Saturday, 31 December 2016

The Lat-Nam Kerfuffle

It feels good to finally be writing this article. After all, I've been saying one day I would since pretty much the beginning of this blog. So after two years it is high time.

What are we talking about again? Well, way back during the Greensleeves cycle we were shown the destruction of the College of Lat-Nam during the Brothers' War. Recently we covered Jeff Grubb's Ice Age cycle, in which the College continued to exist until shortly after the Ice Age. It's a pretty major revision that intersects with a lot of other ret-cons. There is the nature of the Brothers, the City of Shadows, Lim-Dûl... but while in the cases of the Brothers and Lim-Dûl we simply have to let the old version go and accept the new facts, it's different with Lat-Nam. For starters, there is no book that outright replaces the Greensleeves trilogy. And it would be a real shame to chuck some of the oldest Magic novels out of continuity without a replacement just because some details in the backstory don't match up. Furthermore, while the facts from the two trilogies (and a bunch of other references that were made in between) don't match up, there is so much in-universe time between them that there could very well have been some off-camera events that would explain the apparent inconsistencies. We are talking gaps of centuries or even millennia!

So that's why we are here. To try and find a way to make it all fit together. But first, let's go through all the sources once more, in order of release, to refresh our memory of just what we are talking about.

We first hear about Lat-Nam in Antiquities, Magic's first expansion with a proper storyline. Unfortunately it took Wizards about a million words to explain the concept of "sacrifice an artifact" back then, so there wasn't any room for flavor text on the Sages' own card. The flavor text of a few other cards tell us they were wizards and artificers, but that's about it. The history of Antiquities from the first Duelist Supplement added little more. There it is said all "current" knowledge about magic ultimately came from Terisia City and all knowledge of artifice from Lat-Nam. But going on its description of the Brothers themselves the text seems to make little difference between wizards and artificers. The latter are just wizards who summon artifacts.

And that was everything (at least all public knowledge) Clayton Emery had to go on while writing Whispering Woods, Shattered Chains and Final Sacrifice. In those books the main characters end up with an artifact called the Stone Brain. It turns out the thing can enslave wizards, as well as give and remove spellcasting capability. It was created by the sages of Lat-Nam, said to be the greatest collection of wizards ever, to fight Urza and Mishra, but they couldn't master it before the Brothers' armies attacked and destroyed the college. Fearing their what their creation might do in the wrong hands they launched it into space, where it stayed until it crashes to earth at the beginning of Whispering Woods. Later Greensleeves and her army go to the Island of Lat-Nam itself and find that it has been poisoned by the destructive artifacts still buried there. It is not directly stated, but heavily implied, that the Island has been laying fallow ever since the destruction during the Brothers' War, and that all that time it was protected by the Duler Angels and Merfolk of the Conch Horn that the sages created. In the end Greensleeves sacrifices her planeswalker spark to heal the land.

Later Harper Prism novels stuck with this version of events. In Song of Time we didn't see Lat-Nam, but we did get to see the wizard versions of Urza and Mishra. In Dark Legacy Vervamon mentions the poisoned land of Lat-Nam while theorizing about the origins of the Niroso, thus showing the land was indeed already in that state during the Dark Age. In that novel the main characters also visited the City of Shadows, which has nothing to do with Lat-Nam, and doesn't sound like a wizard school at all. It's just some creepy abandoned city where people get nightmares. The City will become part of the discussion later though.

Meanwhile parts of the story were already being changed in the Armada comics. In the Antiquities War and Urza-Mishra War we first saw the version of the Brothers we are now most familiar with: archaeologists and tinkerers, rather than mages. For Lat-Nam itself nothing was changed though. Hurkyl makes an appearance as an envoy of Lat-Nam to Terisia City, but we learn nothing else about the school. In the comics Terisia City just appeal to Mishra and Urza with a failed attempt to bring peace, and is then forgotten about. Neither the extensive research of the Third Parth nor their destruction was show there. The attack on Lat-Nam isn't shown either, but the comic ended prematurely because the whole line was cancelled, so it could very well have happened after the events of the comic. If Urza and Mishra aren't wizards the ability of the Brain to remove wizardly powers is a bit odd, but an artifact that can create wizards and then enslave them would still be useful in creating an army to oppose them. Obviously that wasn't what the Greensleeves cycle intended, but it still fits.

