After all the stories, background lore and other cool stuff we've seen in the past year, suddenly it all seems to have dried up. We get another storyboard for Exodus, but it's only one page. There's no Dominian Chronicles. At first I presumed that it was because Exodus doesn't introduce any new part of Rath to chronicle, but then issue 28 is suddenly missing the Dominian FAQ as well, and a month later it is said Pete Venters has left Wizards. It's not officially announced, suddenly articles just talk about him having left. Maybe Pete leaving has something to do with the drying up of lore? Issue 29 does start Born to Greatness, the follow up to Sisay's Quest that shows how Crovax met Selenia, but as that story doesn't wrap up till issue issue 35, it will get its own review. So all in all, there's not much to talk about here.
Well, except for all the advertisements and announcements! It seems that after the success of The Brothers' War Wizards really doubled down on the novel line, promising two trilogies of stories plus some other interesting publications in the next year! Things didn't quite play out as planned though, so this review will be partly a preview of things to come and partly a look at what might have been. So maybe it was just decided that novels were a better way of presenting stories than The Duelist had been.
To give this review a bit more substance, I've also included a look at the online coverage of Rath block. I'll spoil now that it's mostly a summary of the main story, similar to the storyboards we've already seen, but there is some cool background info on the main characters in there.
EXODUS STORY BOARD
Like I said, the storyboard is a bit shorter this time. But that's what's to be expected when you look at the story itself. The good guys run away from the Stronghold, have one last battle with the Greven il-Vec, Mirri fights vampiric Crovax, and... that's it. Cue enigmatic Urza cameo and we're done. It seems the Rath block story put a bit too much in the first few sets. Maybe a bit more could've been done with Eladamri and the Kor, Vec and Dal, rather than just have them attack and pull back immediately afterwards?
I don't have a whole lot to say about the story here. I still like the plot, I still like the characters, I still have some doubt about the format... you can read the previous few reviews for more details. Instead, let's look at the few changes between the original plot and the finished product that have come to light in recent years.
On his Tumblr MaRo has stated that Mirri wouldn't have died, and that Crovax would've stayed on the ship in his vampiric form! As information about the original Weatherlight plans have started to drip out some people have said they are actually glad it was changed. MaRo's work can be a bit... trope heavy, and I agree that a time travel plot with old Ertai doesn't sound nearly as interesting as the time manipulation plot involving Urza and the emotional ride of the Ertai/Belbe story that we did get, but on these Exodus changes I have to disagree: I would love to have seen the original plan play out! Mirri was a cool character. She didn't really have a huge mystery or unresolved plot to her, so there aren't any dangling plotlines thanks to her death, but you could've said the same thing about Orim and Squee at this point, and they became much more important in Masques block. It's would've been cool to see what would've been in store for Mirri.
The real loss is Crovax. People have been asking for another mono-black good guy for years, so it's a shame we lost out on him. Plus he was a great character. The most tragic of the entire crew. His family dies, his friend dies trying to hide Starke, he is forced to kill his love Selenia... It would've been great to see him deal with all that loss. Having him continue on as a good guy after becoming a vampire sounds like both a very interesting story and a neat subversion of expectations. But no. He just goes completely insane and evil, is basically unrecognizable as a character when we see him next in Nemesis, and ends up as the first "color shifted to black to show he's evil now even though WotC always says black isn't necessarily evil" Legends. A real shame.
But we should always see things from both sides, and without the changes made to the saga we never would've gotten the return of Urza. We'll see the real upside of that when we get to Urza's block of course, for now his presence in contained to a single cameo. But what a cameo it is! This guy originated in the story of Magic's first expansion. Everyone thought he was probably dead. He hasn't been seen for ages and his ultimate fate has been mysterious ever since the comics he appeared in got cancelled... and now he's back as a planeswalker! For longtime storylines fan this must've been a huge deal! It would be like opening a packet of Oath of the Gatewatch and finding a card that shows... I dunno, Lim-Dûl, or Baron Sengir, or... heck, Urza! I was only just getting into proper Magic at this point (after having only played Portal for the better part of a year), so I didn't really get it at the time, but looking back it's one hell of a stinger. This is Magic's version of Nick Fury turning up at the end of Iron Man!
So my opinion on the changes to the story is mixed, but my ultimate verdict of the Rath block storyline as a whole is still very positive. Again, I'll go into more detail when I'm finished with the other media it was told in, the comic and the novel. For now, well, Rath block may be over, but there is still one other storyboard I just had to share with you all...
OTHER LORE STUFF
- Let's start with the last regular Dominian FAQ (the feature gets revived once or twice in future issues, but always as a one-off)
- That question about Nevinyrral refers back to the Weatherlight's Ports of Call article in issue 19. Back then I mentioned that it only says Nevinyrral blowing up Urborg happened before the Ice Age. Here it is only said to be "millennia ago". I bring this up since it somehow ended up on the very specific date of "~300 AR" on the MTGSalvation timeline. I'm still wondering where that date came from.
