Monday, 11 June 2018

Dominarian Annotations, episode 12 & review

The Dominaria story has wrapped up (in fact, the entire Battlebond preview season has already come and gone!) but I still have to cover episode 12 and do the review, so let's quickly jump into it!
"I am Radha"
Radha was a half-elf half-Keldon warlord who we first saw in Time Spiral. She was the great-granddaughter of Astor, the warlord whose exploits we saw in The Myths of Magic, The Dragons of Magic and Planeshift. When Rath merged with Dominaria the Skyshroud Forest was plopped right in the middle of Keld, and clearly some mingling between the Keldons and the newcomers happened. She was the first person we saw with the new kind of spark, and she joined Jhoira and Teferi on their quest to save Dominaria from its temporal instability. Unfortunately her spark burned out when Jeska used it to close several time rifts on Dominaria. Thus it was not her but Venser who became the first of the new crop of non-godlike planeswalkers.

...and that is it! As could be expected the last chapters of the story are all referenced out. So let's move on to the review.



Do I really have to summarize this story? 99% of you will already have read it in the last few weeks, surely. As for the people reading this sometime in the future, the entire thing can be found online on the WotC site. Just go read it. It's a story about a bunch of people taking a trip on a boat and then fighting a guy who writes self-insert history fan-fics. There is also a talking portobello, except he can't really talk.

If you've paid any attention at all to Vorthos-twitter in the last few weeks, you will have noticed that the general opinion of the Return to Dominaria story has made something of a sharp turn around episode 9. Before that the response was very positive, after that there was a big backlash. Reading it all again though, I don't think there was a big drop-off in quality, it's more that the last few chapters highlighted the problems of the first parts. Add to that the problems with Jace after the extremely well received Jace-centric Ixalan story et voila...

Considering the story as a whole, I feel the main weakness is its plot, or the lack thereof. Return to Dominaria's goals seem to be to set up for future stories (Liliana being In Bolas's Clutches, Karn taking the Sylex to New Phyrexia, Ajani walking into a trap), to give us loads of cameo's (too many to mention) and to give us some great character moments (especially in the episodes devoted entirely to Teferi and Slimefoot) and it does all of these things very well. I love that we got to see so many references to old stories and scenes with new legends. The character moments were pretty good, from Tiana's introduction to Karn talking to Slimefoot. I especially liked the more subdued ones which just showed interaction among the crew. And I'm very interested to see how the Nicol Bolas story is going to wrap-up.

But the plot... it lacks focus, and it lacks urgency. We spend whole episodes on the introduction of the crew, but then none of them do anything. Yeah, Teferi casts a spell that allows Gideon and Chandra to sneak into the Stronghold, and Slimefoot gets some spirits to summon Muldrotha, but that's it. Where is my pay-off for the prayers that brought Tiana's into being? Or Arvad's link to the Weatherlight? Or Raff's remarks about knowing spell's he's not supposed to? What did Karn, Jaya or Shanna add to the story in the end? Very little. It's 11 episodes of gathering the team, and then 1 episode of Gideon and Liliana wrapping up the plot. Which is annoying, as the story did a great job at introducing the new Weatherlight crew. Now I want a story that actually features them doing stuff!

The worst used character has to be Belzenlok. The first chapter made him seem like a very interesting villain. Having his thing be revisionist history is a unique concept, and one that fits this new past-focused Dominaria perfectly. But then nothing was done with him. No explanation for what his ultimate plan was or why he wanted to make people think he was every bad guy in history. When he finally shows up in the last episode he gets to spout some very generic evil overlord lines, and then gets killed. I guess he was just a complete egomaniac? This lack of the main bad guy in the story also plays into that lack of urgency I mentioned earlier. At one point Gideon says Belzenlok has almost conquered all of Dominaria, but... has he? We wrecked Liliana's home town and send some infiltrators to Suq'ata and Tolaria West, but that's all we see of the Cabal. The rest of the story is just a leisurely trek across the globe and there didn't seem to be any Cabal related problems in Borgardan, the Tivan Desert, New Argive or Yavimaya. Now, I'm not saying I wanted another near-apocalypse. It's actually quite nice to have a happy, flourishing Dominaria for once. But when you have Gideon and Liliana getting into arguments with both Ajani and Jace over the urgency of defeating Belzenlok over Nicol Bolas, you have to make me feel that urgency. I never felt that Dominaria was actually threatened by a guy who seemingly just steals ancient artifacts only to lock them up in his vault. Sure, wanting to ret-con all of continuity makes him my arch-nemesis, but why is that bad for the in-world people? Is he trying to fuel some history-powered world conquering spell? Is he going to use a time rift to actually re-write history? For all I know he's just sad and insecure and tries to compensate by pretending to be Dakkon Blackblade.

I guess I should also talk about the Jace thing, but I must say I find it difficult. Many people found that his portrayal did not match with his character development in Ixalan, that he was back to being all-knowing and aloof. Others say we just get a distorted image of him since he was only in two scenes, and that his attitude may be due to being confronted with Liliana. After all, Ixalan was also about him realizing just how terrible she had been to him. My first impression was that his characterization didn't ring true to me, but now that I'm trying to put that feeling into words I find it hard to rebut the idea that it was just him acting like that in that one specific scene. I guess I'll wait and see how things shake out when we next see him.

Many people have pointed to the changes in how the story is made to explain the problems with Dominaria, and Jay Annelli's interview with Nic Kelman (the new "Franchise Narrative Designer" of Magic) didn't do much to ease people's fears. Especially his remark about Jace not necessarily having a toe less due to frostbite if he ever takes his shoe off "in a comic book, or cartoon, or TV show, or whatever" was not well received.