The big changes to the history of Lat-Nam came with Ice Age block, though oddly enough the fans didn't know about it at the time. The flavor texts didn't reveal much about the School of the Unseen on their own. Gerda Äagesdotter just gets to make some cryptic remarks. The most explanation we get is in the flavor text of Illusionary Forces: It's a secretive school of wizards, mainly working with illusions. Alliances adds a little more, making it clear that the Mages of the Unseen were inspired by the Scholars of Lat-Nam, but not a direct continuation of their school. The issues of The Duelist covering Ice Age and Alliances don't reveal much either. Heck, the Ice Age article just says the School is located "somewhere", although a map that came with that issue did show the School all the way in the west of Terisiare. It wasn't clear where it was in relation to the ruins of Lat-Nam though, as the only Brothers' War era map we had at the time was... fairly basic. Not to mention the Ice Age obviously changing the coastlines of the continent. (Later we would get a better map of the time of the Brothers, but that would only be with the release of the 1999 Urza's Saga calendar.)

Behind the scenes though, big changes had been made, which we wouldn't discover until years later, when a few entries of the so called "Forgotten Archive" were made public. There it was made clear that the School stood on the ruins of Lat-Nam, and that it was destroyed by Phyrexian War Beasts in the wake of the World Spell. Though it mentioned the Duler Angels and the Merfolk of the Conch Horn, it avoided the question of where they came from. It also just mentioned Lat-Nam as a "cursed" location, not "poisoned", and added a bunch of new information, like how the survivors of the Scholars founded the Institute of Arcane Studies, while the survivors of the Unseen founded a school in Epityr.

So now we have two schools on Lat-Nam and a couple of questions. How could the second school be there if the land was poisoned? Why did Greensleeves run into Brothers' War era artifacts rather than Phyrexian War Beasts when she visited the Island? Where were the Duler Angels and Merfolk of the Conch Horn in the meantime? No answers would be forthcoming though. The next person to handle to subject would be Jeff Grubb, who only made everything more complicated.

The Brothers' War completely revamps the Antiquities story and pushes the comics out of continuity, in much the same way the comics themselves did with the "Brothers as wizards" sources. It is relatively tame when it comes to Lat-Nam though. Again we see Hurkyl, this time accompanied by Drafna, turning up at Terisia City. They participate in the research there until Mishra destroys the city. Hurkyl is killed in the attack and Drafna is left devastated, Feldon even thinks he has a death wish and might use the Golgothian Sylex in his grief. After that the school disappears from the story. It still leaves plenty of time for the Lat-Namians to go back to their Island, start working on the Stone Brain, and be destroyed though.

The only real strike against that is that it is a major plot point that Mishra's army can't go too far west without Urza attacking its rear. And the Brothers certainly never teamed up (as is implied in Final Sacrifice, where we see Ornithopters and Triskelions attacking alongside Dragon Engines) to deal with the wizards. However, with the big time jumps in the later chapters of the novel it seems possible that a smaller contingent of Mishra's army was send out (or even a rag tag bunch of artifact creatures scavenged by someone else, like Ashnod or Gix) and attacked the College. I imagine that with many wizards already killed at Terisia City and their leader suicidally depressed a smaller group of attackers could do a lot of damage.

Looking back though, seeing how Jeff Grubb incorporated the destruction of Soldev (as revealed by Skaff Elias in Urza-Mishra War #1) and that of the School of the Unseen (from the Forgotten Archive), and how he later had the College of the Unseen survive throughout the Dark- and Ice Age, I wonder if the destruction of Terisia City was intended to be his replacement of the destruction of Lat-Nam seen in Final Sacrifice. Moving the creation of the Stone Brain and its launch into space to there seems an easy fix, but creates further problems: why does Vervamon say Lat-Nam is poisoned? How can Greensleeves run into a dragon engine buried there? She also finds a skull and uses magic to on it to see visions of destruction. It's wordless, so it could perhaps be the destruction of Terisia City, but then how did the skull end up on Lat-Nam?

Note that Hurkyl and Drafna say they are the founders of the "current incarnation" of the College of Lat-Nam. Perhaps that was intended as a way out of any inconsistencies. But as we'll see, it doesn't really work out that way.

