Magic is a game where people take the creative side very seriously. Without the art on the cards, would Magic have been such a big hit so quickly? Without art on the cards selling you the concept of real things in a real place, would the game have been around for 25 years? And that continues. Can you imagine this game where the cards were featureless generic names without art or context of world building? Would Serra Angel, as the generic Flying Angel without any art or flavor text, have been iconic? Would the game have survived without that world building?
And this has been true for the game for the entirety of its existence. The game is about more than mere game pieces. The latest set doesn’t introduce more Bishop and Rook variants than before. There is an art and style to them. A world created. We have books, comics, video games and other media that breathes here.
We have dozens of these different settings that evoke different fantasy feelings. High fantasy! Dark fantasy! Sword and sandal! Arabian fantasy! Mythic fantasy!
We’ve seen a lot of planes out there, from Ulgrotha to Rabiah to Rath to Shandalar. Amonkhet? Ixalan? Mercadia? Fiora? Innistrad? Alara? Lorwyn / Shadowmoor? Theros? Kamigawa? Serra’s Realm? Vryn? Regatha? Tarkir? Mirrodin / New Phyrexia?
And this list ignores planes that are hinted on a few cards, like Segovia or Muraganda or Wildfire.
So which planes are the best? How much does a plane drip off the page?
Now note that in evaluating planes like this that there will be a level of subjectively. That’s just the nature of the beast. It’s also hard to separately evaluate a plane’s flavor from the cards and mechanics that define it. To a degree, it’s almost like me asking what is your favorite color on a chess board, the black squares or the white squares.
Yet, it’s different. We have video games, comics, online web stories, novels, all in addition to the cards themselves. MTG is an entire multimedia franchise. Due to that, world-building is more important than other games.
Therefore, I have tried to give this task some objective considerations. I have spent weeks with these planes in the order that I chose, and thinking of the ones that are truly noteworthy. But again, how do you distinguish the flavor from the mechanics of a world? Take Fallen Empires as a good example. It’s considered a weak set by the majority of players. But the flavor of the various battles involved feels spot on to me and a lot of other people.
So, given the admittedly subjective nature of the question, what do I think the Top Ten Planes are?
Based on places like Florence and Venice in the Italian Renaissance, Fiora is interesting with its dark, Machiavellian feel. At any time, your friends, your enemies, or someone you have never met, may kill you from any angle. Backstab? Frontstab? Sidestab? That’s Fiora. The central concept of political struggles that often spill over into battle is one that is interesting, as it is clearly evoking the feel of real life during this era, where the various city states and powers of nascent Italy vied for power and the Papal States, Naples, and other major powers were a contributing factor in the ongoing struggles for power on the peninsula. In a similar way, the political struggles for power are very real on the plane of the ruling
Doge . . . er . . . Monarch and the will of the council. Here’s to Fiora and many happy returns!
9. Lorwyn / Shadowmoor
One of the core things most planes do is try to come up with some spin on an existing motif. Our Goblins are different! Our Merfolk are different! Our Elves are different! And Lorwyn / Shadowmoor certainly brought that concept to life with horned elves among others. Goblins tend to be the race most changed from one plane to another. From the original joking comic relief weaker entry to Rath’s angry, capable Moggs to the clever leaders in Mercadia to various turns as Akki on Kamigawa, Boggarts on Lorwyn / Shadowmoor or even the Pirate monkeys on Ixalan. And yet there is something just right about their turn on Lorwyn / Shadowmoor as Pie-Stealers and Goatnappers. They just work perfectly. Haughty Elves so haughty that they kill and hunt non-Elves? From the introduction of a new, trickier and deadlier sort of Fairy to the Merfolk that now actually walk, marking a change in Merfolk moving forward and thus leading to their return, this plane just oozes flavor in a lot of places as it made its mark.
A successful Theros and concept of Greek culture really has to have three major elements to be successful. Gods. Heroes. Monsters. That’s all you need to hit hard. And this does that all day long. The Gods were an awesome addition to the game and done quite well. The monstrous monsters not only have a cool concept but they also have some great flavor, like Nemesis of Mortals. And the heroes can be seen with the heroic keyword as well. The people of Theros tend to be at their best when challenged the most. As the spotlight shines on them, they claim their own. Heroes? Check. Monsters? Check. Gods? Check. The set and plane work tougher wonderfully to flesh out a world that has a lot going for it.
The monomyth awaits.
The interesting thing about Tarkir is that we’ve seen it twice in the same storyline. That’s pretty interesting. Tarkir has a few things going for it, but one of the flavor wins, in addition to the really cool duel between the Dragons and the Clans, is the central Asian feel of the plane as well. It really seems to care about giving a place and voice to Mongols, the arid steppes of the area, the central deserts, and more. We have the reintroduction of races like Efreet and Djinn, as well as Rakshasa, Kirin, and the Naga. And don’t forget Monks. The plane feels desolate and harsh, just the sort of place that Dragons and Clans would call home. Home of Narset, Ugin, and Sarkhan. Home of the war and the time travel that changed its history forever. Tarkir was, is, and will be.
