Sunday, 19 June 2016

A Time for Remembrance

Writer - Will McDermott
Originally appeared in The Official Guide to Urza's Saga
Rereleased online on Will McDermott's website.

Urza returns to Phyrexia after his cameo on Mind over Matter, informing Barrin about the events of Rath block. The callous way Urza talks about the crew, not even bothering to tell Barrin whether his daughter is safe, gets to the old wizard. He starts writing a letter to Hanna in which he explains his antipathy towards her desire to study artifact by telling her the history of Urza. In the end he realizes he can never send the letter and burns it.

This is one of the strangest parts of the canon. Not because of its content, as much weirder stuff can be found in various anthologies, nor because of its format, considering this canon includes games, choose-your-own-adventures and viral marketing campaigns. Not even because of its obscurity, as we have already looked at much harder to find stuff. No, it is weird because it is one of the most pointless, skippable stories in Magic history, yet simultaneously almost compulsory reading for anyone interested in the Weatherlight Saga. Let me try to explain.

On the one hand, it's just a summary. A retelling of the Urza's Saga storyline (Covering the end of The Brothers' War, all of Planeswalker and the beginning of Time Streams) for those who bought just the guidebook. But what good is a summary these days? You can find those online on loads of sites, like mine for example. If you are a storyline fan interested in this era of Magic, you really should just read the full novels. So, why bother even reviewing this story? And that is not me disparaging Will McDermott. The writing is perfectly fine. But no matter how good the summary, it will not hold a candle to an actual novel.

But then there is the framing sequence with Barrin. It's very short, one page at the beginning and one paragraph at the end, but important nonetheless, because this is where Barrin tries to reconnect with Hanna. We finally get an explanation for their estrangement. We get character development that matches Barrin's depiction in Rath & Storm to that it Urza's block. This sets up his appearance in Invasion. This is crucial reading if you are following Barrin as a character!

In Rath & Storm the split between the father and daughter was only shown in Ertai's chapter, which happens to be a humorous story told from the viewpoint of an egomaniac, thus we didn't get much depth. In Invasion however this story thread reaches a very emotional climax. Thus a story like this is very necessary to bridge the gap between those appearances. Why on earth they decided to bury such crucial character development in an obscure source like this? No idea.

So... my final verdict? This is a crucial part of one of my favorite Saga's in Magic, and since it is available for free online I would urge everyone to go and read it now. Yet I would also urge you all to skip just about every page of it. Once Barrin starts writing, feel free to scroll down to the last page immediately.

  • Those of you who did read the entire summary-part of the story will have noticed a few interesting things regarding continuity, and one possible problem. That problem is that Barrin apparently learned about Urza's time with Xantcha through the memories of Karn! 
"Karn does not now realize that Urza created him centuries ago or that his memory begins long before he was ever called Karn."
  • This is very odd. There is no indication of this in the novels. And to be honest, I can't figure out how Karn could have a conversation about these memories with Barrin without realizing he has them. The only thing I can think of is that maybe Barrin put Karn in some sort of hypnotic trance state?
  • Much easier to explain is Barrin's claim that Gix was a demonic construct of Yawgmoth, "somehow imbued with sentience". Xantcha and Ratepe did find Gix's name on Thran glyphs back in Planeswalker, but perhaps Urza never truly accepted this (despite accepting that the Phyrexians in general came from the Thran), and told Barrin Gix was a creation of Yawgmoth. 
  • Here's something I should've mention last review: The Duelist, the cards themselves and this story all casually reveal that Serra's Realm was attacked by Phyrexians after Urza's visit. This never came up in Planeswalker, but will also be stated matter of factly in the opening pages of Time Streams. An odd story telling choice, this is another result of having the novels and card sets not match up.
  • Minor tidbit: the Viashinos are said to have been stranded on the mountains of Shiv during the Ice Age.
  • Finally, this story is the first instance of Urza being a huge jerk. Sure, he wasn't nice in The Brothers' War either, but there he at least tried to relate to people, and his break with Kayla has a clear origin in her colluding with Mishra. And while he did almost punch Xantcha in Planeswalker, he was going through a full on psychotic episode there. Here he is relatively sane, but doesn't bother telling Barrin his daughter is okay, and doesn't even realize how much of a jerk he's being when Barrin asks about her! This is not him being out of character though. In upcoming novels we'll see him drift from his roots of "autistic but trying to connect with people" to just a complete, unrepentant jerk, which will reach it's pinnacle in Invasion. 

Well, this is easy. It happens directly after the end of Rath & Storm, so in 4205 AR.

This was nice and short. Next time we'll have much more to talk about when we return to the novels for Time Streams!

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