Saturday, 14 November 2015

The Duelist #17-19 (Weatherlight)



"Magic's New Backstory", announces the cover of issue 17. After a year in which the expansion stories were relegated to short summaries and references to the website, suddenly the story is all over The Duelist. Articles and short stories, features on the cover art, even Phil and Dixie have noticed and will be making fun of the Weatherlight crew in many coming episodes. But there is more. Online stories and novels are announced. Most importantly: the story of Magic will now be told through the cards themselves! You can collect the cards and put them in the correct order, and new Vanguard cards are announced which will allow you to build your decks around the main characters of the story. New and exciting things are happening here!

The Weatherlight Saga was originally conceived by Mark Rosewater and Michael G. Ryan and was going to be a three block long story featuring the crew members of the flying ship Weatherlight as they had adventures on various planes. Magic's story would stop jumping centuries in time with each block, instead focusing on a single story. This meant it would finally gain a regular cast, perfect for getting the audience to bond with the story. Also, it helps with licensing.

Like a lot of ongoing stories, the Weatherlight Saga's execution turned out to be a lot different from its initial inception. For some as yet unrevealed reason, MaRo and Michael G. Ryan were taken of the project early on. The creative team, then still called the continuity team, was put in charge. They stretched the saga to four blocks, but the titular ship and its crew had to share the stage with Urza, who was brought back into the story for the first time since Antiquities. All that is still of into the future though. These issues of The Duelist present the beginning of the saga as it was originally intended.

Quick note: issue 19 is already doing Tempest previews, but it mostly talks about the cards, and the one lore article in there is still covering Weatherlight stuff. Furthermore, The Duelist will go from bi-monthly to monthly halfway through their covering of Tempest, so I thought I'd spread the issues out over my reviews a little more.



MAELSTROM & TORRENT 
A.k.a. Weatherlight Crash Course
By Michael G. Ryan

Usually I deal with each story and article separately, but these are all written by the same person, were reposted online as a collection in the Weatherlight Crash Course (So you can all go read these stories now if you want!) and really form a cohesive whole. Issue 17 features the article Fortune Favors the bold, which mostly talks about the behind the scenes creation of the saga and gives some hints about what to expect in the future, and the short story Maelstrom, which focuses on the event that kicks it all of: Sisay's kidnapping at the hands of Volrath. Issue 18 has the article Weatherlight Takes Center Stage, which tells the whole story of Weatherlight up to the point where the ship travels to the plane of Rath to appear in Tempest, and the short story Torrent, which chronicles those events from Starke's point of view.

SUMMARY
Maelstrom shows Sisay meeting up with Starke, as the later has info on some items of the Legacy. Those are in the hands of Volrath, who Starke used to work for. Volrath has his daughter Takara as insurance, but Starke hopes that the Weatherlight crew might help him free her. Unfortunately Maraxus, a mercenary working for Volrath, catches up with Starke, who then sells out Sisay in order to save his own hide. Starke runs away. The Weatherlight goes to find Gerrard, who is the heir of the Legacy but who quit the ship years ago after the death of a close friend. Gerrard wasn't all that happy in his current home in Benalia anyway, and joins the ship again to help find Sisay.

Hurray, it's the Weatherlight Saga, so now the cards can really function as illustrations!
Weatherlight Takes Center Stage gives a quick rundown of what happens next: to get to Rath they need someone who has been there and a wizard who can work the plane-hopping engine of the Weatherlight. Gerrard hopes his friend Mirri might be a powerful enough wizard, but it turns out she isn't. So they go to Hannah's father Barrin instead. He can't get along with his daughter at all, so his cocky apprentice Ertai is recruited instead. Then they head to Urborg to find the nobleman Crovax, hoping that he might know something useful, since Mirri recognized a sigil on the abduction note Starke placed on Sisay's desk as something she remembered seeing during a previous time Crovax sailed on the Weatherlight. Turns out Starke contacted Crovax before going to Sisay, and later came to him for a hiding spot.

