Sunday, 13 September 2015

The Duelist #7-10 (Homelands)

For some reason it took a long time for Alliances to come out, leaving an eight month gap in the release of Magic sets, the largest gap between releases ever. Luckily the set before that was Homelands, so the lore articles in The Duelist had plenty of stuff to talk about! It was probably a trickier time for the writers of Spikey articles.

Issue 7 gives us the short story The Slowing of his Heart by Michael G. Ryan, as well as a short introduction to the story of Homelands. So basically the same set up as issue 5 had for Ice Age. Issue 8 then introduces a new feature: "From the Library of Leng", in which a single cards is featured and showcased both in lore, art and playability. I'll look into the story first, then I'll move on the Library and some other interesting stuff from the various issues.


A minotaur called Thexar's initiation into adulthood by scarring goes horribly wrong. While he's bleeding to death one of his companions, the Spirit Crafter Arrax, tells him a story to ease his passing...

First he tells of a minotaur mercenary called Jekelth. He was legendary in his time, so much so that the humans called him "Dream" because they dreamed of the honor of killing him. At one point an old soldier threatened to do so, but Jekelth bargained for his life: if the old man let him live he would give him his eye patch and the story of how he came by it, so the man could brag among his friends about taking it from the minotaur. If the man attacked, Jekelth would jump from the cliffs they were on, robbing him of his kill. The old man agreed, and Jekelth told his tale...

Jekelth was fighting a goblin called Pikepierce who manages to drive him to his knees. The minotaur tells him to be quick about it, as he'd rather die than spend more time in the presence of a goblin. Pikepierce, enraged, raises is spear towards his face...

Thexar dies, and Arrax stops his story. After preparing the body for moving, Neth'arna, the shaman who botched the scarring and caused the death, asks Arrax how the stories end. He tells her that Pikepierce took Jekelth's eye, but that Jekelth knew from stories about goblins that the sight would sicken him. As Pikepierce was throwing up he killed the goblin. The old man, after hearing the story, still thinks Jekelth is an honorable opponent and turns to leave, only for the minotaur to brain him with a rock. Neth'arna asks why Arrax choose these stories to tell. He tells her it doesn't matter, Thexar just needed to listen to something other than the slowing of his heart.

Why does the art feature a minotaur carrying a human in a dress when nothing like that happens in the story? No idea.

I'm afraid this story rather leaves me cold. The idea that the story told doesn't matter is a fine one, but the result is that we are faced with a shaggy dog story within a shaggy dog story withing a shaggy dog story, and I have little interest in shaggy dogs anyway. I could've summarized this story just by saying "A minotaur lies dying after a botched initiation ritual. A Spirit Crafter tells him two intertwined stories to ease his passing, but the guy dies before hearing the ending." The only reason I went with a more elaborate summary is to give you all an idea about how annoyingly the story is structured... You're welcome!

One thing that I did find interesting is the comparison of this story with the other story by Michael G. Ryan we've seen so far: The Old Way to Vacar Slab, from Distant Planes. Here someone dies because of a shamanistic initiation ritual. There a whole bunch of people die because a shamanistic religion decreed that justice can only be carried out in a place in the middle of a desert. Does Michael G. Ryan have something against religion? Against irrational traditions? Against shamanism specifically? Or did this subject just happen to be on his mind back in the mid nineties? I have no idea, but the parallel between the stories is obvious. Neither story really grabbed me, so luckily this theme doesn't continue on into his biggest (co-)creation: the Weatherlight Saga

One final question: where to place The Slowing of his Heart on the timeline? The minotaurs are trying to excavate their ancestral cave, which were destroyed in the battle between Taysir and Feroz. (according to the Homelands document at least. The comic is a little unclear on this.) It could take place at any time past that date. However, I think it is clear that it was meant as a tie-in to Homelands, and I will thus place it (with the usual "probably" modifier") in the ~3800-4130 bracket of the timeline I've allocated to Homelands. This will be my policy going forward. When we get to Ravinca we'll see several short stories that technically could happen at any point during the 10.000 years the Guildpact was in effect, but I'll be sticking them on the same spot on the timeline as the Ravnica sets/novels they were meant to promote.