In Rath and Storm there was a short reference to the "sages of Lat-Nam from the second millenium". It's very minor, but matches what would come after it a lot better then what came before. In the story as it was known up to that point the College was destroyed before 64 AR, and the School not founded until a few decades before 2934. So who are these sages hanging out on Lat-Nam between 1000 and 2000 AR? Of course, that reference was made by the Librarian, who referred to the Weatherlight as an "early Dominarian legend", so this could easily be explained away as him making a historical error. Before long though things were changed again and Lat-Nam would be revealed to have been inhabited continuously through the Ice Age. Points to the Librarian!

The first hints of this appear in "Loran's Smile" from The Colors of Magic. There Feldon, 10 years after the Sylex Blast, contacts Drafna to send him a powerstone, and he is still referred to as head of the College of Lat-Nam . Hrmmm... Well, in the Forgotten Archive did reveal some Lat-Namians survived to found the Institute of Arcane Studies, so perhaps a few other survivors decided to stay in Terisiare and kept the name?

Then The Gathering Dark comes along, and things get even more complicated. Here we learn that the College of Lat-Nam survived all the way into the Dark Ages, and changed its name to the City of Shadows. So... what about that weird city that gave people nightmares from Dark Legacy? Is that secretly a wizarding school? Are there two places called the City of Shadows? Things were tricky enough without dragging another ret-con into all this! Yet on the other hand... you could say that by now so many ret-cons have been piled up that they are starting to cancel each other out. To match the survival of the College of Lat-Nam with the poisoning of the island the wizards need to have moved. And now we have them adopting the name of a place that Dark Legacy showed as on a different location than Lat-Nam... hmmmm... this is opening up possibilities!

This is also a good place to point out that despite all the ret-cons Jeff Grubb has introduced so far, we still haven't actually seen Lat-Nam in any of his books! In The Brothers' War, Loran's Smile and The Gathering Dark we only see envoys and letters from the place, neither the school nor the island ever turn up. This, alongside the big time jumps, is a blessing for people trying to create a fan fix. If we don't see the wizards on the Island of Lat-Nam during the Dark, it become a lot easier to postulate a temporary relocation!

In The Eternal Ice and The Shattered Alliance we finally do see the island, but luckily there is little ret-conning of published material. Oh, there are ret-cons galore compared to the Forgotten Archive: The school is now a direct continuation from the College/City, rather than just a few decades old. It is ruled by Jodah, rather than founded and ruled by Gerda. Lim-Dûl puts a portal to Phyrexia under it rather than turning its mana lines black. The War Beasts are destroyed by Jaya, rather than going dormant of their own accord. But the Archive is an unpublished source, so I don't feel we need to justify any of  those changes. The fact that so little information was made public in the Ice Age and Alliances sets works in our favor here. There was so little information know that there couldn't be any egregious ret-cons either! (Note: this is not encouragement for Wizards to start keeping everything secret again!)

Of course, at the time the Forgotten Archive wasn't public knowledge yet, so we had not yet been introduced to the idea that the Island of Lat-Nam was repopulated and re-destroyed around the end of the Ice Age. Which means that when it was released it seemed like the Ice Age cycle was introducing that ret-con as well, and this is of course the biggest one of them all. And while the release of those Forgotten Archive snippets have exonerated Jeff Grubb from that one, we are still stuck with the questions the Archive raised and didn't answer. To quote myself from a few paragraphs back:

"So now we have two schools on Lat-Nam and a couple of questions. How could the second school be there if the land was poisoned? Why did Greensleeves run into Brothers' War era artifacts rather than Phyrexian War Beasts when she visited the Island? Where were the Duler Angels and Merfolk of the Conch Horn in the meantime?"

If I may guess at Jeff Grubb's intentions, I think his idea was that the destruction of Terisia City replaced the destruction of Lat-Nam seen in the Greensleeves cycle, and that the black mana infusion due to the bottomless pit and the destruction wrought by the War Beasts were supposed to be the new reason for the poisoning of the land. But I also think that he was told the old stuff was no longer in continuity and thus didn't worry about little details that don't match up, like the Dragon Engine Greensleeves' team digs up, or the skull she finds. If he read the Clayton Emery stuff at all!

