Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Invasion cycle: the review

We are finally here people! This post contains my review of the Invasion cycle, but you might want to read the summaries of Invasion, Planeshift and Apocalypse first, if you have not already done so.

Initially I wanted to split this review into two parts, first talking about whether the Invasion cycle worked as a story, and then about whether it worked as a capstone to the Weatherlight Saga. But that division is not so easily made. The story is that it is the capstone of the Weatherlight Saga. If you are not already invested in that arc large parts of these books are just a random bunch of monsters attacking a random place with random people defending. There is some characterization here, some of it is even very good, but most of it is in broad strokes, or very short. Tahngarth’s apprehension towards meeting other minotaurs rings hollow if you are not already familiar with his attitude towards his mutations seen in Rath and Storm or Mercadian Masques. And Barrin’s suicide is set up mostly by his relationship to his daughter shown in A Timefor Remembrance and the death of his wife in Prophecy.

Still, there is something to say about the writing style that has nothing to do with the rest of the saga, and some continuity concerns that have little to do with the quality of the story. So I’ll start off talking about the story itself before moving on to continuity stuff. It will just be more of a gradual development than a clear divide.

Okay, the writing style. Well, I've talked about J. Robert King before, and back then the word I used to describe him is "variable". That´s still true, but let's start with the good.

As always King gives us some great individual scenes. I already mentioned Tahngarth's meeting with the Hurloon and Barrin's death. Especially that last one is a punch to the gut (if you're familiar with the story of Barrin's family so far.) It's not even the death itself, but Urza saying "Hanna died two weeks ago" that really breaks your heart. In addition to those we've got Urza's completely insane reasoning about letting Szat kill Kristina and Daria, Squee's goodbye to Gerrard just before the completion of the Legacy, Orim calming the crew's nerves by spitting at the Stronghold, Agnate facing the vivisected Thaddeus, Urza's descend into madness... all very well done scenes, some of them among my favorite in the canon.

That flavor text is fantastic, and it's not even in the novel!
In addition to that, King also manages to create, at least in Invasion, a pretty good atmosphere. The off-screen destruction of Benalia and the fear that runs through Yavimaya as the invasion begins really sells the terror of the situation. Plus the books fell very meaty and important as there is just so much stuff happening. The fall of Benalia. The phasing out of parts of Jamuraa and Shiv. Skyshroud ending up in Keld. The Rathi Overlay. Part of Yavimaya being transplanted to Urborg. The Null Moon getting a hole punched in it! This story makes an impact! And yeah, Magic jumps around time a lot, so up to this point we lost the setting with almost every new block, but what gets blown up here are the places that have always been described as existing in the "present", which have been with us for a long time, often since Alpha. Getting to see everything wrecked really sells you on the invasion being a big deal.

(Though I will say that phasing out a continent allows for a huge change while also setting up a potentially speedy rebuild. Which might be a smart thing considering, say, the egregious ret-con that was required to make another Mirrodin block)

Of course, I started this section by mentioning King being variable, so now I will have to talk about the bad stuff.

There aren't that many really bad scenes in the book. Ertai's death really rubs me the wrong way, and I can't stand Guff breaking the fourth wall, but that's it really. Mostly the problem is that otherwise okay scenes just do not fit with the rest of the book. King is no Jeff Grubb, who can weave humor into serious stories seemingly without effort. The humor here is often way to silly and clashes horribly with the rest of the story. For example, when the Weatherlight crew is imprisoned in Benalia they eventually discover they could've escaped the entire time because Squee fits through the bars. Personally I think this Baron Munchhausen-shtick is pretty played out in general, but it is particularly bad here since Benalia is utterly destroyed while that nonsense is going on! Similarly, when Kristina is killed by (supposed) friendly fire of Szat, Bo Levar and Commodore Guff are having silly antics not a page later, and right after the big conclusion, with the Weatherlight destroyed and Yawgmoth defeated, we get a bit with Tahngarth doing a silly victory dance. There are ways to merge jokes into serious stories, but this is not it.

And that atmosphere and feeling of impactfull things happening? That really peters out by the time we get to Apocalypse. During Invasion we are constantly switching between the Weatherlight, Eladamri, Barrin, the Metathran army and the Nine Titans, but in Planeshift things start getting bogged down with weird subplots about dragons and liches to hide the fact that the main fighting against the Phyrexians has no development at all. By Apocalypse the entire siege of the Stronghold is just wasting time until those dwarves get to blow up the volcano. Even worse: Gerrard and Urza are essentially locked in the same battle over and over for about half the book!

