Tuesday, 27 February 2018

The Dragons of Magic

The Dragons of Magic
Editor - J. Robert King
Cover Art - Eric Patterson
Cartography - Dennis Kauth
Released August 2001

This anthology revolves around the most popular creature type in Magic (and the most popular fantasy creature in general). An obvious choice perhaps, but you might be surprised how little the dragons in this book actually have to do with the card game. But before I get to the stories themselves, some notes on the format of the book.

The book is divided into four parts, with three stories each. These are "Lord Dragons", "Slave Dragons", "Wild Dragons" and "Warrior Dragons". The division doesn't matter much though, and the placement of the stories sometimes seems a little random. What is interesting for us is that each part starts with a small introduction that gives some hints about where the stories fit on the timeline. Future anthologies will develop this further and outright divide their stories into sections labeled "Ancient" or "Pre-Invasion".

Oh and yes, this book gives credit to its cartographer in its colophon! But don't get too excited, it's just the map from Aerona we've already seen in Invasion. Only this time it is just labeled "Dominaria Before the Invasion". A bit odd to include this very minimalist map when many stories in the book happen on locations not on the map (and none of them happen in Hurloon or Shanodin). Still, it's nice to see the creator of the map credited!

Dragon Lord, by Vance Moore
In our first story we meets Eagyn, a white dragon working for the Order. Formerly a lone predator he became an ally of humans during the Phyrexian Invasion and then signed up with the Order to atone for his past actions against them. As the plains are under threat of invasion by the "Northern Barbarians" he decides to fight them head on rather than risk the lives of more soldiers. He manages to kill the barbarian leader (called a Kidring) but perishes while doing so.

The summary might make it seem like this is just another pointless anthology story, but there is actually much more going on here. For one, this story introduces us to Otaria, the setting of the Odyssey and Onslaught blocks. As Dragons came out a month before the Odyssey set, this story gives us a little preview of what is to come! In fact, Eagyn saves a little girl called Pianna from the barbarians, who we will see again as leader of the Order. Add to that the incorporation of the Invasion into Eagyn's backstory and you've got a lovely little addition to the canon, severing as a bridge between two blocks.

This story also introduces us to the Aven, Raypen and Elen. Yes, not many people know this, but there are actually three humanoid bird races on Otaria! The Raypen are larger than the aven, and the Elen larger still, but unable to fly ("nine foot-tall humanoids whose elephantine structure made them slow but powerful.") Perhaps that's why they never made it into the cardgame. Wizards is down on non-flying birds after all the confusion Whippoorwill caused. It is also said the three species are refugees who came to Dominaria after unspecified wars on other planes. All this will be repeated in Oddysey (also written by Vance Moore), although sadly their origin will not be further explored.

The fact that the barbarians come from the north is a bit odd, as there doesn't seem to be anything north of the Order on the Otaria map we have. Then again, that map is one of the more rudimentary Dominaria maps we have. I'm sure there could be some random plains barbarians hiding in the north-west.

The introduction of the "Lord Dragons" section say that the "First among our stories of lord dragons is a tale of a contemporary beast", which seems to indicate that from now on "contemporary" means post-Invasion. As Pianna is a young girl here and leader of the Order in Odyssey, this story seems it happens at least a few decades earlier.

Oh, and in case it will ever turn out to be relevant, I will note here that Eagyn joined the Order after a talk with the founder of the Northern Order, so at least the northern part of the organisation was founded around the time of the Invasion.

Dragon of Jamuraa, by A.L. Lassieur
The wizard Majalina is aiding Zhalfir in a war against Femeref. A bit of a cocky and arrogant guy, he wants to impress his allies by summoning a powerful dragon. He seemingly does so and the day is won for Zhalfir. Then it turns out that the dragon isn't a summoning, but the creation of an ancient wizard known as Gazali. When Gazali died the dragon was imprisoned "in the sky", from where it watched the world and eventually found Majalina, who had the potential to become a very powerful wizard. It secretly implanted ideas into his mind from childhood, grooming the boy into one day summoning the dragon. And once he did, Gazali could also be reborn by taking over Majalina's body. This happens, and Gazali and his dragon meet up with the Zhalfirin commander, who turns out to be a descendant of his. The story ends with Gazali flying away on his dragon, while the spirit of Majalina screams, imprisoned "in the blackness between planes".