I accepted this "fudge the details" theory for a long time. After all, it gives us a Brothers' War era moment for the Stone Brain to be launched into the sky, then allows for the Ice Age cycle to happen, but does leave Lat-Nam poisoned and in shambles for Greensleeves to stumble up. We can always theorize that the skull she found was of someone who witnessed the destruction of Terisia City but survived and returned to the island, and that the Dragon Engine was dug up by the School of the Unseen shortly before their demise. The Flood Ages are famous for being a time when artifacts of the Brothers where dug up after all. It all seemed to fit.

But then I read Dark Legacy. Now all of a sudden I had found proof that the poisoning was already a thing during the Dark Age. Not to mention the whole City of Shadows problem I didn't even know of before! Now we have to put the Brothers' War era destruction of Lat-Nam back in. Which leads to the question: how can the School of the Unseen have been located there? A good look at the maps does show that the School of the Unseen was way off to the south, opening up the possibility that it was located on land which was submerged before and after the Ice Age, and thus could be poison free. This meshes with The Shattered Alliance, where Jodah's quarters are about to be swallowed by the sea again. That still requires a temporary evacuation from the island though, between the destruction of the College and the sea levels lowering enough for the non-poisoned land to emerge. Which might dovetail with the City of Shadows connection, as I mentioned earlier.

So now we've covered all the problems, and some explanations have already started to emerge. Let's go through all of it, or at least, all the stuff that stuck, one more time, but this time in the in-universe order, to see how it could all fit together.


  • At some time before the Brothers' War the original College of Lat-Nam was build and eventually disappeared (Hurkyl and Drafna say they are the founders of the "current" school in The Brothers' War, so there must have been an earlier version)
  • Around the time of the Brothers Hurkyl and Drafna found the most famous version of the College. They get involved with the Third Path in Terisia City, and Hurkyl is killed when Mishra attacks it. (Shown in The Brothers' War)
  • Some survivors, presumably including Drafna, return to Lat-Nam and start working on the Stone Brain, but they are attacked by artifact creatures (most probably Mishra's) and launch the Stone Brain into space. The island is poisoned and abandoned, only the Duler Angels and Merfolk of the Conch Horn remain in the area (Shown in Final Sacrifice)
  • Again there are a few survivors, once again including Drafna, who relocated to elsewhere on Terisiare but keep the name Lat-Nam (to explain Drafna's appearance in Loran's Smile.) In my headcanon the bit from the Forgotten Archive about survivors founding the Institute of Arcane Studies is also still true. Sure, it's from an unpublished source, but its a neat little connection!
  • Eventually the survivors, or their descendants, end up in the City of Shadows and adopt that name. (Name change is mentioned in The Gathering Dark, the relocation to the City is to match what was seen in Dark Legacy. I always prefer merging stuff where possible over saying "there must have been two Cities of Shadows")
  • The poison in Lat-Nam may have played a role in the creation of the Niroso (as theorized by Vervamon in Dark Legacy)
  • When strangers come to the City of Shadows they use magic to keep themselves hidden, and give the visitors nightmares to scare them away. When a scholar that might be worth joining their ranks comes by though, like Vervamon, they give him nice dreams in the hope of having him stay. (This is one of the most speculative parts of the theory, but it's the only way I can square what we see of the City in Dark Legacy with its description in The Gathering Dark)
  • After the destruction of the Conclave of Mages Jodah and Sima lead its survivors to the City of Shadows (Shown in The Gathering Dark)
  • As the Ice Age takes hold the sea levels drop, revealing un-poisoned land south of the original island of Lat-Nam. For some reason the City of Shadows relocates there. (Nostalgia? Better hiding place? Maybe the City was discovered by the Inquisition?)
  • Eventually Jodah becomes archmage, the City is renamed the School of the Unseen, and it goes even further with its seclusion, putting up a glacier wall between it and the rest of Terisiare, and creating the Adarkar Sentinels (Mentioned in The Eternal Ice)
  • Near the end of the Ice Age Gerda gives Jodah to Lim-Dûl and recieves the bottomless pit in return. Freyalise ransacks the libraries for information needed to cast the World Spell (Shown in The Eternal Ice)
  • After the World Spell the School emerges from its seclusion, aiding in the founding of Eufan Pincar and New Sumifa (Mentioned in The Shattered Alliance)
  • 20 years after the World Spell Jaya/Lim-Dûl/Mairsil animates the Phyrexian War Beasts, who head to the bottomless pit and destroy the School of the Unseen in the proces. Jaya defeats the beasts and eliminates the pit. The survivors of the School head of to some unknown destination (Shown in The Shattered Alliance)
  • More speculation, but I like to think some of the survivors (or their descendants) end up at either the Summit of Minorad or the Tolarian Academy, both magical gatherings founded in the centuries directly following the end of the Ice Age. Also, I like to think a few of them remained on Terisiare anyway so the bit from the Forgotten Archive about the Epityr College of Mages can still be true.
  • The southern lands that contain the ruins of the School of the Unseen are eventually submerged by the sea (Hinted at in The Shattered Alliance)
  • Centuries later the Stone Brain comes crashing back to earth and is found by Greensleeves. She eventually comes to Lat-Nam, which is now back to its original size, and thus is fully poisoned. She meets the Duler Angels and Merfolk of the Conch Horn (who have been hanging out a looooooong time. Maybe they interacted with the School of the Unseen at times?) and heals the land with her spark.