Replacing all that good stuff we saw in Invasion is... well, I can only really describe it as "mystic weirdness". We already see the start of this, on a small scale, in Invasion with the Dream Caves. Okay, so there are caves underneath Llanowar where your dreams can become reality? Surely that's a big Chekov's Gun, right? Nope. Just a macguffin to get rid of the plague plotline. It's... weird. and a bit annoying in that it remains entirely unexplained, but at least it doesn't get too involved with the main plot.

In Planeshift we get more of this. The rebirth of the primevals and them representing conception, birth, et cetera, Karn being transformed by his memories returning... both of those things are couched in meaningful sounding language that is really just very vague when you try to unpack it. The worst is the Keldon Twilight. The dead warlords rise... because it was prophesied I guess? Then the magic cudgel destroys the glacier due to it hitting the face of a zombie-warlord... and then the Golden Argosy somehow shows up? And it saves people, mucks with their memory, brings them to Urborg? The heck? It might have worked in a more mystical story, but this is Magic: the Gathering. The entire setting lives on practical magic. In this very story you have mana-powered mechas. So who summoned that boat? Who triggered the prophecy? Why do the warlords suddenly fight for Phyrexia? Where Kradak and Jezal involved? The spirit of Keld itself? All I'm left with is questions, which annoys me.

And then we get to Apocalypse and the questions just keep coming. How can Karn transform the Weatherlight with the Thran Tome? How can Yawgmoth reanimate the dead? (He even brings Barrin back as a ghost!) What is this nonsense story about there being a bunch of worlds inside the Legacy and a bunch of heroes inside Gerrard? How is Yawgmoth even defeated?! Not that those scenes are bad in and of themselves, but the lack of explanation ruins them. In both the first and the last of these examples there is just suddenly a big magic light and everything is okay. That's a bad way to end a story, and an absolutely horrid way to end a story we've been building up to for 4 years, 12 books (depending on which ones you count), 13 sets, and 38 Multiverse in Review posts!

There are some more minor problems with the story as well. Lots of time is spend on things that ultimately have little impact. The Weatherlight collecting a new crew of prisoners doesn't matter in the long run. The prisoners quietly stop getting mentioned somewhere during Planeshift. The same happens with the ragtag airfleet that gathers around the Weatherlight. The whole subplot about Agnate and Darlnu and the rise of the Primevals takes up quite a few chapters, but then in the end they are quickly wrapped up and barely mentioned after that.

Some other minor things that are perhaps not really problems, but just things I don't really like:
  • Gerrard getting no flack for turning to the dark side after he comes back to the good guys.
  • Karn breaking his vow of pacifism being presented as glorious. I get that he has to fight, but it seems like it would be more solemn and heavyhearted, especially considering his previous characterization.
  • The odd ending of Planeshift. Surely you'd want that to be the darkest moment in your story? So why end it with Karn popping up and saying he knows how to save everything?

If we dissect the Invasion cycle and look at each scene individually, I would probably say that there is about as much good as there is bad. It's just that a lot of the good is in the first novel and a lot of the bad near the end, so you're walking away with the negatives more clearly in your mind. But that's the individual scenes. When we put them all together, and then put the whole thing together with the rest of the Weatherlight Saga... unfortunately I find the whole less than the sum of its parts.

I mean, if you take a closer look at the progression of the story, each book represents an escalation of the threat. But... if the Rathi Overlay was coming anyway, why did Phyrexia attack Dominaria before that, spoiling the element of surprise and giving the coalition time to marshal their armies? And if Yawgmoth could just enter the world as an all-killing, all-resurrecting, all-consuming death cloud, why even bother with the Overlay? Sure, you can explain it away. Perhaps the last minute replacement of the Evincar meant that Dominaria had to be weakened for him to guide the Overlay? And maybe without the Overlay infecting Dominaria with flowstone Yawgmoth couldn't make the jump? That first bit would actually be really nice, tying the events of Rath block much closer to the invasion itself. But those explanations aren't given in the story. In fact, a whole lot of things happen that don't get any explanation. And then I'm not just talking about the weird mystical stuff mentioned above, but also things that really make the main characters look like idiots when you think about them.

Let's take a look at these problems.

