Sunday, 18 November 2018

Another Look at Battlemage

A long, long time ago I covered the game Magic the Gathering: Battlemage. Or, to be more precise, I covered the lore stuff that was presented alongside it and the very beginning of the game. I didn't go any further because the game is nigh-on unplayable, even if you get it to work on your computer, and because the game does not have a set storyline. The progress depends entirely on your character choice, the way you play the game and the random actions of the AI opponents. So surely nothing in the game beyond the very opening should be considered canonical, right?

Well, that assumption was overturned, like so many assumptions I have made on this blog, with the release of Dominaria. We were already amazed by references to Carthalions, Epityr's history with Sheoltun and what not, when Ethan Fleisher tweeted the origin of this card's name:

You see, "Time of Ice" isn't just a fancy term "Ice Age". It is actually a reference to an in-universe book, one you can read if you talk a certain NPC in the game Battlemage! Suddenly there is a bunch more stuff in that game that is relevant to continuity!

I was already dreading the idea of having to try and get the game to work and do multiple playthroughs just for those lore bits, but luckily April King is a lot smarter than me and just broke into the game's code to fish out these documents. So let's have another blast to the past and dive into some in-universe books!

The BattleMage covers the history of Ravidel, as written by Rahel, the Serra Angel summoned at the end of Fallen Angel. It is mostly just an abridged version of The Story of the Battlemage Ravidel, which we covered in the original Battlemage review (and which was quoted many, many times in the various Armada comic reviews). As such it does not really have any new information for us.

For the newer readers it is perhaps worth pointing out at this point that these older sources were sometimes a bit obtuse when it came to Chromium's name and nature. For example, here he is described as "a Chromium Dragon spawn named Rhuell". This, plus the fact that the Chromium in the Armada comics looked a lot less chunky than the one in the card art, has from time to time led to discussions about whether those are supposed to be the same character, or whether Rhuell is merely one of many Chromium dragons, perhaps descendant of the original Chromium. I feel the consensus has always leaned more towards "yes, they are the same character", but this has been made even more clear now 1) Chronicle of Bolas has used the Chromium Rhuell name, 2) Core 2019 gave him yet another look, and 3) both story and set really hammered home the idea that he is a shapeshifter. I think this debate has been closed pretty definitively.

One day I should do a series on the varying depictions of some Magic characters.
The Shadow Mage is a story told by Freyalise about Jared Carthalion. Most of it we knew, but it confirms Altair's death in Wayfarer. In the comic we saw him do something weird to Ravidel's Lord of the Pit before falling into a chasm. We've seen planeswalkers survive worse, but perhaps poor Altair wasn't back to 100% strength yet.

Freyalise says Jared is 16 years old in this text, but the text is written directly before the Planeswalkers War, as it ends with the line "I must prepare for the dawn, and the battle to come". That would mean I'd have to move Shadowmage and Wayfarer just a little bit forward on my timeline. When placing them I had kept the 1.5 years that were supposed to fit between the end of Wayfarer and the beginning of the war in the original, unpublished comic script. We could perhaps say that the dawn is metaphorical, or that years pass like days for planeswalkers, but I think I prefer to use this obscure-yet-actually-published source over an unpublished one, so those two comics will make a small shift on the timeline. From the ages of Jared Carthalion we can calculate that most of Shadowmage (and Nightmare, which happens concurrently) takes place in 4195 AR, the second half of issue one in 4187, and the opening of issue one in 4180.

Carthalions of the Ice Age is a story about... well, the Carthalions of the Ice Age. It is clearly not written with accuracy in mind, its main paint is praising its subject family. For example, rather than tossing around a silly looking amulet to defeat Tevesh Szat, Jaeuhl dueled for days on end with the planeswalker according to this story. Kaysa is meanwhile described as someone who "assisted Freyalise in some minor matter", when in reality she was the linchpin of the casting of the Worldspell. What I find especially interesting though, is that it gives us an otherwise unknown name for another Carthalion: Jasha, the daughter of Jaeuhl and Kaysa!

Oh, and please ignore all the mentions of dates in these stories. Whether it is Leshrac being imprisoned for millennia or Freyalise living in Storgard "several thousand years ago"... as we discussed in my Armada overview article, all these dates were made impossible when Pete Venters' continuity team began hammering out a revamped timeline. Leshrac can only have been imprisoned for +/- 1250 years max, while Freyalise lived in Storgard +/- 1800 years before the Planeswalkers War.

The Book of Geyadrone Dihada is a scroll written by Geyadrone herself, with an afterword by Ezer, the man who raised Jared Carthalion in the Shadow Mage comic. There are two big revelations here. The first is that Dakkon Blackblade killed his own son, named Daron, to temper the Blackblade. The original comic only mentioned him killing slaves to do this. And speaking of those slaves, they are relevant for the other revelation: it's said Dakkon bought them from "the worst villains in Corondor". Before this we never knew where he came from! I guess Geyadrone thought it fitting to have Dakkon return home for their final confrontation.

