Monday, 5 January 2015

The Oldest Stuff

Where to begin my project? Well, how about at the very beginning of the game? Today I'll discuss four short writings that came out before Uncharted Realm started, before Wizards of the Coast published its first novel, before even the Acclaim comics or the Harper Prism novels. Most of them were written by Richard Garfield himself, and one of them hails directly from the original Alpha rulebook! Welcome to the first instalment of Multiverse in Review, where we look at the very rock the Magic storyline is build upon.


  
Introduction
Short story, written by Richard Garfield
Originally appeared in the Alpha edition rulebook



Roreca's Tale
Short Story, written by Richard Garfield
Originally appeared in the Pocket Players' Guide (Revised Edition)

Dominia and Its Walkers
Article, written by Richard Garfield
Originally appeared in the Pocket Players' Guide (Revised Edition)



Nature of Dominia
Article, written by John Tynes
Originally appeared in the Pocket Players' Guide (4th Edition)

Okay, the 4th Edition players' guide came out after some of the earliest novels and comics, but its discussion fits best with the other three articles, so I'll discuss it here.


SUMMARY
Introduction is an incredibly short story, really just a snippet, about the planeswalker Worzil who senses she's under attack by her rival Thomil and prepares for battle. Roreca's Tale is an extension of Introduction, written from the point of view of Roreca, a... eh... furry, tailed, mana finding... thing. Every other creature, artifact and spell in the story is a reference to something in the Alpha edition of Magic, but I can't for the life of me figure out what she's supposed to be. This story goes further than Introduction and also shows the end of the battle. I won't spoil to much, but it is accompanied by this lovely picture of a Lord of the Pit.


Dominia and its Walkers and Nature of Dominia are just descriptions of the multiverse, planeswalkers, etc. But since all these stories and articles are fairly short, you really should just go read them.

REVIEW
Eh... what is there to review? Introduction is just two paragraphs. And the articles are pretty much unreviewable. They are just info dumps of information that isn't entirely accurate anymore. If you want a good introduction to the multiverse, planes, planeswalkers etc., check the article that reprinted both Dominia and its Walkers and the Nature of Dominia. It also gives a good overview of how things stand in the current continuity, and explains the big changes made in Future Sight.

Roreca's Tale is a fun enough description of a duel between planeswalkers. It's fine if you've never read another Magic story. Which is good, considering it was the only Magic story in existence at the time. But if you've read Arena, which is chock full of Magical duels, this is nothing special. Just another battle. Bit annoying that we never find out what Roreca is exactly though.

All in all nothing essential if you have a passing interest in the Magic storyline, but essential reading for any hardcore fan. This is where it all started!

(I promise more thoughtful and extensive reviews in the coming weeks, when we have actual novels to work with!)

CONTINUITY
These articles were written long before a coherent Magic storyline crystallized, so there are a bunch of things that don't entirely fit in continuity, especially in the articles. But its surprising how much things still hold up. While none of the stories mention anything like the Spark, or the Blind Eternities (those concepts wouldn't appear until... from the top of my head I'd say the Weatherlight Saga), but on the other hand Worzil and Thomil don't do anything that doesn't fit with later depictions of planeswalkers. They are portrayed as aloof, strange and even to Roreca Worzil seems distant and incomprehensible. There is no hint of the godlike power of old school planeswalkers yet, but nothing that directly contradicts it either.

The articles do have some things that don't fit, but it's interesting to see that those concepts aren't fully discard later either. Rather, they tend to evolve into more recognisable features of the canon. For example, it is mentioned here already that planeswalkers are difficult to kill. The reason here is that they can always just jump to another plane when things go sour. In the first novel, Arena, this will change into planeswalker being essentially immortal in and of themselves, not just because they can always conveniently escape. Another example: according to Nature of Dominia, regular wizards don't know anything about the five colors of Magic (presumably they use it, but don't know the mechanics behind it), and thus can't hold a candle against planeswalkers. Again, the earliest novels already have mortal wizards know about the five colors, and eventually it will be established that planeswalkers are just preposterously powerful compared to wizards. Not because they know the difference between the colors of magic, but just in and of themselves. (Note that Dominia and its Walkers rather muddles the subject by using "wizards" as a synonym for "planeswalkers")

In the end I see no problem with keeping Introduction/Roreca's Tale in continuity, but the articles are just of interest for what was based on them. Simply to much has changed from their depiction of planeswalkers.

