Thursday, 8 October 2015

The Duelist #15-16 (Visions)

I'm writing this just after the release of Battle for Zendikar, the first expansion of the two-set paradigm. How serendipitous then that I am covering Mirage block, Magic's first attempt at a two-arc story! (No, I don't count Ice Age/Alliances as a two-arc story. Alliances counts as a sequel in my book.)

But these two issues hold more than just the conclusion of the Mirage/Visions story. Issue 16 contains an article explaining planes and planeswalkers, as well as giving us a quick tour of Dominaria. That perhaps sounds fairly innocuous, but it is actually a milestone in Vorthos lore. We haven't seen an article setting down the ground rules of our cosmology since, oh... the very first review I did on this blog, and since then the actual stories, especially the early HarperPrism novels, rather mucked things up with their odd descriptions of planeswalkers. Now we finally get to reap the benefits of the behind-the-scenes consolidation that went on at this time. In fact, the rules established here will remain in place until... today really! Yet the article also makes extensive reference to the HarperPrism books and the Armada comics. It is thus on the one hand the ideal border between pre-revisionist and revisionist continuity, yet on the other a good reminder that this border is much more blurry than it is generally assumed to be.

I hope you all agree that this is pretty exciting stuff, so let's dive in!


I haven't done much actual reviewing the last two weeks, as neither Alliances or Mirage had a proper story in The Duelist, just a plot summary. The same is true for Visions, but in honor of the new two-set paradigm I would like to say a little about the way this block is structured. My main problem is that the most exciting part of the conflict seems to have fallen into the crack between the sets.

Mirage started with Teferi's Isle disappearing and then went through the three wizards popping up, Mangara establishing his harmony in Jamuraa, Kaervek growing jealous, imprisoning Mangara and starting the Mirage War, and concluded with the return of Teferi. Then Visions starts with Teferi giving the eponymous visions to Jamuraa's defenders, after which Kaervek does nothing but lose. Hakim Loreweaver and Sidar Jabari blow up Kaerveks army, Kaervek moves against Teferi but is thrashed, Asmira, Sisay and Rashida Scalebane free Mangara, who then defeats Kaervek again and imprisons him in the Amber Prison. The end.

The entire story long our big bad is failing. Sure, the good guys have to make some big sacrifices, blowing up a city and having Asmira martyr herself, and the story ends with a corrupting influence still lingering in Jamuraa, but those things do not at suspense, just consequence. Maybe trying to add that suspense to a story that is only told in the short summaries is a lost cause anyway, but I still think it feels weird that after all that build-up Kaervek spends the entire second half of the story in retreat. Had a comic or a novel been produces for the story, it would've been best if it focused on the war itself, the actual exciting part in which Kaervek appeared to have the upper hand.

Issue 15 featured the last installment of From the Library of Leng. It covered Goblin Recruiter, but really talked more about goblin in general. It's your basic story about how goblins are dangerous but stupid. Despite not adding any new information I like it, as it mentions that the Rundvelt goblins are one of the most developed tribes, using Rock Sleds, and says that goblins are motivated primarily by fear. To the untrained eye these might seem like random flavor tidbits, but us discerning lore junkies will immediately recognize these as references to Tapestries and Ashes of the Sun! Mirage block truly was a marvelous era of lore integration!

Speaking of lore integration, let's move on to that article I was hyping in the introduction. In issue 16 the Dominian Chronicles feature starts, replacing Library of Leng. Later it will morph into essentially the "Planeswalkers Guide to Rath", but this first installment can be seen as the pinnacle of the lore consolidation done by Pete Venters team around this time. And... it is freely available on the web! It turned up on the (now long gone) official Wizards of the Coast forum, but it was then copied over to This is what we lore buffs do. Always copying sources, like medieval monks, in case a forum burns down.

