Dec 14, 2010

[Books] Planeshift (Magic The Gathering Invasion Cycle - Book 2)

Planeshift (Magic The Gathering Invasion Cycle - Book 2)When you spend potentially thousands and thousands of development dollars into creating Magic: the Gathering card expansion sets including all the back story and marketing and all that jazz, you build up a LOT of anticipation. After years of waiting, you have your entire fan base wondering how things will end regardless of how much they loved or hated the journey thus far.

This means that no matter what you do or how creative your development team is, some people are going to hate the end result. People will always have problems with this aspect or that and who knows what else might be wrong with your opus. After, it's hard to determine when the story ends and the marketing drive begins. Card development is not exactly the same as story development and the two processes can happen in isolation from one another. And thus you get card concepts that need to be worked into the story somehow or plot points that need to be adjusted to fit the cards. It's a vicious cycle.

While the Invasion that was meant to end the long-running story of the Weatherlight and her crew certainly kicked off with a bang, I'm not sure if this second act really made any sense.

Planeshift is the second book in the Invasion cycle of Magic: the Gathering books. It's based around the card expansion set of the same name and was written by J. Robert King.

Dominaria, from Aerona to Jamuraa and Shiv, bu...Image via WikipediaWith the Coalition Forces having won the battle at Koilos, things don't turn out well when the Rathi overlay of Dominaria completes and the two planes are merged together. This instantly brings the Phyrexian forces over without the need of portals and thus the battle resumes. The Nine Titans - the planeswalkers gathered by Urza to defend Dominaria - quickly rally the troops and divide them in order to bring them to key strategic areas that need to be taken.

Urza takes the Weatherlight and the Metathran to Urborg where the Rathi Stronghold has crossed over. Freyalise takes Eladamri and his elven forces to Keld to reunite them with the Skyshroud Elves from Rath and to aid the Keldons in their battle. And Tavesh Szat takes Rhammidarigaaz and the dragon nations to what's left of Shiv to defend their people and reveal the power of the Primevals that would aid Dominaria in fighting the Phyrexians. And eventually the nine planeswalkers gather for their true mission - to invade Phyrexia and destroy the nine spheres together with Yawgmoth himself.

The way the Invasion was mapped out never really made strategic sense to me. In the first book, the Phyrexian goal was to secure various portals to allow their trips to cross over into Dominaria. But it seems that whether or not this was going to be successful, the artificial plane of Rath was going to overlay with Dominaria anyway, thus allowing the Phyrexian forces to instantly travel to the target plane anyway. This reeks too much of a marketing-driven concept in order to drag the story out longer, but by now it's far too late to complain about things.

And while it was important to divide the Coalition forces to take the various locations, that also seemed like an odd use of their abilities. If only Urza better communicated his plans when he moved people around, but then this lack of sensitivity is after all a key trait of the mad artificer. It just made all the battles make a lot less sense in the long run. Thus it felt like a heck of a lot of fighting that didn't feel like it was getting anyway.

There's a lot going on in this books given the many groups that were created when the Titans split up the coalition and thus the need to follow each story to its conclusion. This inevitably sacrifices a fair amount of potential exposition, but in the end this is still a book based on a card game so that's to be expected. There are definitely some enjoyable moments, although it was still quite a challenge to figure out what cards are involved in each scene. If anything, it's clear that the three books in this particular cycle freely borrow card concepts from the three card sets, regardless of whether or not it was featured in the book in question. Thus as early as Invasion you have cards that appear in the later sets, thus reducing the potential pay off for readers to "spot the card" or something.

Planeshift was a necessary evil of a book that didn't feel like a truly creative enterprise but one hedged in by marketing plans, card design concepts and other related factors. Still, it manages to just earn 3 long-running let-downs like how silly the Keldon Twilight turned out to be out of a possible 5.

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