Revisiting the Rabiah Scale
These days, it seems like every movie comes with a sequel. Magic: The Gathering sets are no different. That's where the Rabiah Scale comes in.
Okay, back up a second. What is the Rabiah Scale? Well, it's Wizards of the Coast Head Designer Mark Rosewater's personal scale for the likelihood of returning to any given plane. It's a one to 10 scale, with one being very likely to return and 10 being very unlikely to return. This is inspired by Rosewater's Storm Scale for returning mechanics, which you might be more familiar with.
I dig this scale. And since Rosewater hasn't written a formal article about it yet, I'd like to discuss the Rabiah Scale a bit myself.
(Of note: Mark Rosewater last wrote about this scale in 2016, so there are some newer planes, such as Ixalan, which do not appear on it. Also, the scale is based on Rosewater's opinion and doesn't guarantee anything about the future of Magic.)
The Ones: Ravnica and Innistrad
I love writing fiction. And when developing a fictional character, one of the best ways to make them come alive is to determine a defining characteristic. What trait makes them who they are? For instance, Tyrion Lannister's defining characteristic is his wit, while Cersei Lannister's defining characteristic is her ambition.
When considering a return to a plane, I think of its defining characteristics. In essence, what's the less-than-five-word pitch most people would associate with the plane? This helps one determine what game mechanics might return, and therefore how likely we are to see them again.
The defining characteristics of Ravnica and Innistrad contribute to their low scores. Ravnica is the two-color guild set, Innistrad is the horror set. There's still plenty of space left to explore in both respects.
Both excellent planes, both places everyone would be happy to return to.
Another no-brainer. The original Zendikar block marked the beginning of Magic's explosive growth. Though "the land plane" doesn't necessarily sound super exciting, it actually makes for one heck of a set. Landfall became a classic mechanic; the Eldrazi became famous.
When Wizards returns to Zendikar for the third time (when, not if), I think everyone wants the adventure world aesthetic recaptured. Original Zendikar got a lot of mileage out of dungeon raiding, explorers, and booby traps, while BFZ focused a little too much on the Eldrazi war. Time to bring back the former.
The Threes: Kaladesh and Theros
Theros makes sense at three because it feels rich in design space; if they bring back the Devotion mechanic, for example, there's a lot left to explore. The setting does feel a bit limited in the sense that fans aren't necessarily steeped in Greco-Roman mythology, but it still works.
Kaladesh is the big shocker here, simply because of the pain the plane has caused in Standard. Two characteristics make its return questionable: artifacts and energy. Artifact blocks almost always cause issues in Standard, often because they aren't limited by color. Any deck can play artifacts, so any deck will play artifacts. Cough, cough, Smuggler's Copter, cough. Ahem. Sorry. Something in my throat.
And then there's Energy. A cool mechanic that works well in Limited, it's proven problematic in Standard. Giving players a non-interactable resource which comes tacked onto already good cards for essentially nothing? It's the reason Wizards needed to ban the seemingly innocuous Attune with Aether.
That said, maybe a return to the plane is just what we need to fix things up. Despite its flaws, Energy is still a fun mechanic. To save it, maybe the execution could be changed. For example, R&D could charge a full mana or more for energy rather than just tacking it onto already good cards. If Attune with Aether costed two or Rogue Refiner costed four, maybe they wouldn't have been so problematic. Or what if some cards produced energy but couldn't use it, while other cards used energy but couldn't produce it? There are many ways to go—though a three still feels generous.
The Fours: Alara, Dominaria, Tarkir, Vryn
We're already returning to Dominaria in April, so we're set there. I think most players would welcome returns to Alara and Tarkir. Which leaves Vryn.
Vryn is an interesting plane because we know so little about it. It first appeared in Planechase, then returned in Magic Origins, where we found out it's Jace Beleren's home plane. So, logically, the first Vryn set will be called Jace: Homecoming. You heard it here first.
The Fives: Fiora, The Plane Formerly Known as Mirrodin (New Phyrexia)
Interesting to see that these didn't make it higher on the list. As the setting for the Conspiracy sets, I think of Fiora's defining characteristics as political intrigue, multiplayer gameplay, and ghost stabbing. It seems like a plane players enjoy and there's much left to explore, so why isn't it higher?