A fairly random story, which goes for what I call a Twilight Zone-twist, something I always associate with these anthologies. (Although to be honest, re-reading them shows these kinds of twists don't happen nearly as often as I remember them doing). It's done well enough, though perhaps not worth tracking down now that I've spoiled the twist... sorry!

The introduction says that with this story we "return to a time before the Phyrexian invasion", which is clear from the fact that Zhalfir and Femeref are still around. The fact that the two are warring, and that Femeref is aided by dwarves, suggests this story happens even before Mangara turns up, probably shortly after Femeref seceded from Zhalfir. Which is interesting, as the dragon says Gazali lived "centuries ago", but the guy is also described as "friend and confidant of Teferi", which gives us an indication of how much time passed between Teferi returning to Zhalfir in Time Streams and the backstory of Jamuraa given online. I'm assuming Teferi was just a bad judge of character and didn't expect his buddy to be grooming children for the purpose of stealing their bodies.

Which brings me to something a bit embarrassing: the Mirage Document... back when I covered Jeff Lee's The Legends of Magic website I skipped the Mirage portion and promised I wanted to do a future article comparing his version of events to that document. Then when I made my little post-Weatherlight Saga list of upcoming reviews I said I was going to cover that first. Then the hiatus came up, and after being gone for so long I wanted to start with a proper book, rather than a document of dubious canonicity, hence this review. But during my hiatus I did look into the document, and I did compare it to Jeff's site, and... I discovered it's just word for word the same text. Well, it attaches the material from the Wizards of the Coast website and begins with what seems to be a product description of the Mirage set, but the bulk is just copied from Jeff's site, and thus somewhat unreliable.

Still, as Jeff did have behind-the-scenes information, and his writings have been taken as gospel by many storyline fans over the years, it does merit a discussion, though in a shorter form than I initially intended. I'm not yet sure when I'll get to it, but when I do I will also finally try to hammer out the timeline for the Mirage backstory to place a few random stories like this one and the Civic Guildmage stories from the last two anthologies.

Hero of the People, by Jess Lebow
This story is set during the reign of the Primeval Dragons we met in Planeshift. A bunch of dragons force Mitrokin village to give people to them every moon in exchange for not burning the entire place down. Three-hundred years later two guys, Rokin and Jamar, are thus sacrificed to the dragons. Jamar is eaten immediately, but Rokin is made a slave by the five representatives of the Primevals in the region. He is forced to serve them thanks to a slave-band that gives them total control of his body. But then the Primevals start dying (this happens off screen) which causes the other dragons to start losing their magic. The slaves then rise up and kill them.

Huh. These stories really suffer from being summarized. Then again, this story is also really weirdly paced. First we get the dragons conquering the village, then we make a time jump to Rokin being given to the dragons, then we get the introduction of the dragon lords (for those who care: Pizoonddertax (W), Varuna (U), Macumba (B), Heptane (R) and Siliq (G)). That all takes up 26 pages... and then almost immediately the Primevals start dying and everything is over in 6 pages. The story then ends with Rokin thinking about how the people who sacrificed him wrote the name of every person given to the dragons on the Wall of Saviors and wonders if he should go back to add the name of Jamal, as the priests who oversaw their sacrifice didn't know what he was called. It's all a bit weird, feeling like it is supposed to be deep but not amounting to much. So not a huge succes this story.

Still, it's cool to see the time of the Primevals fleshed out a little more, and setting the story in the shadow of their fall, thus expanding it rather than just retelling what we already learned in Planeshift is a real neat idea. This is exactly what I want from the anthologies: taking underdeveloped parts of the canon and building upon them.