  • Why doesn't Yawgmoth come to Dominaria immediately? Or at least start the invasion with the Overlay?
  • On the other side: what exactly is Urza's plan? Why focus on Koilos? Why then immediately scatter your armies to Keld and Shiv when your main goal is Urborg?
  • At one point it is said Koilos is important because its the only stable land portal, but why does that matter when the Phryexians can open a million tiny portals and bomb Llanowar from another plane?
  • And if we buy the Koilos portal is important... why didn't Urza destroy during his last 1000ish years of preparations?
  • At the end of Invasion it is suggested Urza and Gerrard need to destroy the portal together for some weird mystical reason, but then why send Thaddeus to blow it up? And again, why not bring Gerrard there a year or two earlier?
  • Why do planeswalkers need to train with the Titan Engines rather than just have the knowledge telepathically beamed into them? And if they do need to train, why do they only start after the Invasion began?
  • Speaking of the Engines, why does Taysir stay in his while confronting Urza when he knows Urza put kill rubrics into them?
  • Why does Urza pose as the Blind Seer, rather than just telling Gerrard what is going on? And why does he languish in a Benalish brig while he should be fighting? He basically lets Benalia get routed in order to hang around in a prison he could've gotten out of all the time! (He's as bad as Squee!)
  • If Rath is warded again Urza, why not Phyrexia?
  • Why didn't Urza know of Jhoira's improvements to the Mana Rig?
  • Why didn't Urza contact the dragon nations before the Invasion started?
  • How does Multani not know about the coming Overlay?
  • Why didn't the planeswalkers tell their armies they were taking them across the world after Koilos? Everyone is surprised when they are teleported out during the first Phyrexian attack on Planeshift. But that all the 'walkers are doing it simultaneously shows coordination, and they just spend 3 days having a party. Surely they could've taken a little time out of that to discuss their next step?
  • Why are Shiv and Keld the next battlegrounds?
  • Why are the Metathran entirely useless without Agnate? Wasn't this Urza's super army that he generated over many centuries?
If it was just one of these issues that popped up in a story I might say that complaining about it is nitpicking. I might not have even mentioned it in a review. But when all of these occur, each question piling on top of the others, it stops being something that I'll happily handwave with a quick continuity fix. Put all of them together and I can only conclude that Urza, Yawgmoth, Gerrard, and pretty much everyone else in this story, is a complete idiot who knows nothing about strategy.

Victory favors the prepared. Then why didn't Urza prepare for anything in the last 1000 years?
All of this could perhaps work if this was the story of Phyrexia discovering a portal to Dominaria and immediately rushing through it, with the Dominarians struggling to find a good response. But that isn't the story that should have been told. This is the end of a long storyline that was all about the two sides preparing for a conflict for ages and ages. So we should have gotten a story involving intelligent, or at least reasonably thought out, strategies, with long running plans coming to fruition. Instead we get Gerrard just hopping off to Hurloon on a whim and Karn finding the world's salvation by chucking a book across a room in frustration. There are so many points in this story where Gerrard is asked what the plan is, and all he ever says is "kill Phyrexians!" or "Hit them hard!". I guess King thinks that makes him sound bad-ass, but at some point that stops being cool and it just makes your supposed strategical genius sound like a rash idiot.

Ultimately this is a story that barrels along nicely, and if you don't mind the weird mystical bits the story is on the whole very enjoyable. But it falls apart when you start to analyze it. Unfortunately for me, I run a blog where all I do is analyze Magic stories. So for me this is not a good story, and a pretty disappointing ending to an (up to this point mostly very good) era of Magic storylines. Which brings me to...

This trilogy draws a great big line underneath the storyline so far. At the end of Apocalypse the quest that the whole thing revolved around for four years is over. A whole boatload of main characters lies dead. The set has been trashed. The next cycle will happen on a continent at the other end of the globe after a century has passed. In other words, this was the last chance to wrap-up dangling plotlines, to resolving thematic issues and to generally do some fun call backs to previous parts of the Weatherlight Saga. I'm afraid that for me it falls short on all those accounts. I'm not sure if it is entirely fair to hold this against the trilogy or if it is more a problem of the saga as a whole. Do we blame J. Robert King when the entire continuity department apparently forgot the Soltari years ago? In fact, if the Invasion cycle had been a masterpiece of a story I would probably now be writing something along the lines of "Well, I would have liked to see revealed what happened to Croag, but that would only have cluttered up the story and screwed with its pacing." Unfortunately the Invasion cycle is not a masterpiece, and thus the lost connections to the rest of the saga sting all the more.

For starters, where are all my main characters? Barrin, Hanna, Teferi, Jhoira and Takara get taken of the board almost immediately. Sisay and Orim get about one cool scene each. Li(i)n Siv(v)i doesn't even get that, her only contribution is being a few fight scenes and a make out session with Eladamri. Greven is in only one battle. Ertai is wasted as an evil minion of Crovax, his entire personality seemingly forgotten.