TIMELINE
As part of this project I will try to make a definitive timeline of the Magic storyline. Back in my days as MTGSalvation storyline moderators I already made this one (obviously other people have since contributed to the wiki), based on an earlier one made by Eidentvl and Squeeman over at Phyrexia.com. But that timeline is incomplete, has some mistakes and, most damningly in my eyes, has no annotations or justification for most of the dates. By rereading all the stories and covering their placement on the timeline in my reviews I hope to create a complete and completely correct version of the timeline once and for all.
So then the question is: when do Introduction and Roreca's Tale take place? Well... that's a tricky one, since there is nothing in the stories themselves that indicates a specific time period. But there may be some hope, for the there is something else of interest in the Fourth Edition Players' Guide: a timeline! As far as I know the very first one in the canon. Unfortunately it has never been reposted online, as far as I know. Fortunately, I own the Players Guide, so I can scan it for you! Unfortunately, my copy is in Dutch, so I'll need a few days to translate it into something a bit more legible.


Check back Wednesday for the scans of the timeline, the translation and a more general discussion of the Magic timeline!

6 comments:

  1. The concept of strands or threads isn't really mentioned again

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  2. Some short points:

    1) The Blind Eternities is a late name of the firstly unnamed (I think) place between the worlds, which was also called the Æther sometime later (comic books?). The aether was also recognized as some kind of chaotic energy residing between and connecting all the worlds, along with mana (and possibly even different forms of energy). It was also very early conceptualized as means of summoning creatures (4th edition): http://magiccards.info/4e/en/95.html

    The name may have changed and the understanding of the nature of it may have evolved, but the basic concept of the 'place between the worlds' was there from the very beginning (in these earliest articles imagined as the place where planes reside and where the paths between the planes form).

    2) I think the sparks were mentioned in some of the earlier comics, but I might be wrong. My memory is sketchy on the details now. I hope you will clear this up at some point in the future. Have your eyes peeled. ;)

    3) Kuthuman's view (it was his, right, not the narrators?), that planeswalkers cannot be killed, could be blamed on his inexperience, or on actual experience of some planeswalker that was really hard to kill (or his failure to kill any of them ;) ). At this moment Bolas in the Time Spiral trilogy comes to my mind. Practically killed, yet persisting as a husk of his former self, trapped in the rifts, until his memories and limited powers returned. There are phenomena, like shifting through the fourth spatial dimension, or out of timestream, which may make some objects really hard to interact with, even for the most powerful of planeswalkers (phased out objects, shadow phenomena, etc.).

    4) It is worth emphasizing that the Nature of Dominia article ('95) was published after the Arena novel ('94), where the wizards already recognized the colors of mana. It can still be argued though, that the knowledge of the colors of mana isn't necessarily innate in most of the inhabitants of Dominia, and only with time and the spread of understanding, coming from those more experienced, these facts become widely known. And since the first four novels happen in the Modern Era, it's already mostly the common knowledge.

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  3. I'll most definitely keep my eyes peeled for the first mentions of words like the Spark or the Blind Eternities. From memory it's not until the novel Planeswalker that they come into play, but I could be mistaken.

    The fact that planeswalkers can't be killed indeed comes from Kuthuman. Other comments about them being "like gods", no longer aging and not even having physical bodies do come from the narrator though.

    Now that I've read more of the later Harper Prism novels, it's interesting to see that after Arena references to the colors of magic quickly disappear. In the Greensleeves saga the references are a bit more oblique (No one says "I'm using blue mana", but Gull does remark that the energy Lily is using is more white, like light, while Greensleeves uses brown energy, the color of the earth). Cursed Land then happens on a plane with only green mana, but Prodigal Sorcerer, Ashes of the Sun and Song of Time don't make reference to there being different colors of magic at all!

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  4. And the knowledge of the colors of mana in Estark would make a lot of sense because of Kuthuman (and would also explain why the House colors were not chosen after the colors of mana).

    By keeping you eyes peeled on the mention of sparks, I didn't merely mean the name of the phenomena, but most of all - the concept. Sparks may have been described with different words, yet being recognizable already.

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  5. So, since the links have died over the two years since this was posted, I'll save future readers the actually-pretty-small-but-still-non-0 effort of googling to actually find them:
    Link on the new MtG website for the original rulebook (including the introduction): http://magic.wizards.com/en/articles/archive/original-magic-rulebook-2004-12-25 (archive link: http://archive.is/vKqVv)
    Link on the new MtG website for 'Roreca's Tale': http://magic.wizards.com/en/articles/archive/rorecas-tale-2008-03-19 (no archive link, since I think I'd need to archive each page individually, and it's getting quite late in my timezone)
    Archive link for the article containing reprints of 'Dominia and its Walkers' and 'Nature of Dominia': https://archive.fo/RhLCz

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    Replies
    1. Thank you! I really should do an overhaul of my older articles some day. Links need fixing, some of my theories have been disproved (and in some cases even proven!) by obscure sources I dug up later... but as I sometimes have trouble finding the time to write the regular reviews such an overhaul will be a long while coming. So any help like this is much appreciated!

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