Magic History: Planeshift

Magic Untapped takes a look back at the set Planeshift.

Wizards of the Coast's popular and long-standing collectible card game, Magic: The Gathering, has been out since 1993.  That stated, it's nice to look back at older sets to reminisce and see just how much the game has changed over the years.

In this video, we look back at Planeshift, the middle set in Magic: The Gathering's Invasion block.

Check it out:

Video Transcript:

In February of 2001, the second set in the Invasion block, Planeshift, was released.

The set tells the story of the Rathi Overlay of Dominaria as Phyrexia’s main assault on the plane begins.  In fact, that’s what the set’s swirly symbol is meant to represent.

The whole story can be experienced by reading the Planeshift novel by J. Robert King.  Failing that, here is a story summary:

The Rathi Overlay begins as Dominaria’s Coalition forces are recovering from the battle at the Caves of Koilos.  Sensing the urgency of the moment, Urza and the other eight titans all dispatch troops to strategically significant locations across the globeAub.

Urza sends the Weatherlight and his Metathran army to Urborg where the Rathi Stronghold now stands.  Inside, Crovax cannibalizes Tsabo Tavoc for her failures in Phyrexia’s first wave of attacks.

Freyalise, for example, sends Eladamri, Lin Sivvi, and their forces to Keld.  There, they join forces with the Keldon warlord Astor along with the Skyshroud elves who were transplanted there by the overlay.  And the serpentine planeswalker, Tevesh Szat, sends the powerful dragon, Darigaaz, along with a great number of others to defend what remains of Shiv.  Before the dragons departed, however, Szat gave Darigaaz a little history lesson about the Primeval dragons and how Dragons used to rule over the land.

The nine planeswalkers that make up the titans – Urza, Bo Levar, Daria, Freyalise, Commodore Guff, Kristina of the Woods, Taysir of Rabiah, Tevesh Szat, and Lord Windgrace – then travel to Phyrexia itself, their titan armors in tow, with plans to destroy the plane with soul bombs, which are explosive of immense power that can only be fueled by capturing a potent-enough soul.

The fight on Phyrexia goes rather well until the antagonistic Tevesh Szat betrays the group by murdering two of the titans: Kristina of the Woods and Daria.  Urza had expected Tvesh Szat’s betrayal.  In fact, he counted on it and used it as an excuse to activate the self destruct mechanism in Szat’s titan armor, killing the treacherous planeswalker and draining his essence to fuel the soul bombs.

Meanwhile, back on Dominaria, the Urborg terrain is getting the best of the Metathran as the army gets caught in quicksand.  Thankfully, help arrives, though it arrives in the form of the lich lord Dralnu and his legion of undead.  As common enemies form unlikely alliances, Dralnu informs the Metathran general, Agnate, of an underground city in which the lich gives fallen warriors a second chance and the two armies agree to fight side-by-side against the Phyrexians.

While things are looking up in Urborg, Keld isn’t faring quite so well.  The prophecy of the Keldon Twilight proves true as all of the fallen heroes entombed in the Keldon Necropolis come back to life.  Unfortunately, they do so to fight not for Keld, but for Phyrexia.  A chaotic and lopsided battle ensues atop a frozen lake.  The lunacy reaches its peak as Tajamin, the keeper of the sacred Book of Keld, struck one of the undead Kelds with her sacred cudgel, causing a massive energy surge that triggered a volcanic eruption underneath the ice, shattering the lake’s frozen cover and causing an epic flood that swept away not just the Phyrexians, but the elves and Keldons alike.  It’s then that the true Twilight Prophecy came to light as the mythical Keldon longboat, the Golden Argosy, emerged from the lake’s depths and saved many of the drowning elves and Keldons, only to take them to their next battle on the fetid shores of Urborg.

Speaking of Urborg, Agnate is now in Dralnu’s underground city to forge their newfound alliance.  While he’s there, the battle of Urborg above ground is faring poorly.  The Weatherlight heads to nearly Zhalfir to enlist the formidable minotaur warriors of Talruum only to discover that Teferi had phased the entire area out of the time stream.  The crew then turns to Hurloon for help.

There, they find that the Phyrexians have ravaged the land and were putting every last minotaur there through the mentally and physically scarring process that Tahngarth himself underwent while imprisoned on Rath.  Feeling he could redeem himself – even if just a little – for his own capture and torment, the Weatherlight’s first mate put up a fierce defense.

The Weatherlight destroys the Phyrexian’s mutation plans and, in doing so, saves much of the Hurloon population.  In the aftermath, the Hurloon natives bowed down before Tahngarth and adopted him as their champion – even rubbing ash on their bodies to mimic his own shameful scars as a sign of respect.  Now feeling redeemed, Tahngarth enlists a number of Hurloon warriors to join the Weatherlight in battle on Urborg as the ship makes its return to the island.

Agnate and Dralnu, too, return to the fray and, soon after, the battle for the southern part of Urborg is won.  The troops begin to head north to the Stronghold, but something seems wrong.  Agnate feels himself dying, assuming he’s caught the Phyrexian Plague.  While being treated aboard the Weatherlight, it comes to light that the Metathran general’s sickness isn’t Phyrexian, but rather is one caused by Dralnu, who has plans to take over the Metathran army.  Agnate relinquishes command to the Hurloon leader, Grizzlegom, who mercy kills the general, then kills Dralnu.

