Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Artbooks Reconsidered

Just a quick timeline update in between actual reviews.

Back in the Art of Magic the Gathering: Dominaria review I mentioned that I was going to stick to the "~3250 AR" date for the fall of Sheoltun and the rise of Benalia rather than use the 3500 AR date from the artbook, as that later date would contradict a mention of Benalia in Hazezon, and "stories trump background materials" is one of the rules I laid down for myself to be able to weigh contradictions while making the timeline. However, the fact that I also mentioned that maybe readers of the blog could sway me on this showed that I was never 100% happy with this.

Well, I've thought about it some more, and I have concluded that I've misappraised the artbooks as a whole.

Let's go back a bit. I've started this blog in January 2015. That's a whole year before the Zendikar artbook came out. Zendikar was the first of the current series, so they were not something I considered when making my own rules.

What I was thinking of when I said "background materials" were in the first place Savor the Flavor articles, Doug Beyer Tumblr answers and information booklets that came with Duel or Commander Decks. The first of those being weekly, routine productions, the second probably quickly typed out whenever Doug had time, and the third equally likely to have been written by PR people as by the Creative team. In other words, stuff which you would not expect to be very thoroughly researched, and from which you could thus more easily forgive mistakes than from the actual story. Crucially, these kinds of background sources are also much more fleeting than a published novel or anthology. Let's put it this way: if we ever get that Return to Kamigawa story it would be ludicrous to ask the writers to track down everything members of the Creative team ever said about that plane on various social media sites, and with the current state of MagicTheGathering.com's archives you can't really ask them to read all the Magic Arcana's either. But I would assume that they, or at the very least their editors, would be familiar with the novels of the original Kamigawa trilogy.

Furthermore, when I began my blog I had no idea that Magic would one day make references to so far back as we've seen this year in Dominaria and Core 2019. I thought the most controversial story/background inconsistencies to figure out would be between Rath and Storm and The Art of Magic the Gathering: The Rath Cycle, and between the various Armada comics and The Story of the Battlemage Ravidel. In other words: between roughly contemporaneous sources where the background material has slipped further into obscurity than the actual story. I couldn't know that Magic would step up its continuity game so much within just a short few years!

Carthalion references in 2018!
When the first few artbooks came out it simply didn't cross my mind that they did not quite match what I had imagined background material to be like. After all, they were all current and I was hanging out in Magic's history on this blog. But then Dominaria came out...

So now I see my mistake. The artbooks are neither quickly written nor PR-pieces, and they are certainly not so easily forgotten. Quite the opposite. They are excellent reference material and compulsory reading for anyone who wishes to write future stories set on the planes they cover. They are going to be the basis for a new generation's knowledge about the storyline, and a throwaway line in Hazezon... isn't.

So rather than simply stating that story takes precedence over background stuff, I should say I'm evaluating how sources where produced (where they a deliberate addition to the storyline like the Art of Dominaria, or a PR publication like The Story of the Battlemage Ravidel) and how likely it is that a source will stick around or fade away. That sounds way less snappy, but it is essentially what my original adage was supposed to do anyway, and by reconsidering the Dominaria artbook in this fashion I will end up with a timeline that does not differ so radically from what the rest of the Vorthos community and the people at WotC are using.

There is one downside to this, and that is that I have to count the 3500 date for the Sheoltun/Benalia stuff as a retcon. After all, both the original The Duelist article and Hazezon require it to have an earlier date, but hey, as a Magic storyline fan you just have to live with ret-cons from time to time and this isn't a very big one. Have some halfhearted finger-wagging and tutting over the mistake, it is all I can muster at this point.

I will keep Hazezon and the rest of the Legends I saga where it is, rather than moving it to a point later than Benalia's founding, as the fact that it happens 400 years after the Ice Age is stated multiple times, and is much more integral to the story than the throwaway line about Benalia, as the changing climate after the Ice Age is the indirect cause for the Tirras aggression. We'll just have to imagine that Benalia reference was actually talking about Sheoltun instead.

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Otaria Saga Overview

When I was done with the Weatherlight Saga I did an overview article where I asked questions like whether the saga as a whole worked as a story, and how its continuity held up. For the Otaria Saga I think we can be a bit shorter on that front. Did it work as an ongoing story? Yes. In fact, it only works as an ongoing story, as the books all continue on directly from one another. Is it any good? Nope, the second half is very bad, which kinda ruins the first half for me as well.

So instead this article will cover the main question that this whole saga raises: how did this happen? How could the quality drop so low? Now, as far as I know no one involved in the creation of the saga ever came out to outright tell us what went wrong, but if we take a look at the various sources we do have and compare the Otaria era with other periods in Magic's history, we can can make some educated guesses.

Monday, 1 October 2018

Onslaught block Online

By the time Onslaught block came around MagicTheGathering.com was firmly established as the main source of official Magic info, and the Magic Book Archive and The Magic Multiverse... eh... were also still chugging along for some reason. For more details on those you can read my Odyssey block Online article. The one difference with what came before is that there no longer was a dedicated mini-site per block like MagicOdyssey.com or MagicInvasion.com.

Without these online sources Onslaught block might have gone into history as just having a terrible story, but with them an even more baffling picture emerges, as they seem to tell a quite different story altogether, with lots of altered details, a focus remaining on the Mirari rather than shifting to numena and Karona and some entirely new subplots. Leaving storyline fans to wonder "What if the novels had told that story instead?"

Before we dive in, a little disclaimer. This time there were actually a bunch of articles the Wayback Machine couldn't find. Unfortunately the old internet has a lot of holes in it these days. Luckily I've been able to dig up the most important ones elsewhere. For example, Jess Lebow's making-of of the Onslaught story couldn't be found with my "going through all the numbered URLs" method nor could it be reached from the Featured Article archive, but the version from the Magic Book Archive was still available. Still, there were url's that weren't in the Machine at all, or which kept redirecting me to an "enter your language" screen, so perhaps I've missed a few interesting ones. Despite that, I think I've managed to find enough sources to give a clear overview of the way the Onslaught era was portrayed online.