  • We kick off the new single-card strategy/lore column From the Library of Leng with three heavy hitters from the Homelands story, Eron the Relentless, Autumn Willow and Baron Sengir. A while back the articles on Autumn Willow and Baron Sengir were reposted on, alongside some later Library of Leng articles, but oddly enough Eron's entry was omitted. Let me remedy that here.
You might need to click it, then open the bigger version in a new tab. I've noticed Blogger can be a bit weird about bigger images.
  • Some notes on these articles - For starters, Eron must be completely insane! Randomly picking a spell from a spellbook to be cast on you? Cutting yourself into pieces to escape from jail? Brrr... 
  • Baron Sengir is called "the very model of a Dominarian gentleman", which is odd, considering he's not from Dominaria. Another case of Dominia and Dominaria being mixed up? Or a remnant of an older version of the Homelands story which was supposed to take place on Dominaria? (More on that below.)
  • The fact that the Baron loves discussing philosophy and engineering only makes me love him more. He really is the first character I'd bring back if I was in charge of the story. Get him through that planar gate in his basement and onto Innistrad already!
  • One more thing about the Baron... he uses undead as coat racks? And you thought the Sultai were being original with their zombie-furniture!
  • Autumn Willow is said to be a nature spirit and the ruler and protector of the Great Wood on Ulgrotha. Is she our first Maro-Sorcerer? What is interesting is that apparently mana has been piling up on Ulgrotha since Feroz's Ban was created, and this has caused Autumn to gain sentience and grow in power.
  • She's also given a very interesting conundrum: at her current powers she could restart the mana lines of Ulgrotha, but that would kill all the people living on the plane in the process. Her powers are fading alongside Feroz's Ban though. Eventually she'll cease to exist, the Baron will be rid of his main opponent, and presumably Ulgrotha will eventually die from the extending dead zones... Too bad Ulgrotha's story was left with an open ending, I'm quite curious what Willow would've chosen!
  • Not new information, but still cool for those who didn't know it yet: Autumn Willow was modeled on Kaja Foglio!
  • Another feature of issue 7 that was later reposted on is the article "Homelands, the Making of a Magic Expansion". There are some funny bits in there, including a moment where, after months of work, the team discovers they had missed two pages of the Antiquities story article from the 0 issue of The Duelist and thus had to redo most of their story work! Man, the early days of Magic must have been chaotic if even the designers had to take their storyline info from stuff like The Duelist!
  • Also in the article we see several allusions to earlier versions of the Homelands story, which make me quite curious about what it would have been like. For example, the original plot took place on Dominaria! Also interesting: in a second draft Ulgrotha was locked away to protected it from the ravages of the Brothers' War! This seems to imply that the war devastated the entire Multiverse rather than just Dominaria (Ice Age implies it was just the 12 planes in the Shard that were wrecked), and that Feroz (then still called Ferazhe) erected his ban during the Brothers' War! Clearly this was all altered eventually, but it could explain why Homelands was placed before Antiquities in the timeline shown in Arabian Nights #2!
  • Missing from the repost on the Mothership is a blurb on the story behind Homelands. There's not much news here. Like the Ice Age story blurb it is fairly short, leaving story mostly for the comic.
What's up with the flying ferret? No idea.
  • What is interesting is that there are essentially three parts to the Ulgrotha story: the Serra and Feroz love story, the Baron Sengir versus Autumn Willow story that happens after the planeswalkers have died, and the teased story about new planeswalkers disrupting the plane after the Ban collapsed. While that last one actually sounds very interesting in theory, I'd much rather have it saved for another plane. Ulgrotha's political intrigue, with its fickle balance of power between Aysen and Koskun and the machinations of the Baron and Autumn Willow, is incredibly interesting and I'd just like to see that story play out without some planeswalkers barging in and mucking things up. Save the "Planeswalkers exploring a plane that has spend centuries in isolation plot" for a real bizarro plane, like Belenon, or Equilor.
  • Moving on to something more frivolous: Phil and Dixie have a vision for a Magic movie, and I do hope that it is close to what we will actually be getting! Who wouldn't want to see Magic's original hunky-hunk, Veteran Bodyguard, teaming up with Stuffy Doll on the big screen?
  • In issue 8 Phil and Dixie tackle the upcoming Magic video game. Let's take a moment to laugh about how far computers have come since 1995.
  • Also cute are some of the letters kids send in with homemade cards, pleas for free cards and, uh... their self-written overviews of the Magic lore. (Okay, that last one hits a bit close to home for me...)
  • Another cool thing to share are these advertisements for the Homelands comic. More Rebecca Guay art is always nice!
  • Issue 8 also has an excerpt from Ashes of the Sun, and issue 9 has the horrid monstrosity that is the Rat Maze that was supposed to explain the original timing rules. It was later featured in a Magic Arcana. If you think Magic is complicated now, take a look at this nonsense!
  • Finally, let's take another look at another commercial for a TCG. Not a silly one this time, but one that genuinely got me interested back in the day. It's unrealistic though. That Stormtrooper's shots are hitting their target!

Next week I'll be back with a review of the next two issues of the Duelist. As they are extremely light on lore I'll also do a little bonus episode covering the Homelands Document. Another unpublished source, but one that is positively brimming with lore, covering almost every card in the Homelands set!

1 comment:

  1. Hi Beren, I just send you an e-mail... ¿Can you respond me when you hace some time?
    By the way, your blog is getting much and much awesome every "second" I pass here and read what my "life" allow me. Thousands congrats for this "Epic" blog!