There is one thing bothering me though, and that is that what gets fleshed out about the Primevals here is their rule over the humans, while that was not the question everyone has about them. No, pretty much from the moment they were introduced people went: how do these relate to the Elder Dragons? Do they come before? Do they come after? Did the Primevals replace the pre-revisionist Elders in the canon? If you delve into the forum archives of Phyrexia.com you will see these questions arise time and again, as well as people decrying the stupidity of introducing an ancient race of hyper-powerful dragons when you've already got a perfectly good ancient race of hyper-powerful dragons in your backstory.

It certainly sounds like the Primevals were intended to be the first ones, as in Invasion block they were making claims about predating Magic being split in five colors (though everything about them, including their five representatives in this story, was always a bit too neatly color-coded for me to buy into that), but then again, the Elder Dragons were explicitly said to be the origin of all dragons. (Or at least, that's what Jeff Lee's website said about them, and everyone believed that website to be pre-revisionist canon at the time.) Unfortunately we never got an explanation for the link between them, or anything at all about the rise of the Primevals for that matter. The Legends II cycle will give us a single hint that the Elder do predate the Primevals, which would finally be confirmed in Time Spiral block when Bolas' age is given and it predates any date we've been given for the Primevals, but that's it. You sometimes see people claiming the Primevals are "Lesser Elders" or giving some other link between the two, but that is all pure speculation.

Timelinewise all the introduction says is "Last, plunge to the deepest reaches of history", which is a bit vague for our timeline needs. Luckily we have other sources on the Primevals, but unluckily those contradict one another. Planeshift says they have been imprisoned 10.000 years. Legions will stretch that to 20.000 years. Both dates can fit, as everything between -15.000 AR and -5000 AR is one big gap in the timeline otherwise. This story however gives us an surprising indicator that the shorter imprisonment might be closer to the truth.

See, hidden in one throwaway line it is said that magically frozen people look like "the statues commemorating the dead outside the city of Losanon". Losanon! That is one of the eight city states of The Thran! It is already pretty impressive that it (or its name at least) survived both the fall of the Primevals and the rule of the Numena, so pushing it back even further seems unlikely. This also gels nicely with the fact that in Planeshift the Phyrexians knew who the Primevals were, while the Dominarians had forgotten them. All this is still a bit too vague to help us with putting a definitive date on the timeline, so I'll stick with the vague "Between -15.000 and -5000 AR" placement, but the namedropping Losanon is a cool Easter egg for the continuity obsessed!

Finally, one more little trivia thing: the dragons have an arena where humans fight against, among other things, Carrion Crawlers. These are of course not Magic creatures but D&D Monsters. Probably just a cute little reference, but it stuck in my mind because the following stories... well, you'll see.

Dragon's Paw, by Edward Bolme
We're into the Slave Dragons now, with Urza summoning a dragon to act as a model for the artifact creature he wants to build to defend Tolaria. The dragon doesn't want to be dispelled though, and tricks Urza. It tells him that it needs all sorts of things to be a good model: increased intelligence, increased power, permanence... you can probably see where this is going. The dragon eventually gains enough power, rebels against Urza, thrashes the artifact dragon and flees the island. Urza, oblivious to his own idiocy, remarks that the dragon is exactly the kind of creature he needs to defend Tolaria against.

Urza! And we thought we were done with him after the Weatherlight Saga! It's not a very deep story, it certainly doesn't teach us anything we didn't already know about the character, but it is nice to see him again, and the whole story is worth it just for the part where the dragon asks to be given a gender, to which Urza replies "I admit, I am out of practice in the whole reproductive arena."

We are told this story happens before the disaster at Tolaria in the introduction, but in the text its mentioned Teferi is already a student. As Teferi is 14 in 3306, the beginning Time Streams, and Time Spiral will mention he's been there since he was 9. Thus this story happens between 3301 AR, when Teferi came to the Academy, and 3307 AR, when it blew up. There is a little wiggle room as we never know if someone already had their birthday for that year on a certain point, but I'm already more than happy with that level of precision when it comes to putting anthology stories on the timeline.