Now, if it had been the case that a few characters needed to get sidelined to make space I might have accepted it. You do have a whole lot of characters coming together and only three books. But after getting rid of so many people King brings in a whole load of new ones. Why do we spend so much time with the likes of Dralnu, Agnate, Grizzlegom, Darigaaz and Sister Dormet? I mean, I like all of those (well, not Dormet. She has no personality at all) but why are they hogging the spotlight when we should be giving our main characters their last hurrah? And it's not like there was nothing for them to do. I would've loved to see the Weatherlight crew reacting to the revelation that Crovax is now the new evincar. Instead they just know that from the start without any explanation. Where is Gerrard's reaction to hearing what Crovax did with Volrath? Where is Sisay's reaction to finally completing the Legacy? Crovax coming face to face with Gallowbraid and Morinfen? A proper reaction from the crew to what Ertai did to himself? Takara discovering what her father has been doing in her name? Or heck, her doing anything at all? How about tying up some forgotten plotlines, like the Soltari? Croag? Pol Cordel and the hourglass necklace?

And, *ahem*... WHERE IS MY JHOIRA/KARN REUNION!? The "Jhoira is my friend" monologue from Bloodlines is one of my favorite bits of Magic writing ever, and I will forever by mad that we never got any good pay off for that. When the two are finally on screen together again, in Time Spiral, they react as if they were never split up! Jhoira isn't even surprised Karn is a planeswalker now! 

Again, this might be a little unfair on the trilogy. Maybe I'm now just bashing it for not meeting my expectations. So let's move on to a genuine continuity problem. Because while King might write a good Yawgmoth, he seems to have no idea what the Phyrexians are like. In the review of The Thran I brought up that his Phyrexians were purely mutants, not relying on artifacts, and that their Heartstones were implanted into them, rather than removed. Of course, those were the very first Phyrexians, so you could always go with the explanation that they must have changed over time. But that excuse doesn't really work here.

What's wrong with them? For starters, none of them care about compleation! (Despite still using the word.) They are all flesh and blood, with at best some metal bits grafted onto them. Gerrard is cracking their skulls and breaking their teeth left and right! Even the two commanders, Tsabo and Crovax, are half-metal at best. And that is before we get to the utterly bizarre depiction of the Inner Circle members as pneumagogs, which doesn't mesh at all with the earlier depiction of guys like Gix, Croag and Abcal-Dro. Now the newts are said to be incubated in glistening oil, while in Planeswalker bathing in the oil didn't happen until the moment of compleation. Now the Phyrexians are all going "Yawgmoth this" and "Yawgmoth that" while in Planeswalker everyone said "The Ineffable" as they were terrified of even just speaking his name.

I guess all of that can be explained away. After all, the big scare about saying "Yawgmoth" was initially that he would wake up. Perhaps after Urza woke him he changed everything around on Phyrexia, from the usage of the glistening oil to the obsession with excising flesh. But let's be honest: that's fanfixing. Head-canon stuff. The reality is simply that King didn't pay very much attention to Planeswalker and referenced things from the top of his head without checking whether it really matched the source material. He does that a lot. In the look at Apocalypse I already mentioned how he somehow has Karn, Gerrard and Urza together for a scene, in which Karn and Gerrard remember stuff only Urza should have, and then Urza remembers stuff that even he shouldn't know!

If I may take a step back from continuity issues and pop back into my role as reviewer, these sort of inconsistencies also sneak into the world building he is doing. Remember how in The Thran he first introduced Yawgmoth with a reference to a century long civil war that only ended a few years ago, but then halfway through the book he says that Halcyon has been peaceful for so long its inhabitants forgot the public grieving rites? Well, Invasion has a whole bunch of weird things like that.
  • Tsabo knows the true origin of Yawgmoth, but then later Yawgmoth himself believes the myth we were shown in The Myths of Magic.
  • Invasion opens with saying the Weatherlight is unique, and that while some people whisper Urza is building more, nobody believes Urza even exists... a while later Gerrard forms an entire fleet of airships out of the remnants of the Benalish airforce.
  • The Metathran are all supposed to be perfect soldiers and tactical geniuses who have been bred only for battle against the Phyrexians and have been in stasis for centuries. Yet somehow they have developed a culture where Eladamri has to go through some ritual battle to prove his worth, and they turn out to be entirely useless without their commanders.
  • And then there is the whole list of weird and inconsistent battle plans I gave halfway through this review. Especially the continued inconsistencies regarding Koilos stick out. Is it important, or not? Could Agnate blow it up, or can only Gerrard and Urza combined do it? And why didn't anyone bother with it in the last 1000 years?