Phew. Well, there you have it. All of the Lat-Nam sources in one chronology. Hopefully one that makes sense!

As I always do when I talk about these kinds of continuity integrations, I want to say a quick word to the skeptics. There are plenty of people out there who consider all the pre-revision stuff out of continuity. And while I am quite adamant that the Armada comics should be kept in the canon just because it kept on being referenced (in the Ice Age cycle, in Invasion, even in recent Uncharted Realms articles!), I will admit they have a slightly better argument with the Harper Prism stuff. Those novels are more stand alone than the comics, and the references that did get in are a lot more indirect. There is mention of the festival from Arena in Shadow Mage, the viashino from The Prodigal Sorcerer were incorporated into the game with Mirage, and Reod Dai got a single mention in a piece of Fifth Edition flavor text. That's about it. So if you think all of the above is stretching everything too much and would rather just chuck the entire Greensleeves trilogy and Dark Legacy out of continuity... honestly, you could do that without hurting the rest of the canon.

But my problem with that is: where do you draw the line? These are not books that were directly replaced by newer publications, they were just contradicted in a number of details. But parts of Rath and Storm were contradicted by Urza's block. Parts of The Brothers' War was contradicted by Mercadian Masques. Parts of Zendikar block where contradicted by Battle for Zendikar block! Sure, you might say, but that all is new stuff, the Harper Prism novels are pre-revisionst, that's different. To which I would ask: is it? We as a community have made a huge thing of the revision, but if you actually go back and look the line between rev and pre-rev is vague to the point of non-existence. Mirage makes ample references to Armada comics (and with the viashino even one to Harper Prism), and the Weatherlight Saga flows directly from Mirage block. The revisions were more of a gradual proces, with later sources even altering the start of the Weatherlight Saga itself!

So yeah, while I fully admit this article got quite speculative at times to match two stories that clearly have different ideas about the history of Lat-Nam, ultimately I feel that if you start removing things from canon when there isn't a clear replacement you end up making some pretty arbitrary choices. In which case I'd rather keep everything I can in continuity and dream up theories like this to make it fit.

There are two more questions that occasionally come up but that don't specifically involve the chronology. Still, lets quickly squeeze them in.

First: if the Lat-Namians were one of the first colleges of mages, rather than the greatest collection of wizards ever, how could they be powerful enough to create the Stone Brain and the Duler Angels? I think there could be several explanations for this. One could be saying that they didn't create the Brain, but just found it. The Terisia City crew did find the Coral Helmet, Feldon's Cane the Golgothian Sylex after all, and that last artifact was also enormously powerful. Another explanation could be that magic simply isn't like science. In the real world humanity can't invent the atom bomb if it didn't invent gunpower first. Our inventions get more powerful over time. But maybe with magic you get the power first and you need to build up your control. There are plenty of stories about apprentice wizards getting screwed over because they summon magics beyond their control after all.