It might have something to do with Conspiracy: Take the Crown performing worse than its predecessor. One can hardly blame Take the Crown, though, considering that it was out for less than a month before Kaladesh came along.
A return to New Phyrexia would be interesting, if only to see whether or not Phyrexian mana returns. While certainly a cool mechanic, it's somewhat complex for new players, and difficult to balance for power level. In any case, we did get Spike, Tournament Grinder in Unstable, so things are good there.
Another relatively unknown world, our first visit to Regatha came in Magic Origins. I think the placement here seems fine; while it's not a plane players rave about, Regatha's presence in Origins suggests a definite future significance. It's a plane of fiery mountains and towering rocks, so I think it would be a fun plane to visit (just not on vacation).
The Sevens: Lorwyn/Shadowmoor, Shandalar
Shandalar makes sense to me as a seven. It's been mentioned a number of times, though it lacks the depth of Magic's other planes. In fact, Wizards referred to it as their "baseline fantasy" plane, which makes me think it's not a great fit for a standalone block. You know what? I might even rank it lower than seven.
The Lorwyn/Shadowmoor ranking surprises me. Lorwyn is my favorite set of all time, though I know that's a minority opinion. For one, the set was incredibly complex, which was fun for longtime players but overwhelming to new players. And then there's the fairytale aesthetic, which works fine on its own, but breaks down a bit when planeswalkers visit.
Furthermore, MaRo stated that the people who loved Lorwyn/Shadowmoor really loved it, while the people who hated it really hated it. Difficult to justify returning to such a polarizing world, but I could still see it happen. Its presence in Magic Origins gave me hope that we might return again someday.
The Eights: Kamigawa, Segovia
Segovia sounds like it could be a real country, perhaps formerly part of the Soviet Union. One second…
Ah, okay. Google tells me it isn't a real place (though it's almost Sokovia, which is apparently the place that got destroyed in Avengers 2. Anyway). Segovia (not Sokovia) is a plane where everything's miniaturized. It was introduced in Planechase and has since been treated as though it doesn't exist. I really can't see Wizards producing a Stuart Little-themed set, so I wonder why this isn't a ten.
I totally agree with the placement of Kamigawa. Tough to rank it any higher when our first trip to the plane was so rocky. I'm talking about unclear themes, oftentimes frustrating Limited gameplay, parasitic mechanics, underpowered cards. Kamigawa certainly had a lot of issues.
What is Kamigawa's defining characteristic? Tough to say. If you think it's Japanese mythology, then I think they can successfully return to the plane by keeping the mythology elements and reworking the mechanics. However, if they believe the Legendary supertype is the set's defining characteristic, now we have a problem.
Rosewater has explained this before, but essentially Kamigawa's downfall was the fact that one couldn't open a booster pack and see an overarching theme. That's because only rares and a handful of uncommons were Legendary. So if the set theme doesn't show up on common cards (the cards players see most frequently), it won't define the set.
The obvious workaround is to print legendary creatures at common. But that seems pretty outlandish. Legendary creatures are fun exactly because only a few appear per set. Expanding them to common would remove the best quality about them. Definitely a problematic plane, but I'm sure Wizards will figure things out.
The Nines: Mercadia, Rath, Serra’s Realm, Ulgrotha
And now the obscure planes. One would have to be playing almost since the game began to know anything about them. Meaning minimal nostalgia value to anyone outside a small circle of players. Just imagine Wizards announcing Return to Ulgrotha as the fall set. I think fanbase reaction could be summed up in a single word: Huh?
The namesake of the scale, Rabiah is the plane where Magic's first expansion, Arabian Nights, took place. It's almost assuredly never going to be revisited, simply because it is not Wizards' intellectual property. Which makes me wonder whose property it actually is and how they were allowed to make their own set out of it, but whatever. So long, Rabiah!
So that's Mark Rosewater's Rabiah Scale. Players love returning to popular planes, so maybe this scale will help Wizards decide where to go next. Can we go back to Lorwyn. Please?
Kyle Massa is a writer and avid Magic player living in upstate New York with his fiancée and their two cats. When he's not writing, you'll find him down at the East Greenbush Flipside store jamming booster drafts. For more of Kyle's work, visit www.kyleamassa.com or follow him on Twitter @mindofkyleam.
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