Of Protectors & Pride, by Steven E. Schend
Another Urza story, which tells of how the Metathran came to have some blue dragon in their genetic makeup, referencing a single line in Apocalypse. Turns out that Urza send one of his students to steal an egg of an aquatic dragon and killed the baby within to get the material he needed. The dragon followed for vengeance, but couldn't stand up to a planeswalker. Thus she made a deal with Urza: once the metathran are done he would send a squadron of them to defend the merfolk that her child was supposed to have defended had he been born. Oh, and because the student killed some merfolk that were defending the egg, Urza allowed the dragon to enchant the student to experience falling of a cliff and dying on-loop for 1000 days.

Okay... a few paragraphs up I said that I wanted the anthologies to expand on obscure bits of the canon, but I do think it's odd to start referencing something so specific as a single line in Apocalypse about the Metarhan being able to breathe water. I wonder who came up with that. Was Steven E. Schend immediately inspired by that line? Or was the continuity team looking for plot threads to weave stories out of? You'd think they'd focus on bigger mysteries first, like how Urza met Barrin. (No, I will never stop asking for that story!)

The really annoying thing is that they screw up the reference to Apocalypse! There it was said the Metathran had the name of the dragon that gave them their water-breathing power written on their faces in Thran glyphs. Here the dragon shows Urza the symbol of her name in Draconic and he copies that! Sure, that sounds like a minor nitpick, but it's pretty embarrassing when your entire story is based on a single sentence and it misrepresents half of it! Ah well. Maybe Urza thought Thran looked better and changed it in another bout of dickishness.

This is another story we can place fairly accurately. The intro just says "The next story moves far ahead in time, past the Tolarian explosion, past even the collapse of Serra's Realm", putting the story after 3360 AR. Gatha is mentioned in the story as a senior student, and when we see the Metathran at the very beginning of Bloodlines, in 3385 AR, they already have tattoos all over them. That gives us a nice 25 year gap for this story to happen in. Probably towards the end of that period, as Gatha isn't that old yet at the beginning of Bloodlines. (Though you never know with the way time flows on Tolaria!)

Familiar, Denise R. Graham
After a white dragon accidentally dropped an egg into the garden of a druid, the druid adopted the hatchling and raised it as her own. Now the dragon, Jarod, has grown up, and the spawning migrations of the white dragons are near again. Before he can rejoin his people though, Jarod is captured by a merfolk wizard who wants to use him to conquest. Jarod escapes and imprisons the merfolk in plantlife with his druidic magic, only to be chased away by the townsfolk of the first village that was to be conquered. He returns home, but runs into wild white dragons first. He can't speak to them and gets into a fight, which he defuses when he saves their egg, which fell down due to the battle. He then says farewell to his druid mom and "goes home" with the dragons.

This story just tries to do way too much. The dragon wrestling with being adopted, the insane merfolk, the townsfolk thinking their draconic savior is the bad guy, the interaction with the other white dragons, who appear much more animalistic... any of that would've made a good short story, and all of it together might have made a good novel, but trying to do all that in so few pages? There just isn't time to develop any of it sufficiently. There is some sort of nature/nurture theme going on throughout it all (the merfolk has apparently been driven insane by using red mana), but even that is garbled. The merfolk going insane and Jarod going "home" at the end seems to point towards a pro-nature attitude, but are we really saying being adopted by a kindly druid is a bad thing then? I hope not! Whatever the case is, it needed more pages to come across clearly.

At this point I start to wonder how much of these writers are familiar with Magic lore. There are sooooo many white and blue dragons in this book. Sure, those exist in the game, but the lack of red dragons or famous Magic dragons like the Elders or Ramos makes me wonder if some of these ideas weren't D&D stories originally.
Where is my story about two drakes doing a little dance while wearing earrings?
Timelinewise, this story is a huge problem for me. Not because it contradicts anything, but because I have nothing base my placement on. The introduction says nothing about its timing, and it contains no references to the rest of the canon. In the past, I would've plopped it in that vague "present era" part of the timeline, between 4000 and 4200 AR. That was sometimes a bit tenuous, but at least I could point to a source or two that talked about how the novels took place in that present.