Finally,Torrent starts just before what was shown in Maelstrom, with Starke talking to Crovax and discovering Gerrard has left the Weatherlight. We then jump to shortly after Maelstrom, with Starke catching up with Crovax and begging him to hide him from Maraxus. We then jump to Maraxus catching up with Starke (killing the friend of Crovax's he was hiding with in the process), and finally to the Weatherlight crew freeing Starke and defeating Maraxus. Torrent ends there, but we know from Takes Center Stage that they hop to Rath shortly afterwards.


REVIEW
The Weatherlight Saga is off to a good start, as these stories are a lot of fun. We are introduced to some of the backstory of the Legacy and the Lord of the Wastes, are shown the personalities of Sisay, Gerrard, Tahngarth, Starke and Crovax, and kick of the plot with Sisay's capture. I wasn't a huge fan of mister Ryan's previous works, but his writing style seems a much better fit for an ongoing story. Looking back I can't say Old Way to Vacar Slab was lacking in characterization or cool ideas, but in the end that story felt a bit pointless. A fun introduction to characters and settings we know were never going to be followed up upon. Here the follow up is the entire point! Sure, there isn't much in the way of character development yet, but that's not necessary. After all, we are going to be following these characters continuously for the next few years, right? The developing will come later. If I had been reading these stories at the time, I would be quite excited to see where all of this is going!

Maelstrom's first paragraph lays down a lot of information. What the Legacy is ("the only means of defeating the Lord of the Wastes", although who that is is still kept a secret), that Gerrard had a bunch of the artifacts as a kid but that they were stolen from him, even that the "sidar's son" who stole them is still alive and now called Volrath! That last one is especially surprising since the comic book retelling of Tempest block, Gerrard's Quest, actually made a big plot point of Gerrard discovering that Volrath was his brother! All the other stuff is good to introduce quickly, but I can imagine the continuity team kicking themselves later about the fact that they let such a good reveal slip out in a quick info dump.

The one thing I don't really like is Maraxus defeat. Not Starke's action as shown on the cards, that's fine. But just before that the Weatherlight is dropped on top of his horde of Sawtooth Ogres, killing many and getting the rest to flee. Maraxus then becomes less powerful, as that is how his card works. As I may have said once or twice before, I'm not fan of translating the cardgame to the storyline this literally. If it had been a case of him losing his confidence after his army was crushed, that would be one thing. But Gerrard actually literally says "Starke told me all about your secret - that you draw your strength from whatever's around you, whoever's near". That's a bit silly, and far too meta for me.


TRIVIA
  • Reading Fortune Favors the Bold with the benefit of hindsight, we can see that Mercadian Masques was already being planned! It is mentioned that they want to send the crew, among other places:
"To a plane where all the world is a market and anything can be bought - for a price."
  • Also, we are told:
"Look for some of our secondary characters, like Squee, to become more important in the future"
  • ...which he of course becomes when he takes up the role of Nabob in Mercadia. Not all of these hints about the future would actually pay off though.
"The Null Rod, for example, will play an important role in a future plot development"
  • Farily important is the "Meet the Crew" insert in issue 17, which is reprinted at the bottom of Fortune Favors the Bold online. This is where we first meet most of our characters, including a bunch like Karn, Squee and Orim who are not yet featured in Maelstrom or Torrent. In fact, I never really realized how certain characters were absent from the Weatherlight art. This article points out that Hannah is only in the background of Llanowar Druid (not yet wearing her signature outfit), and that Orim and Karn are missing altogether. 
  • Speaking of Karn, the insert does say "though Silver Golem exists as a card". What they are actually talking about is Steel Golem. That was apparently going to be Karn's original look, but I'm very happy they went with something else. I far prefer Karn's big, bulky stature over the odd guy with the top half of his head twice as wide as the bottom half.
  • Oh, and also from Meet the Crew, we learn that Tahngarth has been ret-conned into being the cover boy of The Duelist issue 15. Back then it was just supposed to be a random Talruum Champion.
  • You may have been surprised to read that Gerrard's first idea to get the Weatherlight's planar engine to work was to pick up Mirri. There is some hint in the text that he was just doing it to get his childhood friend to come along, but remember that both of them have been trained by Multani! In fact, Gerrard uses his sorcery to free Karn, who was stuck in statue form. The magical capabilities of Gerrard and Mirri will quickly be all but forgotten about though, as they are generally depicted just as warriors.
  • Also in the article is an explanation of who wrote the flavor text of which characters. It turns out Jennifer Clarke Wilkes wrote Squee and Tahngarth. That surprised me for two reasons: First, until I started this project I never realized she did so much Magic work before recent times, and second, I would've guessed MaRo would've picked the comic relief character for himself!
  • Issue 19 has the first instance of a new feature, a sidebar article called "Continuity FAQ". So far it mostly explains some basics, the difference between Dominia and Dominaria, and the fact that 5th Edition has no storyline. There is another hint as to what happened to Urza and Mishra though.
  • Also in that issue is the second installment of Dominian Chronicles, about the various Dominarian locations featured in the Weatherlight expansion. It's coverage of Benalia and Llanowar are straight from the Encyclopedia Dominia (note that there are 8 elfhames here, there was some confusion about that in the encyclopedia) But it reveals more. Such as Llanowar's hatred for humans stemming from fights over timber during the Ice Age, and the fact that Nevinyyral (sic) was lich, who destroyed his city of Urborg to keep it from falling into enemy hands.
  • I'll assume the bit about Barrin being the head of an order of wizards who watch over Tolaria's Black Lotus grove is a cover story to hide the true importance of Tolaria, as we will learn in Urza's block that something different altogether is going on at that island. But of course, that backstory wasn't made up until the Saga changed authors.

