Sunday, 18 November 2018

Another Look at Battlemage

A long, long time ago I covered the game Magic the Gathering: Battlemage. Or, to be more precise, I covered the lore stuff that was presented alongside it and the very beginning of the game. I didn't go any further because the game is nigh-on unplayable, even if you get it to work on your computer, and because the game does not have a set storyline. The progress depends entirely on your character choice, the way you play the game and the random actions of the AI opponents. So surely nothing in the game beyond the very opening should be considered canonical, right?

Well, that assumption was overturned, like so many assumptions I have made on this blog, with the release of Dominaria. We were already amazed by references to Carthalions, Epityr's history with Sheoltun and what not, when Ethan Fleisher tweeted the origin of this card's name:


You see, "Time of Ice" isn't just a fancy term "Ice Age". It is actually a reference to an in-universe book, one you can read if you talk a certain NPC in the game Battlemage! Suddenly there is a bunch more stuff in that game that is relevant to continuity!

I was already dreading the idea of having to try and get the game to work and do multiple playthroughs just for those lore bits, but luckily April King is a lot smarter than me and just broke into the game's code to fish out these documents. So let's have another blast to the past and dive into some in-universe books!

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Chronicle of Bolas


Writer - Kate Elliot
Originally released June-August 2018

SUMMARY
Eh... do you all want me to do a summary? Doing those makes sense when I'm reviewing 20 year old stories that might be tricky to get your hands on these days, but the story I'm covering today has been released this year and is available for free on MagicTheGathering.com. I suspect most of you have already read it. So I'm just going to drop the link to the beginning of the story... here. You can click on the link to the next one at the end of each chapter. Except for the last chapter, as the link in the second-to-last one is missing for some reason.

Let me know in the comments if you want me to do actual summaries instead the next time I cover something so recent. For now I'm taking the quicker option!

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Artbooks Reconsidered

Just a quick timeline update in between actual reviews.

Back in the Art of Magic the Gathering: Dominaria review I mentioned that I was going to stick to the "~3250 AR" date for the fall of Sheoltun and the rise of Benalia rather than use the 3500 AR date from the artbook, as that later date would contradict a mention of Benalia in Hazezon, and "stories trump background materials" is one of the rules I laid down for myself to be able to weigh contradictions while making the timeline. However, the fact that I also mentioned that maybe readers of the blog could sway me on this showed that I was never 100% happy with this.

Well, I've thought about it some more, and I have concluded that I've misappraised the artbooks as a whole.


Let's go back a bit. I've started this blog in January 2015. That's a whole year before the Zendikar artbook came out. Zendikar was the first of the current series, so they were not something I considered when making my own rules.

What I was thinking of when I said "background materials" were in the first place Savor the Flavor articles, Doug Beyer Tumblr answers and information booklets that came with Duel or Commander Decks. The first of those being weekly, routine productions, the second probably quickly typed out whenever Doug had time, and the third equally likely to have been written by PR people as by the Creative team. In other words, stuff which you would not expect to be very thoroughly researched, and from which you could thus more easily forgive mistakes than from the actual story. Crucially, these kinds of background sources are also much more fleeting than a published novel or anthology. Let's put it this way: if we ever get that Return to Kamigawa story it would be ludicrous to ask the writers to track down everything members of the Creative team ever said about that plane on various social media sites, and with the current state of MagicTheGathering.com's archives you can't really ask them to read all the Magic Arcana's either. But I would assume that they, or at the very least their editors, would be familiar with the novels of the original Kamigawa trilogy.

Furthermore, when I began my blog I had no idea that Magic would one day make references to so far back as we've seen this year in Dominaria and Core 2019. I thought the most controversial story/background inconsistencies to figure out would be between Rath and Storm and The Art of Magic the Gathering: The Rath Cycle, and between the various Armada comics and The Story of the Battlemage Ravidel. In other words: between roughly contemporaneous sources where the background material has slipped further into obscurity than the actual story. I couldn't know that Magic would step up its continuity game so much within just a short few years!

Carthalion references in 2018!
When the first few artbooks came out it simply didn't cross my mind that they did not quite match what I had imagined background material to be like. After all, they were all current and I was hanging out in Magic's history on this blog. But then Dominaria came out...

So now I see my mistake. The artbooks are neither quickly written nor PR-pieces, and they are certainly not so easily forgotten. Quite the opposite. They are excellent reference material and compulsory reading for anyone who wishes to write future stories set on the planes they cover. They are going to be the basis for a new generation's knowledge about the storyline, and a throwaway line in Hazezon... isn't.

So rather than simply stating that story takes precedence over background stuff, I should say I'm evaluating how sources where produced (where they a deliberate addition to the storyline like the Art of Dominaria, or a PR publication like The Story of the Battlemage Ravidel) and how likely it is that a source will stick around or fade away. That sounds way less snappy, but it is essentially what my original adage was supposed to do anyway, and by reconsidering the Dominaria artbook in this fashion I will end up with a timeline that does not differ so radically from what the rest of the Vorthos community and the people at WotC are using.

There is one downside to this, and that is that I have to count the 3500 date for the Sheoltun/Benalia stuff as a retcon. After all, both the original The Duelist article and Hazezon require it to have an earlier date, but hey, as a Magic storyline fan you just have to live with ret-cons from time to time and this isn't a very big one. Have some halfhearted finger-wagging and tutting over the mistake, it is all I can muster at this point.