The Clockwork Codex is a text about artifacts and is very much a prerevisionist source, showing Phyrexia as the place where artifact creatures get tortured, and saying "artifact magic" is widely practiced on Dominaria because it doesn't require the planeswalker's spark. None of this fits with the modern depiction of things, but can easily be blamed on the writer, Ezer, not understanding how the spark and magic actually work.

There are some really funny theories are presented (in universe) by this text: the Thran falling due to their powerstones (which turned out to be sort of correct) and the planeswalker sparks of Urza and Mishra spontaneously creating Phyrexia! One minor revelation is that the Carthalions did some excavating on Terisiare, unearthing the Torvash Engine seen in Wayfarer.

The fact that Ezer wrote this text in the year 1249 (by the Reckoning of Minorad), while his master Adam didn't turn on Ravidel until 1265 is interesting. I guess Ezer had doubts about Adam's allegiance with the planeswalker before but just never said anything.

The Antiquities War is a very long text, written by Kayla bin-Kroog, with comments by Taysir, who is reprising his role as historian of the Multiverse from the Encyclopedia Dominia and the Fourth Edition Pocket Players' Guide. We already saw excerpts of this text in the Antiquities War and Urza-Mishra War comics, but while the first few paragraphs, like the opening ones I've posted below, are 100% the same in both sources, the text then goes into a completely different direction. It returns to the exact text from the comics once it reaches the parts from Urza-Mishra War... only to start slipping again about halfway through the first issue.

At times the different texts are oddly similar though. For example, here it is said Mishra dreamed of Phyrexia "under the cold night sky", while in the comic he dreamed "under a cold moon", which makes me wonder whether both publications were adapting another, internal, document, or maybe they are different versions of the same document. In-universe we can of course say Taysir is commenting on different translation in each version.

It's kind off funny that Taysir sometimes interprets the text far more metaphorical than what is actually happening. Urza and Mishra did just find "treasure buried beneath the surface of things" in the sense that they dug up powerful Thran artifacts. Taysir suggests this is a reference to the "inner world" of the soul. There is also some speculation on whether an actual Phyrexian demon (this was before Gix got a name) followed Mishra, or if that was just a symbol for the dark fate he brought on himself.

Like in the comic Taysir suggests Mishra's planeswalking spark was "fanned to life" by the Weakstone, explaining how he could summon the Mak Fawa's from Phyrexia. The eventual retelling of this story in The Brothers' War keeps this deliberately vague.

Speaking going to Phyrexia, this text mentioned "The Journey of Morath" and "Ganly's Journals" as other texts that deal with going there. In the comic Morath was also mentioned, but alongside "Jarsyl's Journals". The omission of Jarsyl here is very odd. Not only was his trip to Phyrexia already mentioned in the flavor text of Gate to Phyrexia, but later in this very document he is actually mentioned as taking several trips there and writing the Codex Phyrexia! Perhaps this text was taken from an internal document, but a very old one that predates the release of Antiquities then? That would also explain why Yawgmoth is misspelled as Yogmoth, another inconsistency with the cards.

Despite the differences from what we've seen in the comics we may be able to glean from this text some hints about what would have been covered in the third Antiquities mini series, had the comics line not been cancelled.
  • The final part of the text opens with Taysir saying that the forces of the Ivory tower (better known as the Third Way in current Magic continuity) had managed to stop the brothers from moving further west, thus leading them to use up the resources of the east, causing a seven year famine. 
  • Then we get to Harbin discovering Argoth. Only instead of ending up there by chance, he had an ancient map and Urza's dreams to guide him. Oh, and he wasn't called Harbin. He was called Feldon! 
  • Tawnos reveals the location of Argoth to Mishra, because he is jealous of Urza due to his love for Kayla. This was already hinted at in the comics. Those even suggested Harbin (he was called Harbin there, not Feldon) was his son.
  • Feldon betrays Urza to fight on the side of Argoth and is then taken to meet the goddess protecting Argoth. Not Titania, but Gaia! (and yes, Gaia, not Gaea) And then... eh... in her belly he finds the red spirits that reveal the true nature of Thran crystals... I'm sure this would've been made clearer in the comic. Taysir suggests (based on a translation of, again, Ganly's Journals) that this may mean Feldon was tripping on mushrooms. But as we've seen before, the explanations of Taysir are often way of the mark. I wouldn't be surprised if in the comic Gaia/Titania would've brought forth some actual spirits to tell Feldon/Harbin about the powerstones.
  • When Mishra lands on Argoth, Feldon faces him but is killed by Ashnod. From Feldon's blood "Gaia rose to protect Argoth", which sounds to me like the summoning of a Gaea's Avenger. Later "Tawnos laid Ashnod to rest in her coffin when he discovered the blood of Feldon." So clearly Tawnos kills the woman who killed his maybe-son. Although... Taysir then claims there is a bedtime story about Ashnod still sleeping in her eternal coffin. He thinks its nonsense, but Taysir is often wrong in this text. And the art of Tawnos's Coffin does show a redheaded woman...
  • Finally Urza and Mishra go to "a dark place" and their two stones are "brought together without true understanding" and "the Doom of the Thran was visited upon Argoth". Taysir speculates that this refers to a botched opening of a planar gate, and that a similar event destroyed the Thran and created the entire western desert of Terisiare. Of course none of this is still in continuity, as we've seen in The Brothers' War and The Thran, but it might very well have been the original ending to the story. In Urza-Mishra War #1 Skaff Elias actually spoiled to original ending to the war for us and he said that at the climactic battle the demon (the future Gix, last seen blasted back to his home plane in Urza-Mishra War #2) opened a portal between Phyrexia and Argoth (was this the brothers being "called to a dark place"?) that atomized Argoth when it closed.
  • The final line of the text says Urza found peace and Mishra found death. An early hint at Urza surviving to become a planeswalker?
One last thing I thought was pretty hilarious: Taysir wonders how the druidic culture of Argoth could only appear there and not elsewhere on Terisiare. According to him the most logical conclusion is that they must have come from another plane.

