Monday, 25 June 2018

Odyssey block Online

A long, long time ago I reviewed the last issues of The Duelist, in which it was promised that the publication would be replaced by a website. Well, it took 3 years, but in early 2002, around the time Torment was released, was finally changed to its now famous magazine format, becoming a true successor to The Duelist. Don't get too excited though, as there was little for us lore fans on it yet. Only with Kamigawa block would we start getting actual stories and weekly flavor articles on the website.

No, we are still in the era when the book department seemed fairly vestigial to WotC as a whole. Which meant there wasn't much lore on the main website, but also that interesting bits ended up on hidden nooks and crannies of the Wizards' site, away from the daily magazine page. Today we'll look at all the stuff I've been able to unearth from webarchives for the Odyssey block period.

First, there is, which actually predates's launch. Bizarrely, it appears to still be online! It's a mini-site similar to, which we looked at a while ago, but unfortunately it is not nearly as cool. Its predecessor gave us comics and maps, one of which was so stand-alone I ended up putting it on the timeline! Here we get some previews of cards and art, and the date for the prereleases, and that's about it. The only thing that warrants mention is the trailer, which I think is the first time a set was given one of those.

It just shows us a few random scenes on Otaria, none of which are relevant to the lore. I do find it interesting that the trailer, like various texts on the rest of the websites and the blurb on the back of the Odyssey novel really hammer home the idea of a post-Apocalyptic setting. It all keeps bringing up that the Phyrexian Invasion has come and gone, and that people are now trying to rebuild in a harsh environment... none of that really made it into the novels. The Cabal are very high-tech, the Mer Empire is very high-magic, and even the barbarians and the nomads seem to be doing fine (so long as the Mirari isn't wrecking havoc). Luckily Dominaria would get to take another stab at doing a post-apocalyptic setting with Time Spiral, cause it rather fumbled this one.

The Magic Multiverse

The Magic Multiverse was a subsection of the Magic website that seems to have come about after the change to the magazine format (at least, the earliest archived versions of it appear in late 2002), but which collected material that was released much earlier, including stuff we already looked at, like the online Mirage and Visions stories, Rath block online and the Nemesis short story.

For Odyssey block we don't have something as cool as those pages, just summaries of the storyline. But there are a few things that stand out among those. First: more hammering on the post-apocalyptic nature of Otaria. Bla bla, struggle for survival, bla bla, dwindling resources... I'd blame it on miscommunication between the makers of the cards and the writers of the stories, but going through the Odyssey set I don't see much post-apocalyptic stuff there either. Among the lands there are a few Abandoned Outposts and Deserted Temples, but that's about it. Initially I thought maybe the pr-department really liked the idea of doing something post-apocalyptic after the set Apocalypse, while the rest of the company just wanted to move on, but as we'll see further down in the article, this idea actually originated with the creative team. I guess they just got too wrapped up with other ideas to really make it their focus.

There are a lot of little inconsistencies between the books and the summaries for Odyssey and Torment.
  • Laquatus is said to be "from a distant place", presumably to explain why he's the only merfolk among the cephalids, but in The Secrets of Magic we will see he is a local. 
  • Seton presumable retreated deep into the Krosan Forest to report on his findings in Cabal City, while in the novel he stayed there because he was wounded. 
  • Major Teroh is said to be the new leader of the Order, while in Chainer's Torment he just led the crusats and still reported to Bretath. (This inconsistency also snuck into Judgment
  • He also apparently vowed vengeance against Kamahl. In the novels the Order do hate Kamahl because they think he destroyed their citadel, but Teroh never meets or even mentions the barbarian.
As always I take what happens in the novels to be canonical over this background material. It does annoy me that things don't line up though. Surprisingly the Judgment summary then recaps almost the entire book, rather than just giving a taster, and makes not a single mistake! Maybe Will McDermott simply had his manuscript finished earlier in the process than the other writers?