CONTINUITY & TIMELINE
On the official timeline Weatherlight takes place in 4204, and Tempest block, Masques block and Invasion block all in 4205. That is all I'm going to say on the timeline front until we're finished with Exodus. Between The Duelist, The Duelist Online, the novel and the comic there are various versions of the Tempest story, with some scenes repeated in each iteration but others, especially flashbacks, only being present in some. Unfortunately, a number of contradictions have snuck in there thanks to this diffused method of storytelling. Dealing with the continuity of all stories on a case-by-case basis will get confusing fast, so instead I will for now just makes notes on when each story says everything takes place. Then when we've covered all of them I will do one big post that considers all of versions. Hopefully I will be able to resolve all the inconsistencies in that way.

For now though, have some non-timeline continuity notes:
  • While looking for Gerrard, Tahngarth runs into a Benalish Missionary. The meeting goes as well as the art and flavor text of that card suggests. In the scene the Church of Angelfire is mentioned. We learned that Gabriel Angelfire is the main deity worshiped in Benalia in the Encyclopedia Dominia.
  • While talking about the Legacy Starke describes the items as "forged from destruction, each a unique artifact unto itself." It will eventually be revealed that they were all created or discovered by Urza, but that was not the original plan. MaRo has revealed that the original plan for the Weatherlight would not have featured Urza at all. Of course, "destruction" is Urza's middle name, so Starke's description could still be true. Alternatively, we could take Sisay's reply "So you know the myths" to mean that Starke's description of the items is nonsense.
  • Gerrard has one piece of the Legacy in this story, an hourglass pendant, which he leaves with his friend Pol Cordel in Benalia. MaRo has said it would have been important later on in the story, but after he was taken of the saga neither the pendant nor Pol ever reappeared. MaRo has also said that in his original version of the saga the Weatherlight would time travel to a future Dominaria and meet an older, less cocky Ertai, so I'm expecting the pendant would have been involved in traveling back to the present. Hourglass, time travel... make sense, right?
  • Something to keep in mind: The crew doesn't know Starke was involved in Sisay's kidnapping, but Sisay herself does. If memory serves, this is another one of the things that will slip through the cracks after the saga gets taken away from its original authors, as when Sisay is reunited with the crew she will not immediately toss Starke overboard. I'll keep an eye open when we get to Masques to see if this is ever addressed. 
  • Other dangling plotlines are exactly why Hannah's is estrangement from Barrin, and why Volrath wants Crovax (or his family) dead. In the latter case I've always assumed it was because his family was part of Urza's Bloodline project, but I'm not sure we ever got confirmation of that. Again, I'll keep my eyes open for more hints!
  • In Weatherlight Takes Center Stage it is said that Crovax fell in love with Selenia after his original time with the crew and that Selenia only disappeared later. This will be directly contradicted in the Gerrard's Quest comic book, in which he was already in love with her and in which she disappeared during the fight after which both Crovax and Gerrard quit the ship.
  • Actually, there is one timeline thing  I wish to mention: Nevinyrral destroying Urborg. On the MTGSally wiki timeline this event is placed at "~300 AR", the date the official timeline gives for The Dark. This date was taken from an earlier timeline made at Phyrexia.com. However, the only known info we get here is that "it predates the Ice Age". I'd say having it happen during the Dark age is a good guess, as if it happened ever earlier saying "before the Brothers' War" would have been a more logical way of putting things, but we have no confirmation of that.