Ultimately I must come to a rather tragic conclusion. J. Robert King clearly loves worldbuilding and putting continuity references in his stories, both of which are very commendable. He's just not very good at either. He doesn't think through the worldbuilding tidbits to see if they make sense when put together, and he doesn't check the sources he's referencing, clearly relying on vague memories and thus ending up contradicting the very stories he want's to reference. It's kind of like what I said about the plot of the trilogy. If you just read through the books without thinking about it too much the story, the setting and the references seem to work. But the moment you start to analyze it the whole thing falls apart.

Really, these books are to the storyline what Gerrard Capashen was for the cardgame. If you are truly honest you must admit they are not the worst thing ever, but considering we were building up to them for all that time, perhaps they are the most disappointing.

Okay, two final points, and then I'll stop.

The first thing is more of an observation that a criticism, but the use of the color wheel and the themes of the cycle, especially in Planeshift, don't match the Invasion block sets at all. Those were all about all of Dominaria banding together to fight of the invaders. Loads of cards made reference to strange alliances between old enemies, and with that it really drove home what Wizards had been saying for a while: "white isn't always good, black isn't always evil". Domain decks want you to play Swamps just as much the other basic lands after all.

The books however have this whole subtheme about how the end does not justify the means, and how there are some alliances you shouldn't make, not even in the face of the apocalypse. That is essentially the point of the Dralnu and Primeval storylines, both of which are set up as lead ins to Gerrard and Urza's turn for the dark side. And although it fails, when the Weatherlight tries its Null Moon gambit white mana is clearly presented as a possible savior against Yawgmoth's blackness. Clearly white mana is good and black mana bad. Wizards may have been denying that for ages, but that idea has a long half-life in the storyline.

Now, a subject that is near and dear to my heart. The Armada Planeswalkers. Taysir, Daria, Kristina and Tevesh Szat get brought back from limbo, just to get killed off. As you can imagine, I'm not too pleased about that.

Now, I'm not saying that these guys should have plot armor and kept safe at all costs. Not even that long standing characters like them should always go out in an amazing blaze of glory if they have to die. Not at all. But if you are going to kill them, at least make them a proper part of the story rather than pure cannon fodder. I actually have much less of a problem with the future planeswalker slaughter in Time Spiral block, as at least there the 'walkers in question get to be proper characters that play into the larger story. Here our old friends are introduced, get a maybe two lines referring to their previous appearances and then they go kaboom! All the characterization in the Nine Titans chapters going to Urza, Bo Levar and Commodore Guff. So for the people unfamiliar with them they might as well have been completely new cyphers, while for the people who remember them it's just annoying to see them sacrificed so unceremoniously. It's bad enough we never got to see the conclusion of their story in the Planeswalkers' War!

Not that nothing good comes from their inclusion. It is great to see Lord Windgrace finally make a proper appearance. He was mentioned in Tapestries, Distant Planes and Born to Greatness, and was due to make an appearance in the Planeswalkers' War, but it's not until here that we actually get to see him. And as I already mentioned, I do really love the scene where Urza explains why he brought Szat along. It's just a shame that they sacrificed Kristina and Daria for that, rather than new guys Bo Levar and Commodore Guff (would've spared us that horrid fourth wall breaking near the end...), and that they never explained why Szat betrayed them exactly, other than "for evulz sake."

Szat's appearance is really odd actually. First off, he no longer hasssss a lissssssp. Second, his plan from the Ice Age comics is mentioned, but he says he only wanted to preserve Dominaria as a perfect memory. Nothing here about being the Doom of Foolssss or wanting Sssssilince. Sure. he's probably lying, but why do Freyalise, Taysir and Kristina swallow that lie so easily? Third, he goes around saying he's a dragon. I guess to pretend to be Darigaaz's buddy in an attempt to raise the primevals and cause more havoc? Though again, why do none of the other 'walkers call him out on that? Finally... his plot would have made much more sense if he had been replaced with Leshrac. After all, Leshrac was imprisoned in Phyrexia, so he at least had an excuse to be joining the Titans in blowing it up. The Battlemage game even hinted that he might have gone over to the Phyrexians while there, so his betrayal would have been build into the plot already! Plus he appeared in The Eternal Ice, which is kinda-sorta part of the Weatherlight Saga already, so his inclusion would've made more sense than bringing in Szat completely out of left field.

Even weirder, when Leshrac finally returns in Future Sight he tries to blow up the entire Multiverse through manipulating the time rifts. Omnicide? That sounds much more like one of Szat's plans! Are we sure these two didn't exchange minds somehow during the Planeswalkers' War?