Magic Book Archives

The Magic Multiverse was actually a part of, albeit somewhat hidden, but the Magic Book Archives were found elsewhere on They were part of the book section, which mostly just covered D&D publications and only occasionally added something about Magic. They were thus very well hidden and overlooked by a lot of people. Some parts of it were cross-posted to other places though. For example, Barrin's Journal, the short "story" accompanying Prophecy, was first posted here, but also ended up on The Magic Multiverse. The main piece of interest here, a series of articles by Will McDermott on the creation of the Odyssey story, were also feature articles on, and I will cover them below. But for completion's sake, let's first go through the other stuff that was put on the Book Archives during Odyssey block to see if anything interesting comes up.
  • In an interview with Vance Moore (You have to go back to an even older archived version, when it was called the Book Feature Archive, to find it), he describes Prophecy as a novel "set after The Brothers' War"... Well, that is technically true. It's set more than 4 millennia after the Brothers' War and there are dozens of books, comics and short stories set in between them, but that still counts as "after"!
  • Jeff Grubb says he knew the last line of The Shattered Alliance in the summer of 1999, which was around the time The Gathering Dark was just released, 2.5 years before the line saw print. Apparently everything in between was build up to it. The line in question?
"To the surprise of both of them, Urza did just that and stayed quiet until Jodah finished his tale."
  • In the interview with Clayton Emery he calls the Legends I trilogy "a fun ride"... that's a lot nicer than what he said on his own website!
  • Jeff Grubb and J. Robert King were/are part of a writers group called the Alliterates, which I imagine was the inspiration for the, honestly otherwise rather stupid, name of the Eliterates from Apocalypse.
  • Hilariously King, the man who wrote a scene depicting the editing of Apocalypse into the novel itself, initially claims that he doesn't base characters on his friends, but the astute interviewer then points out Bo Levar, Commodore Guff and Daneen Dormet. In my Invasion review I pointed out the first two were parodies of Jess Lebow and Scott McGough. I had missed that the leader of the Stone Dwarves was a parody of Nadeen McDermott, though it is quite obvious comparing the names!
  • The article Do You Want to Know a Secret? is just a collection of advertising blurbs for the subject of our next review: the anthology The Secrets of Magic. It makes a few mistakes, but we'll talk about that in two weeks time.
  • Scott McGough points out that the scene with the Sengir Vampire was included in Chainer's Torment because it was being reprinted in the set, and that he had to edit merfolk and elves out of crowd scenes because those were absent from the block. Remember that last bit for later...
On to the big one. Not that there is so much information relevant to the blog here, it's just that the relevant stuff is hidden in a huge pile of other things. The original pages were lost a few site-migrations ago, and while much has been put back online I'm never able to find anything in the article archives. Luckily a lot is still available on the Wayback Machine, and there the pages keep their original url. Which is a godsend, as these original pages just end on a code and a number (So the Mark Rosewater articles end on mr1, mr2, mr3, etc.), allowing me to "just" change the last number to skip to the next article. Current articles use part of the articles name and their date in their url, so at some point it may turn out to be nigh impossible for me to know if I found everything, but that's a problem for a later date.

For now I've gone through every Magic Arcana and Feature Article, up to the point where they start referencing Onslaught. I'm sure there might be more stuff lurking in articles by MaRo or in the Card of the Day archive, but there is a limit to my madness. I do want to move on to reviewing new novels at some point! Feel free to go through the rest of the site yourself though. Don't forget to post anything cool you find in the comments!

On to what I found...

A Man Named Chainer is an introduction to the dementia summoners in general and Chainer in particular. It gives a little more insight on why Chainer joined the Cabal (he was lonely and had no one else to turn to), and it gives something of a lore explanation for the nightmare ability in Torment: thanks to the Mirari they are "so terrifying that the're able to literally scare something out of those who see them. Sometimes this magically induced fear drains a wizard's mind of spells, or sucks away their life energy, or severs her connection to a summoned creature."

As for the red Nightmare Beasts, we didn't actually see it in the novel, but Chainer's Mirari-powered madness apparently spread over the continent (also seen on the flavor text of cards like Waste Away) and started mutating the beasts in the Pardic Mountains.

That's about all that is interesting in it now that we've already read Chainer's Torment. The rest of the article is basically a summary of the book. It ends with a "Read the book for more!" endorsement, but I would be a bit miffed if I had bought the novel on the basis of this article, only to discover it spoiled pretty much everything up to the last chapter. I could balk about the fact that it suggests Chainer came to the Cabal with the Mirari, when he was already a member when he found the thing in the book, but that's nitpicking. Oh, and I really like the colorized versions of the concept art from the Torment novel!

Speaking of which, the article The Magic Style Guide has some more peeks into that document. I remember seeing that article when it first came out and being blown away that they would bother to even figure out the different kinds of weapons and equipement used by the different species/factions in the game! The article also talks about how Kamahl's original design had hair, with a later arcana revealing how several arts had to be altered after it was decided he would be bald. Seton apparently also had some restyling done. Still didn't look simian with a catlike body though...

For those interested, this arcana has some more dwarf related style guide art, this one an early incarnation of Krosa, and this one looks at the Aven. It actually mentions that there were 3 different bird-people in the storyline, which made me wonder if there were designs for the Elen and the Raypen in the style guide...

Underwater and Unscrupulous tells of the Cephalids. Here it is said the cephalids had a chance to grow after the destruction of the Vodalian Empire by Yawgmoth, but that it was only after the betrayal of Laquatus that "another merfolk empire" lost its control over the cephalids. Well learn the details of this next review. I like that it mentions the trained eels and selkies from the novels, which were missing from the cardgame. It even goes a bit more into the history of Aboshan and Llawan.