Honestly, I don't think we can say much about the future of Magic's story from Nic's statements. The frostbite thing talks about different media and just before it he talks about there being different versions of Spider-Man's origin. But of course comic book Spider-Man is not in the same continuity as Tobey Maguire Spider-Man, Andrew Garfield Spider-Man or Tom Holland Spider-Man. So if that's the scenario we're talking about, obviously I have no problem with Jace having 10 toes in a movie or cartoon. And even if Jace turns up with 10 toes on, say, some card art, I'm happy to file it under "artists interpretation". The Franchise Narrative Designer should have more important things to do than micromanage every piece of art. Only if we get something like Jace and Vraska returning to Ixalan for their honeymoon and Jace taking his shoes off and specifically commenting on how great it feels to have 10 toes in the surf, then I might start complaining. But the fact that Nic clearly knows a stupid little detail like Jace having lost a toe to frostbite in Agents of Artifice makes he hopeful that that will not happen.

You will be happy to know that after this sentence I will stop talking about Jace's toes.

Other than that, Nic mostly just told us there are "exciting new stories" and "amazing talent" coming, and talked about his personal experiences. The difference between the end of Ixalan and Return to Dominaria episode 9 is mentioned, but the main thing that bothered people, Jace's portrayal, isn't. So once again, I'm just going to wait and see.

Yeah, not the most hard-hitting, controversial commentary I guess. I hope you can forgive this little historian for that. It's confusing to talk about stuff that only happened a few weeks ago, rather than one or two decades in the past...



Again, you don't really expect me to cover this here, right? You've all already read my remarks about Dominaria trivia and continuity! Here is what I had to say about...
...and you can scroll up to the top of this page for the one continuity reference in episode 12!

The only thing I can add is that in the first few of those articles I mentioned that I hoped some stuff would be further fleshed out, but none of those cases were really followed up upon. Magic immunity running in Shanna's family is still a very weird non-sequitur. Sisay never showed such immunity, and its origin wasn't explained in later episodes. I'm just going to assume Sisay married someone with that power after we last saw her in Apocalypse.

While it's not a continuity problem per se, I'm sad that the Cabal remained very run of the mill death cultists, a far cry from their unique portrayal in the Otaria Saga. Their naming scheme came back with Whisper I guess, but without their distinctive greetings, their family structure or their dementia monsters they never really felt like the Cabal of old to me.

Look, I don't want to be a downer about Return to Dominaria. I love the overabundance of continuity references. I love the characters moments. I love the cameo's. It's just that it manged to hide its problems in a way that made it seem those things would be addressed later on. Which means that at the end of the road they suddenly become very noticeable. That's the danger of serializing your story I guess. If I had read all the episodes in one go, this review would be one gigantic rave about every neat little reference and cameo!

Ah, yes! Here I actually have something new to add! Quite a big something new actually!

You see, when I started this project I talked about the official timeline. It was first released in The Duelist #34 and was updated up to the release of Mirrodin on the Magic Multiverse website. I used that timeline as a skeleton for my own version. To give a bit more information on recent publications I added everything from Mirrodin onward but only by sticking it at the end in a vague and undefined "Modern Era". That was partially because I wanted to re-read the sources before committing to any dates, but also because back then that was about as good as it could get. Since then we've been given a lot more information on this part of the timeline though, and now that I find myself covering one of these modern stories in Dominaria, I feel the time has come to figure it all out. Or at least to give all these sets a proper date.

We already knew that Time Spiral block happened 200 years after the Otaria Saga. The most important new fact we've learned is that the Mending happened 60 years before the current story, which we were first told in the Magic Story Podcast. I'm assuming the "current story" means the Gatewatch Era, starting with Battle for Zendikar. Finally, Nissa's origin story is said to happen 40 (specifically "two score") years ago in the story Homesick. That origin story features the Great Aurora from Lorwyn/Shadowmoor, allowing us to place those sets. For those new to the blog, I assume dates given in decades or centuries are approximations, so I will be putting the sets at ~4500 AR, ~4560 AR and ~4520 AR respectively.

Mirrodin block and Ravnica block will go in between the Otaria Saga and Time Spiral block, so "Between 4306 and ~4500". I know some people have gone more specific on these dates, by comparing the age of Teysa Karlov in Ravnica and Return to Ravnica for example, but that is a level of detail I really need to re-read the sources for. Everything from Alara to Tarkir happens in the years leading up to the Gatewatch era, but again, I'm not going more specific than that without re-reading everything, so I'll settle for "shortly before ~4560".

This puts all the sets on my timeline, except for Kamigawa. That block happens somewhere in the past but its placement is pretty tricky, as it is tied to Legends II and Homelands, which themselves are hard to place. I'm going to leave this one block off the timeline until I've reviewed the books, so I will have a discussion/justification I can link to when it does go on.

We now also now have the name "Rift Era", which I'm going to use as the name for the period I've been called "Cataclysmic Era" so far. Canon names trump madey uppy names. Now, technically, the Rift Era only starts after the trouble Karona makes, but there are so few sources in between Invasion and that moment that it's not really worth making a separate section for that on the timeline. I'll call the whole thing "Post-Invasion & Rift Era" for now.

Oh, and finally: episode 7 of Return to Dominaria, the Teferi story, is a flashback. Luckily we know from the "Legends of Dominaria" descriptions that his daughter Niambi was born about a decade after the Mending, so we can even give a pretty specific date for that one non-chronological part of the story!

1 comment:

  1. About Ravnica, Homelands and Kamigawa, Jay is on of those people that went in detail to put those sets on the timeline. If you look at the bottom of the Timeline page on the wiki, he wrote the reasoning he followed for putting the date (so you can confront it when you'll re-read the sources)