The second question is how the Stone Brain from Greensleeves relates to the Coral Helmet from the Ice Age cycle. Well, there the answer is simple: it doesn't. The Stone Brain is described in a single line as looking like coral, because it looks like a brain, and brains look like a type of coral. Only later does the thing turn into a helmet, and after that first line it is never referred to as coral-y again. The Coral Helmet is just a random artifact Jeff Grubb keeps mentioning as a running joke.

If you read this MTGSalvation thread, you'll find a post by MORT who did some research into origin of how the Stone Brain got called the Coral Helmet in the storyline community. Turns out once upon a time on Squeeman used that term to describe it. Since Squeeman was a very well respected member of the forum at that time, and because few people had actually read the Greensleeves cycle, the name stuck. In fact, it stuck so well that even these days I still get questions about it on my blog! So, hopefully this will answer it once and for all: the two are not the same. The Stone Brain got launched into space during the Brothers' War and stayed there until 4073 AR, while the Coral Helm got passed around a lot between those days.

Okay. Surely that exhausts every possible thing about Lat-Nam we could be talking about, right? Well... there actually is this one more thing... it involves some mosaics we saw in Final Sacrifice, of legendary creatures from Legends, which Scott McGough will later use in post-Ice Age settings. Which makes you wonder how on earth their image could turn up on pre-Ice Age ruins. But before we can talk about that we first need to cover the Legends I and II cycles, which is are a long way off. Oh, and I can already tell you that the outcome of that discussion will not change anything of what I discussed above. So let us put the subject to rest for now, and return to Lat-Nam one last time somewhere (hopefully) in 2017.

Next I'm finally back to the Weatherlight Saga proper, with a look at Mercadian Masques!


  1. You certainly saved the best for last!

    I feel as thought this blog post was custom made for me. GreenSleeves, Dark Legacy, and Gathering Dark are my favorite book series in MTG, and often I have thought about the correlation between the magic schools, the coral helm, the stone brain, and all the contradicting sources.

    This post clears up everything pretty well, but part of the reason I enjoy all of this is the mystery and speculation. I don't feel that the future sagas in MTG have as much uncertainty in their histories, which makes them a bit less fun for me.

    to summarize:

    1) Ancient Lat-Nam
    2) Lat-Nam circa 64 AR (leader: Drafna & Hurkyl)
    3) Lat-Nam relocated to unknown place after the blast (Leader: Drafna)
    4) Lat-Nam relocated/renamed to City of Shadows during the dark (Leader: Unknown, or does Sima name the leader?)
    5) Return to Isle of Lat-Nam and renamed to School of Unseen during the Ice Age (Leader: Jodha)
    6) School is moved to unknown location at the end of the Ice Age and never again mentioned(Leader: Gerda Äagesdotter)

    aside from this, we have a few other places of higher education for wizards: Tolarian Academy, Conclave of Mages, Institute for Arcane Studies, Minorad, and the Houses of Estark. Are there any others?

    1. I imagine the Guilds of Zhalfir have an education department.

      In fact, I'd there are loads of smaller wizarding schools we never hear about. Seems like something you'd want to have organised. I think in Shattered Chains the Benalish make a remark about the Benalish wizards serving the state, so they must have some sort of organisation to keep them in check as well.

  2. This is a really excellent and compelling defense of a kind of maximalist approach to canon preservation. :D I'll have to remember to cite it in the future... I'm sure it's an argument that I'll want to note when it comes time to dig into the more recent history of retcons post-Mending.

    It's amazing how some of this stuff just becomes common knowledge despite being the result of like some typo Squeeman made at some point :I

    1. Hopefully it will become less of a problem now all new stories are available online. A lot of it was the result of people just not having access to the novels and thus accepting whatever they read on a forum.

  3. I do love deep dives like this. As a person (the only person?) driven to distraction by the Gatewatch's inconsistent heights, I certainly relate to the desire tofind in-setting explanations for the little retcons which build up over time.

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  5. During the time of The Dark, Sima eplicitly refer to the City of Shadow as a School of the Unseen.

    “Aye,” said Sima, “we… the mages of the City of Shadows, of our school of the unseen, are not too proud to realize that we don’t know enough about this new force, so we study, and we collect, and we train. Capable spellcasters are as important as magical devices. And our school has always sought out powerful artifacts” (quote from The Gathering Dark by Jeff Grubb, page 124)