Final Judgment tells, as you might expect, the story of Judgement. Like that Chainer article is spoils basically the entire story up to the final confrontation. Unlike the Chainer article at adds absolutely nothing new... and it is also just the exact same text as the Judgment summary from the Magic Multiverse page. Snap (Shots of) Judgment came out a few weeks later, and tries to tell the story of Judgment via individual cards, à la the Tempest block story boards. Of course, by now the story and the cards have a much bigger gap between them, so Will McDermott really has to stretch at some points to find a relevant card.

Apparently this was what passed for "Storyline Spotlights" in the Otaria era.
Finally, there is Caught in the Mirari's Wake, part 1, 2, 3 and 4. Also written by Will McDermott, they were cross-posted on the Magic Book Archive, and tell the story of the creation of the Odyssey block story. It begins with an "author summit", the members of which were Scott McGough, Jess Lebow, Daneen McDermott, Vance Moore, J. Robert King and Will himself, all writers and/or editors. Mark Rosewater and Bill Rose did pop by to tell them R&D's "early plans for mechanics and cards", but after that they were apparently on their own.

Here we hear of the origin of the post-apocalyptic ideas. Life would be hard in the wake of the Invasion, artifacts would be rare, magic plentiful and Old West-style dueling would be all around. Nowhere in the article series is it made clear where these ideas started to slip, but in the novels there really is very little about life being especially hard, or artifacts being all that rare. Both the Cabal and Aboshan had vaults full of them, and there were enough to spare that the Order could dedicate their time to gathering and destroying them.

As for things that did make it into the books, McDermott literally brings up the "journey across the color wheel" that was so noticeable in the Odyssey novel. I do think it is admirable that they consciously decided to finally get away from the white/black conflict, and to make the story all about the allied and enemy colors. A good idea, but as I said in the Odyssey review, a bit heavy handed it its execution. There are some more interesting ideas in there, like the concept of "evil" in magic being equated with trying to unbalance the color wheel, and their decision to pick a blue villain because so much of the Weatherlight Saga was focused on blue good guys at Tolaria. (Well, for a given value of good...) Unfortunately that got a bit muddled as we've seen that Laquatus turned out to be a bit of an ineffectual baddy, leading to the Cabal becoming the break-out villains of the setting.

While I'm talking about the color wheel-iness of the story, in Part 2 we learn that Vance Moore apparently created the map for Otaria by drawing a regular color wheel and an inverted one on a white board. This is also where it is revealed that Otaria lies between Shiv and Terisiare, the remark from which Ethan Fleischer would later learn that they accidentally used the continent Tamingazin was on for Otaria.

Something that I find a bit confusing about the article is that here it is said that using dwarves, nantuko and all the other Odyssey creature types instead of goblins, elves et all was an idea created at the author summit. The dwarves came from Will & Daneen McDermott, who had just finished their dwarf-centric story of The Myths of Magic. For some reason merfolk were kept the same, but then later R&D "got into the spirit" of new races and ordered them to replace merfolk with cephalid. But MaRo's article on cephalids states it was Mark himself who wanted to include dwarves and that from there the designers started replacing other races as well. Even weirder, remember Scott McGough saying he had to alter crowd scenes from Chainer's Torment to remove elves and merfolk? That either means the novel was written bizarrely early, or that communication was really terrible.

We'll probably never know which version of the story is true, but the important thing to take away is that in both the Will McDermott and the MaRo versions of events the first draft of Odyssey was already finished featuring merfolk before someone in R&D told creative that there were no merfolk in the set. And Scott McGough seemed to have similar problems with Torment. Clearly communication between the card makers and the creative people was not great at this time. Luckily design teams nowadays have creative liaisons to prevent this!

Another seeming inconsistency is that McDermott says that "Much later" R&D decided Torment would be the black set "at least partially" based on the story focusing on the Cabal in book two. But McGough says he knew the set would be black-heavy and thus focused as much on Cabal City as possible. Otaria may not have merfolk, but it does seem to have chickens and eggs...

Some minor points of interest:
  • Vance Moore has a phobia of large birds after an unexplained "chicken incident" and likes including bird-men in stories, especially the idea of them being kicked out of higher realms and with many unable to fly. Unfortunately for him only the flying Aven made it into the game.
  • Pardic Barbarians having bronze-skin is a reference to Doc Savage.
  • The motto of the Order is "Peace must be preserved at all costs".
  • And finally, these articles also say Teroh was the ruler of the Order...
On to some non-Odyssey block related fare.