The Time of Dark is a horrifyingly dark story about a village who, guided by a religious leader, make blood sacrifices to try to keep their crops going. First they sacrifice the foreigners in their village, then their elders, then their women, then their children. The religious leader dies from a plague, and now the remaining thirty-odd men cut their own throats one by one to feed the fields and join their village in death. It is very well written, very creepy and stands head and shoulders above all the other texts in the game.

This text is also said to have been preserved by Taysir

As this is a unique text, and not just a summary of stuff we already saw in the comics, I kind of want to put this on the timeline, but that's a bit tricky. An addendum written by one of the sages of Minorad says "This particular document was written perhaps two hundred years after the Brothers’ War, roughly concurrent with the downfall of the Sarpadian empires". Here we run into the problem of the revised timeline again, as the Sarpadian empire fells around 170 AR, while "two hundred years after the Brothers' War" would put it around 260 AR. I'm actually going to take a third option and place it where The Dark, the set this story is supposed to accompany, ended up on the revised timeline: at ~300 AR.

The Fall of Sarpadia initially just retells the story of the Fallen Empires comic, but then continues on, suggesting that Tevesh Szat aided the thallids and homarid like he aided the orcs and goblins at the end of the comic. What is especially interesting is that it already mentions the ruling class of Vodalia escaping through a portal, which we would later see in more detail in the story "Return of the Empress" in the Encyclopedia Dominia. Turns out that portal actually send them over 3000 years into the future!

The story says the fall of the empires lasted but a few weeks, though putting all the other sources together suggests a slightly longer time frame to me. There has to be a bit more time between And Peace Shall Sleep and the comics for the dwarves to regroup into their Stronghold and for the thallids to go from just gaining sentience to building houses. This could just be a mistake of the in-universie historian though.

The Time of Ice is, ironically, not that interesting. It's the story that got referenced in Dominaria triggering the unearthing of all these files, but it just recaps the story of the Ice Age comics, adding nothing new. Only the name is really noteworthy.

The Tale of Shikar covers the story of Chondeah and Gydolien Mor, better known as the story of  Sol'kanar and Sivitri Scarzam, which was first told in the back-up story of the Dakkon Blackblade comic, The Dragon War. It is written by the Ash Warlord Embereck, who has become the guardian of Shikar, just as he was supposed to be in the unpublished Planeswalkers War comic. It's rather funny to see just how much contempt he has for the people he should protect. Also, he comes across as kind off stupid, saying things like "No doubt generations of inbreeding has removed the last of her valiant blood from these coin- counting weaklings." Eh... I get what you mean Embereck, but inbreeding isn't exactly great for removing something from the bloodline...

Those were all the in-game books. April has also provided us with the introductions of all the regions of the map. In the original review we already looked at the map on the Battlemage website, but the in-game descriptions are a bit more detailed. A few of the extra tidbits are quite interesting:

  • Yorgo, the former bully from Shadow Mage, is now a general leading the defense of Arathoxia. We kinda knew this already, as you run into him if you visit Arathoxia in the game, but it is nice to have a simple text to cite.
  • The Cape Casindral entry talks of refugees from recent "troubles" in Jamuraa. This is a reference to the Mirage War, which is actually still ongoing during the time of this game, as there are references to Kaervek in it.
  • The Quirion apparently carry "memories of the thallid revolt" with them. We already knew from Wayfarer that the elves of those woods only ended up on Corondor after the Ice Age. In the Wayfarer review I wondered whether they came from Argoth or Havenwood, as the comic only says their original home was wrecked as a result of the Brothers' War. I guess it was Havenwood then! Still no word on where they were hanging out during the entire Ice Age though.
And that concludes our look at the in-game documents from Battlemage, probably one of the more obscure things we've talked about on this blog. Many thanks to April for unearthing all this stuff! And Ethan, I look forward to seeing what you manage to reference into your next set!


  1. I had no idea there was so much lore in the game. I did get a copy and attempt to find any text files of this type, but I guess I wasn't skilled enough to figure it out. I tried to start the game a few times, but I just couldn't play it.

    1. If you put the game in a CD player and skip the first track (at least on the PlayStation version), you get to hear app sorts of cool audio descriptions of the various areas the game takes place in, too.