But now... on the one hand Invasion block drew a great big line under the "original present", and with the upcoming Odyssey block Magic's "present" will take its first significant leap forward in time since Alpha! Add to that the first story in this anthology calls the post-Invasion period "contemporary", and I feel comfortable to put any present day story in the post-Invasion era. But is this story set in the present day? The vast majority of the stories here aren't!

In the end I just have to go with my gut, as there really is nothing to go on here. I will place it in the post-Invasion, pre-Time Spiral gap, holding to the idea that stories take place in the present unless otherwise mentioned. But I admit this is probably my most unsubstantiated addition to the timeline yet. Technically it could happen in pre-Thran days or in post-Mending days. We just don't know. But I have to place it somewhere.

Deathwings, Paul B. Thompson
An old sailor is shipwrecked on an island. The local tribes people give him a collar that allows him to speak with them, and tell him that they are a lost tribe of the "Ithra-nan", and that they are plagued by evil dragons send by the sorcerer-prince "Ya-magoth" ever 88 years. And guess what year it is. The mariner, Phys, helps them defend against the dragons, who turn out to just be blue dragons who use the island for their mating rituals. During the battle against the dragons the kite piloted by him and the daughter of the island's chief (who Phys has developed the hots for) is untethered and flies of, crashing on Benalish shores.

This story is weird. There is this whole set up with the tribe believing they are descendants of the Thran and that the dragons are dragon engines send by Yawgmoth- sorry, Ya-magoth, which had me scratching my head about the timeline already, because how could one island of Thran survive into the days when Benalia was around? -but then it turns out they are just regular dragons, so the whole backstory is pointless.

Even weirder, and ickier: the sailor can speak the language of the locals due to their magic, but when he and the girl crash they are out of range of the island and they can no longer understand each other. He just says "Hush. I'll learn your language, or you can learn mine. It doesn't matter. We have all the time we need." To which I can only say: easy for you to say! You just returned to your own society, while she has just been ripped from the only place she's ever known! I assume it matters a great deal to her you prick!

Oh, and the dragons are "blue dragons" and they breath lightning. Now what IP does that remind me off...

The story isn't badly written perse, but there isn't much that's engaging in there either. Add to that the weirdness and icky ending and it gets a down vote from me.

Turning to the timeline, we are told to "Read of a modern mariner who lands upon a savage isle where dragons flock as thick as swallows". Considering it's a "modern mariner", and the first story was said to be "contemporary", I'm putting this story post-Invasion. Yes, Benalia City is mentioned, which was destroyed in Invasion, but luckily we never see it. For all we know it's in a half-reconstructed, ramshackle state, with people mostly living in ruins.

As for the Ithra-nan... I have no idea. Their stories about the dragons are just plain wrong, so I'm guessing their Thran origins are nonsense as well. How on earth they got themselves that origin story is beyond me though.

The Fog, Tim Ryan
Another sailor, Agrippa the Wayfinder, is marooned on an island, this time filled with sea dragons, who form the descriptions are more like amphibious sharks than any dragon I've ever seen in Magic. (But I don't recognize them from D&D either, so that's good.) He learns to manipulate the dragons with fire, and then escapes with the treasure found on the island, happy to tell people he found the "Golden Beach" his grandfather claimed to have seen.

...okay. That was pointless. Guy is marooned on an island, guy gets off the island again, and there is never really any tension or mystery in between. Not a good one this. And that is really everything there is to say about it. On to the timeline!

Here we are told to "Read of an ancient mariner who wrecks upon a dragon isle growing cold with the coming Ice Age", and the text gives some more clues, as the grandfather he mentioned was famous for defeating pirates when "after the world-splitting blast, their coastal waters were thick with desperate raiders". No clear date unfortunately, but "a few generations after the Sylex Blast" gives us at least some idea of where to place it.

An interesting little thing to note: Agrippa mentions King Lyssen of the Isles of Argive. I guess that in the wake of the Brothers' War Argive fell apart and and some islands under its control split of to form their own kingdom. By the time of The Gathering Dark the name is gone altogether, with the former territory having the name Giva Province.