You really should just go read the article, as it's not that long and quite an important document in Vorthos history, but I'll quickly list the highlights for you all.
  • Knowing what confused people the most, Pete Venters first focuses on the Dominia/Dominaria problem. Finally we get the clear explanation that Dominia is the Multiverse and Dominaria is both the plane and a planet, as planes are generally named after their main planet. The Domains are just an area on Dominaria. In the past few months we've seen the Armada comics stating a few times that Dominaria was the planet and Dominia the universe, while Final Sacrifice seemed to imply that The Domains were the term for the entire bloody Multiverse! So it's good to finally have an official WotC source clear this up!
  • Here's one bit that has quietly fallen by the wayside in subsequent years: It is stated that "some planes may actually share the same physical universe", implying that to a planeswalker two planets in the same universe look like different planes. This is never outright contradicted in the stories, as far as I know. We just never meet a two-planet plane. Outside of the stories however, the creators have made it clear that they now consider planes to be identical to universe, and that they simply decided not to create any planes with multiple planets in them for clarity's sake.
  • To show you the attention payed to the stories produced so far, in its tour of Dominaria the article mentions Kush & Estark (from Arena), Mirtiin, Stahaan and Orvada (From Ashes of the Sun) and Corondor (From a whole lot of Armada comics.) It even mentions the Planeswalkers War and hints that a planeswalker was behind the "Heresy of Hurloon", a term from Ashes of the Sun that related to the racial and religious differences between the Hurloon and the Stahaan minotaurs.
  • We also learn that Sarpadia is not yet fully explored, but that there are "monstrosities ruling over inhuman kingdoms". Which just sounds cool, and matches up with the flavor text of 5th Edition's Brassclaw Orcs.
  • In the "Walkers of the Planes" sidebar we get the first modern mention of the spark! Although we saw the term used in the Armada comics, this is were it is revealed that you have to be born with one and that only one in "several million" has it. The precise workings of the spark will still change over time. According to "Walkers of the Planes" having a spark allows you to draw mana from the multiverse, thus making you a great mage, but you need apprenticeship to another planeswalker to be trained until the day your spark flares. "Some" become 'walkers in moments of crisis, but it is suggested that these events are rare and planeswalkers created this way dangerous. Ravidel is given as an example. Eventually it would be ruled that sparks don't bestow magical powers or do anything until they flare, and from now on prettymuch every planeswalker will ascend in a moment of crisis. It's more narrative pleasing I guess.
  • Because the spark is a closely guarded secret of planeswalkers, normal wizards often end up thinking they just need to accumulate power to ascend, according to this article. Which is a nice fix for the earliest HarperPrism novels on paper, but it doesn't explain why Kuthuman still thought this was true after his ascension.
  • We also learn for the first time that the Thran lived 5000 years before the Brothers War. I assume a more detailed timeline had already been worked out, just not shared with the public at this point.
  • We are also told that there have been no non-planeswalker crossing the planes since the Thran. This could have some implications for the placement of certain stories like The Theft of Bayende, which explicitly mentioned a non-planeswalker planeswalking. We will however see several instances of non-planeswalkers traveling the planes in future stories, and the idea that the Thran build their own portal will also go out the window when we finally get to The Thran (the novel), so I don't consider this statement to still be in-continuity.
  • It does make me think though... Weatherlight is coming out next month. This story specifically links non-planeswalker planeswalking to the Thran. The Weatherlight had a Thran Tome and a Thran Forge on board. And we know form MaRo's Tumblr that Urza wasn't involved in the original draft of the Weatherlight Saga. Was Skyship Weatherlight originally intended to be a Thran artifact?
  • Finally, we also get some interesting info on Dominaria: it is 2,5 times the size of earth (According to this interview with Pete Venters the original book department wanted it to be 30 times the size of earth!), its years are 420 days long and something in the planet's core lowers the gravity to the same level as here on earth. 18 years later I am still curious as to what that thing in the core might be!
  • Dominaria's most striking feature is also mentioned: its two moons. Here they are named the Mist Moon and the Glimmer Moon, the latter known to planeswalkers as the Null Moon. The term Null Moon was used in the Armada comics, Mist- and GliTTer Moon were used in the HarperPrism novels. Alongside a whole lot of other options, like Lesser & Great Moon, Little & Great Moon, and even Iontiero & Fessa. From now on Mist Moon and Glimmer/Null Moon will stick.
  • On top of the sidebar on Dominaria we find another very exciting thing: the first depiction of the globe of Dominaria!
That's Terisiare (The setting of many sets between Antiquities to Alliances) on the left, disappearing into the darkness, and Aerona (home to many cards from Alpha and several Harper Prism novels) on the right. 