6. Innistrad/ Ulgrotha
Which has more flavor, Innistrad or Ulgrotha? Set aside the lamer mechanics of Homelands, I think you could make a very strong argument that Ulgrotha is at least as flavorful, given they have iconic locations, the home of Serra for a while and her husband Feroz, and Vampires like Baron Sengir, foes like Ihsan's Shade, friends like Autumn Willow, and places like Castle Sengir are every bit as resonant as Sorin Markov in a latter generation. Both are clearly horror-inspired planes, with a valuable set of allies and villages among the villagers and populace. Both are very interesting takes on that core conceit. And I would put Ulgrotha up on this list all day long up with Innistrad. They both deserve a spot. Enter the dark night of the soul.
It’s hard to figure out where to put planes like Ixalan and Amonkhet this soon after their release. But I think we can agree that Kaladesh certainly is a homerun of flavor and interesting concepts made real. It’s a fun plane of new concepts, like energy, vehicles, and more, all made the more real with their interesting take on Indian culture. The combination of steampunk, Indian stylings, and fantasy might not have seemed like it would work on paper, but it certainly proved otherwise later on after we saw it released. And I would be surprised if 2017’s Aether Revolt is the last time we see this plane and Chandra’s home.
Zendikar has been a clear winner in the “Sweet Plane” contest for a while now. It had a very interesting concept at first as the adventure plane that was very difficult to survive, had very wealthy mana reserves, had various ruins and dungeons to explore, and had a lot to offer a traveling Planeswalker, assuming you could survive there. And then the first block concluded with the intentional release of the Eldrazi by Nissa Revane who thought that they would just leave her plane and let her Elves live. Whoops! And the introduction of a modern big bad into the multiverse with the Eldrazi and their Titans, who begin to take out the plane. Later we’ll see the Eldrazi fighting against locals and Planeswalkers and the plane will be the almost-home of the wrong-feeling creatures who will ultimately inspire the creation of the Gatewatch, a group of pan-planar Planeswalkers keeping watch to ensure that nothing bad is happening to folks elsewhere from outside of their plane.
I’d argue that Ravnica is the best, most well-defined, and certainly the most popular plane introduced in the Modern era. The sprawling plane, with its guild systems, has become iconic to modern Magic. Almost every story has a visit to Ravnica, almost every Planeswalker has visited there, and the concept of a plane so populated that everywhere is pretty much a city is intriguing without going into the issues of many planes’ flavors (see below at #1 for more on the often monoculture nature of planes in MTG.) The sets gave us new ways to look at existing color combinations that have defined the way things move forward, and the characters and world-building on Ravnica certainly resonates more than any other in this era. Since we swapped borders in expansion sets back in Mirrodin, I would argue that Ravnica is the best plane that has been created.
Ah yes, Phyrexia. Phyrexia is interesting as a plane, because we never actually had an entire set or block that was visiting there like a lot of other planes, and yet, we visited it multiple times during the various storylines, so we were very familiar with it. It’s the plane that influenced and corrupted Mishra. It’s the foe from The Brother’s War in Antiquities to Apocalypse. Phyrexia is the enemy and the spawner of many antagonists, and even a few others here and there like former Sleeper Agent Xantcha. Gix. Yawgmoth. Its design feels like the nine realms of Hell, with nine different spheres of the plane, and it has an artificial and heavily designed feel. They created the subplane of Rath as their invading platform for hitting Dominaria. They had a holy and philosophical way to them that subjugated and sought for evolution and growth, and there is a lot to unravel here. It’s a beautifully striking plane with a lot going on under the Phyrexian Mask.
Dominaria in the top spot is not only the obvious and correct choice, but it’s also the only choice. You could not write an article like this where Dominaria was not the best plane unless you put it in your title, like, “Top Ten Planes, Other Than Dominaria.” What makes it such an iconic and obvious choice? Consider this . . .
No other plane is as fleshed out, or as realistic, as Dominaria. Take, as one example, the fact that real-world Earth has a multiplicity of cultures, styles of architecture, races, and more spread across the world. And yet, Theros? Kamigawa? Rabiah? Innistrad? Kaladesh? Almost every other plane out there is pretty one-note. There is not a lot of fleshing out characters or location. Why wouldn’t there be a place in Kamigawa with East African-style concepts instead of Japanese? Why would there not be a place in Theros that’s Norse-inspired instead of Greek? Why is the culture on these planes so pervasive that they are not really realistic?
It’s the issue that we often see in fantasy or science fiction where one planet or race has only a limited range of emotions or development. Orcs are angry and evil. Elves are noble, haughty, but ultimately good. This planet over here is a single-biome planet with a race of creatures that all have the same religion or share the same conceit. Despite the fact that modern takes in these genres often get rid of this overly-simplistic trope, and Magic has tried to do so with races and colors (Black is not always bad, White is not always good, Elves are not always good, etc.) to a lesser level of results, their world-building has not followed suit.
Dominaria is the only major plane that is an actual, proper, fleshed out plane. Almost every other plane is just one-note musing. And those that have more meat on the bones still aren’t as realistic as Dominaria.
There we have it! My choice for the best ten planes out there. What are yours? Is Kamigawa on your list? Mirrodin? Alara? Rath? Ixalan? Amonkhet? Shandalar? Rabiah? Mercadia? Bolas’s Mediation Plane? And where did I go wrong? Where do you see a different ranking or nature?
And as always, thanks for reading!