We were never really told about Archive having islands, but there are some on the map next to Penregon, its capitol.
Dreamwings, Tom Dupree
The Dragon Strnak flees an attack on Yavimaya and somehow ends up in Llanowar. Two locals elves take him in and try to hide him from the Steel Leaf patrols. But the dragon, who shapeshifted into a platter, sneezes and gives himself away. Fighting is about the break out when suddenly a red dragon turns up. All the elves and the good-guy dragon fight it, until it suddenly disappears again. Then Multani shows up, who makes cryptic references to "evil sorcery" that was responsible for sending Strnak away and creating the red dragon. Multani takes Strnak back but the elf couple are happy to have known him.

Too cutesy a story by half, and very random. We are never given a good explanation for what happened in Yavimaya, Strnak being a shapeshifter is a weird addition, and the way the male elf goes from always having wanted to join the Order of the Steal Leaf to refusing to leave his home when he's offered to join at the end is a bit too easy a resolution.

Also... why shapeshift into a platter, rather than, I dunno... a cat? And why then use that platter right in front of the Steel Leaf patrol, rather than just putting it away somewhere?

The intro says Strnak fled from "an invasion before the invasion". That sounds like it is supposed to mean something to me, but I have no idea what. If the evil dragon had been a dragon engine, then this story could've been linked to the Phyrexian incursions during Bloodlines, but no, it's just some red dragon. Which makes the placement very difficult. The Order of the Steel Leaf  were created by Freyalise during the Ice Age, putting this story between her ascension and the Invasion. I will put at as "probably" happening in that "traditional present" between 4000 and 4200 AR, but I admit that it could have happened a lot earlier as well.

The Blood of a Dragon, by Edo van Belkom
The lich Deadalus (yes, really) from Nakaya kills a bunch of green dragons from Vintara and zombifies them. Then he sends them after the biggest, baddest green dragon in the forest to collect its blood, which undead beings could drink to gain power. They succeed in killing it, at the cost of all but the largest undead dragon. But instead of returning the blood to Deadalus, he drinks it himself and kills the lich.

Another pointless story. How pointless? In the week between reading the story and putting my notes in a blogpost I had completely forgotten what it was about so I had to read it all over again. Not that it is bad or anything. The writing is fine, the twist is decent... it's just... you read it, and then you're done with it. It doesn't connect to anything larger, there is no reason to come back to it...

Random anthology stories like this and the sea dragon one above are the Magic canon's equivalent of fast food, and I just want more from a story. Either give me a longer story, which has space for proper character development or mystery rather than just some setup and a twist, or put some cool references in your short story so it builds upon the larger setting of Dominaria. If that undead dragon had made a cameo appearance in Scourge I would be writing a much more positive review, I can tell you that much! As it is, the only connection to the larger canon are the words Nakaya and Vintara, two barely developed regions mentioned in Prophecy, and neither place is given any kind of unique identity here either. It's just not enough to hold my interest.

Again we have no temporal references. It could happen at any time, so I'm going to assume it's contemporary. But it could just as easily have happened a day before the Keldons attacked or a week after the Sylex Blast. We just don't know.

Because of a Twig, by Brian M. Thomsen
Somewhere in Shiv there is an oasis called Cometia, as it is located in a meteor crater. Apparently the edges of the crater are so high the elves and druids living inside the oasis have no idea about what lies beyond, until a twig dragon called Snap finds a little crack and sees the outside world. Unfortunately three mercenaries from the outside, Strothor the Strange, Borg the Ninth and Elam the Awful, have also found the crack, as well as a serpent generator. They flood Cometia with snakes, which kill many of its defenders, until Snap, the tiny, tiny twig dragon, goes into the crack and then into the generator, destroying it.

I think this story is supposed to be funny, but it really, really isn't. The humor exists of three annoying losers eating the snakes that are supposed to help them conquer the oasis, and the fact that the generator was created by a "Dirk the Dastardly".