I will keep Hazezon and the rest of the Legends I saga where it is, rather than moving it to a point later than Benalia's founding, as the fact that it happens 400 years after the Ice Age is stated multiple times, and is much more integral to the story than the throwaway line about Benalia, as the changing climate after the Ice Age is the indirect cause for the Tirras aggression. We'll just have to imagine that Benalia reference was actually talking about Sheoltun instead.

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Otaria Saga Overview

OVERVIEW OF THE OTARIA SAGA
When I was done with the Weatherlight Saga I did an overview article where I asked questions like whether the saga as a whole worked as a story, and how its continuity held up. For the Otaria Saga I think we can be a bit shorter on that front. Did it work as an ongoing story? Yes. In fact, it only works as an ongoing story, as the books all continue on directly from one another. Is it any good? Nope, the second half is very bad, which kinda ruins the first half for me as well.

So instead this article will cover the main question that this whole saga raises: how did this happen? How could the quality drop so low? Now, as far as I know no one involved in the creation of the saga ever came out to outright tell us what went wrong, but if we take a look at the various sources we do have and compare the Otaria era with other periods in Magic's history, we can can make some educated guesses.


Monday, 1 October 2018

Onslaught block Online


By the time Onslaught block came around MagicTheGathering.com was firmly established as the main source of official Magic info, and the Magic Book Archive and The Magic Multiverse... eh... were also still chugging along for some reason. For more details on those you can read my Odyssey block Online article. The one difference with what came before is that there no longer was a dedicated mini-site per block like MagicOdyssey.com or MagicInvasion.com.

Without these online sources Onslaught block might have gone into history as just having a terrible story, but with them an even more baffling picture emerges, as they seem to tell a quite different story altogether, with lots of altered details, a focus remaining on the Mirari rather than shifting to numena and Karona and some entirely new subplots. Leaving storyline fans to wonder "What if the novels had told that story instead?"

Before we dive in, a little disclaimer. This time there were actually a bunch of articles the Wayback Machine couldn't find. Unfortunately the old internet has a lot of holes in it these days. Luckily I've been able to dig up the most important ones elsewhere. For example, Jess Lebow's making-of of the Onslaught story couldn't be found with my "going through all the numbered URLs" method nor could it be reached from the Featured Article archive, but the version from the Magic Book Archive was still available. Still, there were url's that weren't in the Machine at all, or which kept redirecting me to an "enter your language" screen, so perhaps I've missed a few interesting ones. Despite that, I think I've managed to find enough sources to give a clear overview of the way the Onslaught era was portrayed online.


Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Scourge


Writer - J. Robert King
Cover art - Ron Spears
First released in May 2003

SUMMARY
So Karona has been born and has her proper name now. She flies off into the desert, with everyone at Averru following her in a mad trance. Kamahl is the first to find her and discovers she is a bit of a blank slate, not knowing what she is or what she can do. He then sees the other people arriving and crushing each other in a frenzied attempt to get to their new goddess. She runs off. Kamahl realizes she is an incredible danger, so he vows to go get the Mirari-sword to kill her. Other than him only a few people prove immune to her lure: the numena, the unmen Sash and Waistcoat, and Stonebrow for some reason. He is entranced at first (he just can't follow because his legs are caught under rubble) but when she leaves he comes to his senses and joins up with Averru.

Karona next meets Sash and Waistcoat. After some wacky antics (they are thirsty, so she nearly drowns them, that sort of top-notch humor) the three become friends. Because they are not affected by her she dubs them her prophets. They then convince her to go to the city of Eroshia. There the entire magical infrastructure (streetlamps, cable carts) collapses merely from her presence, but the people worship her nonetheless. Sash and Waistcoat live a life of luxury there, while Karona goes out to explore, leaving chaos and destruction in her wake. She figures out that she can do essentially anything as long as people believe she can. Her prophets test this by having her cause pigs to fly and restoring and re-destroying the Glimmer Moon. At that point another horde of would-be worshipers appears, including a Cabal army headed by Braids. She removes the ground from underneath them, then puts it back, killing them all.


Meanwhile Kamahl enters the Gorgon Mound and retrieves the Mirari-sword, but then the corpse of Laquatus, which has been growing continuously since he was impaled at the end of Judgment, comes to life as a zombie and chases him. Kamahl manages to kill it. While in the Mound he is guided by the ghost of Balthor. Once he has retrieved the sword Kamahl gets seduced by the Mirari again, lashing out and "killing" ghost-Balthor for good. This causes Kamahl to snap out of the seduction and allows him to finally wield the sword in a controlled manner.

Monday, 27 August 2018

Legions


Writer - J. Robert King
Cover art - Ron Spears
First released in January 2003

SUMMARY
We open on the deathwurms still rampaging. Braids is riding one, but then they all get absorbed into Phage as we saw at the end of Onslaught. Braids plummets to the ground. With broken legs she crawls into a hole in the ground to hide.

Everybody goes home after the war. Akroma rebuilds Ixidor's forces in Topos. Phage heads back to the Grand Coliseum, and Kamahl goes to Krosa, where he retreats into the Gorgon Mound to meditate. Zagorka, Stonebrow and a bunch of other refugees of the war discover a city in the middle of the desert. They start new lives there, calling it Sanctum. As they start attracting more people, ancient glyphs start appearing on the ruins which talk about the rebirth of mysterious "numena".

There aren't any Magic cards dealing with the numena, so have something numen-y from another card game.