NON-LORE STUFF
  • Continuing my look at silly advertisements from back in the day, check out this one, in which TSR tries to diss Magic! I'm guessing Wizards allowed it to be printed in The Duelist just because it makes TSR look kinda pathetic. Ironically, issue 19 announces that Wizards has bought TSR.
  • Here is a fun page that contains some of MaRo's cryptic hints for Weatherlight, as well as some interesting ye olde Magic terminology. Some of it is still in use today, but eh... Alpha Strike now means something quite different.... Also check the "In Micro" definition: New World order was already in the making back in Weatherlight!
  • Issue 18 has an article on bugs in the Shandalar game, which gives us another opportunity to laugh at the early days of computing. Want to turn to sound off? All it takes is renaming the sound files so the game no longer recognizes them!
  • As I mentioned all the way at the beginning, Phill and Dixie will from now on poke fun at the Weatherlight Saga from time to time. They begin by taking on the idea of Magic having a story at all, and then introduce some of the more obscure crewmembers.

FINAL THOUGHT
The Weatherlight Saga kicking off must have been very exciting at the time, and it certainly feels like a huge change to the way Magic did lore, or heck, even to what Magic sets looked like! Yet from our vantage point of 18 years in the future, there is also a surprising amount of continuity. We're still dealing with issues of The Duelist, as the novel line won't start until almost a year later. The settings of Dominaria and Rath will be revealed to us through Dominian Chronicles, the column that started in issue 16 and that was making extensive references to Harper Prism and Armada materials in its inaugural article. That "new backstory" line on the cover of issue 17 may sound like we are dealing with a re-boot of sorts, but the article introducing the saga immediately makes clear that this is not the case. All that is happening is that Magic is no longer going to make jumps of decades or centuries after each set, instead focusing on one cast of characters for the next few years.

Another surprising thing is how often I've had to say "this will be dropped" or "this will change" in this article. The hourglass pendant, Tolaria's order of wizards being all about growing Black Loti, Crovax falling for Selenia after leaving the Weatherlight... ret-cons, some big, some small, will still be part of the story. And not after the Saga is over, but long before that!

For many the Weatherlight Saga has become synonymous with the Revision. A new backstory began, and the old one was changed in all sorts of ways. You can see why the two are conflated. But this is an oversimplification. A number of revisions had already been made during the consolidation of the storylines in the previous years. And the next wave of them wouldn't start until the launch of the novel line, with The Brothers' War outright replacing Armada's Antiquities comics. People forget though, that the next book, Rath & Storm also had a number of ret-cons in it. Not to so called "pre-revisionist" stuff, but to Maelstrom and Torrent, the two stories that kicked off the Weatherlight Saga itself!

Clearly this will all need thorough analyzing. When I'm done with this saga I'll definitely need to re-write my "Introduction to the Magic storyline" article with a reappraisal of what the Revision actually entailed. For now though, let us just sail along, despite the stormy weather ahead...


2 comments:

  1. Let us all take a moment of silence to think of what could have been: a world in which Haste was instead keyworded as "Celerity".

    ReplyDelete
  2. This is terrific information and great scans. Thank you for this!

    ReplyDelete