Oh, and the fact that Snap is a teensy tiny creature is supposed to the twist. I think. Either that, or the story just forgot the mention just what a twig dragon is at the beginning. It's not much of a twist, as I immediately imagine a dragonfly when I hear "twig dragon" anyway.

Just to annoy me further, we again have no temporal references. But since nobody mentions half of Shiv is gone, I'm assuming its pre-Invasion. This is confirmed in The Monsters of Magic where, believe it or not, Strother, Borg and Elam make another appearance, find another serpent generator, and feature in another unfunny attempt at a humor story! In Monsters the stories are ordered by time period, and the one with the three idiots is grouped under the pre-Invasion stories. Like the Llanowar/Yavimaya one I will place this story in the "original present", but it could just as easily have happened anywhen else.

Man. Just one book after Apocalypse and already I've got a whole bunch of stories that are essentially impossible to pin on the timeline with any certainty. What a bummer!

Pffft. I've been quite down on these last few stories, haven't I? Can't we close of on a positive note?

Keldon Staredown, by Scott McGough
Keldon Warlord Astor, who you will remember from The Myths of Magic and Planeshift, goes of to parley with the dragon Kavalex with whom the Keldons have made a pact. Only when he gets to its lair he discovers Kavalex has been killed and replaced by Skouras, a dragon who doesn't do pacts, and just wants to rule. Skouras kills most of Astor's crew, and he is forced to regroup in Letha, a village of outcasts who couldn't make it in Keld's martial society. He manages to whip them into a makeshift warband and when Skouras returns and tries to read his mind, he channels their fury into a mighty blast, disabling the dragon and allowing his new warband to kill it.

Ah, there we go! Some good old Keldon brutality. Tied to an existing character, with an even deeper look into an already deep culture. I especially like seeing the outcasts, who show what happens to you when you can't make it in Keldon society. Add some kick-ass fight scenes and I'm a happy man. Even if the plot mostly just exists of two fights against a very one dimensional villain. See? I'm not that difficult to please!

This story reminds me of some really old bits of the canon. Astor uses dragon eggs as explosives at one point, like Reod Dai did in And Peace Shall Sleep, and when he whips the meek people of Letha up into a battle frenzy I immediately think of the scene from Final Sacrifice where the Keldon Warlord got some innocent island dwellers to rage and murder each other. I doubt these were conscious references, but it is nice to see this consistency over so many years.

Finally, to really soothe me, this story can even be placed very precisely on the timeline! Obviously it happens "In the days before he [Astor] fought in the invasion", as the introduction says, but on a forum post on Phyrexia.com Scott McGough himself gave an even clearer date: 4203 AR. It is an unofficial source, but it fits perfectly well with where the story should take place, and there is nothing contradicting it, so I'm using it.

Final Thoughts
Having gone through all my notes again while writing the review, the one word that comes to mind to describe this anthology is "Odd". It's a mix of stories that are deeply tied to the Magic canon (by involving Urza or Astor) and stories that had nothing to do with anything. Stories that did exactly what I want anthologies to do by expanding upon underdeveloped bits of the storyline (The Primevals) and stories that I forgot the moment I put the book down. Its first story was quite unique in that it gave a little preview of the next set, some others were a dime a dozen and feel like retooled stuff from a D&D anthology. And the final oddity is that after the big red line under the traditional storyline that was Invasion block, we go right back to a whole load of pre-Invasion settings here.

Altogether I don't quite know what to make of The Dragons of Magic. There is certainly some stuff in there that is worth tracking down, but as always with the anthologies there is too much "meh" in there to justify the ludicrous prices they are sometimes offered for.

I hope you will join me in two weeks time for Johan, book one of the Legends I cycle!


  1. At first, welcome back! ;)
    It's nice to read new content of yours!

    Most stories sound like random fantasy fooder.
    And weirdly a heavy focus on nonred, nonblack dragons.

  2. Hey, the blog goes on!

    It's great to see this post, and also good to get the info on one of the first books in a while that I never read.

    And that will only continue - after Odyssey block, I walked away from the game for years, so besides those three books and Johan, everything will be new to me for a LONG time.