Speaking of which, what does the appearance of these guys say about the events of that War? Very little really. Taysir and Daria know Kristina and Freyalise, so they must have met somewhere. Taysir even knows Teferi, and the two of them were supposed to be pretty close in the unpublished comic. But clearly things went differently than in that script. Kristina is still a planeswalker. No mention is made of Jareth Carthalion, or of Tevesh Szat's attempt to blow up Dominaria with the Grey Chime. Really we can only say that at least the people we see here survived, if they took part in the war at all. I could speculate further (like, it would be really cool and pretty logical if Urza was involved, and that he recruited the others for his Titan crew after the conflict), and people have assumed that characters that were never seen again, like Ravidel, Sandruu, Jareth, Dakkon and Geyadrone, must've died in the war, but the truth is that we just don't know how the war played out.

You can play the game and make up your own ending though.
Okay, almost there. Only one thing remains: updating the timeline!

Now, placing the main story seems simple, right? Every non-flashback set since Tempest has happened in 4205 AR, and the official timeline places all of Invasion block there as well... case closed? Well, not really.

You see, in Apocalypse we are told that the invasion started a year ago. And while I'm tempted to try and reconcile that with the timeline by saying it is "almost, roughly" a year ago but still 4205, that's not really possible either. As we talked about in my Rath block overview, Weatherlight has to happen near the end of 4204 and Tempest at the very beginning of 4205, as the latter continues on directly from the former. Then all of Tempest and Masques block have to happen before the start of the invasion. We're not entirely sure how long that takes, but in Invasion Gerrard says he's been away from Benalia for half a year. So we must be close to the halfway point of 4205 already when the Phyrexians invade.

It is perhaps tempting to ignore the statement in Apocalypse. It is presented almost incidentally, while the 4205 date for it remained in WotC's website for years. That is what most timeline-makers over the years have done. But in a continuity with as many anomalies as Magic's you have to stick to your own rules, and I decided long ago (I think I first brought it up in the Dakkon Blackblade review) that for me the stories trump additional material, if at all possible. It is the storyline after all. So I will put Apocalypse in 4206, and its "one year later" epilogue at 4207. Which incidentally also helps de-crowd 4205 a little. Actually, since it is impossible to say when the story crosses from 4205 to 4206 I'm going to put the entire Invasion cycle at "4205-4206 AR". My guess is that it happens somewhere during the long fight/travel scenes in Planeshift, as Invasion actually moves really fast: the first eight chapters happen in a single day, with chapter nine starting a day later!

Now, if you disagree and want to keep everything in a single year, that is entirely possible. No other source gets contradicted that way, and nothing about this story has to be altered. Just skip that single line of Multani saying the war has been going on for a year. All the other timelines have done this, so the storyline community has pretty much internalized that dating by now. But I'll stick with a strict interpretation of the actual story. Got to draw the line somewhere!

So that is the main thing. But there are a few other things to discuss.