- There are a whole lot of storyline related announcements in these issues. For starters, there's an add for Rath & Storm, The Art of Magic: the Rath Cycle and an Urza's Saga calendar.
- Issue 30 also contains an official announcement that says there will be six new books published in the coming year! If you ever wondered why the standalone novel Rath & Storm was said to be part of the Rath Cycle, it's because it was supposed to be part one of a trilogy. Part two would've been Mercadian Masques and part three Dark Fortress. Obviously the plans were changed, with Mercadian Masques becoming part one of the Masques cycle. The other three books promised are those accompanying Urza's block, parts two to four of the Artifact cycle.
- Tying the books closer to sets, and thus delaying Masques until after Urza's block, does make sense, but in a way it's a bit of a shame. The Weatherlight Saga was created to give Magic a regular cast of recognizable characters. That goes entirely out the window when you put their adventures on hold for an entire year and give the spotlight to Urza. Continuing to showcase the crew members in novels published simultaneously, could've helped keep them in the picture. Especially if you also kept showcasing them in The Duelist in order to promote the novels. But it was not to be.
RATH BLOCK ONLINE
Let's take a quite look at what The Duelist Online had to say about Rath block. Quick answer? Not a whole lot. The Weatherlight entry on Wizard's old site is written in the same style as the pre-Mirage sets, suggesting it never had any info on The Duelist Online at all. The Stronghold and Exodus entries are just summaries. You don't learn anything there that we didn't already see in the storyboards. Tempest though, has some interesting bits. Rather than summarizing the whole thing it goes into much more detail of the first few moments of the Weatherlight arriving in Rath. It ends with Gerrard falling overboard, right after the very first battle, after which we are told we need to buy the book to learn more. There's not any real information there, but it's cool to have some more details.
The real intrest lies with character profiles also provided. These go into much more detail than the ones we saw in the Weatherlight issues of The Duelist itself. For starters, here is a list of ages, which is going to be very useful when I'll get to making the timeline and trying to place all the flashbacks and prequels on there. For the record: Starke and Greven il-Vec are both 44, Crovax 37, Gerrard 26, Hannah and Orim 25, Tahngarth 20, Ertai 19 and Squee only 10, but we learn that this is adolescence for goblins. Mirri's age isn't given, and Sisay or Takara don't get profiles.
Unfortunately not all the info given here will stick. For example, these two ages: Karn's age is given as "thousands of years old", Volrath's as 31. According to Time Streams Karn is only about one thousand years old, and I'm fairly certain Rath & Storm states that Volrath and Gerrard are the same age. Further stuff that's been ret-conned out are the claim that Karn was "entrusted to Gerrard years ago" (Karn actually served the Capashens for several generations), the idea that there are multiple Evincars at the same time and the idea that the Weatherlight "Seems to have been designed as a pleasure schooner" rather than part of the Legacy itself. Though there are hints to some mysterious history of the ship here, so maybe that last one was always planned to be revealed eventually.
It's not all doom and gloom though. I'd say all the other stuff is still in canon, and there are some cool ideas in there. Squee apparently saved Sisay's life in the Kher Ridges, a story that I'd like to have seen if the short story prequels had continued, and Skyship Predator is apparently powered by a semi-living Phyrexian abomination!
- Mark Rosewaters' opening column in issue 27 is titled Making Magic. The name got a minor chuckle out of me, considering that's now the name of his regular column.
- Issue 30 is all about Unglued, and it has some neat trivia in it, some of it revealing that Ron Spencer seems like a funny guy. For example, did you know that he did the art for Infernal Spawn of Evil as a joke when asked to do the art for Entropic Specter? Or, and this is semi-somewhat-kinda-not-really lore related, that according to Ron the farmers from Krazy Kow and Squirrel Farm are brothers?
- Last time I mentioned that there were some strange advertisements in The Duelist. The one going "You don't sleep, neither do we" is repeated here, but the ones that really annoy me don't come in until later issues. Here we still get the funny kind of silly, like the one for the Hercules and Xena cardgame. Or one that tries to make fun of the crappy cards in Antiquities but mucks it up by including part of the Urzatron.
- Oh, and, apropos of nothing, Wizards used those background lines from the Urza's Saga add quite often. They also show up in the Urza's Saga rules inserts and on the maps on MagicInvasion.com. I always found it quite a cool design.
- In issue 28 Terese Nielsen talks about the picture of Gerrard she did for the cover, which was described as "sexy". It's not really an in depth discussion, but it's interesting to see such an early talk about issues of portrayal and representation that are discussed much more widely these days.
"Sexy is interesting. I try to make both men and women appealing in the way." The artist further notes that many of her female images are described as sexy when her main intention is to make them appear strong. She is both amused and gratified that her notion of a strong male figure elicits the same reaction while raising a few eyebrows in the (so far) male-dominated world of gaming."
- Phil and Dixie also leave behind the Weatherlight Crew in these issues. Instead they take a look of some of Magic's older "heroes".
- Finally, here are two neat illustrations based on Whispers of the Muse and Spike Weaver. Can you guess which of the two is from the Unglued issue?