In the skies above Urborg, another battle of sorts began.  The Predator, the Rathi flagship that came over in the overlay, intercepts the Weatherlight.  Unlike the last couple of times when the two skyships clashed, things don’t go so well for the Predator as the Weatherlight had received a number of upgrades since then.  Despite heavy damage to the ship, the Predator crew, led by Greven il-Vec, manage to board the Weatherlight as the crews engage in hand-to-hand combat.  Tahngarth, seeking to exact revenge for what the Predator Commander did to him, provides Greven with the business end of his axe.  Soon thereafter, the Commander’s lifeless corpse was thrown overboard along with the wreckage of the destroyed enemy skyship.
The battle, however, is not yet won as Ertai appears, having watched everything unfold while cloaked in invisibility.  The powerful mage, now disfigured and fighting for the Phyrexians, abducts both Gerrard and Squee, teleporting all three of them into the Stronghold.

There, they meet their abandoned former crewmate and new Evincar of Rath, Crovax.  The vampire promises Gerrard that Yawgmoth could resurrect Hanna for him, but only if he agrees to join Phyrexia.  To prove such a feat possible, Crovax kills Squee, only to grant him the unnatural ability to come back from the dead.

In the meantime, Darigaaz has traversed the globe, ressurrecting three of the Primeval dragons, Rith, Dromar, and Treva, at the cost of many draconic lives.  Rith reveals to Darigaaz that he himself is a Primeval dragon and the four plunge themselves into a tar pit, awakening the final Primeval, Crosis.  The dragon resurrects the other four, thus completing their chain of power.

The dragons go on the offensive, attacking Phyrexians and Dominarians alike.  It’s not until Darigaaz attacks the Weatherlight does this change.  Karn succeeds in talking some sense back into the dragon.  Realizing the horrors the dragons are performing, Darigaaz plunges himself into an active volcano.  His sacrifice breaks the chain, allowing each of the other dragons to be defeated and ending their primeval threat once and for all – even if it meant wrecking the Weatherlight in the process.

Back on Phyrexia, Urza finds himself more and more awestruck by the gruesome beauty that is Yawgmoth’s domain.  The Lord of the Wastes feeds upon this increasing adoration and manages to get Urza to join his side, making the planeswalker destroy the master soul bomb that was supposed to trigger all of the others.  When confronted by Taysir, Urza activates the kill switch in his suit just as he had done previously to Tevesh Szat.

Yawgmoth then shows to Urza Mishra, his long-lost brother, saying that he has been continuingly tortured in Phyrexia since the days of the Brothers’ War on Argoth.  Now set on joining Yawgmoth and supporting the Phyrexians, Urza bows before his new master.

Back in the Rathi Stronghold on Dominaria, Crovax reveals to Gerrard how the Metathran general Agnate and the dragon Darigaaz both fell to evil temptations before delivering the heavy blow by informing him that the headstrong Urza had also succumbed to the allure of Yawgmoth.  Hearing this, Gerrard steps through a portal that leads directly into the ninth sphere of Phyrexia where he joins Urza on bended knee before the plane’s Dark Lord.

Dominaria’s saviours turned, the Weatherlight destroyed, and all hope seemingly lost, Karn emerges from the skyship’s wreckage on Urborg carrying the ancient and mysterious Thran Tome.  The golem now knows what must be done to save the world.

And that’s how this chapter in the story ends, but it’s not the end of the story of Planeshift, to be sure.

Consisting of 143 cards, the set continued Invasion’s theme of multicolored cards and strategies.  The set expands upon the kicker keyword that was introduced in the previous set by having the kicker cost being something besides just an additional amount of mana that is to be paid.  Domain is also expanded upon.  Further, Planeshift introduced an un-keyworded mechanic colloquially known as “Gating” with which players return a permanent that shares a color with the card being cast to their hand in exchange for a lower casting cost or higher power, such is the case with the five-drop 7/7 trampler, Shivan Wurm.

Planeshift also featured a number of cycles (thirteen of them, to be exact) such as the allied-color gating creatures, and tri-colored dragon charms and lairs.

There are also five vertical cycles – one for each color – that feature an apprentice at common, a battlemage at uncommon, and a master at rare, such as with the Thunderscape Apprentice, Thunderscape Battlemage, and Thunderscape Master in red.

And while the set includes no reprints, it does have a number of notable cards with Diabolic Intent, Draco, Flametongue Kavu, Lord of the Undead, Meddling Mage, Orim’s Chant, Voice of All, and the aforementioned Shivan Wurm.

Key storyline characters Tahngarth, Talruum Hero and Ertai, the Corrupted also get cards, as does, finally, the iconic Skyship Weatherlight with all three cards being released both normally and in foil-only, alternate artwork form.

And, while on the topic of special cards, Planeshift’s pre-release promo card also got special treatment.  Like with Invasion’s Raging Kavu promo, which was printed in Latin, Planeshift’s pre-release Questing Phelddagrif was printed “Ό πλανώμενος Φελδδαγρίφος” in ancient Greek.  Just don’t ask me to pronounce it.

So, is Planeshift among your favorite Magic: The Gathering sets?  If so, let us know in the comment section below.

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Barry White

Barry White is a longtime Magic: The Gathering player, having started in 1994 shortly before the release of 'Fallen Empires.' After graduating from the University of Nevada, Reno, he went on to a 15-year journalism career as a writer, reporter, and videographer for three different ABC affiliate newsrooms.