  • First, The Thran. As I mentioned in that review, they have been moved all over the timeline in the novels. In this cycle we get the last shift. First Tsabo Tavoc says they lived 6000 years ago, but in the end Yawgmoth says it was 9000 years ago. Now, Yawgmoth is of course nuts, but in this case I believe him. It's the final date we get for The Thran, and it lines up perfectly with the -5000 AR date that we were first presented and that The Duelist has consistently given. So that's where I'm keeping that story.
  • Next, Nemesis. Eladamri appeared in Verdura a month before Multani meets him. But in the last chapter of Nemesis it is said the overlay was mere days away, and that doesn't happen until the very end of Invasion. Which means that the coda of Nemesis, after Eladamri's escape but before the overlay, happens concurrently with Invasion. This seems pretty plausible. It does mean that there was at least a month, probably several, between Belbe's death and her cremation, but that isn't a deal breaker. For all we know Crovax kept her corpse around in a freezer for experiments. Sounds like something that creep would do!
  • This would also go for the Nemesis online story, which I argued most likely happened during Nemesis's coda.
  • In my review of The Myths of Magic I said the story "Phyrexian Creations" probably took place during the invasion as New Argive gets destroyed in it. In Planeshift we actually see the remnants of New Argive, and it is specifically mentioned that the Phyrexians have been destroying its library and having book burnings, as was shown in Creations. So I feel this placement is all but confirmed.
  • Eladamri is said to be 150 years old, and Skyshroud was brought to Rath a 1000 years ago. I'm not sure if those dates really matter for the timeline, but it's good to note them in case a random anthology story later depends on Skyshroud being on Rath or not. (By the way, back in Nemesis we learned that Eladamri started his rebellion 20 years ago. Makes you wonder what he was doing in the first 130 years of his life!)
  • The Primevals are said to have lived before Magic was divided in 5 colors, but I'm guessing that is just boasting. It is also said that Rith was imprisoned for 10.000 years. The problem is, in Legions we will be told that the Numena, who ruled after the Primevals, died 20.000 years ago! I'm going with that second date (as Legion is the later source and thus counts as a ret-con) but I will admit that there are several hints that point more towards the 10.000 years ago date. For example, the Phyrexians know of them even though the people of Dominaria, including the dragon nations, forgot about them. Perhaps that's a hint that they lived closely before the Thran? An even bigger hint will turn up in The Dragons of Magic, but we'll talk about that when we get there.
  • Either way, the primevals certainly predate the Thran. We are told the Thran-Phyrexian war couldn't shake Rith loose, and that the library build on top of Treva was leveled and rebuild during Thran times.
  • Finally, we discover Urborg was once a lush jungle, but that the Sylex Blast turned it into a swap, and that Lord Windgrace predates the Blast! (Unfortunately we never get Windgrace confronting Urza over this.) On first glance this might seem to contradict what we learned in The Duelist #19 about Nevinyrral wrecking Urborg with his Disk. But a closer reading of that article shows that it refers to the city of Urborg, after which the island is now named. In fact, Nevinnyral being a lich suggests that his reign probably happened after the island was turned swamplike. Also note that we aren't told Urborg was already called that before the Sylex Blast, so the most likely order of events seems to be this; 
Unnamed jungle turned into a swamp by the Sylex Blast -> Nevinyrral blows up the city of Urborg -> the name Urborg starts to apply to the entire island.

Whew! We made it! The Invasion cycle is done, and with that the Weatherlight Saga... almost. Before I do an overview article to truly wrap up the saga I want to look at two more sources. First,, the online accompaniment of the Invasion cycle that contains some of the most complete maps of Dominaria we ever got. After that I want to take a look at an issue of Inquest. That is of course not an official source, but it has some pictures I think you really should see.


  1. So if the Primevals are from more then 20,000 years ago, how do the Elder Dragons fit into this? And does this mean that Nicol Bolas's claim to being older than Dominaria is wrong? Or at least highly suspect?

  2. Shaun, it's probably about as suspect as his claim to have created Amonkhet.

  3. I was going to do a whole bit where I go off about "Why introduce ANOTHER race of uber powerful ancient dragons into your backstory when you already have the Elders?" in this review, but it turned out pretty long already, so I decided to move that to the review of Dragons of Magic, where we next hear of the Primevals.

    In short: we have no idea how the Primevals and the Elders fit together. Nicol Bolas says some things in Legends II that can be interpreted as meaning the Elders are older, but even that isn't spelled out. That said, by the time I'll review the stories that tell us more about Bolas's timeline (Legends II and Time Spiral) I might move the Primvals to a later point in the timeline if necessary. But I'll have to re-read those sources first to be sure.

    As for Bolas's claim to be older than Dominaria... honestly we can't really prove or disprove that. But I personally I prefer to think it was just boasting. Dominaria is the most realistic of all the planes, in that the creative team actually created a globe for it and worked out its plate tectonics. Thus I prefer to think of it having a realistic age of several billion years to go along with that.

  4. Pure speculation, but is it possible the Primevals awakening triggered the Keldon Twilight with the five of them roughly correlating to the Winds of Ascension from Keld Triumphant?

    Looking at the flavor text of the Winds cycle from Prophecy with the Attendant cycle from Invasion, I can see some rough similarities, though it's not a perfect comparison by any means. I'm probably thinking harder on this than the writers did.

    1. That's an interesting idea, and not one I've heard before. I don't think it was intended, and the two cycles don't match 100%, but Dromar and Eliminator do sound pretty much the same.

      And yes, you are definitely trying a lot harder than mister King to tie the various strands of this plot together ;)

  5. Right, let's see here:

    Why doesn't Yawgmoth come to Dominaria immediately? Or at least start the invasion with the Overlay?
    - There is the theory that Yawgmoth was too powerful to just manifest in Dominaria. Yawgmoth is to a planeswalker as a planeswalker is to a human as a human is to an ant. The Rathi overlay would ensure that his mere presence would not break the world. Given that he thinks that Rebbec turned into Gaea and his characterization from the Thran novel, it makes more sense that he would want to "conquer" Dominaria/Rebbec and claim it for himself rather than planar genocide.