  • The only other thing I thought worthy of sharing in these issues is this artistic interpretation of a Necropotence deck facing a Stasis deck. I'll admit I never understood the art of Stasis anyway, but I certainly didn't think it would involve summoning an actually clown, werewolf and seesaw!

Okay, in addition to the silly picture above, there are actually two very interesting thing going on in these issues, that shows that around this time the continuity team was thinking a lot about new ways of telling Magic's lore.

For starters, a whole new story for Magic is announced! The next set, code named "Mocha Late", will see the start of an "epic story" that will "evolve through more than just one or two expansions". It will last till the distant year of 2000! It will be depicted in the cards and you will come to love its evolving characters! It used, and this is explicitly mentioned in the announcement, the Star Wars trilogy as a spiritual guide to the plot! Yes, it is the Weatherlight Saga! (I find it quite funny that the Weatherlight Saga is actually named here, but the set Weatherlight is still talked about with its code name.)

But we aren't quite there yet.

For there is another interesting new development in these issues: constant references to the internet. Do we want more stories? More background information? More "From the Library of Leng" entries? Then there is a new place for us: The Duelist Online!

So those of you looking forward to the Weatherlight Saga will have to wait just a teensy tiny bit longer. There are three subjects I want to cover before getting to it: the online coverage of Mirage and Visions, the Encyclopedia Dominia, which was Magic's first foray into online stories and thus essentially the ur-ancestor of Uncharted Realms, and Jeff Lee's website "The Legends of Magic", an unofficial but utterly fascinating source on pre-revisionist lore.

The pre-revisionist era is going to go out with a bang, and then everyone's favorite flying ship is taking sail. Get ready people, there are interesting times ahead!


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    1. The two paragraphs at the end, "Dominaria facts" and "Walkers of the Planes" were framed as sidebars in the magazine. That's why Eid put "***sidebars***" before posting them ;)

      Blaming Leshrac seems like a good way out!

  2. " It turned up on the (now long gone) official Wizards of the Coast forum"
    The article can also be seen here, a more official source than
    It's funny how the first paragraph makes it unclear whether Phyrexia is one of the continents of Dominaria (it's clarified later, fortunately).

    "In the "Walkers of the Planes" sidebar we get the first modern mention of the spark!"
    In a sidebar? Article linked above has it mentioned in the text. How is the article in the Duelist different? Was one of the paragraphs moved to a sidebar?

    "Because the spark is a closely guarded secret of planeswalkers, normal wizards often end up thinking they just need to accumulate power to ascend, according to this article. Which is a nice fix for the earliest HarperPrism novels on paper, but it doesn't explain why Kuthuman still thought this was true after his ascension."
    I think blaming Leshrac and Taysir is still the best way to go about explaining it. That Kuthuman and Garth weren't real planeswalkers, not as we later understood the term.

    @ Art of Stasis: well, one in-world interpretation could be that you engage your opponent in the direct mental fight. Thus you're both barely able to give any orders to you creatures or to refresh your mental connections to mana lines you have had used before you cast the Stasis. More silly approach (and Magic had a share of those) could actually involve an illusion which engages both of your minds, distracting you both in hopes that your current advantage in the real world will help you win. An illusion of a seesaw with both of you high above the ground forcing you to keep the balance or to fall to your deaths? Why not! ;) Although it would be probably more likely if such an illusion affected your creatures (who were tired/tapped because of taking part in an attack or performing some different action/ability).