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!|
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.