    On the other side: what exactly is Urza's plan? Why focus on Koilos? Why then immediately scatter your armies to Keld and Shiv when your main goal is Urborg?
    - Urza is a great artificer but not a great (military) strategist. Let's face it: his main answer to every problem is to build something to deal with said problem while he goes on to a next problem/project.

    At one point it is said Koilos is important because its the only stable land portal, but why does that matter when the Phryexians can open a million tiny portals and bomb Llanowar from another plane?
    - It was the original portal into Phyrexia, maybe that had something to do with it?

    And if we buy the Koilos portal is important... why didn't Urza destroy during his last 1000ish years of preparations?
    - My guess would be sentiment. Urza started his whole crusade against Phyrexia because they turned his brother into a monster. Koilos could just be the only place in the multiverse that held actual happy memories for Urza (of Mishra) and as such, he would prefer not to wipe out the last positive bond he had with Mishra.

    At the end of Invasion it is suggested Urza and Gerrard need to destroy the portal together for some weird mystical reason, but then why send Thaddeus to blow it up? And again, why not bring Gerrard there a year or two earlier?
    - Urza thinks like an artificer or a clock maker: everything has to be precisely in order in the right spot in the right moment. Again, Urza is not a great strategist as far as I can gleam from the stories.

    1. Why do planeswalkers need to train with the Titan Engines rather than just have the knowledge telepathically beamed into them? And if they do need to train, why do they only start after the Invasion began?
      - Because every underdog story needs a training montage :p
      On a more serious level, beaming information directly into someone sounds like a serious breach of privacy. Regular mortals would not have a say in it but if you try to pull that on someone of equal power, they might take issue with it. Or it could be that something like that requires a two way connection and some would prefer not having Urza poke around in their mind.

      Speaking of the Engines, why does Taysir stay in his while confronting Urza when he knows Urza put kill rubrics into them?
      - Urza needed only planeswalker's soul/spark to power the bombs. Could just be a powerplay by Taysir to see if Urza would go so far as to execute someone without cause to complete his scheme. Could just as well be that no one at that moment was thinking rationally and were being guided by their emotional response to the whole situation.

      Why does Urza pose as the Blind Seer, rather than just telling Gerrard what is going on? And why does he languish in a Benalish brig while he should be fighting? He basically lets Benalia get routed in order to hang around in a prison he could've gotten out of all the time! (He's as bad as Squee!)
      - Because having an all-knowing character come in and dump exposition on the protagonist does not make for suspenseful storytelling. This is a more Doylist explination because from a Watsonian viewpoint, it does indeed not make any sense to withhold information.

      If Rath is warded again Urza, why not Phyrexia?
      - Yawgmoth wanted Urza to come to Phyrexia would be my guess.

      Why didn't Urza know of Jhoira's improvements to the Mana Rig?
      - It's a Thran artifact, maybe he thought it was already perfect? It could be that it just never came up (rather unlikely) or maybe Jhoira has the impression that Urza wouldn't like/appreciate someone else improving on his work.

    2. Why didn't Urza contact the dragon nations before the Invasion started?
      - Dragons are notoriously arrogant. Asking them to help would probably be an insult to them. Perhaps they were banking on the idea that if the dragons were directly attacked by the phyrexians, they would retaliate in full.

      How does Multani not know about the coming Overlay?
      - Why would he? It's been a while since I read the stories but is sensing such a planar event within the scope of powers that a maro-sorcerer would have?
      (unless I'm not remembering something and someone told him somewhere in the story. In that case, mea culpa)

      Why didn't the planeswalkers tell their armies they were taking them across the world after Koilos? Everyone is surprised when they are teleported out during the first Phyrexian attack on Planeshift. But that all the 'walkers are doing it simultaneously shows coordination, and they just spend 3 days having a party. Surely they could've taken a little time out of that to discuss their next step?
      - No clue and it shows bad planning. Chalk it up to the "We're planeswalkers and we do what we want" mentality.

      Why are Shiv and Keld the next battlegrounds?
      - Bad battle plan, yada yada yade. More likely that it is just to showcase those regions in the story.

      Why are the Metathran entirely useless without Agnate? Wasn't this Urza's super army that he generated over many centuries?
      - The Metathran are supersoldiers that will blindly follow orders. But they are barely human and Phyrexian DNA was spliced into the project at one point. I'd take this that they suffer the same flaw as the phyrexians: they lack imagination and need a superior officer to guide their actions.

      All of this is just speculation on my end so feel free to take it as you will.