The History of Legends tells, as you might expect, the story behind the creation of the set Legends, from the viewpoint of its creator, Steve Conard. It's mostly just funny because of its anecdotes about living in the early '90's it is (needing to go to work in the weekends to use their printers, or WotC just giving anyone enthusiastic enough the go ahead to make an entire set for them). What I find especially interesting is the creation of the creature type Legend. Steve Conard specifically says he wanted to bring a feeling of "ancient unknown entities" into the cardgame, which might explain how our first legendary creatures initially had no backstory whatsoever. Remember that Richard Garfield's original idea was that the game would have no lore at all, but that people could make up their own stories based on the cards they collected.

From that article we also learn that there was already a rule against vanity cards way back then, which meant Conard couldn't use the name of his own D&D character for a legend. He instead used the names of D&D characters of other WotC employees. I guess the definition of "vanity card" has broadened over the years!

What he doesn't mention, but what a later arcana brings up, is that originally there were going to be legendary creatures of real-life people and myths: Hiawatha, Gilgamesh, Beowulf, Lancelot, Circe, Achilles, Jason and the one who survived into the set: Nebuchadnezzar.

From a Magic Arcana article during Legend's Week we know Alchor's Tomb was a typo. It was supposed to be called Alchor's Tome! I guess Alchor (whoever he was) really is dead though, as we saw his tomb, in which there was a gorgon for some reason, in Hazezon. Another Arcana shows us the completely insane stat block of the D&D character on which The Lady of the Mountain was based.

Similarly there was also an Arabian Night's Week, featuring The Making of Arabian Nights and Magic: The Naming--Arabian Nights. There is a bunch of interesting stuff in there on the naming of cards, the new card back that the set was going to have at some point, and the fact that City in a Bottle was based on an issue of The Sandman. It doesn't have any relevance from a story perspective. The name Rabiah is not even mentioned once! Perhaps if there had been a Savor the Flavor-type article back then, but alas.

Finally, for those who want an actual story, here is The Zoo, by Ben Bleiweiss. It's really more of a glorified list, as the ranger Phaednen Haelphana falls into the hands of the planeswalker Maegrin and then gets a tour of his zoo, which features the biggest green creatures form every Magic expansion released up to that point. Its canonicity is... let's be generous and say "doubtful", but it doesn't harm anything either. And hey, I put "Duel for Dominia" on the timeline, which is equally silly, so why not have a bit of fun and place this one as well? I'll slot the story onto the timeline just before the Otaria Saga, which seems to be the "current present", so to speak.

There are actually a bunch of references in here. Barl's Cage, Skyshroud, Ulgrotha, Nemata and even previously overlooked Rabiah all get mentioned. It is specifically said in the footnotes that Maegrin has trouble catching legendary creatures like Nemata, which is a nice way of avoiding a continuity screw up.

And yeah, I know I said I was only going to focus on Feature Articles and Arcana's, but I just happened to remember that this thing existed, so I threw it in. (Yes, I remember a random article from 16 years ago just because it kinda-sorta contains a story. No, I have no idea why I can do that, but have trouble remembering people's birth dates or telephone numbers. I guess that over the last 21 years of playing Magic I've accidentally creature a memory palace for myself, only it is literally a house of cards and holds nothing but weird Magic facts...)

Oh, and as long as we're being silly, I like to imagine Maegrin is somehow tied to that creature collecting giant from the Dack Fayden comics!

Some other articles lore fans might like, but which I will not go into because they don't really pertain to the story, are:
  • Hate is Enough, about the color wheel and the conflicts between colors.
  • Adding a Little Flavor, about creating flavor texts.
  • Character Study, on the depiction of legendary creatures through the ages.
  • "Behind the Canvas", a series of interviews with Matt Cavotta, Terese Nielsen, Matt Wilson & John Avon.
  • This arcana on the Buffy instant and the Angel vampire.
  • The FlavOracle, an abortive attempt to create an Oracle for flavor text which would also give flavor text to popular cards that initially had none. This idea is utterly weird to me, and the article was released late in march, so I fully expected it to be an April Fools joke, but no, that turned out to be "Onslaught will have Phyrexianized antropomorphic eggs as a creature type". The article Playing Checkers with Superman actually gives people a vote for the flavor text of Morphling, and announces that the FlavOracle will be used so people can contribute actual flavor texts for 8th Edition.  Going through all these articles is a bit of a pain, so I didn't look ahead to what Morphling's "official" flavor text was going to be. Check back here when I do my Onslaught block online article I guess!

That is everything even I found interesting on the website (that I was able to dig up in a reasonable timeframe). In two weeks time I'll be back with the review of The Secrets of Magic, which (among other things) delves into the backstory of a few Otaria Saga characters. After that? Well, then it will be time for the madness that is Onslaught block...

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