Gathering releases that I most enthusiastically and unerringly love are the ones that play with my understanding of the game. I started playing around the time of the original Mirrodin block, but I took a break from Magic after Dissension. As such, Planar Chaos has been a blind spot for me. The game has changed considerably in the last thirteen years, and yet, looking back through EDHREC, there are still cards and ideas that surprise and delight me from this set.

At a glance, the most salient feature of Planar Chaos is its ambition. It reappropriated mechanics among the colors, reimagined popular characters, and printed some of the weirdest cards I’ve ever seen. In what other world would Temporal Extortion even be possible? And all in one set!

These qualities also make it an interesting set for EDH, a format where color identity and the effects available to any given color matters more than anywhere else. Let’s take a look at the cards that make waves and which remain under the surface for Commander from Planar Chaos.


The Commander Class

While the commander options on display from this set may be outclassed in this day and age, some are still quite playable. Others, however, are an interesting window back into an older version of EDH.

 

I remember running into the old three-color cycle of Dragon commanders fairly frequently. Nowadays, it’s easy to look at Intet, the Dreamer, Teneb, the Harvester, or Numot, the Devastator and dismiss them on how expensive and slow they are, but they were pretty popular generals when I started playing EDH. I would love to build and play some of these Dragons today, but it just isn’t interesting anymore now that there are so many more efficient commander options.

Braids, Conjurer Adept, on the other hand, is today the most popular commander from this set. I haven’t played against a Braids deck before, but I would bet that some of this additional popularity is due to publicity from Jumbo Commander. He has a very fun Braids deck.

The rest of the commanders here are pretty innocuous. One time I played against a Radha, Heir to Keld mana dork tribal deck, but I can’t say I’ve seen any of these others in the wild.


The Top 10

This set is immediately recognizable based on its top ten cards. Even if you’ve never heard the name Planar Chaos before, you’ve been exposed to some of these cards. Not only is the card quality from this set perfectly pitched for Commander, it also distributes much-needed effects among the colors.

What a murderer’s row for EDH. Harmonize is the best generic card advantage in green. Pongify is some of the best creature removal for blue. Damnation is second only to Toxic Deluge in terms of black board wipes. I won’t dwell too long on these staples in the top ten. We know them. We love them. They’re still among the best options in the format. This isn’t even mentioning the other staples in the top ten including Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth and Mesa Enchantress.

In what may seem like a strange turn, two of the aforementioned Dragons also make their way into the top ten. Intet, the Dreamer and Teneb, the Harvester both find themselves in the 99 of 5% or more of possible decks. Both see play primarily in Scion of the Ur-dragon and The Ur-dragon decks. Similarly, Necrotic Sliver finds itself here based on its play in Sliver tribal decks. Pyrohemia, on the other hand, seems like an outlier. It sees play in more decks than Pestilence by more than 2000 decks. Is this effect really that much more valuable in red? In Neheb, the Eternal and Torbran, Thane of Red Fell decks, this card is a star.

Think Twice

There are so many interesting cards to dissect from this set that this article could turn into a novela if I’m not careful. Because of this, I’ll only focus on nine of my favorites, cards that I’ve played and been impressed by.

If anybody at Wizards reads this, please note that Spellshapers are my favorite creature type and I would love a Spellshaper general in any subsequent Commander product. The idea behind Dreamscape artist is compelling. You can essentially transform any card in your hand into a blue Harrow. As with most Spellshapers, this is very good in any blue deck that plays with its graveyard. If you can discard a Flashback or Jump-Start card with Dreamscape Artist, such as Deep Analysis or Chemister’s Insight, you’re already producing above-average value and ramping lands in blue.

Reality Acid has been an all-star in my blink decks. Blinking this enchantment with Aminatou, the Fateshifter is a powerful control engine.

Finally, I really like surprising players in white. Over time, people I’ve played with have gotten wise to Lapse of Certainty, but Rebuff the Wicked is still unexpected. While this card is actually most similar to Gods Willing rather than most counterspells, it can still protect a key piece of your board in a pinch, whether it be a creature, an artifact, or even a land. It’s been a long time since Wizards has played with giving white counter magic, but I think the effect fits the color well.

Planar Chaos gave Toshiro Umezawa a few gifts. If you still haven’t hopped on the Imp’s Mischief train, I’m here to advocate for it. Shunt effects are sorely underrated in EDH, especially in removal-heavy metas. This effect is a perfect way to punish a player for messing with your board. Outside of that scenario, Imp’s Mischief is also good when there is a clear archenemy at the table. Any removal spell that they cast can be used against them. It can even clear up counterspell wars. Because EDH players tend to favor cheap removal, Imp’s Mischief won’t even make you lose too much life. It’s just good.

In a similar vein, Kor Dirge is a great you-did-this-to-yourself style of removal spell. You can use it to blank an attack or blank a block. It’s much more limited in its application than Imp’s Mischief, but it still has a place in some decks.

Treacherous Urge is a fun card that reminds me of Mindclaw Shaman. Hand disruption in EDH usually isn’t great, but if it provides you with significant value, it can work. Think Syphon Mind. You would run Syphon Mind even if it didn’t make your opponents discard. Similarly, Treacherous Urge is amazing in pods with players that like ramping into haymakers.

Porphyry Nodes is and always has been an underrated card for enchantment decks. It doesn’t play well with enchantresses, but it can really control a board, especially if you already run a lot of removal. And for one mana, you can’t get a better deal. Consider this in enchantment-focused decks that want to draw out a game, decks that already play cards like Luminarch Ascension.

Mantle of Leadership is a house. I play this in Kykar, Wind’s Fury, and it can turn my Bird into a one-shot Voltron commander all on its own. Consider this card in decks that produce a lot of tokens all at once. This should be played in almost every Siona, Captain of the Pyleas deck from here on.


Up Next

That’s that for Planar Chaos. I am very sorry that I couldn’t get to your comments in a timely fashion last week: I was moving across the country and rarely had internet for that week. I’ll be engaged in the comments of this article as usual!

What do you all think of this set? What cards do you run? Most importantly, what is your favorite colorshifted effect? Which colorshifted effect belongs in its new color? Is Harmonize appropriate as a green card? Should white receive more counterspells like Rebuff the Wicked? Is blue a good home for Harrow? Finally, what important character from Magic‘s history deserves to be colorshifted like Akroma, Angel of Fury? I would love to see some of the Gods colorshifted. Not Heliod, he should stay white. Maybe a white Bontu or a black Hazoret. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

What set do you want to see next? Remember to EDHREC responsibly: always dig a little beyond the statistics. I’ll see you all on down the road.

Steven Vincent is an ESL teacher located in Oaxaca, México who uses Magic as a teaching tool. He hasn't introduced his students to Commander yet, but he is inching them toward the format so that he has a play group and can more frequently sate his thirst for EDH.